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The Exclusive Interview With Doane Perry!
Long-time Jethro Tull Drummer
By Billy Donald, Rock Interviews
(more articles from this author)
2004-05-12
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Picture from Jay Rubin made in Rome
Foro Italico- courtesy of the Doane Perry fanpage by Ina Hacker

I'd like to think that this interview really sums up Doane Perry. Not just Doane Perry the musician, or Doane Perry the composer, but rather Doane Perry the man. This interview has been in the making for literally over a year, and if it weren't for the perseverence of Doane, it might not have ever happened. But he was determined to find time out of his extremely busy schedule to do this interview. I am forever grateful, because this is one of the most in-depth and informative interviews I have ever had the pleasure of conducting. Oh, and did I mention that Doane Perry is the super-talented long time drummer of progressive rock mainstay Jethro Tull? Or that his other drumming credits include the likes of Bette Midler, Lou Reed, Jon Anderson, Todd Rundgren, amongst many others? Intelligent and personable, Doane has been very gracious with his time and the wait has been well worth the results. Without further ado, please enjoy the interview with Doane Perry!

[Billy Donald] Doane, thank you so much for taking the time to join me here for this interview! It has been a long time coming since your incredibly hectic schedule has kept you away from the computer, but it is well worth the wait to have you as my guest! I know you are currently enjoying a little down time right now from Jethro Tull, although February brings more new tour dates! What have you been doing to occupy your time the last few months?

Doane Perry You're welcome, I'm happy to be here. Well, we only got off the road a few weeks ago in early September (2003). We were basically touring from the beginning in June to the beginning of September, which took in Europe and the USA. Now that I'm home I am diving into few projects, which have been on the back burner for the last few months, that I wish to try to complete by the end of this year. One of them is with my longtime collaborator, Vince DiCola, which is a project that is a very interesting departure for both he and I. We went into the studio along with a very gifted bass player named Paul Ill and basically improvised for two or three days. Out of those improvisations we've developed some structured pieces to which we then had Reeves Gabrels, a wonderful, imaginative guitar player, improvise his reactions. On top of that, Vincent Kendall, a vocalist who Paul knew, came in and improvised some singing/spoken word narrative, almost like another instrument improvising alongside the rest of us. The result is one continuous piece of music which is 45 minutes long and that's just the first record! We've recorded enough for another two to three records and we are going to begin work on those as soon as this is completed. We haven't decided on a group name as yet but the name of the piece is "Focus." We hope it will be released by spring of next year as it is largely completed.

The next project is another collaborative effort with Vince and Ellis Hall that quite likely will turn into the new Thread project. We have some material that we are preparing to record and we're hoping to have some very interesting guest artists on this project. We've also been speaking to a booking agent about putting together some dates so we can go out and play live, which up till now is something we've done relatively little of. I am also working at home in my studio on some separate material. I'm not quite sure where that's going to end up yet, but I'm enjoying the writing process even though it's a little more arduous as I end up writing, playing and engineering almost everything. That aspect can be a little bit taxing, although there's a certain liberation that goes along with just being able to do what ever you want to without it having to go through the filter of other individuals. I also recently completed an album with my friend Jimmy McVay who is a wonderful songwriter and composer, so there are quite a few irons in the fire.

[Billy Donald] You have obviously been the stand-out drummer of all times in Jethro Tull's history, finally giving them long term stability at the drum throne that they never quite had throughout the early years. After years of recording and touring endlessly (since 1983!), what keeps your energy so fresh with the Tull?

Doane Perry Just very simply that I love the music and I love going out there and performing live every night. It is a real challenge to keep yourself focused and playing fresh and exciting throughout the course of a long tour. There's a lot of mental preparation. And in some ways, possibly more mental preparation than even physical preparation that is necessary at this point in my life to go out on stage every night and play at the level that is satisfying to me. And there doesn't seem to be any one way to do this - everybody in the band has different methods that they use to prepare. Mine seems to involve some combination of stretching, practicing on a small warm-up kit that I have backstage, listening to music, and crucially, finding a few quiet minutes to myself before we go onstage to try to get in the right frame of mind. Of course when I was younger I didn't seem to have all these elaborate rituals that were necessary in order to go out and perform. But part of it is just learning what you need, to find yourself in that comfort zone so that you can be relaxed and play well, and part of it is a discipline that I have learned over the years that works well for me.

There's another ritual that I have that also seems to keep me alert and on my toes which involves listening back to the gig tape - sometimes at night after gigs, sometimes the next day. But I always listen to part, if not all of the gig, to examine what actually happened in the cold light of day versus what I think happened when we were in the middle of performing. That is simply a helpful objective tool that allows me to evaluate and critique my performance, throwing out the things that don't work and perhaps remembering some of the happy accidents that did.

The other thing I like to do to just completely switch off, is to read, which always transports me away from the machinery of touring and life on the road. I think it's important for everybody to have some diversion in the day that helps them relax, so that when we do go to work at night and all come together onstage, we're glad to be there.

[Billy Donald] To me, nobody defines the Tull drummers like you do, but what are your thoughts on some of the past Tull drummers such as Barriemore Barlow and Clive Bunker?

Doane Perry Well, thank you but I NEVER would have been able play the music of Jethro Tull without the hugely important roles that both Clive and Barrie played in the development of the sound of the band. Clive, as you know, was an enormous influence on me personally, and the amazing style that he brought to the music was something I had never seen or heard before in a rock band. But of course, even then Tull were so much more than just a rock band. It's very important to me to be able to faithfully re-create the parts that they so indelibly etched on the music, in a way that remains faithful to the original part and at the same time, falls easily under my own hands. This usually means making some adjustments so that it feels natural for me to play it, and perhaps has a bit of my own stamp at the same time.

Now, from the perspective of having to learn and perform the intricacies of their parts and really having to get inside those parts, I have a much deeper appreciation for what they did and how they did it, because they were both so unique in their own way and totally identifiable, each with their own distinct sonic personality. So I really have to give a big thank you to not only Clive and Barrie, but to Mark Craney and Gerry Conway for their wonderfully creative contributions as well; ALL incredible drummers!

[Billy Donald] What Tull album do you feel really catches the spirit of your drumming the best? Is there a particular favorite?

Doane Perry I think probably Roots to Branches is a personal favorite for a number of reasons. Another one I like, which is a bit more of obscure, is Jethro Tul l- Live at Hammersmith in 1991. I think this was from the Catfish Rising tour. On every album though, there are special tracks that for one reason or another stand out, so it's hard to single out a personal favorite. I think what Roots to Branches had going for it was that it was fairly organic, from a band performance point of view. We were in the studio together, working quite quickly and playing together as a rhythm section, as opposed to the more compartmentalized ways that records can get made these days. I think we found a lot of diverse influences coming together on that record in a very natural, unforced and harmonious way.

Over the years there have been a lot of albums that I have done with different artists, which for one reason or another have captured elements of where I was at as a musician, at that point in time. The ones that stand out in my memory as particularly special ones really don't have anything to do with their being "drumistic" per se, but ones where I was part of a cohesive musical whole. Those are the ones that I'm really proud of, having been just a piece of the puzzle that fit in really well to the overall musical picture.There was a track we did that never made it on to Roots to Branches that I think was one of the best pieces I've ever played with the band and also one of the best pieces the band's ever played. In the end it didn't make it because Ian couldn't find quite the right vocal melody and lyric to go with it, so it has remained in the vaults as a sterling rhythm track waiting for the right revisitation. It was cryptically titled at the time "Never Been to Andalusia." I just love that piece of music and really hope it sees the light of day at some point in the future.

There was also a 22-minute version of "Budapest" that we recorded for Crest of a Knave, which has some fantastic unheard sections of music, [and] which unfortunately got whittled away until we ended up with the shorter 11 minute album version! We also have a few really wild outtakes of "Dangerous Veils" from Roots to Branches. All in all, I have to say that's a very hard question to answer because it's just too subjective. I think I just have to let other people decide how the answer to that one!

[Billy Donald] Just a bit on your drumming background here. I know that you stated that you had played piano until you saw Ringo and The Beatles on TV! I know that Ringo no doubt is a major influence on you for that reason, but who were some of the other drummers that influenced you the most?

Doane Perry Well, starting with the drummers from that era, of course there was Ringo, then Keith Moon, who was a huge influence both musically and theatrically. Ginger Baker, Mitch Mitchell, Clive Bunker, John Bonham, a lot of the English guys, I suppose, because they were all so different from each other and from the American drumming I had been exposed to up to that point.

Then I discovered all the Jazz guys: Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, Art Taylor - who was a real unsung hero of the drums - Barry Altshul, Joe Jones, Sonny Greer, almost all of Duke Ellington's drummers, Roy Brooks and just so many great jazz drummers whom I'm leaving out. Then of course there was the great Al Jackson, who did all the Stax Volt recordings and was the drummer with Booker T and the MG's and Otis Redding, and you can't leave out Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks.

After that I discovered all the fusion drummers who were blending the power of rock drumming with the subtlety and technique of jazz drummers. Starting with Billy Cobham, who just towered over that music for some time, and of course Steve Gadd, a French drummer named Andre Ceccarelli, who has such a great touch, as well as Jon Christiansen , who did so much beautiful work with ECM. Alphonse Mouzon with McCoy Tyner, Harvey Mason with anyone! I also loved Jerry Marotta with Peter Gabriel -he really carved out his own identity in that group.

One of my current favorites is a man from Africa's Ivory Coast named Paco Sery, simply one of most phenomenal drummers and musicians I have ever heard. He's played with Joe Zawinul's Syndicate for some time and if you ever get a chance to see him, I think you'll be absolutely astonished. Peter Erskine and Jim Keltner are also two of my personal favorites for their sheer musicality, phrasing and great note placement. The same has to be said for the late, great Jeff Porcaro, and Carlos Vega, another one of my personal favorite all-around drummers.

I'm also lucky enough to have some great friends like Gregg Bissonette, Mark Craney, Billy Ward, Myron Grombacher, Marco Minnemann, all of whom I've been influenced by and whom I can sit right next to and steal their licks! Stewart Copeland, Terry Bozzio, Simon Phillips and Neil Peart have also done such original things with their own voices. And I can't forget Vinnie Coliauta, who has just matured into one of the greatest, most musical drummers, as has Steve Smith. There are just so many and I know I'm leaving many people out. There are always new people who I'm discovering and established people who I'm rediscovering again. I guess I will always be an eternal student of the instrument.

Keyboard players have always been an enormous influence on me because I think I play drums like a frustrated keyboard player to start with, and I just have a natural affinity with that instrument, having played it, although not particularly brilliantly, most of my life. Plus, it's part of the percussion family.

Outside of drummers, I have been influenced by numerous other musicians simply because of their general musicality, composing, phrasing, note placement and joy in music making. The short list would have to include Stephane Grappelli, McCoy Tyner, Joe Zawinul, Yehudi Menuhin, Richard Bona, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Richard Tee, Anthony Jackson, Al Jarreau, and Ralph Vaughan Williams, among many others.

[Billy Donald] Do you still remember your first drum kit?

Doane Perry Well, my first drum kit wasn't really a drum kit; it was four or five upturned trashcans and a 6" cymbal taped to a pencil. But my first real drum kit was a red sparkle Sears and Roebuck kit that comprised a 20" bass drum, 12" tom, and a 14" snare drum, which to my delight was recently given back to me, with the same head and fittings that I originally had on there. Plus it came with a 12" crash cymbal. I've got some great pictures of those!

[Billy Donald] Are you still endorsing Premier Drums and Paiste Cymbals at this time?

Doane Perry I am indeed and quite happy about it! I also endorse DW Pedals, Pro Mark Sticks, Remo heads, Wuhan bells, Beat Bug by LT Luglock, Stick Handler, Rhythm Tech, Latin Percussion, Shure Microphones and In Ear systems and MayEA Systems.

[Billy Donald] You attended the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a period of time to study. How did your schooling there, as well as New York University and Rutgers University shape the way you approached music and drumming?

Doane Perry Well, I wasn't at any of them very long well, but certainly getting a more formal education in music didn't hurt. I always enjoyed playing in the ensembles, although most of the time I really wasn't playing drum set. I was a section percussionist, playing tuned and untuned percussion. But I was able to take a broad range of classes that took in theory, harmony, vocal training, ensemble playing and private lessons. Outside of school, I was always studying on my own, reading, practicing and taking lessons with outside teachers from jazz to orchestral. I am sure all of those experiences helped my drumming tremendously, as it gave me a more balanced overall musical perspective as well as the actual experience of playing all of those different kinds of music.

Again, coming from a keyboard background was a real asset. I often found I got much more information from reading a piano chart then a drum part. First of all, there still seems to be no universally agreed upon method of scoring for a drum set, so it often made drum and percussion parts, unless they were written in an orchestral manner, very sketchy. I always found it much more helpful to follow the chord changes and see what the melody was doing, as that often tended to dictate what my part was going to be anyway. I don't think there's any one way to get there. I know lots of great players who have never had any formal schooling and I've known lots of lousy players that have had lots of formal schooling, so in the end it's really what you do with your desire to learn. That can take one a lot farther than a teacher who doesn't motivate his or her students. But I always encourage young musicians to study as much as they can, from any available source. Be a sponge!

[Billy Donald] Jethro Tull clearly isn't the only credit on your resume, as you have played some major gigs with such luminaries as Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren, Jon Anderson, Kitaro, all the way to Liza Minelli and Bette Midler! Are you still doing many sessions or odd gigs here and there?

Doane Perry Absolutely. I still enjoy doing session work year in Los Angeles, which, if I'm home long enough, can be a variety of things from TV or film dates to jingles and record dates. Some of them are quite anonymous in terms of what they demand from me, but I'm glad to always try to keep my skills sharp, as they all require different things. I haven't been playing around town live too much lately, but I hope I will be able to do more of that this year with a few friends of mine. That's always fun. But I do have a lot of things going on this year outside of Jethro Tull, and it is quite a challenge sometimes to keep the schedules from colliding. But what I am really enjoying these days is spending time in my studio, writing and playing my own music. Plus I always try to set some time aside just to practice new things. Sometimes there are just not enough hours in the day to do all these things! I'm sure everybody knows how that feels! And the older I get, the more important it is for me to try to achieve a meaningful balance between my home life and work. I think I used to work too much and never took enough time off just to reflect and do other things that had nothing to do with music. Every day, whether I am on or off the road, I try to find a little bit of time, no matter how busy things get, to sit, be still, read a book, take a walk, just relax a little bit. As some very wise person once said, "you'll never see these words on a tombstone: 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office.'"

[Billy Donald] Ian Anderson is currently in the midst of a solo tour (in fact, as of press time, he will be here in my hometown of Louisville in five days!), and I was wondering if he had offered you a chance to come out and play on this run of shows with him? I understand he is mainly using local talent at each show?

Doane Perry No, he is doing this tour with completely different musicians, although I went to see him recently in Los Angeles and it was very interesting to be watching it from that perspective. Although he did do mostly material from his solo records, he did perform a few Jethro Tull pieces and it was a novel experience for me to hear it being played while I was in the audience. I really enjoyed it. I did do his first solo tour some years ago, supporting the Divinities album, which I really enjoyed and which was one of the most challenging records and tours I've ever done. Because the Divinities album was all basically orchestral, we had to try to recreate that as a five piece group. I had to try to play all my tuned and untuned percussion parts with a very extensive midi setup, my keyboard and a small drum set. I would love to do something like that again ,as it was so entirely different from what we normally do in Jethro Tull and it was great to be able to draw upon some of my orchestral background in that context.

Yes, he is using local talent in addition to his group, and of course it's different every night, so you never know exactly what you're going to see. But I'm sure what ever it is, it will be entertaining!

[Billy Donald] As we discussed earlier, you are quite an avid reader. Any good books to suggest? What are some of your current readings?

Doane Perry This is harder than the "who is my favorite drummer" question! OK, in no particular order, a recent top 10 list:

1) "An Equal Music" - Vikram Seth
2) "Espedair Street" - Iain Banks
3) "The Essential" - Colin Wilson
4) "Mind Readings-Writer's Journeys Through Mental States" - Edited by Sara Dunn, Blake Morrison and Michele Roberts
5) "Jaco-The Extraordinary life of Jaco Pastorius" - Bill Milkowski
6) "True Hallucinations" - Terence McKenna
7) "Ghost Rider-Travels on the Healing Road" - Neil Peart
8) "The Most of S.J. Perelman" -or anything else you can find by this very funny man. "Vinegar Puss" or any of his other collections are, too.
9) "Collected Short Stories of John Cheever"
10) "Sphere" - Michael Crichton-forget the confusing movie-this is a great sci-fi book.

There are just so many great books out, like favorite drummers or records, a tough one to compile without leaving out so many extraordinary ones. But some people might find it to be an interesting cross section.

[Billy Donald] Doane, I want to thank you very graciously for joining me here for this interview, and I want to wrap up here by asking you if there are still any certain goals or accomplishments you would like to tackle in the music business or in life outside of music?

Doane Perry Very simply, to be a better musician and be a better person. Thanks for having me, it's been my pleasure!

Jethro Tull Website: www.j-tull.com
Doane Perry-endorsed fan site: www.doaneperrypage.de
Doane Perry Fan-mail: talltull@aol.com


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