Interview by David Lee
Rock and Roll is largely a name game. If you are lucky enough to have a hit associated with your name you are on a gravy and biscuits diet, (or better), for life and all you have to do is be able to warble your golden oldie on Friday and Saturday night. But what if your greatest accomplishments in "the biz" don't carry with them great public recognition? That is where John "Rabbit" Bundrick sits today.
Yeah, Rabbit is and has been the keyboardist with THE WHO since 1979. And yes, each night Rabbit takes to the stage to either support or battle Pete Townshend's sonic assaults but I would bet you a crisp hundred that 99.9% of any audience couldn't name the guy running his fingers ragged on that mountain of keyboards sitting stage left. It is a damnable shame too but with a barrage of music released on various labels in recent months Rabbit's profile is likely to improve.
There is a wonderfully well written bio for Rabbit in the liner notes of "WELCOME TO AMERICA" (Angel Air Records) that discusses his working history from FREE to Bob Marley and THE WHO so little need to repeat that all here but what could never be overemphasized is just how damned good the music on this disc truly is.
"WELCOME TO AMERICA" has a Clapton kind of feel to much of it only in the case of Rabbit there is the intangible aspect of complete believability. Though his name is best known and respected by the cream of British Rock, many who keep after him to write or perform on their records, Eric Burdon, JETHRO TULL and Roger Waters for example, Rabbit is a good ole' Texas boy. It is Rabbit's Texas bred and sized talent tempered by a Southern soul that elevate tracks like "Taxi to Gatwick," "Detroit Woman" and "Southern Comfort" from simply good numbers to absolutely essential cuts of Blues based Rock. I haven't heard a better record in years nor do I expect that I will.
I spoke with Rabbit shortly before the beginning of the current WHO tour and the following are some of his thoughts on working with THE WHO, FREE and a fascinating look at the embryonic years of Bob Marley. John "Rabbit" Bundrick, a name worth learning more about for sure.
DAVID LEE In addition to your duties with THE WHO you are also releasing your own records and two of the ones that are out now that interest me most are the CRAWLER disc and your solo one.
JOHN "RABBIT" BUNDRICK Yeah, you know they basically came out only a couple of months after each other so it is my first solo album that Angel Air Records has done and also the first CRAWLER album they have done as well. Hopefully, if all goes well they will do some more!(laughs) But never fear, if no one releases them I am still making them!(laughs)
DL Do you have a website where you could set up a storefront for your own records?
JB Yep, in fact my discography on my website has over fifty albums on it and a lot of them are home made. I do work with another company called North Star music, it is like a library company, and they have six or seven albums of mine and then the rest of them are my own home made stuff and the website address is, WWW.THEWHO-RABBIT.COM. All of the CDs are available from there. There is video on it and everything, it is really quite neat. It is quite big and it is broken into three sections, mostly about me but I have a built in website about CRAWLER and one all about THE WHO. There is a lot of history there and a lot of diaries of mine and a lot of photos. What I do is I sell all of my CDs on the web site and people can buy them by e-mailing me directly and ordering them. It is completely a cottage industry and I make them all here. There are like the "RABBIT achieve discs" and then there are the North Star and Angel Air discs but the RABBIT archive CDs are all done by me and I sign them and all that kind of business.
DL That is definitely a unique approach!
JB Yeah, the fans seem to like it because I make the covers and I make the CDs and it has that sort of personal touch to it that isn't very commercial looking and each one is a one off so the fans quite like it.
DL Wow, that does seem like it would be pretty darn time consuming, just short of playing a gig in each persons own living room!(laughs)
JB It is similar but it is just getting in touch with the fans direct and if they want any of the CDs they can get them direct from me or if they want the other ones they can go to that record company but most people do like to come to me directly because they know that I have actually put my hands on it and signed it and that the money is coming to me and not some record company. They know that when they spend their twenty bucks that I am getting it and they are getting personal treatment from me rather than a secretary in some office. So far there have been no complaints.
DL You have covered a lot of ground in your career but most people are going to know you from THE WHO so do these records stick to Rock music?
JB There are all kinds, everything from Country and Western to Classical to Blues to New Age to out and out Boogie, it covers the whole gamut.
DL You really have been all over the board with your music but, as I say, you are most known for working with English Rock bands and one would presume that you too were British but you are actually a Texan?
DL But even before that you spent a good deal of time working with Reggae acts in Scandinavia, how did that set of circumstances ever come together?(laughs)
JB Yeah, Johnny Nash. That is where I started, I started there with Johnny Nash and then came to England. I think that the reason that I am associated with the English so much is that when I left America it was right before I had started working with any big name acts. I had started working with Johnny Nash in Houston and then he came to Sweden and asked if I would go with him and apart from that I hadn't done anything aside from locally in the Houston area. There wasn't anyone, American wise, that I could be associated with because I didn't actually work with any of them.(laughs) If he had gone to New York then I probably would have been associated with American bands because Johnny Nash was definitely the one who put me on the ladder. He is the one that got me noticed as a musician worldwide whereas if I hadn't taken that job with him I would have still been in Houston I should think. What really got it going for me was when I went to Sweden with Johnny Nash. Bob Marley was one of his writers as well, we all lived together in Sweden in 1971. Johnny had the big hit in 1971 with "I can see clearly Now" which I am on. In order for him to progress he had to move to England and that is where I came to the attention of FREE..
DL Right and then you actually became a member of a latter day version of FREE, is that right?
JB Well, it was an offshoot really but I hooked up with them and I was doing both jobs at the same time. Then what really got me associated with English musicians was when I went to Island Records with FREE I also became Island's keyboard session man. So, everybody on their books put me through their paces as well so I was in FREE, I was also working with Johnny Nash but I was also working on everybody's records at Island from Bob Marley to THE SOUTHERLAND BROTHERS to FAIRPORT CONVENTION and the whole stable of Island at that time. From that I became known in England and other producers in England started hiring me like Mickey Most. I did a DONOVAN album with Mickey Most, a bit of Suzie Quatro's stuff and then from there Glyn Johns who had worked with THE ROLLING STONES and THE WHO picked me up to work with him on some things and then it just snowballed. After a while it was just like a spider web spreading out. By word of mouth I would be heard of and then people would try me out and my work schedule just got bigger and bigger which was great. What was really good about it was that I was working with other people out of Island's stable who had no involvement with the things that I was personally involved with. That let me stretch my fingers out and stretch my style a bit and let me play lots of different things.
DL You kept a connection with Bob Marley for a while as well, didn't you?
JB Yeah, the connection with Bob Marley was the "CATCH A FIRE" album.
DL Yeah, that is right but they didn't credit you on that record for some reason?
JB Yeah, they didn't credit Wayne Perkins from ALABAMA either and there was a reason for that. Bob Marley was signed with Johnny Nash but Bob wanted to go with Chris Blackwell so they had to work it out and when Chris got a hold of Bob and THE WAILERS Bob was so raw that it wasn't really saleable to the West, to America. So, Chris got me and Wayne Perkins in to do overdubs and work with the band to give it sort of a Western, Rock-ier and Funk-ier feel so that it would be palatable to Americans and then they released "CATCH A FIRE." It went well but the reason that they didn't credit me and Wayne was that Chris was trying to sell a Black product to the white market and if the white market knew that there was white guys in the band then he wouldn't be selling a Jamaican band so that is why we didn't' get any credit.(laughs) After that though Bob Marley and THE WAILERS made hits as a black band with all black members. Me and Wayne were used as an experiment to test the waters and if it didn't work then there wouldn't have been a Bob Marley and THE WAILERS, not as big as it was anyway. Thank goodness it worked and it is well documented that it was me and Wayne that helped out.
DL It is amazing how the marketing of music is just like any other product no matter how much most of us would like to think otherwise.
JB Well, I knew Bob already and that is why Chris asked me to do it, because me and Bob and Johnny Nash had lived together in Sweden.
DL One of Bob's kids is getting ready to come through town here pretty soon. . .
JB Which one, he has got hundreds!(laughs)
JB Ziggy has really gone through the paces hasn't he? He has sort of done it all and he is kind of finished now and all the other ones are coming up. Well, Bob was a great guy, I must admit but he did like women!(laughs) He had no second thoughts about being faithful to this one or that one! He was so cool. Me and Bob got on great and I was the only white guy in the outfit then, the Johnny Nash group, and you know, there was no color in that group when I was around. I was treated just like any of their black friends and it just happened that I was a different color. But I must admit that, I had really long hair back then, to fit in I did wear and Afro!(laughs) I have got a picture of it but nobody is going to see it! It is like Billy Preston's hair but it was on a white guy and it was brown and it looked really wrong, lets put it that way David!(laughs) I am sure that they had some great laughs.
DL Ah, look at that silly white mon!(laughs)
JB I thought I fit in a little at least. They liked the way that I played though and so that is why I stayed around.
DL Well it does say something that they would let a white guy come in to play in the first place.
JB Well, it was because I was so energetic and eager to learn how to play different music. Bob Marley taught me how to play Reggae music on the organ. He actually sat down with me at a Hammond in Stockholm and showed me how to hit the keyboard in the rhythm that you are supposed to play it in. He didn't make any sense of the notation or anything, he just played the rhythm and he said "Do that" and then he picked up his guitar and played the guitar rhythm and then said to me, "Play what I just showed you but play it with the notes" and we both played it until it was right and he said, "That is it! That is how you do it!" He would play and I would play and he would tell me when I got it right which was a nice little lesson from "The Man." I mean, at that time he wasn't Bob Marley like you know him, he was jut this little Jamaican bloke who wrote a lot of songs for Johnny Nash so none of the ego or stigma was there. He was always strong willed but that was just him. None of the stardom type of ego, he didn't have any of that when I knew him. He was just another one of the guys.
DL Did you stay in contact with him in later years?
JB We came to England together and we worked together a bit. Johnny Nash and us cut a record with Bob for CBS called "REGGAE ON BROADWAY" which they didn't end up going with. It was Johnny Nash's version of what Bob should sound like but it wasn't what Bob wanted and it wasn't what Chris Blackwell liked either so that record didn't' really happen and after that he (Marley) went with Chris Blackwell and they became the WAILERS and then we did "CATCH A FIRE" and it was like the way that Bob wanted it if you know what I mean. In other words, "REGGAE ON BROADWAY" sounded like a Johnny Nash produced track for Johnny to sing on but it was Bob singing it and then Johnny also did a version of it and it is the same music.
DL Was that one ever released?
JB Yeah, it is on one of Johnny's records but the thing is we basically cut the track and they both had a go at singing it and then they presented CBS with Bob's version and CBS didn't like it. They released it but they didn't like it.(laughs) After that Bob knew that he had to get away and go with Chris Blackwell. It is all a great story and I am only touching on the surface of it and I know that we are not talking about Bob today but I did want to share that with you.
DL Thanks for it too!(laughs) From all of that you ended up with FREE?
JB Yeah, at the last end of it.
DL Did you record on the last disc that they put out?
JB Yep, that is me. That is me and Tetsu Yamauchi. We did that after we did "KOSSOFF, KIRK, TETSU & RABBIT" which was Simon Kirk and Paul Kossoff's interim band between FREE breakups. Paul Rodgers went off and made a band called, PEACE and Andy, the bass player, had a band called TOBY and Kirk and Kossoff had nothing to do so they said, "Let's put a band together and they got me and Tetsui in and we all went in and cut the album and after that it was a short lived thing because they had hoped that FREE would re-form in some way and it just so happened that the only difference between KKT&R and FREE at the end was that it was missing Paul Rodgers. So while they were letting Paul go away and do his PEACE band, they had hoped that he would get that out of his system and then come back and say, "OK, I want to sing again." When they did get FREE back together Andy Fraser didn't want to know about it and Paul Kossoff was quite ill so it was a way to make FREE reborn in some format but it was short lived as well. At the end of "HEARTBREAKER" and a few tours Paul didn't really like what was happening so they knocked it on the head and became BAD COMPANY. It was Paul Rodgers' last stab at having a band called FREE and he gave it a good shot. He respected everybody enough to really let us go for it hard and if it didn't' really happen at the end of it, fair enough, we gave it a shot and that is how it ended. No one hated being in FREE during the "HEARTBREAKER" period but everyone knew at the end of it that FREE was dead.
DL So it wasn't personalities?
JB No and it was like, "It is time to move on" is what he thought I should reckon. Also, he wanted to control things a bit more and he had a little trouble with me because of my strong will. I had been invited into FREE because I had done the KKTR thing and I fit well with Simon and Paul Kossoff, they gave me lots of room, as much room as I wanted to express myself and when Paul came back in I think that Paul thought, "Rabbit has too much room." It was like, "Can we slow the guy down a little bit?" So, it was a hard album to make because Kossoff was ill a lot and we had to bring my friend Snuffy Waldon in on several occasions to help out with guitar duties.
DL That is a name I don't think I know, has he done much else that I would have heard of?
JB Snuffy is now a big Hollywood writer and he won an Emmy for "THE WEST WING." He is another Texas mate of mine. He has done music for "THIRTY-SOMETHING," "THE WONDER YEARS," "ELLEN" and lots of TV programs that you have probably watched. So, he has hit it big time.
DL Wow, so is he often reminded of his sundry Rock and Roll past by people he worked with then, you for instance?(laughs)
JB I remind him all the time!(laughs) I keep in touch with him, he lives in LA now. He is such a cool guy and it is funny Because he really was a Texas truck drivin', beer drinking, cowboy hat wearin', gear working Southern Blues electric guitar player and now, almost overnight, he is this acoustic guitar aficionado writing all of these themes. He has won Emmys and all of this stuff so he is not complaining. We did call on him in those days because he was a friend of mine and when we didn't have a guitarist because Kossoff was ill I would just ring up Snuffy, it didn't matter if it was three in the morning , he would always come down and do it. We had great times, me and Snuffy. He did help us out a lot actually and we did get through "HEARTBREAKER" but it did have to end and so they went off and made BAD COMPANY, Kossoff did his own band called BACK STREET CRAWLER which involved me again and my two Texas buddies, Tony Braunagle on drums and Terry Wilson on bass. When FREE had ended and everyone had left they left Kossoff standing there so he had nothing to do but to put his own band together and then when he died it became CRAWLER.
DL Not exactly "smooth" transitions but it is interesting to finally know the evolution of these things.
JB Yeah, CRAWLER was an actual offshoot of FREE but it started out as Paul Kossoff's solo band. When he died we got Geoff Whitehorn in on guitar and made a couple of records and then I joined THE WHO.
DL Was CRAWLER really done by the time the offer from THE WHO came in? Could there have been more from that band had you stayed?
JB Well, it is a bit of both actually. It wasn't done but we were stuck in Houston after a tour and what really fucked CRAWLER up was the record label. When Kossoff died they tried to wield in various guitar players that would make the record company still interested in CRAWLER as a band. They tried to get Mick Taylor involved, do you know Mick Taylor?
DL THE ROLLING STONES' Mick Taylor?
JB Yep, they tried to wheel him in but I never saw him and I don't think that he actually even made it to an audition.(laughs) When we did audition guitarists we found Geoff Whitehorn who was spot on for the job but because none of us had a name, I mean, I had a working name but nothing that a record company could base advertisement on so they lost interest in promoting us as a band and that disheartened me. We still speak today and we still play whenever we can but because no one was going to push us and support us as a band I lost interest. Also, on our last tour before we left England for America I had met Pete Townshend and he and his manager asked me if I would be interested in joining THE WHO. So, while I was stuck in Houston I had that under my hat as well. I was sitting there at dinner with everyone that night and we were all discussing what we were going to do because we had no record company any more. They put a lot of money into us when Koss was alive but when he died they just pulled out. Anyway, when we were having this meeting at dinner and discussing what we were going to do I said, "I left Houston in 1970 because I wanted to leave the place." And there I was in 1978, stuck in Houston and I didn't like it one bit but here we are, we are not finished and the band was great and we were great as musicians but as a touring and recording band we were going to have to start from zero and I wasn't ready for that and I knew that THE WHO were waiting for me if I wanted that job. I mean, what would you do?
DL I would have bought the last round and headed for the airport!(laughs)
JB Well, that is what I did. During that meeting I just stood up and I said, "I don't know what you guys are going to do but I am going to join THE WHO." And you know, they all busted out laughing!(laughs) Because I was drunk out of my head and I am like, (slurring) "I am going to go and join THE WHO, fuck you guys. . ."(laughs) They were laughing so hard and then after a while they realized that I was not joking and said, "You are serious, aren't you? What makes you think that THE WHO would have you in their band?" And I said, "Well, they have already asked me and I have just been trying to figure out how to tell you guys and I think that this is a good time to tell ya's." THE WHO knew that I had to do this CRAWLER tour and they said, "Go ahead and do your tour and at the end of it if you want the job it will be yours." So, I thought, "Yeah, I want the job!" I could be slaving away with CRAWLER in various holes in America as a great club band but there was no record interest so as far as "Was CRAWLER finished?" In a way, yes it was but it wasn't finished in what we had to offer. Had we the record deal we would have made some stunning records and if we would have made it big-time we would still be together. In fact, a lot of times I will look back on when I joined THE WHO and I regret not staying with CRAWLER and seeing how far that we could have pushed it. But, I sort of sunk it because when I left they couldn't do anything more and they had to bust up.
DL What became of the rest of the guys from CRAWLER?
JB Tony Braunagle is doing very well indeed, he won a Grammy for producing Taj Mahall and he is Taj Mahall's drummer now so if you ever see him coming to town go and listen to Tony Braunagle play drums, he is brilliant. Terry Wilson lives in LA as well as Tony and he is playing great bass and his wife is an amazing singer in the Bonnie Raitt style and they do club gigs all around LA and they make records for her which they sell on her website and they are worth checking out because they make really great records actually. He is doing well and he has a couple of kids and is playing every week. Geoff Whitehorn is doing well and is playing with PROCAL HARUM when they go out. He also works on all of my solo records that I release and is in fact playing on "WELCOME TO AMERICA." So Geoff, and me we stay in touch because we both live in England so whenever I have an album I am doing I will send him a tape and he will put guitar on it at his place and send it back. That is why "WELCOME TO AMERICA" is somewhat similar to a CRAWLER album and then we also have CRAWLER's singer Terry Slesser so all we are missing is Terry Wilson and Tony Braunagle and it would be a CRAWLER album. But they live in America so. . .
DL Was any of this material on "WELCOME TO AMERICA" left over from the CRAWLER days?
JB Not really but I must admit that on our last album, "SNAKE RATTLE AND ROLL," I wrote a lot of these songs during that period, you know, the first sketches of them anyway. There was a lot of time and we were recording at Caribou Ranch in Colorado and we had a producer who wouldn't let anyone in the studio unless they were actually performing which was very strange for all of us so there was a lot of free time. At this Caribou ranch there was a lot of these Log Cabins and we each had one and in mine I had a Grande Piano and I just stayed in my cabin with loads of acid and wine and smoked lots of dope and just played that Grande piano for days!(laughs) Anyway, I came up with a lot of the sketches for the songs on "WELCOME TO AMERICA" there in Colorado. I finished writing them latter on and turned them into this album. A lot of the songs, "Detroit Women" for instance, were based around the places that we traveled when we toured so I got a lot of titles and inspiration from that and when I had the chance to sit down at a piano I sort of sketched 'em out. I had no intention of actually making an album but I am always working, I work about twelve hours a day down in my studio so I am turning out music every day basically and eventually I will look at it and say, "Hey, I have got an album here."
DL You just stop when there is a disc full and package it up?
JB Well, I don't stop but when I sort of run out of ideas I sort of run back and see what I have got and maybe I will have like fifty songs there and you can only have like eighty minutes on a CD so I will thumb through the whole lot and find matches and things that sort of go together or that have a certain theme and I will shape them up to where they have more coherence. Because I write so much I will do the groundwork first and I don't really finish anything until I am ready to make it a song and that way I get lots of ideas out. It is like opening the top of your head and just letting the ideas come out. Later on you can figure out what actually came out of your head and that is why there is always a tape recorder going or a computer going, every note I play I record on something just in case it turns into a song. I have reels and reels and computer discs full of stuff that I could go back to in fifteen years and say, "Oh that is nice, lets make a song out of that." The key to songwriting is the ideas and not the finished thing. The more ideas that you throw out the more chances you have to write a few songs out of it. That is my approach to songwriting anyway and I would rather have a lot of ideas that are unfinished, I can finish them anytime.
DL Do many of these ideas make it on to other artists records in addition to your own?
JB Yeah, it is funny that you should say that because I was just talking with Pete about that the other day. When we did the Albert Hall we used some backing sequences, some tapes and stuff as well and he said to me, "It is a shame Rabbit because all of that wonderful stuff that you are playing, everyone thinks that it is on the backing tapes." And I said, "That is OK Pete because what I am actually doing is I am writing songs while you are playing!"(laughs) He just sort of giggled about it. So, while I am busy meandering about on the keyboards, while THE WHO are playing and exciting the audience, I am actually composing songs.(laughs) I can use his sort of basic riff and play over it and then basically bring it back home and strip his ideas off of it and I am left with my idea. He quite enjoyed that comment.(laughs)
DL Did he dock you any of your pay for moonlighting on the job as it were?(laughs)
JB (Laughing) No, I think that he thought it was quite ambitious. I mean, to be on stage with THE WHO and you are writing your own songs while you are performing, man. I learn a lot from Pete because when he is playing his guitar rhythms and stuff I catch up on it on the Hammond and I can mimic what he is playing and I can sort of, in flight and while we are doing it, rearrange it and make it mine. I can read his hands on the neck of the guitar so I know sort of what shapes he is making and then I can sort of play around with it a bit while we are all playing live. It makes it interesting for me because it is sort of one step further than jamming because you are actually creating something while something else is being made. As it is coming out of him it is going through me and my fingers and I am readjusting it and rearranging it to suit myself which is quite a neat trick if you are not a guitar player but you can read a guitar players hands.
DL Is the end result of those kind of writing sessions very WHO-like?
JB You will never hear anything of mine that sounds WHO-ish because I will always make sure that it does not because the last thing that I want to do is release an album that sounds like Pete Townshend songs.
DL He has a solo record in the works, doesn't he?
JB I know that he was going to write a record for THE WHO but he ended up writing one for himself.
DL I don't think it has happened directly but do your songs or ideas for songs ever end up on either THE WHO or Pete Townshend records?
JB I shouldn't think so and if you notice even John Entwistle gets maybe two songs or so.
DL Yeah, he ran that down to me when I spoke with him.(laughs)
JB Yeah, He didn't like it eh?
JB Yeah, you see if John only gets two what is the chance of me getting one in there? I must say that when we did the album "FACE DANCES" I wrote a song called "Gypsy" and Pete really liked it and he said "It would be nice if we recorded this because it would help you and I really like it and we could really shape it into a WHO song." He presented it to Roger and Roger's retort was, "I am not singing anybody's songs but yours Pete." So, it got shelved but at least Pete had a go and if you notice Roger doesn't really sing John's songs either because Roger only really likes to sing Pete Townshend's songs. I learned when we recorded "FACE DANCES" that any chance of me having one of my songs become a WHO song was pretty much nil.
JB Well, it really depends on the project that we are doing. In some projects, to give it color you need the horn sections to blast out the bits that I can't cover on the keys and you need the other guitar player so that while Pete is playing rhythm you will have the solos going on. We needed the harmonies because all of the harmonies needed to sound right which they don't when we sing now.(laughs) Depending on the project and how Pete wants to present it, you do need to have the bigger band but thank goodness we are not doing a project like that right now. Pete likes the five piece because in his sort of expression you can kind of pick it up and leave with it when you want without any rehearsing but we had to rehearse and rehearse with that big band and it was a chore and I noticed that a lot of what I was playing was going missing because it was being covered by a big horn section or the background harmonies and it just wasn't as much fun and that is why John didn't have as much fun I would think. Having said that, I wouldn't have wanted to do that as a five piece, I really wouldn't have because we would have had to work so hard and I don't think that it would have come out as polished. That tour had a nice recording that I have and it was a bit like when we did Roger Daltry's big Orchestra thing at Carnegie Hall, we had the sixty piece orchestra and it was a bit of a giveaway but it was nice to have an album that has that on there. If we had gone out and did Roger's "Best of Pete Townshend" gigs as a five piece band it would have failed dismally, it really would have because the whole idea was to give it something extra.
DL It is something that you were happy to do the once but you prefer not to tour with it constantly?
JB I don't particularly like Rock and Roll and Orchestras together, myself, but I did enjoy that once. I didn't enjoy touring it afterwards though. We toured Roger's thing and I hated that but I really enjoyed the Carnegie Hall gig. The same with "TOMMY" in '89, I really enjoyed it that time but I certainly wouldn't want to be involved in a band that big from then up to today because to me it became cabaret, sort of. The whole idea of being a Rock musician is that you get on stage and you fight it out and you have no help from anybody. You fight it out from your corner basically. If you are not holding your own you fall behind and you have to struggle to keep going with it and if you have a seven piece horn section behind you and six background singers and a percussionist banging away on a gong, you can literally stop playing and nobody is going to notice.(laughs) It is very true and in that way it is not as much fun but I do agree that on some occasions that you have got to have it.
DL Right which is kind of what John said as well, he likes to be able to get out there with the trio and "Have holes to fill" is how I think he put it.
JB Well, what he was saying with the trio thing is ignoring me as well.(laughs) He was talking about him Pete and Zakk because he doesn't hear a note I play. He doesn't know if I am any good or not.(laughs) He really doesn't. That is the only thing about playing in THE WHO that pisses me off a little bit, I mean, I know that ii is the three of them's gig and that is how the audience sees it but when you go unnoticed by the musicians that you are playing with, that sort of wears a bit thin. If you are up there with them and doing the same job that they are doing for three hours and at the end of it no one heard a note that you played, that sort of pisses me off a bit. I know that John can't hear himself never mind me but he does look at it as him , Pete and Zakk and the keyboard player is "extra."
DL I think that he thinks the same way of the singer!(laughs)
JB Yeah. I think that he just accepts me being there because I have been there so long and like me he thinks, "Why bother to complain."(laughs) But it does get on me when I don't get recognized for my hard work.
DL I would imagine that it would.
JB Having said that, I have been there so long that I can ignore that but on my side of the stage it is loud and steaming and I don't have him in my monitors but I can still hear him from the other side of the stage!(laughs) That is cool, I can hear everybody and that is important because if I can't hear someone and I am playing against them then what is the point of that? Again that comes from CRAWLER or even in a band like FREE you have to hear everyone because otherwise you are not fitting in. In THE WHO you really don't have to play together all of the time, it's such a mesh of sound that you can get away with stuff that would not be accepted in a normal Rock and Roll band. Even THE ROLLING STONES couldn't get away with a lot of the stuff that THE WHO does. Everything has a place, even for a band like THE ROLLING STONES or any of those sort of "American Rock and Roll" bands where everything is in its place and everybody has their place to be and no one really crosses each other's boundaries but one of the excitement factors of THE WHO is that you can cross anything. That is one of the things that makes THE WHO and exciting band, you can go anywhere, there are no boundaries and that is why we get away with murder on stage. A lot of the stuff that we do would not pass in a "normal band."(laughs) that all tends to support John's thinking of the band as a trio because he can't hear the other guy anyway.(laughs)
DL That is strange too because in his solo band he has a keyboard player. .
JB Yeah, he has got one with him, a guy from New York I think but I have never heard him so I don't know what he is like. I should think that he is good enough for what John is after but he is probably not good enough to take my gig or otherwise he would probably have it. But really, I don't feel too unsafe with my job because I have been there for twenty-three years or something.
DL Do you get a chance to listen to other keyboard plays much at all?
JB When I listen to the radio it is usually gardening programs or classical music, I don't even listen to Rock and Roll music at all unless I am making it. I don't like to have too many influences and that is probably why I am not very commercial. I write the way that I write and it doesn't sound like anybody else which, to me, is the only way to do it because you may not be copying someone but you are sounding too much like someone and that would cut off your chances of being unique or original. I would rather be original and unheard of than sort of know and sound like everybody else.
DL It does sound like you get to do exactly what it is you want to without much compromise.
JB That is the great joy of working with THE WHO because when we don't work I get to do what I want to do and I have loads of freedom and time to do it and the end result is the way that I want it to be. I don't have to fight with musicians though I do miss playing with musicians. On my music I don't want the hassle of putting a band together permanently if you know what I mean. I would rather get guys to come in and out and tell them what I want and they can do it. I don't tell a guitar player or a drummer, "Hey do it like this" but I do say, "This is what I have done, can you do your bit on it?" I am working on a new album now and I have sent the tapes to Holland for Snowy White's drummer who is putting the drums on it and then Geoff Whitehorn has got some tapes as well and he is putting on his guitar and then the drummer's mate in Holland is doing the bass so when all of that is done they will send them on to me and I will fly them into my bits and we will have a real band. It is a nice way to work and the technology has helped us do that.
DL Will this one follow along the same lines as "WELCOME TO AMERICA?"
JB It will probably be as good if not better than "WELCOME TO AMERICA" I should think. It depends on what they play and the mix what the final outcome will be but the rough demos are sounding very good indeed.
DL Any chance of ever hearing the very first solo albums that you did in the early seventies? Can you re-release them?
JB I don't have them. They are in Island Record's vaults and we have been trying to get them to release them on CD for a few years but they are just not interested. All I have of them are old tapes but they are not mine to commercially release. If Angel Air wanted to release them they would have to go to Island and license the master tapes off of them. I get a lot of people asking me, "When are we going to get 'BROKEN ARROWS' and 'DARK SALOON' on CD" and all I can say is it is down to Island Records and that probably means, never.
DL There are not enough dollars and pounds of potential in them to make it worth their time to dig out the tapes?
JB Yeah, there is not enough for them to recoup their money and also like EMI and all of the other record companies they are trying to put all of their money into guaranteed deals where they are going to get their money back. It is a bit of a hopeless cause those two albums. If anybody ever showed any interest in it I would certainly let them do it but until then people will just sort of have to put up with my new music.(laughs)
DL And there is plenty of that on the website you say?
JB The thing about my website is to offer all of my music, good or bad, and if there are real true collectors out there who want to hear the bad stuff then they are certainly allowed to hear it!(laughs) I am not going to put on a big head and say, "That is not good enough." Fuck that, if you want to hear it, here it is. I mean, there are some drunk tapes on there when I am just out of my head and there are all sorts of tapes on there. One fan e-mailed me and said, "We know all about polished music, have you got any rough stuff?"(laughs) It is sort of like a druggie saying, "I know you have got the pure stuff but have you got any of that cut stuff?"(laughs) So, I have provided some music on the website to satisfy that need as well. There is some really, really rough stuff on there and then there is some really polished material and then stuff between the two. If somebody e-mailed me and said, "Have you got a boogie woogie jam where you are just sitting in your bedroom at 3:00 in the morning?" I would have it. It caters to all tastes.
DL It sounds like you are having fun at home but you will be coming back to America with THE WHO and Robert Plant?
JB I don't know if he is on all of them or just some of them or what. That is another thing about being with THE WHO, I tend not to worry about the schedule or who we are playing with. All I need to know is when are we going, when are we back and how much do I get paid? If I know those three items then everything else in between I don't care about.(laughs)
DL You will find your own damned hotel!(laughs)
JB No, they have to do that!(laughs) That is part of the pay but as far as who we are playing with, it is all stuff I really don't need to know. I will find out when I get there I guess. It is a bit like going fishing and saying, "Which fish shall I catch today?" You don't know until you get there. It isn't going to make my gig any better or worse if I know those so I tend not to bother with them. I do like Robert Plant though so I will be watching some of his shows.
DL He is doing a HONEYDRIPPERS kind of thing I guess, it could be interesting.
JB I wonder if he is bringing that little local band that he was playing with. He has some mates with him up where he lives and he took them into the studio with him. I know that at one point Bill Curbishley who manages Plant as well asked me if I would go in and work on his album. Later I spoke to the office and they said that he found this little band of musos that are around him that he can dictate to so he has sort of done it with them so I missed out on that one but everyone sort of missed out because Robert wants to dictate to the guys what he wants and maybe they sort of thought that I would be too much of a hassle because I wouldn't take the dictation.
DL And I am guessing that they would have been right in this?(laughs)
JB Yeah. I did an album in that sort of method with JETHRO TULL and Ian Anderson, "CATFISH RISING," and he was like that. He told the drummer when to hit the cymbal and everything but I did love working with him because he knew that when he said, "Play the cymbal there" he knew that was where it was supposed to be. It was just sort of the fact that after a while I would think that the drummer would say, "Just shut up and let me play." But then Ian Anderson wouldn't get the record that he was after because he already knew what he wanted when he went in which was cool by me. If the guy said, "Hey, don't play the organ there" then fair enough but if you were in his band then I think that after a while, it would piss you off enormously. I think that the office was trying to tell me that he (Plant) was a bit like that but I do hope that he is bringing that band because I would like to see them, I know he enjoyed working with them and that must mean that they have accepted each other and have gotten something very nice out of it.
DL Well, he actually did a tour this past spring and it got some horrid reviews because people were promised a night of LED ZEPPELIN music and what they got was three or four ZEP numbers and the rest was his versions of old standards so people were a bit miffed I think. I did like it though.
JB Yeah, I think that the office thought that it was a bad move as well. I think that he was getting to do his own thing and everybody thought, "Bad move mate."(laughs)
DL Well the quality of the music was there for sure but it was advertised in every venue as something that it obviously was not so you have to expect people to be a bit pissed.
JB Yeah, I know what you mean but then again if THE WHO wanted to do something different would it be like that?
DL You bet, just try not doing "My Generation" or "Baba O'Reilly" and see what happens! There certainly could be some bottles thrown!(laughs)
JB (Laughing) Yeah, there you go. Well, if they ever did a new album I suppose they would have to promote it and what they would have to do is to cut some songs out like "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Substitute" or "Bargain" and put in the new tracks. I don't know if we are going to do a new album or not but it would be nice to have a stab at one.
DL What is more likely is the Pete Townshend record that you mentioned and I hope he tours it too because I have never seen one of his solo tours.
JB I did that too. Last time was when we did the "PSYCHODERILICT" thing. He did another solo tour a while ago called, "DEEP END LIVE" which we had Dave Gilmour from PINK FLOYD in on to play guitar and that was great.
DL Yeah, I have the live record from that tour, that was a great one.
JB Yeah, I am on there, doing all of the keys. Dave is on it and Simon Philips on the drums. There is a video of that one as well.
DL Is that the one where Pete has his daughter singing "Face the Face" on it?
JB Actually, we did that one in the studio, we did do a video for the song and she did sing on it. I remember the session and her singing, yeah, I do remember!(laughs) But she didn't sing it on stage that I can remember.
DL Well, I do need to check out the web site to see everything that you have done, didn't know that you played with Pete's solo group.
JB Yeah, everything that I have done, sessions that date back to the seventies, are all on there and like we were talking about earlier, the spider web of musicians branching out, it is all there. For a good laugh you can read some of the diaries too because there is some funny stuff about when I used to drink and stuff.
DL Do you not drink now?
JB No, I haven't had a drink in seven years at least. I had to quit, that was the end of the story for me. As Zak Starkey said to me, "Rabbit, you have used up your options, you can't drink any more." I have done been to jail, I have done been to hospital, I have done been fired, I have insulted people, I have hit people. . . "There is nothing else for you to do except to quit drinking!" And I did.
DL Sounds more like Ringo talking than Zak?(laughs)
JB Well, Zak is dry too man, he don't do nothing. He don't even smoke!(laughs)
DL Wow, he is way too young. I would have thought that you can't get wise to all the abuse until you have lived many more Rock and Roll years than Zak has?
JB He used his options up early!(laughs) He used them up really early. He is a great drummer and a great guy and he was the right guy for this job for sure, he is so cool.
© 2002 David Lee. All rights reserved.
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