BOB EZRIN’s Favorite ‘Ghost’ ALLAN SCHWARTZBERG Talks About Working With KISS, ALICE COOPER, CHEAP TRICK, JIMI HENDRIX
October 22, 2010, 6 years ago
By Mitch Lafon
‘Who?’ is the reaction that is most often heard when the name Allan Schwartzberg is mentioned, but for many rock legends he’s the studio drummer extraordinaire that has saved many recordings from the trash heap. Artists as diverse as PETER GABRIEL, GLORIA GAYNOR and JAMES BROWN have used his services as have rockers KISS, ALICE COOPER, CHEAP TRICK and JIMI HENDRIX. At one time, he was producer’s Bob Ezrin’s favorite ‘go-to-guy’ when a recording needed just that little extra something in the drumming department. Bravewords.com tracked down the kindly musician to get the scoop on his ‘secret’ recording sessions and to find out how it was to be a ghost on the inside of some of rock’s biggest names and albums.
BraveWords.com: How did you get your start as a studio musician?
Schwartzberg: “Before I started the studio work, I did some touring with various people. I did jazz stuff on the road and it paid nothing. You just couldn’t make a living playing jazz and I was fond of living indoors. I wanted to make some money, so I took gigs with PETULA CLARKE and ROBERT GOULET (who was a big star at the time), but after awhile I could do their act from behind the drums and it got really really boring and drab. I toured with PETER GABRIEL and I hate to say this, but it was like reading the same book over and over again. It occurred to me one day that I love the idea of playing all kinds of music… I had a James Brown session in the morning followed by a Judy Collins session and that night it was with Felix Pappalardi (I eventually went out on the road with MOUNTAIN). To me, that was ‘it’. I just loved doing ‘it’ and I was actually getting paid to do this. It was amazing and that’s why I love doing the studio work even the jingles. It’s new music. It’s spontaneous, creative and then next project.”
BraveWords.com: A lot of times people will classify drummers as ‘he’s a rock drummer’, ‘he’s a jazz drummer’, ‘he’s a metal drummer’, but you were doing BARRY MANILOW, disco, jingles, Alice Cooper, KISS, Jimi Hendrix and more. How do you adapt to each style?
Schwartzberg: “It’s just like character acting. Think of actor Gary Oldman, he just becomes those characters and that’s how you have to play those styles of music. If I’m playing rock n’ roll, I have to feel like I’m tattooed and my hair is different. You have to become that; you can’t just take your licks with you. You have to ‘speak’ authentically. You have to leave technique at home. For rock n’ roll, there’s not too much finesse stuff. There’s no tasty cymbal work, but there’s a lot of gut work. You have to put the beat out there solid.”
BraveWords.com: Let me ask you about the rock stuff. You’ve ghosted on some of rock’s biggest artists’ albums – Jimi Hendrix, Alice Cooper and KISS (both on the solo albums and band albums into the mid-80s). Let’s start with Jimi Hendrix. You played on his posthumous albums Midnight Lightning and Crash Landing. Tell me about that experience…
Schwartzberg: “I met Jimi Hendrix at a NY club called ‘The Scene’ on West 46th Street. I was playing with Mose Allison and he was playing in a duo with flutist, Jeremy Steig. It was the loudest electric guitar that you ever heard in your life and a flute. It was a crazy juxtaposition. Between our sets, he came over to me at the bar and tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘hey man, you sound great. Maybe we can get together and play sometime.’ But I just really wanted to be a jazz musician so I said ‘I don’t know’ which pretty much meant ‘no’. I blew him off because I just didn’t want to do that.”
BraveWords.com: At that time, did you sense there was anything special about him?
Schwartzberg: “No, I didn’t. I missed it. It zoomed over my head and I wish I had caught it. The universe put him right there for me and I missed it. I was just so into playing this art form called ‘bebop’. Many many years later, I’m doing the studio stuff and working on the very first song to get the disco treatment (GLORIA GAYNOR’s ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’). I’m credited with inventing the disco beat by the way; a dubious distinction. After ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ people started doing songs in the ‘disco style’. So, the guys who did these disco things Tony Bongiovi (JON BON JOVI’s uncle who owned Power Station), Harold Wheeler (who’s now the man behind Dancing With The Stars), Meco and Alan Douglas.”
BraveWords.com: That explains why Jon Bon Jovi’s first professional recording gig was on the song ‘R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ on Meco’s 1980’s album Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas Album.
Schwartzberg: “Yes. Now, to my sadness, Jimi Hendrix had already passed away at this time.”
BraveWords.com: So, you did overdubs…
Schwartzberg: “Yes, these were overdubs. These were tracks that were so screwed up that you couldn’t believe it. During the recording of these tracks, Jimi must have been absolutely whacked out of his mind. We even had to work around the count offs. He’d count off the songs, but by the time he got to three, he’d be nodding off. Musically, he was just all over the place. It was like an arcade game where you have to steer a car around the track, but just keep bumping into the walls. It was all very uneven, but we found a common road and managed to drive the drums through it. It ended up sounding decent and the world ended up getting some more Jimi Hendrix out of it.”
BraveWords.com: Was Mitch Mitchell playing drums on the original recordings?
Schwartzberg: “Yes, Mitch Mitchell was on them. These were the masters.”
BraveWords.com: And you overdubbed his drums?
Schwartzberg: “Oh, yeah. Mitch Mitchell was also (pauses)… damaged. This wasn’t ready to go out in the world. The tracks were not fit for consumption. So, his drums were stripped away and my drums went in. We did that twice – two albums worth of that. Hendrix-philes might object…”
BraveWords.com: It’s got to feel nice to have ‘Jimi Hendrix’ on the resume…
Schwartzberg: “It is, but I regret not hearing how great he was when I met him. He was always great, but you don’t always hear it. It was just one of those things. I didn’t even love The Beatles when I first heard them. There’s no groove here. It’s not in time. How could you like that?”
BraveWords.com: And that ends up being their cache… Let’s talk Alice Cooper, you first worked with him on his ‘Goes To Hell” album.
Schwartzberg: “Yes. Bob Ezrin called me up. That was my first meeting with Bob and he is without a doubt the best producer I ever worked with in my life. He’s just a great guy and I ended up doing a couple of albums with Alice Cooper.”
BraveWords.com: You later worked with Alice on Lace And Whiskey. So, tell me about working with Alice. Bob calls you up and says…
Schwartzberg: “I worked with a lot of different producers at the time and my first session with Bob… the engineer gets sick and has to go home. So, he engineers the tape himself. Then, he comes out and says ‘Allan get up for a second. I’m hearing the drums like this.’ Then sits down at the drums and plays something. Then he goes over to the bass and says ‘how about something like this’. He goes around the room and plays every instrument. For the takes, he’s sitting at the piano and singing the songs. That was after he had the assistant engineer press ‘record’. He’s now singing the reference vocal. Bob Ezrin is the only guy that before that day and since, have I ever seen do that. Nowadays, you have producers who show up in the studio once a month, sit back and say ‘I don’t know why, but I just don’t like it’.”
BraveWords.com: Which, of course, adds nothing to the creative process. So, tell me about working with Alice…
Schwartzberg: “It was great. He was a total businessman. Vince Fournier is a good and smart guy.”
BraveWords.com: Have you kept in touch with him?
Schwartzberg: “Not with Cooper. Ironically, golf and music are very much alike and I invented a product and signed on all the biggest golfers (this was before Tiger Woods). I started a musician’s golf tournament in NY and I asked his manager Shep Gordon if Alice would like to come play and he said ‘NO! We don’t want anybody to know he plays golf. Don’t even talk about him. Don’t put his name and golf in the same sentence.’ This was so anti-image, but now, years later, he endorses Callaway.”
BraveWords.com: The other major rock artist you worked with is KISS.
Schwartzberg: “Yes, that was through Bob Ezrin.”
BraveWords.com: You’ve played on a lot of KISS tracks. You started off on Gene Simmons’ first solo album.
Schwartzberg: “Yes, we went to The Manor in Oxford, England. We lived in the house and he was going out with CHER at the time. So, Cher and Chastity (as a little girl) were with us. We made the album using the entire Manor house. We had cables strung everywhere. We couldn’t see each other, but we were all connected by phones. I thought it was a great creative record. The producer was Sean Delaney and he was a super creative guy. He invented the make-up for KISS.”
BraveWords.com: He co-wrote a lot of their greatest songs…
Schwartzberg: “Yes, exactly. He was absolutely brilliant.”
BraveWords.com: You also worked on drummer Peter Criss’ solo album.
Schwartzberg: “Yes, with Peter Criss sitting on the floor next to the drums.”
BraveWords.com: Yes, and that’s never made sense to me. Why? Because Peter Criss is a drummer, but yet you’re the drummer on his album. Please explain.
Schwartzberg: “For some reason, he was out of commission, but the reason I did the KISS stuff in the first place was because Bob Ezrin had a problem with Peter’s playing as was the case with many other groups. I did a lot of ghost playing. I did Alice Cooper’s Muscle Of Love without credit. Not on every track, but I played on four or five tracks. Jack Richardson and Bob Ezrin did co-production on that.”
BraveWords.com: Did you simply do overdubs on that or did you actually play on the original tracks?
Schwartzberg: “They called me in and I did the drums over (without credit). There was a big tall blonde guy playing drums with them at the time and they weren’t happy with his tracks. From what I’ve been told, he never knew and I guess he eventually found out, but he didn’t know it wasn’t him… That’s kind of crazy.”
BraveWords.com: That’s one album I didn’t even know about. I knew that time frame the band was having internal problems and eventually brought in other players, but up until that point I always assumed that The Alice Cooper Group albums were played by the Alice Cooper Group.
Schwartzberg: “Well, that’s how they wanted it to be. I understand they didn’t want to complicate things and I got paid. Though it would have been nice to get the credit. So, I did that and Bob Ezrin told me that with Peter (Criss) he would say ‘Peter watch my hand,’ and he would move it up and down. Then, he would say, ‘Peter when my hand comes down that’s when you hit’. He couldn’t get him to do it and he couldn’t get him to play with a click track… it was a problem in those days for drummers to play evenly. The shit would sound great and rocking onstage, but when you’re making an album if it’s not even it just doesn’t make it. You can’t have the time of the song be uneven. It just doesn’t work. It’s called ‘sloppy’ and your foot stops tapping and the listener stops listening. You can tap your foot to all the great records even those from the ‘50s and ‘60s.”
BraveWords.com: Bob’s relationship with KISS dates back to the mid-70s. Did you do any work for Bob on a KISS album before the Gene and Peter solo albums? Did you play on KISS’ Destroyer album?
Schwartzberg: “I’m trying to remember. I did… hmmm. I’m fuzzing up on that one. I know I did KISS’ Animalize. Did I do something on Destroyer? I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
BraveWords.com: There are a lot of rumors out there as to which KISS albums you actually played on…
Schwartzberg: “I did The Elder.”
BraveWords.com: Right, you did the track ‘I’ on The Elder. Bob wasn’t happy with Eric Carr’s drumming, so he brought you in.
Schwartzberg: “I did it that out an Ace’s house in Connecticut, but it was more than one track.”
BraveWords.com: What’s been ‘released’ to the public is that you only played on ‘I’, but the story of the ghost musician is always much different than the ‘official story’. A band will begrudgingly admit to have a ghost musician play on one track when, in reality, they know it’s fifteen, right?
Schwartzberg: “Yes, yeah. It wasn’t a lot, but it was more than one. It doesn’t matter. The crazy part about that album was that Bob wanted me to double my drum part exactly. Play it over. He didn’t want to use…”
BraveWords.com: …studio tricks.
Schwartzberg: “He literally wanted me to double the part and that’s like tracing over what you played in a moment in time. It’s such a bitch to do. It was very hard. That Elder was supposed to be the start of another industry for KISS. They had the cartoons ready to go. They had the books. There was KISS World. It was going to be gigantic with this amazing marketing thing, but somehow it didn’t happen. It just fizzled. It just died.”
BraveWords.com: The album wasn’t that good unfortunately.
Schwartzberg: “I guess not.”
Stay tuned for Part II of BraveWords.com's exclusive interview with Allan Schwartzberg soon!