Interview with IAN WALLACE

April 2003

What do KING CRIMSON and Bob Dylan have in common? At the first glance, it seems not much – perhaps, a word “legend” will do nicely. Look closer still, and you will see one more thing, although calling so a man with a renown like Ian Wallace’s would be insulting. His name – and, what’s more important, his drumming – enhances many great records, CRIMSO’s “Islands” and Bob’s “At Budokan” being just two. But there’s much more to the man, who has been doing his work for thirty five years …

– Some may presume there are two Ian Wallaces, one who’s famous for playing with the cream of British rock scene and the other working with likes of Bob Dylan. How do you feel about such a division?

First off, I was not aware of such a division. After KING CRIMSON and to a certain extent Alexis Korner, I became a freelance musician concentrating on tours and session work in England until I emigrated to the States in 1976 and carried on in the same way, except this time working in America with American artists.

– Which of your many stints are you the most proud of?

Hard to say. Most of them I liked whilst I was doing them and I like to think that during those times I contributed something that leaves a pleasant taste in the mouths of those I worked with. Although there have been some musical stand outs for me. Included in those would have to be; KING CRIMSON, Lonnie Mack, David Lindley and El Rayo-X – big time! – Warren Zevon, Don Henley, the Dylan Street Legal era – I worked with Bob Dylan in two different decades – and Bonnie Raitt. I’m sure there are others, but these are what come to mind at the time of this writing.

– Could you, please, tell how it all began, about THE WORLD and THE WARRIORS and what had been before?

Nothing much came before THE WARRIORS. They were my first pro band. Before that I had a band called THE JAGUARS that I formed with some school chums, but THE WARRIORS was my first foray into the dark nether regions of what is known as the music business. Jon Anderson was one of the singers in THE WARRIORS along with his older brother, Tony. After Tony quit, the band spent about eighteen months playing clubs in Germany and Denmark. Six sets a night, every night and nine on weekends. This is where I truly learnt to play the drums. After that I moved to Copenhagen and played for about six months with a soul band from Manchester called BIG SOUND.

The remnants of BIG SOUND and THE WARRIORS moved to London in 1968 and tried to make it there. Six of us lived in one room in the same house as some of YES. I actually did a gig with YES when their drummer at the time got sick, and they offered me the gig, but I turned it down! We also backed a lot of artists like Sandie Shaw, THE MARBLES, David Garrick, Marv Johnson, Lou Christie, Geoff Turton, Billy J. Kramer etcetera, ’til I got the gig with Vivian Stanshall from THE BONZO DOG BAND. In fact, I did the last BONZOS tour before going out with Viv who promptly had a nervous breakdown. So Dennis Cowan and I jumped ship and joined Neil Innes’ band THE WORLD. We did one album “Lucky Planet” and were gigging, when Robert Fripp asked me to join KING CRIMSON.

– Did you remain friends with Jon Anderson through the years? I mean, you appeared on his 1983’s “Animation”…

I think I’ve remained friends with just about everyone I’ve worked with. Jon is definitely a good friend, but he tends to be rather elusive and I haven’t seen or been in touch with him for some time. I’d love to see him again and catch up.

– Please, lift the veil if you can on a nagging subject: a popular myth has it Fripp had taught Burrell to play bass, which I think is not true, as Boz proved a skilful bassist later, with BAD COMPANY. Would you, who were in a rhythm section with him, dispel the story?

When Boz first joined the band it was as a singer only. When we had exhausted all the bass auditions and still hadn’t found the right player, we were at an impasse and facing the end of that particular incarnation of KING CRIMSON even before it had played a note in public. Boz one day, picked up a bass that someone had left at the auditions and started noodling around on it. Suddenly Robert came up with the idea to see if he could be taught to play properly. I think Boz could already play a bit of acoustic guitar so Robert proceeded to show him the fingering etcetera and I showed him the “way” of playing in a rhythm section with a drummer. So in essence yes, Robert did teach Boz to play bass. But once Boz had mastered the basics, he himself, took the bull by the horns and studied hard, becoming the great player that he is today.

– In 1972, Phil Collins named you as his favourite drummer. Was that a big compliment to you, regarding Phil’s one hell of player himself?

Absolutely. I love Phil and was very flattered.

– Who’s your champion, then?

So, so many. Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Steve Gadd, Ringo, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, THE BEATLES, STEELY DAN, Paramahansa Yogananda, Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Oscar Wilde, Freddy Gruber, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Billy Connelly, Buddha…

– What’s more difficult to you, doing that progressive British thing or playing maybe a tad simpler but being exposed to large audiences of Dylan or Don Henley’s gigs?

The ability to convey a musical idea with one note instead of a thousand. If you want something to be real, then it’s all difficult unless you are in the “zone”. And getting there is the hardest thing in the world because that’s up to God.

– By the way, how did you get the Dylan gig? Because of your sessions with Tim Buckley?

No. I was doing some work in LA with a singer whose manager also managed Joan Baez. He knew Dylan was auditioning drummers and he recommended me. I auditioned, and got the gig.

– Were you booked for those Buckley sessions while still in England?

Yes. It was actually a session for the Old Grey Whistle Test TV show, and the band consisted mainly of THE STREETWALKERS who I was playing with at the time.

– Was working with Dylan what you expected – regarding it was the time when Bob embraced Christianity?

It was, and more. Actually it was a very hedonistic time. Bob hadn’t quite found religion, it was the year before all that went down and we all partied hard! Plus we had our own plane in the States, and our own train in Europe. First class all the way.

– What memories do you have of TRAVELING WILBURYS where you hooked up with Dylan again?

Jeff Lynne called me one morning to ask if I was available to do a session. Seems that he, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison were all hanging out at Bob Dylan’s house in Point Dume and had written a song to use as a B-side for a European single for George. It had a drum machine on it but it needed spicing up with some drum fills and could I go over that afternoon to Quincy Jones’ studio to play said fills. Of course I said yes and did that exact thing, playing tom fills on the song; “Handle With Care”. Mike Campbell was also there adding guitar parts. The only person that wasn’t there was Dylan.

When George took the finished song to Warner Brothers, they said it would be ridiculous to waste this as a B-side and how about doing more and putting an album out? And so the TRAVELING WILBURYS was born.

I never did get paid for that session. At least, in cash. But I had spent part of my honeymoon at George’s place in Maui and I do have a TRAVELING WILBURYS platinum album on my studio wall, so I think that’s payment enough!

– Many seem not to know you were in BADFINGER, together with YES and BADGER Tony Kaye. Was it him who brought you in?

With Eric Clapton

No. I can’t remember exactly who hired me, probably the producer, but I can’t remember who that was. Basically I was hired as a session musician to play drums on their album. What I do remember is that I enjoyed working with them. I knew Tommy Evans and I was sad to hear of his death. He was a nice guy.

– All that experience though, is somehow logical but THE QUIREBOYS felt like not your cup of tea. What was so special in their hard rock for you?

Once again I was hired as a session drummer by the producer, Jim Cregan. The drummer they had in the band could not play well enough to record, so I was called in. They were good lads, if a little wild. We had them round to the house for dinner and to watch the FA Cup Final.

– Previously though, you played with Steve Marriott’s ALL STARS. Were there live shows as well as studio sessions? As I heard, you almost became a HUMBLE PIE drummer…

Yes, I did a lot of recording with Steve. Mainly at his house and often just the two of us. He was my best man at my first wedding and I went on tour with him to the US in ’76. At the end of the tour I stayed in LA and never went back to England. That’s when I emigrated. I played drums on HUMBLE PIE’s last record, “Street Rats” – they later reformed with a different line-up, Andrew Oldham was the producer.

– Those sessions with Marriott – and Alvin Lee, I presume, as well – must have been fun to do, with old buddies like Mel Collins, Boz Burrell and Tim Hinkley. Were they a kind of party?

It was all a party in those days!

– Still, that was not your closest encounter with blues, there was Alexis Korner band before. Was it right after CRIMSON?

It was during and after CRIMSON. CRIMSON were supporting HUMBLE PIE in the States and Alexis with Peter Thorup were opening. Crimson came on after Alexis and my drums were set up behind them, so one night I just walked on and joined in. They asked me to carry on after CRIMSON’S tour and after a week we picked up Mel and Boz in New Orleans and SNAPE was born.

– Was the Korner and Peter Thorup’s SNAPE an extension of their “big band” CCS?


– There’s a picture of you and THE TEABAGS with another ex-YES, Peter Banks, taken around the time of your Dylan stint. Was that a supergroup?

Quite the contrary, it was a very un-super group. I’d just finished my first stint with Dylan and all these guys were friends of mine. I was doing nothing so I asked everyone if they fancied doing some gigs. We rehearsed in my garage and then gigged around LA. The band consisted of Peter Banks, Jackie Lomax, David Mansfield, Kim Gardner, Graham Bell and myself.

– You seem to remain friends with Robert Fripp and the “new” CRIMSON guys? How could you compare today’s CRIMSO to what the band were like when you were in?

I love the new band, they’re all great musicians and great friends. Whenever they’re in Nashville recording or rehearsing, they always come round to dinner. I don’t think it is possible to compare the two. I think they’re totally different, in music, sound, and even concept, though I do occasionally still hear traces of “Larks” here and there.

– Now you became a part of THE 21st CENTURY SCHIZOID BAND. Is working with old friends a rest or a challenge? How it is compared to KING CRIMSON which the group basically is?

I approach every musical situation I’m involved in as a challenge, and this is no exception. I only played with Ian McDonald for a few months so I don’t think that counts, but Mel I played with for quite some time and in at least four different bands. I have to say that it’s really great playing with him again and he’s just as much the sax-playing fool he always was. In fact, next to John Coltrane, he might just be my favorite tenor player. Jakko and Peter I’m just getting to know, both musically and personally, but I love what I’ve heard so far from everyone. As for the comparison to KING CRIMSON, the big difference is that Robert isn’t there, and that in itself is a huge difference!

– What your forthcoming solo album is about? Why did it take so long for you to go solo?

My new album is about my life so far, the state of the world in general and the search for meaning in this mess we seem to have gotten ourselves into. It took me two years to write and record, in part because I had a new recording system that I was learning whilst I was doing it, and the fact that I played most of the instruments and did all the vocals on it.

I already have one solo record out – well, semi-solo at least ’cause it’s a collaboration with a pianist called Brian Trainor. We wrote most of the material on it, but its pretty much a straight ahead jazz album unlike my new one which is sort of a rock album with leanings of jazz, BEATLES, STEELY DAN and CRIMSON. As for why it took me so long; I’ve been busy trying to make a living!

Photos used with kind permission from Ian Wallace

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