Jazz Professional               


Reasons for raising hell


Let musicians be heard
Let's honour the living greats
One-armed drummer
Preserve me from purists
Reasons for raising hell

Rich responses
My secret weapon
At the Drum clinic
Being intense
Nobody to listen to
  Talking to Les Tomkins in 1981

 In earlier years, it seems that your insistence about the uncompromising nature of your band created some difficulties. For instance, I gather there was an occasion when you were playing a location job, and the owner came up to you one evening and said: "Look, Buddy, we've got a special party coming in. I want the band to play everything in mutes. . . "

And I told him to run his joint and I'd run my band.

He happened to be a big racketeer; he said: "Get out of town!"

At the end of the week, we packed and left, yeah. That's his prerogative—it's his club. And like I said at that time: "I don't tell you how to run your saloon—you don't tell me how to run my band. If my band's too loud for you, either pay me off now and I'll leave, or honour the contract and at the end of the seven days I'll leave." The threat of physical violence never bothered me. If he was going to punch me, I'd punch him; if I got hurt, I'd come back later—whatever. But it never gets to that; it gets to the threat point: "If you don't do this, I'll do that." But civilised people don't really hurt each other; they get mad, they scream and they yell. You must pay dues, in order to love the end-result of a career, and if having a boss threaten you is part of that due, it's okay. If being broke part of the time is part of the dues, that's okay. If you're not a success at a given time, it's okay—why not find out what it is on the other side? Why not know: "Hey, nobody's out front tonight." "Well, nobody likes your band, Goddamit." Well, there's pause there now, to think why—maybe it's time to really make a change; maybe what we're doing is wrong. But I ll be the one to make the final judgement. So it's okay to be out of work, to be unsuccessful, to ask for help—it's all part of the growing up. If you're a smash millionaire at the age of eighteen or twenty, what the hell is there to look forward to? And I feel, if you're going to take something out of this business, you better give something back. It's okay to be successful, and it's okay to be a bum, and if you have faith in yourself and stamina, it's okay to be a success again. And again, and again. But try to avoid pitfalls; try not to make the same mistake.

Make a new one, don't make the same one. And I look back at those days, not with anger, not with disappointment, but with the recollection of a lot of fun.

What has been said is that you were something of a hell-raiser then.

Still am—absolutely. What is a hell-raiser? I don't hurt anybody; I don't go out and stick up a grocery store; I don't perform all kinds of weird acts. If you were to be with me on a twenty-four hour basis, you'd find out that I'm very normal—depending on what normality is. I never drank; so I'm not the kind of guy that you see laid out on a bar, or across the floor some place. You don't ever hear about me getting messed up with women; you don't hear about escapades—I don't stand on the stage and take my clothes off. In those terms, I'm a very normal guy. I'm a married man; I have a daughter. I'm civilised in certain areas of my life. Hell-raising means I liked a good time, and I wouldn't take any crap from anybody—but I wouldn't do that today either. So if it means that you stand up to something—yes, I was and I am.

But perhaps in those days, while you were still developing and proving yourself, you had to take more from people and give back more than you do today.

Exactly. When you get an older guy who looks at a younger guy and says: "Who the hell does he think he is?" you simply say: "Well, this is who I am. Now what about it?" They either accept the challenge, or they say: "Okay—you're on your own." You can be a rebel without taking people apart; you just stand up for what you believe. Guys used to say: "Jeez, he plays so loud—that'll all you can hear." Well, maybe, in those days, when there were more than two factions of music—you had sweet bands, dance bands, jazz bands, Latin bands, all kinds of different things—you had different opinions. George Simon would say: "He's a great drummer, but. . ." Okay—that "but" is only in your opinion. Somebody else says: "He's terrible. All he does is sit up there and bang." Then there's a third guy, who says: "That's the greatest thing I ever heard." Who's right? All three are right, because all three are expressing what they hear; so it's okay, isn't it? One guy says: “He's got nothing but technique"; another says: "He's the hardest swinger, but he's got no technique." Well—I'm the only one that's right, because I know that I've got the technique and I also swing. Those guys writing about me are only guessing as to what I am. You sit up here with me and you listen to me rap like this, but you don't really know what I am or who I am. You'd have to sneak up here some time when I don't know you're around, and actually see and hear what I am, when I talk to people. This whole conversation could be a facade; is it or isn't it? That's for you to decide—right? If three other reporters came up with three thousand different questions, they would get a different idea what Buddy Rich is. So how can you bother about worrying what anybody thinks about you—hell-raiser, nice guy, whatever.

Those are all ideas that other people have—and it's all okay. What is anybody all about? Everybody is a lot of things. Five people go to see a movie, and you've got five different reviews. And the only one that really counts is the guy who goes up and puts his pound up at the box office—he makes the final decision, not the reviewer. Not the guy who says the Broadway show is rotten and it's going to close in four weeks—it runs for four years, because the guy reviewing it means nothing. The person who pays the money makes the real judgement.

Copyright © 1981, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved.