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A Fireside Chat With Mike Clark

By Published: March 7, 2003

MC: Well, that is very interesting too, Fred. I was born in Sacramento, California. My father was a switchman and then he got elected to a union position. Being he was a railroad man, we moved. So for almost every year I was in high school, I lived in a different state. It was a little bit bizarre. I lived in Texas, Georgia, a couple of times back to California, Pittsburgh. We lived outside of Buffalo for a while. I lived in Savannah, Atlanta, Virginia, and a little bit in Chattanooga. As a result of that type of training, when I left high school, I was going to go to music school, but instead, I went right on the road with a band. I was making good money for a guy who was seventeen. I stayed on the road and I am still on the road. I had a blast. There is nothing I didn't like about it then and there is nothing about it that I don't like now. I made a lot of friends. The thing is, you never have roots in one town. I have friends still in grade school from all of those towns. I really dug it. It was exciting. In those days, you could work in a nightclub with a pass, with a permit. Even when I got to be fourteen or fifteen, then you didn't even need a pass, especially down South. At that time, I was getting calls to do blues and funk because blues and funk was the music of my high school peers. Only a couple of times did I have to stop because of my age.

FJ: Them were the days.

MC: For real. I played with Albert King and Albert Collins, backing these people up. I wasn't in their bands, but we would play sometimes a week at a time with these guys. Even though I was deeply into bebop, I was doing that to make money. Because of the split up of my parents, especially when I was living with my mother, I had to work and being a drummer, work was right there for me. It was cool.

FJ: How did you get the gig with Herbie?

MC: At the time, I was playing with Woody Shaw and Bobby Hutcherson quite regularly at a club in San Francisco. There were three drummers in San Francisco at that time, Vince Lateano, Eddie Marshall, and myself and we were getting pretty much all the work concerning jazz. So my roommate Paul Jackson came home one day and said that I got a gig with Herbie Hancock playing funk. Meanwhile, Paul and I had a group together out in East Oakland. I kept answering the phone because Paul was a social animal and I would have these long conversations with Herbie. We started talking for hours at a time about everything, life, politics, whatever. Finally, he said, "Paul tells me you can play some really different sounding funk." I said, "Yeah, I can do that." He said, "Why don't you come over and play with me and Paul?" I went over there and I had a good jazz career going in San Francisco. I was a young guy, in my early twenties and I was working constantly. I didn't really know if I wanted this gig with Herbie Hancock, should he want me because I knew it was going to be a funk gig and I would get a reputation for playing funk and I didn't want it to screw up my jazz thing. But at the same time, I knew I was going to be known throughout the world if I took this gig at that time. I knew the record was going to sell. I played with him and at first, I played more of a Tony Williams, Elvin Jones kind of groove and he said, "No, no, put a pillow in the bass drum," and so I did and played the funky thing and he said, "OK, we are leaving for Chicago next Monday. Your tickets will be waiting for you if you want to go." That was it. Then he walked out with his big, black coat on like Darth Vader. I said to Paul, "Does that mean I got the gig?" And Paul said, "I think so."

FJ: Herbie is an advanced cat. He thinks on a different level than we do.

MC: Oh, yeah, he really is. He is a genius. I had a conversation with Chick Corea backstage about a year ago and he said that one of the funniest activities one can participate in is talking to Herbie Hancock. It is because he is not only a genius musically, he is a genius of humanity. He is the kind of cat that can talk to you for a few minutes and feel what you need to hear to encourage your life. Talking to him is encouraging. It makes you feel high. It makes you feel up. He was like that most of the time. Only very seldom was he down or grumpy.

FJ: Having to replace Harvey Mason in the band, was there pressure? The band was known and you were just a young cat at the time.

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