Interview: Terry Bozzio


It’s well known that Frank Zappa had the highest standards for musicians in his band, so drummer Terry Bozzio’s membership in that select group starting in 1975 is a true badge of honor. Bozzio can be heard on Zappa albums including Bongo Fury, Zoot Allures, Zappa in New York, and Shut Up ‘n Play Yer Guitar.

Bozzio went on to co-found the band Missing Persons, which fused top-notch musicianship with New Wave sensibilities to give us songs like “Words”, “Destination Unknown”, and “Walking in L.A.” A quintessential ’80’s band, they released three albums before breaking up in 1986.

Another notable gig for Bozzio was playing on Jeff Beck’s Guitar Shop album, which is widely regarded as one of the guitarist’s best.

This interview was for a preview article for for Bozzio’s collaborative performance on 7/1/17 with poet Todd Griese at Studio Channel Islands in Camarillo, California. It was done by phone on 6/5/17.

Jeff Moehlis: Can you tell us a bit about the project that you and Todd will be presenting at Studio Channel Islands?

Terry Bozzio: We’ve known each other for about ten years, and he’s a really close friend, a very spiritual guy. He’s been a source of emotional support for me for a long time. I got his book of poetry [Spiritual Lines] a few years ago, and I thought it was great, and then he approached me about us doing a project together for Channel Islands art studio. I said, “Yeah, that’d be great”, because he knows I’ve been painting.

I thought at first it was just going to be him showing his poetry on his broadsides, which have natural pictures because his poetry is very nature oriented and he talks a lot about the California Central Coast, and I’m a native Californian so his words resonated with me that way as well. And then I’d show my art, and it was just going to be two separate friends having a gallery show. But it turned into this collaboration that just went far beyond what both of our expectations were.

To begin with, in terms of music, I said, “Why don’t you just speak into an iPhone, and send me some of your poems and I’ll see what I can do.” Because, I mean, these days with technology if you didn’t like his take, we could re-record the voice later if I could write some music to it. Actually, the voice was great and it inspired me, and the music just started flowing out of his words, and I composed twenty-two compositions now to go along with his poetry. So that became something I’m really excited about as a musician, which is the main thing that I do.

And then, I didn’t think my kind of weird, abstract paintings would fit with his poetry, which has this natural resonance, but he’s all about contrast, so he chose a poem and chose one of my paintings – my paintings have a lot of space so we were able to fit the poems in there beautifully. He has a friend that I met at Arts Alive, who can do the graphics to put the poem on the painting, and we were away.

And then, we got into the idea of what we were going to do live and perform. He had a couple of things that I could do live and accompany his poetry. Then I was playing the drums on “One”, which is sort of a Beat poet thing, and that kind of fit, and another poem I played my gongs on. Then it was easy to mute the voice and make another copy of the music so he could speak over it, and he learned how to pace himself with the music so it stays in sync. That’s what we did at Arts Alive as a teaser for this upcoming gallery show.

So it was a very intuitive and subconscious and natural process. Everything just flowed out of that. And during that, I got to know a lot more about Todd and his past. We realized we had a lot of crossed paths and a lot of things in common that we didn’t know about each other from our pasts. I lived in Marin County all my life, and he was up there in the Bay Area, and we were both influenced by the hippie thing and the Beat thing and City Lights Bookstore, and everything that happened up there in San Francisco.

When I was a kid at the Fairfax Pavilion where I lived in Marin County, you could go down and see the beginnings of bands. Before Blue Cheer was Blue Cheer, they were called Oxford Circle, and I could see them for $1.50 right down the block. Then, all through my teenage years after I could drive, Big Brother & The Holding Company, Quicksilver [Messenger Service], Jefferson Airplane were all local bands. It was fantastic to be in a place where all of that was happening at that time in the late Sixties. And as a kid, of course, the Beatnik thing in the Fifties was very popular, and represented in funny ways on TV, like the Dobbie Gillis show. That was the sort of fringe stuff that I was attracted to, and Todd was attracted to as well. We kind of lived that life in the same places, but separately, not knowing each other at that point. Those kind of synchronistic things are a very spiritual thing as well. I think there’s a guidance and a consciousness beyond our consciousness that puts these little events together at times, and something comes to fruition out of them. That’s kind of our story.

JM: This is a local gig for you, right? Am I correct that you live in Camarillo now?

TB: Yeah, I’ve been living here for ten years or more. I came out from Texas. I had a divorce and I separated and came out here, and that all fell apart. Then I went to Japan to do a tour, and met my current wife. That was like a gift from God, and we’ve been happy together for ten years, married for nine. It’s a beautiful thing. So, once again, things just kind of fall into place.

Don Lombardi from DW [Drum Workshop], when I was having trouble with my marriage, said “Why don’t you come out here? We’re going to do this Drum Channel thing”, which is one of the best drum education and performance sites on the web. Of course, technically speaking, we’ve had nothing but trouble and we’re about ready to relaunch [laughs], but it’s a great thing with some of the best drummers I know on the planet, and percussionists and people from different ethnicities and styles from all over the world. I’ve had the chance to not only play with them, which is fantastic, but also interview them and talk with them. That’s kind of what I do from time to time when I’m here in Camarillo. The rest of the time I’m either in Japan working and living with the family there, or in Europe working.

JM: How does your approach to painting relate to how you approach music? Is there any commonality?

TB: Yeah, it’s totally the same thing. It’s just one discipline as opposed to the other. Let’s just take painting. I took an art class in high school. There was a guy who lived around the corner from me in high school – his name was Rob Springett. Do you remember in the late Sixties / early Seventies, Rob did a series of these amazing pictures of African masks and dancing and stuff like that for Herbie Hancock’s albums? You know, with them dancing with like a white plume of horse hair tied to their head [check out the Sextant album cover]. Just all that wonderful stuff. So Rob was in my art class, and was so good that it made me want to quit. I just couldn’t compare to his realism and expression. His eye was just incredible. And he was a year younger than me, in the same art class. He was just kicking ass. So when he got that Herbie Hancock job of designing and painting for his album covers, I was not thinking about art any more. I was full blast into learning music.

Then I got the gig with Zappa, and Captain Beefheart was on my first Zappa tour. And he, of course, is a fantastic artist, and has many, many works for sale posthumously – he’s passed now. But his artwork was just incredible to me. It was totally abstract, and really beautiful, and very expressionistic of who he was. I copied him. He would always carry around a sketchbook and some magic markers, and was constantly drawing everywhere, on the bus, on the plane, in the hotel room, at dinners, and things like that. It looked fun to me, and it piqued something inside me, and I went to an art store and bought the same kind of stuff – just a sketchbook and some magic markers – and started to do it myself. He was very encouraging to me, and said, “Oh, I like how loose you got here”, and so I started to go more in this abstract direction. That’s how it started, in 1975.

It paralleled what I had learned about jazz, which is this freedom of expression. To me, jazz is freedom. It’s freedom of expression, it’s existential, it’s in the moment, it’s spontaneous, it’s not planned, but it’s cultivated by your learning experience and the vocabulary you have in the musical language. So that’s how I look at both things. Like music has five basic elements: rhythm, which pervades everything, and then there’s melody, harmony, dynamics, and orchestration, which is the choice of instruments you use and the combination of sounds to get orchestral effects and textures. All these things were being touted by bebop drummers I came up listening to in San Francisco, just local guys. A lot of them had this sort of smug jazz attitude like, “I don’t listen to other drummers, I listen to saxophone players. I play colors and textures” and all this crap, but when I’d hear them it was pretty much straight-ahead bebop from ten years before. So, I’m like, “Well, where’s the saxophone? Where are the colors and textures?” [laughs]

I think I’ve always had it in me, because of my classical training, and my friends like Mark Isham and Patrick O’Hearn, these guys honed my musical tastes and made me listen critically and also historically. You know, I’d hear one drummer do something and I’d go, “This is really hip – he’s playing like Tony Williams”, and they’d say, “Yeah, but Tony did that three years ago. This guy’s just a fashion player copying Tony.” By those kinds of remarks I honed my sensibilities, and started to realize who was an innovator and who was a copycat. So all these things came together inside me, and in my subconscious it started to seed the development of following innovators in art, in music, in architecture, and in design – all the things that the day they invented something, that’s the day it changed. You know, like Le Corusier or Mies van der Rohe with their architecture, Picasso with his art, or Miles Davis – that’s the day trumpet playing changed, and John Coltrane – that’s the day saxophone playing changed. These guys just are the guys who resonate something inside me, and like I say, subconsciously I followed this, and here I am.

I’ve developed my own style in drumming. It’s a very musical approach, yet it comes from jazz, which is freedom of expression. So for me, in drumming I have an ostinato pattern – it has bass notes playing in the bass drum – so that’s kind of the groove and the harmonic center, and then on top of that I have a chromatic set of toms on the left and diatonic on the right, so within the modes and availability of notes I have there I can play in and out of the chords like Joe Zawinul or Miles Davis would, and those are two of my big influences in terms of my melodic expression. Then you have all the other stuff, like what sounds can you use. Right now I’m approaching something that is like the Miles or the Weather Report expression of the Seventies, but just one man on the drums. With the MIDI triggers that I have, all the notes I’m tuned to are doubled with a sine wave, so the melodies really are clear in any acoustic situation I might perform in. I try to, like those groups, have a bassline that’s holding the groove down, have some extraneous percussion like Airto or Dom Um Romao would play, there’s melodies a la Joe Zawinul or Miles, and there’s somewhat of a composition.

I find that in practicing the ostinato, themes start to appear that are inherent and natural to the feel the groove I’m holding down. Once the themes appear you can develop them and it turns into a composition, so there’s a melody that’s recognizable at the beginning and at the end of the piece, or if it’s a rondo form it keeps returning to that. You just use everything you know about music – that’s your vocabulary, those are the letters of the alphabet – and you put them together to make words, and use the words to make a sentence, and the sentences can tell a story, but with music.

And then there’s always improvisation. Improvisation comes from the unconscious. It’s not just running a list of licks that you know. It comes from inside. Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to be playing, but you just play it and you make something out of it in the moment. This is a real spiritual thing. You could say God surprises me all the time with what I play. You know, I’m not preconceiving this, it just comes out, and with your analysis and musical knowledge you hopefully retain the idea and repeat it and develop it in any number of ways so that it makes musical sense. This kind of spontaneous area, which is out of my control – you know, basketball players call it “being in the zone”, it just happens – is what we all strive to do every moment that we express ourselves. Take something from the subconscious and turn it into something you can share with other people, and hopefully they’ll enjoy, too. So that’s the whole process, and it’s the same with composition or drumming or art. I don’t know what I’m going to do, I just do it.

Stylistically… You could define style as doing the same thing over and over again, but differently [laughs]. You know what I mean? So it is that kind of a thing, and I don’t take credit for it – that’s the talent part. I take credit for the 99% – the practicing and the preparation I had to do to get there. But the act itself is an effortless thing that is a gift from whatever God is. It’s hard to define God, but I try not to define it. But I can see little pictures of it in my work and in the good things I do in life [laughs].

JM: I know this is documented elsewhere, but can you tell the story of how you got the drumming gig with Frank Zappa?

TB: My friend Eddie Henderson, who I was playing with up in San Francisco, was using George Duke on one of his records. I had been playing with Eddie, I think, two years by then. We were really good friends, and playing together a couple of times a week up there with Patrick O’Hearn and a keyboard player by the name of Mike Nock. I got a phone call from Eddie one day, and he said, “Hey, George Duke just called me. You know, I’m using him on my album. He said that Frank Zappa is looking for a drummer. He had tried out a couple of weeks of auditions in L.A. and couldn’t find anybody, and now he’s starting to look towards other cities. So, why don’t you give George a call”, blah, blah, blah.

So I called George and he told me what the thing was – pretty much a cattle call. And he told me what I was expected to do, which was to read a difficult piece of music, memorize a difficult piece of music, and then he said Frank solos in 19 [/16 time] like Billy Cobham, you know 4/4 plus 3/16, which I was listening to Billy of course, who was one of my influences, and I knew how to do that. And then, you know, see how it goes from there.

So I flew myself down. I’d never heard Zappa’s music before that, consciously. I think I may have heard “Brown Shoes Don’t Make It” or maybe some Hot Rats stuff. But this was ages ago when I was in high school, maybe ten years before or something. So at any rate, I got Apostrophe and Live at the Roxy [Roxy & Elsewhere], which scared me sleepless. I was amazed at the level of technical proficiency, the sheer volume of memorization. And then, the music – which was something like a blend of classical music and jazz, or fusion. And then, how funny it was [laughs], how smart and funny it was. When I heard Chester Thompson and Ralph Humphrey – two of my dear friends now – exchanging solos, I was just blown away thinking, “What could I possibly add to this? And could I even keep up with that?”

But I flew myself down to L.A. and auditioned with about fifty other guys, and there was very difficult music spread out all over the stage, and two Octoplus Ludwig drum sets set up. One was being used by the auditioner, and the other one was being set up by the next guy who was going to audition. And they were dropping like flies. You know, nobody was able to read, some guy’s trying to flaunt his chops, the other guy couldn’t even get past the first measure of what he was asked to read. So Frank was just, “Nope, sorry, next.” And it was my turn. I think before that, too, I said, “Well, I’m definitely not going to get this gig, so does anybody know about a Weather Report audition here, since I’m in L.A.?” Because I had heard that Weather Report was looking for a drummer. And they said, “Oh, Chester” – Frank’s last drummer – “quit to join Weather Report.” So that was my hero band, and I’m like, “Oh, God. That guy went to them? I’m hopeless.” But it was one of those, “OK, I flew myself down. I invested, and I owe it to myself to try.”

So I got up there and set up the kit, and I had to read this piece of music he wrote called “Approximate”. That’s a very difficult piece of music, with changing meters, and it’s written melodically with X’s instead of noteheads, up and down the staff. You’re supposed to emulate the curve of the melody, but you can play whatever notes you want. So it comes off like a bunch of different notes being played in unison rhythmically, and going up and down where the melodic curve indicates. So, you know, I did the best I could, and when I came to a 13-tuplet, which is a tough thing to read over 3/4, or whatever it was, I said, “OK, wait a minute. That’s this”, and I showed him I understood it, and he said, “Yeah, do that. Now just try it up to tempo.” I did the best I could. So he knew I could read, and he knew I could comprehend it, even though I might not be able to sightread it on the spot.

So then he gives me a piece of music called “Echidna’s Arf (Of You)”, that’s a series of 5’s, and then there’s a 9 and an 11 and whatever, then it turns around, and that’s the structure. So I did the best I could improvising and playing in that structure. Then we jammed in 19 with George, and that was easy, that was fun. And then he said, “OK, let’s play a blues shuffle. I just want to check your feel out.” So I thought, “Yeah, let’s swing!” I did my best backing up Frank. So he goes, “I really like the way you sound, but I want to hear the rest of these guys. I want to hear you again after the rest of these guys audition.” He turns to his road manager, his road manager turns to the other twenty guys or something hanging around, and they all start shaking their heads, and the road manager turns back and says, “That’s it, Frank. Nobody else wants to audition after Terry.” So Frank turns to me and says, “Looks like you’ve got the gig if you want it.” And I said to him, “Are you sure I can do this?” And he said, “Do you want to do this?” I said, “Yeah, I just don’t know if I’m heavy enough to play with you guys.” And he said, “Nah, if you’re willing to work hard I think you can do it.” So I said, “OK,” and that was that.

When I left Frank, I got the gig with Group 87 at CBS. We auditioned and got the record deal. I was late to rehearsal because of that, and the first thing we played was something, I forget – the lyrics were “Fuck me, you ugly son of a bitch” in German, with a twist beat. And Frank sensed I wasn’t into it, and he said, “Bozzio, step into my office”, and he took me behind the stage, and he said, “You know, I think it’s time you go off and do your own thing.” I said the same words as when he offered me the gig: “Are you sure I can do this?” [laughs] Like a good father he kicked me out of the nest. I had to wait around a year before I got into U.K., then it was Missing Persons and I went on to do all the rest of the stuff that I did. But Frank was always a great fan and a great supporter, and said some incredible things to me that I think about when I’m down. You know, he also was a fan of my music, and was proud of me growing into somebody who had at least a small set of balls, to go out and do my own thing.

My only regret with Frank is that I was a young kid and full of crap at the time, and inexperienced. I wish with what I know now I could just back him up and let him solo, you know. I’m sure it would be a lot more musical than what I was doing back then.

JM: What did you learn from playing with Frank?

TB: Everything. And things I didn’t want to learn [laughs]. Everything he said was true, and came true. He was so direct, and so smart, and so intelligent. If you look at all his talents, any one of them is enough to make a very successful career out of. Just his unique style as a guitarist, right? Then you have his being a rock star. Being a rock star is not an easy thing. Being a band leader is not an easy thing. Being a writer, and being an intellect who could go on CNN and argue with stupid Republicans about censorship takes a certain kind of person, and a certain kind of talent. And then he was a classical composer – I think was the dearest thing to his heart. As well as like I said where once you’ve got the composition down you’ve got to play, and he would do long, extended, and very creative guitar playing. And then as a comedian he could’ve done stand up. He was hilarious. He had a unique way of using his intellect to maybe put two words together that you wouldn’t put together, that perfectly described a situation. Like he would use the word “abstruse”, which is “abstract” and “obtuse” combined. You know, it was really great. Being with him was phenomenal.

One of my other regrets was when you’re a young kid and you’re just trying to keep your face, you don’t know what a lot of these big words he was using meant, or how beautifully and accurately he used language to describe something perfectly. You know, you didn’t want to look like a fool, but what I should’ve done was say, “Frank, what do those words mean?” And then be able to learn and get it. But it was just fantastic. So I learned all those things, and used it when I got with Missing Persons. We did the band like Frank would do the band. We auditioned people like Frank auditioned people. You know, take a couple of bars of things that are difficult that we play, and say, “Can you play this?” and teach it to somebody, and see if they can get it and hang with us. You know, of course most of them didn’t. We auditioned lots and lots of people.

And equipment was an issue. We were looking for a keyboard player who could play bass with his left hand, and polyphonic things with his right hand. So when Chuck Wild came, that was the guy. He could pick stuff up right away, and he had an OB-X synthesizer and a mini-Moog, and that was what we needed, somebody who could preset sounds and step through to change the sounds with the structure of the tune.

So [I learned] more stuff than you can imagine. And all of what Frank does is what I’m striving to do, taking baby steps, being a composer, being an artist, being somebody who is true to himself. And I’ve tried to do that.

My teacher Chuck Brown, too, was another guy who instilled artistic principles that I still hold today. He was always about practice, patience, perseverance, and constant preparation for anything that might be thrown at you. And that kind of discipline made me ready to be able to accomplish the audition with Frank.

So, yeah, Frank was deep. We spent hours and hours listening to stuff all night. He was one of those guys who really listened, and I think he saw that in me, too, and we would look at each other many times during the music and relayed how cool something just was that happened. You can’t put a price on those kinds of experiences.

JM: It’s probably hard to believe, but the Missing Persons Spring Session M album turns 35 years old this year. What are your reflections on that album?

TB: Oh man, I think we were a great bunch of people, and we had our 15 minutes of fame. But the music was deep. We messed with a lot of other musician’s heads by doing that – you know, coming from Zappa and extremely out there, to honing something popular that raised peoples’ eyebrows. I mean, first you have Ken Scott, who’s a fantastic producer and a dear friend, one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in my life. His bedside manner as producer was just phenomenal – you know, he just made us all feel comfortable. We had a strange kind of music, but there was a groove and we worked within the confines of what we wanted to do in terms of making it unique and different, but within the realm of New Wave and the Eighties stuff that was going on.

So everything about it was great except for my relationship with Dale, which was always tortured. You know, she wasn’t really a musician. It was very frustrating working with her. We obviously ended up in divorce and the whole thing imploded. It was a great learning experience for me. I had all my eggs in one basket, which is not a good psychological place to be – you know, my wife and my business were circling around that person’s mental stability. When she went out, man, that was very tough. So I learned a lot from that. I always say, “I ended up beached somewhere”, but my respect and friendship with the rest of the guys – with Warren [Cuccurullo] and Chuck [Wild] and with Patrick [O’Hearn] – is still to this day some great stuff. And I would’ve done a lot of things differently had I known what I know now, but I don’t and I didn’t [laughs]. So it did what it did, and then that led to the next thing. No matter what happens – success, failure, or good times, bad times – you always learn from it, and of course we all did the best we could with what we knew, and it had a big success and then a big failure, and we all learned and grew from it.

JM: My two favorite Missing Persons songs are “Words” and “Walking in L.A.” How did those songs come together, or more generally how did the songs for that band come together?

TB: For “Words”, Warren called me from Newark Airport, where he was stopped and it was snowing and planes were delayed. He said, “Terry, I’ve got this great idea for a song. ‘What are words for? No one’s listening.’ Because every time there was any announcement coming over the speaker, everybody would get up and go get in line, and it was an announcement to say the plane was further delayed.” So I thought, “Yeah, that’s a great idea!” Then I remembered driving home from San Francisco – I was visiting my family, my mom and sister – and I was driving down the Highway 5 and I wrote the rest of the tune, just sketched it as I was driving. You know, I filled in the rest of the blanks, made that hookline pay off.

A lot of times I had to do that sort of reverse engineering, because Warren hadn’t really developed into a songwriter yet. He had incredible ideas, things like “No Way Out” he pieced together in the moment, and we were doing that. And then other times he was just like, “Here’s an idea”, “Here’s a part”, or I would say, “I hear this” and he would play it. The whole concept was to use almost synthesized and atmospheric concepts coming from the guitar. He was just a soundmeister, and could get these effects that were really different. And then he used the bass and the keyboards to hold it down. There was that kind of innovative side to Warren. Then, of course, with “Ordinary World”, which I think is one of the best pop songs ever – he wrote that with Duran Duran probably ten years later.

Chuck was never really a writer, but he could do whatever we wanted with sounds. He was very patient and just a very sort of self-sacrificing, very competent musician who, whatever you wanted, he would attempt to satisfy you. So he was a wonderful guy, too.

The rest of it was just me trying to figure out a beat that was melodic and different, filling in the blanks of the rest of the stuff. You know, Dale had “Destination Unknown” and how do you make that pay off? “OK, I’ll write this.”

“Walking in L.A.”, I lived in Westwood, and I was walking to the theater to see some late night thing like Eraserhead that would play at midnight, and I walked past the Tower Records that used to be on Santa Monica and Sepulveda or thereabouts, and do you remember the cardboard cutout of Steve Martin? It was in the dumpster at Tower Records [laughs], and so that’s where the “Top 40 cast off from the record stand” came from. And comedians like David Brenner, or any New York comedian that came out to L.A. was always talking about how nobody walks out here, blah blah, because in New York you walk everywhere or take a cab. So that’s where the concept of that came, and I just wrote that all myself. I think “Words” I have about 85% on, and “Walking in L.A.” I have 100% writer/publisher. It was just my comments on the state of things, the way they were. And that’s another thing we learned from Frank. Whatever we were living, if he could make a funny joke out of it and blow it out of proportion and make something like “Punky’s Lips” or “Tryin’ to Grow a Chin” or what have you, we did it. He developed it, and that’s what I tried to do, too.

JM: What do you have in the works?

TB: I’ve got a lot. The art show on July 1st and running through the month of July with Todd and I is one thing, and we’ll have a CD of my music composed to his poetry available at that show.

And then this month I’m going to update on my website my solo project from 1991, which is something I think you’d be interested in, talking about jazz. It’s a bunch of drum tracks I did with sections and solo sections and breakdowns and things like that with a beat box, just me and drums in a studio. We recorded about seven to nine things, and I’ve got enough now to release them all. It’s taken me years. Some things I started overdubbing on right away, and other things I just finished last month. It’s some really great drumming a la Terry Bozzio at that time, kind of a missing link between Jeff Beck and, say, The Lonely Bears, Polytown, and Melodic Drumming and the Ostinato. So that was done in ’91, and I just finished composing to it. I’ll release that on my website for download.

Then, I’ve got this History of Terry Bozzio project, which is coming out. I did that last year in Japan. That’s about twenty of the best songs, and some very famous guys like Akira [Takasaki] from Loudness and the keyboard player from B’z [Takanobu Masuda], and some horn players and other guitarists and a couple of famous bass players. We did a history of my life. It starts with some solo drum music, then three tunes from my Composer Series album, which is that big music and art box set thing – sixty compositions and a painting to go with each composition – and then we went back and we did “Some Skunk Funk” by the Brecker Brothers, a Zappa tune “The Black Page”, we did six Jeff Beck tunes, a bunch of BLS [Bozzio Levin Stevens] tunes, and then we did Missing Persons. I sang “Walking in L.A.” and “Mental Hopscotch”, and sang some U.K. tunes, sang some Billy Sheehan and Terry Bozzio stuff, and one other group is in there and I can’t remember right now. But anyway, it’s kind of a smattering of all the projects I’ve done over my life. So that’s a big DVD, and I’m just going through the final edit of it right now to approve it, and then it’ll be released. So that’s what’s coming out for me. And a European tour in the fall.

JM: Is that a solo tour?

TB: Yeah, it’ll be a solo tour, without support. The level that I play at, I barely make enough money to make a living. So if I were to split that three ways with a band, it would be no money in it for any of us. These are the times we live in.

JM: That makes me wonder – you have such a huge, amazing drumkit. How do you get that to Europe?

TB: It’s cheaper for DW to actually make me a kit and leave it over there. I have one kit in Japan at a DW distributor there, and then one kit in Europe at Pustjens Percussion where my tech [Michel Weekhout] works, and he’s allowed time off to go on tour with me. He’s a classically trained percussionist who got more into production. He’s my favorite tech in the world. So, you know, he’s got a Sprinter van, we put everything in the back of the van and we drive around Europe, and eat great food and have fun. I’m also building one right now for Brazil.

JM: I interviewed Dale about a month ago, and one wonders if there’s any chance of a Missing Persons reunion, or has that ship sailed?

TB: I don’t think so. You know, I tried it in 2000 and it just really didn’t work. But with Warren and Pat and Chuck, and maybe Lady Gaga [laughs], somebody who could really sell it, that’s always a possibility. But not with Dale I’m afraid.

JM: You briefly mentioned Jeff Beck. You did the Guitar Shop album with him, which a lot of people say is the best album he released. What was that experience like, working with him?

TB: Fantastic. Two extremely different musicians, but everybody has different ways of working. Tony Hymas is a classical genius. He composes for symphony orchestra, and all manner of music. He performs classical music by memory at a very high level, like all the Debussy Images or Etudes or what have you. He was up every morning playing this stuff and memorizing it. It made me think, “Wow, I’ve made a career out of a little paper bag of drum licks”, you know? And it was time I get serious, and I have done since meeting him. And we continue to talk. He’s a great friend, and I would play with him anywhere.

Jeff, on the other hand, is totally intuitive and a natural, and unlike any other guitarist. I mean, the sound of him in a room with an amp the size of a freaking printer is just better than anybody else with all the best gear they could [laughs] ever accumulate. So, yeah, we jammed out most of that album the first thirteen days under the guise of “Let’s see if the chemistry is right” [laughs]. I mean, immediately… We had Leif Mases who’s a great engineer from Led Zeppelin and ABBA from Polar Studios in Sweden, and he said, “Guys, I think you’d better come in here and listen to this. I just recorded what you did, and it sounded like God.” [laughs] It was the first jams and stuff we did. So we hammered out probably six or seven tunes that first thirteen days, and then over the course of a year and a half, for a few weeks at a time, we continued to get together and finish it. Yeah, Jeff is a great example… It’s almost like he’s cut off from what he does, you know, like I am, or like I’ve developed into, where it’s just like he may not know exactly what he’s doing, but he always does the right thing. He’s like touched by God in a way.

JM: I saw him almost a year ago, and you’re right – he’s not just recycling the same riffs that he played years ago.

TB: No, he’s channeling something very deep, and I think is on a level with Hendrix, but different. I don’t know what to say. He plays notes that aren’t on the guitar. His whammy bar melodic chops are almost like they’re quantized. His ear is so pitch perfect, he rarely plays anything out of tune. And he can play on an out of tune guitar and make it sound in tune. His pitch consciousness is just that strong. And then, all the sounds he gets are in his fingers and right out of the guitar. You know, he can make it growl, or play up with a slide way up on the pickups [laughs] and it’s perfectly in tune and it’s incredible. And then harmonics – he play harmonics and do whammy bar melodies with the harmonics that he’s hit.

Things like “Where Were You” that we all wrote together just kind of a line at a time, or “Two Rivers” – those are some of my favorite things. We would always get to the point where we had this great track, and Jeff would say, “I don’t know what to do with this. What about putting a voice on it?” And so I said, “OK”, and I’d go out and imitate an English accent or imitate the salesman on “Guitar Shop”. They’d change the pitch of my voice so it was kind of unrecognizable, and that’s how we worked, just experimenting. If it was funny and Jeff liked it, and it seemed to work to fill something that was needed in that track, it stayed. So “Day in the House” and “Guitar Shop” were very fun, and very unique and different sort of compositions. Yeah, I like it.

You know, he’s done so many great albums in the past, and been really on the cutting edge of what a guitar can do since he started, and that was a continuation of that. We were very lucky to have that experience, and it definitely was a great experience for me. I love both the guys and I would work with them any time, but I think Jeff’s under those financial constrictions that are of this day and age, too, where if he can get some guys who are competent and great musicians to back him up so he can do his thing, he doesn’t need my name or Tony’s name to create music and kick him up another notch, because that would cost him a lot of money. He was very generous with Guitar Shop, and we all made a good deal of money on those tours and that record. So I understand. I have a burning desire to play with the guy anytime, any place because that was so much fun. I think Alan Holdsworth and David Torn and Jeff Beck are really the most fun, in totally different directions, guitarists that I’ve ever played with.

JM: I like all of them, so I can see that. Did you ever get into Robert Fripp’s stuff?

TB: Of course, Robert’s an innovator and I love what he does on occasion. When he played with ProjeKct Three, I got to see them in Austin, with my friend Pat Mastelotto who was playing all electronic, and Trey Gunn. And God, it was like Miles in the Seventies. It was something I had never heard before, it was really great, had space, and this odd construct/deconstruct concept. That kind of stuff Robert does, I love it. I loved what he did back in the Eighties. Other than that, I’ve never heard the original King Crimson that much. Eddie Jobson played it for me, and what I took from it was the drummer’s garbage can lid crash cymbal.

JM: Are you a fan of Bill Bruford?

TB: He’s another very unique drummer. I didn’t really hear him much until U.K., and I was very impressed with what he did on that first U.K. album.

You know, I got to play with Tony Levin and Alan Holdsworth and Pat Mastelotto. We did a bunch of tours, and now that Alan has passed there’s rumblings about releasing all that. I wanted to release it from day one. It was really unique – no music, everybody just improvised in a compositional manner and made great stuff every night, totally different from the night before. You know, Alan was very inhibited to release it. He wanted absolute perfection, and it’s unfortunate that he had that state of mind which I think ultimately drove him to his death, which is a shame. It was a terrible loss, and I’m still hurt by that, the loss of such a beautiful person and a fun guy to be around, and the most amazing innovative guitarist of all of them.

JM: One last fun question. I was listening to the Frank Zappa Live in New York album, and it reminded me of the ongoing Punky Meadows joke. What was up with that? Was that just a joke that got carried away?

TB: I was a jazz guy, right, and I came to L.A. I think it was in the second year I was with Frank when Patrick and Eddie had joined the band. We were up at Frank’s house, and he had this big wicker basket about three feet high and three feet wide filled with rock magazines – you know, Circus, Creem, all those Seventies rock magazines. But there were a few of these Japanese magazines that had unbelievable photographs of everybody in every issue. So you had David Bowie and Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck and guys in the Seventies looking like glam rock stars. I turned the page, and here is Punky Meadows, looking like a beautiful Breck shampoo advertisement that they used to put on the back cover of magazines like Life in the Fifties. I just said, “Oh man, Frank, look at this!” We all laughed and stuff. It was [the band] Angel. They just never really made it, even though they put out like five or six albums. All really nice guys – I knew the drummer, he was a great guy.

I had heard some friends of mine who were from Boston talking about Punky Meadows, and they said, “Oh yeah, Punky’s phenomenal, man. He can play the guitar with his left hand while he’s drinking a beer with his right hand.” And, “He’s more fluid than Jeff Beck”, you know, all these little sort of gossipy things talking about how great Punky was. So I incorporated that into the song, and if you’re improvising with Frank and trying to crack him up with an improvisation, if he likes it, it stays. We blew the whole thing out of proportion, into this… And in a way it was true, in terms of my naivete. But, yeah [laughs], it was just this big, like, oratorio of a kid being affected by a rock star’s image, but not being gay, and also being a little fond of the scarves and chiffon.

You know, at Pauley Pavilion in front of 15,000 people, they sat in the front row, and I had this wall-sized poster of that picture from Punky above my drum riser. It was covered, and when we did that, swish, it came down and they watched that whole thing being performed just for them [laughs]. Yeah, they were good sports. They came backstage afterwards. It was just one of those kind of satirical things that Frank does so well, and I got to be the guy who acted it out.

That was another thing. When Napoleon [Murphy Brock] left the band, there was nobody doing the kind of show that he could do, and that left a big hole in the presentation. Napi would be the one who put on the devil’s mask and argue with Frank, you know, do those kinds of things. So that’s where that all came from, just trying to bring back the aspect that Napi wasn’t able to do anymore. For whatever reason Frank let him go. Napoleon could be on Broadway – he’s got an incredible voice. You name it, he can do it. He’s funky, he’s soulful, he can do great blues stuff, his voice is amazing. And then he can sing like Anthony Newley, and you just go, “Who is this guy?” He’s a fantastic sort of presence. If he wasn’t playing, he would put on a mask and run around the stage. This was a big part of the absurdity of the Zappa show, before I got in, for the two tours I did with him. When he left, I just said, “Well, if nobody else is going to do it, I’ll do it”, and I tried to step up and fill those kinds of holes.


No comments for “Interview: Terry Bozzio”

Post a comment