John McLaughlin, Allan Holdsworth, Billy Cobham, Jack Bruce, Gary Moore, Level 42. Am I writing a music encyclopedia? No, just listing a small section of virtuoso Gary Husband’s resume’. Indeed, those names only address a small portion of his career. Solo releases starting with Diary of a Plastic Box, continuing releases with the New Gary Husband Trio, and up to 2017’s A Meeting of Spirits Mr. Husband has a prodigious output as the bandleader. Just last year he presented his big band production Dreams in Blue, performed by the prestigious Norddeutscher Rundfunk big band. As a drummer, keyboardist, and composer Gary has a unique ability to fit into musical scenarios many could not. His collaborations have been true musical marriages with ideas flowing both ways. This being the case, he also has a privileged vantage point to witness and interact with other musicians from two different angles. Gary was gracious enough to share a little of his insight with me, and now I share it with you.
Being a drummer and a keyboard player, I wonder if when you have been playing drums up alongside a soloist like Allan Holdsworth or John McLaughlin you think strictly in terms of time, or are you following the notes and chord changes?
I really don’t think at all while playing. It’s just about concentration for me. I concentrate on the form of the piece, so I’m clear where I am in it, and beyond that I have this wide open general concentration on everything that’s going on, of course with principally the soloist, but also from everyone in the band. I’m just kind of monitoring the whole thing, including of course my contribution as the drummer, as the whole thing has to just feel as “one”. It has to be spontaneous and interactive, but have a unity and flow. And the drummers role and function is gigantically important in and to all this. We’re at the centre of everything in a way.
With John, he wants a great deal from a drummer. He wants pushing, he wants full on committed interplay, power, inspired creativity and he wants a great feel to everything. He likes it intense and urgent. He likes a lot of fire behind him. But at the same time he wants alert quick-fire and evolved rhythmic improvisational interaction from the drummer. He also wants it soulful, meaningful and of course different every night. And if the drummer has what it takes to play with someone like him … not like there is anyone like him … it’s quite an experience let me tell you!
With Allan, well, we had this evolving and growing improvisational relationship together which grew over a period of a few decades. It was as natural as they come, right even from when we started playing back in 1979. I feel blessed to have found that, and to have had those many, many years together and to have had that amount of time with him, for it to grow like it did. But it was a very easy feeling between us. Again, it is just about concentration. Really about the intense open monitoring that was going on between us both. The “story” – the musical events that transpired – really just happened. I really knew him SO much, and him me. We were very familiar with each other as improvisers and, y’know, it was just a really good fit between us. Much of the way we played in Allan’s music involved really quite a prominent improvisational element from both the drums and guitar, during his solos. He loved the drums very active behind him – very free, powerful and inventive along with him when he was playing. He hated static drumming. Actually John also hates that.
Alternatively, when on keys, do you find yourself anticipating drum fills, and leaving open spaces for the drummer?
Oh I’m just listening really. Intensely so. Listening and reacting. Of course with keyboards it’s a harmonic involvement, solos, all as well as rhythm. With people of that band’s standard (John McLaughlin & The 4th Dimension) though there’s just such a trust in a way. The work is done by each of us of course, to get to that level, and is forever ongoing. That’s part of the trust. At the core of that trust, is really the unified knowledge that it’s going to come together, in a way of course none of us know about but a way that musically works. That’s why it’s so reliant on trust. Everyone’s listening intensely and the chemistry’s good – that we know. But even with mistakes, there’ll be a kind of “recovery” brought about by all of us in the music that’s kind of unique to our particular relationship I feel. I think every evolved group of musicians develops that in their own way. Or should! Of course with John, you also have this element not many speak of in relation to him, and that is that he’s such an amazing accompanist! He’s a joy, behind any of our solos, in what he’s giving us, continually. He has that “god” timing for things you know.
Do drums require more regular practice than keys to stay “fresh”? I’m thinking in terms of the physical stamina required.
In all honesty Peter I have to confess to you that with the exception of way back in my much younger formative years I’m not and haven’t been really much of a physical practicer in the literal sense. Most of the work I do is my imagination and in my head. And that I do on a continual basis. 24/7 really. If I have a tour or project coming up I guess I do get into some heavy warm up physical routines, with whichever or both instruments, but generally I really don’t practice stuff much on the instrument itself. The ideas are evolving in me all the time, and basically, the physical application and manifestation of them comes about later. Physical stamina, hmmm… I pretty much put that down to determination really!
You have collaborated with so many major talents, is there a musician that you would like to work with but haven’t had the opportunity yet?
I’m hearing people every now and again – special ones, younger and older – and I get excited and start dreaming. I hear combinations involving key people, and when I feel I’ve got something for them I sound them out and see what comes back. Like, I still plan to form a small band called Gary Husband & The Trackers with an incredibly interesting musician – Norwegian guitarist Alf Terje Hana. Who for bass I have several ideas, but not certain there yet. I wanted Skuli Sverrisson initially, and Skuli’s based in Iceland. But in whichever way it’s feasible for it to come about, travel logistics and all, I feel this’ll be really exciting. Also, I dreamt one night I made a trio album with (bassist) Miroslav Vitous and (saxophonist) Dave Liebman. And I hold a lot of significance to dreams of that nature, so I sounded both of them out as a matter of course and both were very interested, delightfully. So I think that’ll happen too. I’ll certainly try on with great motivation towards both those projects.
Lately I’ve been doing so much sideman work with so many different people, which I really love. But on two different instruments, learning new music each time, it’s heavy work, and my own projects have invariably been pushed to the back of the queue for quite some time now. But I’m getting hungry again.
How have your drum kits evolved over the years. Did you start out simple, then add on as time went on? Have you added pieces to your kit that you later removed, deeming it unnecessary?
I don’t really think about that Peter, and haven’t ever much. I try to get put together a kit that’s suitable for the vernacular of music I’m playing. Of course I would love the luxury of having my own drums transported to everywhere I play, but that just doesn’t happen any more. As travelling and touring drummers we’re so reliant on backline. And with those companies you take your chances! I have my sticks and usually my own cymbals though. I kind of go to a smaller 4 piece Jazz set all the way up to my current double bass drum Pearl set from my standard preferred, more regular rig of two rack toms, two floors, bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, two crash cymbals and one ride. That’s the “Allan” rig I always had and still feel very comfortable with. I’m not evolving the kit too much. To me the real important evolving is that what we do in music.
How has your keyboard instrumentation changed over the years?
I’ve played my two 2X Nordleads for quite some years with John McLaughlin, also for all those tours those few years with Billy Cobham Spectrum 40 Band. I like those little synths they make. They’re very hardy for travel and perfect for the experimenter- really hands on for performance. Beyond that I take a backline stage piano with MIDI and use my own laptop Rhodes, acoustic pianos, organs, etc. The sounds onboard the Nord stage pianos aren’t to my liking anyway, but more particularly nor is the action. I will generally ask for Roland RD700, something like that, for my stage work. Much superior action for piano technique in my opinion. Beyond that I have little TC delay and verb that I run the 2X through on stage.
Is there any music you listen to that might surprise people?
Maybe! I don’t know what would surprise people!!
You have said Allan Holdsworth once told you to “be yourself “. In retrospect, did absorbing that truly allow you to express yourself, or could it have subconsciously made you strive to be different from your peers?
Allan really was the first one to come along and not put any pressure on me whatsoever to try and sound like somebody else. And this was so momentous a happening at that time. I was playing with a much more “American drummer” exuberance back in London in my teenage years. I hope I still do! But I was definitely forming in a way that wasn’t the norm by any means in 1978, and certainly wasn’t to everyone’s taste! And I could so bring to light the way I was forming with somebody such as Allan. The fact that it happened, and that we met when we did, was absolutely miraculous timing. But in another way, I kind of feel it was meant to be. That’s why I feel so blessed.
When composing a song, do you start with an idea, like “I want an upbeat tempo, major key song” or do you more often stumble upon a theme and expand on that?
Not really. I start to feel the essence of something, and I really wait for that to come about. Not that we can do anything about it anyway! But yeah, I get a notion of something and it comes together when it’s ready. Sometimes I hear “melodies” or “tunes” that don’t have specific notes! They just are of a certain register!! It’s so mystical isn’t it. So all I do is leave the doors and windows of my imagination wide open, so things can come to inception there, naturally. I try and decipher them all later. Right now most of my little ideas get sung into the Voice Memos app on my iPhone on trains, in airports or shops! Crazy eh!
You have two main instruments, keys and drums. If you could snap your fingers and be proficient on a third instrument, what would that be?
Guitar! Although I was never very proficient I did used to play a bit of acoustic guitar. Did quite a bit of writing on it, played on an album of mine and there’s some filmed excerpts of me playing it live on my YouTube channel!! But I haven’t touched it for many years.
Be sure to check out Gary’s latest masterpiece “A meeting of Spirits”
To learn more about Gary’s music and his upcoming live shows visit : http://www.garyhusband.com/