By Scott Sobol
Talk to any rock musician whose been around a while and you’ll find there are certain benchmark albums that the general public might not know of or remember well, but serious rock musicians hold them in very high esteem. The seminal album Hughes/Thrall, the first Captain Beyond album, and the two albums by the cross-cultural band from the mid-’70s Detective, stand out in that category of legendary hard rock albums that got little to no recognition beyond the world of both rock musicians and the obsessive music fan.
You may not be particularly familiar with the name Jon Hyde, but his brief moment in the spotlight in the mid-1970s is as much the stuff of rock music legend as any story you’ve heard about any household name drummer. Teaming up with former Steppenwolf guitarist Michael Monarch in the early ’70s, their paths eventually crossed with British front man Michael Des Barres, who had recently come to Los Angeles after the dissolution of his glam-rock band Silverhead. This union, and a fortuitous choice of rehearsal spaces, would cause their fortunes to collide with the world of Led Zeppelin, which led to Jimmy Page signing the newly formed band, now called Detective, to their label Swan Song; Mr. Hyde was suddenly not only privy to the inside workings of the greatest hard rock band of all time, but sitting behind Bonham’s kit jamming with Zep when Bonzo didn’t make it to rehearsals. This certainly puts him on a very short list of drummers that experienced such a privilege, but even more powerful is the recognition he got for his astonishingly similar style and sound to the man himself. It is clear one drummer obviously influenced the other, but it goes beyond that–the same spirit that touched one drummer clearly also touched the other. Detective’s recorded output was sadly limited to two studio albums and one live album, but their influence and impact in the rock musician community was huge, particularly among drummers. It’s time Jon Hyde got some recognition.
SS: You play drums, but you also sing and play guitar and have done that in other bands. Where did it all begin for you?
JH: Drums did come first, but I was not musical at all as a kid, I was more of an athlete. I was brought up in the ’50s and ’60s in Boston and played football and basketball. My father was a Drill Sergeant in the army, so there was a lot of physical fitness in the background. I was lifting weights before anybody else around was doing it. I took clarinet in around fourth grade, that was back when they just gave out instruments and you would try to play. I was horrible at it; I hated every second of it.
SS: Was music part of your childhood?
JH: The music I was listening to in the ’50s was stuff like Harry Belafonte–not rock, not stuff like Elvis. Then my brother started taking guitar lessons at Pampalone’s Music; I remember he had a Sears Danelectro. And my sister was playing piano; I would tinker on the piano and my mother would say, “There’s no way”–I was just no good at it. Then one day I had to bring my brother to Pampalone’s for his lesson, and while I was waiting for him outside, I saw in the window a red sparkle Slingerland kit, and thought to myself, “Now that’s something I could like.” I’d seen albums my father had, like Gene Krupa vs. Buddy Rich, and that somewhat got my attention. When my brother came out, I asked him if they also taught drums there and he said they did. I went to the counter and asked how much drum lessons were and I think he said they were five dollars. I went home and asked my mother if I could take drum lessons and she said, “Absolutely not. Not going to happen.” I had tried clarinet, which was a disaster and I’d messed around on the piano, which hadn’t worked–though I should have stuck with it–so she didn’t think I was serious. Finally, I wore her down and she said, “I’ll tell you what, we’re going to get you a couple of lessons and that’s it.” So, I went. My first teacher was Mr. Sargeant, and I walked in the room and he asked if I was left or right-handed. I’m kind of both, I write with my left, kick with my left, but I do a lot with my right, and he said, “You don’t want to play left-handed, because the drums are always set up for a righty.” There was no match grip yet back then so I was learning traditional grip, and from the first note I played, that was it. From then on it was a pad and a pair of sticks, all day long. I took lessons for about six months and then had to drop them because we couldn’t afford it.
“I saw Zeppelin on their first tour playing The Boston Tea Party, and that’s where it all changed for me.”
Finally, my mother bought me my first drum kit; it was a Gretsch and she bought it at Jack’s Drum Shop. She worked as a hostess and had saved up money because she saw I was really into it. It was a good set for a kid to start on. From there, I started playing around with kids in the neighborhood. Then the Beatles came out and it went on from there. I could always sing and after a couple of years I finally got in a band called Prince & the Paupers, who were a big band in Boston at the time, and we opened up for everyone–The Animals, Hermits Hermits, The Rascals, The Byrds, The Outsiders–any band that came through town, we’d open up for them. We became very popular; we had long hair, and we were known in Boston. That was the start of it all for me.
After that band broke up, I met some other guys and we started a band called Veil, which was me, a bass player, guitar player and a guy playing a Hammond B3, and after I got out of the draft we moved up to Amherst, Mass. We opened up for the Hallucinations, which turned into the J. Geils Band, and we toured up and down the East Coast, we played in Cleveland, and that was when I really developed. I’d seen Hendrix, I’d seen Cream at the Psychedelic Supermarket with fifty people there, I’d seen Jeff Beck with the Truth band, with Micky Waller, fantastic drummer, but then I saw Zeppelin on their first tour playing The Boston Tea Party, and that’s where it all changed for me. I’d never seen or heard anything like that. Not only was Bonham’s technique amazing, but the sound and the power was beyond belief. I remember looking at the snare, and two days later I went out and got a 6.5″ x 14”. You’ve got to remember, before that, the only guy I’d seen with a 24-inch bass drum was Dino Danelli in the Young Rascals. But Bonham had the power, the control, the finesse, the soul, everything. So, I bought that snare two days later; that changed a lot. It changed the way I played–the sound, the tuning of the drums, everything. I was hanging around a place a lot of jazz guys hung out and I noticed their drums were really tuned high, really high, especially the bottom heads were really tight. I thought that Bonham’s drums, and Keith Moon’s in the early days, were tuned really high and I liked that sound. I started tuning my drums a little differently, trying to learn new things, be open to new things. We obviously didn’t have YouTube then, you had to figure out everything from listening to the records.
“You could have one drum set and fifty different drummers could sit down at it and play and every one of them will sound different.”
One night I was playing in Cleveland and these two guys came up to me and the keyboard player and asked us if we’d be interested in playing with a band in L.A. It was a band from Hollywood called Time, and they were signed to United Artists and based in Hollywood. I was young and ready and we both said yeah, we were into it; they took down all our information and said they’d send us plane tickets. We really didn’t believe we’d hear from them and we went back to Amherst. A couple of weeks later we get the call, and they had tickets for us and were arranging shipping for our gear. I shipped the drums off, we didn’t even tell the band we were in that we were leaving, and Andy had a Hammond organ and a couple of Leslies that weren’t even paid for and we just shipped it all out to L.A. and we were gone [laughs]. I’d never even been on a plane before. I mean, Boston had a great scene in the late ’60s, but when I came out here, it was 1969 and you couldn’t even walk down the street here, there was so many kids and gigs and bands. I went to the Whiskey the first night we were here. We had a house in Malibu at the Malibu Colony. The band had two drummers and we both sang so we took turns between singing and drumming. It was like Procol Harum, where the drums are very expressive, but with two drummers, and B.J. Wilson happened to be one of my favorite drummers of all time. I really learned about dynamics from him and Mitch Mitchell. Bonham is really like that too–not always slamming–I’ve been right next to him while he’s playing and it’s a lot to do with feel, the drum sound and the way he played. You know as well as I do that you could have one drum set and fifty different drummers could sit down at it and play and every one of them will sound different.
SS: That was way before Detective. What came between the late ’60s and getting that band together?
JH: A lot happened between ‘69 and Detective. When that band I moved out here [Los Angeles] with broke up, I stopped drumming and started fronting bands just singing. I was not that successful because I never had that front-man, outgoing personality. I could sing, but I wasn’t a front man. So, I moved up to Beachwood Canyon with my girlfriend, and I was walking down the street one day and heard a band playing and it turned out to be this guy I’d always see at the Whiskey–he looked like Keith Richards, but much taller. We started talking and I went in the house and saw this guy who turned out to be Michael Monarch from Steppenwolf. He asked me to play a little and he liked my playing so we decided to get together. At that time, I’d sold my drums, I didn’t even own a pair of drumsticks; I told him I was trying to just be a singer and wasn’t drumming, but he said, “Man, you should be drumming.” So, he and I started writing and playing together and ended up getting a house with our girlfriends up in the canyon. You could get a big house back then, 1971 or 2, for like $500 a month.
We started auditioning drummers and got a drummer named Danny Gorman who had been in a band called The Yellow Pages, and Scott Thurston who ended up in Tom Petty’s band was our keyboard player, he played keys and second guitar; he played with a lot of people. We started a band called Hokus Pokus, doing R&B stuff. I was singing in that band and it was very unique. For that time, to be a rock band doing R&B was different. We started playing around town and a buzz started and record companies started to come see us. CBS came, Atlantic cane, and in those days, they’d come around and try to mentor you until you were really ready. We were advised to keep playing around and really develop our sound but of course, being who we were, we took a deal at MGM, which was a big mistake. We did one album and had a manager, but we had no tour support. Prescott Niles from The Knack played with us for a while too, but we always had problems with drummers. The grooves were just not there. Where both Michael and I come from is blues and R&B, so we knew we needed a drummer that could really groove. The drummer we had on the album had a beautiful new Camco kit, and at the time I didn’t even own a drum set. I’d sit down at his kit and play and Michael would say, “Yeah, that’s what we need. Why don’t we just get a singer and you play the drums?” And at the time I just couldn’t see it working. I wanted to sing but the truth is I was never really that comfortable being the front guy. I had the look, but it never felt right. I should have known what it was about.
That band came and went and Michael and I decided to go to England; we thought that’s where we’d find the drummers, that there’d be a John Bonham on every block. Or a Kenney Jones. We packed up our stuff and our girlfriends and moved to England. We went to Dick James Music, got a deal with Robert Stigwood, and got tons of money just based on our songs. That’s when we got Prescott Niles in the band. We went over there to get English guys and end up just getting more American guys! We looked for a drummer and the first guy we got was Herman Rarebell [Scorpions]. He didn’t work out for some personal reasons, but we tried out so many drummers it was incredible. We must have auditioned a hundred drummers and we couldn’t find anybody. I had a friend–Brian Glasscock, who played in The Motels, who is actually English, but was living in L.A.–we sent for him to come over and join us. It was insanity. We’re in England to find musicians and we’re finding American guys and hiring them and sending for English musicians who are living in Los Angeles! [Laughs]
SS: So that never turned into anything?
JH: Over time it dissolved. I was sick of living in England and wanted to come back to the States; I moved back, but I went to Boston for about four or five months first, and then I came back out here [L.A.]. This is in ’73. Still had no drums; hadn’t played drums in years. Then one day Michael Monarch got in touch with me and asked if I’d be willing to write some songs with him for this new project he’d been working on with this guy Michael Des Barres. I went down to check them out at Vine Street Studios, where Steve Allen’s show was filmed in the early ’70s. They actually had Wings’ first drummer, Denny Seiwell, and this English guy Chrissie Stewart on bass–amazing bass player–and Michael Des Barres. I thought the band was great, but I have to admit I didn’t think the drums were right; not because he’s not a good drummer, he’s obviously a really great drummer, but we’re talking about a band that was doing real heavy English rock, and he’s not that kind of drummer. So, I started writing songs with Michael; I went to a few rehearsals, and then Denny ended up feeling the same way about it and didn’t want to play with them anymore, so Michael called me and said, “Listen, this is a long shot, but we’re going to start auditioning drummers. I know you haven’t played for a long time and don’t have drums, but if you can put it together, we’re going to be auditioning drummers at SIR in two weeks.” I knew this guy who had a drum set and I called him up and asked if I could borrow them. I went over to his house and I would say his drums were one step above toys–the worst drum set you’d ever seen–but I was so desperate, that I said, “F*ck it, I’m going to do it with these drums.”
My brother and I loaded up this pile of junk into the back of his car and went back to our place. I went to Pro Drum and bought some drum sticks, and a guy who lived behind us lent me some hardware, a pedal and some other stuff, and I borrowed a Ludwig Supraphonic from someone and got started. I’d say I wrecked the kit in about three minutes; broken heads, everything, it was a joke. But I actually had the guts to show up with that pile of junk for the audition at SIR. I said, “Screw it, I’ve just got to do it with this.” And this was being put together by Pacific Presentations–Sepp Donahower was putting money behind these guys, Michael Monarch and Michael Des Barres– so it wasn’t a rinky-dink thing, and I show up with that… [laughs]. So, I’m one of the first guys to show up and I bring that stuff in and the guy setting up the room sees it and says, “Is THAT your drum set?” I felt like an idiot, but I told him what was going on and how I hadn’t played in years, and that was all I had, which was really only a snare drum; the rest was a pile of crap. Then, the guy actually says I can tell him what I want and he’ll set it up. I said, “Are you kidding me?” I told him I wanted the biggest bass drum they had. He says they’ve got a Ludwig silver-sparkle kit, 13, 16, 18” and a 26” bass drum. I’d never even played a 26” bass drum. I was like, are you kidding? He brings the kit down, sets it up and I warmed up for a while and just felt ready to do it, at least as well as I can. That guy saved my life. I mic’d everything, I was all ready when the band got there. I thought, “Well, if I don’t get this thing, at least I gave it my best shot.” By the time they got there, I had that sound down. And SIR had the best sounding room in town. Zeppelin lived in there for a couple of months. The drums sounded like thunder.
“My favorite drummers were all guys that played with a lot of air, and with a funk groove.”
So, I did the audition, left and Michael called me later and said they had a couple of guys they were looking at but that so far, I had it; I wasn’t in yet, but so far, I was the one they were thinking. But I did get the gig and rehearsed every day at SIR, playing that kit. The band rented it for a year. The only thing that got me the gig, it was not that I was a great technician, because I’d not even played in years at that point, but it was the approach. I had the right approach. A lot of guys were playing too much stuff, I had a lot of lot of space, a lot of air. My favorite drummers were all guys that played with a lot of air, and with a funk groove. So, it was that kit, and the fact that I played with a lot of space.
SS: This was what was to become Detective, correct?
JH: Yes, but it wasn’t called Detective, it was called Des Barres / Monarch. They had Nigel Harrison from Blondie on bass at the time, but I’d done some gigs with Bobby [Pickett] and even though there were no black guys playing in bands like that back then, I said, “Listen, I know this guy, fantastic bass player, fantastic singer but he’s black.” Both of them said, “Who cares? Just bring him down.” I called Bobby and told him it was more of a Zeppelin, Humble Pie thing, because he was playing mostly funk and R&B at the time. He came down and blew them away and they gave him the gig.
JH: We were rehearsing at SIR one day and Michael Des Barres had been out the night before to see Zeppelin at the Forum. He told Jimmy about the band and he said that Jimmy might stop down to see us. I thought, “Really?” That night, I get to SIR and Jimmy Page comes walking in. Bobby didn’t even know who he was and he walks up to him and says, “Hey, you look familiar, do I know you?” And I’m like, “Oh my god!” We played that night with Page for hours. My hands had calluses all over them, it was insane.
SS: Did that lead to auditioning for Swan Song to get a deal?
JH: Yes, we auditioned for Swan Song in front of Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke, Peter Grant, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. That was our audience. Can you imagine playing in front of them to get your record deal? Thank God John Bonham wasn’t there [laughs]. They liked the studio at SIR so Zeppelin started rehearsing there. The Stones were rehearsing there as well, can you imagine?
One night, we’re rehearsing, and Mick Hinton, who worked for John [Bonham] came in and asked me if I wanted to come down and play with them. I said, “What?” He said John was not coming down and Jimmy asked him to come get me. I was thinking, “Please don’t make me do this,” and walking in that door I was a nervous wreck but within ten minutes they had me totally relaxed; they were all so nice. We just jammed, but we did end up played “Wonton Song,” “Kashmir,” and a slow blues. I had all this on tape but I lost it years ago. I played with them for about three hours. We also did “Immigrant Song.” This is when Robert had a broken leg. Jimmy had two Vox AC-30’s.
SS: It’s hard to put into words how it feels to hear a drummer say they got to play with Zeppelin for three hours. What was it like playing with John Paul Jones next to you?
JH: John Paul Jones is a genius bass player and really, was the foundation of that band. He couldn’t have been nicer to me. He said, “You’re like a junior John.” I sit pretty low and when I got there, I saw that John Bonham sat a little higher, and his snare was actually lower than mine, so I moved it up just a bit. His roadie was freaking out, telling me he didn’t want John to know anyone else had played his drums. I moved the snare up just a bit, and moved the seat down just a tiny bit. Speed King pedal, Vistalite drums, with a few cracks in them, black-dot heads, an Emperor on the snare, a Rogers hi-hat, beat up 15” 2002’s. Obviously I’d never sat at Bonham’s drums before, and I knew he tuned them high, but I couldn’t believe how high they were tuned; the bass drum too. I actually tuned the snare down a little because it was just super jacked-up. When you were sitting over them, they sounded horrible, just awful. The bass drum just went, “Boing!” But from out front, it was unbelievable. I’d already seen them rehearsing a few times by then and I can’t even tell you how good the drums sounded.
You can hear on the early Zeppelin records that he tuned it high, but this was almost like an R&B snare, like a piccolo, really high. Anyway, I got to play with them for around three hours and it was a phenomenal experience.
SS: Did you start recording soon after getting the deal with Swan Song?
JH: They told us they wanted to sign us to the label [Swan Song] and we went to the Record Plant to do some demos. Jimmy Robinson was producing and he asked me what kind of drum sound I wanted and I told him I wanted a big sound. By that time, I had my own red sparkle Ludwig kit with two 26” bass drums, and I played that at the Record Plant. I think I only used that huge kit once, then I stripped it down to one bass drum. They just hung up some room mic’s and we got a good sound instantly in that big room and then cut some tracks; it went very quick. A lot of it was just on intuition. I was still getting back into it and was kind of still on the seat of my pants. Like the beginning of “Recognition,” it sounds like it’s all planned out, but that was probably the first time I’d ever played that.
SS: The stuff for the first album was being cut on the fly like that?
JH: Well, I’d get to the studio and say, “Should I play it this way, or that way?” I’m the kind of guy who, I kind of play for the moment. When you listen to the stuff on the albums, that’s what I played that day. If I’d studied more and worked on rudiments and all that, I might have evolved differently, but I was really learning how to play again and learning where I wanted to go. My hands were nowhere near as good as they are now. I play much better now than I did then. Back then I had youth and enthusiasm on my side, but now my mind works much better and my hands are much better.
SS: So, you began with a double bass set-up and cut it down to one 26” bass drum?
JH: Yes, I used that red sparkle Ludwig kit, and that 26” bass drum playing the clubs, and the clubs would always argue with me when they’d see the bass drum: “You can’t use that here!” Even at the Starwood, the guy argued with me for an hour about it, the first time Monarch / Des Barres played there. Boy do I wish I’d kept that kit; it was fabulous.
SS: How did [keyboardist] Tony Kaye come into the mix?
JH: Tony came into the band after we got signed to Swan Song and were getting ready to do the first album, amid all this hoopla. We did the demos with Jimmy; we did “Grim Reaper,” and I think “One More Heartache” and those were done in one day, two takes, maybe. And those are the tracks that got used for the album. And if you listen to those songs, any drummer could play those songs, there’s nothing technical about them. The hardest thing is to lay down that groove and make it feel right. And this is before click tracks, you’ve just got to cut it and get it right all the way through. We didn’t punch anything in, nothing like that.
SS: So, your first time in the studio is with Page producing?
JH: Yes, he said he wanted to produce our first album and we were like, “Okay, that’d be alright” [laughs]. But then we were told we’d have to wait, because Jimmy had a little problem, which was obvious to us, was about drugs, and we just thought, “No problem” because we’d just rehearse while we were waiting for him. We’d written tons of songs and had a publishing deal, we had some money, I had a nice apartment on DeLongpre, so we just sat around and rehearsed. But that gets old, and we didn’t tour. We waited a year for Jimmy to come around, so I had Scott Thurston come down because we’d talked about getting in a keyboard player. Scott’s an amazing player with a real funk groove, but I don’t think Michael felt comfortable with that. Tony Kaye hung out at the Rainbow, knew Michael Des Barres–you know, they’re English–so Tony came down a couple of times. Tony’s a fantastic musician, there’s no doubt about it, but he comes from a different background, and Zeppelin were not for it at all, they didn’t want us to have a keyboard player.
So, after waiting and waiting and waiting, we’re told that Jimmy can’t do it. We had no money worries, Swan Song and Atlantic were playing for everything. We had a lot of cache because of our deal with Swan Song, and we’d gotten one of the last big deals they [Atlantic] made at the time. The one and only thing I was paying for was my drums! Here I am on Swan Song records, I mean, come on, Bonham and Simon Kirke are my two, drummer, label-mates, and I’m buying my own drums! Our management at the time sucked. We had Elliot Roberts managing us, he was a huge guy–Neil Young, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, The Cars–huge guy, but the guy he had handling us with day-to-day stuff didn’t come to me and say, “Jon, why are you buying Ludwig drums from Pro Drum? I’ll call Ludwig tomorrow and get you whatever you want!” Same thing with Paiste; I paid for all of that stuff out of my pocket. That was the one big mistake we made.
So, Tony came into the band, and before we cut the album, we cut some demos in New York with Eddie Kramer, who I loved working with. He’s worked with Bonham, and with Mitch Mitchell, who was really my guy. He told me tons of Hendrix stories and how a lot of what they did was recorded with just the two of them–Jimi and Mitch. I mean, there’d be no Hendrix without him, and Eddie agreed with me when I said that. Go listen to any song on that first album. He’s a genius, the way he incorporated the fills, the parts he came up with, and that was a long time ago and you can put any one of those songs. “Manic Depression” for instance, go put that on today and it’ll blow your head off. We worked at Electric Lady and he showed me the room that Bonham and Mitch both used, which was not a big, cavernous room, but the sound in there, amazing. Eddie was a big drum guy, he mics everything, so working with him was a dream.
Funny side note, when I was in NY and going to record with Eddie Kramer, Michael Monarch and I got lost trying to find Electric Lady, our cab driver f*ck*d up and we get out at some hotel, and we’re standing in front of the hotel and while we’re trying to figure out what to do, I see Ahmet Ertegun come walking out of the hotel and Michael starts telling me to go over and ask him to help us find Electric Lady, which I just said no way to. So, Michael goes up to him and says, “Excuse me, Mr. Ertegun, I’m in a band called Detective on Swan Song records,” and Ahmet says, “Oh I know you guys, yeah. What’s going on?” I couldn’t believe it. And he remembered the band Hokus Pokus, he remembered that it was an R&B kind of thing, he remembered there’d been all kinds of problems, I was just standing there and couldn’t believe my ears. Then he tells us how to get to Electric Lady.
So, we then we went and worked with Eddie Kramer. I loved it, but I don’t remember what happened; there was someone somewhere in the upper echelon that didn’t like something about the demos. Steve Marriot was considered, and Roy Thomas Baker. We went in the studio with Jimmy Robinson, but he had an edge to him and there was some huge fight in the studio. There was a lot of drug use going on. He didn’t work out. Then we got Andy Johns, who was also using a lot of drugs–this was before he worked with Van Halen–we got him at a bad time. He was a genius with drums, but with me, not so much. He wanted to really dampen the drums, putting a wallet on the snare, that whole thing. I mean, that’s like 1960! I said, “No, I’m not putting a wallet on my snare, no way.” So, we cut the album really quick. The second album was even weirder. They had wanted us to do this Kiss tour, and said, “Oh, you should put out a new album,” so we wrote songs in about five minutes. I had a couple of my own, and it felt like we cut the record in a day, really. No production, no real thinking.
“I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had my intuition and my natural feel and that was it.”
One thing about Detective, it was just starting to become what it could have been at this time; Michael Monarch is a brilliant musician in every way, he plays everything, but he never really shined. Too much money, too much drugs, too much bullshit going on. For me, I never felt like I was getting to do what I wanted to do. Now, kids today, they have a lot of stuff to use, they have YouTube, they have the Internet. At the time, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I had my intuition and my natural feel and that was it.
SS: So, wait, let’s back up a bit. You finished the first album but did Detective tour much? The first record was pushed pretty hard by Atlantic, but you guys didn’t seem to be very visible in terms of touring.
JH: Yeah, we finished the first record and then Kiss was interested in having us go out and open for them, but we ended up just waiting around; no one was really managing us properly, and even though we had a lot of power and muscle behind us, nothing was happening. We were doing local gigs and playing here and there; we’d play the Starwood like four or five nights in a row, but when it came time to really tour, they wanted us to rush another album out, which we should never have agreed to. So, we did the second album and it was a disaster, I thought. Then we went out with Kiss, and this is how long ago this was–AC/DC was opening up for us, can you imagine that? Having to go on after them? Even back then they were ridiculously good. We toured with Hall & Oates, with Blue Oyster Cult, then we got back from the Kiss tour–I think we were out with them for almost a year–and we went to Canada and did some things up there. Then when we came back to L.A., the biggest thing to happen was that John Kalodner came into our lives. He was already huge in the music business. He went to NY and started working for Atlantic, and told them he wanted to work with us. We had this big meeting where Kalodner basically said, “This band needs a hit record, and you guys are going to be huge, we’re going to make it happen.” We’re sitting there just kind of going, “Are you kidding me?” The next thing I know we’re meeting with Tom Dowd, who’s done Aretha Franklin, Cream, everybody I love. He said, “You guys have the power and the musicianship, you just need to get songs together.” So we rented this ranch up in Westlake and started writing and rehearsing, and John Kalodner would come up and listen and tell us what he liked and what he didn’t. Then we brought everything we’d done acoustically to the studio for Tom Dowd to hear, and he loved the stuff. He thought we sounded like we were from England, not an American band, but more rooted in the British stuff. But he liked my stuff way more than the stuff Michael Des Barres was writing with this other guy because he thought their stuff was too Americana, which pissed Michael off and was kind of what ended the band. He loved the stuff I was writing and the stuff Michael Monarch was writing; Michael Des Barres and the guy he was writing with had written like 50 songs, but Tom Dowd said, “Man, this is not the direction you guys should be going in. Michael [Monarch] and I had written some stuff that was funky, but heavy, and Tom heard it and loved it.
We started recording with Tom, which was great. He liked working during the day, as opposed to being up all night working, which is what he was used to with The Stones. Then one morning Michael Des Barres calls me and tells me he’s quitting the band. We should have just replaced him, that was our biggest mistake, we just let it go, we were so stupid, and Swan Song was pissed. For some reason they called me and no one else. I got a call from Steve Weiss, “You guys have to get your shit together, are you nuts?” Kalodner had actually brought us the song that we had already cut as our first single, and it was “I Need A Lover Who Won’t Drive Me Crazy,” that this new kid they were calling Johnny Cougar [John Mellencamp] had written, and we did it; it was like a hard rock version of that song and it sounded great. Kalodner loved it and thought it could be a huge hit. Of course, it went right down the tubes because Michael Des Barres quit the band and we didn’t continue without him.
SS: Did you keep any of those demos?
JH: All of that stuff is property of Swan Song. I don’t have any of it. I thought Michael Monarch had it all, but he doesn’t. The history of that band, it’s just devastating.
SS: You and Michael Monarch co-wrote a great deal of the material on both albums, but you never wrote with Michael Des Barres.
JH: Right, Michael Monarch was really my songwriting partner. He’d come up with the music and I’d come up with the lyrics and melodies and we’d work great like that. Michael Des Barres wrote on his own, or with other people.
SS: So far, I’m the only person I know who has the “Live in Atlantic Studios” album. I’ve met fans of Detective, but no one that owns that album, and most don’t even know it ever existed.
JH: Yeah, that album is a total botched thing. We had opened for Kiss at Madison Square Garden and we were hanging in NY and they said we were going to do this thing at Atlantic Studios, which turned out to be a tiny studio. I think it was Jimmy Douglas, a famous engineer came in, and they just didn’t get the ambiance of the band at all, it was just totally flat. I remember I was slamming on that stuff and it just came out sounding so flat. Plus, they had like four people there, trying to make it sound like we had a real crowd, but come on. It was ridiculous. We thought it was pretty funny at the time. That album has also been re-released on CD, like the other two albums.
SS: So, the band officially folded when Michael Des Barres left?
JH: Yes. We shouldn’t have, but we did. We could have found a singer pretty easily. I think it was the drugs. Michael Monarch was really f*ck*d up at the time. He and Jimmy Page would do a lot of heroin and angel dust together. If you see footage of the last Zeppelin tour where Page is wearing the Nazi uniform and his playing is awful, that’s all because of heroin and angel dust. I played with Jimmy a bunch of times and he is a genius, there’s no doubt about it. His ideas, his concepts, as well as his playing, but after a while his hands just went; too many drugs. Bonham and John Paul Jones, in all the times I heard them play I never heard one bad note; always super f*ck*ng together. I saw them jamming on ideas for what became the Presence album and it was just mind-blowing. John Paul Jones playing an 8-string bass on what became, “Royal Orleans,” Bonham’s fills, the air; “Achille’s Last Stand,” I heard all that stuff getting worked on. Just incredible.
SS: That’s my favorite Zeppelin album. The truth is, I think you’re the only guy that ever came really close to copping Bonham’s whole thing. I’ve played the Detective stuff for a lot of people, drummers and other musicians, and everyone says the same thing. You sounded and felt like Bonham on those songs.
Just to talk a little more detail, there’s not a drummer that will read this that doesn’t want you to expound on being part of the Zeppelin world, playing with them, hanging around them, Bonham, all that. Can you talk more about that period?
JH: This is going to sound horrible but the guys in Zeppelin are amazing musicians, but they’re just human beings, nothing more.
SS: How about Bonham? He has quite a reputation for being difficult, and being a mean drunk. Were you exposed to that side of him at all, and if not, what was your time around him like?
JH: I once spent a night in a hotel room with him and his cohorts. He called me and Michael Monarch and said he wanted to hear the demos that Jimmy had produced for us. We had to wait for him to get up, which didn’t happen ‘til like eight or nine at night, and we did get to hang out and talk. We talked about jazz and about Buddy Rich, who he was a huge fan of. He was really influenced by big band music and you can hear it in his playing. You’d be surprised, one of his favorite drummers was the guy in The Hollies; he loved Ringo, James Brown, Motown, all R&B music.
So, that night it got late, he only listened to a few seconds of the demo. He wasn’t really interested, so we just left. We had this road guy, Frank Silvani, who stayed after we left, and the next day I find out that Frank got beat up. They beat the shit out of him because they thought he ripped them off. I never saw Frank again. He left the state he was so f*ck*ng scared. Zeppelin had some mean people around them; you f*ck with them, forget it. In one way, I guess, it’s great because they were truly untouchable; and that’s one reason they had the success that they did. But on the other hand, it was kind of scary. If you caught John at the right time, great guy, but he was a mean drunk. That’s all I’ll say about it. As far as talent, forget it, probably the single greatest rock drummer of all time if you had to pick one.
SS: You got to see both sides of him.
JH: John [Bonham], if you caught him in the right mood, he was really cool, but man if you were a drummer and you caught him when he was drunk, watch out. A couple of times I asked him about his bass drum dampening and he told me what he used on it. We talked about jazz, he loved Buddy Rich; his whole thing was really from big band music. He loved Ringo, and loved R&B music.
SS: And he loved Dave Mattacks, from Fairport Convention.
JH: Yeah, he liked a lot of music that surprised me. He loved the Hollies and loved that drummer [Bobby Elliot], he loved James Brown, he loved all the Motown stuff. He could be a great guy, and he could be pretty bad, especially if he was drunk.
SS: I’ve actually heard that from a lot of people and it’s pretty sad. I remember Roger Taylor talking about him years ago, not long after he died, and he said, “John was a great drummer but he could be pretty hard to get on with.” That made me sad even back then. It was the first negative thing I’d seen another famous drummer say about him, but over the years there’s obviously been a lot of stories.
JH: Yeah, but it wasn’t just about him. He had a lot of back up, so he could do what he wanted. Zeppelin had a lot of people around them that you didn’t want to mess with. But John, as far as musicians go, forget it, undeniably the greatest rock drummer ever.
SS: You left the drums behind again and went back to fronting bands after Detective. You re-formed Hokus Pokus with you singing and Frankie Banali drumming, right?
JH: Yes, I’ve known Frankie for a long time and he’s a great drummer; I met him years ago when I was still in Detective. Frankie is a guy you would like; a no-nonsense, no-bullshit guy. He’s also the biggest Bonham freak on Earth. He knows everything about Bonham.
SS: He’s also so much better than he’s ever given credit for. His playing on the Hughes/Thrall album is amazing. I know someone that knows which tracks are Frankie and which are Gary Ferguson, another great L.A. drummer, and I think Gary Mallaber is on there as well. Three superb drummers, but I remember my buddy telling me which songs were Frankie and they are just monster drum tracks.
JH: And the stuff he did with W.A.S.P. – you’d be blown away by some of his playing on that stuff. Frankie is a really good drummer.
SS: So, was there any success with that band?
JH: Not really, it only lasted about six months.
SS: Mike Monarch started a band with a different drummer, but you did go back and play with him again eventually too, correct?
JH: Yes, I did. Then I quit drums for a long while. Believe it or not, it’s a weird story but I actually became a cyclist and rode bikes and raced for around four years, early 80’s.
SS: That was Ginger Baker’s thing before drumming as well.
JH: Oh really? Clapton, too. Anyway, after the Detective thing I was just sick of it, but eventually I started writing songs with Michael again, we recorded a bunch of stuff and had a publishing deal for a while. The way I got back into playing drums was that a friend of mine, Greg Cook, who’s no longer with us, said, “You gotta get back into playing drums.” So, I went over to Pro Drum and bought a little Tama kit and within three months it all came back. I started making money and bought myself a bunch of Ludwig kits. For me, the true love is the drums and I should have known that from day one, but when you’re young you get off course sometimes; you think, “Oh, it’s not happening I’d better try something else,” but from day one the true calling has been the drums. And my other true love is attached to that and it’s Ludwig. I’ve had other drum sets, but if there was ever a guy that was true to Ludwig, I’m the guy. I’m a Ludwig guy all the way. I still have my Supraphonic I did all the Detective stuff with, in fact. I have four others at the moment as well.
“I hear one second of Bonham, or Charlie Watts, or Ginger Baker, and I know exactly who it is. I can hear one second of Alex Van Halen and know who it is. There aren’t many drummers you can say that about happening today.”
SS: Ludwig certainly won hands down in the discussion of what snare drums people use in the studio in the enSnared issues of Drumhead. What would you say has changed from when you were first playing and recording to now, 40 years later?
JH: These days, you can hear 50 different drummers and not know who they are. But I hear one second of Bonham, or Charlie Watts, or Ginger Baker, and I know exactly who it is. I can hear one second of Alex Van Halen and know who it is. There aren’t many drummers you can say that about happening today.
JH: Yes, I had a pretty bad fall and broke my back in four places, but that wasn’t even the worst of it. Once they had me in the hospital and did a bone-scan on me, they found that I had really extreme osteoporosis. There’s a thing called hypercalcemia, which is leaking too much calcium through your urine, and which I’ve had for years but it wasn’t found until the fall and that trip to the hospital. You can’t have surgery when you have that and I lost four inches of height. I was six feet, I’m now five-eight. All of this also caused Kyphosis, a result of the osteoporosis and of losing so much weight. This was all a pretty big shock; I’ve always been healthy, I’ve lifted weights all my life, I eat really well. With this kind of trauma, your organs get squashed, you can’t stand up straight and the pain is excruciating. The doctors basically told me that I’m disabled, that I cannot work. They also said playing was out of the question because my breathing was so difficult from being collapsed that I could hardly catch a breath. At the time I couldn’t listen to any music, I couldn’t watch any drummers, I was just so depressed. Some time went by and I finally went to Guitar Center with Kathy and she convinced me to sit down at an electronic kit they had set up in there, and I just decided to go for it. I knew if I couldn’t play, I’d want to kill myself, so I had to just find out. I only played for about a minute, my hands felt really weird and sitting at the kit felt weird, but I could still play. I started crying and I think everyone in Guitar Center thought, “What the f*ck is wrong with this guy?” [Laughs] And from that day on, I started going to Guitar Center, and I’m not lying, every single day; the one in Hollywood, the one in Pasadena, the one in West L.A., Northridge, every one of ‘em. And I’d be sitting there, for the first few days for five minutes, a few more days went by and I could go for ten, after a month or so I could do 15, 20, on and on and on, practicing every day until I could play for an hour. Then I called Roger [Romeo – Legs Diamond] and went and played a gig with him, so that’s how I got back on the drums, thanks to Guitar Center being nice enough to let me sit and play in their stores. I was there yesterday. I still go every day.
SS: I’m really amazed by your commitment to playing. Every drummer needs to hear this story.
JH: I had a lot of determination. I’m the kind of person that if you tell me I can’t do something, I’m going to do everything I can to try to do it. There are still things I can’t do, but I can play. I can sit and play without a problem for hours; my biggest problem is setting up, getting the gear around, that stuff, but once I’m sitting down and playing, you couldn’t tell I have any kind of shit going on.
SS: We need to find you a good tech. No playing professionally at all?
JH: I’m playing daily, but not in a band; I think I’m playing better now than I did 20 years ago. I’m actually singing in a lot of different things right now and currently that’s the only thing I’m doing playing out. We tried to put a thing together with me, Prescott [Niles] and Gary Myrick, but that fell apart.
SS: I’m curious about your relationship with Bobby Pickett. He was in Detective and everybody that knows him holds him in very high esteem, both as a bass player and as a person, including me. You also played with him not long ago in The Funkin’ Maniacs here in L.A. so you guys have had quite the long association.
JH: Bobby’s the best, I love him. I just saw him the other day, we met up to talk. We talk all the time and I always check him out when he’s playing. We’re not playing together currently and he’s got other gigs, an R&B thing he does, some other things. But he’s still a very special bass player; he’s a guy who definitely has his own thing. Detective was a kick-ass band, it would knock your head off, and especially Bobby. No one ever saw a bass player like him, and back then, a black bass player in a hard rock band; he was really the first. There’s still no one that plays like Bobby.
You can hear Jon’s drumming on:
Detective – “Detective” – 1977 – Swan Song Records
Detective – “It Takes One To Know One” – 1977 – Swan Song Records
Detective – “Live From The Atlantic Studios” – 1978 – Swan Song Records
The Funkin’ Maniacs – https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/thefunkinmaniacs2