ANGLO AMERICAN EXCHANGE
GROVER MITCHELL AND DON LUSHER
Talking in 1970
Don Lusher: Is that a King 2B you’re playing?
Grover Mitchell: It’s a 3B, with a sterling silver bell. On a brass instrument I have a particularly brilliant sound that makes me sound sharp. This silver bell kinda solved that whole thing.
D.L.: What sort of mouthpiece do you use?
G.M.: A stock Bach 15. I had bad experiences with the specially made models: I’d lose them and could never get a replacement. Now ,I can just walk out to the store and buy ‘em.
D.L.: Who were you with before Basie?
G.M.: Lionel Hampton. I’d been briefly with Duke Ellington; then I worked with Earl Hines in San Francisco.
D.L.: Where is your home town, Grover?
G.M.: Well, I’ve lived lately in San Francisco; I was raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I saw you with the Ted Heath band in Pittsburgh incidentally; that must have been about ‘57. I’ve been a great admirer of your playing ever since.
D.L.: Thank you. Yes. it would be ‘57. Oh, we had a wonderful time.
G.M.: That was just a short time before I moved to California.
D.L.: I know you don’t have a lot of time to practise when you’re on the road like this, but do you try to do so, or do you just allow yourself quite an extensive warm—up before you play concerts?
G.M.: Well, in the States I usually practise every day, pretty religiously. I’ve got a easeful of study books; so have the other guys, and we exchange them, you know. Well, we stay on each other’s backs, to make sure that one of us doesn’t stop practising!
D.L.: How ,would you compare the Basie band with the Hampton band?
G.M.: There’s absolutely no comparison. I was never in the so–called great Hampton bands—that was before my time. But you didn’t have a musician in that band to compare with these, you know, except Bobby Plater—who is with us now. The quality of the playing doesn’t come close. I wouldn’t make that statement about any other band but this one—but it’s just a fact. Actually, after you’ve been in this band for a while. you start—well, the guys kinda take themselves for granted, and you begin to take them a little bit for granted, too. Then you go to a film or TV studio, something like that, and you see how fast they do something, or how easily they do what they’re required to do—that gives you a reminder of how unbelievable this is.
Another thing—many a time we’ve come from. say, Berlin to London, without anybody having had any sleep; they might not ,be up to their best standard.
but they’re still a great band. This is the thing that’s always got me.
And you’ve always got that feelingthat you’ve got a good man on both sides of you. You’re not having to hold them up.
D.L.: Yes—that makes a lot of difference.
G.M.: A lot of times, too, Basie calls one of the trickiest things in the book when you’ve just got on the stand and you’re still cold. He does it as a kind of a joke, because he wants to see how you react, how well you’re up on everything. Really, I think he just gets a kick out of knowing he’s got men that can do it. If he didn’t think you could take the pressure, he wouldn’t put it on. He couldn’t afford to.
D.L.: Yes, he knows it’s there. And this is when you realise how good it is.
G.M.: On dances and things, he’s liable to call anything out of the 452 that we carry—at any time.
D.L.: That’s hard on new personnel for a time, isn’t it? GM.: Oh yeah. When you come into this band—at least me, I was scared half to death, and I think everybody else is.
D.L.: But looking at it from the front, the impression I get is that once you’re in it’s the sort of band in which everyone ,would help everyone else. Which is a great thing. In Ted’s band there was a very good feeling. We had occasional needle matches, if you were tired when you were on tour, and you got a little bit sick of the sight of each other. But basically, it was very good. And when the band played, everyone wanted it to sound good, because you were part of it.
And Ted was rather like what you were saying about Basie. There were no excuses acceptable to him. If you were tired, unfortunate—he expected the goods delivered, because he could always do it himself. He could always lead the band, and look as fresh as a lot of people half his age. So you just got used to doing this.
The same with radio broadcasts, which we in this country do more than you do in the States. We used to travel back all night from one—night stands and feel like death sometimes the next morning; yet I think, really. some of the best broadcasts we ever did in Ted’s band were when we felt like that.
G.M.: One of the best albums we ever made was one with Ella Fitzgerald, when the band was dropping over tired. It really sounded sharp—and nobody had been to bed for something like 48 hours. We just got off the plane from Japan flew to Denver, then Chicago, playing one night in each; then to New York, and an hour later we were in the recording studio. without even time to eat. We did one three—hour session, had an hour off to go out to a restaurant, came back and did another four—hour session the same night.
D.L.: You know, this is a funny thing: I can speak from a different angle to you now: when I was with Ted, every time overseas tours came up. you used to think: “Oh no, I must leave. I can’t face it again.” And now, after so much time has passed since I left all that behind to become a session musician, you sort of yearn for some of those tours. Apart from leaving my family, which I don’t want to do, of course, I do miss the travelling that we used to do. playing in different environments. So you make the most of it.
G.M.: Well, there’s only a few touring bands in the world that you can really make a good living with nowadays. I’ve a family, too; I could never afford to be just roaming around for kicks, or hitting and missing. So. before I got in this band, I retired six or seven times from music and was just a weekend player. something like that. But I was always frustrated doing anything else, and had to get back in. Then this job came up—1 don’t intend to get out any more now. With this music, you’re hooked, anyhow.