[BRIEF SNIPPETS OF THIS INTERVIEW HAVE APPEARED IN GOLDMINE MAGAZINE]
JH: I guess I’ll just kick it off with my first question here… from the vantage point of today, are you happy with what you and Leslie did with a reunited Mountain?
JH: I guess I’ll just kick it off with my first question here… from the vantage point of today, are you happy with what you and Leslie did with a reunited Mountain?
CL: That’s a good question. We’ve reunited back and forth over the last 40 years. There have been some very positive aspects to it and there have been some not so positive aspects. In retrospect, if you’re talking about the last five years, yes. The last sort of major recording we did that I’m very proud of personally is Masters of War, which is still even after 5, 6 years is still out there selling because I’m still receiving royalty checks from that which is kind of encouraging because of the longevity of that piece of repertoire. So, in that way yes. The last recording that we did together and we had some wonderful guests on that record. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it.
CL: Okay, so that yes, that was a very positive experience. I think on one hand since you’re talking from I guess a creative point of view, we didn’t have to write the material. The material was brilliant. It was written by Mr. Zimmerman. So it was… Leslie and I had talked about it at that time to say, “What does Mountain want to say at this point in life?” You know, and we just I guess it was recommended by one of our friends at the record label and they said, “Why don’t you maybe do sort of a cover record of Bob Dylan?” And that stems from Leslie’s ad hoc performance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” when I think some equipment on the stage somewhere out in California broke down and he just went into his version of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which apparently he had previously heard Neil Young do, I think, at one of that Farm Aid shows. And anyway, so that sort of perpetrated the idea of “Why don’t we do a whole album?” I call it “Mountainizing,” taking our style and putting it to some Bob Dylan favorites of ours, not necessarily his more prominent works but so it was great to be able to record and feel free to play parts that we wanted to contribute to the recording without having to concern ourselves with the lyrics or with other things that normally when you do source material you have to concentrate on, etc. So, we had the freedom to play and we had wonderful material to work from, so that again was a great experience from us because needless to say the writing and the production was usually put in our corner after Felix had passed away, so Leslie and I found ourselves sort of out there saying, “Okay, what do we want to say?” And that was put on me most of the time, because I actually wrote most of the lyrics in those days and I wouldn’t consider myself a lyricist but it was one of those things where we’re going to write about this, you know write some lyrics and let’s how it flies. Which we did back in the 80s and then in the 90s. Again, I think the last recording if I remember correctly, the last recording we did as a comprehensive CD or album of material this was the Bob Dylan cover CD and it got received beautifully…very well-received by the critics and like I said it’s been still selling whatever it’s selling and I think we recorded it back in 2007 or 2008. It goes back quite a while, so when you think about that we’re not necessarily at the top of the heap in album sales but let’s put it this way, we’re very proud of that recording; the way it was produced and of course having that material. Personally, I had the opportunity to play any kind of drums I wanted to play. Normally, I’m just concerned with writing the songs and I just put a drum track on that I wouldn’t say it was an afterthought but a lot of times I would just play the drums to it. So that’s my take on a more positive aspect of the band at that time. In terms of the not so positive stuff, you know during the 80s we had to sort of try to be relevant. We were right on the fine line of being dinosaurs and then again the sort of retro-aspect of Spinal Tap, etc. etc., which kicked in “heavy metal” so we had resurgence to, a certain… especially in Europe and the UK which we were back and forth quite a few times over those years which would take us into the 90s. So, that material I don’t think it was top of the line material personally but I don’t know how you want to phrase that, Jason. It’s kind of like, I don’t want to be negative about it, but I don’t think our attempt to be relevant produced what I would consider to be a first division piece of repertoire. I guess that’s the way I’d put that. I don’t want to get into specifics, but like we were all over the place. How’s that? We recorded in Florida. We had Pete Solley who was from the Romantics produce it and he was sort of more of a pop producer and at that the time we felt that was the way to go. We learned a great deal, but let’s put it this way; I think we were out of our water. We weren’t really doing what we did we thought we do well. I think it was a bit of an identity crisis for the band or for Leslie and myself. We went through a couple of bass players at that time and I don’t know if it was that cohesive style. You know what I mean? We used a little synthesizer which we never really subscribed to, so we tried that. A lot of people really loved it, which I have to say you can’t really judge other people’s opinion, but when people come up and you say, “I don’t know about that…” and they say, “No man, I love that, I love that song!”, what am I going to say? So for me the experience was we were reaching for something and I’m not sure we quite got there. I’m talking basically about Go for Your Life… I’m not sure if you’re familiar? We did a couple of records specifically to put out in Europe before we toured and I think one of them was called High.
JH: Right! Yeah, it was called Mystic Fire here in the US.
CL: So, you’re aware of that and I appreciate that very much. That way I don’t have to think that much about it, but yes, you’re aware of some of those records. We came out with Over the Top which Sony wanted to do sort of a legendary kind of sort of comprehensive retrospective of what our favorite songs from the Mountain repertoire were that they re-recorded or digitalized or whatever they called it and, you know, they tweaked it up. Some of that was real good and we had Noel Redding come in to do a couple of bonus tracks with us that I thought were kind of cool. We recorded that over in England and that was the 90s. And then, of course, I think we came out with, shit you got me started, now you’ve got me banging my head around, you probably know more about what happened in the early 21st/22nd century or whatever that year was or year’s decade. We were on the road quite a bit and we did a lot of live recording. On the negative side, they recorded a live show in Paris… Texas? Well, we did one in Paris and then we did one in Texas and I wasn’t impressed with that at all. It was kind of… this is when a lot of the CD companies wanted to do DVDs, so they were asking us to do those and, keeping in mind Mountain when Felix and Steve were part of what I consider the original band, the band’s peak came with a keyboard player. I always loved it, but Leslie was never crazy about having keyboards along the way because he wanted to go power trio. I’m sort of old fashioned and I loved some of the keyboard parts Felix would write for Steve. They were subtle parts, but I thought there was a texture in there that made it much more credible and much beautiful in those days and we tried keyboards on a couple of other recordings. We had a player… Howie Wise came in to play on a couple of them and you know what I mean, it was all a work in progress over the last I guess 40 to 50 years. I think it’s 45 years now and wow, there have been lots of ups and downs, Jason! [laughs] I look at it all as a wonderful experience. If you’re blessed with making a living with something you love to do, you’re going to go through those kinds of relationships with the repertoire and the personnel. But, you know, fifty years to go up and down and in and out with Mountain was really never what I would consider to be anywhere near the same as Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, even though we came out in that era, you know? We didn’t maintain. That’s the problem, we did not maintain again the differences between Felix and Leslie, the business broke up and we should have never done that. We should have never gone our separate ways and announced the band was over. A lot of bands break up and they come back together and you never know they broke up. In our case I think the management and whoever was in charge wanted to make it clear, especially when Jack joined up with us that Mountain was over and that this was the real thing. West, Bruce and Laing was the real band. It was a bit confusing in those days. You know, and again certain things will be written about that transition because Mountain was touring England at the time Les and I were putting together West, Bruce and Laing but we knew that was over.
So yeah, there were some changes. Leslie and I were pretty consistent and, almost being siblings, we had our differences, major differences and I don’t think there was any right or wrong. It was completely just an idea, “Do you want to do this?” “No, we don’t want to do that,” like any relationship and I hope that answers your question to a certain extent.
JH: It does, absolutely.
CL: Okay, okay, again we can refer back to that as you’re banging my head around. This is good.
JH: You mentioned Go For Your Life there and that’s when I was first introduced to the band. I was a very young kid at the time and remember you and Leslie did a radio interview on this old radio show from the 80s called Metal Shop. I got to hear some of Go For Your Life and I was a fan since then. Then, of course, it sent me back to the older albums and it solidified my admiration for the band. I remember Go For Your Life got a big push, but seemed like it dissipated as quickly as it began. I think, like you said, the band was getting pushed badly because Mountain was never a heavy metal band to me. It was a heavy rock band and that’s an important distinction. I know Leslie has good things to say about that album, but I agree with you that it was kind of like trying to fit Mountain into a box that didn’t fit. A lot of older bands were going through that sort of thing at the time; for instance, Deep Purple was introducing synths and things like that and turning very… I don’t really want to say commercial…
CL: No, you can say that, that’s fine. Think of the name. I don’t know about desperate but, it implies, do whatever you can. “Go for your life” is an expression that we used and Leslie and I thought of the songs. One later song that I really liked, “Crest of a Slump”, had some of my favorite lines about how you can’t fool yourself, you’re on top of nothing. If that album turned you on, there’s a perfect example of why I shouldn’t be negative at all about that record since it turned you onto seeking out the original material. I couldn’t agree with you more about the heavy metal aspect because, during the late 80s, there was a magazine called Kerrang that came out in England that Leslie was madly in love with and he was really pushing to be really heavy, heavy metal. So, needless to say, he had the guitar turned up to 11 and I had no problem with that. Oddly enough, I was given an award from Germany being the most powerful drummer in rock and I never got that. I’m saying that because I don’t think I ever even picked up the award in Munich, but the point is that I’m invited to these heavy metal conferences all over the continent. Helsinki, I was in Manchester, and these are heavy metal strongholds, they’re almost religious about it and, somehow, they put me in that category. I believe the reason why it came out, the metal part, is because I used to use timbales made out of copper and they were like neutron bombs. When you hit them, they weren’t tom-toms, they were huge and I think just the sound of the metal aspect of those tom-toms somehow put me in that category, you know? I don’t mind, I’m saying this with… I don’t know about pride, but I just never considered myself a heavy metal drummer. Yeah, when you mention that it’s kind of like, “Hey, I’m scratching my head,” but if that’s what they feel, if that’s the way it’s interpreted… I know that, to begin with, Mountain was put right up there with Black Sabbath and Black Sabbath opened shows for us way back in the 70s because nobody else would take Black Sabbath on their shows because of, well, whatever the paranoia was about their occult aspects, but this is really before they even started to get a name and we were sort of touring with some of the heavier players at that time. Jesus, even in the 80s, what was the name… Accept! Accept was one of the bands and it was during that time again Spinal Tap had come out and I guess they started calling us “The Grandfathers of Heavy Metal” and you know what? Love it! Jason, what are you going to do? It’s great. That’s what’s happening, fine. I think we’re a little short of that category but, like you said, I thought we were just basically a hard rock/blues band and, at that time, that was pushing the envelope, so to speak. And somebody once said, “No, you weren’t pushing the envelope, you were the envelope!” [laughs] I thought, “Okay, yeah, that’s cool, I like that!” So, I agree with you. There was definitely an aspiration on a commercial end to get back in there because the 80s were a tough time for rock, you know? It was the punks. That was there decade, the end of the 70s/the 80s.
JH: It’s interesting to hear you reflect on how Mountain never, in your mind, quite reached the levels of the Deep Purples of the era and things like that. I’ve read you talk about how Mountain was on the same kind of treadmill shared by their peers - tour, record, tour, record, tour, record and the constant refrain you hear is that if they just would have had some time off then these things, their breakups, might not have happened, they might have been able to get each other for a little while and recharge and regroup. I was just wondering if you felt the same about Mountain’s workload.
CL: Well, it’s interesting, Jason, I can put that in capsule form. Here’s the deal, Mountain came out and we had the same representation as The Who, as Hendrix, we had the same management agency and yes, here’s the difference that The Who or Deep Purple would come over from England and do 6 week tours or 3 month tours, then they would take 2-3 months off, if you call it off, where they recorded but that still left time to tour America 2 or 3 times a year. Mountain, since we were an American band, we were constantly playing. We did every gig that they called in. So we would go, when we had a number one hit we were playing high schools that were booked basically a year in advance. They started booking Mountain in ’69 and there we were in 1970 and 71 playing previously booked gigs that we had to make, so we did not have those big open months off. And, again, I don’t know whether The Who took time off or Led Zeppelin took time off, but I always loved the idea of “Why don’t we do a 6 week tour, then take a break, record and, in other words, get some sort of flow going?” We never had that in Mountain. As a result, I think the pressure and the familiarity with each person, because we were on top of each other the whole time, caused contempt between our old ladies, we got into drugs… it was all really congested, so that contributed a great deal to the unhappiness, the weariness of touring and recording. With West, Bruce and Laing, we were able to go… I mean, we put out four fuckin’ albums and we were together longer than Cream and or Mountain with West, Bruce and Laing because we did have that time in between, but it was just really pushed heavy too. When West, Bruce and Laing got together in January 1972, Mountain was still touring the UK and they had already booked West, Bruce and Laing… we had a sold out tour in America starting in April til like May before we even had a record. We didn’t even have a deal in place, but they were already booking West, Bruce, and Laing before we put out our first record. We were jamming in Island and had some great energy going, but that was just so compressed. It was unreal, I think it was even that much more saturated and unreal than Hendrix and all of those acts because I worked with Noel and I know how they did it. It was similar, but there was a bit of breathing room, they had to wait for the record to go off the chart before they could put another one out. You know, I wish we had that problem but, yes, Mountain was constantly working because we didn’t have what we consider to be those month tours. We would play all of the time. Like we’d play a great deal around New York, then we’d go to Chicago, Detroit, you know anywhere we were able to get to and still get to wake up the next day in a different city and, basically, I think we bashed the shit out of New York for like a whole two months. All of the universities, bam, bam, bam, upstate and just one after another, which I loved, by the way, but when you look back on it you go, “Yeah, Jason’s right, we couldn’t breathe.” And if we can’t breathe we were suffocating ourselves metaphorically, and I think the music again… I don’t think it suffered that much in the beginning of Mountain. When we started doing Avalanche, you could feel the filler and I was very much aware of it. You know there was a lot of Chinese food before we actually recorded, if you want to use that metaphor, and we were sitting around doing a lot of eating in the studio writing the songs and you know some of it was really cool. I mean, rock n’ roll is not brain surgery, some of the best stuff that came out was, “Boom,” wrote itself in the limo and it was kind of cool, so, yes, there was that aspect of it and you add all of the spicy ingredients like ego, greed, hedonism, drugs, which goes with hedonism, and you have the female partners constantly at each other’s throats… it gets redundant, it gets boring, but, at the time, though you know it was all new, there was no industry. I was starting to play music, pop music, like I did the Sweet Sixteen parties, the Italian weddings, the bar mitzvahs way back in the early sixties. I was like thirteen or fourteen years old and I was playing pop. That was pop. Pop is kind of, if you don’t mind the metaphor, the sound you hear when you put milk in certain cereal. That’s pop. But what happened is guitars started kicking in and, all of a sudden, volume and amplification of the bass and then all of a sudden you had heavy drumming and, by the late sixties, you had rock. I don’t like the expression rock n’ roll; I think it sucks but rock makes sense. You know what I mean? All of a sudden you put down the brushes, you put down the mallets and you fuckin’ hit hard and that’s what happened in the late sixties. There was no plan. It was all chaos. Nobody had a handle on it, no one, and so it was just totally over the top and it was out of control and then the money started controlling it. Not the music, at first it was the music, the music was ubiquitous, it was there, you could swim in it, you could sleep in it, it was beautiful. And then people started saying, “Wait a second, I could make some money here,” and a lot of it was under the radar as we read about it over the years and you look at the books that all of the rockers are writing. It was all starting to creep up and all of a sudden that money came in, and big money, but again, there was no organization. You remember those days Jason, where you were actually selling albums out of the back of your car for cash, and that all changed, so I don’t have to get into the historic record, but I think the most important crossover was when it went from pop to rock. The pop industry was happy; you had Fabian, Elvis, that was pop. Even when The Beatles came in, they were pop. You know the Stones they started to rock a bit, you go into the blues and then Hendrix, Cream and as soon as those guitars were turned up to eleven and you had some players that were able to handle it and control it the way Leslie did. He had this little Junior and he would just squeeze some amazing shit out of the guitar, and people are saying, “How the fuck is he doing that?” And this is before the pedals and all of that shit and, of course, a drummer with my style helped free us to do whatever the fuck we wanted. It was fuckin’ heaven. All you had to make sure is that you were loud enough to show the band where the 1 was, so at least you could start and finish a phrase, and I loved it. It was before click tracks. No click tracks, Jason, it was just fuckin’ go for it. And that’s why you had drummers like Bonzo, Keith Moon and Ginger, no click track. The drummer was a fuckin’ amusement park on his own and that’s what really made it work. That’s why people got excited about live performing. You watch Keith Moon and you don’t even need anything else, it’s just him doing his thing, and you know that would inspire any kid to say, “I want to be like him.” Look at this fuckin’ guy, he looks as happy as any person could ever be. You know, it was better than sex! That’s fuckin’ great!
JH: You know, we all have, I have, everyone else has read stories about how Jimi Hendrix’s management woes, the Allen Klein’s of the world and even how Bud Prager and Felix reaped the bulk of Mountain’s financial rewards, did the biggest artists of the era possess any real clout to follow their own paths or were they just compensated well enough to keep them working?
CL: Just yeah, placate, just make sure they had food, they had their drugs, they were getting laid, life is good. Keep in mind, there was no organization to it and there was a great deal of trust from the musicians, because the musicians trusted their instincts. That’s how they played, whether it was Jeff Beck or whatever, they had themselves together and, as a result, they weren’t about to go into that dark negative shit called money and greed. But here’s the thing, Jason, all of those fuckin’ guys that took all of the money are dirt-napping, you now, Bud Prager… I’m not saying anything negative. I won’t do that because they’re… rest in peace, but in their case, I hope they’re not resting in peace because they fucked up, they fucked up a lot of people. They fucked up. West, Bruce and Laing had it going on and they fucked it up… Robert Stigwood, Bud Prager, you name it. those guys said, “Fuck ‘em! I don’t care, take their money. Book ‘em first class…” That’s what I remember first class hotels, people at these hotels hated us. It was the most uncomfortable tour because we had the same rooms the Bee Gees had because, you know, Stigwood would book it. We weren’t the fuckin’ Bee Gees, we were a bunch of dirty, rotten looking musicians, rock musicians, and we would go into these hotels and people would give us the worst looks, we’d get the worst service because they didn’t want us there. And somehow Stigwood figured, “Oh…” I mean fuck that, we weren’t Barry Gibb, we were dirty, we were rotten, we weren’t a pretty band, you know, what we did was not pretty, it was not attractive. It was guts and it was in the trenches and it was great! But, we had these people that had this perspective of what they thought was the right thing to do, and it was wrong, it was all wrong, because we had three fuckin’ managers and here we were, three guys who were just going, “What the fuck? What the fuck is going on?” But, we didn’t do that until it was over and then you go back, you look at the books very quickly, and you get so depressed, but you see that conjures up some of the things that basically I prefer not to think about. I just keep it in mind for anything in the future or what I’m doing now that there’s a terrible plague of money. It sounds so corny, Jason, I know it sounds like I am, but I’m not bitter at all. I’m just saying that their karma was run over by their dogma, you know what I mean? They fuckin’ got what they deserved and I have nothing to say about that, you know? I’m talking about the managements and the agencies. That’s their job, make money, and I don’t blame them for that, but they certainly didn’t give back and, keep in mind I don’t know nothing about, but I know U2 is not working with the same management. They had that one guy who took them to the top, why is he not there now? You know there’s something happening there, they grew up together. I’m just using that as an example of a current situation. You know, Lady Gaga, who I could care less about, but she broke with her management, something happening there, and you have to know it’s money, you have to know that that’s what did it after all of the years. I’m sure they’re all in great shape financially maybe, but musically, where are they? It seeped into their creativity and it’s so sad that that happens, but you know what are you gonna do? I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, Jason you’re gonna have to do something. I apologize, now my coffee’s kicking in, but you had mentioned the management so I just took off on that. But well I try…it’s really hard to keep your mind on the right track these days, especially considering the age, considering the health, not so much the personal health, but the health of the industry, which is sick. The music industry hasn’t died, but it’s very sick, and it was a beautiful thing once. Jason and you know that. You’re observant, see it, and it’s sad, but, you know, you got to say, “Okay, what can I do to make this better?” instead of dissing it. That’s where it’s up to the individual creatively to get himself or herself into a loop that is consistent with their background and future potential. And here’s the thing, we all have futures, even though some of the best was in the past, you know? I actually wrote a lyric that I was very proud of, “Things have changed not for the better but that don’t mean the best is in the past,” in others words it’s kind of like, yeah, there’s a lot of shit going on, but I think we can all aspire to better things.
JH: I take comfort in this fact, despite all of the things you’ve said which are true about the music industry and the state of music today, you see whenever an artist puts out an album or performs and they do so with absolute sincerity, absolute conviction, audiences still respond to that. I think all it would help trying to just reeducate people that this is what certain musicians do and you can have these other musicians over here who are providing pure entertainment, but there’s some other musicians over here and THIS is what they do, but people have kind of lost that. They don’t really remember I think what a great rock band can do because there’s just not many of them have a high profile anymore.
CL: That’s true, that’s exactly right. That’s an observation, that’s exactly a perspective… you can go and feed at the well, there are still wells of wonderful music and the people that do make real music. I mean, there are musicians, even though they’re not top of the charts and I don’t even know what the charts are anymore, but if they’re not like celebrating a gold record or whatever, it doesn’t mean they’re not creating and they’re not as happy as they could be writing and singing what they do and you know there are fans. There may not be millions of them, at least in Mountain’s case, but I’m happy to say that we have our ardent fans that really know and they appreciate what we do well and also appreciate what we don’t do well in terms of, “Hey, you know, where are you going?” In other words, I look at the fan base more as a bunch of friends; old friends, new friends, because it’s a lot more familiar. There’s a lot more intimacy as a result of this other shit, there are people that are looking inside of themselves and looking inside of what’s going on. You do have a wonderful thing with the Internet to go into, like you said to go back, and do research and find out, “Wow, I didn’t know that, oh that’s that! Oh wow!” You know, that kind of shit and those are one of those “wow” moments, “aha,” that’s really cool! So what I’m getting at is, as a result of everything going out there, you’ve got like the Grecian Urn. You know where teachers are just looking at specific things on an ornate piece of work and you’re able to focus and just generally get what you want out of that as opposed to spreading yourself thin or, you know what I mean? There’s ways and means of enjoying the music of today and of yesterday and again I’m starting to sound like a freakin’ priest here, but the point is that it’s there, Jason, and we’re talking about things and music and it’s there, it still is there and I celebrate that. It may not be as often or as much money or whatever, but that’s not the criteria, you know? I happen to have probably one of the best times of my life right now, just knowing the perspective of what there is and acknowledging it and not running around like a chicken without a head which, in those days, is what a lot of bands were doing, a lot of musicians, you can name all of them. There’s nobody in this business, especially a lot of my friends and cohorts that have not experienced exactly what we’re talking about. Nobody gets away, you know what I mean? Everybody has got to go through it one way or the other, whether they like it or not and, when I say that again it’s not necessarily all bad, they just go through the creative process and that’s what hopefully as a musician or an artist you feel like. There’s no end. There’s no final end to this thing until you’re dirt-napping but, at that point even then some of the best stuff comes out when you’re dead, because other people find it. In other words, there’s these things that come up that remind you it’s about the now. It’s not about the past and it’s not about the future and why I am philosophizing here? That’s a good cup of coffee, that’s all I can say! Cut me down, I don’t know how long you want.
JH: We can run as long as you want. I’ve got a good group of questions here.
CL: Okay, in that case, let’s carry on. Carry on with the questions!
JH: Well shifting gears a little bit, after your runs with Mountain and West, Bruce and Laing and other projects, I was wondering if you could describe the emotions you experienced writing, recording and releasing your first solo album “Making it on the Street.”
CL: Yeah, I could do that for you. Yeah, that was a surprise to me because I really didn’t…when Leslie and I split and West, Bruce and Laing, I had come to a place, I was living in Nantucket…I had a lot of luck with my writing. I thought, “Wow, this is a good life. I’ll sit in Nantucket and I’ll write songs and go to the city, record demos and send them out,” and I did; I sent them out and I sent to John Eastman a friend of a friend and all of a sudden I get a call from Elektra/Asylum, the president and he said “Boy, I love your singing on this demo,” and I said, “Oh, I don’t know,” and he said, “How about we sign a deal?” And he gave me a solo deal with Elektra/Asylum and in the mid-70s that was the place to be. Right, you had Jackson Brown, so yes I said, “What don’t you understand about yes I’d love to do it!” However, I didn’t think in my head the potential that was there. I had these songs that I had written with these guys, actually a group of black cats from Rocksbury who were called the Johnson Brothers, not the Brothers Johnson from LA. They were a family, they did clubs and they did covers and stuff but they came to Nantucket and I used them as musicians to write and well to actually rehearse and work up these demos which I was sending around and again it got to Elektra/Asylum. They loved the demos and fast-forward they sent me to Capricorn Studios because Capricorn was bought over by Elektra/Asylum and Phil whatever his name was, Phil Walden I think and I was the first Northern artist to use Capricorn. Somehow it was a big deal, The Allman Brothers were there and I used Greg Allman’s band at the time to record at Capricorn. It was such an amazing, amazing feeling to be in control, but Jason, I was over my head. And I remember I was working with Mick Jones out of the Leslie West band and I was living with him in York and he was trying to put together his thing because he had a deal with Bud Prager at the time and I remember doing some writing with Sid Court. We got this material and it was really cool and he said, “What you want to get is a great singer.” And I went, “Yes, I should do that.” So, I went around, looking around for singers and meanwhile I’m singing my own demos and I could sing the songs. I always sang the demos for Felix and Leslie to show them what I had in mind but I wasn’t a lead singer. Here’s the problem, I couldn’t find a singer and they wanted the record, they wanted me to get it. So, what I did was I just did the best I could. Here’s the problem, I always singing a half of a tone flat. Not knowing how to get out of that I even went to a vocal coach, the point is I came up short on “Making on the Street” in retrospect because I didn’t get a singer that I could really work with and as a result of Mick Jones saying he was going to get a singer he spent a year and he got the singer to sing in Foreigner and that’s history right there. He did the right thing. He got the right singer. Material, yeah, the material was strong but the singer was great but that’s where I fell short on “Making on the Street,” saying that it was one of the best experiences one could have. It’s just that I had these managers, Irv Azoff being one of them in those days saying, “Well, if you move to LA, I’d love to manage you.” Arlene Rothburg who was managing Carly Simon and all of those people, I mean these were people that were connected with Elektra/Asylum. They knew the record company was great. I had the best people coming up if you want to move to LA. At the time for some reason, well I know my wife didn’t want to move to LA because there were too many pretty girls out there and she thought I’d be distracted and she was exactly right and now she is my ex-wife. But what I’m saying is I never took that step, so if you want know how I feel about that record it was an amazing…I had John Sandlin the Allman Brothers producer, we had the brass section from Muscle Shoals come in and we came in on budget. It was a wonderful experience and then we had to go on the road, Jason, and that’s when I got this half-assed band together because they were mostly friends and we played at the Whisky and the only people to show up at the Whisky by the way, and I’m serious, was Warren Zevon and Keith Moon. Those were the 2 people in the audience and I think there was another 6 that came down and I remember saying, “Wow, there’s some great people in the audience,” but there’s not many of them even though they’re all schizophrenic. The point is it wasn’t working. We hit the road with Girlschool, I think, and I got the bus, the whole thing, and by the time I got to Denver after about 2 or 3 shows on the West Coast, I called the company and said, “I’m cancelling the tour.” And they were flipping out, I mean here’s a company putting everything behind me and I said, “It’s not great. I can’t sing great.” As I’m doing the material, I realized my limitations at the time. Trying to play drums and sing, you know, even Phil Collins got off the drum set and came up front. I never really did that. I can’t play the guitar. So, my experience on the road with that it bombed. I bombed it. That’s when I went into my second album with Ian Hunter, the company thought I should put together a super-band and Elektra/Asylum was just so supportive. Those were the days where the record company, whatever they could do to make me better. It wasn’t a matter of making a hit song, we had all of the best people involved and that’s when Ian said, “By the way, why don’t we bring over this guy Miller Anderson?” The Scottish singer that sang with Savoy Brown, amazing, amazing voice and we even called Stevie Winwood and he was in the tent in the back of his castle. In other words, we called in Andy Fraser on bass, we had Lee Michaels come in and we were bringing all of these people to Upstate New York because at that time everybody was out of work so they said, “Right,” we had the money, we paid for the transportation. Bob Ezrin who at the time was just about to do “The Wall” and he said, “I have some time,” and we tried to put a big super-band together and that ended up to be Secret Sessions, which was all these guys, and we were sorting…how do you say it? Just basically compiling the best musicians, we had some good material because Ian Hunter and I wrote some stuff and what I’m saying is that was a great effort for a solo deal and they did stay behind it and then of course like again the early 80s it started to fall apart and they started getting into these punk rock bands and that’s when I went in and worked with a couple of guys who were terrific and we formed The Mix out of New York which was sort of a new-waveish band. I cut my hair, I learned how to play 16th notes on the drums really fast so it sounded neurotic going from the big 4s, you know the big plodding 4s, I had to change my whole style, which I did and I loved it. And again it was a work in progress and then of course at that time, during those years, Leslie was doing his own thing trying to rehab and he was putting together some real awful musicians and playing awful gigs and walking off stage and just basically torpedoing his career while I was trying to build mine. And I guess the early 80s he started doing these shows and started advertising my name, I think it was in Philadelphia I got a call saying, “I here you’re coming to play, you’re back with Leslie,” and I said, “Oh no.” It turns out his agent taught him to lie and as a result I called Leslie and I said, “You can’t do this,” and he said, “I’m not doing anything, it’s the fuckin’ agent,” and I said, “Well, tell your agent to shut the fuck up and not to do that,” and as it turned out I decided I’d go play that gig and it was awful and that was the beginning of the awful reuniting of myself and Leslie and he had this bass player who couldn’t possibly play any notes. I mean, it was terrible, he was just hiring people to be onstage with him and he was really… it was a very dark period for him and it started becoming a dark period for me, so that was the beginning of putting the Mountain thing back together in the early 80s while I was doing The Mix. Anyways, so I took you up to that basically in capsule form on the solo deal that I had with Elektra, which again was if I may so was one of the most brilliant times, but it was for everybody. I remember running into Don Henley and we were talking about, I played the Farm Aid and all of those guys were there and it was just a beautiful reunion. It was 1993 at the time, or ’91 or ’93, anyways and everybody was talking about that era, the mid-70s, it was just when things started to get out of whack and that era for me was personally just fantastic. So I give it an 11 from 1 to 10 in terms of experience, well the point is that at least I stood back and said, “No, you’re over your head, step back and regroup,” that’s basically what I did in that time. Again, that’s when Leslie and I started playing together and we had to really sort some shit out and yeah we did some real bad gigs and we played them really badly and it didn’t matter because at that point nobody gave a shit. At the time it was nobody gave a shit, we didn’t even have a Mountain audience and Leslie again previous to that from 1975 to 1983 Leslie was just off ruining his…I didn’t realize how much he ruined his reputation with the drugs and all of that but he divorced himself from all of the main guys that helped him out and they gave up on him. And he had quite a job getting himself back together. It took another 10 years but he did the best he could but I don’t want to get into that, that’s his life to talk about. (call cuts out) Hello Jay, sorry I hit the pause button on my phone! I don’t know where I left you, I think it was next question!
JH: You brought up Miller Anderson briefly there and I don’t think many people really remember he briefly played bass for Mountain whenever you and Leslie first got back together. I imagine that was probably your idea to bring him in on bass.
CL: Yes, it was. Actually, I had written a couple of songs that Leslie loved and one of them was “Shimmy on the Footlights,” which Miller… Ian Hunter brought, this is early 80s, Ian brought Miller over and he paid for it and he says…he was a good friend of Ian’s and brought him over and Miller and I got together famously and yeah, so I had been working in the studio where I was in Westchester and we got along. We started playing and Leslie said, “Can Miller play bass?” Well, he’s a great guitar player, but I don’t know if he wants to, but anyway Miller liked the idea and because Miller had that heavy voice, you know, Leslie really didn’t have to sing that much and Leslie liked it a lot and we did get together and play some dates. They were actually pretty good dates, except I think Leslie had a little jealousy thing going for him because Miller was really a brilliant singer, but had to go back and forth to England. Miller was on the dole, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that in England, but in order to be on the dole, you have to be there every two weeks to collect your check. So, he had to fly back and forth every two weeks to the UK to pick up his check. It was hard on Miller because he wasn’t in tremendous health, but he sang beautifully and, yes, we did play for a while with Miller until Leslie said, “Fuck it, let’s get another bass player,” and I was a little upset with that. But I think we got Mark Clarke at that point who was actually Ian Hunter’s bass player. We were on the road for quite a while and Mark sang pretty well, but he was a journeymen player. You know Mark, he could play with anybody, he was just a really good musician, but he didn’t have what I considered to be a personal dynamic and Miller did. Miller had this great voice. You know, and I think Miller got a little upset with Leslie. I mean, Leslie is a rough guy to deal with. There’s no question about that. When Noel came in, Noel was very excited about getting it together and we had Sony behind us, we were starting to put it back together and Leslie had some problem with Noel! And just so you know, these things where Leslie kept burning out these bass players and, you know, at certain times I said, “Les, maybe just do your own thing”, and I would go my way. I was vice president of A & R for 6/7 years up there which was a great experience and of course I played on the weekends. Leslie would call me and we’d go to Sweden for a festival and come back on Monday into the office (laughs). But it was good, it was good, but it was a whole different lifestyle. I had a family life and it was solid and then Polygram got bought out by A & M. You know in those days everybody was buying things out; big companies and they got rid of all the staff and then back to Woodstock. So, I’m trying to give you sort of a bit of a timeline if you wish, so that was up until then, but Miller Anderson…wonderful singer, he’s around, he’s doing his own thing. He sings along with Spencer Davis. He goes out with Spencer Davis over in England and does some gigs. So, yeah he’s out there. He’s out there playing.
JH: I’ve always admired his singing a great deal and he’s not too shabby of a guitar player himself.
CL: No, he isn’t. He was very friendly with, he played with the guy Billy that played on The Law, remember Paul Rodgers had this record called The Law? It was Paul Rodgers’ solo record and then the guitar player on that was best friends with Miller and Miller had that style. It was that Telecaster, that beautiful clean Telecaster sort of southern-Texas style.
JH: (laughs) I wouldn’t dare diminish your personal relationship with the band and Felix, but I was wondering is it fair to say that reforming Mountain was a much simpler proposition for you emotionally than it was for Leslie?
CL: There were a tremendous amount of insecurity for him and for me, but the fact is that, in retrospect, there was a love/hate relationship between Leslie and Felix. Leslie didn’t know if he had made it on his own or if he made it because of Felix. Do you know what I mean? Because Leslie couldn’t get arrested before Felix produced him and Felix knew exactly what to do with Leslie. Felix he was an amazing conductor, arranger, musician and teacher. He actually was the reason why Mountain was the way it was. Between you and I, he was the reason why Disraeli Gears was as good as it was. I had spoken to Eric about that and nobody really gets into talking about Felix, but you listen to any of the other stuff that these bands did and Felix really knew what to do with Ginger with Jack and, even when we were working with Jack, Jack loved Felix! You know, love/hate. Felix was a very egotistical guy, you know at that point you’re dealing with people who know they’re fuckin’ great and they talk like they’re great but they back it up with great shit and that’s exactly right about Felix. Leslie learned everything from Felix and me too. I’m right in there. I learned even more from Jack, because Jack was just a brilliant timekeeper. He was able to change keys while Felix concentrated on Leslie and let me go, but when I went with Jack, myself and Leslie, and Jack and I were very tight. I wouldn’t say as friends but in terms of just listening to everything that Jack said in between his ranting when he was drunk, but the point is I didn’t give a shit about all of that. One attribute I have is don’t worry about all of the crap, just get to what you need from this guy. Because Jack was all over the place, but I was able to suss that out, I was able to go, “Okay Jack, what is this?” “Blah, blah, blah, blah!” “No what is this, Jack, tell me what to do here,” and, by doing that, I just didn’t give a shit about all of the soap operas. I was able to focus and I really give myself credit for that because I’m not good with all of that other shit, all of the soap operas that go on, the old ladies and all of the drugs. Not that I was innocent, but I did have that focus on, “Okay, what is Felix doing, what is he saying here, how do I work with that?” So, yes, we took it home. Leslie never even played any of those solos and, when I say that, Felix would let him play over the track maybe five or six times, then he would go in and pick different notes, different phrases from that and then he would edit, put it together, and tell Leslie, “Now, play this live. Play these notes live on the solo.” That’s why when you hear solos in “Theme for an Imaginary Western”, they’re beautiful solos, but they were comprised, they were basically composed by Felix. Leslie played them, but Felix composed the parts so that they told a story as he was playing the lead, you know? Then when Eric couldn’t find a lead, I remember this, I’m going… I’m jumping back to “Sunshine of your Love,” Eric was playing all of this shit and Felix said, “Why don’t you just play ‘Blue Moon’?” You know when you listen to that melody, it’s “Blue Moon!” But Felix had that together. He knew how to build these things and what to use where and he wasn’t a commercial producer. You know, he did “Get Together,” but when you think that song was recorded three years before it was a hit, you realize there was something that Felix knew way ahead of time and then it became a hit. It was probably one of the most natural… you had the Wurlitzer piano it was very clean, very live, you know, and that’s what he did with Cream. The same thing, everything was very clean and live and then with Mountain. So when it came to my drumming, I was all over the place, but he was able to clear everything up. I remember with “Mississippi Queen,” because I wrote “Mississippi Queen” a year before in Nantucket and when I say I wrote it, it was just a rap song. It was a rap song with no music. There’s a long story with that, but that’s been told and you can probably find that anywhere because it’s that sort of a story. But then when I brought it in and Leslie put the guitar part on it, then what happened was Felix made it what it was. And, yes, I get the major credit for that song because it was mine to bring in, but basically it was because of Leslie’s vocal and Leslie’s guitar playing that just fuckin’… the words happened and it was one of those moments; it took about three seconds to write that song. I mean, literally, we just sat down and, here’s the lick, and Leslie just played and went into the studio. Of course, Felix recorded it fourteen times, but only because Felix had to learn it and get it right before putting the keyboard on. So what I’m getting at is Felix ran the whole thing, yes he was very powerful and he was like a dictator, he really was, but when it came down to it, that’s why the band was sharp. That’s why the band, it had a comprehensive presentation. It wasn’t a trendy thing; we weren’t trying to be Cream. It was Felix’s idea of his orchestra and I loved it and it was an amazing time, but then like you alluded to, Leslie started getting a little bit paranoid about the fact, “Why is he so well-known?” When Jeff Beck in one of the newspaper headlines in Music Maker said, “Leslie West is the best living rock guitar player alive today.” This is Jeff Beck. This is what Leslie was. So Leslie’s reading that and going, “Wait a second, six months ago Jeff Beck didn’t even know who I was,” it’s because the music that took over and I’m not taking anything away from Leslie, because Leslie is a brilliant guitar player, but when Leslie goes in the studio, and I’ve been with him I don’t know how many years I’ve been in the studio, but he always plays too much. Always he overdubs his part, he’s trying to make it better and better by doing more. Felix was the exact opposite. You see, what I mean, Leslie didn’t pick up on that; the simplicity of his playing. It’s not that I’m talking behind Leslie’s back. That’s why we’re not working together now is because he couldn’t take me telling him that. You know, “Why are you fuckin’ putting seven guitar parts on when you just need one good one?” (imitates Leslie) “I can put seven guitar parts in, that’s my style,” you know, getting into the whole thing and that’s what he went off on. He would go off on these rants about his style. “Why are you using seven pedals Leslie?” (imitates Leslie) “You don’t understand, this is what I’m doing!” I said, “Les, it’s feeding back!” You know what I mean? It was getting in his way and he didn’t see it. It’s like one of those things, you know, it’s right in your face, the forest from the trees. I could see it because I was playing drums and I’m like going, “What the fuck?” And there is only so much you can say before somebody goes, “Fuck off,” so that’s what happens. “Fuck you, fuck you, no fuck you, no fuck you,” and that’s what happens and that’s alright because that’s part of what we do! But insecurity, yep, self-esteem, yep, it all comes very… and then, of course, you have the girlfriends or the wives going, “He can’t talk to you that way! Felix is nothing without you.” You know that shit going on in the back of your head, all of that corny shit, all of that real corny Yoko Ono stuff, you know, and I don’t want to get into that… next question!
JH: Okay, Leslie described Felix’s reason of stepping away from the band in 1972 “hearing damage,” I’ve heard him describe that as a complete concoction, would you agree?
CL: Which part are you talking about… you’re talking about 1972, go ahead.
JH: Yea, whenever Felix wanted to step away from the band, the public reason that was given was that Mountain had so completely damaged his hearing that he wanted to heal and get away from those extremely loud volumes. Leslie has said that story was complete concoction. What it boiled down to was Felix was really more or less strung out.
CL: Yes, that’s exactly right. Leslie is exactly right. Yeah, that was Felix’s cover. He was having a tremendous problem with drugs. He felt very insecure. He had a lot of tissues I call them. Very tangible issues, tissues, and yeah, I would agree 100% with Leslie. Felix actually destroyed his career by saying that because he never really had damage. He probably had tinnitus which I have but, you know, he wanted an excuse to get out of the situation clean. And that’s what I said before to you, that that was stupid, he should have kept the band together and said he needs a break. It’s alright, you’re allowed to have a break, but he didn’t. He had his ego, keeping in mind he ran his management, production, he had all of these things on his plate and I think he just wanted out. Of course, at that point I think Jack, myself and Leslie had this run and I call it the “seven year bitch” where I was doing seven years and “boom”, I need a break, and I think Felix was the same way. Yes, that was a concoction.
JH: You know I’ve also read you describe before and mention in this phone call that those early years of success was a time of really working hard, but also a wild experience of adventure. I’m not looking to dredge up any really old drug stories, but when the early 70s brought a string of deaths among your peers, did it ever give you pause at that time about your own behavior or did that come later?
CL: Yeah, I think everybody was in denial. There was the “one-off” death, it did strike everybody for maybe a minute, you know, but keep in mind everybody was so literally strung out anyways it was kind of an, “Oh yeah, I expected that. Oh yeah, I expected that.” Everybody in those days, it was a small town, it was a small community of druggies, everybody actually had the same dealers, you know so it was like, “Oh yeah, that’s too bad.” And a lot of people would say, “Maybe I’m next.” It wasn’t like, “Oh God, I’ve got to change my ways.” I think the people that were straight stayed straight and I think the people that were fuckin’ doing it, that were hooked, were hooked. I don’t think anybody turned around and especially said, “Oh, I’ve got to change my ways.” I don’t think so. Not anybody that I know. You’re talking about the Framptons. Ian Hunter wasn’t a druggie. But you know the people, Mick Ronson, drinking, no I don’t think he stopped drinking, actually he drank himself to death. No, I don’t think so. I don’t think there was any… that moment where you say, “No, I’ve got to stop. Look what’s happening!” I don’t think so.
JH: Everybody can drop around like flies around you and it’s not going to change your mind, you have to change your own mind.
CL: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I couldn’t agree more with you about that. It’s down to you. You either hit bottom or you die. Or both Consider the times, the era was one of total saturation of drugs, and it seemed to be the only way to do it. You know, that’s what was wrong, the peer pressure was one thing, it was also trying to keep the high. I never really did any drugs before I played. I did it after I played to try to keep myself up. I’d get off the stage and I’d go and snort whatever I could, but I didn’t usually do it to play. I was already psyched right up as a drummer. I had responsibility to my body before the show and that was it. It was the time off. And that’s why you’ll hear a lot about, especially getting back to the English bands when they had that, they’d go from doing an amazing tour where they’re on top of the world, they had girls falling at their feet and they’d go back to their wives and their kids at some country cottage out in the middle of nowhere they’re going, “Aw, fuck,” that’s why the Keith Moons… what’s his name…I can’t think of his name right now, a lot of drummers, Led Zeppelin, Def Leppard’s drummer Rick, and a lot of those guys got into crashes because they were bored. They go back and they overdo it back at home to try to keep that buzz. That’s my feeling. It’s not so much when you’re playing. It’s when you’re off. That’s the downtime. I used to call that “anti-time.” It was time that worked against you. When you’re on stage, it’s like that’s when people are taking pictures, but when you’re offstage, that’s when all of the negatives come off. You know, you look at a picture, it’s always a negative; sort of my little way of looking at life saying, “Wow, got to be careful for the in-between time.” It’s not the highs. The highs are great. It’s just you know you try to keep it up and that’s what destroys a lot of people. It’s just they couldn’t handle coming down from playing. I’m not even talking about drugs. I’m talking about the excitement of being on the road. You’re moving really quick… the body is not…in those days, metabolically, your body is saying, “What the fuck are you doing to me? And now you’re stopping?” You know, that type of thing. Basically call it drugs, call it adrenaline… but that’s it and. if you’re at home and you’re a writer and you’re playing whatever and you’re home and if you have lifestyle. that’s just a nice level thing? No problem! It’s the madness of the business that’s great and, as a drummer, it’s a madness beyond the mind. It’s your body. I mean, I have to play an hour a day, at least, to cover my habit of playing. If I miss a day I can feel my body, and it sounds silly, I can feel it, “What’s going on? You’ve got to go play!” Otherwise, I start shaking literally in my head. I can’t think straight. I have to play something. Thank God I’ve got a place I can go day and night and bang the shit out of the kit and learn stuff and listen and that’s the only thing that keeps me alive. That’s a habit. I’ve got to tell you, my wife now she sees me and she says, “Okay, go play,” in other words go take your fix. It’s innocent enough, but it’s there. It’s real. Your body over years and years of getting in a routine and then all of a sudden you pull something out of it… Jason, not good! Not a fun time, you know? And I think it’s the same with Robin Williams and stuff. When you’re not working and stuff, you start thinking too much and, if you’re a manic depressive like 90% of the fuckin’ people I know are whether they know it or not, that’s what it is. You’ve got to be a little bit manic to be in this industry. I wouldn’t even call it a business anymore. It’s definitely up to yourself. I have no idea why I stopped shooting. I used to shoot everything and I don’t even remember stopping. Just all of a sudden I would be afraid even to get a flu shot, really weird, everybody has their own stories about that. I don’t know, I don’t know and I go to my doctor and he says, “Tell me how you stopped, so maybe somebody else can learn,” and I wish I knew. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t OD, you know, I’ve OD’ed a few times, but then I just went back and then a lot of it was self-destruction and then all of a sudden you realize you’re happy with life and you don’t want to do it and you get scared. Because you realize, “Wow, what did I do there?” That’s the drug thing mostly, but in terms of just the velocity, the acceleration of those days touring. Now they’ve got it a lot smoother, you know what I mean? They have that together. You go on tour, you’ve got the bus, the bus goes here, you lay back and sleep, get off the bus, there’s a bit of routine to it, it’s a bit more civilized, but it wasn’t civilized. I’ll tell you one thing about those days, especially now, it wasn’t pretty. The music business was not attractive, especially playing. But it wasn’t meant to be attractive. Rock is from the street and the street has alleyways and the street has curbs that are full of rats. It’s definitely a chaotic lifestyle and it needs its medication and, of course, there’s different ways of doing that.
JH: What do you remember about Mountain supporting Deep Purple on a 1985 European tour? It seems like the band earned a fairly rapturous reception and Europe was a place where the band actually gained some traction during that time period. A friend of mine saw you play in Mannheim and remembers Leslie exploding in rage when a certain projectile hit him from the drum kit. [laughs] It sounds like it was a well-received, but wild, tour.
CL: It was, we played all the heavy metal festivals, but the German tour, wow, it was wild, but because we were so loud and Leslie being the kind of guy he is, he was able to fend off all of the bullshit and really cut through. Mountain was really loved over there. We had the Scorpions come up and play with us, we did two or three weeks, played to a half million people, I think, so yeah, it was really fantastic. I remember one thing you may get a kick out of, but Leslie was always going on, [imitates Leslie] “We’ve got no production, we need some fuckin’ production.” So I got these discs and stuck them in my double bass drum. When the light shined on them, they’d reflect. It was really just a cheap mirror. So then Leslie’s like, “Hey, let’s get a big fuckin’ cowbell”, so I called up this percussion company I hadn’t talked to in years, and they were very happy to hear from me since they’d made millions of dollars off cowbells thanks to “Mississippi Queen”. Anything you need! I said I need an eight foot tall cowbell. They said really? I said, yeah, it needs to be huge because we’re going to wheel out on stage right before “Mississippi Queen”. So they made up this cowbell, which was really just a file cabinet made up to look like a cowbell, and we had it shipped over to England. We put it on one of these trolleys and we’d pull it out on stage right before “Mississippi Queen”. I had one of these huge prolite sticks, it was as big as a baseball bat, and one of the roadies would be standing in back holding a mike and striking a cowbell so it would sound like this actually worked. We got no reaction at all, nothing, for the first couple of gigs. And I remember Ritchie Blackmore going, “Hey, boys… a cowbell is gold, it’s not black. They don’t know what you’re doing!” So, we had the roadies paint the fucker gold the next day we put it on people went nuts! We had the wrong color for the cowbell. I remember telling Ritchie, on behalf of us, we’re going to give you this cabinet and he said, “I don’t want the fucking cabinet.” But it was great, he actually told us and that was the difference and “Mississippi Queen” wasn’t huge over there anyway, it wasn’t as big as it was here. “Nantucket Sleighride” was big in Europe because they used it for this news program over 20 years, so yes, that tour was very, very successful and you know the guys in Deep Purple were really good friends and Ian Paice got me a beautiful kit. Yeah, it was really, really a great tour and I think Joe Satriani was playing guitar at one point, they had Steve Moss?
JH: Yeah, Joe replaced Ritchie briefly in the early 90s and that was before they brought Steve Morse in to play.
CL: Steve Morse, that’s right, so we went to Sweden, yeah it was really a great tour. Every two days we would play these huge festivals. We played Barcelona and Madrid, and I remember in Barcelona there was a big political thing. Ritchie Blackmore had some sort of outrageous statement that he made and the police had those riots and stuff, but it was great.
JH: When artists are young and coming to grips with their artistic powers, they often pour tremendous energy into their work and sometimes lose nuance and subtlety. Technique seems to come with age but, with age, energy often flags too. I think the key to keeping your passion is staying tied to the things that inspired you from the beginning and I was wondering how do you keep the fire to creative stoked as long into life like you have?
CL: Well, that’s a real good question, I think it’s an extended kind of answer in terms of you know, like you mentioned, technique. I’ve always lacked in technique, but I knew that and I was aware this is stuff that I have to work on. And a good deal of what I did was power, like I said when we started off there was no sophisticated micing of the drums, so I was competing with these huge stacks of Sunn or Marshall amps, so that’s where my playing was very powerful. It’s not necessarily because I wanted to play powerful, it was the only way you could hear the drums, so in a way it was kind of like Robbie Robertson when we did a tour with The Band on a train, the Festival Express and he would come over and he would say, “Man, I’ve never seen such power in your arms.” He said, “You don’t want to use your wrists?” I said, “I can’t use my wrists, it’s not enough!” There was no micro phoning, you know, I mean what’s his name, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Carl Palmer when he came up they had a special mic set up and he sounded like he was hitting the fuckin’ drums so hard sometimes, but he was just touching the drums but he had this amazing, special sound system for the drums. I didn’t have that. We had very primitive fuckin’ amping on the original Mountain tours, so I had to hit pretty hard. So, that was initially what I had to do. When I hooked up with Jack, of course, I had to get my flexibility, ambidextrous attitude upfront, I had to learn how to do stuff and make it look like I was playing hard but I was still swinging. I had to make sure that no matter how powerful I was playing that you swing. There’re a lot of guys that can swing but can’t play powerful. That’s sort of the difference between a lot of great… like Tony Williams, the drummer, he’s an amazing drummer. He doesn’t play with power. It’s not a priority. In my case, it was and continued to be pretty much along the way, when I was playing with Meatloaf he wanted the power, so I was able to keep that up. I’m very fortunate and I’ll say fortunate because I’m relatively in good health. I’m a diabetic, I have a few things going inside, so I do I have to keep up the energy level, but I am working very, very heavily on my technique. I do tom-tom work separate, I do cymbal work separate, I do bass drum work, a lot of bass drum work, I’ve never played double-bass drums the way I’m playing now and I watch all of the drummers. I go online and every week I’ll go, “Okay I want to get this better,” a lot of the stuff I’ve forgotten you know but I just get it back again.
JH: Now this approaches some potentially sensitive territory, but was it cause for a moment of reflection for you when reports surfaced in 2013 that Gail Collins died in Mexico?
CL: Yeah, yeah, there’s a whole piece of history when Leslie, myself, Felix and Steve put the band together in New York in the summer of ’69. I didn’t have a place to stay. I was living with Gail and Felix in their penthouse. They had just moved in and they had just collected their Cream royalties that September and I moved in with them. So I lived with Gail and Felix and their dog and I spent weeks, months in their apartment as I was waiting for an apartment in the village to come free. So I really got to know them and to know Gail really well and I understand Leslie’s posture at this point. I always have but he had his own take on it and he had his own relationship with Felix, you know keeping in mind here’s a partnership between Gail and Felix, and then all of a sudden Leslie comes in and he’s partners with Felix. So there’s always going to be that sort of, little bit of sense of jealousy between who’s more important in the partnership. As it turned out, Gail was very involved in the artistic aspect, you know, the album covers, the credits, the writing, so she was right in there. So, Leslie, I think was very much annoyed because of what I consider the credit competition. Who gets the credit for this? Who gets the credit for that? And Leslie started noticing on the albums where Gail got more credit. Her name was credited more times than Leslie’s was. You know what I mean, that kind of shit Jason, it was really that kind of shit, but in retrospect, I think there’s a lot of things that Leslie did not know about Gail and her connection with Felix. It was on a whole different level, you know, it wasn’t just sex, it certainly wasn’t sex but what I’m saying is there was a very major creative connection whether it was good or bad was one thing, but they were so connected and as a result of Leslie coming in of course Gail felt that she was missing a piece of Felix… a very kind of strange thing. I can go on forever on it Jason, but I’m not going to get into it now but he did have his take.
JH: A final question. I read you once mentioned in an interview with Goldmine that you were going to write a movie about Felix’s life and death and I was wondering whatever became of that.
CL: Well, it’s funny you mentioned that, it’s still there. I still have it; it’s called “The Life and Death of Felix Boom Boom Pappalardi.” His nickname was “Boom Boom” on the bass and it’s still there. Odd that you mentioned that because there’s been a lot of movies about musicians and stuff, it’s all written and put together, I have about 3 or 4 versions of it and yeah, well what can I tell you? It takes a whole lifetime to put behind that. At the time I really did put a lot of work into it and I’ve got a box full of notes. I’ve got the script. I’ve got everything. At this point, I guess I’ve just dropped the ball at this stage. I’ve got other things going on. Here’s what the problem is a lot of people just wanted the celebrity. You’ve got Ray Charles, you’ve got huge celebrity musicians that people will put money into and a lot of people don’t remember Felix at all number 1 and at the time it was the only murder in rock n’ roll that I can think of… Marvin Gaye was murdered by his father. What I’m saying is it stood out and I remember a friend of mine put me in touch with the head of NBC; the Sunday night movies. Her name was Nora Bloom and we sent it to her. She loved it and kept on saying, “I love the idea, now what did Felix do to Gail, how did Felix abuse Gail where she finally shot him?” And I said, “No, you don’t understand. Felix didn’t abuse her, she was nuts. She was jealous.” “No, no, no, it’s Sunday night movies like a Farrah Fawcett movie where the woman’s abused.” Do you remember 20 years ago they had Sunday night movies were always aimed at the wives, you know the abuse, and how a woman survived, but I kept telling Nora and she said, “We can’t do it unless we have the reason why she shot him.” And I went, “Oh I don’t know,” so Felix’s uncle who takes care of his estate, I called him and said, “By the way they want to do this movie about Felix’s murder and stuff on NBC and I thought I’d run it by you,” and he said, “What’s the problem?” I said, “Well, they want to know what Felix did to Gail that she would plot away to murder him” and he went nuts. He said, “I can’t believe that. Don’t forget it,” the Pappalardi family knew that Gail was going to murder him no matter what. She was going to kill him. That was just in her head, so that movie never happened and that was one reason why it fell through the cracks. I was right there, but they didn’t want to use that theme at all.