SKF NOTE: This is the third installment of the complete transcript of my 1983 interview with Dave Weckl for Modern Drummer. MD published a much shorter version of this interview in April 1984 as an Up and Coming profile of Dave Weckl, which still holds up well. Here’s the back story.
SKF: You wouldn’t do that?
DW: I don’t know. Who can say what you should and shouldn’t do? People are people, and you have to find out what they are, first. I like to do that anyway. A lot of people in the business have very strange attitudes sometimes. I got a lot of feedback from people one time saying, “Well, this guy plays great” — talking about certain people in the business or younger guys coming up — they’d say, “He plays great, but his attitude is terrible.”
And that’s so important. You’ve got to have the right attitude. You’ve got to have enough sense to know how to act around people in the business, and around your audience, mainly. Around people that you’re playing for. Because if you don’t have that much — then you don’t have anything.
SKF: Was there a time you can look back on when you were a jerk?
DW: No, not really. But there was a time in my real young days when my dad always used to say, “You’d better work on your attitude.” I don’t remember what it was about my attitude that he was referring to. But I remember working on it.
I’ve always been an impatient person. Everything’s got to happen yesterday. And if it didn’t, it put me in the most disgusting mood, just because I was frustrated at myself for not having done something already. And things weren’t going as fast as I wanted them to.
Once I got away from home, I think, and was able to look at myself, and see what was actually going on, I could work on those things and say, “Hey, just because something’s bugging you, don’t be such a jerk to let it effect everybody else around you.”
That’s hard to do. For some people more than others, I guess. You want to treat people like you want to be treated.
SKF: We can trace your initial phone calls to Peter Erskine, to the time you met him and gave him the drum head, to the time he offered you the gig with French Toast — where you met Anthony Jackson — to Anthony Jackson recommending you for the Simon and Garfunkel tour.
So in a very real sense, the way you first handled yourself on the phone with Peter led to the Simon and Garfunkel opportunity.
DW: That’s what I’m saying. I was trying to handle those phone calls as getting to know Peter as a person. The only reason for [my] calling was because I loved the way he played.
It’s like seeing a girl. You see this fantastic looking chick and you say, “Wow. That’s great.” Then it gets to the point where you want to know who they are. The outward appearance of something isn’t always what it’s about.
I’ve heard so many people say, “This guy could’ve had so much going for him, but his attitude screwed him up.”
SKF: Were there other drummers who auditioned for the Simon and Garfunkel gig?
DW: Not that I know of. Anthony Jackson was basically responsible for that. That’s the one thing of getting people to respect you for what you are. You can’t act like something you’re not. Basically, try to form yourself to be something that people will respect and like. You’ve got to work at that. You’ve got to look at yourself from the outside in.
The more people you have on your side, obviously, the further you’re going to get, and the better you’re going to be. This business works on recommendation.
SKF: Do you think your attitude is as important, or more important, than your technical ability?
DW: It works hand-in-hand. And at times, attitude can outweigh your talent. And I’ve seen attitude work against somebody who’s an outstanding player. They’re great, but for some reason they’re not working. And you ask, why? And the answer is often times, “Ah, he’s got a strange attitude.” That’s really it.
Once you get to know these people, and they know you as a person, and they can see that you’re not a jerk, that you’re the responsible type, then, of course, your ability has to be able to back you up. That’s when all the years of woodshedding come into play: When you’re thrown into the situation of, “Okay, this guy trusts me. He’s going to recommend me and put his reputation on the line.” That’s when you have to be able to back up what everybody’s talking about.
SKF: What was [your] Simon and Garfunkel audition like?
DW: Well, Anthony recommended me to Paul Simon. I was working downtown with Barry Finnerty. Paul actually came down to check it out. The office had called me a couple of weeks before and said that they were looking for a drummer, and there were a couple of people they were interested in. They didn’t mention who.
They said they wanted to check me out, and asked if I was playing anywhere. So I expected somebody to show up, but I didn’t expect Paul to show up.
It was funny, because I didn’t say anything to him. I didn’t go up to him. He was there for a purpose. He was there to see if I could play or not. He was there to see if he liked my style.
I figured if he liked me, and wanted me to work for him, then I’d get to know him then. I just didn’t know what to say to him.
SKF: How did you feel when you saw him walk into the club?
DW: I felt good that he had showed up. I thought that was really nice. I didn’t want to scare him away, or play a lot of shit, because that ain’t what his thing is about. My main concentration was just playing musically for the music. We were playing some funk stuff. And a little bit fusion oriented — but, not really. It was a good thing for me to be playing with, and it was a good band. I was mainly concentrating on groove, feel, and time, and sensitivity.
SKF: And Paul never said anything to you that night?
DW: No. We never exchanged one word. I felt weird about it, but I was just in that position where I didn’t have anything to say.
I figured, if he liked what he heard, and wanted me to work for him, then I’d hear from him.
I think it was a week or a week-and-a-half before I heard anything. I was walking around in nervous anticipation, trying to figure out what was happening. I was talking to Anthony in the meantime, and he didn’t even know if he was going on the tour yet.
But, about a week-and-a-half later the office called and said they wanted to use me for the tour.
That was the audition.
A lot of times the rehearsal for the gig is the audition. For a lot of rock groups, you’ll sit in at an audition and play for the group. When you get up into playing with studio musicians for a gig somewhere, or you get one cat who wants to play, and they’re just getting a bunch of musicians together — which, most of the time is studio musicians — it’s all recommendations. Nobody would recommend somebody that they’re going to put their reputation on the line for, and chance messing themselves up.
SKF: [Is there a formula for] the transition from qualified, obscure musician to getting the big break?
DW: Well, don’t have any bad feelings about your playing at all. You’ve got to be confident that you can handle just about any situation. That means, before you even attempt to try to make the scene, you’ve got to have your act together, and you’ve got to be real confident about it.
The number one thing to do is try to get in front of people that are playing all the time. Hang out at clubs. Get to know them. Make phone calls. Call them up. Have your act together and get recognized.
That’s not easy to do sometimes because, unfortunately, it costs money to go and hang out. Most kids coming up today don’t have the opportunity to go and spend $15.00 a night to go and hang out every night.
SKF: But [that’s] necessary if you’re serious about making it?
DW: That’s where it becomes a thing of making sacrifices elsewhere.
I started making sacrifices when I was real young, in practicing. When all of my friends were out goofing around, and yelling and screaming outside, I was inside beating and practicing. The sacrificing started then.
As far as your money goes, you’ve got to realize what you want to spend it on, and what’s important to you. You’ve got to have a balance. You’ve got to have a good time, too, and things that will make you happy too.
It all depends on what you want, and how bad you really want it. If you want to do it bad enough, then nobody really has to say anything to you.
SKF: Is it necessary to be either on the East or West coasts to make it in the music business?
DW: We just came back from the first leg of the tour. I was in Minneapolis and I saw a band there that was real good. The drummer was smoking. He was playing left-hand, right-handed. The time was good, and he was playing good.
There are players in St. Louis who are unbelievable.
It’s just a matter of: How bad do you want it? Do you want to take the risk of going out on your own and trying to make something? It really depends on what you want to do. If you want to make it as a musician, and that’s where your heart lies, and you don’t want to do anything else, then you’ve got to go after it.
And nobody really has to tell you that.
I think anybody that does really make it, they probably really thought about it at first, and it was probably a pretty scary move if they had to go from the middle of nowhere to either coast. But that’s just what you’ve got to do. It seems to be either the East or West if you want to really make the scene.
There is a lot of good music all over the place. It’s just a matter of how far you want to take it.
SKF: Did you ever regret moving to New York?
DW: I’ve never regretted one move yet. I wouldn’t have done anything over yet. A few things didn’t happen as fast as I wanted them to. I was very impatient. I wanted to hit early. I thought about Peter Erskine playing with Stan Kenton when he was 17.
But the more I listened to myself on tape, that calmed me down real soon. I just said, “Look. Cool out and get it together first. There’s plenty of time. Don’t be in such a big rush.”
You go out and try to do something, and get thrown into a situation that you can’t handle. The only way to get better is to get kicked in the butt. Playing with more mature and better players than you. That’s a very important thing relating to how quickly you advance.
But you’ve got to make sure that you don’t go in totally uncomfortable in a situation. You’ve got to be comfortable with that type of playing with yourself. Even if you’re not up to the level of maturity of the rest of the players.
SKF: You were 4 years old when Simon and Garfunkel released Sounds of Silence.
DW: I remember swinging around a lamp post with some friends, singing, Feeling Groovy.
SKF: And now you’re in a drum chair that’s previously been occupied in concert, and on records, by Steve Gadd, Hal Blaine, Gary Chester, and Roger Hawkins.
DW: On the last album alone there’s Steve Gadd, Steve Ferrone, Jeff Porcaro, and John Robinson too, I believe. I didn’t even know who was playing on Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover until a couple of years after I started getting into Gadd, and finding out what else he played on.
SKF: How much leeway did you have to create your own parts for the songs?
DW: Basically, a lot. The rhythm section, under Paul and Art’s supervision, would give us suggestions. But during the first two weeks of rehearsal, Paul was really the only one there, because Artie was doing studio work.
We were taking all the older tunes and revamping a lot of them by putting different grooves in. Paul always wants to do something different if it fits, and if it works. He’s really a great musician. He’s a lot of fun to work for.
But the rhythm section would come up with our own grooves for different stuff. We had chord charts, but I just basically took the tapes and listened to see what was going on. I listened to the Central Park concert album, and tapes of a tour they’d done in Australia with Carlos Vega on drums.
SKF: Did you find any of the music challenging?
DW: All of it. I’d never played in a situation like that. The style of music was actually different for me. Some of it, anyway. It was all a challenge just because I wanted to play it right — even though some of it is very simple. Sometimes I’m just playing 16th notes on the snare drum with either sticks or brushes, and playing quarter notes with both feet. It doesn’t call for a lot, musically, but the sensitivity still has to be there. The feel has to be there, and the time still has to be there.
SKF: When you were practicing the songs did anything challenge you technically?
DW: No. I had to work out something new on Allergies. There’s two drummers playing the track on the album. Steve Gadd was playing the beat under Simmons drum fills by Steve Ferrone. There were two parts going on and I had to take the main ingredients of both and come up with a groove.
That was challenging because I ended up playing a left hand hi-hat part and Simmons fills with the right hand — while keeping the groove happening underneath. It was all the stuff that I’d learned from Gary Chester. If I have to do something left handed now it’s no longer a big deal. Because I went through a couple of retarded stages with [Gary Chester].
I’m still studying with Gary off-and-on now. But I plan on studying with him full-time again when I get off this tour. I’ve been studying with him about seven months.
SKF: How had you changed from your first lesson with Gary compared to the way you were playing seven months later?
DW: My concentration level had changed. It had gone up considerably just towards concentrating on what I was actually playing. I was actually hearing what I was playing instead of letting a little ghost note go in here or there.
Every time I walked in to a lesson I felt [like a novice]. [Gary] would come up with a different system every week. I’d go home and practice it and get it down so it was cooking.
I’d come back the next week and [Gary] would tell me to do something else with it that I hadn’t practiced — and make me feel [like a novice] all over again.
It was great though. His lessons are such a challenge.
At first I had no idea what Gary’s teaching was like. My friend, John, said, “You should go talk to Gary, man.” Because I was getting impatient. This was even before I’d gotten the gig with French Toast. I was spending a lot of time practicing, and I knew what I could do if just given the opportunity.
John said, “You should talk to Gary. He’s got so many connections. He could help yo out and get you into the studio.”
I said that I didn’t want to just approach [Gary] and say, “Hey, could you turn me on to some studio work? I can play.” I was just interested in taking a couple of lessons to see what he was all about.
Gary said, “Well, what I’m going to teach you I can’t really do in a couple of lessons. Either come study with me on a steady basis or it doesn’t happen.”
So I agreed. I wanted to find out what was going on. I went up there with the attitude that if I could do whatever he wants me to do, then after a few lessons I want to talk to him about some studio work. And if I can learn something from [Gary] — great.
I walked in there, man, and after I was done I felt like I was starting over. On my first lesson! I was embarrassed to death. Any idea of me even talking to him about wanting to do anything just went right out the window after the first ten minutes.
He was laying this stuff on me that had to do with hand and eye coordination.
For instance, one of [Gary’s] systems is keeping a consistent bass drum pattern, keeping a consistent hi-hat pattern, and then there is a snare drum line to read in-between. And on top of that, you sing the quarter note, you sing what you’re doing with the bass drum after that. Then you sing what you’re doing with the snare drum. You do this left-handed and right-handed.
Then he comes up with all these other ways to play the bass [drum] line. It gets nuts. And that’s only one of the things [Gary] does.
The coordination thing is unbelievable because you actually have five coordination things going on when you’re singing something against it. That helped me out with my time so much. Not that I had terrible time before that. But it just made me concentrate on it that much more. I could actually feel and sing the quarter note to myself — or sing the eighth note, or whatever — to help me really concentrate on what was going on.
If you’re able to do that and play against it, it’s unbelievable how much it helps lock it in so much more.
SKF: So [Gary Chester’s] is a very valid teaching system.
DW: Oh yeah. It enables you to take a line — something you hear in the music — and what you’re striving for from all this is to be able to play it any way.
Say, for instance, that a producer comes up to you and says, “I’d like you to play this type of thing.” The idea is to be able to say, “Okay,” and do it. Not to then sit down and work it our for an hour while you’re trying to figure out what to play.
A lot of people get hung up on reading. They say, “I just can’t read that well.” And a lot of times they can read rhythms fine. A lot of it is having the coordination to fit those rhythms in along with the beat, and try to make it all groove, and try to make the music happen.
You have hot to be able to see that whole thing and be able to see the beat as you’re playing.
— End of part 3. To be continued —