The Exclusive Interview With Jimmy Carl Black!
He is lovingly referred to quite often as the Indian of the Mothers Of Invention, but underneath the layers of his great sense of humour, Jimmy Carl Black is very serious about his drumming and his music. When Frank Zappa became a household name, Jimmy was the man providing the relentless rhythm for Frank's bizarre anecdotes and tales set to music. After a very successful run as part of the Mothers Of Invention, Jimmy decided to pursue a whole slew of other musical interests that have brought him here to the present day with a long list of album credits and a reputation as a hard working musician. Today, at 65 years young, Jimmy continues to tour religiously with his band, The Muffin Men, and now makes his home in Germany. Jimmy was kind enough to take some time before his latest tour to sit for some questions with me!
[Billy Donald] Jimmy, thank you very much for taking the time to join me here for this interview! I know you are getting ready to leave for an extensive European tour within the next couple of weeks, so it’s great that you could join us. It certainly has been a great ride for you with a career spanning over 40 years now! It is apparent to from seeing things you have written on your site that you really seem to enjoy playing more now than ever before. Is performing still a rush for you?
Jimmy Carl Black I don’t think I would put it that way. I am playing as much as I do out of necessity because I can’t afford to retire. You know how it is for a professional musician just trying to make a living. It ain't easy, but over here in Germany, it's a little better than in the States. I do still get a rush playing when good musicians are involved.
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[Billy Donald] What do you do to keep in such great shape at age 65 to play this grueling series of tour dates? There are lots of drummers in the world much younger than you that couldn’t keep up the same pace with you!
Jimmy Carl Black As far as this tour is concerned with The Muffin Men, I am just the lead singer so I don’t have to carry the drums around. I do work out with the weights and walk a lot in the mountains around my house to stay in shape. I am still playing the drums with a couple of blues bands over here, but we don’t tour as heavy as the Muffins do. I guess carrying the drums around and setting up and tearing down will keep you in shape also
[Billy Donald] What kind of drum equipment are you currently using on the road and in the studio these days?
Jimmy Carl Black I am playing two sets of drums at the moment. I have a set of wood shelled Fibes: a 22 inch power bass drum; a 10, 12, 13, and 16 inch tom-toms and a 6 ½ inch wood snare. I am a Fibes endorser over here in Europe for my friend, Tommy Robinson, who is the owner of Fibes in Austin, Texas. The other set I play is a Recording Series Yamaha set that I really like because they are easy for me to carry around and sound great. They are a 20 inch power bass drum; 10, 12, and 14 inch tom-toms and a vintage Tama Art Star 6 ½ inch snare that I have had for over twenty years. The rest of the Art Star set belongs to my second oldest son, James Darrell Black, who is 42 years old and plays very good. I use all Zildjians that are all over twenty years old and still sound great. They are: a 20” ride; 2 16” crashes, and a set of 15” hi-hats. I use any make of 5B plastic tips sticks. Which ever is the cheapest I can get when I go to a music store. They are very expensive over here in Germany. About 20 bucks a pair. The Recording Series are the ones I use in the studio and they sound great.
[Billy Donald] I know that you actually were a very accomplished trumpet player early in your life, and then when you joined the Air Force in 1958, you decided to take up the drums instead. What prompted the switch?
Jimmy Carl Black Because there were no trumpets in Rock and Roll or R&B in those days. If you played trumpet, you had to play Jazz and that wasn’t my kind of music really. I decided to start playing the drums because I love rhythm and to me the drums are the backbone of any band along with the Bass. If you have a great rhythm section, you have a great band.
[Billy Donald] It certainly did seem to be the right career move for you! Who were some of the most influential drummers to you back in those early years?
Jimmy Carl Black Most all the drummers that played R&B and Blues. I learned a lot from Jimmy Reed's drummer, and to tell the truth, I don’t even know those guys names. I am a big fan of Ringo Starr and Keith Moon.
[Billy Donald] You were a charter member of one of the most adventurous and influential bands in the history of Rock Music along with Frank Zappa in the Mothers of Invention. There was a really kitschy humour to the philosophy of the band, but at the same time, there was some serious musicianship happening within the band. What are some of your fondest memories of Frank and the Mothers?
Jimmy Carl Black That is a hard question to answer since I had a lot of great memories of playing with the M.O.I. I always enjoyed when we could make Frank laugh, since he was a pretty serious guy most of the time. Most people that have the genius that he had are. I really enjoyed the Garrick Theatre in New York City when we played there for six months running. That was also very good musically for me. I really learned a lot about drumming from Frank. When we played The Albert Hall in London in 1967 was a highlight in my career. We were the first rock group to play there because it was a classical theatre. The Beatles and the Stones were in the audience.
[Billy Donald] I know that Frank was actually an avid fan of drumming and was a drummer himself. Did you and Frank ever do any duel drumming either live or just in rehearsals?
Jimmy Carl Black That was Frank’s first instrument, and he really loved percussion. I did play with him on the first album, Freak Out, on the song “Help, I’m A Rock” with him. Frank knew a lot about the drums but wasn’t a very good drummer and maybe that is why he’s had some of the best drummers ever play with him.
[Billy Donald] Is there any particular album or event in your music career that you could say is your favorite piece of work, or what you are the proudest of?
Jimmy Carl Black I really enjoyed all of the M.O.I. albums that I did with him. I also really liked doing the Geronimo Black album. I did an album with Arthur Brown in 1987 called Brown, Black, and Blue, that is a classic. Arthur is one of my best friends in the world and probably, in my book, one of the best ever singers. I am also a big fan of all the Beatles’ works.
[Billy Donald] I know that your year is very much scheduled out, and your calendar is full for 2003! Are there any other side projects you are hoping to squeeze in between your tours?
Jimmy Carl Black Yes, I am putting out my three sons' new CD called Geronimo Black, which is my youngest son's name. I want to do a new solo CD this year also with some of the guys in The Muffin Men and next year I want to do a Country CD. I have a lot of work just running my very small record company that I would like to get bigger, and then maybe I can really slow down on the touring. At 65 it’s not as easy as it used to be, although I would still do some. I would really like to be able to make a good living with selling records and also producing them. I like working in the studio since it means I can spend more time at home with my sweet little German wife, Monika.
[Billy Donald] Jimmy, it has been a real pleasure to have you as my guest, and I thank you very much again for your time! To wrap up here, I wanted to know, in your opinion, what is the secret to longevity in the music business without conforming to what is supposedly “popular”?
Jimmy Carl Black What Frank always said, “Music is the Best and It Is My Life.” Hang in there if you've got the GUTS.
Visit Jimmy Carl Black at www.jimmycarlblack.com/.