The Where's That Sound Coming From Interview with
John A. Ware
"You know too much. Ever pondered that?"
And with those rather intimidating words, I was invited to send along my interview questions to John Ware.
The problem with digital correspondences is the lack of verbal cues and nuances. If you were face to face with a stranger, and one of the first things they said to you was "You know too much. Ever pondered that?", depending on the tone and inflection, it could either be cause to a) laugh and and offer a humble "thanks" as pint glasses clink together; or b) turn and run with your life flashing before your eyes as you look for the nearest bullet-proof structure to duck behind.
I assumed that Mr. Ware was being complimentary, since he soon was giving me more information than I ever could have dreamed of getting on my first blog interview. After reading his responses I thought, "Well, NOW I might know too much!".
And if you continue reading, dear readers, you too will know too much. Or rather, just enough.
Oh, and in case you DON'T know who John Ware is, he and some of his buddies have a two-word answer for you:
|The First National Band, 1970--one of the many notable acts in John Ware's drumming resume. L to R: Red Rhodes, John London, John Ware, Michael Nesmith|
I kid. In fact, judging from this interview, John Ware, legendary drummer--and much more (artist, photographer, movie producer--please see his official site and prepare to be amazed...)--who's played with some very famous names (more about that, later), is about as pleasant and humble, proud, yet candid and down to earth of a guy as I could have ever hoped to have as my first interview subject.
Some may find this interview curious and suspicious in its timing. But it was, I swear to your god, conceived weeks before I ever read the following Michael Nesmith quote (on his Facebook page):
"... I connected with John Ware about reforming what is left of the First National Band for a short live tour doing the RCA material."
While that is indeed awesome, amazing news, I've learned not to hold my breath regarding such things. I had to sit through a Nesmith-less Monkees concert in 1997 because I bought the tickets before Nesmith backed out of the tour. Boo. No, this interview actually came about because of another recent Monkee event.
UPDATE: It's now 16 months later and I've since seen Michael Nesmith THREE times on stage. Twice with the Monkees, playing his 12 string Gretsch, singing a generous amount of his best Monkee-era songs and having a great time; and once, playing a lifetime's worth of solo material with a band, at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton, MA. A stage I've played on probably 30 times in the last 10 years, and a 10 minute walk from my place. Oh, and I also met Nez's lovely daughter Jessica when she introduced herself to my friends and me while we were having a pre-show dinner and chat with Andrew Sandoval backstage in Boston.
Later that night, a friend presented me with Nez's autograph on a flyer I'd designed for an all-star (locally speaking) tribute to his music on his 70th birthday last year that I organized and played at...
It's a bit strange to say, but I must be honest. All this started with the death of Davy Jones. I was told to check out Michael Nesmith's Facebook page to see his lengthy, philosophical and hyperbole-free eulogy of his former Monkee-mate. Scrolling through, and reading the first couple of comments, I saw one by a John Ware. "Is it...THE John Ware?, I wondered. I clicked his name and saw, yup. That's him. A couple days later he accepted my friend request, and I poked around his FB page, which led me to his website. I was so fascinated by this humble guy who had played in so many places with so many giants in rock and roll/country music, that immediately, question after question filled my head. I flashed on the inspired notion to interview him. I jotted down 20+ questions. I hadn't even requested the interview yet! But I finally did (after hemming and hawing for a month) and he said yes (and the comment about me knowing too much) so, here we are.
Useful information about The First National Band is pretty hard to come by. Thus, when writing questions for John, one seemed to lead to another, to another....until I had so many questions, I was afraid he might change his mind.
Though his days with The First National Band was my focus (and it was really barely one year--1970), I was also well aware--if less informed--of Ware's years drumming with both Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris. So we spent a bit of time on that too, as well as on what he's up to now.
Before we start, let's take a You Tube tour of some of John Ware's career highlights.
The once-included clips below were slowing up this entry so much and to such a maddening extent, that I've decided to cut them and just include the links.
These first two clips are so historically significant. Linda Ronstadt--then, still a pretty new voice on the scene-- had her first hit the year before with Michael Nesmith's "Different Drum". And she was continuing to establish herself mainly as an interpreter of country and folk rock. But she was still a few years from the 70's superstar she became.
1) Living Like a Fool-- from Hugh Hefner's VERY HIP Playboy After Dark series (check out the Byrds, Harry Nilsson and the Grateful Dead clips). Taped October 1969; Broadcast April 1970: This is about as close as we'll ever get to First National Band footage. The rhythm section here is John London and John Ware from FNB (the studio version of this song includes pedal steel giant Red Rhodes, also from the FNB. But he's not on the TV version). Also in this band is country/rock legend Bernie Leadon (Dillard and Clark, Flying Burrito Brothers, The Eagles) and Chris Darrow, who at the time had been in Kaleidoscope (the L.A. one, not the U.K. one) and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band.
A mere three months after this taping, London and Ware would be recording Magnetic South, the first of three First National Band albums, with Michael Nesmith. Meanwhile, Leadon would be jumping aboard the Flying Burrito Brothers in time for their second album, Burrito Deluxe.
A tangled web of country rock indeed! And I didn't even mention that Ware would join Emmylou Harris' band soon after the death of the man who helped establish her name in the business, Gram Parsons (founding Burrito Brother). Well, I just mentioned it, didn't I. Anyway, watch that clip.
2) Tengo Amore (featuring Ware's genius percussion ensemble. From 1:01-1:10 would make a great drum loop. Just cite your source, please, if you do it.
So, yes. Then came the First National Band, led by Michael Nesmith. They lasted a little over a year, releasing three excellent albums and two successful singles. But they never got the props they deserved. As you'll read in the interview, there is no footage of the FNB. So we have to deal with fan videos. But if you've never heard these songs, you're in for a treat. The Burrito Brothers may have been sexier and more elegantly wasted, but the FNB had more ideas per album side than most bands have in a career. All songs written by Michael Nesmith (though we'll read about Ware's important arrangement contributions below).
Soon after, Ware joined Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band, which took him through the 70's. Some legendary players there, too. Elvis Presley fans may recognize a couple faces--Glen D. Hardin and James Burton --who were in the first incarnation of The Hot Band when they weren't with Elvis (meanwhile, Elvis' drummer, Ron Tutt, at this time, was moonlighting with the Jerry Garcia Band).
Well, that's enough of a resume, don't you think? So let's let the man tell the story himself.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr John A. Ware!
(note: he answered in all caps. I don't believe he was yelling at me the whole time..)
Where's That Sound: What is your first recorded work that's still readily available?
John Ware: I REALLY DON'T KNOW. THE FIRST RECORDING I EVER PLAYED ON WAS "CRAZY" BY BOB BECKHAM. IT WAS A PUBLISHING COVER OF THE PATSY CLINE SONG THAT ACTUALLY WAS A JUKE BOX HIT. I'VE BEEN TOLD IT SOLD OVER A MILLION COPIES. THAT WAS IN 1957. PROBABLY THE EARLIEST STUFF WAS WITH LINDA IN '68 OR '69. "SILK PURSE."
WTS: I own a used vinyl copy of the Linda Ronstadt compilation, Different Drum. There are no musician credits, but on a couple NON-Stone Poney cuts, the band, to my ears, made me think "could this be the Corvettes?" or at least you on drums? Sounds like your drum sound and style, but it may be just the in-vogue sound of the time?
WTS: I read that you were the one to first approach Michael Nesmith with the idea of starting the First National Band. I found that interesting because John London had such deep roots with Nesmith (London had a pre-Monkees folk duo with Nesmith, and also played on some 1967 Monkee sessions) I'd have assumed he'd have been the one to dream up the band. So was the FNB really your idea?
We interrupt this interview for a good and pertinent reason:
I'm not sure how legal this is, but I was very excited to find it: CLICK HERE to go to a page with a link to a free download of The Corvettes 1969 single, "Level With Your Senses", written by Chris Darrow and produced by Michael Nesmith!! Give it a listen--a missing gem of 60's twang-pop! Ok...carry on.
WTS: And because of London's Monkees connection, had you had crossed paths with Nesmith while the Monkees were still chart busters?
|FNB: Red, John, John and Mike. Not pictured: Beer and Weed.|
WTS: That a serious, respected musician like yourself admired Nesmith so much that you wanted to start a band with him tells me that, although he got little respect from the older music fans and journalists for his quality Monkee tracks, he was respected within the musical community. Accurate?
WTS: Would you say the lack of success of the First National Band can be boiled down to people hearing/reading the words "former Monkee" and turning away? Because time has shown that those three albums have aged much better than a lot of the "country rock" of the time. Or was it bad marketing/management?
WTS: Reading a list of the gigs you guys played (there's a pretty comprehensive list in Andrew Sandoval's Monkees: Day By Day book) one might wonder, Was there ever any attempt made to get on, say, a Fillmore bill with like-minded acts like The Byrds, Crazy Horse or the Grateful Dead? There are a lot of state fairs and supper clubs with middle of the road acts, but sadly, no pairings with the other innovators of the time.
JW: THE FACT IS THERE WAS A PROBLEM WITH MANAGEMENT (MIKE'S CHOICE WAS POORLY ANALYZED) AND A PROBLEM WITH PROMOTERS. BUT...THE BIGGEST PROBLEM WAS WE LEFT THE COUNTRY (SEE MANAGEMENT). AT A TIME WHEN JOANNE WAS CHARTING AND WE SHOULD HAVE MADE INROADS WITH BOOKING AGENTS AND AN RCA PUSH, WE WERE LIVING IN ENGLAND AND PLAYING WORKING MAN'S CLUBS AND OCCASIONAL CABARETS. REALLY STUPID CHOICES. AS FAR AS I KNOW THE RESULT OF MONKEE THIS MONKEE THAT AND BEING UNAVAILABLE MADE US PERMANENTLY...UNAVAILABLE. ONE OF THE BIG REASONS I WALKED AWAY.
|Ware and Nez. Live, 1970|
WTS: The FNB scored a hit with Nesmith's beautiful ballad, "Joanne", which seems to have been as much a curse as a blessing. Yet, it's undeniably a beautifully written and recorded song. Any memories of the session?
JW: It's hard for anyone to capture what happened in the studio, because the feel came from the12 note lujon I played (along with "folkie" Mike's 12 string), and it can't be duplicated. I've been asked many times over the years to describe the rhythm track, and I'm at a loss...except to name the instrument. It happened and it wasn't planned. I doubt the same people in the same room with the same toys would create the same feel today.
WTS: I've read in different sources that 1) the Burritos scoffed at the FNB, but also that 2) Gram Parsons was a fan. A bit of truth in each? There's also a recent Nesmith interview in which he says he never even met Gram Parsons.
WTS: You and John London formed a very tight and funky rhythm section. And, while the Nashville cats had funk, the LA, and San Fran scene seemed to seriously lack in that department (thus giving birth to the hippie dance?). Nesmith also had a very quick and syncopated rhythm guitar hand. Were you going for "a sound", or was that just how it sounded when all mixed together?
WTS: Was the whole FNB responsible for the arrangements or did Nez call the shots? Songs like "Tengo Amore" and "Lady of the Valley" seem not exactly off the cuff.
WTS: I've always wanted to sample snatches of "Little Red Rider", "Tengo Amore" and "Hello Lady". Has anyone to your knowledge ever done so (sampled you)?
WTS: Not to make this a battle of the bands, but much like I feel the FNB rhythm section was tighter than the Burritos, and Nesmith's songs more imaginative than Parsons', I also think that Red Rhodes wins the Genius Award for the pedal steel. What are some of your fondest memories of Red? (Nesmith recently said in an interview that Red smoked more grass than anyone he's ever met. Wasn't expecting that!) Were you friends with him til the end?
WTS: Peter Tork has been quoted as saying that he expected doors to magically open for him once he quit the Monkees--but the exact opposite proved true. Was Nesmith the same way or did he realize that he was having to start from scratch again?
WTS: Unlike The Monkees, when FNB went on the road, you didn't have private jets, hordes of screaming girls, waiting press conferences and photograpers at every airport. Was Nesmith relieved? Disappointed? Ecstatic? Did he take it in stride?
WTS: On your website, You say that Loose Salute was done in 10 days and 30 cases of Busch. Pretty working class form of enlightenment! So you all weren't aligning yourself with the more chemically experimental Burritos/Dead/Eagles etc?
JW: YOU MEAN WE WEREN'T INTO PSYCHOTROPICS? DROPPING? WEED AND BEER FUELED THE FNB.
note: I now realize the "30 cases of Busch" quote is from John's Facebook page. Still, please check out the link to Ware's website. His life in the last 30 years has taken some very fascinating twists and turns.
WTS: For such an audio/video innovator as Nesmith, there is little to no documentation of the FNB. Or is someone somewhere sitting on some soundboard live recordings and/or film footage? I know at least a few people who would hit the moon if something turned up.
|FNB Live. One of the few visual documents of their existence.|
WTS: What's the story with the final FNB album, Nevada Fighter? The band broke up mid recording? It says that you AND Ronnie Tutt drum on it, but it doesn't say who's on what song? Do you remember which tracks are you, which one Tutt?
JW: MAN, IT WAS AN ONGOING BATTLE ABOUT DIRECTION...NOT WHO WAS PRODUCING BUT HOW THE BAND WAS SHIFTING AND SHAPING. I DIDN'T LIKE IT, AND HIS REACTION WAS TO GIVE ME MORE CONTROL. I DIDN'T WANT CONTROL. I WANTED ACTION AND REACTION. IN THE END I PACKED MY KIT IN MID-SESSION AND WALKED AWAY. I DON'T REMEMBER THE TITLES, BECAUSE WE WERE MIXING OLD SESSIONS WITH NEW. TRACKS WERE SHELVED AND THEN REINSERTED, AND IN SOME CASES SONGS FINISHED WERE RECUT WITH RONNIE. I KNOW WE FINISHED "PROPINQUITY" BEFORE I LEFT.
WTS: You and Ronnie Tutt share some deep Americana roots. He's drummed for Gram Parsons, Elvis Presley and Jerry Garcia. You, for Linda Ronstadt, Nesmith and Emmylou. Those artists output alone, given all the music they covered by so many artists, can provide one with a huge education in American music. Do you know Tutt? Admire his work? Any drummers, present or past you'd rank as your favorites?
THE FIRST PLAYER I LOVED AS A PERSON...A FACE AND A STYLE...WAS LEVON HELM. I FIRST SAW RONNIE HAWKINS AND THE HAWKS IN '59 I THINK, AND I WAS HOOKED. I REALIZED I DIDN'T WANT TO PLAY LIKE HIM EXACTLY, BUT I WANTED TO MOVE A BAND AS HE COULD...EVEN THEN. I SOON BECAME FRIENDS WITH LEVON, AND WE REMAINED GOOD IF DISTANT FRIENDS FOR OVER 50 YEARS.
GUYS I ACTUALLY LISTEN TO? CHARLIE WATTS...NEVER HAS ANYONE WITH SO FEW CHOPS HAD SO MUCH INFLUENCE. HE'S A WONDER, AND, THOUGH I BARELY KNOW THE GUY, I'M CRAZY ABOUT HIS PLAYING. ALSO...HERE'S A TWIST...TERRY WILLIAMS. HE SLAYS ME. FINALLY, THE DRUMMERS' DRUMMER IS JIMMY KELTNER. HE'S ANOTHER OKIE. HE HAS THE FINEST TOUCH OF ANY DRUMMER...PERIOD.
WTS: Any artists you wished you got to work with, but never did?
WTS: After the FNB, Nesmith formed the Second National Band for one album--the rather looser, um, herbal-scented Tantamount to Treason. Did you ever hear it or was it the last thing you wanted to hear after the end of FNB?
JW: I KNOW NOTHING OF IT.
WTS: Did The Corvettes ever get together post FNB?
WTS: I recently spotted you playing with Emmylou and The Hot Band on a DVD of The Old Grey Whistle Test. How long did that band last? What are your favorite memories and proudest work with that band? Was James Burton also with Elvis at the time?
|Emmylou and The Hot Band: John Ware, Glen D. Hardin, Albert Lee, Hank Devito, Emmylou Harris, Emory Gordy, Jr., Rodney Crowell|
WTS: In 1977, you briefly reunited with Michael Nesmith for an Australian tour. I know that Nesmith never thought much of it, but I personally love Live At the Palais (except the screaming girls that ruin the ripping version of "Nadine".). What are your memories of that tour? How was that particular band put together?
(Click that Al Perkins link and, if you don't know his work, prepare to be impressed)
WTS: On "Palais", all the songs are drastically reworked. In particular, the first two tracks, "Grand Ennui" and "Calico Girlfriend" are brilliant. I have a theory that Dylan stole the feel of "Ennui" for his "Serve Somebody" a year or two later. And the "Calico Girlfriend" is just one of my favorite things. Why did Nesmith all but disown it?
JW: I DON'T HAVE A REPLY FOR THIS. WE STARTED REHEARSALS AT HIS HOUSE IN CARMEL, AND THE NATURE OF THE PLAYERS, MIKE'S ATTITUDE, THE TIME...ALL THOSE FACTORS SHAPED THE NEW APPROACH.
WTS: On your Facebook page, you had some very nice words for the late Levon Helm. Was he a friend? Or just a drummer-brother?
This sweet photo, from John's Facebook page, will answer that question....
|John Ware with Levon Helm--Woodstock 2007 (taken from Mr. Ware's Facebook page)|
WTS: How much drumming are you doing these days? Mostly close to home or do you ever tour?
WTS: Lastly, what are you listening to these days?
And that, boys and girls, wraps up the first official Where's That Sound Coming From interview. Let's see who I can get next....stay tuned....and in the meantime....
PLAY THE DRUM A LITTLE LOUDER, JOHNNY!
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