June 1 – Joyce Fans First Choice…Even If Not Moz’s

Well, he’s probably not getting a card from Stephen Morrissey today but we don’t care – we’ll wish Mike Joyce a happy birthday! The drummer from The Smiths turns 61 today.

Joyce, like the rest of the band, grew up in Manchester but like Andy Rourke, he wasn’t friends with Morrissey and Johnny Marr initially, which may have led to some of the famous discord within the remnants of the band later on. Marr and Morrissey actually used a drummer called Simon Wolstencroft on their first recording session; lucky for Joyce, Wolstencroft didn’t want to join the band. He’d later go on to be a member of The Fall. Which meant auditions for a new drummer, and Joyce was the pick. He was a full Smith in time for their first actual recording session when they had a contract and was thus the only drummer in their discography. As Music Radar correctly pointed out, “he wasn’t a flashy player, but his bits were absolutely vital to the music.” And he learned on the job, so to speak. He says, “when I started playing, I had three styles of playing : fast & loud, faster & louder, and fastest & loudest. (being in) The Smiths was a shock.”

Even though the band broke up in 1987 with a lot of acrimony between the two front men, Joyce remained on good terms with Morrissey… briefly. He actually played on a couple of Moz’s singles, including “The Last of The Famous International Playboys.” But Morrissey got irked, and said of Joyce as well as Andy Rourke, “the unhappy past descend(ed) on me each time I hear their voice” so he stopped using them on his records. And that was before the courts got involved.

Not employed by The Smiths nor Morrissey, Joyce did some work on Julian Cope’s successful album Peggy Suicide, and drummed for the Buzzcocks. But then he, and his pal Andy Rourke, went over some bank statements, it would seem and decided they were being ripped off by the two front men of The Smiths. They sued, with Joyce seemingly being the most determined and aggressive in the battle. They sued Marr and Morrissey for an equal share of performance royalties (which differ from the songwriting ones) and won. Marr paid Joyce something in the range of 475 000 pounds (about $1.5M today) and that was that. Not so the Moz, who paid Joyce some, then appealed. He lost and then failed to show up for court when Joyce added another suit, and the drummer ended up getting over 600 000 pounds from the singer. Last decade Morrissey complained that “because of the default judgments, he continues to take my royalties.” Showing once again, a good business lawyer can be as vital to a band as a good drummer or record producer.

Joyce has been in a few bands this century including one called Vinny Peculiar, with Bonehead, ex-of Oasis in it, and hosted live music nights at Manchester bars for some time. But now he is married and says “my clubbing days are pretty much over.” He watches his beloved Manchester City football games and works as an online radio host. He also loves to cook and has appeared on British food shows. His particular favorite, Indian vegetarian meals. He recommends The Sanskruti restaurant should you ever end up in Manchester.

Oh, and is favorite band from his city? Hold onto your hats… it’s not The Smiths. He picks The Buzzcocks, “my reason for wanting to play the drums in the first place.” He says he was “fortunate and honored” to play with them.


May 25 – Just Don’t Call This Outlaw And Lady ‘Lisa’

Happy birthday, Mirriam Johnson! An “outlaw country” rocker who’s also a bit of an evangelist…and is better known as Jessi Colter. She turns 79 today.

Colter (or Johnson) was born in Phoenix with interesting parents – her dad was a stock car racer while her mom was a Pentecostal minister. She seemed to love music early on and learned to play piano, and began performing in local bars while still a teen. There she met guitar legend Duane Eddy, whom she married in 1961 while only 18. He took her under his twangy wing, helped her put out a couple of singles under the name Mirriam Eddy (neither did much on the charts) and she toured with him throughout the ’60s…until they divorced in 1968.

That was around when she met and fell in love with Waylon Jennings, the rebel country star. He got her signed to RCA and suggested a different name for her to match his image. She went with Jessi Colter because she’d heard of Jesse Colter, apparently Jesse James’ sidekick.

Her first album, A Country Star is Born didn’t exactly live upto its name, and she left RCA quickly but signed to Capitol, at which point her career began to take off. Her first album there, I’m Jessi Colter, did reasonably well – ten songs she wrote and sang, playing keyboards on many while Waylon produced – and gave her her iconic song that she’s remembered for.

I’m Not Lisa”, a song about a girl named Julie who’s stuck with a boyfriend who couldn’t get over an ex named Lisa, was rather downbeat and very country-ish but ended up not only going to #1 on country charts but being a major mainstream pop hit, getting to #4 (#6 in Canada and #17 in New Zealand too) in 1975. While the mid-’70s delivered quite a few successes that could be termed “country rock” – Glen Campbell, John Denver, at times Linda Ronstadt etc – few were as much “country” and as little “rock” as Jessi’s. It was however, her only kick at the can in the pop music world.

Not so in country though; the following year she had a major country hit with her husband with their take on Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” (actually a re-release of one they’d recorded when a new couple), and it made it onto the Wanted -the Outlaws album (which also had Willie Nelson) that went double-platinum in the U.S.

She had a few more country hits in the decade, but by the ’80s her chart star had fallen, perhaps in part because she was looking after her son “Shooter” Jennings, who is now a country-rock artist too.

After Waylon passed away in 2002, she had a minor resurgence in the country world but her last album, in 2017 was different – an album of Biblical psalms being sung. Her mom’s influence growing on her no doubt, or maybe that of another “outlaw” country star who turned devoutly Christian – Johnny Cash. The same year, she also wrote a memoir, An Outlaw and A Lady.

May 24 – Lefty Made All The Right Friends

We’ve frequently talked about the “Wrecking Crew” here before, an elite informal group of L.A.-based session musicians like Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine who were incredibly talented and incredibly in demand in the ’60s. A list of their credits might make one think they played on half of all the American hits of that decade. They weren’t as much utilized in the ’70s, but there still were some great, popular studio musicians in the City of Angels that formed a sort of second generation Wrecking Crew who made many of the hits of the ’70s and ’80s happen. Guys like guitarist Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and today’s birthday boy – Waddy Wachtel. We wish the talented guitarist/producer a happy 76th today.

Waddell Wachtel was born in New York City and learned guitar by age nine. Impressive, especially considering he’s left-handed but learned to play the conventional, right-handed way. By his high school years he was beginning to write songs and started his first band, which eventually became popular as a bar band in the city and Connecticut in the mid-’60s. But his big break came when he moved to the West Coast in 1968, soon finding some work doing a bit of session playing for The Cowsills. From there he met the incredibly talented and successful burgeoning crowd of L.A. soft rock stars in the making. “I have been very lucky,” he told the L.A. Times recently. “It’s been an incredible ride. Los Angeles was such an open, creative place then. It was an amazing time to be here. I was playing with Linda Ronstadt, then James Taylor. I met Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham…”

And playing on their records. Indeed, his idea of playing guitar as “a counter-point – providing something to catch your ear within the song when the singing leaves off,” won him big fans among his friends. He played on the Buckingham Nicks album that led to them getting recruited by Fleetwood Mac, then added a few licks to that band’s 1975 breakthrough. No doubt through them he met their one-time roommate, Warren Zevon, and helped him write his smash hit “Werewolves of London” and playing on his Excitable Boy album. Around the same time he began working with Jackson Browne periodically and Linda Ronstadt regularly, being her guitarist of choice on albums like Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams and Living in the USA. His heavy workload continued into the ’80s, playing on Stevie Nicks first couple of solo records, including songs like “Leather and Lace” and “Stand Back”, playing on Steve Perry’s solo hit “Oh Sherrie” and joining a side-project band of Keith Richards, The X-pensive Winos. And when Australian new wavers The Church came to town, Waddy got the call to co-produce Starfish, the album that made them a hit on this side of the Pacific. In the past decade when Taylor Swift played the Grammys and Stevie Nicks got inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was Waddy behind them with that old Gibson. Add in credits on guitar and writing with artists as varied as Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Feargal Sharkey and Colin James and you begin to get the idea – Waddy’s one of rock’s most important “invisible men.” Or as his hometown newspaper dubs him, “a sideman without peer.”

These days Wachtel still does some session work (for instance he was the main guitarist on Susanna Hoffs’ new album, The Deep End which we reviewed recently) and from time to time appears in a rather impromptu club band called The Immediate Family, usually with fellow session stars Kunkel and Kortchmar. Likely playing an old guitar. He once said a 1964 Fender Stratocaster was the newest instrument he owned! But if you want to try to duplicate

his sound, Gibson would be happy to help you. They offer a Waddy Wachtel model based on an old one Steven Stills once gave him.

May 23 – Waite Was Pretty Musical In His Youth

As a youth, he was pretty musical! Remembering the lad who hit the charts soon after he hit his teen years – Freddie Waite Jr. of Musical Youth. He was born this day in 1967.

Waite and his younger Patrick grew up in a musical home in England, with his dad having been a well-liked reggae musician back in Jamaica as a member of The Techniques. Senior had a buddy who also had two sons about the same age who were musically-inclined, Kelvin and Michael Grant. He decided to put them together into a young reggae act, Initially he sang, but by the time they were getting a few gigs around Birmingham and were invited onto the John Peel radio show, he thought it would be much better to have a singer around the kids’ age instead of a middle-aged man, so the lads recruited another schoolmate, Dennis Seaton (born in ’67 like Junior) to be the main vocalist though they all added some backing vocals and Freddie, their drummer was the most prominent of those.

The Peel Session got them noticed by MCA who quickly signed them. They put out their debut album, The Youth Of Today, in 1982 (when some of the kids were only just 13). The result was a dozen-song, upbeat album that fit the times, with Bob Marley’s legend and popularity growing wildly after his death the year before. Eleven of the songs were written by the band, Freddie Jr. more than the others… he wrote three of them by himself and was listed as the primary writer on three more including the title track, which was a hit in the UK. MCA wanted something more instantly-catchy for a single though, and they set about doing a cover of a Jamaican hit, “Pass the Kouchie” by Mighty Diamonds. The song had the right sound, but not the right lyrics as “kouchie” was Jamaican slang for a hash pipe…not quite what the label would want to be presenting a bunch of almost pre-pubescent kids to the world singing about. So they changed to another kind of pot, “Dutchie”, slang for a big cooking pot, and references to marijuana (“herb”) in the original lyrics were switched to be about food.

Pass the Dutchie”, complete with Roadrunner “Beep Beep”, was instantly distinctive and different from the rest of mainstream radio fare, and the early-’80s were a perfect time for “different.” The song raced to #1 in their UK, as well as Canada, Ireland, New Zealand (where it would end up in the top 10 for the whole year) and some other lands; it made #10 in the U.S. The title track and “Never Gonna Give You Up” from the album were also top 20 hits at home for them and the album pushed to gold there, and platinum in Canada. “Pass the Dutchie” ended up selling a lofty five million copies around the world and made them the very first Black artist to be played on MTV. Oddly, the first individual Black artist on that channel was Donna Summer, with whom they worked in ’83, doing a TV concert with her and appearing on her single “Unconditional Love.”

However, the group was seen as a bit of a novelty act and like most such ones, they didn’t stick around for long. Their follow-up album Different Style failed to chart even in Britain, and Seaton quit the band in 1985, causing it to break up. A planned reunion in the ’90s was canceled due to Peter Waite’s death in 1993; eventually they did get together again but only as a duo.

As for Freddie Jr., it wasn’t a happy story. The kid the Birmingham Mail described as “the best drummer in the world – for his age” had what the band described as a “nervous breakdown” shortly after they broke up and predicted he’d never be able to return. They were right it would seem, the same newspaper reported he had severe schizophrenia and sadly, he died last year in a mental hospital. He was 55.No longer a youth, but perhaps still a bit musical according to reports.

May 22 – Moz’s Day, Remembering Rourke

Happy 64th birthday to rock’s great mopester contrarian – Morrissey! Love him or hate him, one has to say Steven Morrissey is a colorful and memorable character.

Although he did poorly in school, his librarian mother instilled a love of reading in him and he spent much of his youth reading (he particularly loved Oscar Wilde) and listening to pop music of the likes of T-Rex, Dusty Springfield and Roxy Music. “I lost myself in music at a very early age, ” he says. When his first band, the Nosebleeds, with Billy Duffy (later of the Cult) didn’t pan out, he spent a few years writing about music, getting a gig with the Record Mirror and penning a book on James Dean on the side. Then came the Smiths, the seminal Britpop band of the ’80s.

As rock historian Alan Cross says, before The Smiths, bands eschewing synthesizers “seemed to be suffering from an overdose of testosterone.” The Smiths changed that and Morrissey still is proud of the music, although chances of a reunion are slim to, now probably zero. Morrissey sand and penned the lyrics to their classic alt-rock anthems like “How Soon Is Now?” and “Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This Before” while guitarist Johnny Marr usually composed the tunes. Throwing a monkey wrench in the band’s reunion chances, drummer Mike Joyce sued him over royalties he said were due him and won; Morrissey counter-sued and lost and said “the Smiths were a beautiful thing and Johnny left it and Mike destroyed it.” 

Since then, he’s put out 13 solo albums, three of which hit #1 in the UK, the most recent being 2020’s I Am Not A Dog On A Chain, with songs like the single “Love is on Its Way Out” . While lacking a #1 hit, he’s had 21 solo top 20 singles in his homeland, with memorable titles such as “The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get”, “Novemeber Spawned A Monster” and “I Have Forgiven Jesus.” A man of contrasts, while private and “quintessentially English”, Morrissey always seemed embroiled in controversy with his anti-monarchy (on Queen Elizabeth’s diamond jubilee, “a celebration of what- 60 years of dictatorship!”… one would imagine he wasn’t on the guest list for King Charles coronation!), animal rights – he’s a vegan and typically won’t play shows in places selling burgers -, and sexuality. He says he doesn’t recognize terms like “heterosexual” or “homosexual” and is “humasexual– attracted to humans,” although he adds “not many!”.

He calls out the decadent star lifestyle but relocated to L.A. years ago and in the words of his biographer, Mark Simpson, he is “ the nicest man who says the nastiest things about other people.” Remarkably, a glimpse of the “nicest man” came out this week because sadly, any mention of The Smiths right now wouldn’t be complete without noting the sad death of bassist Andy Rourke three days ago. Rourke passed away from cancer at age 59. He had been an integral part of The Smiths sound, Bass Player magazine, for instance ranked his bass-work on the band’s very first single, “This Charming Man” as the 56th greatest bass performance ever. Rourke had worked with Morrissey early on in the post-Smiths era, but that fell apart when like Mike Joyce, Andy sued over what he felt was a shorting in his royalties by “Moz”.  They settled out of court, but not on good terms. Ironically, he and Marr kept in touch and played together for the first time post-Smiths at a cancer benefit concert in Manchester in 2006. He’d moved to New York City and married; his last performance was once again behind Johnny Marr in that city last year. His death came as a shock to most of the music community…which is where the uncharacteristically kind Morrissey showed up. He said of his ex-bandmate, “I just hope whereever Andy has gone to, he’s OK…He will never die as long as his music is heard. He didn’t know his own power and nothing he played had been played by someone else. He was also very, very funny and very happy,” adding “I guess at the end of it all, we hope to feel that we were valued. Andy need not worry about that.” Words to live by from an older and seemingly wiser Stephen Patrick Morrissey.

May 16 – Nicky Gave Us Mickey

Without him, Britain’s Glam movement wouldn’t have been nearly as “glam”, and people might not have been quite as good to Tina Turner. But he’s hardly a household name, except perhaps in his Nashville home, where people will be wishing Nicky Chinn a happy 78th birthday!

Chinn was born and raised in London, and apparently was a talented musical mind early on. He was writing movie score music by the late-’60s when he met Mike Chapman, a waiter at an establishment he hung out in! They found they clicked on several levels and could write some pretty catchy tunes. He says “we were best friends and musically we saw things exactly the same way.” They soon connected with The Sweet, and became their writers of choice and even record producers through their hey day which included 13 top 20 singles through the ’70s in the UK, including ones like “Wee Willie”, Blockbuster” and their North American breakthrough, “Ballroom Blitz.” That happens to be the record Chinn says is his favorite of all the ones he’s written. “It’s got everything,” he says, “it’s got drama, it’s got a wonderful vocal performance, wonderful performance by the band.”

Although the almost “in-house” writing team for The Sweet, other acts called on Chapman and Chinn as well, including Exile, for whom they wrote “Kiss You All Over” and Suzi Quatro, for whom they wrote several hits including the one which was her North American break, “Stumblin’ In.” Although the output of hits slowed in the ’80s,

Chinn still scored several biggies, including “Heart and Soul”, originally recorded by Exile but made a hit by Huey Lewis, Tina Turner’s “Better Be Good To Me”, and one-hit wonder Toni Basil’s one hit – “Mickey.” He says that’s the only hit he’s written that perhaps surprised him. “It wasn’t a pop era in America and I didn’t think radio would play it,” he admits, noting Basil was a “completely unknown artist” at the time. Surprise or not, it hit #1 in the States, Canada and Australia.

Of late, Chinn’s written some country music as well as Selena Gomez’s 2010 hit “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow.” While some songwriters work randomly, or wait for divine inspiration, Chinn says he had a formula for songs. “I always start with the title. I go in (to a recording session) with a list of titles and say ‘which ones do you like?’ … (it) gives you a theme, an idea where you’re going, whether it’s up-tempo or a ballad.”

So why hasn’t the three-time Ivor Novello winner ever found any titles he liked and record them himself? “I can explain it very easily. I can’t sing!” When you can write like Nicky, that’s quite OK.

May 11 – Taylor The Motown Outlier

Motown had an impressive roster of musical greats in the ’60s – singers, writers, producers. However, not many of them were White Canadians who started singing country! We remember the one that did fit that description. R. Dean Taylor would have turned 84 today.

Richard Dean Taylor was born in Toronto and apparently gravitated towards music at an early age. He was singing country music around Ontario as a teen, however he’d turned his attention more to early rock by the time he signed to a local label in 1961. His first domestic single, “At the High School Dance” may be noteworthy for one thing… Pete Traynor. The guy who played bass on the record would go on to create the famous Traynor Amps company.

Although he had minor success back then in his hometown, he decided to move to Detroit to further his career around 1963. As luck would have it, he’d soon run into the great team of Holland/Dozier/Holland who convinced Berry Gordy at Motown to sign the pale northerner. He co-wrote his first single there, “Let’s Go Somewhere” with Brian Holland of that writing team, but it only got noticed back in Toronto and one or two American cities. He said he was friends with the famous writing trio and they helped him refine his work – “the difference between a hit and a good song can be a very slight thing.”  For a few years the label concentrated on having him writing, and he wrote several tracks recorded by the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye ,soon being teamed with three others – Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards and Frank Wilson – in a little co-operative termed “The Clan” by the label. (Although it all seems utterly politically incorrect these days, it’s likely the nickname was a variation on ‘Klan” as three of those four were White, which made them really stand out at the Motown offices). After Holland/Dozier/Holland got in a dispute and left Motown, The Clan gained prominence there, notably writing the lyrically-downbeat hits “Love Child” and “I’m Living In Shame” for The Supremes.

Around that time in the late-’60s, Taylor also got back behind the mic himself, this time with Motown-owned Rare Earth Records, putting out a number of singles, including “Taos, New Mexico” , another Toronto hit and two international successes. “Gotta See Jane”, which he wrote one rainy night driving back to Toronto (one would guess to see his future-wife Janee) from Detroit, became a top 20 hit in Canada and the UK. That happened after being re-released after his memorable “Indiana Wants Me” in 1970. That song about a lovelorn fugitive on the run got to #2 in Canada and the UK and at #5 in the U.S. became the first million-selling single for Motown by a White artist. He said he wrote that one after watching the movie Bonnie and Clyde, perhaps not surprising as his wife said he was a passionate fan of Westerns and similar movies.  The song with a police siren opening it was issued for radio in two formats, with and without the siren, as California (and some other locales) wouldn’t allow it to be played “as is” because they worried drivers would worry when hearing it on the radio, thinking they were being chased! As the Toronto Star put it, Taylor was “an outlier” at Motown, as “he was shy, leaned into unconventional melodies and offbeat storylines” besides the obvious color difference, for awhile it worked well for both him and the company.

Although Taylor’s career wound down rapidly in the ’70s, he ran his own record company for awhile, had a recording studio at home and had a resurgence in popularity as a live performer in Britain in the ’90s when the “northern soul” movement was strong.

Sadly he died last year at age 82, after a long battle with Covid and complications from it, leaving behind Janee after 52 years of marriage. Also sad, there is “nary a mention” of him at the Motown Museum, leading allmusic to call him “one of the most under-rated acts ever to record (for) Motown.”

May 6 – His Fans Might See Him As A Giant

He may not be a giant in the business, but he’s had quite a career. Happy birthday, John Flansburgh! The They Might Be Giants main man (the one with glasses in the picture) turns 63 today.

Flansburgh and the other half of that band, John Linnell, grew up together in Massachusetts, and wrote some songs together as teens, but didn’t get together in a band until they both moved to New York City after school in 1982. Fittingly quirky for a band that’s been defined as that more than anything else, their first show was a Sandanista rally in New York in ’82, when they played as El Grupo De Rock and Roll. They changed their name to They Might Be Giants, taking their name from a George C. Scott movie, and eventually signed a small record deal in 1986, when they put out their debut. Flansburgh typically plays guitar and bass, while Linnell does keyboards and at times horns and accordions, with them sharing the vocals. More recently they’ve added a three man backing section. By the end of the decade, they’d grown bigger and scored a deal with Elektra Records, resulting in their third album, Flood, which went platinum in the U.S. with reviews noting they were a “quirky cult band” (Chicago Tribune) and “”quirky artiness…unabashed geekiness” (allmusic.) The album gave us their two songs nearest hit singles, “Birdhouse in your Soul”, a British top 10 hit and a major hit on North American alt rock charts, and the yes, quirky, “Istanbul not Constantinople”. As always, fun, odd lyrics were the telltale signs, making comparisons to Canada’s Barenaked Ladies back then seem apt. A comparison that is heightened for two more reasons – kids and TV.

Like the BNL, They May Be Giants may have been heard more on TV than radio through the years through doing the theme song to a popular sitcom. For the Giants, that was Malcolm in the Middle, and the song “Boss of Me”, which was a top 30 hit in the UK and won them a Grammy at home. And just like the fellows to the north, after awhile They Might Be Giants began a “side project” doing kids records. Their first such album, NO!, in 2002, went to #1 on U.S. Childrens’ charts. Yeah, we didn’t know they had a chart for kids records either! Since then they’ve done three more to the delight of preschoolers everywhere, and did music for the TV show Blue’s Clues.

Flansburgh said it happened rather randomly. “We had no ambitions to get into the world of children’s music. We were offered a side deal (to do such an album)” and he liked “breaking free of that gravitational pull of rock critics and radio programmers.” Besides he was tiring of “the write/record/tour cycle” that had been their life for a decade and a half.

The band is still active – they in fact have quite an American tour lined up this summer, which has apparently sold out in all venues –   and has recorded 23 studio albums to date. Where does he find the energy? “I believe it can be found at the bottom of a very large cup of coffee,” he told NBC.

Flansburgh will presumably be celebrating his day with his wife Robin Goldwasser, a writer who sometimes sings as well, occasionally performing with her husband’s band.

May 5 – Liverpool Lad Loved Still At 64

Happy 64th birthday to the Head Bunnyman – Ian Mcculloch! It seems you’re never far away from a strikingly-catchy tune or memorable quote when Ian’s around.

Although he got his musical start in Liverpool around the time punk was breaking big, he drew more from classic rock and glam outfits like the Doors, Bowie and Roxy Music than his contemporaries, something heard both with his first band, Critical Three (with Julian Cope, with whom he’s had a long rivalry) and more importantly with Echo & the Bunnymen, the band he founded in 1978 and is still going, despite a few interruptions along the way. He certainly saw himself and the band as being different from their “new wave” peers; he recently described his contemporaries as “the so-called alternative others, who to me just merged together into one foggy fogginess of crap.” Which perhaps gives an indictation of why while the band have earned a loyal following and critical raves but somehow missed the major, international success some of their similar-looking colleagues found in the ’80s.Which isn’t to say they haven’t had some taste of success; in fact they scored three gold albums at home in Britain and have landed 13 top 40 singles there, including “The Game”, “Bring on the Dancing Horses” and the critically-acclaimed “The Killing Moon.

As Mcculloch told Cream in 2014, “our singles weren’t your standard pop; they had enough melody to show people that this could be better pop or rock…than the mass-appeal stuff.” Never one to sugar-coat his words, he’s said of Bono “had he been in Liverpool he’d have been laughed out of the place…we know a fake when we see one,” whereas his Ocean Rain album he declared “greatest album ever made.” The band will be playing four shows in the UK this September focusing on the album, of which he says “they were written with a destiny in mind. One of our own making…it came from the future, I think.” Futuristic or not, the songs do sound good still, as is worthy of a record both allmusic and Record Collector grade with perfect scores. In the meantime, they have a handful of shows in the States this month and will be at the Isle of Wight Festival in June.

As easy with his self-congratulations and slams of acts he doesn’t like, Ian will dole out the compliments too; he calls Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” “the perfect lyric with the perfect melody” and David Bowie “the greatest solo artist of the 20th Century.” Among those lauding McCulloch, Chris Martin of Coldplay who calls him both a “mentor” and an “influence” on his band’s sound, and A-ha who had him join them for their 2017 MTV Unplugged performance. (No, I had no idea that was still going either!)

April 27 – Drum God? Who Are We To Argue With Modern Drummer?

We’ve previously talked of perhaps the greatest session drummer of all-time, Hal Blaine of the informal “Wrecking Crew” in L.A. He played on thousands of hits in the ’60s and ’70s and was one of the most respected men in the biz. If anyone could have been said to take over the “studio king” crown from Blaine, it would be today’s birthday boy, Jim Keltner. Keltner turns 81 today…but don’t bet against him doing a little jam behind the kit nonetheless! How else would a drummer who was friends with three out of four Beatles and has worked with everyone from the Rolling Stones to Diana Kraal celebrate?

Jim was born in Tulsa but like so many other mid-century musicians, moved to California as soon as he had a chance. Unlike some, his passion as a youth was jazz music, but by the time he started being paid to play, jazz wasn’t that big anymore. Rock and pop were the way to go, so there went Keltner. His first session was in 1965 for Gary Lewis & the Playboys. Soon after that he joined a psychedelic rock band, the MC Squared. Although they got to play on the short-lived Playboy After Dark TV show, their career didn’t amount to very much. So, wisely it would seem, he turned his attention to being a session drummer for better-established artists.

Luckily for him, he was friends with fellow Oklahoman Leon Russell. Russell opened a few doors for Jim… but a friend like that will only get you in for a coffee. It was clearly Jim’s talent that kept him there and opening more.

He got on Joe Cocker’s 1970 tour, and that along with his friendship with Russell drew George Harrison’s attention. Harrison brought him in for the Concert for Bangladesh, in which he split drum duties with another pretty good one – Ringo Starr! He did well enough that Harrison would call on him again and again, including on the Living in the Material World album and even playing the judge in a video he made for “This Song” and later when Harrison became a Traveling Wilbury. Keltner played on a number of their songs under the pseudonym Buster Sidebury.

Apparently Ringo took note too, because he used Keltner on his self-titled album (the biggest of his career) and hired him for the All Starr Band at times. And not to be left out, John Lennon also used Keltner on records including Walls & Bridges and his #1 hit song “Whatever Gets You Through the Night.”

All that attention from Beatles couldn’t help but increase his profile and it seemed like he showed up on the Who’s Who of California musicians and Cali-made records in the ’70s. Carly Simon, Bob Dylan (including “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”, a song for which he remembers “the first time I actually cried while playing”), Barbra Streisand, Canadian folkies Valdy and Bruce Cockburn, the Buckingham Nicks album that got those two into Fleetwood Mac, Bill Withers, five Joe Cocker ones, Steely Dan (he added some percussion via garbage can lid to “Josie”) even Tom Petty & the Hearbreakers Damn the Torpedoes. That continued into the ’80s, with him working on albums by the likes of Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Crowded House, Marshall Crenshaw, Roy Orbison, the aforementioned Wilburys, the Beach Boys big “comeback” and more. The ’90s meant working with Melissa Etheridge, Indigo Girls, Neil Young and touring with him and later a re-formed CSNY. In 2016, he helped aging Charlie Watts along some on the Rolling Stones Blue & Lonesome. To this day he’s kept himself busy, in 2020 (at age 78) he did the percussion for a Japanese manga movie!

Despite his low-profile, he’s been noticed by people in the know. Even Forbes magazine mentioned him, calling him “one of the best studio drummers in the world.” Rolling Stone had him at #38 on their list of greatest drummers of all-time, noting he’d been on literally “thousands of records”, making it seem easy with his “easy-going feel and jazz schooled subtlety” to which he replied “there’s so many different ways to play the drums, just like guitar.” Modern Drummer also have him on their list of the best, calling him one of the “greats” – “inarguably a true studio drum god” working with “simple but magical performances” and occasionally using “kitchen utensils”. Their summary of him is a perfect way to finish here – “”a rare music legend who is as vital today as when he first made his mark.”