A Fireside Chat With Mike Clark
“ ...the first thing that happened was Art Blakey smashed the cymbal, punctuated with the bass drum... it blew my mind so heavy that the very next day, I went out and bought an Art Blakey record and tried to find a cymbal that sounded like that. ”
When I was a kid, most my age were tuning in to watch Tootie and Blair on The Facts of Life or Gary Coleman say "Whatcha talkin' bout Willis." I would run home from school to catch What's Happening. Not only was the theme song funky, but Rerun (the best character ever on TV) was a dancing machine. And Rerun only got his groove on to the funk. This brings me to a Herbie Hancock record, Thrust, that opens with a track, "Palm Grease," one of the funkiest grooves on record. Shaft's theme ain't got nothing on "Palm Grease." The guy laying down the groove is none other than Mike Clark. Turns out Mike cannot only bring the funk, he can bring the straight ahead as well. His new release is proof positive, but if you ever need audible evidence that this cat can play or you need some good whoopee music (and I have put it in the CD player on many a whoopee occasion), warm up some Thrust. Folks, Mike Clark, as always, unedited and in his own words.
Fred Jung: Let's start from the beginning.
Mike Clark: My dad was a drummer who stopped playing when he became about twenty years old. He had a tremendous jazz and blues collection, Louis Jordan, that kind of stuff. He also had big band and some bebop, some Art Blakey. So before I even played the drums, he had the music on all the time and according to my parents, I was seriously listening to it. I would park myself near the record player and just listen all day. Then when I became four or five, he brought his drums down from the attic and I played naturally the way kids play with spoons or drumsticks and it doesn't make any sense.
Well, my stuff had rhythm and made sense. When they saw that, the very next night, my father took me down to a nightclub where his jazz musician friends played and had me sit in with the band. I can remember doing it. He taught me how to play a little ride beat on the cymbal. So that is how it started. I just played and from there, I was kind of like a child drum prodigy. My father helped me get gigs as a child drummer. It was really a lot of fun. He was a railroad man and so he traveled. We went all throughout the United States and as soon as we would get to a town, he would open up the paper and find out where the jazz bands were playing. We'd go down, and in those days, he would buy the drummer a drink or play the drummer or bandleader ten bucks to have me sit in and play a couple of tunes. By the time I was eight, I had quite a little track record.
FJ: You were the Tiger Woods of the drums.
MC: I wish, but yeah, I had a pop like that and he loved the music and he loved all kinds of jazz. He was also a heavy blues head. That was his drinking music when his friends would come over. He was also listening to more advanced things as well. I was sort of born into on that tip.
FJ: Influences and vinyl licorice?
MC: When I started, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, those types of drummers were my father's favorite drummers. He liked Sid Catlett and Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and Louie Bellson. Those were the things he was listening to when he wasn't getting his blues thing. Those were the first things that I was attracted to and so I played in that style right away. Who else? Jo Jones, Count Basie, big bands of that time. One day, he brought home an Art Blakey record. I think it was called Drum Suite (Columbia). As soon as he put it on, the first thing that happened was Art Blakey smashed the cymbal, punctuated with the bass drum at the same time and went into a ride beat and it blew my mind so heavy that the very next day, I went out and bought an Art Blakey record and tried to find a cymbal that sounded like that. This was when I was eight years old. Then my dad had some records by Bird. Although he didn't listen to them too much, I had some young friends at that age that were into Bird and so we started digging Bird and later on Max and Clifford. So I just kept going to whatever I am now. Blakey, when I heard that cymbal, that moved me away from Gene Krupa type stuff into bebop and once I heard that, I knew that was where I wanted to go. I tried to play like each of those drummers and tune my drums like each of those guys. I would just stay in my room and play Art Blakey records all day.
FJ: I know railroad people and they live a similar lifestyle as military people, very nomad like.