Joe English – Getting Chops Together with Sea Level

Scott K Fish, Joe English at an Albany, NY hotel circa 1980.

SKF NOTE: Joe English was tough to interview. Here’s what I wrote as part of the interview introduction in the June 1986 Modern Drummer:

“Joe English agreed to to this interview in 1980. Then he disappeared. In 1983, I got approximately three-fourths of this interview on tape, when Joe disappeared for another three years. I nicknamed him the Howard Hughes of Drumming. I had no positive proof that Joe was a bad guy. He never returned my phone calls or answered my letters, but I have two grandmothers who are guilty of the same thing, and they’re not bad people. The last quarter of this interview was, finally, taped at the tail end of 1985, and I submitted it to MD in March 1986.”


Joe English: It wasn’t a choice of leaving Wings to go with Sea Level. I left Wings and didn’t do anything for a year. Then I knew Chuck Leavell, the keyboard player with Sea Level, and I had to start playing again.

I was playing drums like a truck driver. Nothing against truck drivers. But, my chops were down. My last year with Wings was a situation where I did a lot of waiting, not a lot of playing. And I just didn’t get inspired to practice in my London apartment, so my chops started to slide.

Then I took one year off with the exception of playing a few club dates with some friends.

The guys in Sea Level had been playing constantly together for two years when I went to work with them. They were playing instrumentals and progressive music. And I was with my chops down 98-percent.

I had to soak in hot water after playing with them the first week. But, it was great. It was do or die. Get your chops back together or go pick strawberries.

I did get my chops back together. And it felt really good to work with people who were playing that kind of music.

After Wings was over I had learned how to play pretty simple; that playing simple and putting good things in certain sports was an art in itself. Just like being able to play all over the place at any time is special too.

It took me six months to get my act back together. I did three albums with Sea Level: On The Edge, Ball Room, and Long Walk Off a Short Pier. Sea Level was the world’s greatest unknown band. We had followers in different parts of the country, but for the most part, peoples’ reaction was: Who’s that?

When they heard the band they’d be completely blown away. It was a great band of great musicians.

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