TEN QUESTIONS WITH DENNY CARMASSI
BY JOHN WARDLAW
JW Was there any particular drummer that influenced you more than any other to want to play the instrument?
DC I would have to say my dad. He played the drums, his brother played the drums, my brother plays the drums. So I come from a family of drummers. Some of my earliest memories as a child are of my dad rehearsing his band in our kitchen. He had a small group (5-6 guys) and they played big band arrangements of standards.These guys all worked regular jobs during the week and played on the weekends. He used to let me sit in when I was a kid. I guess I saw him play more than anyone at an early age.
He also hipped me to some pretty cool drummers. We always watched Buddy Rich when he was on T.V. He took me to see an absolute bitch of a show drummer named Jimmy Vincent who played with Louie Prima. I think when I saw that I thought, " that's what I would like to do." He also had a Ray Charles
"Live at the Newport Jazz Festival" album that I used to listen to and practice with.
I think the drummers name was Richard Goldberg.
I was also influenced a lot by what I heard on the radio. This was mid-50's, so I heard drummers like Earl Palmer (Little Richard, Fats Domino, Eddie Cochran, anything with a wicked groove on it was probably Earl) D.J. Fontana (Elvis) just lay'n it down. Then in the late 50's early 60's it was Al Jackson Jr., who played with Booker T. and did all the Stax Volt stuff. I think I actually learned to play the drums from listening to and playing along with the Booker T. and the M.G.'s "Green Onions" album. I'm a firm believer in what goes in your ears, comes out your hands. Then I guess the whole "British Invasion" thing. But, we had the baddest drummer of that era right here in our own back yard, and that was Dino Danelli of the Rascals. He blew all those English cats away. Then the Tamala Motown records with Bennie Benjamin. James Brown with Clyde Stubblefield and Jabo Starks. Then I would have to say Cream with Ginger Baker, Jimi Hendrix with Mitch Mitchell and Led Zeppelin with John Bonham. I have to mention Tony Williams. Not that I could even remotely begin to grasp his style and facility behind the drum set. He was deep. But he was such an inspiration with the fire and command he had of the instrument. I went to see him every chance I got.
I saw him play in a little club in Oakland about a month before he died.
My brother and I sat two feet away from him for two sets. He was the master.
So, I guess my dad got me started, but I was influenced by many drummers. And like any self-respecting musician, I stole from the best.
JW Prior to the formation of Montrose what kind of projects were you involved in?
DC Just really local Bay Area stuff. I started right out of highschool playing topless clubs in San Francisco. Top 40. Learning my craft. I was in a band called "Sweet Linda Divine " that went to New York, recorded one album on Columbia, produced by Al Kooper. It broke up soon after that. Then it was just one local band after another. Trying to get signed, trying to get a break. The usual stuff.
JW As an original member of Montrose do you feel there was any special chemistry with the original line up and if so, how did this change as the line ups changed?
DC Absolutely, there was definately a special chemistry between the four of us. Unfortunately, when you are 25 yrs. old you don't realize this. There is a certain bonding that we went through together. To this day, I'm still friends with Sam and Ronnie. After the line up started to change, it just wasn't the same.
They were a great bunch of guys and they all brought something to the table in they're own way, but the chemistry was shot.
JW What was it like to have the original line up of Montrose together in the studio during the sessions for Sammy Hagars "Marching to Mars?
DC It was a lot of fun. I hadn't laughed that hard in years. Tears were rolling down my cheeks. It was funny how each guy would remember certain things. The playing was fun too. I don't know if Ronnie has ever played this for you, but we were checking sounds before we started to cut a track. I was checking the drums and just for a laugh I started to play the drum intro to "Rock Candy". Well everybody jumps in and we play the tune top to bottom. First time in 25 years! Luckily Mike Clink ran a DAT. It was pretty cool. We each got a copy of it and I think Sam ended up using it on the flip side of one of his Japanese singles.
JW You joined Gamma for the Gamma 2 and Gamma 3 albums. As a listener I have always felt that Gamma 2 has a harder rock sound and Gamm3 a more synthesized techno sound. How did the varied styles affect what you brought to the music?
DC Well, I didn't conciously alter what I would naturally play. As a drummer you can only interpret the music that you are presented. But I remember we were very curious about this electronic music that we were hearing from Europe. Bands like Ultra Vox, Alan Parsons Project, Ideal. We were stretching, searching for maybe a new sound. We had Mitchell in the band and we were trying to peek behind the curtains, and rearrange the furniture a bit. I thought it was really an exciting time. I didn't use an electronic kit because they really didn't exist back then. They were just starting to come out in Europe when we went over on the Foreigner tour. I tried to contact Simmons when we got to London, but they were a fledgling company back then. But, when I went back to London with Heart a couple of months later, I was able to make contact with them and I was able to secure one of the first Simmons electronic drum kits to come into this country. I used them on the Heart "Passionworks" album.
JW Hearing about Gamma 4 came as an unexpected surprise to many fans. Was there anything special about having that lineup back together again and without the interference of a record label?
DC For me, it was a chance to play with Ronnie again. I always loved playing with him. There are certain people you "get off" playing with. I've played with many guitar players over the years, some with big reputations, and Ronnie stands out as one of the best. Ronnie found me playing in a little club in Northern California. I'll always have a sense of gratitude towards him. If I can help out in any way, I'll be there. It's worth it just for the laughs. Seeing Glenn and Davey was a gas too. Too bad Mitchell wasn't able to make it. I don't remember much record company interference. Ronnie probably had to deal with that more than any of us. But that's the beauty of an internet record, you can do whatever you want. The record was a lot of fun to make. Hopefully that fun got caught on tape.
JW In the 1980's thru the early 90's you were a member of Heart. This was during the 80's big glamour rock days. In a recent VH1 Behind the Music, Ann and Nancy Wilson talked about how pressure from the lable regarding the bands appearance became almost more inportant than the music itself. How did the pressure from the lable to have the band Look a certain way affect your relationships and performances with the band?
DC The only pressure from Capitol records was to have good songs. Which meant using outside songwriters. There was never any pressure from Capitol about the way we looked. We worked with clothes designers, but we ultimately wore what we wanted. Image was always important to Heart. They were wearing spandex and low cut blouses long before I joined the band. The Look being more important than the music? That simpley isn't true. That's all part of the "spin" that was put on the VH1 piece. All anyone ever wanted was a good, healthy looking duo up front. But a lifestyle of excess didn't further that goal. Did that affect the relationships and performances with the band. Absolutely.
JW Having done a lot of studio work and touring with such bands as Montrose, Sammy Hagar, Gamma and Heart, do you have a preference to working on music in the studio, or getting out on the road and playing live? And how is playing a small venue different from playing to very large audiences?
DC I love both senarios really. Playing live is always a challange. Every night is different. It's risk and reward, with peaks and valleys. The trick is consistency. Mentally you have to be sharp, and extremely focused. It's funny how you can be really sick, play a two hour show, and that's the best you've felt all day. Of course, then you just totally collapse. But the older I get, my appetite for the road becomes less and less. I was on the road almost non-stop for the better part of 20 years. I have a family and it's nice to see my kids grow up.
I love the creative part of being in the studio. Watching an idea take on a life of it's own is just an absolute thrill. What I love is when you get "the take." There is something magical about how that gets on to a piece of recording tape. To be a part of that process, I find to be almost addicting.
At the end of the day it can be extremely satisfying.
Small venues are a lot of fun. I play a lot of those types of gigs with David Coverdale, in Europe and Japan. 3 to 5 thousand seaters. Swing'n! The accoustics are usually very good. The audience is more intimate. You can hear well on stage. Good eye contact with the other players. It makes for a more pleasurable experience for everyone involved, musicians and audience.
Large venues like arenas and stadiums can be just the opposite. You better have your shit together when you hit that stage, because a lot of things can go wrong. Sometimes it is difficult to hear. So a lot of times the spontaneity goes out the window and you end up playing parts.
It can become more of a show and less of a concert.
JW Do you have a specific type of drum kit you prefer over others and do you prefer a smaller basic kit or a larger complex kit?
DC I play one of the original Noble & Cooley single ply drum kits that I've had since 1987. These drums were made from one single piece of maple, no plys, no glue except on the seam, steam bent, with a reinforcing ring, like the old Slingerland Radio Kings. They only made a handfull of these drum kits, I'd say less than a dozen. It is an absolutely wonderful instrument.
The sizes are just your standard sizes, 22 or 24 inch bass drums, depending on the sound I'm after on a particular song. 10 & 12 inch ride toms. 13 & 14 inch floor toms. I prefer smaller sized drums. Smaller drums are easier to get in tune and you have better controll over the sound. You are not at the mercy of the room or venue. It's easier to get a smaller drum to sound big, than the other way around.
Having a limited bag of tricks,I prefer a more basic kit, in number of drums, to the more complex set ups.
JW Is there any project or projects you have worked on that you wish more people knew about?
DC I guess it would have to be the Coverdale Page project. It was such a fun record to make with such a great group players. I guess some people know about it though, I have a platinum record hanging up on my wall. It's a shame that band never got to tour the United States, only a tour of Japan. We did some sessions in Miami that someday may see the light of day.
Below is a list of some of the projects that Denny has worked on over the years.
Joe Walsh (The Confessor), Stevie Nicks (Rock a Little), Randy Newman (Faust), Al Stewart, Randy Meisner, 38 Special, Cinderella (Long Cold Winter), Patty Smyth, Ted Nugent (Spirit of the Wild), Whitesnake (Here I Go Again, single version), Derek St. Holmes (St. Paradise), Mitchell Froom (Cafe Flesh), Coverdale Page, David Coverdale and Whitesnake (Restless Heart). I've been working with David Coverdale since 1991. I just played on his new record, as yet untitled, which comes out in August in Europe. Also, the original Michael Schenker Group was Michael, Billy Sheean, myself, and a English singer named Gary Bardon. Sadley, the group never made it into the recording studio, but, there is a Japanese CD of us playing in London in 1979. There may be a few more, but, this is about all I can think of off hand.
Denny also played on Gamma 2, Gamma 3, Gamma 4, and while with Heart he played on "Passionworks", "Heart", " Bad Animals", "Brigade" and "Desire Walks on"