Steve White Interview – by Travis Marc – 2011.
Steve White is legendary within the drumming community, he has played for numerous high profile artists, performed on countless recordings and even given tuition to some of the UK’s finest up and coming talent. In addition to this Steve continues to appear and inspire thousands of drum enthusiasts by performing at drum clinics across the country, he also recently began to work behind the scenes in regards to artist development with songwriters such as Sam Gray. I had the opportunity to talk with Steve backstage at this years ‘Freddy Gee Drumming Academy’ event and here’s what he had to say…
Hi Steve – you started to show an interest in the drums at a very early age, what would you say it was about the instrument that initially made you want to play?
It was really a combination of two things. One of them being the fact that my uncle that had shown an interest in the drums and had a snare drum which he used to leave at my nans house that I loved hitting every time I visited her, and the second thing would have to have been seeing a boys brigade band marching down the street when I was about 8 years old. To me it was the most amazing noise in the world, and I was so impressed that I wanted to find out as much about drumming as possible. A little while later my uncle’s drum landed up in my capable hands and I spent the next year or two getting to grips with it, (It was a snare drum), from that point on I was hooked. When I was 10 or so, I received my first drumset (it wasn’t any particular brand, it had a blue bass drum with two red toms) and I continued to play on that throughout my childhood. For me there was no getting in trouble or any bad stuff etc, it was just drums, drums, drums , strange child !
Years on and you’ve managed to perform alongside some of the biggest names in the business. What would you list as your first ‘big break’?
My first big break was with a group called ‘The Style Council’, although I had been playing professionally in a theatre show called ‘East Side Story’ shortly after leaving school. The day after I finished the East Side Story gig I received a call from an A and R guy (based on an audition I had done previously) and he asked me if I would be interested in playing with a new group he was working with. I went up to Maida Vale to meet the band and realised that it was ‘The Style Council’. I knew who Paul Weller was, and I knew Mick Talbot from seeing him perform live a few times. Anyway, I didn’t want to say anything so I just played the songs and figured that I’d see what happened, Paul was still writing a lot of the songs as we were recording them so my training as a drummer playing a lot of different styles in all the various clubs I had performed in since i was 13 or 14 really paid off, because I knew a lot about song structures and arrangements.
I got the job and was asked to go back and record the bands first EP , the A Paris EP in 1983, it sold 270 000 copies in the first week, I was only 18 then so that was really my first real big break. I played with ‘The Style Council’ for a further five or six years and recorded four albums and 18 singles for them. Probably our finest moment was around 1985 with our album ‘My Favourite Shop’ which got to number 1 in the charts. We played Live Aid and toured the world, it was great. Then around 1987 I began to move on, I started to work a lot more in the London scene which at the time was very based around Acid Jazz. I managed to work with Ian Dury, Working Week, The Young Disciples and The James Taylor Quartet etc. I did this for around two years until Paul Weller rang me up and asked me to come and do the very final TV show performance that ‘The Style Council’ did, it was at this point that he asked me to play on some of his solo material. From 1990 to 1996 we recorded three albums Paul Weller, Wild Wood and Stanley Road. Stanley Road went on to sell over 2000000. It’s amazing to think where the years go ha ha.
‘The Who’ among others are just some of the many artists that you’ve worked with. What was it like working among such rock royalty and did you feel any pressure to fill the late Keith Moon’s shoes?
I was very honoured to be asked to work with The Who. I’d even go as far as saying that Damon Minchella (the bassist who did the gig) and I were a little nervous about it. I’d say that I had established more of a relationship with Roger Daltrey than Pete Townsend due to the fact that I had met Roger on a few prior occasions. We didn’t have a lot of time for rehearsals and literally only ran each song once before our performance at Hyde Park.
My time in the company of ‘The Who’ (Pete and Roger) was really minimal, just as I went on stage my in ear monitors stopped working so the gig had quite a festival vibe to it, but I gave it my best and it seemed to all come together quite nicely. I think that bands like ‘The Who’ were really at their greatest when all the original elements were there, same for bands like ‘The Beatles’ and the ‘The Stones’ etc. With ‘The Who’ when all four original members were together they were able to created a noise that I don’t think has ever been replicated. I mean absolutely no disrespect in regards to saying this, I just don’t think that the same vibe can ever be created no matter how great the players are. Anyway, I felt really honoured at the opportunity and just tried to play my best and respect the parts that had been laid down before me.
Let’s talk a little bit about drum education. How important do you feel drum tuition is now days and what advice could you perhaps offer young drummers on how to go abouts finding the teacher that is right for them?
There’s an absolute overload of information out there at the moment. What I’ve tried to do is simply forge my own path by informing/educating my students by using classic drumming literature, things like Jim Chapin, Ted Reed, George Stone etc. On top of that I like to stress the need for musicality and the need for musical awareness. I don’t have any prescribed gimmicks in regards to education and I try let anything that is marketed or designed to simply sell DVDs wash right over me. I’m really pleased with my track record in education thus far as I’ve had a hand full of drummers that have already gone on to work professionally, as I’m a drummer that doesn’t teach every single day I think that’s quite an accomplishment. Some of the guys that I think are really some of the hot young players on the British drum scene at the moment (that I’ve had the pleasure of teaching include) Matt Racher (Kylie Minogue), Grant Kershaw (Diagram of the Heart), Josh Law, Jake Brown and Matthew Arnold.
As far as actually finding a teacher, I would say that it’s advisable to look at someones track record before simply signing up to lessons with them. I’ve always been slightly sceptical about the term professional educator, especially when the person hasn’t really even played in a musical situation and there are plenty of them . I take my personal role as a teacher very seriously and don’t agree with this attitude of only ‘teaching in ones quiet periods’, as ultimately such an attitude focuses more attention on the teacher than it does on the student. So my advice for someone looking for a teacher would be to be selective, be choosy and be focused on what you want to learn. Don’t be scared to ask questions in regards to what material they teach from, or who they might have taught previously. People like Bob Armstrong and Dave Hassell are the guys to be searching out .
As an educator what would you say is the most important piece of advice that you try and pass onto your students?
Be musical. My style of tuition would probably not be for certain drummers and I’ve previously been in situations whereby I’ve finished lessons and told the attending student not to pay me as I’ve not felt that I’ve not been the right person to teach them. Everything that I teach is really to try and make the student a better musician and not just a better drummer. I try and separate what’s important from the nonsense that sometimes seems to over shadow the drumming industry. I love all this high technical stuff, and I completely respect the guys who can play it, but most of them still use their technicality within musical situations where as a lot of the younger players seem to be going wrong in the fact that they just want to be technical rather than musical all the time. We need to remember that it’s supposed to be about the music.
You’re currently working with singer/songwriter ‘Sam Gray’. How did you’re involvement with Sam come together and how is the project going?
It’s going absolutely brilliantly. Sam just got back from a writing week in Denmark and is starting to get to a point where people are asking for him as a songwriter. As a project it’s something I really wanted to do, and has been very re inventing for me. I’ve always been perceived as being part of a certain musical scene or era, but to me I’ve never really seen myself as that.
I decided that I wanted to step out of that comfort zone of what I’ve been known for, and try seek out some new talent. I was looking at going into more of a behind the scenes type role and wanted to help develop and put my experience behind someone. As luck had it Sam came onto my radar, I listened to his demo and I loved it. I believe that the gold of the music business still comes down to the song, everything else develops around that. I took Sam to meet a publisher friend of mine , Andy McQueen and we played him a few songs, and he was signed immediately, then the hard work started, we spent around two years developing Sam as a songwriter, introducing him to technology and other writers etc and now he’s really starting to do some really amazing things.
Away from that I was able to help him make his debut album and was involved with the production and even performed the drums on the recordings. Now, I’m kind of sitting back and helping the band, I don’t play in the live band, that’s left to Matt McCloud and Grant Kershaw .
As far as I’m concerned I have nothing more to prove by being in the live band, especially considering that I’ve been doing it for twenty five years. I wake up in the morning and the pressure is off, I no longer need to think about how I’m going to pay my bills by simply playing the drums. i can concentrate once more on things like my project with Craig Blundell or just working with new artists . I think drummers need to diversify a bit more now days as a lot of the session jobs have started to disappear. It’s nice to be there behind the scenes and know that I can help a young musician and try and prevent them making the same mistakes that I made. It makes me very proud and very excited.
For a drummer/musician who has done as much as you have done over the course of your career, you seem to still work extremely hard. What is it, that keeps you so inspired and motivated to still ‘get out there’ so much?
I think it’s because I’ve been struck with a passion with the music that I really enjoy. One of the most interesting lessons to me was when I went to Brazil with John Lord and the people there were celebrating what I think must have been a big workers weekend. We went into this bar and it was really happening, there was a lot of talking going on etc, but the second that the band got up and started to play everybody stopped talking and started to dance. That’s really what music does to me, I’d love to have a beyond depth faith in religion because I’d probably be a happier man, but the truth is that the closest I’ve ever come to having that type of faith has been with music. Drums just do it for me, I love the instrument, and I love music. Music has been very good to me and I get a little bit bored listening to a lot musicians moaning about how hard life is on the road because, in most situations we have the maturity to make our own decisions in this regard. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had my ups and downs in this industry and it’s not always a bed of roses but music has always gotten me through it.
Music has been so good to me and I’ll do it for the rest of my life. Music has brought me into the radar of some really amazing people, so I just don’t get the whole ‘poor musician thing’. I want to keep growing and see where it takes me. At the moment I’m completely obsessed with Jazz again, I find it extremely inspiring. When I look around me and see how guys like Steve Smith still continue to grow, or the age of the selected group who recently did the ‘Dream Theatre audition it really makes me realise how the music industry has changed. I feel I’m about half way through with where I want to be, and I really look forward to the future.
Talking of inspiration, are you listening to any new drummers who you feel our readers might wanna check out?
There’s some great players out there at the moment, many of which I mentioned when we were talking about some of my students, I strongly advise that you check these guys out. I’m also a big fan of Ilan Rubin, I love his philosophies and he seems so driven, he’s great. I love Adam Deitch and Stanton Moore and am really impressed by a lot of these Gospel guys at the moment. Tony Royster Jnr is absolutely fantastic. I also have to name check Craig Blundell, he has really helped me so much with my electronic set up and is also just a wonderful drummer, some of the stuff he does is scary.
Later this year you’ll be performing at the ‘Worlds Greatest Drummer’ event. Have you got anything special planned for your performance?
I’m hoping to take on the challenge of playing a song called ‘Bugle Call Rag’ which has been one of my favourite Buddy Rich songs for a very long time. Another thing that’s going to happen is that we’re going to bring out a young singer/songwriter that I’m working with named Abi Phillips and she’s going to sing ‘the beat goes on’ with the band, which is going to be great. It’s always a pleasure to watch Pete Cater play, I completely respect his art and dedication to keeping the torch burning for big band drumming, he swings like no one else and I find his playing really exciting. It’s an honour to know that Steve Smith is going to be a part of the event, he is one of my all time favourite drummers and I love his career arc, he is a complete inspiration.
What do you feel has been the most important lesson you have learnt during your career?
The most important lesson would have to be something that was told to me from a wonderful musician named ‘Louie Malanga’ who came to London over from Zimbabwe in around 1983. He was such a beautiful spirit and an absolutely amazing guitarist. Anyway, he just didn’t get London he would always moan about the weather etc and would always go on about how beautiful Zimbabwe was. Louie only spent a year in London before going back and I’ve never heard from him again but he gave me a lesson one day while I was playing I was kind of just playing for myself and he told me to stop, and as a drummer imagine what it must be like to have to listen to myself. It really stuck with me, especially in terms of thinking about a groove or a feel. When playing the drums, we should be communicating. It’s been a lesson that has really stuck with me over all these years and I really have to thank Louie for that.
Any last thoughts or words of advice?
Keep positive, and remember that it’s the music business. Take care of the business and don’t ever let the business taint the music.
For additional information of Steve White or any of his current projects please visit – www.whiteydrums.com (Please note UK Drummer does not own any right to the above used photographs).