Vol. 1 no. 5
AW: When did you first hear live jazz?
BE: Pretty late; there wasn't any live jazz to hear in Galt. My arrival into jazz was very gradual. It was through my own playing; the rock music of the day, high school dances, and then I started getting more into Blues and R + B. I can remember very clearly the order of events: the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, all the far out bands of the day. You know, Hendrix, the Cream. Rock drummers back then were a lot more interesting. They were expected to play a lot more sophisticated rhythms than a backbeat. Their time usually wasn't the greatest, but they had a feel and personality to their playing. I don't care what anybody says, as far as I'm concerned Charlie Watts was the best possible drummer for the Stones and Ringo Starr was the best possible drummer for the Beatles. I learned things as a kid from both of them through their recordings. It's not about technique. I really got into James Brown after making a trip with a friend to hear a matinee performance at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. That concert killed me. We had seats in front of the stage in about the fifth row. He had 3 drummers in rotation, 2 playing together at all times for about 4 hours without a break. Then I heard other things. Al Henderson bought a couple of blues records around the time we were in grade 11, and I got into the blues big time. I started collecting records by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, both of the Sonny Boy Williamsons, Elmore James, Charley Patton, Leadbelly, and all the others. Once I got to Waterloo University some years later I started a Jazz & Blues Club and became friends with the guy booking the big concerts. Man, we had Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton, Buddy Guy, Mississipi Fred McDowell all on one concert!
The first jazz record I heard, other than the stuff I had at home, and maybe Dave Brubeck's "Time Out" album, I heard one night when I was trying to pick up this blues station on the radio. The station was in Chicago, and there was a storm or something, and where the station was supposed to be, another station was coming in from Kitchener. They were playing the Jazz at Massey Hall recording. I'd never heard that before, and that really pinched a nerve. I remember at that point I was kind of sick of everything I had been doing, and I just decided, "I'm going to figure out how to do that!" I remember the announcer saying, "That was Max Roach on drums..." and I didn't know who Max Roach was.
Shortly after that I heard a trio from Kitchener who played really well. I'm not one of those guys who can claim to have heard Trane's band. I was only three years old when Charlie Parker died
AW: When did you start working professionally?
BE: It depends on what you mean by professionally. If you mean playing gigs for money, then that started when I was twelve. I played somebody's graduation in Sheffield, Ontario. In terms of saying, "This is what I do for a living," that was a very conscious decision and I moved to Toronto to act upon that. I'd gone to the University of Waterloo and had taken ecology and urban planning, and picked up a B.A. in that, but by the time I got to my final year, I was playing so much around that area, because that's how I put myself through school. I was starting to hear a few jazz records by then, and I was already thinking, "I don't think urban planning is the way to go.."
After I got out of University, I didn't really know what was happening. I was playing some dance gigs, and I raised some more money by working for a year at the Eureka vacuum factory. That was a great gig, far as a factory gig can go, because I was the 'reject' man. It was a self-created job; the bass player in the dance band, who was much older than I, was one of the head salesmen there. He decided to help me get a gig, but they didn't have any positions open. I saw that they didn't need anyone on the assembly line, or in shipping, but over at the end of this plant there was this mountain of bizarre looking multi colored hoses and things. Every time there was a part that didn't fit or work, it got thrown into a barrel, and then once a week someone would pick this stuff up and take it to the end of the room and heave it onto this mountain of rejected parts.
The manager said, "Look, we don't really need anybody but if you can figure out a way to solve this problem..."
I said, "Well, give me a set of tools, and I'll strip all the parts off these things, and we can put the good parts back, and you can save a fortune." So that's what I did; I didn't like the idea of working on an assembly line. I was happy to be on my own, a kind of twisted individual taking wheels off vacuum cleaners (laughs) No one bugs you. I made some hip vacuum cleaners for friends that you could never buy. They had industrial motors, with better wheels, and a green bottom with a pink top, all mismatched stuff, but happening vacuum cleaners. I actually came up with one model that they were thinking of manufacturing.
That went on for a year, and then I remember deciding, it's time to do something else. I'd heard about this jazz program at York University. My friend (bassist) Al Henderson went down there during my vacuum cleaner year, and he seemed to think it was pretty happening. It was small and new and exciting, so I went the next year. I remember taking a packing slip, I had this little ceremony on my last day at Eureka, and I put ten dollars and stuck it on the outside of my bass drum case, and made this pact with myself that the ten dollars was there. I'm off on this adventure, and if I get really stuck somewhere, I can always at least have a hamburger. No matter what goes wrong, I'll always have at least ten dollars.
This seemed very symbolic to me, and the goddamned thing stayed on there for about two years. Finally I needed it one day, and I thought, this is the big moment, and I tore the packing slip open and it wasn't there. Somebody had ripped it off; it was probably gone within hours of me putting it in there.
That was 1973; I moved to Toronto with the idea of studying music formally, and being here where I suspected there were players I could hang out with and learn from. Al and I grew up together, he was also from Galt, and we have played together off and on all our lives, both musically and as kids playing together too.
I met a lot of guys here some of whom I still hang out with now: Lorne Lofsky, Frank Falco, Kieran Overs, Mark Eisenmann, Del Dako. There were about ten of us at York. It's interesting that most of the guys ended up becoming players.
Toronto was fantastic; Claude Ranger was here, Terry Clarke was here, Bob McClaren, Stan Perry, Jerry Fuller and many others. I didn't hear Marty Morrell until later. It was a great period for music here and also personally for me as well, because I didn't have any money, but I was here. The person who had started the program at York, John Gittins, invited me to live at his house, and I lived in his basement. The idea was that I was going to soundproof his rec room while he was away for the summer, and I could live there. He had a set of drums and a piano, a stereo and Al Henderson was there for a while as well. I'd spend all day listening to John's fantastic record collection, and then at night I'd go downtown to Bourbon Street, sometimes to George's and I'd hear Claude playing with somebody, and I'd think "that's the way the drums are meant to be played," and then the next night I'd go down and hear Terry Clarke, and I'd hear something completely different, and I'd think, "Oh, man, I'd love to be able to play like that," and then another night I'd hear Jerry and he'd be just laying it down, simple and perfect, and I'd think, that's how you're supposed to play. There was all this stuff going down then. I must say, though, that I don't think I've heard a drummer in this country that is more significant than Claude. It seems as though whenever you get somebody that is that talented and creative, there are other aspects in life that can get in the way of the music. I don't care about that stuff, all I care about is that I can remember at least half a dozen occasions hearing him play so brilliantly that it remains a goal for me, something I think about all the time. Sometimes I'll hear a tape of my playing, and I'll think, you know, it's not bad, but it's nowhere near what Claude was doing twenty years ago, not even close. It's nice because it gives you something to shoot for; you need that.