BORN TO SLAM is the brainchild of ex-Great White drummer GARY HOLLAND. Each month Gary will bring us an in-depth “conversation” with various working drummers to see what makes them tick. In addition, he and his guests will cover ALL topics of concern to drummers everywhere. And while their jargon may get a bit technical for us non-drummers, the conversations are sure to keep your interest.
GH: Today, I’m sitting here at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf in Encino, California with Simon Wright, former drummer for AC/DC, Ronnie James Dio, and currently working with Dio Disciples and [Geoff Tate’s] Operation: Mindcrime.
[After randomly bumping into Simon at Ralph’s Grocery Store last month] I noticed you buy your groceries at Ralph’s. I’m actually here as a representative for the Von’s Grocery chain. We’d like to know what you have against Von’s.
SW: Where should I start? (Laughter)
GH: When I first became aware of you, you were a member of AC/DC.
SW: Yeah. That was back in the 80s. ’83, I joined that band. Then around 1990, my next band was Ronnie James Dio. Then after that was Rhino Bucket, which I think was ’94.
GH: Are they still together? Because they’ve been around forever.
SW: Yeah, still going. Like the Duracell bunny. Yeah, Like ’93, ’94, it was Rhino Bucket. Then in ’95, it was UFO. It was going to be the Michael Schenker Group. But then it ended up being UFO. Then after that, in ’98, I got a call from Ronnie. I went back to Ronnie. Then it was Ronnie James Dio from 1998 until 2010, when he passed. At the end of 2010, we started Dio Disciples, which is still going now. In between that, I was in Geoff Tate’s Queensryche, which I think was 2011, 2012. Then I stayed with Geoff, and his new band is called Operation: Mindcrime, Which I’m still in that now. There’s a lot of acoustic touring going on at the moment because he likes to play with different lineups, different musicians. Next year, it’s going to be a lot of Dio Disciples shows.
GH: So obviously, you’re from England. Where you grew up, was it a small village or a larger city?
SW: It was kind of a smaller outskirts town of Manchester called Failsworth. That’s where I was brought up. It wasn’t that difficult to get into the center of Manchester. But it was a quieter part of Manchester.
GH: What is that town known for, other than you?
SW: Actually, there’s a guy from Stone Roses that comes from there, too. A guy called Manny. And also, Darren Wharton, the keyboard player from Thin Lizzy, and he has his band now called Dare. He’s from Failsworth, too. Besides that, their biggest claim to fame was they made hats there.
GH: I’m pretty sure you still getting top billing from your town.
SW: As far as who came out of there… I don’t know. I went to the same school as Darren. I kinda played football a little bit with Manny. So I knew Darren a little better than Manny.
GH: I’ll never get top billing in my hometown. I grew up about 20 minutes from Ronnie [Dio].
SW: In Cortland?
GH: I was from LaFayette. LaFayette and Cortland are only 20 minutes apart. So, we kind of grew up in the same general vicinity and played all of the same clubs. So I feel a connection to him.
SW: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve got a connection there.
GH: How did you decide that drumming was something you needed to pursue?
SW: Well, I saw it on the TV, and I used to just bang around on the couch. There was only one program on TV. We had a show called Top Of The Pops, and that’s all we had! In the early days, when I was a wee kid, nothing ever appealed to me. But then came that era of Thin Lizzy with Jailbreak, and Judas Priest and UFO, and these bands, and I thought, “That looks pretty good”, y’know? I wouldn’t mind having a go at that. So I start tapping away and keeping a bit of time here, and I thought I might be able to do that.
GH: How old were you?
SW: I think I was probably about ten. Maybe ten, eleven. I just kept at it like that. And then I thought, I’d really like to have a drum kit. I kinda liked what the drummers were doing. I thought it looked cool. It looked to me like the best thing to do if I were in a band. So my dad managed to get me a drum kit from a guy who lived down the street a bit. He was a keyboard player and didn’t want to be a drummer anymore. So I got this really crappy little drum kit. I think it was an Olympic. It was all beat up, the skins were all slashed. We fixed that all up. My dad could see that I definitely had this enthusiasm for it. I really, really wanted to try this. I had a dream about it.
GH: Was there any one drummer that you saw on Top Of The Pops that really got your attention?
SW: There was a few, yeah. I used to love watching Brian Downey. He had such a relaxed style. He could play the shuffle really cool. That shuffle on The Boys Are Back In Town, which is awesome. If you try playing it, it’s not as easy as you’d think. Everybody just blasts through that song. He’s the original on that and he’s got a really sweet groove on it. It’s as important as the harmony lead parts on that song, to me.
GH: Heavy rock drummers tend to play that shuffle from the waist down. We control it from the waist down. But then you get the blues guys, and I’m including Frank Beard from ZZ Topp, they control the shuffle from the waist up.
SW: That’s right. Absolutely true.
GH: I’ve had to do it both ways.
SW: Me, too. You’ve nailed it on the head there. That’s exactly right. You can play that song really easy like a heavy metal drummer. It’s all bass drum and single note hi-hat quarter notes. But that’s the thing I loved about Brian was that incredible feel. And there were other drummers. I liked Tommy Parker. He was straight forward, great solid heavy rock drummer. Les Binks from Judas Priest… I thought he was a great groove drummer and a great funk drummer.
GH: I really liked Les Binks’ drumming a lot, too. Years later, I was touring with Judas Priest in the opening act. I was asking Rob Halford one day, “What ever happened to Les Binks?” And he said, “Geez, I don’t know.” So then he turns to Glenn Tipton and says, “Hey Glenn. Whatever happened to Les Binks?” And Glenn said, “I don’t know.” So Glenn turns to K.K. Downing and says, “Hey Kenny, whatever happened to Les Binks?” And he just shrugged and said, “I don’t know.” [Laughter] So, they clearly didn’t want to get into the subject. But I always thought he was one of their better drummers.
SW: Oh, absolutely. Me, too.
GH: He just fell off the map.
SW: He did. I don’t know what happened to him either. I never heard anything about why they changed. Then they got Dave Holland, I guess. He was a pretty good drummer.
GH: Dave was the drummer when I was touring with them.
SW: But, unfortunately, he got into a bit of serious trouble there. Who knew?
GH: Yeah, I didn’t know. I was looking at Rob, not even suspecting Dave! (Laughing)
SW: Not that there’s anything wrong with that!
GH: No, no. (Laughter) It just kind of blind-sided me.
SW: Yeah, me too!
GH: Did you have a musical family? Brothers, sisters, parents?
SW: My dad was in the Boy Scouts. I forget what they call it over here.
GH: Boy Scouts.
SW: Oh, right. Boy Scouts. (Laughter)
GH: A scout is trustworthy, loyal, honest, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
SW: So you were one too?
GH: No. I just memorized that for the hell of it. (Laughter)
SW: Did you used to get little badges and stuff?
GH: Yeah, yeah!
SW: Yeah, that’s what he did. But he became a scout leader. He’d take ’em out on field trips, parks, all that stuff. Well, he used to play the snare drum but he didn’t pursue it. He told me he did, but… I got a snare drum, but he never really played it. When it was good, he use to say, “Son, that was good there. What were you doing there?” I’d say, “Oh, that was playing along to Status Quo.” ‘Cause I’d sit in the bedroom. I’d have the headphones on, with the drum kit, come home from school, be bashing away. He’d come home a couple of hours afterwards from work and he’d go, “That sounds really good.” They both were nothing but encouragement to me, which was great, y’know?
GH: I was going to ask you if your parents were supportive.
SW: That they were. They just were. They never really questioned it, you know? Obviously, I had to stop playing at some point [in the evening]. Otherwise, I’d be playing all night.
GH: I gotta hand it to parents because the sound of a kid just learning how to play is one of the worst rackets ever.
SW: Yeah…yeah. See, back then they didn’t have electronic drum kits. And I certainly couldn’t afford it. We weren’t a very rich family. We were okay. That’s how it all started. I didn’t have a hi-hat and all. I heard the hi-hat on the song and I just thought, “What is that? What’s that p-ch! p-ch! p-ch! P-ch!” (Laughter)
“What’s that f*cking noise?” So I look again [at the drummer] on the tv and he’s going some cymbals over there…
GH: Just get on the internet and find out what that is!
SW: Exactly, right? Yeah. If only! It was just a very simple way of doing things. I never got taught by anybody. Frankly, because I couldn’t afford the lessons. But, I wanted to do it myself, really. I wanted to figure it out myself. Do it wrong, then figure out why I did it wrong. Then get it right. I was very stubborn that way.
GH: Fortunately, it doesn’t appear that you developed any bad habits. Or did you?
SW: No, not really. I mean I know how to cheat a little bit. But I don’t do it very often. And I try to respect what’s been played already, if I’m playing somebody else’s part.
GH: Well, we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants.
GH: Every time a drummer gives me a complement, as much as I appreciate it, there’s a part of me that feels uneasy about it. I don’t think about how much I know. I’m always thinking about how much I don’t know, and all of the drummers that made it possible for me to be here.
SW: Yeah. It’s difficult. I remember we did a tour with Scorpions and Deep Purple. Well, Ian Paice came up to me about 4 or 5 shows in. They kinda had their business to deal with and stuff. At our show, he came up to me and he said, “Simon, you’re like…controlled aggression. Unbelievable playing.” I was just flabbergasted. I’ve been brought up trying to play Ian’s parts. And I was like, “Not worthy.” But he was such an endearing friendly guy, and we got chatting away and everything was great. Really…incredible drummer, I mean… The one-handed roll he does is just incredible, y’know?
GH: Oh yeah! I was just watching that on video the other night.
SW: I was, too. Yeah. I watched it again and it’s incredible the way he does it, and it’s just the wrist action on that snare head. He doesn’t really tune his drums super high. So that, in itself, makes it more difficult.
GH: Right. ‘Cause you’re not getting as much action off of the batter heads.
SW: Yeah, that’s right. But, it’s not just that. I mean, that’s a trick. But, it’s just his groove is just amazing. Who hasn’t heard “Made In Japan” or “Machine Head”? Brilliant.
GH: I loved Deep Purple, going back to high school. When I heard “Burn” in 1974, I was like, “Oh My God.” I thought that song was the most rocking thing I’d ever heard.
SW: Y’know what? I’ve learned to like that album a lot more than when it came out because I was so into the previous line-up.
GH: Because when that came out, you were probably still in a diaper. (Laughter)
SW: Yeah, okay. Yeah, I was. You’re right! (Laughter!) 27 again next week! (Laughter) But it was such a shift, and it was brilliantly done…[David] Coverdale and Glenn [Hughes] were fucking incredible vocals. I’d just gotten so into that line-up of Gillan and Blackmore. It was just such a shift and it did sound different to what had previously come before it.
GH: Ian Paice was always one of my drumming heroes, coming up in high school.
SW: Me, too!
GH: So, if he actually walked up and gave me a complement, I’d probably pass out.
SW: I was…I just couldn’t believe it. I still listen to that music. I’m still kind of a fan. I love it. I still listen to all of that stuff.
GH: I was touring with Whitesnake when Cozy Powell was the drummer. And Cozy was not the easiest guy to get to know.
SW: I’ve heard that. I met him once and said hello. I didn’t exchange anything more than that.
GH: He was a man of few words.
SW: Was he?
GH: But he actually called Paiste in Switzerland and said, “Hey, I’m touring with a new, young drummer, and I think you should know about this guy.
SW: That’s cool. That’s really cool.
GH: And I never would’ve asked him to do that. I just thought that was the coolest thing someone of his stature could ever do. I was a nobody!
SW: That’s awesome. I guess he must’ve liked your playing then.
GH: Once, I broke one of my DW kick pedals, and they were so new, they were not even available in the UK yet. DW wasn’t able to get me a replacement quickly. So Cozy was kind enough to let me borrow a pedal from him until DW could get me a replacement. Well, he was using these ancient, clanky Premier pedals…
SW: Wasn’t he using Yamaha?
GH: No. Drums, yes. But pedals, no. He told me that he and Ian [Paice] had combed the British countryside, looking in all of the second-hand stores, and had bought up every Premier kick drum pedal they could find. After playing DW, I thought they were junk!
SW: I think I had one of those when I first started off. It’s like a silver pedal and with a big footplate?
SW: And one arm on the left-hand side, and the bar that went across…
GH: Mm-hmm. And of course it had the old felt beaters that were flat on multiple sides from over use…and when you watched what he was doing during his drum solo, and I thought to myself, “Do you know how much easier this would be if you were utilizing equipment with some newer technology here?
SW: Y’know what though? I think a lot of drummers will go through that thing of what they’re comfortable with. It’s difficult to make a change because you’re kind of settled and comfortable how you are. I’m like that. The [DW] 5000s, I’ve been playing for a long time. I’ve tried a pair of 9000s. They seemed a little quick for me. I like the battle I used to have with the 5000s (Laughs).
GH: I played 5000s for twenty-five years, maybe? And then [DW] came out with the 9000s, so I got a pair and the 9000s…
SW: I mean “battle” by the comparison to a 9000 because 9000s are so quick. The resistance on the 5000, which I’d gotten used to, was just something I was just used to. I didn’t want to make that change. I was comfortable. It’s a habit thing.
GH: Well, if you like resistance, pick up a pair of old Premier pedals. (Laughter)
SW: Yeah right! (Laughter)
GH: You’ll be in heaven!
GH: So, I have to assume that Manchester United is your favorite Football club.
SW: Yeah! Yeah! Always has been. It’s been Manchester from the start, really. I wasn’t really a mad soccer fan. I think I started getting there when I was 6 or 7 or something like that. Maybe 8. I got took to Manchester’s United’s ground, Old Trafford. We had season tickets in Stretford seats, on Stretford End.
GH: So you and Rod Stewart do have something in common!
SW: I guess so. Let’s leave it at that! (Laughter)
GH: So how often do you engage in hooliganism? (Laughter)
SW: Hey, it wasn’t me. They started it!
GH: I think I probably would have, at least back in the day.
SW: It was so violent though. There’s London teams would come up to Manchester from down south. I remember, there was one game, and it was Chelsea, big London football club. There was police horses just trampling people, golf balls with razor blades in them being thrown into the stands…
GH: Oh, man!
SW: Pieces of wood, it was just brutal. Now it’s become a lot more family oriented. They cleared a lot of it up. It’s a lot safer now.
GH: So here you go from a 10 year old kit, a shitty Olympia kit, banging it out to Status Quo, day after day. How do you go from that to scoring a gig with AC/DC? Arguably, one of the biggest bands in the history of rock.
SW: Well, there were school bands, obviously, as I grew up. I think my first band, we played at a rugby club. We did have a bass player and the guitar player sung, but he couldn’t sing. But we got paid and stuff, and we got drunk. I think we were like 15, something like that. 14. So usual stuff like that. There was a band called Tora Tora. We were school friends. But we became a little bit more accomplished. And we got a record out, and we did some recording. We did more shows. We got some good reviews in the music papers. But I was really serious about it, and the other guys didn’t seem as serious. So, I heard about this band that were looking for a drummer, and they had a record deal. They were called A-Z [zed] on Polydor Records. We did a tour with Girlschool. That was great. Then the whole thing fell apart. The two brothers in the band were fighting each other. It ended up just collapsing. So I moved with the singer down to London. We had some contacts down there. But nothing really happened. Through a friend of a friend, I got in with this London band called TYTAN, which was some of the guys from Angel Witch, which was quite a big NWOBHM band when all of that stuff came about. It was great musicianship and they had a label deal. I helped finish up an album. I did three songs on that. The next year, we did one show in Belgium. It was just like, not really happening or going anywhere. Although the album is really good. It’s a great heavy metal album called “Rock Justice”. You should go out and get it.
So I’m down there in London and I see an ad in the paper: “Drummer Wanted. If you don’t hit hard, don’t apply.” I’m like, “I don’t know.” I was into smoking a lot of pot back then, too, and I just really couldn’t be bothered. I got coerced into doing it by this friend of mine. He said, “No, no.. Go ahead. Give it a shot.” So I go down and it’s in this place called NOMIS Studios in London. It’s a great rehearsal place. All the successful bands rehearse there.
GH: That must’ve been a tip-off.
SW: I’m like, “Okay. This could be something.” So I get down there and there’s a drum kit in one of the smaller rooms. And this Welsh guy says, “Can you play along to these three songs?” I said, Sure. What are they? “Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, and AC/DC songs.” So I start playing, and I kinda know ’em. After I finished, he said, “That was great. We’ll be in touch with you.” About two hours later, I get a phone call. He says, “Can you come back tomorrow?” I said, “Not really, no. I haven’t got any money. I’m pretty much broke.” He said, “Don’t worry about that. Just get yourself in a taxi and get down there.” So I go back down, he meets me at the door, and he’s taking me along this corridor to another part of the rehearsal studio. And we’re going past all these corridors with AC/DC flight cases. I’m like, “What’s going on here?” And he’s got this big smile on his face. And I’m going, “It’s not them is it?” And he just nods. And I’m going, “Fuckin’ Hell, man!” (Laughter)
So, he’s just smiling and snickering away there. He said, “Don’t worry. You’ll be alright.” So, he opens the door and I walk in, and there’s Angus and Mal[colm Young], Cliff [Williams]. Brian [Johnson] wasn’t there. He was still back in Florida, I think. They asked me what did I know, we sat down, we started playing, and it just went like that. It was just like, okay, now it’s time to work. We finished up. We played about five songs or so. They seemed pretty happy. Just down to earth, really cool guys. It’s all very low key. Then this other guy came in. He looked like a manager or something. They start talking about the tour that was coming up and everything like that. So I turn around and I’m like, “Does this mean I’m in the band?” He said, “It looks like it, doesn’t it?”
GH: Wow! How cool is that? I’m assuming they paid your cab fare home.
SW: Yes, they did. [Laughter] NO, they still owe me for that! [Laughter] So, I get home and I tell the singer, whose apartment I’m sharing, “You’ll never guess what happened!” He’s like, “Fuck off!” (Laughter) “Get the fuck outta here!” I called my dad and he’s like, “You did what?” What a break, huh?
GH: Wow! So where was your first show with them?
SW: Mmm, that was in Calgary, Canada. I think it was called the Saddledome?
GH: Up until then, what was the largest crowd you’d played in front of?
SW: I think it had been that festival with TYTAN. I think it was 1000? Something like that? Then you go from that to about 18,000. And they were really cool. They didn’t make a big fuss about things. They said, “Just don’t panic. When the lights go down, don’t get freaked out. Because it’s going to get really fucking loud. It’s the first one. Here it is. This is the real deal, right now. “Just don’t fucking worry, okay? Just get up there and play.”
GH: Did you ever see AC/DC in concert before you were actually a member of the group?
SW: Yes, I did. I saw them on TV first. It was on the BBC. It was called Radio One In Concert, Sight and Sound. And there was this newfangled thing where you turn the sound down on the TV and you turn up the radio, and you got it through your speakers. So it’s like stereo and TV. The band that night, in the paper, it said Nazareth. We usually watched it anyway because there was nothing else on. It was famine. So we’d sit down and wait to see Nazareth. Then they announced that Nazareth had to cancel. This is AC/DC. We were like, “What the hell is this?” This is good.
GH: That was with Bon Scott, no doubt?
SW: Yeah, it was Bon. Then I saw them again with Bon on the Highway To Hell tour, and Def Leppard were opening up for them. They were amazing. [Original drummer] Phil [Rudd]’s got the ultimate feel for that band. Brilliant feel. What pocket.
GH: And yet another drummer that got himself into trouble. What is it with drummers?
SW: I don’t know… I got a parking ticket the other day. (Laughter)
SW: That was fucking dangerous!
GH: You’re an outlaw!
SW: A Rascal!
GH: A fugitive from justice!
SW: Didn’t put a stamp on the envelope!
GH: Scofflaw! (Laughter)
GH: So how surreal was it to go from watching AC/DC to actually becoming a member of AC/DC?
SW: Oh, yeah! Well, I knew what they were. I knew how many albums they’d sold, and what kind of shows they did. They were a lot older than me, which was good and bad. But they did teach me a lot, and they were very helpful. They helped me out a lot to get through it ’cause they could see that I was just a youngster.
GH: When you first went out with them, how long were you gone?
SW: About three and a half months. Then there was like, three weeks off. Then it would resume again. That was always how it used to go. It’d be two months on, three weeks off, then resume again. Three months on.
GH: As a kid, like all of us, you probably had some preconceived notion about what it was like to be a professional touring musician.
SW: Oh yeah. I thought I knew everything!
GH: So how different was the reality?
SW: I thought I knew everything! I didn’t know shit! Capital letters: I DIDN’T KNOW SHIT! I really didn’t. I learned so much, especially from Malcolm. I was never involved in the business with AC/DC, or any of the finances. I was a paid musician, purely a well-paid drummer. I was never involved in any of the songwriting or the finances, or any of the big decisions that were made. But I listened and I learned, and I saw things that went on. Malcolm, he’s a hell of a shrewd businessman. Totally in control of that whole situation.
GH: It’s sad what he’s going through now.
SW: Very sad. I was shocked when I found out what happened to him. He was such a sharp guy. Quick. Already had it already planned out, before there was even a situation. I was absolutely blown away. I couldn’t even believe it. I was devastated when I found out.
GH: Did you already know Ronnie [James] Dio, or did somebody tell you he was looking for a drummer? How did that situation come about?
SW: When I was in DC, I’d run into Ronnie a couple of times. It was just a friend of a friend of a friend thing. I’d always admired him. Not just his singing, but his songwriting, just his melodies. He had a way of getting in bands and making them incredible. That’s what got me about him. When I first heard Rainbow, that was my first initiation was Rainbow on stage. Anyway, my time with AC/DC had come to an end for one reason or another. It was basically because I wanted to expand my playing and play a bit more. AC/DC’s music is pretty straight ahead rock and roll. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s difficult to play at times, too. But, I wanted to expand my technique and play more.
GH: Queensryche songs gotta be a lot of fun to play. Scott Rockenfield came up with some pretty interesting parts.
SW: That’s a whole different situation. Yeah, I had to learn ’em. But back then, when they were opening for DC, I got to see them, like, three shows in. We’d arrive half an hour before we’re due to go on, or 45 minutes. It was like a machine. You’d get there, get on stage and play. So we didn’t really get to see the opening act. Well, about the third show in, I got to see them and they seemed to be going down pretty well. Which I found a little strange. Not because they weren’t a great band. But because they had a lot of progressive elements that I thought that the crowd might not “get”. ‘Cause the DC crowd is an awesome crowd. But they’re very hardcore. I’ve seen some opening bands that we had get, absolutely, shit thrown at them, not given a chance.
GH: Oh, I’ve had beer cans full of piss thrown at me.
SW: So have I. So have I. Not when I was in DC. But in other bands, yeah. You gotta go through that, man. You’ve gotta go through it. Spat on, Coke cans thrown at ya, full beers, razor blades, coins. Actually having to learn the Queensryche songs years after that… It was one of those things where you go, “Sure. Yeah, I’ll do it. I’ll do it.” Then you put the phone down and you go, “What did I just do?” (Laughter)
But then you kind of get the flavor of what Scott Rockenfield plays like. If you listen long enough to learn the songs, you kind of have a feel of where he’s gonna go next. And usually it’s not typical with him. He usually goes in a slightly askew way. Not in a bad way. Just a little bit of a different way than what normal drummers would play. He tries to be progressive in a lot of cool ways.
GH: And keep the listener guessing.
SW: Yeah. It keeps it interesting. It’s great that he can be given that kind of freedom, and he makes good use of it. I think he’s really cool. There’s some of his stuff that I just couldn’t get to because I found it was too awkward for me to try and copy it exactly. It just wasn’t me.
SW: That’s exactly what he says: “Make them your own.” Do whatever you want to do. But I did hear that, and I did listen to what he said. But, my respect for what Scott Rockenfield performed on those songs… I need to make sure that I at least try to emulate a lot of it, and keep those parts that he wrote for those songs because I think the integral part to the actual song’s as important as the guitar, to me.
GH: The “signature” parts…
SW: Yeah. Or even singing. They’re like signature parts.
GH: You know they’re signature parts when you look out into the audience and people are air drumming those parts, and they know exactly where those parts are! (Laughter)
GH: You cannot fool with those parts! (Laughter)
SW: Yeah! It’s like going to a RUSH concert.
GH: Everybody out in the audience is air-drumming.
SW: And that’s the way I tend to approach most of the situations I’ve been in. I like to be Andy Parker, I like to be Vinny Appice, I like to be Bill Ward, Cozy Powell, Scott Rockenfield. But I always manage, or at least try, to put my own stamp on it. There are a lot of times when there’s enough width in the song somewhere for me to extend the fill that’s already been played by the drummer, or just change it up enough without wrecking it. I tend to look at things that way. Show my respects. Because I think drummers are really important.
GH: How long have you been playing DW [Drum Workshop] drums?
SW: I think it’s about 16 years now. Were you already playing DW when you signed up with them?
SW: No. I had a deal with Sonor [Drums]. The thing that appealed to me with DW was that when they started up, they did something really smart. They got their drum kits in cartage companies all around the world. I don’t know how they do that. They probably pay a load of money and then ship them all over. They’re brilliant drums, don’t get me wrong. But they have them in what seemed like every single [corner] of the world. With Sonor, it was a little more difficult because the situation changed from DC to DIO where Wendy wasn’t in a position to have my drums flown around all over the world. So I had to find a drum company where I could be in Istanbul or Italy or wherever, and for that part of the tour, I’d have a DW drum kit. And they always were great drums. Everywhere I’ve been, the kits that have been delivered, they’ve always been consistently great. They’re good listeners. John [Goode]’s sent me a few things to try out to get my opinion. He does that with a lot of drummers that he knows.
GH: Jimmy D’Anda said the same thing. John will actually call him up, ask him to come in and pick his brain about, “Hey, what do you think about this idea or this modification…
SW: They’re very cool like that. They’re great people and they actually want to hear from the actual people who are on the road and going through this stuff, what the gear’s going through.
GH: Did you ever come up with an innovative idea in terms of drums or heads or hardware that you wanted to bring to the market?
SW: Yeah, I did actually. It was an idea that was hoping Garrison at DW, and there’s no blame going on here or anything. I’m not ragging on Garrison. But it was just like, you know the Octobans?
SW: Not all 6-inch with different lengths. But different widths; a six, an eight, a four.
GH: Different head sizes?
SW: And maybe different lengths. Like I say, a bit like Octobans. At the time I mentioned it, this was like five or six years ago, something like that. He said, “At the moment, we’re not in production for that, and to change all the lathes around to get all of the diameters, it’s really gonna screw up the line. About two or three years ago, at one of them NAMMs (National Association of Music Merchants trade show), I went down and saw the DW booth and there they were! I’m thinking, that might’ve been my idea. But probably not. A lot of people have thought about that too, actually. But they actually got their factory in line to produce it. They’re easy to transport, too. You can put them in a suitcase! I’m not taking credit for that.
GH: Cymbals. What are you using?
SW: All Sabian AAX Metal. Just messed around with a Powerbell Ride, which is pretty cool. Sabian, like DW, they’re really consistent. They’re great people, again. I deal with a guy, Chris Stankee. He’s over here in Burbank. He’s great. He’s always there if you need stuff straight away. If something comes up, and you haven’t had time to talk to him about it, he’ll jump on it straight away. He’ll get stuff for you, set it aside. Take your broken ones back and he replaces ’em straight away.
I’ve always found them really consistent. You get two 18” AAX Metal crashes together and they’re exactly the same.
GH: In terms of sticks…
SW: Vic Firth.
GH: Have you ever looked at a hickory tree and wondered how many pairs of sticks you could get out of it?
SW: I think I did once, yeah. (Laughter)
GH: I know ’cause I’ve done that! I have a place in New York, and right across the road there’s this huge old hickory tree. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve looked at that tree and thought, “I wonder how many sticks could I get outta that?” (Laughter)
So you’re playing Vic Firth drumsticks.
SW: Yeah, we’re tree killers! (Laughter)
GH: What model are you using?
SW: American Classic Metal. I got handed a bunch from Ben down there at Burbank. He gave me a pair that were Vinnie Paul‘s from Pantera. Those are pretty good. They’re thicker than the ones I use, but a little shorter. They got sent to me, and apparently, they used to be Tommy Lee‘s sticks. But he used them with the nylon tip. So, I got some, and I’d just gotten the deal with Vic Firth, which was really cool. They’re really great sticks. Again, consistency is the key, and they’re just awesome. So I had these Tommy Lee signature sticks. I liked the length of the stick. It was a little bit longer than a 5B, I think. But they had this nylon stuff. So, I’d be playing away and the tips would be flying off and hitting Ronnie in the back of the head, and he’d be turning around and he’d be screaming at me. [Laughter] And there’d be screaming, and shouting, and cursing! So I had to change them. [Laughter]
GH: I was using nylon tips for a long time, too. And I’d be popping tips off. And once you do, the stick is useless.
GH: And then you’re damaging your heads!
SW: And then you’re looking for new heads, yeah. So, they saw that and they were great, and I got a great deal with them. The wooden tips are just so consistent. Now and again, I’ll get a couple of light ones. But the majority, there usually a really nice and heavy stick.
GH: Have your stick sizes reduced over the course of time?
SW: Not really, no.
[At this point, our conversation began to cover grip tape, stick thicknesses, the multitude of stick sizes available that are literally one millionth of an inch apart from the next available size, stick weight, our preference of varnished vs. unvarnished sticks, the thickness of the varnish itself, etc. when we suddenly realized how absurd any of this would sound to a non-drummer.]
GH: But you’re really splitting microscopic hairs at that point.
SW: You fuckin’ are! (Hysteria/Laughter)
SW: Yeah…That’s like being a stick nerd!
GH: Right! (More Hysteria)
SW: I try to stay away from those kinds of conversations… (Yet more laughter)
SW: ‘Cause I don’t know shit! (Laughter) I just bash things! (Laughter)
GH: On that note… On behalf of Von’s Grocery, don’t be a stranger!
SW: I told you, I can’t vote! Leave me alone! (Laughter)