Interview: Clem Burke

Clem Burke is the drummer extraordinaire for Blondie, arguably the most successful of the original punk / New Wave bands. Blondie’s hits include “Heart of Glass”, “Call Me”, “The Tide is High”, “Rapture”, “One Way or Another”, and “Dreaming”. Their 1978 album Parallel Lines is regularly ranked as one of the best albums of all time. Blondie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2006.

Burke has also played drums with The Eurythmics, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend, The Ramones (as “Elvis Ramone”), The Romantics, and many more bands and artists.

This interview was for a preview article for for Blondie’s performance at the Santa Barbara Bowl on 8/7/19. It was done by phone on 7/12/19. (Danielle St. Laurent photo)

Jeff Moehlis: I saw Blondie at the Santa Barbara Bowl two years ago, and I’m glad you’re coming back.

Clem Burke: Yeah, that’s a great venue. I love playing there. I think we played there once or twice before that with Blondie, and I know I played there with The Eurythmics back in the ’80’s – we had a really good gig there as well. I’ve gone up there occasionally to see gigs as well. Buffalo Springfield – I don’t know if you saw that show?

JM: I did see that show. That was good, wasn’t it?

CB: Yeah, I saw the ones in L.A. as well. That was an amazing collection of people in one place at one time. What an amazing band.

JM: Too bad they couldn’t keep the band together.

CB: Yeah, I think Richie Furay was thinking it was going to move forward. Unfortunately my friend Rick [Rosas], the bass player, passed away. He played bass with Neil [Young]. But that was a good band. It was such a classic rock ‘n’ roll band when you think about it, with the three really amazing front-people. That was a great show. The Santa Barbara Bowl is a really good night setting.

JM: When I was at the show two years ago, it seemed like the band was having a great time up onstage. Is it still fun for you to be playing those classic Blondie songs?

CB: Yeah, it is. In fact, it gets more fun as time goes on, it seems like. Also, we did an album a couple of years ago called Pollinator, and that kind of keeps us going as well. We were all really happy with that record, and we’re still continuing to play some songs from the Pollinator record for the new show that we put together for the Elvis [Costello] tour. We just played the other day in Calgary with Billy Idol and Blondie at a festival with about 40,000 people, and we did the show that we’re going to be doing on tour with Elvis, and it seemed to go over really well. It’s a good combination of new and old material, some deeper Blondie cuts and the classic hits as well. Yeah, it is fun. It’s a lot of fun. We’re just like a really good rock ‘n’ roll band.

JM: When I think about Blondie’s catalog, I’m struck by how much diversity in styles that the band explored. How did the band approach that balance of giving people what they expect, but also wanting to push the boundaries and explore new directions?

CB: There’s a lot of influences within the band that assimilates to make the Blondie sound. I think whatever medium of music, say, that we’re approaching, we all have our own spin on it and understanding of what needs to be done while making it sound like Blondie at the same time. I think there’s a big cross-section of Blondie fans. People like the more advanced stuff that we’ve done in the past, but there’s also the class Blondie songs like stuff from Parallel Lines. I think you just have to keep an open mind when you’re creating any kind of new music. Influences can come from a lot of different places. I mean, we’ve said it before – for instance, Bowie and The Beatles, you never really knew what to expect from them, but it always sounded like them at the same time. I think that’s how we carry on. Once we all get our hands on a song, whether it was written by a member of the band or an outside person, once we go into working it out we all add our own little special touch to it.

As far as placating the fans, it’s interesting because a large majority of the fans would just love to hear one Blondie classic song after another in a show. Sometimes we throw a little bit of curveball there, but they always seem to accept it. But you really can tell when people get excited when we play one of the older classic songs. People accept that we’re going to go a little left of center with some of the stuff that we do. The fans accept it.

It’s interesting – when you look at the songs that were hits in America, they’re all what I would call atypical Blondie songs. Like “Heart of Glass”, for instance, which is for all intents and purposes a dance song, a disco song, even though we thought we were experimenting and were influenced by Kraftwerk at the time. I always say how that song was very deep into the Parallel Lines album. It wasn’t like we knew that was the big hit, and were going to make that the first or second song on the record. Then, for instance, “The Time Is High”, which was an adaptation of a reggae song, and “Call Me”, I would that a rock dance song, and then of course you have “Rapture” which is an atypical Blondie song. But all those songs were major successes, and we all kind of felt that we were taking chances on each one of those songs. So I guess the fans did accept those songs back in the day.

The most recent song that was really popular as far as when we got back together was the song “Maria”. I think that’s one that most people would think of as a classic Blondie song, a pop song. But we really haven’t had that much success in the United States with songs like “Picture This” or “Sunday Girl”, songs like that from the Parallel Lines album that were massive hits in the U.K. and around the world, but not in the U.S. Our big song in the U.S. it seems like, if there’s such a thing as rock radio nowadays, is “One Way or Another”. It has that guitar riff in it. We like to confuse people, you know? They don’t know what to expect.

JM: You mentioned Parallel Lines, which is my favorite Blondie album. What are your reflections on that album and how that was a breakthrough for the band?

CB: There were a lot of differences on that album that were not in place on the prior two albums. The one thing that those first three albums have in common is the first two were produced by Richard Gottehrer, who was a great producer but also a songwriter, having written “Night Time” and “My Boyfriend’s Back” and things like that. Richard helped us along with the production of the songs. Then when we had Mike Chapman on the third album, and once again he was a producer who was also a songwriter. You know, he wrote “Ballroom Blitz”, he wrote songs for bubblegum glam bands from the U.K., Suzi Quatro’s “Can the Can” and “48 Crash”, songs by Showaddywaddy, Mud’s “Tiger Feet”, all this crazy stuff. So once again we had a songwriting producer in place, and Mike had a real knack for hit singles.

Also, the band had just come off of a worldwide tour, about a six, seven, eight month international tour, and we had two new members in the band who were Frank Infante and Nigel Harrison, who did the tour with us. So there were a lot of differences in place when we began recording Parallel Lines. It was kind of like a whole new chapter in that regard, too.

And then, of course, we brought in the drum machine to do “Heart of Glass”, and we were experimenting more with synthesizers, and we had Robert Fripp, which seemed so incongruous at the time, someone from the prog rock band King Crimson playing on a so-called New Wave punk rock band’s record. Robert plays on the song “Fade Away and Radiate”. So there were a lot of elements that were working towards the positive, to make that record what it was. It was definitely a departure. I mean, it was a continuation of what we did on the first two albums, but also at the same time it was a departure in a lot of ways.

Richard also kind of came from the school of thought, “Let’s concentrate on two or three songs on the album, then bash the rest of the songs out”, which is kind of what we did. On the first album, for the song “In The Flesh” we spent a lot of time on that, and had contributions from Ellie Greenwich, the singer-songwriter, singing back-up, and did a production with bells and things. The song “X Offender”, we paid more attention to making an homage to the Wall of Sound / Phil Spector. Then on the second album, things like “Denis” and “Presence, Dear”, which were hits in the U.K., we spent more time on those songs, and although there were other great songs we just kind of played them once or twice, recorded it, “OK, that’s good.”

On Parallel Lines, we paid close attention to each song particularly. That was Mike’s way of producing. He was very detailed in the production, and in conducting the band on the studio floor and things like that. He put his stamp on that record in a lot of ways.

When you look at all those extenuating circumstances, it’s obvious why that’s a different record from the two prior ones.

JM: Any Fripp stories that you’re willing to share from when he was hanging out with Blondie?

CB: Did you see King Crimson since they’ve reformed?

JM: Oh yeah.

CB: I saw them in Stockholm last summer. It was great. You know, the one recollection I have, “One Way or Another” really kind of came out of a jam with Robert. I remember we were getting together with Robert in a rehearsal studio. At the time, the only people who were in the studio were myself, Nigel Harrison the bass player, and Frank Infante. We were waiting for others to show up, and then Robert came in. We just started to jam with him. That song “One Way or Another” is credited to Nigel and Debbie [Harry]. But if you think of that guitar riff out of context, that descending pattern kind of is dissonant in the way that latter-day Crimson was. I think he probably came up with that riff based on the fact that Robert was there with us. So his presence in the rehearsal room brought out the beginnings of “One Way or Another”.

We played at CBGB at a benefit for a guy called Johnny Blitz, who was the drummer for the Dead Boys who had a very serious situation happen to him on the Lower East Side, and there was big benefit at CBGB for him. And we played with Robert at CBGB, and we did “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer. That’s one of the songs we did with Robert.

He was very eclectic. I think they were trying to make a film. Debbie, Chris [Stein] and Robert were trying to do a remake of a sci-fi film. I can’t think of the name of it at the moment [JM: sources say Jean-Luc Goddard’s Alphaville].

It was good to be in the presence of Robert. I mean, I was a big King Crimson fan, actually, so it was really kind of cool.

JM: From your perspective, what was the good, the bad, and the ugly about the early CBGB’s punk rock scene?

CB: Well, the good was definitely the sort of synergy that was happening, the energy that was created by the handful of musicians and beatniks and poets and misfits that were hanging around CBGB. It created a tremendous energy that was very insular. It was just a handful of people, like 100 people involved in the early days.

If you look back on it, you can easily make the analogy of that being very much what I would imagine The Cavern was like in the ’60’s with The Beatles. It was kind of a launching pad for a new sort of take on rock ‘n’ roll, really. You know, the interesting thing about the bands from CBGB, the half dozen or so from Mink Deville to Television to the Ramones, they were all quite different, which is very interesting. We were all in that one place, and I think all of those bands were influencing one another at that time as well. Each of their special identities rubbed off on the other musicians.

The bad part of it was that nobody really had any money. But I was a kid. I was, like, 18 years old, and it didn’t really matter [laughs]. Ugly, I don’t know. It was kind of like a boys club early on. It was just a bunch of guys in bands. Things really started to pick up when we realized that there were more women and girls hanging around, and couples on dates and things like that coming to see the bands at CBGB.

But it was all very positive. The owner Hilly Kristal had a really great attitude toward just letting people do their thing. I’ve said this a lot of times before – it was a workshop. We were able to make mistakes in public. I knew lots of great musicians, lots of great drummers, lots of great guitar players, but they would just sit in their bedrooms and practice, but not really get out and play in public. I think the whole CBGB scene was about just kind of being out there in public and getting the feedback from the audiences, and just the creative collaboration of doing it as art, let’s say, doing it in public, and having a platform for that. That’s what made Blondie what Blondie became. It was having that outlet to be able to workshop what we did in public at a place like CBGB. It was a really good time.

The goalposts kept changing. You just wanted to play to an audience, you wanted to write some music, you wanted to get a record deal, all the things that were the goals that we achieved within the band. It’s kind of like a dream, and we were on the other side of it. The dream became a reality, and this was what we did with our lives, and it was all good. If it hadn’t been for that collective of musicians and artists and a couple of promoters, whether it be Hilly Kristal or the people at Max’s Kansas City allowing the bands to do their thing, it wouldn’t have come out the way it did. It was integral to what happened later. Without CBGB I don’t think that things would’ve been the same.

JM: I understand that early on Blondie toured in support of Iggy Pop and David Bowie. What are some memories of that experience?

CB: Well, yeah, I mean the thing about Blondie is there’s a lot of common denominators. Like when I first met Chris and Debbie, there was a glam rock scene that was happening in New York City, prior to the whole CBGB thing. I think we were all fans of Bowie and of Iggy, amongst other things like The Ronettes. So to get invited to be on that tour was absolutely unbelievable for us.

We played at Max’s Kansas City on the weekend before the tour began, and then we went into a camper and drove up to Montreal all through the night. I really don’t remember who was driving – I guess we must’ve hired somebody to drive – and we were all in this camper with one bed, and just kind’ve crashed out after playing at Max’s. And we get to Montreal and go into the dressing room, and this was like our first actual tour, it was like our big break so to speak. We were all just kind of laying around after driving through the night and the door opens, and Iggy and David walk in to introduce themselves, which is amazing. Obviously they didn’t need to introduce themselves. They were very courteous, and just came in to welcome us to the tour. It really set the mood for the tour, and how they were very much helping us along.

David was playing keyboards on the tour with Iggy, and our keyboard player at the time, Jimmy Destri, had just gotten a polyphonic synthesizer, a Synclavier, that David… I don’t know if he hadn’t heard about it, or if he just hadn’t seen one in person. So he and Jimmy kind of bonded on that, with the keyboard thing.

It was just great watching those guys play every night. We learned a lot just from that one tour alone. We remained friends after that. Obviously not close friends, but I toured with Iggy in the ’80’s, and I did a record with him and Chris – Zombie Birdhouse – that just came out, it was re-released. They were very gracious, basically. Yeah, it was a really great way to start the touring thing. It lets you keep in it mind how to be gracious to the opening acts. When we have opening acts we always try to welcome them.

It was a very positive experience, really unbelievable. Debbie, Chris, and I all separately had seen Bowie do the Ziggy Stardust show at Carnegie Hall, I guess it was ’73 when he did the Ziggy Stardust tour. They did some venues in New York. They played Carnegie Hall in New York. I mean, David Bowie was life-changing for me in a lot of ways, so it was amazing to be on tour with him.

David was such a chameleon. He was trying to be a New Wave punk guy on the tour, which is kind of funny. He was kind of trying to emulate Tom Verlaine in a way. It was kind of funny. I mean, he covered a Tom Verlaine song on an album later on, on the Scary Monsters album [JM: the song was “Kingdom Come”].

JM: I know that another big tour for Blondie was the 1978 U.K. tour, the “Blondiemania” tour. What was that like?

CB: It was a theater tour, all sold out shows. From my perspective, everything was going according to plan. I think maybe some other people might have been caught by surprise [laughs]. I was like, “Yeah, this is great!” This was my dream come true. It was all falling into place.

We had XTC do a bunch of shows with us. We did an in-store on Kensington High Street where they had to close off the street. Pierre Salinger, the political analyst who worked for the Kennedys, he followed us around to do a piece on us for that news documentary show 20/20. It was all about hit records, you know? We had quite a few hits in the U.K. Parallel Lines had been released by then, I think. I think that’s what we were doing the in-stores for. You know, we had a couple of hits prior to the Parallel Lines album in the U.K.

We were on television all the time. We were on Top of the Pops, which is a weekly music program on BBC. It was just like a dream come true for me. Really amazing. I would’ve liked it if it would’ve stayed like that. It would’ve been great. But it’s a rock ‘n’ roll rollercoaster. Things go up and down, and you can’t really forsee what’s coming up next. But success was a double-edged sword. It made people crazy, too.

JM: The Santa Barbara show is with Elvis Costello. When did you first cross paths with him?

CB: Well, in the ’70’s. Actually, his infamous manager at the time, Jake Riviera, when we split from our manager we contemplated working with Jake. I met Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello and The Damned and people like that all around the same time. When we were in England in, I guess, ’77, we went to the Stiff Records storefront, I think in Ladbroke Grove, and we met up with a lot of people there who were on Stiff Records at the time. Jake Riviera actually helped me with a couple of things over the years, with getting my drum endorsement with this British drum company called Premier Drums.

We played some festivals with Elvis here and there, but ironically the last gig that we did before we stopped was at RFK Stadium in Philadelphia, and on the bill was Genesis, Blondie, Elvis Costello, and Flock of Seagulls. That was the very last gig that we did as Blondie before we reunited in the mid-’90’s. The funny thing is that we were very friendly with everyone, but Elvis Costello’s road crew played a practical joke on our road crew where as we were about to go onstage, as we were being led onstage, Elvis’ roadcrew locked our roadcrew in their room, so they couldn’t get to us onstage. So we were virtually onstage without any crew. I don’t know how that happened, but they were kind of practical jokers, I guess. We played with Elvis last summer at Riot Fest in Chicago, too, which was really good. We’ve played on festival bills with Elvis over the years here and there.

I’ve been very good friends with Pete Thomas, the drummer, through the years. Actually, I was playing with Nancy Sinatra for a while and I had a Blondie tour to do, and I got Pete to take my place with Nancy. Sometimes we sub out out for each other in sessions. We’re still pretty friendly. That’s kind of the good thing about it.

It was the same thing with Garbage, we were friendly with those guys. It makes a big difference. It’s going to be fun. There’s probably going to be some crossover, you know Elvis fans that maybe haven’t seen Blondie before, and vice versa, even though we come out of the same era of rock ‘n’ roll. I think there will be some converts to Blondie and vice versa on this tour, which is a good thing.

JM: In addition to Blondie, you’ve played drums with a number of other bands and artists – you already mentioned Iggy Pop and The Eurythmics. Are there any that have really stood out to you, like a “pinch me moment”?

CB: Being in the studio with Bob Dylan for a couple of weeks with Dave Stewart. Dave Stewart put a band together to inspire Bob, and we spent a couple of weeks in North London recording, basically kind of jamming. It’s funny, we did a TV show because the media had gotten wind of us being in the studio. I think it might’ve been called The Tube at the time. They got in touch and they wanted to try to get an interview with Bob or whatever. I guess he was in the right mood one day, and said “If you come to the studio right now you can film it.” It was going to be an interview, but we were also going to play. There was a big build-up, with the announcer going “Now for the first time in 20 years Bob Dylan performing on our show,” blah, blah, blah. And we’re looking at each other like, “What are we going to play?” It’s funny because we played an instrumental, and it’s Bob Dylan. We just did a jam, like a Booker T & the M.G.’s jam. It was kind of funny because of the big build-up. There was no lyric.

Then he did an interview afterwards. But spending a couple of weeks with him was definitely, like you said, a “pinch me moment”. Getting to sit down and have some chats and dinner, and a few drinks here and there. We had a good night. I have a great photo where we were having dinner with Chrissie Hynde and Dylan and Dave Stewart and myself and a couple other people. I’ve got a great Polaroid that Chrissie took of me and Bob. We’re both actually smiling. That’s something that I love to look at every once in a while.

Funnily enough, I’m working with this band now that’s out of Santa Barbara called The Tearaways. They formed at the university in Santa Barbara, back in the ’80’s I guess. So a couple of years ago they were going over to play The Cavern. It was Beatle Week in Liverpool. They were going over there every year and performing at The Cavern, and this one year they needed a drummer and I got the word they were looking for somebody to go. I had the time, so I went with them, and we actually played at The Cavern. And one thing led to another. I’m involved in a bunch of different projects. Everyone in Blondie is involved with other stuff. We just wrote and did this song called “The Wrecking Crew” that you should check out. It’s a tribute to The Wrecking Crew. For instance, the pianist Don Randi was a member of The Wrecking Crew. When I was working with Nancy Sinatra he was the musical director. He heard the song and really, really loved it. If you get a chance, check out the song called “The Wrecking Crew” by The Tearaways, which are essentially a group from Santa Barbara. We’re all really proud of this song in particular, and we just did a video for it where we had access to photographs and video of The Wrecking Crew from back in the day. Actually, Denny Tedesco, who directed this film called The Wrecking Crew that came out a while ago, helped with that.

I’m enjoying working with The Tearaways, but working with people like Bob and Pete Townshend, obviously, was really an amazing time for me. When Blondie stopped, when we took that hiatus or whatever you want to call it, I wasn’t just going to stop being a musician. I just kind of kept going and doing a lot of different things. It kind of came full circle with getting the band back together and the Hall of Fame and all that crazy stuff happened. The last couple of years we’ve gotten at least a half dozen crazy different awards, from the Nordoff Robbins award in the U.K., and a Godlike Genius Award from NME, all these kinds of crazy awards. The credibility factor has risen quite a bit in recent years with Blondie.

JM: What advice would you give to an aspiring musician?

CB: I would say to get out in public and play. Find the right people to work with, obviously if you’re not the front-person. My vision of how I was going to become a rock ‘n’ roll star, let’s say, was I had to find somebody who had the charisma, the talent, the aura of a Jim Morrison or a David Bowie or a Mick Jagger or a Iggy Pop. It just coincidentally happened to be a woman. I was kind of on a mission. I really wanted to find somebody like that to work with.

I would say the best thing to do business-wise is get things sorted out earlier than later, because things change once the business starts moving and there’s extenuating circumstances and outside influences, whether it be managers, promoters, record companies and all. If it’s a band, it’s good to have the band business together as early on as possible.

If you’re not going to be a solo artist, you have to find the right people to work with. You have to find the talent, you have to be committed to something that you feel is the right thing to be doing. Just get out and do it.

And don’t follow trends, obviously. That’s the worst thing you could do. I’ve been saying this for a long time, and I find a lot of other people saying it now, rock ‘n’ roll – I call what Blondie does rock ‘n’ roll – rock ‘n’ roll is not pop music any longer. I imagine what it was like for jazz musicians in the ’50’s when rock ‘n’ roll first came along. Prior to that, jazz was like the popular music. And now, there’s an audience for rock ‘n’ roll, and there’s fanaticism for it, and people love it, but it’s not mass media any longer. It’s a little different. So it’s really hard to say if I was just starting out today how I would follow through with it, as far as being a musician. Maybe I would just be programming drum machines at this point.

But you’ve just got to follow your heart, really, and really have a desire to do it. You hear people like Bruce Springsteen, and when they start talking about what it was like early on, there was no choice for him. He just wanted to be a musician. That’s what he was going to do. So that’s kind of how I feel about what happened with Blondie. The people involved in the band, although you never knew how successful you were going to be, but the people had the desire to be creative and to do something different. So that’s how it all kind of happened.

JM: I saw you with the International Swingers in Santa Barbara in 2012. Is there anything happening with that band, or has that ship sailed?

CB: Well, you know we made an album. Did we play in a small club on State Street?

JM: Yeah, a club called Whiskey Richards.

CB: You know what happened with that show? The van broke down on the way to that gig. We had just stopped at the beach, I think it was Pismo Beach on the Central Coast somewhere, and the van broke down [laughs]. Thankfully I had the premier AAA thing, whatever that’s called, and we got the van on a flatbed truck, and the truck had to deliver us to the back alley of that club. We unloaded the whole van, and then basically afterwards we really didn’t have a way to get to where we were going next. But we figured it out.

Glen [Matlock] was just here with me. We’ve been friends since the ’70’s. We always talked about having a band. I’ve done some of his solo gigs in England the last couple of years. We’ve done some recordings. But he has his own thing that he’s doing now with Earl Slick. Glen was just staying with me for a couple of weeks, and we remain friends.

The guitarist James Stevenson plays in The Alarm, and I think they’re doing a 40 city U.S. tour right now. And Gary Twinn, the singer, is a friend of mine. I just saw him playing a little club gig that I went to. Did you enjoy the show?

JM: Oh yeah, I really liked it.

CB: Yeah, it was a good band. I think that Glen, for one, wanted to branch off and do a thing in his own right, something with his name in it. That’s what he’s been doing the last couple of years. Glen and I always wanted to have a band together. We had this vision in, I guess, the late ’70’s, of a band with he and myself and Eric Faulkner from the Bay City Rollers and Paul Weller [laughs], and it never came together.

JM: That would’ve been cool.

CB: We were all friends of one another, but obviously with Weller he had his own vision which is fantastic. At the time it would’ve seemed a little crazy mixing a Bay City Roller with a Sex Pistol with a Blondie with a member of The Jam, but that never happened.

Actually, I recorded a record with the Bay City Rollers that never came out, maybe about ten years ago. They were trying to regroup, and I got a call to go to Wessex, where the Pistols recorded their album. But the singer Les… it didn’t work out.

It’s funny, the Blondie thing has enabled all of us to reach out and do other things, and that’s a big fun part about being in Blondie, having Blondie as the home base. Like I said, the respect level has gone up over the last couple of years with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and things like that. We’re still having a good time doing it. The show we just did the other day in Calgary was just great. We just went out and got on with it, and the response was great. Everybody had a good time. It’s almost like being on vacation, being on tour with Blondie.

But I do a lot of other things. You look at Peter Buck and Mike Mills, they have that band Baseball Project. You know, they like to play, and I’m the same way. As long as I like the music and I like the people that I’m working with, including the members of Blondie, I have a good time. It’s kind of like what I do now. It’s really what I do.

I don’t know if you know about this – there’s a documentary, like a year in my life that showed on Sky Arts. It’s a subscription television station in the U.K. They commissioned a documentary about a year in my life. So that’s kicking around somewhere on the internet. It starts off with me playing for 75,000 people in Hyde Park. We did a couple of shows with Phil Collins a few years ago. People would say, “What do Blondie and Phil Collins have in common?” And the answer really is hit records in the U.K. market. We did some huge stadiums with Phil. So the documentary films me doing that, and then I’m playing at The Cavern. So it’s kind of fun. There’s a lot of different things going on.

I’m really looking forward to being on the road with the Elvis people and the Blondie people. I think it’s going to be good. I think that the Santa Barbara Bowl gig will be great. It’s a great atmosphere, like I said. Then we’re playing Forest Hills Tennis Stadium in New York, which we’ve never done. Famously, The Beatles played there, so that’s going to be fun.

[The interview was over, but the phone call continued. Here are some highlights from the rest of the conversation.]

CB: Getting back to the Blondie thing, we were really influenced by New York City and all the stuff that was going on, including the art, the music, the film, and everything. Whether it be Mean Streets or Andy Warhol and that whole thing, it was all very much a big influence on everyone in Blondie. Obviously the Velvet Underground and the New York Dolls, those were the big touchstones for us when we first started.

JM: Did you ever get to hang out with Lou Reed?

CB: Not with Lou. We did a bunch of shows with John Cale in the 1970’s. The only time I was hanging out with Lou Reed, I was hanging out with Bob Dylan and George Harrison [both laugh]. It’s a long story. But Lou Reed was there that time.

JM: Lou was always a big idol for me – musically, that is, not his lifestyle.

CB: Yeah. Keith Moon was a big influence on me, but now when I look back, he also showed me what not to do. Don’t burn out. Don’t go so crazy that you’re going to die. The drummer Earl Palmer was a big influence on me. He was one of the Wrecking Crew drummers. He continued playing drums into his 80’s. I befriended him the last ten years or so of his life. I interviewed him for drumming magazines in the U.K., and he became a role model for me, how he conducted himself and the success in his career, always a gentleman, just loving life and playing. That’s kind of the place where I feel like I’m in nowadays, which is a good place to be.


CB: When you look back at the wreckage of that era in New York, now when you see what’s happened, the people that are not around and all that stuff, it’s kind of emotional in a lot of ways.


CB: I’m friends with [Kinks drummer] Mick Avory. It’s kind of funny. Right before “Heart of Glass”, the first tour we did in the U.S. was a support tour with The Kinks. We actually did some shows, believe it or not – Tom Petty, The Kinks, and Blondie. Once again, it was like a “pinch me moment”. I was on tour with The Kinks. That friendship remained. A couple Christmas’s ago I had drinks at Mick Avory, the drummer’s house. It’s just kind of cool. That was another one. “Wow, I’m going to get to see The Kinks every day?”


CB: To be honest, with Blondie I’d be happy if we just did non-stop shows all the time – obviously, that’s not what we do- just to be continuously in that creative process. But it’s kind of fun to take a break from it and come back. I find myself getting involved with all these other projects along the way, which is cool, too. I mean, you look at somebody like Dave Grohl, all of the different things that he’s involved in. Or Bruce, he shows up onstage playing with all these different people. He just loves what he does. That’s what I’m like. It’s a good thing.


One comment for “Interview: Clem Burke”

  1. I 0wned A bar and lounge next door to where Clem lived his father told me he bought him the best drums money could by and one day he would be famous.He was right.

    Posted by frank mastrella | July 28, 2019, 2:23 pm

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