SKF NOTE: Les DeMerle asked me during his interview to ask him about music versus the music business. So I did. Les’s reply is still valid in 2020. The interview was published in Modern Drummer’s October 1984 issue.
Les DeMerle: There are so many guys in the circle of working players who go through a negative trip, in every instrument, not only drums. In fact, most of the time the drummers are the most up guys in the group.
You’re coming to music because you love music. I can remember the first time I ever saw a snare drum in a store window. I didn’t think about how many dollars I was going to make playing it. I just wanted to play the drum and play music.
If you can keep that attitude, no matter how successful or tough the times might be, that’s the core of the inspiration you need to keep the growth process going.
I understand that if you don’t work at all and you’re constantly banging your head against the wall — that’s tough. But the thing is, that even if you’re playing something that you don’t like musically — you’re still playing music and making a living. Today, that alone is an accomplishment.
And I see so many guys come to the gig with bad equipment and an attitude that says, “Aw, man. When is it going to be over?” And it shouldn’t be like that. They are their own fault. They’re making it harder on themselves when they think like that. There’s all this good music being played out there today and if you want to play it, there are ways to do it.
I hear my students say, Well we don’t have any place to play. I tell them to find a place in their neighborhood that has a bar or a backroom, and tell the owner that you’ll play for the door. Get guys that you want to play with and play the music you want to play. And if the music is good, somehow people will hear about it and you’ll attract people.
You’ve got to take those kind of shots. It seems to me that alot of guys want the glory, but they don’t want to do the work.
I’ll use Chick Corea and Chuck Mangione as examples. I remember getting flies in the mail every week from little holes in the wall in New York and Rochester where they were playing. I still have one of those fliers in my scrapbook for a band that included Chick Corea and Steve Gadd playing at a place called “The Other Side of the Tracks” — for the door money. No admission.
But they believed in what they did and now they’re able to sit back and pick and choose.