JJ 04/62: In My Opinion – Eddie Locke

Sixty years ago the Jo Jones protégé observed how much the drummer - from Sid Catlett to Sonny Payne - can shape the character of a band. First published in Jazz Journal April 1962

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This is one of a series of taped interviews with musicians, who are asked to give a snap opinion on a set of records played to them. Although no previous information is given as to what they are going to hear, they are, during the actual playing, handed the appropriate record sleeve. Thus in no way is their judgment influenced by being unaware of what they are hearing. As far as possible the records played to them are currently available items procurable from any record shop. Eddie Locke, that fine young drummer who toured here with the Coleman Hawkins-Roy Eldridge group, comes, along with his other rhythm mates, from Detroit. He arrived in New York in company with another excellent young drummer, Oliver Jackson, and they toured the halls doing a double drumming and dancing act, until Locke left to join the Ray Bryant Trio, and Jackson joined the Buck Clayton Band which toured the continent. A protégé of Jo Jones, Eddie Locke is in direct line from Chick Webb, and there is no better line of drummers than that . . . Sinclair Traill

“Steak Face”. Louis Armstrong’s All Stars (Satchmo at Symphony Hall). Decca DX-108
Well, I never met Big Sid Catlett, but of course I have heard his records many times. Matter of fact I never heard that particular one, but Boff Boff from that same album is one of my favourite drum solos – it is very, very melodic. I wish I had seen Big Sid, for I have heard he was a great showman, and I can imagine some of the things he was doing as he played that solo – show things, I mean. Boff Boff is better to listen to; it’s not so visual, hasn’t got to be. Catlett uses all his drums and the tones he obtains are quite some­thing. A very fine drummer.

“Night Ferry”. Buck Clayton (One For Buck). Columbia 33SX 1390
That contained same of my favourite people, musically and otherwise. Oliver Jackson is as you know one of my closest friends, and the rest of them are all buddies. Oliver and I did a drum act together, we were called “Bop and Locke”. Jackson was known back in Detroit as Bop Junior, ’cause he was so small and it was during the bebop era. The music there was just nice and easy – they all play that kind of jazz so very well, and with so much taste. I like anything that swings; and that does. I used to hear all those guys when I played with Ray Bryant in New York. I was with Ray for about six months. I made that Little Susie album with him and his brother Tom on bass. I was on most of that album, but didn’t play on Little Susie, and two other tracks. Gus Johnson made Little Susie (it came from an earlier session and was incorporated into the album), and Oliver Jackson was on the other two I wasn’t on – can’t remember the titles right now. Hugues Panassié knows, as he wrote me about that album some time ago.

“Ballet Of The Flying Saucers”. Duke Ellington (Drum Is A Woman). Philips BBL 7179
I like that piece of Duke’s music – but I like it all. Again, it is in places visual music – it was written for a television show – but it is wonderfully humorous and true to life! Sam Woodyard is a good drummer for the Ellington band as it is today. You know he took the heads off of his drums, so that he could get a different sound? He took the front off his bass drum and the bottoms from his other drums. It made a different sound all right, but I liked him before he did that, when he had ’em on!

‘Sam [Woodyard] is good for Duke, but I think he changed the whole feeling of the band – it hasn’t the same feeling it used to have. The band is more in the swing vein than it used to be. Duke doesn’t play those strange kind of tunes he used to play when Sonny Greer was with him’

Sam is good for Duke, but I think he changed the whole feeling of the band – it hasn’t the same feeling it used to have. The band is more in the swing vein than it used to be. Duke doesn’t play those strange kind of tunes he used to play when Sonny Greer was with him, those Swamp Blues kind of things. Sonny was grand on those kind of tunes. He’d get around his kit and obtain such tremendous effects; and I think he could get more tones from his cymbals than anyone else I ever heard. Of course, Duke writes for his musicians, so no doubt he now writes with Woodyard in mind – but it has made a different pattern for the band. But I liked Sonny with that band, and the things they were doing in those days. I don’t think anyone else could have done it quite like Sonny did. He’s a great guy, I spoke with him just before we left.

Incidentally, I made a record with Duke once – tunes were Jingle Bells and Strange Feeling – and that was a strange tune, it really was. Oliver Jackson had gone along to the session – Sam had got lost somewhere – and Duke, seeing me and knowing I was a drummer, suggested I do some­thing instead of just sitting around. So I was a kind of effects-man on that session. It was for that Asphalt Jungle TV programme. I don’t know if the record has ever been issued.

“Not Now, I’ll Tell You When”. Count Basie. Columbia SCX 3356
Well that’s one of my favourite bands. My favourites! I love ’em! All the guys. And they were playing on top of their form right there. Sonny Payne is a great drummer for that band. He creates a whole lot of excitement, and has improved a tremendous lot since he first joined. When I first heard him with the band, well I thought . . . But now he’s great. Of course he has had a lot of people around him to teach him; he’s been travelling in real fast company. His father’s a drummer, you know. He may have taught him, but I don’t think he took lessons. I always think that if you’re surrounded by the right people, and if you have any ability, then it’s going to come out. And of course Sonny doesn’t have to worry himself overmuch about time. With Freddie Greene sitting there, no one has to worry about time! Sonny isn’t going nowhere if he follows him, and he hasn’t got to worry about that! Anyway, Sonny is now a really consistent drummer.

You know, like Sam Woodyard with Duke, Sonny Payne has changed the feeling of the Basie band. He’s a real excit­ing drummer and is even better when you see him in the flesh. He has all those tricks you don’t see on record; and that was something his father taught him. For a drummer playing in the band – and I don’t mean solo – Sonny shows heaps of imagination. He does a whole heap of little things that really help the band and the soloists – a lot of subtle little things he has learnt through the years. He wasn’t that way when he started. But for a drummer to come into a band like that, man that’s rough! Especially for a drummer. A band has been playing together like that for some time and in comes a drummer, cold. It takes a while to get the feel of the band and to know what the soloists like – it takes time to feel out 15 men and to find out what they like. It can be rough going and real hard work to find out what each soloist wants behind him. But Sam, you know, has an even harder time than Sonny, ’cause Duke often doesn’t even play the piano and the only other rhythm they have is the bass, and for a bass and drummer to swing that big band is a real hard job. I often wonder why Duke doesn’t hire a guitar. Duke always needs a real powerful bass player, one that gets in there thumping, and he can’t always find one.

“Squeeze Me”. Harold Ashby-Paul Gonsalves (Tenor Stuff). Columbia 33SX 1390
That was in some ways a strange date – it didn’t quite come off, in my opinion. I was at the session, by the way. Who wrote those orchestrations, I wonder? I can’t under­stand why they say here they’re new; Duke has been playing these things for years. But the whole thing didn’t come off too well; there was a lot of tension in there at that time, and you can’t make good records that way. Also, it was made in a bad studio, I think, and so the sound isn’t too good. Of course I like Paul Gonsalves’ playing. I never heard him before I got to New York, but he has a most distinctive sound – I like him. And the rhythm was good enough, but things cooked up in that studio that day. It happens.

“Amuck”. Art Blakey (Orgy In Rhythm). Blue Note BLP 1554
I don’t think that kind of thing comes off too well on record. It’s fine if you can see it, but if you don’t know the drummers awful well, you don’t know which one is playing and when. I can tell ’em, because I can recognise them when they play their little solo bits, but I guess you’ve got to be a drummer to know who is who. I don’t mean I can tell the men who play the bongos and things, but I can recognise Art, Arthur Taylor and Jo Jones and Specs – they all have a different style. Definitely!

The only two you might have a little trouble with are Art Blakey and Arthur Taylor, for to me they do sound alike. Taylor plays a lot of things like Art, but of course he’s not so forceful. Art is real boisterous. It is wonderful how he manages to swing real hard all the time. He was playing the same place one time when I was with Ray Bryant and I was amazed how he could keep up there all night. He pushes all the time and will soon wear out a horn player that hasn’t got himself together. There have sure been a lot of Messengers you know, and as for trumpet players, well, Art sure beats ’em to death! He swings hard all night and will never let the horns come down for one moment – they’ve just got to stay up there all the time – and that’s tough blowing, man. Right now he’s got a new group that’s real fine. Three horns – Curtis Fuller, Freddie Hubbard and Wayne Shorter – and they sound real good. But I love Art. As Duke said some time back, “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and that’s what Art does all the time.

‘Buddy Rich is probably the most dazzling drummer . . . In some ways he must be called a freak, for there are some things he can do that are all but inhuman – impossible! He can play so fast and yet have complete control’

I think it is a pity about many of the modern drummers. They swing alright, but they don’t take the trouble to get those different sounds like the old drummers did. Sid Catlett and Sonny used to make it much more interesting to listen to. They got all kinds of sounds from their kits. The modern drummers do a lot of technical things, but don’t seem to have much method. You take the trouble to play any of those old Chick Webb records, and hear the sounds he got – he had method alright. Jo Jones took a lot from him you know. Jo is still the complete drummer when he wants to play. He has so much imagination. Buddy Rich is probably the most dazzling drummer, tho’ he’s not my favourite. In some ways he must be called a freak, for there are some things he can do that are all but inhuman – impossible! He can play so fast and yet have complete control. No one can play that fast with such control as Buddy Rich – and it was a natural gift with him, he was never schooled. He came from a vaudeville family, travelled all around and played drums from the time he was a very little boy. A fine drummer.