There are many different beats you can dance through your life to, yet there’s not too many a single drummer who can supply you with the beats for any occasion of your track. Tony Newman is one of these few. Starting off with the sound that revolutionized music back in the ’60s, he gained the weight to hit the skins more heavily and left his notch on several rock ‘n’ roll’s stepping stones. Tony’s still here, still invemtive, and if there’s a stopping to him that’s just to catch some breath and answer some questions.
– Your career spans more than four decades. Don’t you find somewhat abusing – or amusing – that you’re mostly remembered by your work with David Bowie?
It depends on the frame of reference you are coming from. Whenever I am out with THE EVERLY BROTHERS, people are interested in my career with SOUNDS INCORPORATED. The first record I played on was with Gene Vincent in 1960, “I’m Going Home”. SOUNDS INCORPORATED were a remarkable band to work with. I was thrown into the deep end right from the off. Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Jerry Lee Lewis, Brenda Lee, Mary Wells, Ben E. King, etcetera, tours with THE BEATLES, always with top acts. So I really didn’t have to do the grunge work, and all of the acts we were backing I could copy what the drummers had played on the records. So, it was first class all the way.
– How did your drumming develop? What did inspire you to choose the instrument?
I heard Bill Haley’s “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and that was it: I was going to be a rock and roll drummer. And right from the off, I had a talent. Everywhere I went, people would ask me to sit in and play. Prior to Bill Haley, I had heard Louis Belson play “Skin Deep” on the Duke Ellington “Up-Town” album. It just blew my mind. It still does. I had no idea what Louis was doing, and at that time, had no way to access the information. So, I just played what I thought he was doing – and of course, my technique was totally wrong. But, somehow it worked. Then I heard Buddy Rich, and there was another inspiration. So, I got his book and started to practice. I lived at home with my alcoholic mum and dad, and I started to escape in drums. It was really like primal scream therapy. I had a paper round and managed to scrape enough money together to buy some scrap drums, most of which came from the Thirties kits. They sounded like crap, but I wish I would have kept them as they would be priceless today.
– On Lee Clayton’s LP you played with Klaus Voormann. Did you know him from the Hamburg days?
Yes, I had met Klaus but I was so out of it then, and on the session, I hardly remember our working together, other than he was straight and played very well.
– Working under Brian Epstein’s management, did you have the chance of socialising with his more famous charges?
We worked in Hamburg with THE BEATLES and all the other acts we signed before they were famous, and so, we were really friends. When we toured with THE BEATLES, we would all hang out together.
– How do you remember opening for THE BEATLES at the Shea Stadium?
Well, it was the biggest concert I had ever done. King Curtis was on before us, and that was amazing, and intimidating. I had always worshiped black musicians. So we walked out, the sound was deafening, all these kids screaming. We didn’t know whether they were screaming for us, or they were just so excited. Playing on-stage, there was about a one second delay, and I was glad when it was over. Funny enough, Apple is going to re-release “The Beatles at Shea Stadium” along with all of the surviving band members, crew, police and so on comments on the occasion.
– Is your “Soul Thing” single the closest thing to a solo project?
That was put together at Dehems over a couple of beers. I couldn’t believe that it actually happened. Yes, it was the closest thing to a solo project, although I do have a record coming out called “Hoolie Goolie” a sort of dark, rap record.
– Could you, please, give away some details on that?
“Hoolie Goolie” is a specialty, eerie groove, type of rock song, of which I narrate the words. It’s unusual. Richard, my son, and I made it while I was in his studio in England. It’s currently out, as a single, on Burn Lounge. Check it out on burnlounge.com.
– Jeff Beck is known as a hard taskmaster while Rod Stewart and Ron Wood like to have fun. What was your place in THE JEFF BECK GROUP from the emotional point of view?
Well, I was just the drummer. I had no idea until we got to the States of the magnitude of this group. Remember, I had been around the block a few times when this came up. We had great fun. Rod, Ronnie, Nicky [Hopkins] and I had great fun, and I had lots of laughs with Jeff, too.
– Did Jeff Beck invite you to join his band having seen you play with THE HOLLIES?
No. Jeff invited me to play in his band after remembering how I played with SOUNDS INCORPORATED.
– Talking about “Things”… That crazy drumline of THE JEFF BECK GROUP’s version of “Shapes Of Things”: how come you played it but didn’t receive due credit?
I don’t remember playing “Shapes of Things”. I don’t think I played it – I think that was Ainsley [Dunbar].
– Having left a strong imprint on most of the tracks you played on, why there’s only four you share a credit for – two with Beck’s group and two with THREE MAN ARMY?
I’m not a very good business man. I let things go, and perhaps that’s all I wrote anyway. I was always suggesting arrangements.
– THREE MAN ARMY were the power trio, even though they seemed less heavy than GUN. How did you feel in a situation where drums were exposed more than ever?
The drums are the heartbeat of rock ‘n’ roll, and of course, it’s what the recording fashion requires. Remember, it’s all about the money for them, and the music for us.
– How appropriate in your eyes are studio drum solos even if they’re as short as the one in “Polecat Woman”?
Well, it’s actually inappropriate. The other guys in the band wanted a more commercial solo, just a rhythm thing, and I couldn’t do it. So, hence the solo on “Polecat Woman”.
– Was it a honor – well, dubious honor – to know your replacement in the band was Ginger Baker?
I always considered Ginger a great drummer. He and I would have conversations about Phil Seaman. I had left THREE MAN ARMY and joined David Bowie, and so I was delighted for the other members that they had found such a great drummer.
– Were MAY BLITZ your own attempt at creating a power trio? Why didn’t the band have the success it deserved?
MAY BLITZ was a wonderful experience for me, and it was an attempt at a power trio. However, it had a life of it’s own. It was probably ahead of it’s time. It was re-released in 2002 and got a five star review from a “Jazz” magazine. So, there you go. It does have a cult following today.
– How heavily – in the literal sense of the word – did you influence the T. REX sound when you’d joined for “Dandy In The Underworld”?
Well, Marc was wonderful to work with, and always was so uplifting. With that atmosphere and Herbie [Flowers] and I working together, I was probably relaxed and confident.
– How did you get to play with David Coverdale, who seemed to be quite far from the scene you worked in? Was it through Ray Fenwick connection?
I think that came through Roger Walters, who was the producer.
– You played with two great guitarists who sadly are no longer with us: Ollie Halsall and Mick Ronson. What are your memories of them?
Wow! Ollie was a genius. It is best to go to his web site for further info! I only worked with Mick once, on an album, and it was a sort of quick in-and-out, really. He was a great player, though.
– By the way, when you were with Bowie, Ronson had already left. How did you get in touch, then?
Mick Ronson called me.
– There’s a funny story about you and Pete York that can be called as “Great Balls Of Fire”. Was that a part of so-called rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle for you?
“Cobbler-Flambe” is the accepted pronunciation of setting your bollocks on fire. It was first performed on the steps of the Monte Carlo casino using the finest Remy Martin. The indoor version of this normally performed at high brow record company or VIP receptions goes something like this… ”WAITER! Double Remy in a snifter please…” When the drink is delivered, you douse your testicles and then set light to them with a match. Whoosh! This shocks everyone at the table. You then zip up your pants and carry on with dinner as if nothing has happened. Warning: I once tried this twice in a week, and went home with a severely smudged scrotum. You must allow two to three weeks of re-growth of pubic hair to get the desired affect. I no longer perform this stunt, as I no longer drink. If Pete York performed it, all I can say is, “Well done, Pete!”
– You worked with a lot of bassists but who’s your favorite to be in a rhythm section with?
All the bass players I have worked with are great. I change all the time with bass players – it’s like flavor of the month.
– Your son plays with Alvin Lee. Are you proud of Richard?
Yes, I’m very proud of Rich. He’s also branched into writing and producing. I have two other sons who are drummers, Louis, who plays in Nashville and tours with various acts, and Luke, who is looking to play, at eighteen, with THE BLUE MAN GROUP. My sixteen year-old son, Jesse, is a bass player. My daughter is a dental nurse – she is sane!
– Who are you playing with these days?
I’m working in Las Vegas with a very good blues band, and do some shows with Albert Lee. But it looks like I will be taking a hiatus from playing drums, as I will be working as an associate producer on a BEATLES project called “The Lost Tracks of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison & Starr” The last touring I did was with the EVERLY BROTHERS, but it looks like they are retired.