By Scott Sobol
Above photo by Carol Oliva
It’s worth taking notice when a legendary drummer shows up on a track backing a mostly unknown artist, but when three of the biggest names in the world of drumming are contributing to that track, it bears dropping everything to go take a listen; the phrase, “Stop the presses” comes to mind, and that’s just what we did at Drumhead.
While you may have not yet heard of Lauren Monroe, it’s a safe bet that you will soon, especially if you’re a drummer. Her single that just dropped last week, “Big Love,” features contributions from Steve Ferrone, Kenny Aronoff and Def Leppard’s Rick Allen. The recording, vocals and instrumentation (all provided by a list of top-shelf session and touring musicians) are all impressive, but for us drummers, it is the percussive bed of this powerful message-driven track that grabs the ear as much as anything. Three drum sets and a beautifully crafted percussion part give the song a huge drum sound with a touch of world music feel, but it’s the power-pop hook that you might not be able to shake for the rest of the day after hearing it.
You know you want it, so let’s talk about “Big Love.”
Scott Sobol: “Big Love” is the reason we’re talking. Great song, great video. The images were so powerful and striking, it certainly had the intended effect on me, but I kind of lost it at the image of the little boy reading braille.
Rick Allen: That was the thing for me; that it would bring up an emotional response. We work with an old friend, Shaun Monson, and the imagery that he found was just profound and really brought the song into its own.
SS: Yeah, the imagery is great and I realized as soon as I finished watching the video that I’d broken a rule of mine: never watch the video before you’ve listened to the song, but this time I didn’t do that. It’s so well done, that I was totally engaged in both the audio and the visuals all the way through. The video brought the song to life.
RA: I agree.
SS: Can you tell me how this all came about–the writing process through to finishing the video?
Lauren Monroe: I wrote the song in 2016 during the Summer of the presidential campaign. There was a lot of emotion and divisiveness going on already in our country back then and I was very affected by it. And at the same time, the opioid crisis was really in our faces, as it is even worse now, but then I saw this post about a sheriff in Allegany, Pennsylvania who pulled over a car that was parked and saw two adults in the car with needles in their arms and they were both OD’ing; they were blue, they were dying. The sheriff took pictures of them, he took pictures of a 5-year old, completely traumatized, in the back seat, and pictures of the car, and that image has haunted me for so long. That; all the anger in our country; the fires started happening in Australia at the same time–there was a lot of stirring going on in our consciousness, and that song was born out of all that. I had the privilege of seeing a showing of this film called, Unity, that was directed by Shaun Monson ; it was so moving to me and I never forgot the trailer for it and how it represented such an emotional message in such a short amount of time. I said to myself, “If I ever do a video for the song, it would be with him.” So, this was all really pre-conceived years ago. We then sent a text out to Shaun, and I kept going back and forth with him, telling him my vision of it and going over concepts that I really wanted to have in there, and he was able to source the footage and he asked me to come down to put myself in the video, just to create energy around it. My background includes years and years of dance, so I just kind of threw myself around and played guitar and tried to invoke the energy I felt it needed. It’s been a process; the seed was born a long time ago and while we were in the final phase of it, the protests started happening, and he said, “Should I put something current in here, because it’s so relevant.” So, we pulled a couple of clips and added some so that people could relate to it with what is going on right now.
SS: The shots of people with masks on?
SS: So, Jim Scott produced the track?
LM: He produced the music, yes. I have an album coming out in November, but we’re releasing this EP in July and another one in September. I actually recorded two albums with him, so we have a lot of content we’re going to roll out over the next couple of years. But, this song, and this video, is the first thing and it’s really what I wanted to project about my message as an artist, because it pretty much sums up my intention.
SS: Well, I can relate. We certainly have no shortage of images in our heads that we can’t shake these days, so anything with a positive message that makes us think and feel is a good thing.
RA: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff we can’t un-see. I want Lauren to explain a little about how all of the musicians came about. I met Kenny Aronoff a long time ago at a party in London, and I’d met Steve Ferrone on several occasions over the years, but you explain it, Lauren; I think you tell the story really well.
LA: Well, I started working with Jim and we were talking about putting together a band. I have musicians that I play with, but I really wanted to use his team, whoever he recommended. He made some phone calls and Steve said yes, and Bob Glaub, who is a legendary bass player in the session world and live performing–he has played with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt Bonnie Raitt–all of the people that I really admire; and John Ginty, who was formerly with the Dixie Chicks, who now are The Chicks, and who now plays with the Allman/Betts Band. He was a drummer, but he played organ, B3. At the time that we recorded “Big Love,” Steve was there, Rick was there, and John, and Jim was just very spontaneous, like “Why don’t we just go in the warehouse and get all three of you on the drums?” John was thrilled, because he’s usually on keys, and the three of them went in there, Jim mic’d everybody up; it was kind of an event, it was fun. That laid the foundation for the rhythm of the song. When he was asking everybody to come do this, I was very grateful that Jim didn’t mention to anybody that I was married to Rick; it was nice to have people come and then recognize Rick and be surprised that he was part of this.
RA: I thought it was really cool of Jim to not kind of use that as his ace-in-the-hole. He didn’t say, “Oh, I know this girl and we want you to come and play on her song, and by the way, she’s married to Rick Allen.” I think the fact that he kept that to himself was really classy.
SS: The entire line-up is stellar, not just the drummers. What was the discussion like to decide to include other drummers; you certainly could have done all the drums yourself easily and made it work. The song is very percussive, so it obviously worked out great, but was that happening on the fly, or was it discussed that you wanted that big drum feel to the track?
RA: I love the fact that Jim knows all these incredible musicians. He was able to cherry-pick from all these world-class people that he knew to come in and work with Lauren. And yeah, I think it needed that sort of world percussion feel to it, with that big heavy beat, that can really speak to people all over the planet. That’s one of the things that drums do really well, so I think that’s probably the main reason. I would have loved to do it all myself, but I don’t think I really could have; this needed other drummers, other musicians to experience the music in their unique way, and that’s exactly what we got. The only bummer was, when Kenny came in, I wasn’t there; I was away doing something…on a cruise selling art or something. But I’d met him before and then Lauren put me on Facetime with him that night when he was in the studio and it was such a nice surprise; he’s surprisingly humble, and I think a lot of people that are that talented tend to be that way. He’s probably one of my favorite drummers, really cool and a very nice guy.
SS: Yes, both he and Steve are such great guys, and everyone that works with them always says how easy they are to work with.
RA: Yes, and before this project, I’d met Steve Ferrone a few times but now we’re in touch on a regular basis. He’s telling me about his recovery with his knee replacement; we’re getting closer and it’s really nice that I became friends with him through Lauren and Jim.
SS: Well, I think very highly of him both as a musician and as a human being and everybody I know that knows him says the same thing. One of those salt-of-the-earth guys, and a better musician you’ll never find. I’m curious if you plan to loop this single in with your foundation and use it to increase awareness about it. There’s an obvious connection between the message of this song and what your organization is about.
LM: They are definitely tied in. All the pre-order money coming in is going towards the foundation, and specifically towards inter-generational trauma for indigenous people, who I feel have been so oppressed throughout the world. And the trauma that has happened to indigenous people here in America just gets passed down from generation to generation, and we need to look at that. I really wanted this music to be associated with charitable causes. The past few years almost all the performing I did was benefit concerts and I really want to continue doing that because I think the music has a message, and there are stories behind every song that are empowering and are really about people opening up their hearts to being more empathetic, and being more compassionate. So, yes, everything that I do is related to our foundation and the people that we serve, along with other partners of not-for-profit organizations that help people.
SS: I’m curious about the distinction between the two organizations – Raven Drum Foundation began in 2001, and The Resiliency Project?
LM: It’s one organization, it’s one 501(c)(3)–Raven Drum Foundation, and under that foundation we created a specific program, Project Resiliency, which is focused on veterans who are recovering from trauma and PTSD, but Raven Drum Foundation is generally focused on people recovering from crisis. And that happens through drumming, through alternative medicine and treatments such as equine therapy, neuro-feedback, yoga, mindfulness meditation; we combine a lot of therapies. When we give workshops, we combine a lot of modalities, and while they are drumming, we teach them mindfulness so that they learn to be in control of their minds; to be mindful, to help them regulate their anxiety. We’ve done this with veterans, we’ve done it with teens recovering from cancer who are in treatment, groups in juvenile facilities and penitentiaries, as well as girls’ juvie halls and state houses for domestic violence, special needs kids–we’re able to reach any population with this kind of teaching and healing. So, it’s been wonderful.
SS: You said your background is dance, but you are also involved in energy healing, massage and have been in the medical field.
LM: Yes, I worked in hospitals as a massage therapy supervisor with massage therapy students and the students were given a certain amount of hours to work in a hospital setting, along with doctors, to learn how to do medical massage. I did that for a couple of years, in oncology and cardiac units, which were my favorites.
RA: That was in hospice care, right?
LM: No, the hospice was more one-on-one. This was for students in the hospital.
SS: In 2013, you wrote a book – “21 Ways To Resiliency.”
LM: I did, and that was born out of the workshops I did with veterans. A lot of the veterans that we see are suffering with post-traumatic stress and they have traumatic brain injuries; I wanted to create something for them that was really simple. I had these hand-outs and we would do activities around those concepts; I used them to put together a small, pocket-sized book–you can open up any chapter and read a few words and get some insight on how to be with yourself, and get recommendations on how to do an activity, or journaling or learning how to reach out to other people. I think when you’re in a place of isolation, where trauma leads so many of us, a small book like that can be helpful.
SS: That is really wonderful. I’ll check that out. Getting back to the song and how you recorded it, were there multiple sessions, or one big one with everyone; how did it get tracked?
LM: I was really lucky. The core band was Rick, Steve Ferrone, Bob Glaub, Brian Whelan, John Ginty, and Doug Pettibone. It was Doug and Brian on guitars, Bob on bass, Rick and Steve on drums, and John Ginty on keys. Then Waddy [Wachtel] came in when he could and did guitar work on it, along with Greg Leisz.
RA: It was the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, and he [Waddy] was there with Stevie Nicks…
LM: Yes, and there was an afterparty, which started at like one in the morning, and they combined Stevie’s party and Def Leppard’s party. I’m from New York and I was watching Stevie’s set and looking at Waddy and I was saying, “I think I know him from New York,” I was just sure. Anyway, I went up and introduced myself and we talked, I told him I was Rick’s wife and told him about the song and who was working on it with me, and he said, “Well, I know those guys and they’re all friends of mine; I should be on your record!” I thought he was kidding, “Yeah, right!” But he said he knew Jim and said, “Have Jim call me,” so Jim called him. He came and played and I watched him and I was really in awe of his talent. It was really just a fluke that he came.
SS: I saw Benmont Tench listed in one of the items in your press kit; is he on that track?
LM: No, he played on three other songs, two of which are going to be on the next album, but not on this first EP.
SS: Oh, cool. Are you both active with Raven Drum Foundation together, on a regular basis?
LM: We have been up until the last couple of years. We do fund-raising, but Rick’s been on tour a lot and I’ll do some presentations or teaching, but it’s only once a year that we do these big drum circles; when we do the next one in L.A. you should come. We don’t advertise, we just put out the word to our friends and we get about 200-250 people. Remo sponsors it and they give us drums for the event, and people also bring their own percussion instruments. I play djembe and anything I can make a sound with. It’s fun. So, once a year we do a big fund-raising event and the big drum circle also once a year. We usually do it around Veteran’s Day, so this year it’ll probably be a streaming event.
SS: It must be a strong contributing factor to your marriage working that you share these things.
LM: It is helpful to have the same causes and to drum together and to have a studio where we can create and spend time.
SS: That was actually my next question. Where did you record the track?
LM: It was recorded in Jim Scott’s studio in Valencia.
RA: If you’ve ever been there, it’s like a playground for musicians. It’s an incredible studio, and it’s attached to a giant warehouse where he has every single instrument that he’s ever owned since the ’70s. He’s got drum kits galore, and all these weird, wacky keyboards, guitars and string instruments; everything you could imagine. And everything is plugged in! It’s all accessible at the drop of a hat. You can go in the control room and record anything that is out in the warehouse.
SS: Wow, serious musician’s playground.
RA: It really is, it’s so much fun.
SS: Are you thinking of doing any kind of tour with this project when that becomes possible again?
LM: We had started planning some shows before Covid happened; that was the plan originally. Rick was going to be doing this epic tour this summer, and I was going to be doing a small tour. I’m working with some of the directors of the foundation to create events where we could raise money for local trauma intervention organizations, veteran organizations, in the communities where I’m doing shows. That would be very meaningful to me.
RA: We actually did a show the other night, which was pretty cool. Myself and Lauren, plus some other musicians came over, a guy named Dylan Rose, who plays guitar, Tammi Brown, who’s the most incredible singer. Obviously, we social distanced–everybody was mask’d up. It was fun.
LM: We did a Facebook live. Everybody is trying to get their heads around streaming and every time you do a Facebook live event you can have a donation component to it, so we’re going to continue doing that.
SS: What would be ultimately the most satisfying result for you with this song? Like, the dream-come-true; what would you like to see come from this most of all?
LM: To raise consciousness about how important it is for us all to find deep compassion for one another. I believe that humankind is in a place of evolution, we’re changing right now. Titch Nat Han says you can’t have the lotus without it being in the mud, and we’re in the mud.
SS: Very definitely.
LM: So, I want the song, the video, and the message behind my artistry, to lead people to that place of expansion so they can look at each other like family. I’ve been very lucky to have that experience in my life; my perspective of human beings runs very deep, and I think it’s led me to really great things in my life, and I want that for everybody.
RA: It would be great if the whole project took off and we were able to take this fantastic group of musicians out on the road and perform in front of people, be it theater settings or whatever; we’d be happy to just be out there playing to people.
SS: Amen. I will keep my fingers crossed that that does happen. We’re all keeping our fingers crossed about so much right now. Has the video been released officially?
LM: Yes, it’s out. It’s on YouTube on my channel–Lauren Monroe Music.
RA: And the song is on iTunes.
LM: Yes, iTunes and all digital platforms.
Scott Sobol: Let’s talk about Lauren Monroe and “Big Love.”
Steve Ferrone: Yeah, that was a fun gig. Jim Scott called me and told me he was doing an album with Lauren and asked if I could come out and play. I went up there and took a tour of his studio, which is incredible.
SS: I know you’d worked with him before, but had you ever recorded there?
SF: No, I’d never been there before, but it’s great. Everything is hooked up to go, that’s the beautiful thing. Keyboards, drum sets, it’s all ready to record; you just sit down and go.
SS: On the video for the song, you are sitting at a kit with six mounted toms. Is that what you used on that track?
SF: Yeah, my kit was set up in the other studio, and that kit was in the great big room, where we all played–the three drummers [Rick Allen, John Ginty, and Steve Ferrone], and then I went into the other room and overdubbed some stuff.
SS: I’m sure it’s rare that you play on a track where you’re tracking with two other drummers.
SF: Right, and it’s hard to play with another drummer, unless the other drummer is smart. I’ve played with Keltner a couple of times, and I’ve played with Omar a couple of times. Keltner is very much a listener, so, there would things that happened that just sounded like one big drum kit. I’m listening to him and he’s listening to me and this communication starts to happen and it just becomes this different sort of animal. Omar is much busier than I am, of course. That version of “Teen Town” that Marcus Miller did is me and Omar [Marcus Miller – The Sun Don’t Lie 1993]. Omar had all the fills and everything; all I had was the time. But THREE drummers, that’s really a challenge. Especially if one of them is an organist [laughs].
SS: Yes, John Ginty, but apparently, he began as a drummer.
SF: He’s an organist, but he’s musical and that’s the advantage.
SS: Did you guys map it out much before starting to play, or just wing it and see where it went?
SF: When we started listening to it, I just sort of dropped in my bit, and we just played it until, “Yeah, that’s it.” We just kind of found our parts; there was no real planning. Jim had us go in and just do a straight track, so I just started a hi-hat thing [sings part], and, I forget who was playing what, but someone, Rick or John, was playing just a straight back-beat thing and someone else was doing a sort of tom thing. It was just a question of feeling it. I didn’t really pay attention to what anyone else was doing, it just felt like it was working. I found my bit and everybody else found their own bit and it just fell together; I never heard any sort of glitch where anyone got in anyone else’s way, so it was pretty cool.
SS: You have a history with Jim Scott; he engineered [Tom Petty’s] Wildflowers in ‘94, and was connected to Petty through several other projects since then. Had you worked with him on anything else over the years?
SF: No. I’d met him before, when I’d come out here to do some sessions back in the day and I knew he was great at what he does. I let the engineer take care of his shit, and I take care of mine [laughs], as long as we can make each other’s lives easier, it’s pretty good. I’ll tell you what I can say about Jim–he has a great ear. He’s an amazing mixer. Listen to Wildflowers, it just sounds beautiful. When we did that album, the last track that we did was “Wake Up Time.” I had a session the next day in New York and I had to get on a red-eye, but Tom wanted me to stay and just keep time on the hi-hat while he played piano. Just when I thought we were done, he said, “Well if you were going to put drums on there, what would you do?” So, I said I’d take a crack at it and show him what I’d play and I went out and played to his piano track. But his time moved a little here and there and there were little bits that felt awkward to me. I said I really had to leave and that I’d come back next week and finish it up; I said I’d do it at my own expense because I really had to get going. Tom said, “No, it’s ok, don’t worry about it,” and that was it. The next thing I know, they’d finished the album and I listened to it. When I did it [“Wake Up Time”] with Tom, with just the hi-hat, it wasn’t like a click that I could lock onto. It was all very exposed and Tom’s vocal moved around a little ,and there were places where things felt a little bit rushed here and there, and in one area in particular I knew it had been kind of off. But listening to the finished track you couldn’t tell at all. I asked Jim when I spoke to him, I said “Man, how did you smooth that out like that?” And what it came down to was it was all done sonically, with where he chose to put instruments at particular places. It takes a real talent to be able to hear the nuances like that. It was something that most people listening wouldn’t have even noticed to begin with, but I do; a musician listening to it would hear that something was a little bit awkward, but it still had the feel. And it was all analog then, it wasn’t like you fix it on the grid. If you listen closely to it, you might be able to tell where I’m talking about.
SS: He fixed a timing issue with how he placed instruments on the track? That would take one seriously refined ear, as well as musical sensibilities.
SF: Absolutely, that’s what I’m talking about. He has that. If you listen to old recordings, pre-Pro Tools, there’s a lot of things that were done like that, but in the end, it doesn’t matter, because it contributes to the feel of it. If it was mixed wrong, there could be a potential train wreck happening.
SS: So, you’ve heard the finished mix of “Big Love?”
SF: Yeah, I love it. It sounds fantastic.
SS: Given that you played with Petty for 25 years, I’m wondering how much you pay attention to the lyrical content of a track you are working on. “Big Love” is a lyric-driven song, so how much of what the song is about is coming into play in your head when you are working on a part for it?
SF: For me, very little. What I usually have is just the title; I don’t usually even know what the song is about until after it’s completed. When I first listen to a song, my biggest concern is whether or not the rhythm is getting in the way of lyrics, not what the lyrics actually are about. Does everything work? Does it sound like a picture? And then after a while I get to realize what the song is about, which is nice.
The person who’s written the song usually has an idea of what they want to express, so they’ll say, “Can you play this here, and this there,” and so on, trying to explain what they want, and my job is understand what they want, what they want on the canvas so that their finished picture looks just like they wanted it to.
SS: Did you get any direction from Lauren or Rick on what they were after?
SF: They played me the demo and said they wanted this really big drum sound, and they were going to have three drummers on it, so just went out in the big room, picked a drum set and had a go at it. It was fun figuring out what to play to this song. It was “Big Love,” and they wanted it to sound big, they wanted big drums.
SS: And you picked the kit that had six mounted toms on it…
SF: Yeah, exactly. And I didn’t play any of ‘em [laughs]. I just stayed with the hi-hat and the bass drum on that one.
SS: Rick mentioned that you and he had run into each other over the years.
SF: Yeah, but this was the first time I could get him on his own so we could have a personal conversation. I’d seen the documentary where they took him back to the spot where he’d had the accident and lost his arm, and he broke down and cried and it really touched me. His whole story really touched me and this gave me the chance to tell him that. And how touched I was by his band as well, because they never even considered getting another drummer.
SS: It was a crucial moment in their success and there were millions of dollars on the line. On the subject of touching moments with Rick, you’ve got to check out…
SF: Hall of Fame? I wrote to him when I saw that, “You did it again!” [Laughs] He brought a tear to my eye again.
SS: Yes! That blew me away because I’m sure he gets a huge acknowledgment every night on stage from the fans, but this was his peers in the industry giving him that incredible response. I lost it just watching it at home.
SF: It’s a wonderful tribute, as I said, not only to him but to his band. It’s a story of true friendship, true camaraderie, and that’s what being in a band is about. When you’ve played with people that long making music, it’s like your married; it’s your slightly dysfunctional family. I’ve always said, “Everybody should get to have an experience in their life like The Heartbreakers. We’re all there for each other at the drop of a fucking hat; we don’t live out of each other’s pockets, but as soon as it comes to music, we’re there, as soon as it comes to something personal, we’re there, it’s a family.” I don’t speak to my family every day or every week, but when something goes wrong, we’re all there for each other. And when we do get together, it’s like we never split up. Everybody should have something like that in their life.
SS: I guess you could say everybody should have “Big Love” in their life.
SF: Ha! Right, that’s it.
Scott Sobol: I’m assuming you already worked with Jim Scott on other things and that’s how you got the call to do this session with Lauren Monroe?
John Ginty: Yeah, I started working with Jim in the ’90s, and I’ve done over 30 records with him at this point.
SS: It’s funny to me because you’d think that with this roster of players on this song that it was Rick Allen who picked up the phone, but it was Jim Scott who got everyone.
JG: Yeah, and I didn’t even know about Rick until I’d said yes to the session, was on the gig and going to California, and then it was, “Oh by the way…”
SS: That speaks really well for Jim that he didn’t use Rick’s rock-star cred to get people interested.
JG: No, not at all, it was straight up like, “Hey, I’ve got another thing, she’s a singer-songwriter, she’s great, she’s out here, the songs are really good, there’s a lot of them, we’re going to put together a great band, can you do it?” I said “Sure I can do it,” and then, “Oh yeah, she’s married to Rick Allen, and he’s going to be around and set up a drum set.” “Ok, that’s great, love that,” [laughs]. I was a huge Def Leppard fan growing up, so…
SS: I looked at your resume and it looks like you’ve played on somewhere around 100 records, but only a couple playing drums. Were you originally aimed at being a professional drummer, and how did that turn into being a very busy keyboard player?
JG: I started as a drummer, all through high school, and got really good at it. I did all the jazz bands and all the orchestras, and my band director in high school was actually getting me gigs on the side that were good gigs and paid money. I played timpani for the Easter services, or I would play at the VFW halls with a little thrown together four- or five-piece. So, I was out playing early, and what happened was our jazz band, we kept getting charts sent back for a vibraphone part and they would just be discarded. Somebody would get on the kit and another guy would get on percussion and that would be it. But this one day, I said, “Don’t we have a vibraphone here?” And they said, “Yeah we do.” I forget what the song was, “Coconut Champagne” or something, but it had a vibe part that had to be there, and so I said, “I’m going to figure this out and learn how to do this.” I took it upon myself to learn vibraphone, and loved it, so I really got into the mallets thing my senior year in high school. And I’ll never forget the day I was just walking past a piano and played my vibraphone part on the piano with two fingers like a knucklehead, and never looked back; I just knew right then and there that piano was the thing for me. As soon as I got out of high school, that transformed into Hammond organ. I started playing Southern rock, and was in a lot of Allman Brothers cover bands. So, Hammond organ became my main instrument, but I’ve always kept drums there, and the reason I work, and the reason I’m on all these records is because I can play in the pocket, and that comes from being a drummer for years. If I didn’t have that drum education, I wouldn’t work as a piano player; I know plenty of great keyboard players who rush the beat and play too many notes. So, the drums really set me up to have a great career as a session guy playing keyboards.
SS: That’s a really fantastic story; no drummer won’t love that story. Before this session with Lauren, when was the last time you sat behind a kit and did any real playing?
JG: Well, I have a home studio and there’s always a drum kit set up, so I always play. Situations happen where a drummer misses his flight or I’m just doing a demo and it needs something simple, or it’s something that’s up my alley and I’ll play it and get it done. A lot of times it works out and I’ll end up drumming on the record. But as far as really doing it professionally on records, one of the first records I first did with Jim Scott in the ’90s was a situation where the song was done, but it needed a tambourine part, and Jim said, “Can you play tambourine?” I said, “Yeah man! Are you kidding? I’m your guy, send me in.” He put me in and I start playing along to the track, eyes closed, headphones on, getting into it, and he stops the track around halfway through and gets on the talk-back and says, “Yeah man, that’s great, we’re going to get a professional, come on in.” It was a heartbreaking experience to me, it was shattering. I went home and picked up all my shakers and tambourines and put on click tracks and made it my mission that that would never happen again. And so, the next scenario came along on a record where it needed a thing, and I said, “Put me in coach,” and he said, “Nahhh, we’ll probably get…” and I said, “No, put me in. I got it, put me in.” And I rocked it, I nailed it, like right in the socket. Ever since then, when there’s a shaker or a tambourine that needs to get done, he’ll put me in; and depending on who the drummer is on the record, a lot of times I’ll get to do it with that drummer. ’ve gotten to play shaker and tambourine with Fred Eltringham, Don Heffinton, and now Rick Allen. A lot of the times I’ll go in with Jim and shake ‘n bake. As far as being a professional drummer or percussionist, that’s probably as far as it gets for me; I don’t usually get hired to play a kit, but I’ve played a ton of percussion on records, just because I’m the guy in the room.
SS: I love it that you went off to shed with a click with shakers and tambo.
JG: Well when you really dive into it, there’s a lot of bad shakers and tambourines on a lot of hit records. If you listen to “Sympathy For The Devil,” that maraca is all over the place [laughs]; and it didn’t affect sales, it didn’t really matter, it was still a huge hit song, you can still dance to it. Nobody thinks about it like that, but when you really go in and try to lay in a big tambourine in the chorus, which is in so many of your favorite hit songs, it’s tough to do, it really is. You’ve got to lay it right in there and it depends on what the band is doing and what the kit drummer is doing, and was it to a click. There’s a lot of factors. It’s hard to be the guy, even though you’re only holding a shaker or a tambourine. It seems like it should be easy, but it’s not [laughs].
SS: I know everybody that reads this article has got to hear the story about the discussion where you go from not just being the B3 player on the session, but one of the drummers on the track, along with Steve Ferrone and Rick Allen. Take us into the room for when you get invited to do that.
JG: Yeah, this is great. So, we’re a couple of songs in on the session already and I’m playing keys and Steve is playing kit, and Rick would jump in on certain songs; he’d sit in the control room on certain others and just listen and see what he felt. So it comes around to starting “Big Love” – here’s the track, here’s the demo, here’s the chart – and Jim says, “We want to get a big drum sound on this,” and I’m thinking we’ll put a couple of drum kits out in the live room and record it out there. We’ll put Ferrone on the old Slingerlands, let’s put Rick on the red and yellow Ludwig’s, and we’ll put Ginty on the blue sparkle Mel Bay kit. The blue sparkle is Rick’s ’60’s Ludwig kit that he actually bought from Mel Bay when he was in high school. Like, THE Mel Bay, and he managed to keep the kit all these years and it’s set up and ready to go. It’s probably twelve feet away from Rick’s kit, and fifteen feet away from Ferrone’s kit. So, he just kind of off-hand said, “We’ll put Ginty on the blue sparkle kit.” “Wait a minute, what?” [Laughs] I couldn’t believe it. It was just another case of Jim kind of throwing me in the pool. The one thing I know about doing stuff like this, and it was the one thing that was going to save me, is that when you do a wall-of-sound kind of thing, a Phil Spector kind of thing, which I’ve done a bunch, the trick to it is simplicity; everybody’s got to play really simple, otherwise it doesn’t work. If somebody steps out and tries “me time” or plays a little fill or throws something flashy in, it doesn’t work. The whole thing will come apart, and I knew this going in so I just thought, “Okay, I’ll let Ferrone do all the heavy liftin’ [laughs], I’ll listen real carefully to what Rick’s going to do, and I’m going to find a real simple part that works with the two and stick with it, stay on it.” And that’s what I did. But you know, looking across the room and seeing a Heartbreaker and a guy from Def Leppard was totally crazy; it sounds like a bad joke, you know? “A Heartbreaker, the drummer from Def Leppard and some guy walk into a bar…” [laughs]. But I managed to pull it off, I stuck to my guns and I played something really simple and it worked. We all had a thing together where, Rick would zig and I would zag, while Ferrone was doing the heavy lifting, keeping the song moving. It created a beautiful thing; the drum kit sounded great, the old Mel Bay’s always sound great, so there you go.
SS: It was actually my next question to ask. You’re one of three drummers in the room and the other two are Steve Ferrone and Rick Allen. That must have been at the very least a bit surreal.
JG: It was totally surreal. It was crazy, and as crazy as it was in my head, the good news is that it was easy, because those guys are so great that the pocket was a mile wide. I’d have had to try really hard to mess that up. But like I said, the trick to it was to just play something simple. That’s the key to the city, especially when you have a lot of cats playing.
SS: Was there much in the way of mapping it out in advance between the three of you, or did you just go in and wing it?
JG: There’s actually a great little piece of footage where we’re in the control room kind of air-drumming, and that’s it; that was the big meeting [laughs]. We kind of air-drummed what we might do, and all looked at each other like, “Yeah, that could probably work.” It was all very quick and it was all very haphazard, and thank goodness, because I really didn’t have time to think about what was happening. Just go in and get it.
SS: So, it was mostly intuitive once the track was rolling.
JG: Absolutely. And what we had to work with was already great. I think there might have been a little drum loop or something that felt good, that we would play to. Like I said, it was easy, it wasn’t hard. You have to just give yourself to that river and find your spot.
SS: There is a kind of world music feel to the choruses, which is pretty tom-heavy. Was that an overdub done after you guys had just done basic rhythm parts or were those tom figures part of what you were doing at the kit?
JG: What Rick and I had going was the tom thing. It was described like we were doing a Lion King version of the Bo Diddley beat. Where I would come down on the toms, “Ba-ka-boom-ka-boom,” and he would come back up to finish the phrase, “Ka-boom-bop.” So together we made almost a Bo Diddley, “Me-a-me-a-me, and-him, me-a-me-a-me, and-him.” It was kind of a Bo Diddley beat, even though it had an African thing to it, and a lot of that came from Ferrone doing sixteenth notes on the hi-hat; that set it up to me more like a Fela [Kuti] thing, but we’re definitely playing Bo Diddley in there [laughs].
SS: And anything with Steve on it will feel great.
JG: Yeah, and the thing with him is that, as much as he could play or could choose to play, on tons of hit records it’s just “Boof” and “Ba.” What he chooses not to play is just so cool to me. That’s what I love. The guy’s choices are just uh-mazing. That’s why I said it was easy, shockingly easy; it’s hard to put something together that’s not grooving, but if it’s grooving, it’s easy. Three drummers, four drummers, sure, piece of cake.
SS: To change the subject from the drumming, I have to say that one of the first things that caught my ear that I loved on the track was the little B3 touches you were putting between each phrase in the lyric in the verses. Just beautiful.
JG: Very cool. Thank you.
SS: I think this song would be great even if Lauren sat and played it solo, but the arrangement and the recording and the performance of everybody on the track made it sound huge.
JG: Yeah, and I give her a lot of credit. It’s not easy to write a song like that–a happy, up song–particularly today. A song about love that isn’t cheesy or cliché. That’s hard to do.
Scott Sobol: How did you get on this session?
Kenny Aronoff: Jim Scott called me and wanted me to do percussion. I was hired to play on six tracks, I believe.
SS: Did you know what you wanted to do with it in advance, or did you just start trying stuff out?
KA: I can’t say which actual percussion instruments I used on that track but I know I used several. I do now remember them having me play drums on something, but I’m not sure if it was that track.
SS: The press kit for the release of “Big Love” says you played: shakers, tambo, smash hat, clanker. Sounds like you had fun. I know Rick was not there that day, but did you get to work with the other musicians on the track?
KA: No, no one was there when I was; I was overdubbing.
SS: Were the drum-set parts already on the track?
KA: I’m not sure, but let’s put it this way–99% of the time you go in to do percussion, the drums are already on there.
SS: Rick’s description of Jim Scott’s layout is pretty appealing to any musician.
KA: Yes. This is getting off the subject a little, but because I was up there and posting pictures, Joe Satriani saw that, which initiated Joe coming down and checking out that studio–PLYRZ–and we did his Shapeshifting record there, which got to number 8 in the Top 100 album chart this year. That’s incredible; I mean, you’re competing with everybody, and that’s with no vocals! So that’s huge. And that’s all from being there to work on Lauren’s stuff.
SS: I love the connectivity. I know you stay so busy that recalling a particular song and what you did with it is next to impossible, but what are your memories of doing that session?
KA: All I can say is that the song is amazing, I loved being part of it, Lauren is extremely spiritual and deep. I’m glad Jim called me for that session. I got to talk to Rick Allen on the phone when I was there, and I hadn’t seen him or spoken to him since 1981, I think. It was at an Elton John party in London. Def Leppard was there, and Mellencamp was there, because our manager, Billy Gaff, managed Mellencamp and managed Rod Stewart, who also may have been there. I was hanging out with Rick, and of course Def Leppard was huge at the time. So here it is, 2019, and we’re talking on the phone; what is that, 38 years later [laughs]! We were laughing and talking, it was so cool.
SS: Do you remember with that track if you were left to your own devices or did you get input from Lauren and/or Jim?
KA: Typically, I’ll come up with four, five, six different parts. I’m good at stacking percussion. Jim sat there and said, “What do you hear?” I would come up with all these different parts and try them all. The cool thing about Jim’s studio is that there’s all these instruments all over and there are headphones next to all of them. You can pick up anything you want to use and it’s ready to record. There are two main rooms, one is huge, like a warehouse and there are all kinds of headphone stations; you can just grab something and say, “I want to record right here.” Or, “I want to go into that other room and record in there.”
SS: Yeah, Rick raved about that warehouse. I was thinking about the fact that you’ve played on some pretty major songs that had a real message, a social conscience. “Scarecrow” comes to mind. And I know you’ve got a very blue-collar approach to your work–you get in and get it done and get out–but when you were working on this track, did you have a sense that it was a timely and potentially important song? There is a lot of emotion, and as you said, a spiritual context to it. Do the lyrics ever impact you at all?
KA: Oh yeah, I look at every song I play as if I were an actor in a movie; the song is a movie and I’m an actor. So, if I’m an Al Pacino or a Robert DeNiro, I’m looking at the script, I’m looking at the story, and I’m thinking, “Ok, who am I in this movie?” And I try to act accordingly; I try to go deep into the emotional part of the song so that that will be conveyed when I play. And so, her music is perfect for that approach. any song is really, but particularly hers, because so much of it is coming from spirit, because she operates from that place consciously; therefore, there’s a lot of it there intentionally, and I picked up on it. I’m always looking to make a contribution that will make the song sound better. I’m glad I was a part of this.