Steve Clover on Buddy Rich

Specials 01-03-1997 18:12

Steve Clover, historian, ethnomusicologist, drummer and teacher, has been living in The Netherlands since 1981. He worked with Art Pepper, John Carter & Bobby Bradford, Tim Buckley, Vinny Golia, John Tchicai, Gene Harris and the 3 Sounds, Joe Brazil, Don Lanphere, Al Hood and Warne Marsh. His most recent recording (Three Worlds with the Franklin/Clover/Seales Project) is available at Steve Clover will be moving back to the USA this summer.

Hugo Pinksterboer interviewed Clover for a Buddy Rich tribute article that appeared in the Dutch drummer's magazine Slagwerkkrant, issue 79, March/April 1997, ten years after Buddy's death. The following article is an unedited verbatim of this conversation.

"Buddy was showbusiness. There's no question about it. But the showbusiness was based on his playing. People like Weckl are showbusiness, and their playing is based on their showbusiness. .. I think that's the difference. I don't mean that to denigrate Weckl's playing, but it just has turned around.

I think that any young player who's got any eyes and things, sees that as the attraction of so much that they hear - cause they don't hear much - they mistake that for what drumming is. Just like, in a sense, they are mistaking what Buddy's doing is double and single strokes and that's what drumming is, you see? But that's what they see. And that's not what it is. It's what the music is, it is what drumming is. That is what it is.

Buddy's showbusiness, his whole thing was based on drumming. He was a drummer first. And he happened to grow up in a showbusiness family. Everybody who ever read anything about Buddy knows that he was called Baby Traps when he was 18 months old. But it's very easy to mistake that for the opposite: to see the showbusiness before the drumming. A lot of young players now take the showbusiness part as the drumming, and they base their drumming on the show part, the entertainment part, the looking like they are playing, rather than playing.

In a way I would also say that of Dave Weckl, and, again, not to denigrate his playing. What I'm saying is that the substance of what he plays is much emptier than what Buddy was playing. That's why Buddy is gonna go on forever, in that sense, and that's why they probably will not have Dave Weckl memorial concerts in 25 years. OK? And that's not to say that he isn't a good drummer, but the musical and drum value of what it is, are not in the same direction.

Will there be any memorial concerts for other drummers anyway?
We'll see.... But only pointed at the longevity of it... It 's not going to be on the showbusiness part. And that's what puts the younger generat ion - and I am not saying that they can't play, because they can play their dicks off, that's not the point... It has to do with the value system. With the system of what and why are they doing it, and of what's the source of what they are doing and the s ource they are deriving it from, spiritually...

Buddy Rich was a drummer and a showman. In that order. And he was convincing. I think that's one of the things that lives about him. You listen to that West Side Story, you listen to the stuff he did w ith Bird, to all the things he did, which really covers an enormous amount of the history of jazz, you know. You listen to him speak reverently about Sid Catlett and Bay Dodds and Krupa.

Most people don't know Buddy's playing with Harry James, or with Sinatra, what he did for years. They don't know him as a tapdancer and as a singer, as a comedian - he was a very very funny cat...

In a funny way that's a generational thing to. Rich, in his way, was a communicator. That's not a high priority, now. An d that's why it's very difficult to make comparisons between Weckl and Rich, because the impetus that brings them to what they do and that brings them to that level, and the intensity of what they do are just different things. That's like the classic apples and oranges.

Ed Blackwell and Gene Krupa, and Buddy, they were communicators. That gives them longevity. And that's why you don't see, in a sense, memorials for other people - and then we could also discuss the business side of these concerts, but that's another thing...

Buddy was so big and so strong, musically and personality wise - and that's another thing, too, what people are going to remember: Buddy's personality was very strong. How much of that was mixed into his whole showbusiness thing, nobody will ever know. When Buddy was on he was always on. He's always gonna be that. Blackwell was different, in that sense. Blackwell was not on, he was just a very peaceful, quiet man.

He drew a lot of things, on a personal level, which was in on e sense complimented by the drumming and in another sense to his persona... There's a lot of ways you can look at Buddy Rich: as the drummer, as the persona - that whole thing... which in a way, makes him difficult to deal with. There weren't and there aren't many professional drummers doing talk shows.

You'd see Buddy with Johnny Carson, you'd see him a lot on tv, and not just as a drummer, but sitting there, talking and telling jokes, singing, tapdancing, the whole thing. He was invited as Buddy Rich. Just like the would invite Sinatra, not Sinatra the singer or Sinatra the actor, but as Frank Sinatra. And the fact they also invited Buddy had a lot to do with the mystique and the persona of Buddy Rich.

What attracts young drummers is that they see tha t mixture. Here's this guy playing his dick of, but he's kind of an asshole too, who's brassy, who says "Hey, I'm good". They kind of dig that, too. A lot of these cats, the young drummers, never had a chance to see Buddy play live. And they didn't grow up in that time. That's the funny thing about it.

It is very much a time thing, but at the same time that makes it a very timeless thing... For some reason...

In a certain way the qualities that he embodied as a drummer were timeless, literally and figuratively spe aking. He was just good at what he did, and that's a timeless quality. And, taking away the style aspect, what he was saying was timeless... Musically speaking.

Also he was positive. I never heard him play anything that wasn't positive, that wasn't uplifting. Drummistically and musically, artistically. And that's timeless.

One of the things about Buddy Rich was that with all the chops that he had, and with all the musicality and the, whatever that is, talent that he had, he was never self indulgent. Had he not been a drummer, I'm sure he would have been just as "hey, look at me". And that went both ways. When he played he never showboated, he n ever said "I am gonna play this fast because I can play this fast, and not because it has musical value."

He did everything his own way. He was always Buddy Rich. I think he was very cognicent of he fact that he was Buddy Rich: people would come and see Buddy Rich, and they didn't come to see Joe Morello or whoever. And that again goes to his whole feeling of showbusiness, in a very positive way, that he did have a responsibility to the people that came to see him. And he had a responsibility to the pe ople he played with. He was always a giver, in a musical sense. Even if people couldn't get along with him.

See, I knew a lot of cats that used to play in his band, and whatever they had to say in a personal sense, they loved to go to work. They could never go to sleep because Buddy's right on top of them all the time. He was two, two and a half times older than half these cats, but they could never let go - every night was a good night.

And with Buddy it's just like with Hollywood stars: a lot of myths always followed him around. None of my friends were ever fired of the band, and I know they didn't play brilliantly all the time. I mean: Buddy wasn't stupid... He himself would have a bad night, but he was on such a level that nobody was going to know that anyway...

This is 1997. The whole thing, When I was a kid, which made things a lot different, there was two aspects... As drummers we were taught different. So in one sense there was a lot more sensitivity and awareness of certain greatness. Stylistically I was never a Buddy Rich fan, though I would have driven 200 miles to go hear him play. OK? Most of the people I know were somewhat like that.

Because part of it, my impression now in 1997, looking at then, we were not into that whole cult of p ersonality that seems to be going on now: now we got Madonna and Prince and all of that, which for the most part has nothing to do with what they can or cannot do: it is just a cult of personality. And in a funny way that is kind of growing up around Buddy , after all these years, now that he's gone.

Most of that cult comes from younger drummers who have grown up in the time of the cult of personalities, rather than being really well schooled in the music and drumming to in a sense respond on any kind of level to what Buddy was doing. They respond much more on that personality thing around him, plus they see him move so fast that they go "Oh he's got to be good", see what I am saying, rather than just taking him as he is. And he's just a drummer. Oh, did Erskine said that already? Sorry, Peter...

We do have that cult thing now. Because of a lack of heroes, I think. When I grew up everybody had their heroes. Who are the heroes now? Michael Jackson? Heroes change more often than people change underwear.

When I came down to Holland, in 1981, everybody was talking about Steve Gadd. And some time later everybody was talking about Joel Rosenblatt. And I haven't heard anybody say anything about Joel Rosenblatt for years anymore. Does that mean he can't play anymore? Fuck, no! It just means that he's not somebodies favorite anymore. That's the problem, and that's what I am saying about Buddy.

You're a good drummer or you are not a good drummer. You're a good writer or you're not a good writer. On one level my agreement or acceptance of a drummer or a writer is not necessarily contingent on whether I agree with him or not. I can still recognize the fact that they are good, or great. I can't think of any drummer that I thought of as a great drummer back then, that I think of as any less great now.

Now that part has changed. The ironic part is that drummers that I didn't think were great when I was 14 or 15, over time I realized how great they were. And that was growth. My growth. Blackwell was one that I had a very hard time with when I was 16 or 17 years old. Part of it because of his rudimental orientation, because I grew up in that and immediately kind of put it away, but I heard it wrong. With jaded ears, so to speak. I heard too many rudiments, until I came to understand it. As I grew and as I began to understand me, relative to what I was dealing with, then I went "Aha. Aha, now I got it". But it was never they other way around. Shelly was probably my first hero, and he was a hero till the day he died. Never changed.

It becomes more difficult to separate what Buddy was as a drummer, or as a persona. Jazz or pop is showbusiness and you got that viciousness in there, and along with that you got awe. And they both tend to ignore what's being talked about. If you stand in awe you loose a certain objectivity, and if you're gonna be vicious about someone, you loose a certain objectivity. That has an awful lot to do with him.

Probably the greatest thing, one of the nicest things about Buddy, something we should always be thankful for, is that he created a standard. Whether you play in his style or not, he created a standard of musicianship and of drumming that has got to be respected. And you can't betray that. He was a great drummer - and it's not for me to say that he was the greatest drummer or not - but he certainly was one of the greats and in that sense he certainly deserves the respect, by creating a standard, because there's very few people that create standards anymore. And it could very well be that Buddy for many many years will be one of the last cats that created a standard.

On a technical level there are very few who will be able to create such a standard, especially on a technical level that reaches the audience that Buddy did, on a level that had the impact that he did. I have seen drummers who had the entire Buddy Rich thing down, but what they were saying with it didn't make any sense.

The technical standard he set was so high. Now Morello has set a standard, but Morello didn't have that same persona, he didn't have the whole ball of wax... And in a certain way you could say that he didn't have the warmth that Buddy had. And I love Joe's playing... Buddy Rich was an asshole, people said, but there was a tremendous warmth that came though his playing, Jesus Christ. How could anybody say that he was a bad person... That's not what it is about.

If I go out and pay $ 25,- to see Buddy Rich play, I don't give a fuck if he's sleeping with his mother, for Chrissakes...
Yet of course you got p eople who go to see Buddy to see him shout at his musicians, like they go to a race track hoping to see some accidents. Those people don't understand what's going on. Unfortunately I think those people are going to be much more in the majority... than the y would like to admit...

How would you convince any young drummer, who would most likely call Buddy's music old fashioned, to listen to Buddy? Well, the first thing I'll do is that they will be old fashioned themselves, within a year or two. As soon as someb ody find out something else they can get them to buy...
Old fashioned... It's is such a cheap word, man.

If I have a surgeon and the cat is going to perform surgery on me and he is seventy years old and the best surgeon in the world, I'm not going to look at him and call him old fashioned, because some things don't change. Knowledge and the ability to express that knowledge, and feeling and the ability to express those feelings, will never be old fashioned. Is Shakespeare old fashioned?

What you could learn from a drummer like Buddy in terms of heavy metal, well, you may not be able to translate that on a one to one basis, but I don't think that's ever the point. If I do this here, well you know... What you can only hope for is being abl e to play music as good as he did, for as long as he did, and to give and to contribute as much as he did. That's what they can learn. Because the playing ain't shit.

Buddy Rich had a great life and an interesting life and he grew up in a very interesting t ime in history, and he was a great drummer. There were a lot of things happening. He was there in the swing era, he was there when bebop developed, he saw a lot of things in music happen. And he was part of those things. Part of those of things to the ext e nt that he never stopped being Buddy Rich... Right?

If you listen to Harry James band in the forties and you listen to Buddy's big band in the sixties, you know it's Buddy. Yet he had this uncanny thing of making it sound fresh all the time. It was never old, cause it was him, cause he was living, cause he was enjoying, and because he was doing what he loved. That's what they can learn. If they can't bring that to what they are doing, then they shouldn't be doing what they are doing.

In that sense the music ain't shit. It is the love and the passion that you bring to whatever it is you are doing. Right? They'll never play as fast as he does, but that doesn't make any difference cause they're never gonna think as fast as he did. Cause he was a very fast man. Very quick, very funny, a great raconteur. A whip, a rapier. Phewww.

What a lot of cats don't understand is that's one of the reasons he could play so fast: because he thought quick. A lot of drummers mix up playing fast with pure practice. It's a trick: you do it long enough and... But if you can't....

It's kind of like talking: if your thoughts go faster than you can move your mouth, than that's as fast as they are going to come out. They're are not gonna come out any faster. Well, if your hands can only move as fast as you can think, there's no point in getting them to move faster. So a lot of what drummers mistake for speed is actually very quick thinking. And the thought places that note even before it is seemingly thought about. And that sounds fast, because it's surprising to the people hearing it. Boy, that's quick... That's fast. You see?

What I am saying is that one of the reasons he is so fast is because he was fast. He had a quick mind. He grasped things, he was funny. He was Buddy. He was Buddy...

Look. There's Louie Bellson. A fine drummer. Buddy was just a little older than Louie is, I think. But there was something that set them apart. And nobody in the world can say that Louie Bellson is not a good drummer. He is a gre at drummer. A style apart. Louie is a fucking great drummer. But Buddy had that other thing going.

There's his persona that comes through. And Louie is just a nice, really sweet cat. Now I could imagine that if Louie had the persona of Buddy, than their d u et would really have been a slam down wam bam kind of thing, you dig what I am saying? Because personality does come out in the playing. And that's the funny thing.

You could say that technically Buddy had an edge, but in another sense Louie wasn't that f a r behind Buddy, quantitatively speaking. But something made that difference greater, and part of that is his persona, that came out in his playing. And you can't translate that into notes or technique or rudiments or anything else. That's just what was co ming out: that's Buddy Rich.

One of the things I always used to think about Blackwell is in a way Blackwell was a very pensive kind of player. But then after I had met Blackwell a few times, and kind of got to know him, I discovered goddamn, he is a pe nsive person. A very quiet and peaceful man. You listen to Roy Haynes, you hear this pop, crackle, bam and all that shit. But I remember, in New York whe n he was working for Monk, in the Five Spot, and he was coming in, not a big cat, and he's dressed, an d he was pop and crackle, you dig what I am saying?

And so a lot of what comes out in Buddy, and I reiterate, he is deserving every, every accolade that he gets in a technical sense, but the thing that I think that really put him there was HIM that came out through that. And that, historically, is what's gonna fuck musicians up all the time, because they are going to continually think that that's something you can learn. You see?

Just like cats wanting to play like Coltrane, so "I will learn all thes e scales and things". They don't give shit about the Koran, they don't give a shit about Confusionism, and things like that, they don't give shit about God and Jesus and things like that... And those are the things, in a very funny way, that in a sense gave Coltrane, especially in later years, what Coltrane was. It gave form to all the things he'd do. Plus his just insatiable lust to learn things. And you put those things together and it's dynamite.

But anybody that wants to can sit down twelve hours a day and learn what Coltrane learned, if they're as disciplined as he was. But there will still be something else, you see: and that's why all the John Coltrane clones will remain John Coltrane clones forever. Because they don't have that other thing. And it's the same with Buddy.

Kind of on the side: when I was a kid, everybody would say "Why do I have to learn how to read? Buddy Rich can't read..." There was always two people: Buddy Rich can't read, and Errol Garner can't read.... Unfortunately none of the people saying that had ears as big as Buddy's... or Errol Garner's, first of all. And they weren't as disciplined as they were. What I was told is they would have a drummer come in and read the charts down. And Buddy would hear that West Side Story once, from top to bottom, and then he went up there and play it like he had been playing it for years. Boom. That's Buddy Rich...

(Steve Clover, interviewed by Hugo Pinksterboer, february 1997)