My parents were music lovers and allowed me to play drums in the house while growing up so that is probably the one thing more than anything else that allowed me the opportunity to learn to play. There are pictures of me playing on oatmeal boxes when I was in diapers so I don’t remember how it all started. There were toy drum sets as I got older. My sisters twirled baton and I remember marching alongside of them with a snare drum in parades. My first real drum set was a black pearl Gracy which I got when I was 6 and that is when I started taking private lessons from Gerry Colapinto. I was in school bands and learned how to read music, We played swing, big band and jazz charts and competed in a lot of festivals. The first band I attempted to start I was in Jr High school probably about 12 or 13 years old and it was a be bop band with upright piano, clarinet, sax and bass if I remember right. We never made it to a performance level though! I joined my first rock bank called Passin Thru when I was 15 before I could drive. My parents had to drive my drum set to the band room (by this time I was playing a massive double bass blue pearl Slingerland kit) I rode my Bultaco motorcycle to practice until I got my license. Not long after that I joined the Musicians Union and started getting a lot of work. That was a very confusing time for me. Until that time, I had met Gene Krupa, Roy Burns, and Buddy Rich, I was professionally trained, had recorded records and was starting to make a decent living playing music. I earned a scholarship to a 4 year University in San Diego, CA and while I was walking across the school grounds that first day I realized at that moment that I wanted to break away from formal training and cut a new groove for myself. Develop my own sound, my own style. My own identity. I quit school before I even started, quit the Union and concentrated on performing, playing in several bands, challenging myself to find ways to really make the drum set come alive.
You seem to have a special thing for surf music seeing the number of surf bands in which you played: Jon and the Nightriders, Davie Allan and the Arrows, The Surfaris, Slacktone and Dick Dale of course ! What do you like in this music style? How did surf music evolve in California these last 30 years? How does it feel to play with « The King of Surf Guitar »?
My band The Press was booked to do a show with The Knack when they first started out. The promoter, John Blair, had seen me play and asked if I would record a surf instrumental record with him. He had written a book about surf music and wanted to record a record to release with the book. I said sure and that was how Jon and the Nightriders started. I had never played surf music before but I had a lot of years experience playing in instrumental bands. I liked the freedom of expression allowed in instro music and I understood the importance of listening to the other band members and playing with dynamics. So my love for surf music was developed by my years as a jazz drummer, together with my experience in playing rock and punk rock, which eventually led to the natural transition for me to develop as a surf drummer I suppose. Playing with Dick Dale was a huge experience for me, he taught me a lot. Dick demands so much of himself and therefore everyone around him as well, which makes for a very tight ship. I mean our entourage moved with exact precision on stage even though we were literally jamming and improvising the entire time! It was an amazing, passionate adventure and I am grateful to have played so may years with him. The last 30 years has seen a number of surf bands spring up all over the world, which are now recognized as 1st, 2nd and 3rd wave bands. I was fortunate enough to have played in all 3 waves and I plan on being there when the 4th wave comes along!
You played on the amazing « Live at the Whiskey » (Jon and The Nightriders – Bomp records 1981)! You played and hung out in many famous Hollywood clubs such as the Whiskey A Go-Go, The Troubadour, The Starwood… Any memories you’d like to share? What bands left a strong impression on you?
Yes it was a very tumultuous time for me and everybody else in Hollywood during that time. Punk rock was alive and well in LA and I was playing with The Stepmothers who were getting a lot of attention. I was also playing drums for Lita Ford after she left The Runaways and I was still playing in a few other bands at the time, including Jon and the Nightriders. None of us thought that instrumental surf music was going to make much of a splash anywhere outside of Southern California. Greg Shaw approached John Blair from Bomp Records after we released the 7” on John’s own California label. Rodney on the Roq got onto the record and was playing it on his show every week. There was a lot of buzz about the band. We thought hell yeah why not do a full length release! Surf Beat 80 came out and as soon as it did we had so many offers for shows it was crazy! (after 2 record releases, Jon and the Nightriders had not yet done a single live show!) So we put a live band together and started taking the offers as they were coming in. Our first show was at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium opening for Dick Dale and The Surf Punks. It was pretty amazing and from there we played all the Hollywood clubs including a 2 day run with The Blasters at The Whiskey and that is where the Live From the Whiskey record came from. The Record Plant sent a mobile truck out and we recorded 2 shows each night so there were 4 shows total that were recorded and John and Greg just picked their favorite takes. There were so many shows and parties it never really slowed down for many years we were all young and full of energy and the excitement was contagious ya know like, “hey did you hear so and so just got a 7 album deal with such and such a label”. Everyone was talking about showcases and label deals and well the parties and dinners and all the label heads running around town trying to sign the next big act it was quite a scene! I was lucky to have been a part of all that.
A quick look at all the records you’ve played on makes us think that you’re a busy man! You played with bands as various as the Supersuckers, the Boss Martians, The Queers and even Boo Yaa Tribe and pretty hard rock girl Lita Ford on her first album. It seems like you also almost played with Black Flag! How did you meet all these people? What are your conditions when you work for a big record label?
I started playing drums at a very early age and I just never stopped. Every opportunity to play I said yes. I still take a lot of gigs with different bands because its fun and it’s challenging for me. I like the way it makes me think on the fly. It makes me LISTEN to what everyone else is doing on stage. Every artist teaches me something I didn’t know before playing with them. I enjoy playing all types of music so it would be a shame to only play with one band my entire career, playing the same songs every night with the same people. I think I would have tired of that rather quickly. Regarding the business end of things, there is no standard in the music industry so there are different arrangements with each and every artist and I don’t really have any conditions to speak of. If I dig the music and dig the players then that is something worth checking out for me, it pretty much just comes down to that. As a new drummer coming up it really just takes a commitment and desire to play as much as possible. The music business is based on word of mouth so the more gigs you play, the more people see you. I have been lucky enough to play with a lot of different bands.
Do you often get asked to work as a session drummer? How do the auditions go? Have you already refused to work with someone? According to you, what is the best album you’ve ever recorded? Which one(s) allowed you to get some recognition in the music business?
I am mostly a touring drummer – a performer – so most of my time is spent playing live shows on the road. I do however record a few records each year and usually there are no auditions, the artist hires me because they are familiar with my style of playing and they feel it will be a good fit for what they are doing. This past year I did records with Frankie and the Poolboys (surf); The Aquamarines (surf); Becky Barksdale (blues); Marisabel (latin); and Blookhook (punk/hard rock). Very diverse music giving me the opportunity to explore a lot of different styles of playing. I don’t know if I have a ‘favorite’ record though I do have some ‘least favorites’! I’m my worst critic so I am not a huge fan of a lot of my recordings but I can say that the Concrete Blonde album, ‘True’ and the Slacktone first release, ‘Warning: Reverb Instrumentals’ are two of my favorites. As far as recognition I haven’t recorded a Number One hit or anything so I wouldn’t know about that, but one of the biggest thrills for me was right after the Concrete Blonde record was released I was looking through the want ads in a musicians magazine and I saw an ad that said, “Drummer wanted – must play like Concrete Blonde”. That made me smile.
You’re often on the road. In which countries do you like to play? What was the busiest year for you as far as shows are concerned? Your best and worst tour/studio memories?
It seems as though I keep getting busier and busier but maybe it is just because I am older and time goes by faster I can’t tell. I am still doing about 150 – 200 shows a year which is quite a lot considering travel days. It’s really quite insane sometimes. I enjoy European shows a lot. The people there are raised with a more diverse art based culture than we have in the states. A lot of the governments subsidise venues and artists and make it more cost effective to tour as well. Possibly the most mind blowing thing for me was flying into Sau Palo Brazil for the first time, that was an amazing sight to see from above that massive city. I had never seen anything so immense in my life. The worst tours were early on with vans breaking down, no money, sleeping on people’s floors and starving our way to the next town hoping we wouldn’t get fired or kicked off the bill!
How is the Agent Orange European tour goin’? When did you meet Mike Palm?
The tour is going great! Weather has been perfect, the drives have been short for the most part, venues have all been well attended and we are having a fun time. Only disappointment so far was our planned surfing trip in San Sabastian, Spain. We had it all planned out and the only day we could surf we got rained out but other than that it’s all been good. I met Mike Palm in 1995. Mike and I are both huge surf music fans and we were both at a show in Hollywood some friends of ours were playing and I sat in with them for a song or two. Mike knew me from Jon and the Nightriders and he approached me and asked if I would join Agent Orange. I knew the band from the Rodney on the Roq release that my band The Stepmothers was on with Agent Orange. Their version of Mr. Moto was pretty cool so I said sure and I have been in the band on and off since that night.
You often play with Sam Bolle who could be describe as you rhythm half. Do you sometimes work together for session work?
Yes Sam and I have been playing together for the last 15 years and we bring each other into most of our projects. I’ve always wanted to have a rhythm section like that and it has been extremely rewarding to work with Sam on so many different gigs. A true professional and dear friend.
How do you deal with all your different projects? Any priorities?
Well you do have to prioritize everything to some degree right? I usually have one touring band that I commit to at a time. That means I will probably play between 100-125 shows a year with them. I will end up getting subs for other gigs I might have that are double or triple booked. Sometimes there are hectic schedules but things usually work out ok. I have a lot of drummer friends and we trade off gigs all the time covering for each other, trying to keep everyone working.
You always look in good shape behind your drum kit. What is your magic recipe to have so much energy after all these years? What are your favourite warm-ups before a show?
I wish I did warm up before a show! I used to be a complete mess and totally unreliable. I changed my life style and started paying attention to what my body was telling me. In other words I stopped putting poison in it and started feeling better. Pretty simple strategy eh? I have always loved the outdoors and I stay active when I am off the road. Boating, bicycling, motorcycles, snowboarding, hiking, camping, surfing…pretty much everything outdoors is all good with me. I think the exorcise and the love for what I do has allowed me a fairly healthy body to live in.
What are your favourite bands/drummers/musicians?
Well I admire Terry Bozio as the drummer’s dream technician. He is truly a master. I grew up with my heroes being Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich and they remain at the top of my list. Others that grabbed my attention along the way were Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, John Bonham, Ian Paice, some others in that time frame. Later it was Tommy Aldrige, Kenny Jones, Clem Burke, Chester Thomas, the list is endless. The most impressive drummer I have seen recently is Derico Watson, a soulful technician of the highest calibre. There are so many great talents out there it is really unfair to try and compile a short list. I appreciate technicians but I am a bigger fan of groove and feel so most of the time I appreciate the simpler approach more than the flash. My favorite bands lately would probably be the garage bands that all busted out a few years ago (love their energy) also fell in love with Mute Math when I first heard them and still admire them a lot.
You saw Gene Krupa and even Buddy Rich play! Was he really the best drummer in the world?
Gene Krupa was a true gentlemen in all aspects of the word. A hero, well respected and admired. Buddy was a child prodigy, an entertainer from age 2. He grew up on stage. His demeanour as everyone knows was very aggressive and demanding. His outbursts at his band on and off the stage are legendary. The drum battles that were waged amongst the top drummers back then were mostly in good fun, though there are some, which depict Buddy going for the jugular. I think Gene created the pathway for the drummer to be recognized as an integral part of the band, especially live performances. And I think Buddy took that a step (or two) further and created the Star image of the drummer for the first time in modern history. When Buddy left the bandstand after a performance, everyone in the room was utterly speechless, awestruck and most would proclaim, right then on the spot, Buddy to be the greatest drummer of all time bar none. That is how his performances effected people.
I’ve seen you started a « drum studio » with your wife who is also a drummer. Can you tell us about it? Who is the best one at drum battle?
Well as you know there are no battles with one’s wife because you are sure to lose! Circle City Studios is a demo studio where we lay down drum tracks for songwriters and bands working out new tunes. We have several kits to choose from and can match the style of the music both in performance and sound. We also like to go there and just work on our technique or to just play, as we both love drumming so much. We teach private lessons from beginner to advanced, and are working on developing a few different workshops we can take outside of the studio. We have direct relationships with several drum stores and manufacturers and have helped out with all kinds of drummer’s needs like drum repair, re-wraps and new and used drum sales. It’s just our way of keeping the spirit of drums alive. Rikki is a natural behind the drums. (Check out her band The Woolly Bandits http://www.myspace.com/woollybandits) One of our first ‘dates’ we went into the studio and played drums together for like 6 hours. Everything I was throwing at her she was picking up and playing along. It’s really been fun talking drums and working out parts for songs together. I never would have dreamed it possible to marry someone as talented and as passionate about drumming as Rikki. She has helped me develop a greater love and understanding for the instrument and I have fallen in love with drumming (again) AND her so it’s the best thing that has ever happened to me!
You appear on a DVD called « Surf Drumming ». What can we see on it? Where can we find it?
This was my first involvement with an instructional drum recording. I learned a lot from doing it and we all had a lot of fun talking about the drummer’s role in the development of surf music. It is narrated by surf guitar legend, Paul Johnson, so it’s not just about drumming, it’s more of a cultural piece on surf music with the drummer’s perspective in mind. There are several pointers and tricks and lessons from 4 different surf drummers, me included, so it is an educational and entertaining release. You can order it from my website: http://www.dustywatson.com
Why are Ludwig drums so special compared to other brands?
I like the way Ludwig drums feel when they are hit. I like the sound they produce. I like the staff at Ludwig and I like the artist roster of everyone who plays them. I have a lot of different Ludwig kits that I use depending on the music. The Ludwig Classics have been wonderful for many years and now the new Legacy series that just came out, 3 ply with reinforcement hoops, are going to be the benchmark for all drum sounds again, just like they were when they were first introduced in the 60’s. Ludwig offers a sound that is incredibly unique and the characteristics of the drum seem to respond differently with each drummer’s individual style and attack, which makes for a more personal sound that emanates from the drum. I have several kits and they all sound different – each one has its own tone and resonance and decay. Ludwig drums are still hand made one at a time and I think that kind of care and craftsmanship shows in the sound they create.
Who is the real Niki Syxx?
That is a funny question! Well if you read the Motley Crue biography, the Nikki Sixx that is most familiar to us all says that he was playing at a club and there was a guy there with the coolest name in rock and roll and he just decided to steal it. And that is exactly what happened. I was playing with the original Nikki Syxx at the time. His real name is Jeff Nicholson and he owned a club in Riverside, CA called The Squeeze. He was the bass player in Jon and the Nightriders when we played together. There was no Motley Crue yet. A little while later when I was playing with Lita Ford, Motley Crue and us were all living in Hollywood and being signed to record contracts and rehearsing at SIR and going to all the clubs on the strip each night. It was funny because Lita started dating Nikki and I remember sitting at their apartment and thinking you are NOT the real Nikki Syxx and you know it!
Anything else to add? What is happening now and in the immediate future?
Right now I am playing in several bands. Agent Orange is a skate/surf/punk band and we are always on tour. Slacktone is an instrumental surf band, which will be back in Europe in September of 09. Becky Barksdale is a blues band 3 piece with heavy rhythm section. We are playing festivals this summer. Marisabel is a full band backing a Rock en Espanol pop singer which is planning a South America tour later this year; The Surfaris is the world famous surf band who wrote Wipe Out, and we are always playing events up and down the California coast as well as planning another European tour in October. I am also working with a 3D film company that is currently working on a surf film and I am the music supervisor on the project. I am licensing music and also writing and playing a lot of drum parts for the film, something I have been interested in pursuing for sometime now so I am extremely excited about this new adventure.
Thanks for your time and I hope to see you again live behind your drum kit soon!