Take me back to Driffield, how on earth did you get into drumming in Driffield?
I was still at school and had four mates who always hung about together, we did sports and football – we were like a gang. We used to play football on a Thursday night in one of the guys’ back gardens. He had a huge back garden, and one day I kicked this ball just with anger and it shot somewhere it had never been before, it was all overgrown, and it landed near this brick building. I climbed over and got there and it was next to this door, it was an old air-raid shelter from the war and I went down for the ball and I heard this rhythm and blues thing (I didn’t know it was rhythm and blues, I just heard music) and I asked my mate “What’s in that shed?” and he said “That’s my brother, he’s in an R&B band” so I said “Can I go in there and listen?”, he said “You don’t go in there unless you’ve got a skirt on”.
So after 2 weeks of nagging the band had said that I could go in and watch them play one number. This was this mysterious building to me and I finally got to go in, I opened the door and it was dark apart from one red bulb down the other end over the stage that they’d built and it was a 5 piece band and they were playing ‘Off The Hook, [by The Stones] and I just stood there riveted, it just blew me away. I was kind of a nervous person, didn’t talk to people and definitely didn’t dance and I found while they were playing my leg was going and I didn’t care, and I just thought “Shit! The effect this is having on me, that’s what I want to do, I’ve got to do that!” because I’d been looking at being a policeman, a plumber, all the trades.
So you were 14 or 15 then?
Yeah, I was 14, because in those days you had to go for a trade, which was the thing to do. None of them appealed to me and I just went “I want to be a drummer”. I went out and said let’s form a band, so we formed a band called ‘The Mutations’, because that’s what we looked like and we did a few pub gigs. We’d do it for £5, so we got a quid each and then I got a Hendrix album, a Queen album, loads of stuff and just sat at home with a record player with my finger on it, slowing it down to listen to what he was hitting there, didn’t know anything about rudiments.
This would be around 1967?
Yeah, something like that. Then this band that I first heard called ‘The Roadrunners’ their drummer got arthritis in his arms but I think it was more his girlfriend didn’t want him to play anymore, so they came to me and asked if I would be their drummer. I was like “Shit!” but “Yeah, I’ll do it”. So I had to get my shit together on that and we played probably at least 2 or 3 times a week up there, everywhere from church halls to little out of the way pubs and clubs.
Were you based around Hull in those days?
Yeah Driffield, Hull, that area really. Then one day we did a gig around Woodstock time, and there was a festival in East Park Hall and we were on the bill. I started really doing rhythm and blues and if you couldn’t play that you were crap, you had to really almost be black to do it. So I did that then moved towards Tamla Motown and all that stuff so we could get gigs. Then when Clapton and the Blues Breakers came out, that was more musical so you could switch to that. So we’d done a couple of ‘Land of a thousand dances’ kind of stuff, we persuaded them to do ‘Sunshine of Your Love’, ‘Strange Brew’ and a Hendrix number and the other band that were on were called The Rats that had Mick Ronson in.
Was he from up there then?
Yeah. So I watched him and thought they were a good band, they were the pro band of the area. They were serious musicians and I didn’t know he’d watched me playing Cream and Hendrix. Then the Roadrunners split up and I had a few months sort of auditioning for other people but I didn’t find anything I actually wanted to do, so I was working in a factory. In Yorkshire (or at least in our town) if you got a good job the whole town found out about it and if you didn’t have a good job the whole town found out about it!
I’d been a plumber and all I did was stand there and smoke, I was an apprentice but I hated the smell and the final straw was one day in the middle of town the drains were blocked so I had to put the drain rods down and all the factories came out which were full of hundreds of girls and I’m stood in the middle of the road with drain rods and I just thought “That’s it I can’t do this anymore”. But in this factory I’d kind of got into it, I’d learnt all the machinery just out of boredom and then it came to this weekend they called me in the office, I was 19 then, and they said they wanted me to be the under-foreman, and I said “But there’s about 6 other guys who have been here years that should be getting this” and they said “Yeah but you’re the only one that knows how the factory runs, you’re the only one that can do every machine”. So they told me to make up my mind if I wanted to do it, I got a car; I got a house and all this. Now to me in my family situation I was the black sheep, this was the best news they could ever hear, so I told them and they were like “Ooh, our Michael, he’s going to do this”. Then that weekend Bowie rang up and said “Mick says you’re really good, I want you to come and join me in London”.
So I sat all weekend, just didn’t go out, sat watching TV, thinking, what am I going to do? I couldn’t get to a decision; I had to let him know on the Monday morning. I was watching telly and just thought “Right, your 67 years old, you’ve got your grandkids sitting there, there’s the dog, you’ve had your family and you’ve got your car, your house is nice, you’ve moved up and everything is really nice” and it just really freaked me out because I could almost see what life would be, it was there. I just went, “I don’t want that, I’ve got to go for what I want, it’s my life” and even if I come back in the gutter with a pair of drum sticks and they all go “told you, you were shit” at least I can go “Yeah but I tried, I went for it, you didn’t”. So I rang him up and said “Yeah I’m coming down”.
So Mick was in that band?
Yeah, he’d already joined. I think he was playing with Tony Visconti on bass.
Was he a good bass player?
I don’t know really. Because he was a musician, he could play recorder, piano, percussion bits, he was a cellist, so he knew notes, but as far as style, he hadn’t really listened to any other bass players so he just played his own thing.
But he obviously had a plan to be a producer, or did he?
Well he’d already done a bit, I think he’d done T-Rex at that point and he was producing ‘Man Who Sold the World’, so that was our first album.
Was Tony actually in the band then?
Yeah. We did a couple of gigs here and there and I used to go out with Bowie. David would go out just with his acoustic guitar because that’s what he’d been doing before the whole band thing and I’d just take a couple of bongos and a mat and sit on it and play all the tracks. We’d not rehearsed or anything; we’d just do two gigs a night – [say] do the Round House and then a pub in Beckenham. Then Tony reached the point where he said I don’t think I want to be a bass player I want to be a producer. So then we got Trevor Bolder who played with us in the Rats.
Had Bowie ever had a band before the Spiders?
He’d had Mick and another drummer that used to be in the Rats that I replaced. I kicked the drummer out of the Rats and joined that and he came down to London and played with a band called Juniors Eyes. So they were kind of his backing band – Mick Wayne, Tim Renwick. I don’t think the country thing suited the drummer, because they were kind of American Country, he [Bowie] wanted a more ballsy guitarist, so he suggested Mick who went down and did a few gigs and I think unfortunately Johnny Cambridge the drummer was more of a comedian than a drummer. He never stopped, he was fantastic but when you needed to do anything serious he was still joking and I think eventually it got to Bowie and he kicked him out, that’s when he rang me up.
Are you still in contact with David?
I think the last time was in Ireland about 3 years ago, I was on tour with Joe Elliott out of Def Leppard, we rang up and said “Any chance of any free tickets because we’re playing the night after you?”, so they got us the Royal Box. So we sat up there and he walked on and we were all leaning on it, and he just nodded.
He said if ever I did need to get hold of him because it would take ages to get hold of him, if you need to persist and I’ll get back to you, but I’ve never really needed to.
How long were you with Bowie?
1969 to 1974.
So after Bowie, I know you joined Art Garfunkel
Yeah I did that for a few years.
Was he a nice guy?
Different. Yeah he is, just very different, something I wasn’t used to, coming up through the down to earth rock ‘n’ roll thing and then here is this New Yorker, a sweet guy but it was hard. When you’ve come up through The Beatles, The Stones, Eddie Cochran, you always lean towards being a Zepplin/John Bonham type drummer. Because there was no mic’ing up in those early days and the amps got bigger and bigger, you had to play harder and harder. I used to saw broomsticks up and play with them, you could hear me but there wasn’t much finesse.
I got the gig really through Nicky Hopkins, the keyboard player, because he lived with us for about a year and he was doing lots of sessions and he said “Art asked me to put together a band for him, are you interested?” So I listened to some of the stuff and it was Gadd doing most of the drumming and that was really not my thing at all but I thought it’d be good to do. He said “You’re probably going to have to audition” so we set up in London in some rehearsal place. Art came in with a bag, walked up to the kit, threw his bag down and said “Playing drums for me is like walking on eggshells, so if you understand that we’ll get along”. I said “Well, cool” but then it took me two weeks to find out how to play it. All day long I was listening to the tracks
Working out what to leave out?
Yeah. He would do a fill that you could swear was going out [of time], and it was that LA laid-back thing and I couldn’t get it, I was always ahead, but the snare thing just had to sit in the pocket otherwise Art would turn around and go “You’re out”.
So I kept listening and listening and then it just dawned on me one day. I’d watched a video of Gadd when he was completely out-of-it and I just went: “He’s out of it”. So I started to play from an ‘out of it’ kind of view-point and it was there. I knew where it all was and I didn’t give a shit if I was in or out and Art started going “Cool, you’ve nailed it”.
So you had some idea of where it should all be if you were out of it I’m presuming?
Yeah, from others telling me. In the early days I remember the Rats had broken up for some reason and we were trying other things out and a promoter tried to persuade us to get together saying we were the biggest thing in the whole area and we could sell-out this big place at Hornsea Floral Hall so we agreed, so he promoted this big thing “The Rats Reform” and it was packed out. It was the first time one of our road crew had been down to London and the first time I think drugs had arrived in Hull.
So before we went on we were obviously nervous, we hadn’t played for a while, so he said “Here have a blow on this”. We didn’t know really what it was or anything about it and we played ‘Spoonful’ for 45 minutes and we thought it was the best gig we’d ever done in our lives. We came off and we’d recorded it on some cassette thing through the desk I think it was and the road crew came up and said “You can pack your own fucking gear up. That was embarrassing”. We did Spoonful in every time signature and style you could possibly do, reggae, everything, we were shaking each others hands going “That was amazing”. So we didn’t do it again.
What was your first drum kit?
That was in Hull?
Yeah. The first one I got belonged to the Salvation Army, it was proper skins on it, stitched up, proper calf skins, it was obvious the plastic finish had got ruined so they painted it bright yellow! It was really everything bent up, but I practised on it, that got me going. Then when I joined the Roadrunners they had a kit so I got that. The drummer that packed it in said “You’ve got my kit, you can have it” and that was a nice Premier kit. Then the drummer that was in the Rats had the same kit so I took his kit and that kit and made a double kit.”
Because you were into double bass drums early on weren’t you?
You don’t play double kick anymore do you?
Yeah, but one bass drum with two pedals.
Now it would appear with 3D (Woody’s current band with his two sons), you want to make drums an integral part of what you’re doing rather than simply as backing instruments and it really works doesn’t it?
You can play one tom tom and move an audience and not move off the tom. I just think, apart from your Louie Bellsons and all those in that era, who were doing that to a degree for the music of that day, I don’t think it’s been done since then, personally. That does it for me. I’ve never been a drummer who wants to get out there and show them what technique I’ve got, if the technique I’ve got is going to get used for this number because this number needs that 5 stroke roll there then I use it. I’m not going to go out and play anywhere just to show that I can do all that.
I think because of the nature of the business and the way it’s gone, a lot of drummers particularly seem to get their chops together, get their licks together, and they’re good, and then they go into teaching and then they go into masterclasses and clinics. They go down that route. The poor guy’s got a thousand kids sat in an audience going “I know I’ll never be as good as that, I came here to learn to be a drummer but I’ll never be able to do that.”
They desperately need to take something away from the clinic they can do which inspires them.
Exactly. Or play something that shows the use of the paradiddle rather than something that shows they can do it five times faster than anybody else.
We’re working on it [3D] at the moment, we’re just starting to book gigs.
That’s over here?
Yeah. We’ve got some enquiries from Vegas which is nice.
Are they seeing it like ‘The Blue Man Group’ is that how they’re looking at it?
There’s a touch of that but we said we’re not that because all we do is play and we’ve gone out and done opening-up gigs for certain events in our area and we’ve played up to 4 tracks, like 20 minutes.”
Having heard the three of you playing on YouTube its very reminiscent of Taiko drumming, was it intentional?
I did a drum thing at Queen Elizabeth Hall with Hossam Ramsey and he had a guy from Mongolia playing a world rhythm thing and he wanted an English drummer with it as well. I couldn’t speak to anybody apart from Hossam, and we did a gig, it was all in strange time and after that I went out and bought loads of world music, I was never a world music fan. I always thought it was Egyptian noise, strange things that would do nothing for me, but I went out and bought loads of stuff and started listening to the African, Indian stuff and getting into the rhythms and learning them – Taiko was one of them. Then about four years ago in LA I’d just got into the American bands that play at football games and I’d heard a few rudiments played that I went “What the hell is that?” I rang up the LA team, it was the final, and I asked if I could go and watch rehearsals and went to the stadium and I watched the band. That drum corps thing was just awesome. There’s some stuff in there that you don’t hear anywhere else. I decided I wanted to learn that, so I did. I went around YouTube and went through every band and learnt all the licks.
That could be really disconcerting though couldn’t it because of course they’re all kids as well. Obviously they do know the rules but they’re pushing the envelope all the time – arguably far more than we do.
Yeah. If [say] the brass section mess up, they have to run with their instruments right round the whole pitch while the rest of the band continuing rehearsing with all the choreography and they have to play as they’re running round and then get back into line and carry on. If 100 musicians, flutes and everything mess up, choreography-wise, they have to go back to where they messed up. The drummers play and by the time they finish their top speed they have to be back in their position ready to move. It’s amazing.
Very military isn’t it?
Yeah, but just the use of rudiments and the grooves they get into with bass drums and all sorts of different drum voices, you can pick out some really good bits. So that’s really where my thing comes from drums being able to deliver an emotional impact. One of my heroes in drums circles is Sandy Nelson. You’d mention him in drum magazines and people would go: “Oh yeah him”. To me talking as a punter and somebody that talks to lots of people who are not drummers but like music and drum music, they love his kind of tracks. They don’t know that it’s anything [complicated], they don’t know it’s a double stroke roll or anything. The only other one I think has got anywhere near it is probably Neil Peart, some of his solo bits do have that [emotion] when you hear a section of his solo, that does have it. Obviously it’s a personal thing.”
So all three of you had DW kits on Youtube, were they provided by DW or were they yours?
No, we hired them.
You didn’t talk to John Good about it?
We did but couldn’t get them in time. I’ve since been to the DW factory and had a big talk. Terry Bozzio’s kit was there which was bigger than the factory! I was in this room and I go “Look at all the pedals, this must be all the new pedals” and Terry went, “No, actually they’re my pedals for my kit”. I counted them, there were 19 pedals. He said “How many have you got”, I said “Two, well one really because it’s a double”.
But then I thought we need 2 kits, a lot of percussion, top range congas and everything else, you’re looking at £20,000 worth of gear. I couldn’t do that, so I went out around London and tried out all the new drums that were out there – new makes, just to see what was there and the one that blew me away was from PDP, the X7 kit. I was in a showroom, there was everything there, I took the PDP tom tom, because it had a particularly good sound and checked it against all the others on every other kit in there against it (after I’d tuned them) and the PDP won.
Did they have DW in there as well?
They had DW as well, but PDP is a DW kit. I tuned it and if you closed your eyes you couldn’t tell the difference which kit I was playing, one kit was £4,500 and the other £670.
The recorded drums sound very ethnic, very Taiko like. Did you do anything to them to achieve that?
No just tuned them really.
Because they do sound almost as if they have calf skin heads on.
No, they’re Evans heads. I think a lot of it is how you play because you’re after that tribal/ethnic sound so you tend to play to produce that, you’re not going for a clinical jazz or funk sound. It makes you hit a bit differently.
Do you spend a lot of time in LA these days?
Yes, I’ve been getting a bit of work there that’s really why. I did a film for Stephen Soderbergh at the end of last year with Ken Scott who did Elton John and Bowie.
I did a thing with Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, Rod Morgenstein and Supertramp’s drummer, Bob Siebenberg so 5 drummers and this sound sample company asked Ken if he would get all those drummers together and sample them as they sounded in the ‘70s
Ken Scott worked for Trident didn’t he, seems like only yesterday?
He got asked to produce this sound track for a film called Cleo, its not out, they haven’t started shooting it yet and they wanted a rock soundtrack but he wanted it like the seventies rhythm and drum wise. It’s very weird, there are a lot of weird chords and beats. It’s with Catherine Zeta Jones, Justin Timberlake, Ray Winstone, some big names.
I assume this is in Hollywood. Where did you record it?
Just outside Los Angeles.
Was it a residential studio?
Yeah, I stayed in a hotel on the Beach. So that was good and then I did a thing with Terry Bozzio, Billy Cobham, Rod Morgenstein and Supertramp’s drummer, Bob Siebenberg so 5 drummers and this sound sample company asked Ken if he would get all those drummers together and sample them as they sounded in the ‘70’s and then play modern grooves as well. So we went to LA and did that, they got me my old kit.
The Ludwig kit?
Yeah, silver sparkle. I haven’t played one since them days and we tuned it the same, same cymbal, same snare, same mics, everything.
What was the snare?
Well that was the sound wasn’t it?
Yeah and it sounds amazing. I was not into what the hell’s the engineer doing and them bits, I didn’t give a shit but when I watched him, the sound is just so, and he did it on analogue and on ProTools, so we had to get it right, which was hard because I did those when I was 19, those tracks, and I had to play to the backing tracks and play the same drum track.
Which tracks did you do?
All the Ziggy ones.
But it wasn’t done to a click track?
No, I played to the actual tracks.
So it’s a little bit easier?
It is when there’s a bit of room.
When are you going back to LA?
We’ve got more tracks to record, we’ve been busy writing, so we’re trying to get back there this year, that’s the plan.
It’s you and both the boys then?
Just Danny and myself and we go out live like that, computer, video screens and all effects.
I guess Mick’s still teaching?
I was trying to get hold of him last week, his phone was off, so I figure he must have been in a lesson or something.
We’re doing another album with Joe Elliott.
This is the tribute band?
Yeah, it’s kind of a tribute band. Joe Elliott wants to do some of the stuff on ‘The Man Who Sold the World’ and ‘Hunky Dory’ and we slip in Hendrix tracks and stuff like that. It went down a storm in Japan. We toured it there and I was thinking “Who the hells going to come and see this?” and it was packed. It was quite weird because in the Bowie days we never went to the front [and bowed] it wasn’t the thing, but now you do. I got off my kit, and I walked down and there were 16 and 17 year olds, and I’m thinking “My son’s twice as old as you this is not right”, Joe just says “Get into it and smile.”
It all seems to still be going ahead for you Woody, you’re not slowing down.
Yeah. I think I realised early on you do something and some time after you go “what am I going to do now?” I never bothered to meet people [in the Bowie days], networking wasn’t the thing back then, so all you knew was that you were part of an entourage and now you haven’t got a gig. What do you do? I went through quite a while of struggling and then someone said why don’t you phone someone up.? I thought “phone someone up? That’s not what I do.” During one those bleak periods that we all have I just thought, no, how did I get things going when I was 14? What was successful for me then was: “What do you want to do, what do you see yourself doing?” That’s how I got work, I would look at a band and think they’re good, I can’t ever see me playing with them, I’d love to but I don’t know if I’ll ever get it – then I’d get it. Then the next one, they’re above me – then I’d get it.
I was reading about Ronnie Wood the other night. I remember seeing the Jeff Beck group in the late sixties and they were awesome: Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, Ronnie Wood on bass. To us: me, Mick Ronson, Trevor, that was always the early Zepplin band but I never thought anybody else would have looked at it like that and its recently coming out that’s what people did think. He said that it wouldn’t have gone that way because he always wanted to be in the Stones, that’s what Ronnie Wood said, that was always his dream. I thought that’s what it’s all about, the dream, but unless you dream you don’t get it, no matter when you’re doing it, or how old you are, you still have to dream. Then you’ve got at least 50% chance of it happening. If you think you can’t, or you’re too old, or this, that and the other then you’re not going to move out of your house.”
As Ivor Arbiter used to say, there are two hundred reasons for not doing something but only one reason for doing it. I think we know what he meant!
Interview – Bob Henrit