Mike Clark: East Bay Funk
As far as if I consider myself an innovator, I think in my case I took what went before me in jazz, funk, and blues, and put my own spin on it. I listened to everyone and everything I could. I tried to meet all the players in each camp so I could understand what was being played by who and why. Having played jazz gigs most of my life before I met Herbie is what made my thing sound different when he added me to the funk. Usually young people take what happened ten years before and sort of update it if you will to fit their own needs and what they are going through in their lives. I came up as a be-bop drummer and was trying to play like Max Roach, and Philly Joe since sixth grade. I never thought of playing any funk. People didn't even call it funk at that time. Then came Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, and Lenny White. When these guys hit things began to change as far as straight ahead jazz playing was concerned. I became seriously involved in this new change. At that time there were enough jazz gigs happening to work things out on the gig, which was great for me. Everything was in a very creative and experimental place at this time.
In an attempt to make a living I have played with Albert King, Albert Collins, Sam and Dave, Joe Tex, and Jimmy Reed to name a few. I even did a few hits with Sly Stone before he put the Family Stone together. I also played with Woody Shaw, Bobby Hutcherson, Chet Baker, Vince Guaraldi, Jon Hendricks, Oscar Brown Jr., and Eddie Henderson also to name a few. So now I had this blues-funk experience as well as playing jazz. Paul Jackson who was my best friend played acoustic bass at that time. We had working jazz trios and quartets and played every night for years. One day, he brought an electric bass to the gig having only played one a few times, he took it out of the case, counted off a blues and we both played the type of thing you heard on Actual Proof immediately without ever talking about it or working on it. I think it came from our friendship, we hung and played together for many years and had some kind of natural musical telepathy and chemistry. It just happened and the rest is history.
GC: What did you learn from playing with Herbie Hancock? What did he learn from you?
MC: What I got from Herbie Hancock was to find my own voice and not to copy others. I was young when I was on his band and the music was brand new. We were doing things that hadn't been done before, so there was no real road map. Whenever I was playing and trying to sound like some of my favorite drummersmost of whom he had played withhe would say, "Hey Mike, if I wanted to play with so-and-so, I would have hired him! Let me hear what you have to say." I started developing my own style based on the roots of the music I dug. This has lasted me a lifetime. I'm still in this mode and although there have been periods since the Headhunters where it has been popular to copy people damn near to the T, I kept playing my own stuff. Now it's second nature. He also taught me to be a conversational musician, to have a dialog with the people I'm playing with based on what they were playing. He listened deeply and expected us to do the same. He wanted total interaction- not to hear a one armed drummer playing straight time.
One time, we played poorly at a big show. The critic went to dinner with us after the show and was telling Hancock that he didn't think the band sounded very good that night. Herbie knew we were sounding pretty sadbut said to the critic, "You mean you didn't hear it?" The guy had a strange look on his face, and Herbie went on to tell him how we had worked very hard to get it to sound that way and it was a brand new way of looking at things musically. The next day we got a great review saying how we had found some new stuff. I learned a great lesson from that!