Now established as a composer in the world of film music, Rabbit Bundrick divides the year between writing and world tours with world class artists. But for Rabbit, it all started at the age of seven when he received his first piano and began banging on it straight away. Soon he became aware of that sphere of activity known as the "music business." Rabbit's father was also a musician and his older brother played drums. The whole family played behind a singer named Johnny Morrison at barn dances and country jamborees, and held down a steady Saturday night gig at their own " Johnny Morrison's Hay Barn." Soul music and sessions soon followed, most particularly work with Johnny Nash. Also during that time, Bundrick turned down a chance to play for Buck Owens because he wouldn't cut his hair! Eventually he found his own unique instrumental voice on the Hammond Organ. He worked with Bob Marley, Free and finally, The Who! Safe to say, none of those world class artists asked him to cut his hair! Read on and check out how this lanky Texan used his Hammond Organ, stomp boxes and guitar techniques to make the transition from Texas honky tonks to the world's stadium stages...
"Back in the '70's when I was in Free and we recorded Heartbreaker, I always ran the Hammond through some sort of repeat echo, usually set at 2 or 3 repeats to make it more guitar-like. I use effects boxes to give me a sweeping sound. I can catch up with it and then carry on with my solos. And when you stop, it's not just silent. And then it also gives you plenty of tricks, if you do a riff and it's repeating that riff, you can do another one on top of it. It lets me use my Hammond like a guitar player. Most of the riffs I play with my right hand I've stolen from guitar players! The only difference is that you can't bend the notes. Then Hammond speaks volumes just by itself. But when you start adding things like delays and distotion pedals, it just goes into outer space. You can do everything with a Hammond that you can do with a guitar except bend the strings."
"When I'm at home, I compose for a music library so I must limit my outside influences. I compose constantly, every single day of my life, so I don't get the chance to listen to too much else. Most of them are the ones I write because I'm very personal when I write; and that's why I don't have hit records, because I write for me. Being a "muso," (English musician's slang for someone who's really into the music for the music's sake and not particularly concerned with "pop stardom" and all its trappings. ..) I like music across the board. I like all types of music. When I'm at home and I do listen to music, it's usually the radio, and it's usually classical music. One or two favorite albums and songs?- "Theme From Summer Place" ", Heartbreaker by Free", and Catch A Fire by Bob Marley because I'm playing all the keyboards on that. And Johnny Nash's I Can See Clearly Now, because I'm playing all the keys on that one as well. KKTR (Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit) because it's a collectors item. And probably like everyone else, The Beatles, Magical Mystery Tour and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Some of my favorite people?-Chris Thomas, Glen Johns, Mickey Most, George Martin, and Mutt Lange. He is probably number one. Paul Kossoff, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend and Snuffy Walden. He's a great mate of mine. My influences?-Stevie Winwood is a huge influence on me. Then Billy Preston and Jimmy Smith. My favorite drummers are Simon Kirke and Simon Phillips -he's an ace!, and of course my friend and confident-Zak Starkey. And my favorite bass player is Pino Paladino. My favorite band?-I know the answer to that straight away: Free! It would be the Heartbreaker lineup. Me, Paul Rogers, Simon Kirke, Tetsu and Paul Kossoff, rest his soul.
My Keyboard influences?-Jerry Lee Lewis is number one because I do all his style of piano playing. Floyd Kramer is my country-western influence. Being from Texas, I learned how to play his music off records. Then Billy Preston and Jimmy Smith. I steal guitar riffs from Kossoff, Eric Clapton, and any guitar player that can play his guitar properly. I don't know how to play guitar, but I know how to read the neck enough to know what notes are being played. Thanks to my ear training from college, I've got a manuscript of blank music paper in my head and when these guys play these things, my head is like a computer. It's like they're plugged into me -it automatically registers on the manuscript. Then I can just come home that night, look in my mind and I see the manuscript, and I know what they played. My favorite intro to a song?-The intro to 5:15, Pete Townshend's song. It's a piano intro, and if you play it at home and forget the rest of the song, you can go somewhere else with it. It's an intro that can lead you anywhere!
One of the main things to check on a Hammond Leslie cabinet is volume. I check for levels. What does it sound like quiet, and what does it sound like loud? Effects sound quite different when you blow them up. When the Hammond is at full tilt, what is the delay going to sound like? I also check for when I change tones in the drawbars, what that does to the effects. For example, if I'm running the Hammond through a fuzz box and I work the drawbars, sometimes the fuzz box only goes on the top keyboard and sometimes if it's wrong, I drop down to the bottom keyboard because it's clean; it's like having two Hammonds. I check for easy accessibility. For example, if I'm playing live and I only want four repeats for the whole show, and I want them to taper off within three seconds, then I will set that and I will use that setting the whole time. I make sure that will work. I may alter the bpm. I'll find the effect that works for whichever style I'm playing, whether it be fast licks or slow licks. Then I will set it and then usually leave it.
My favorite Mind-blowing events?- I saw The Beatles in Houston when they first hit town. That was just awesome. You couldn't hear a note they played, except the bass, because the screaming women were so loud. Underwear, tennis shoes, tops and bras, everything flying all over the auditorium! That was quite a memorable experience. Just seeing the guys come out. Then there's a funny one. The first time I met Free, I went straight into the studio. When I went to England, I didn't have to look for work because they hired me before I got there. I didn't know what to expect. And I still got the tapes from those days and when we were doing Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit; the buzz from the studio was just awesome for me. Every time I hear the tape, it puts me back there that day. And then the most memorable gig of that era was when Paul Rodgers finally came in. When he rejoined and we became Free, and we went and we did our first gig and I thought, "Wow, I'm just this green boy from Texas. I've made it!" Listen to Paul Rodgers sing, you can't be in a better band with a singer like that. I realized that I had made the jump from being a guy from Texas who was a good player, and I knew from there I could only go.
Before I went to Europe, I went to see Traffic and Free supported them. And I had a premonition. It's weird how this works, because it's worked three times now, I've had this premonition that when I see someone, I'm going to work with them. I wound up going to England and joining Free. They blew me away, and I thought, "I'm going to do that." Now the same thing happened with Donovan, who I like a lot. I was working with Mickey Most who produced Donovan. I saw him perform, I liked that music and I thought, "I'm probably going to work on this," and sure enough I did. I did an album called Cosmic Wheels. And then the third really relevant one was in 1975 when I worked with Eric Burdon in America, we did an American tour. And I was based at the Hyatt House for six months. I got in an elevator and the only people that were in the elevator were Pete Townshend, Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle. I was standing there, and I thought, "This feels familiar." And then years later, in 1979, they asked me to join The Who. But I was standing in the elevator with them a few years before that and I just thought, "I'm going to do this as well." You don't go and tell people that, when it happens. It's just something you feel. You think, "This fits." And so those three are the most memorable. Free, Donovan and The Who. I'm still looking for other mind-blowing experiences. I've got my eyes on Eric Clapton, but he doesn't need me.
Funniest thing that ever happened to me?-That depends on if you're talking about going to jail, the hospital or falling out of a window! But musically- speaking, I think the funniest thing happened when I was in Free, and we did a gig with Tim Bogert's band Cactus. Before we went on, he came in the dressing room and said, "Here Rabbit, take this." And I did. We went on stage, and all of a sudden my Hammond's keys became like big sheets of paper, and they were as soft as marshmallows! I was so into what I was doing but when the song stopped, I thought, "I'm going to keep playing!" I just kept going and going and going and everybody turned around and said, "Rabbit, it's over." I said, "Oh, no, man, catch up. We're going somewhere with this!" Eventually Simon Kirke tried to join in with me, but eventually someone came over and switched the organ off. They had to switch the organ off..
I don't listen to other people's music for the strict reason of influence. In my early days, I listened to all those people I told you about, and I learned my music. What I say to young musicians is this: Get all your education from all the guys you like, and when you've learned how to play and you've gotten what you want from your heroes, throw it all away. Take what you've learned and don't use them as a reference any more. Take what you have learned, put yourself into that and then forget that they even taught it to you. Soon it will become your own style. People say, "Rabbit, a lot of people play Hammond, but no one plays it like you." And it's the same instrument. I use all those Jimmy Smith, Billy Preston, Floyd Kramer and Jerry Lee Lewis licks. All the glissandos, everything. I apply all that to Hammond Organ playing. And then I look at guitar players and listen to the way they structure chords, listen to the intervals they play when they're playing Blues riffs, And then I get what I want from them and then forget that it was a guitar and treat it as if I invented it on the Hammond.
What made me a musician?-I have an easy answer for that. My parents and brothers were musicians. I was raised with it. When I was young, music was just a normal thing to do so it was a fun thing to do. But as I grew up, I realized that music is much more than just a job or a tool. It's a form of psychotherapy. It's a form of meditation. I use music whenever I have a problem, I go in and play, and it's like talking to someone. It's a higher source. And the music that's sent to me helps me get through a lot of pain. I use it for therapy. I play daily, and it's like going to a support group meeting daily. Music is supposed to help you. That's why I do it. It's therapeutic. Few have had a career as illustrious and varied as that of John "Rabbit" Bundrick. Currently on the road with an extremely vital and very musical, stripped-down version of The Who, he is mystifying audiences night after night, offering up live versions of keyboard-driven classics like "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Behind Blue Eyes."
And always ready to rise to a challenge, at every gig Rabbit gets to go neck and neck with guitar master Pete Townshend! Utilizing his effects, (including his Line 6 stomp boxes!) to take the Hammond to uncharted heights, Bundrick combines classic R+B keyboard stylings with sky-scraping guitar heroics unlike any other ivory tinkler on the planet. So the next time you plug in, give your creativity a refreshing shot of "Rabbit Juice" by trying this thought on for size, "Hmm... what would Rabbit do?"
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