What I'm doing actually, Mike called me up and shook me out of the doldrums. For a while there I was very disillusioned with the business all together. I went into racing cars-which I still do-and all that kind of stuff. I had a record out in the early 70's called, "Nigel Olson's Drum Orchestra and Chorus". I used my friends, obviously and some other singers on the tracks. I found that when I'm on stage doing a two-hour show, it's very hard for me to play and sing at the same time for two hours straight. So I want to go back into the studio and cut another Drum & Orchestra album with songs that I'll be singing and writing but not necessarily singing lead on every song. Obviously, I'll arrange and sing any background parts, harmony parts, the same sort of thing I did with Elton. It will definitely be a rock and roll album with lots of huge ballads. Maybe a few up-tempo things as well but really, my forte is big ballads.
This you do very well.
Thank you. Thank you very much. So that's my plan for this record; we've put a budget together and Mike is now shopping it around to see if there's any interest there.
Have you contacted your old pals for this? Who is going to be helping out on this record?
I've spoken with Lee Sklar, I worked with him a lot in my early session days here in California: Rod Stewart, Linda Ronstadt records. In those days it was almost like, you name it, we played on it. So, I want to have Lee on bass. Keyboards: there is one song written by David Foster that he played the keyboards on. I would love to have Davy Johnston & Guy Babylon from the old Elton Band. Singers, I haven't lined up yet. I hope to have a nice mix of friends and accomplices from the old days and those from these days. I am really excited about it, getting back to the studio and all. I've always loved the studio.
So you would say that you're motivated now?
That matters a lot, yes?
Oh yes, most definitely. I've been offered to do sessions with other people, which I love to do and not just professionally, but if the songs don't inspire me, I tend to get bored and it just doesn't seem to work. These days if I can't give you my all, it's not worth doing. It helps being motivated and inspired, certainly. As far as working in the studio, I'd love to work with Geoff Lynne, Gus Dudgeon and as I mentioned before, I've done some things recently with David Foster; I love working with him though I don't ever really know what it's for when I'm doing it. He tends to cut tracks in the studio and nobody knows who will end up singing the vocals. I always have fun working with David. I've known him a long, long time; we used to work a lot together and we have a great comfort zone together because we are on the same wavelength musically.
You were living in Nashville for a while.
Yeah, I lived there for about 8 years. I had gone there with Dee Murray to do some background singing sessions for a guy named Earl Thomas Connelly. I fell in love with Nashville, I love the people there and in fact, I met my wife there. I just ended up staying there.
Did you work with the session players there, the country players?
Yeah, a little. I did a few things with Vince Gill, he's a great talent: singer, songwriter and guitar player - he s an amazing guitar player. My father-in-law is Larry Butler who is fairly well known, he produced most of Kenny Rogers early records and he wrote the song, "Hey, Won't You Play Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" for B.J. Thomas. Larry did a lot of projects that I played on. Most session players in Nashville read music and charts very well, so the beauty of working for Larry was he knew that I didn't read music. His standard joke was: he would hand me a chart and then take it and crumple it up and throw it away saying, 'you didn't need this, right?' (laughter) So, I did a lot of things with him and enjoyed it pretty much. After 7 or 8 years in Nashville, my wife Schanda and I moved back to California where we've been these past three years. I basically started out here in '72 when I moved here from England.
Do you miss England any longer?
Yes, I do now and again. I went back last year for 2 weeks when my mum passed away after a long fight with Alzheimer's... I went back for her memorial service and she would have been so proud, all my brothers and I, and my cousins; we all got together and had a blast! She would have been so happy to see that. It wasn't a tearful memorial service, it was more of a celebration of life. While I was there, I got to see a lot of stuff that I never really appreciated before when I lived there.
Where in England?
Well, London though my mum lived in NE England by Newcastle in a town called Sunderland. It's quite close to Edinburgh, Scotland. It's a very rural, beautiful place, on the coast with beautiful scenery and I loved seeing that again. I hope to go back when I start doing clinics. Now that is a whole different deal, I've never done a drum clinic before.
You've never done a drum clinic before?
Have you ever been to one?
(Laughing) You'll probably do one of the more interesting ones then. I'm not much of a fan of clinics; I've seen some great players do them and I don't really care for the approach.
So I'm thinking that you'll have an interesting clinic, certainly one with a fresher approach to it.
Honestly. I'm kind of freaked out by the idea right now. Mike (Mike Johnson Nigel's promotion manager) is getting me into the mode so-to-speak. I don't read for one and I'm imagining all kinds of people asking me, 'Is that a paradiddle?' and other kinds of technical questions that I haven't a clue to what any of it means. (laughter)
Well again, that sort of thing can get real stiff...
...and that, in my opinion, can be yet another reason that a lot of these clinics end up being so boring. Usually the program goes something like this: the player will come out and play this massive solo which is then followed by endless tech-speak and equipment talk, then they sign their pictures and go home.
Well, I won't be doing any massive drum solo that's for sure. I've never thought of myself as a solo player. I suppose that back in my early days with the Elton Band, once in a while we'd break into some jam or improvisational thing and I might have done some type of solo type playing. I'm not a technical player though; I'm more of a timekeeper.
To me, you were the drummer who best captured the art of tasteful rock drumming and I was always an admirer of your fills. Some of the best ever: tasteful, simple, never overbearing, perfect.
Thanks. You know, a few people have commented or said to me, 'it's what you leave out that makes your playing so great'. Or something like that; what I didn't play was the thing they liked best about my playing. They would expect a drum fill and one doesn't come or I'd suddenly throw a small one in there out of the blue.
Yep, I agree.
Basically, I think of myself again, as I said before as a solid timekeeper and a descriptive drummer. I play to the lyrics; I've always done that.
On those great, classic Elton John songs, did you plan your part out ahead of time, right down to the fill or did you play it as it went, how it felt?
We never planned anything. The beauty of that band was that we were all right there together on the same wavelength, number 1. Number 2, we would go away for a month or so and we would usually hear the songs being created. Bernie (Taupin) would send or sometimes bring the lyrics to Elton and he would sit at the piano and write the song. We were there or at least around to hear the song from its inception so when we went to the studio, we basically knew what we were going to do. It was never a situation where Elton would say, 'ok Nigel, I want you to play like this; Dee, you play this and Davy, play this'. We all had full license to do what we wanted to do. Elton would cut his piano and stuff, do his vocals and leave the studio. We would work with Gus Dudgeon or Chris Thomas or whoever was producing and create the background.
So, Elton never micro-managed you guys?
No. Absolutely not and I think that was one of the beautiful things about our records, it was always very fresh. We never, ever did more than 5 or 6 takes of a song. After the first few takes, a song can begin to lose its spark and start to get old, stale. If it didn't happen after the first... oh, six takes, we'd go on to the next tune.
So Elton would lay his tracks down first; did you play to a click?
No! Nah, I hate clicks! I just hate them. They're too mechanical and too confining. When I play, I need space, freedom But yeah, I really hate playing to a click track. I might need to get used to it because I just got a deal with metric, electric drums.
Roland electric drums?
No, they're Intech drums. This is a whole new deal for me.
Did they send you a kit?
They're on their way I understand.
Are you excited or at least curious about them?
No, I haven't but by all reports they're pretty much comparable to the Roland V-Drums that most of the session guys I know use. I had played some of them in a music store a couple months back and I remember feeling that they felt like when you hit them, they give back what you put into them; they're not those hard rubber things. Yeah, I'm excited, especially about putting some of my own sounds in there and such but it will be another new experience and learning curve for me, that's for sure.
You have those wonderful Slingerland Custom, natural shell drums and I understand that you're selling them?
Yep, they are for sale. I want to keep one kit but if somebody's interested in picking up my stage kit or my recording kit, which is all wooden rims...
Your recording kit has wooden rims.
Yes and the stage kit has metal rims which I used because they were a little bit louder and had that snap for the live stage; the recording kit has a much mellower sound. Everything is oversized too: the toms are oversized, so is the kick, David Foster has called them 'the cannons'. (Laughter) The last session I did, they had been in their cases for a year or so. I got them out and set them up and I didn't even have to tune them! I just slapped the mikes on them and went for it; they sounded excellent! In fact, it was less than 7 months ago that I did a session with the Canadian artist Roc Wazine-he is fairly big in Canada and France and I used them then.
Do you have one of the two kits set up where you live?
I don't; they're kept in storage at The Drum Doctors in North Hollywood. They take very good care of them.
So, if you buy one of these kits, do you get your front kick head with the Nigel Olson drum-mark logo and all?
I'm sure that we could arrange anything. In fact, there is a picture: I think it was the vinyl album ãHere and Thereä. You remember vinyl, right? (Laughter) Anyway, the insert or the record sleeve actually had a picture of all of our equipment: Davy's guitars, Dee's bass, Ray Cooper's bells and gongs and my drum kit. So there is actually a picture of the kit that the buyer can refer to if he wants so he'll know that those are indeed the ones when he takes delivery. There were only six of those kits built. I had designed them for Slingerland and I told them exactly what I wanted and they built them for me and then destroyed the mold. So there are only those six kits and I suppose they're worth a few sheckles.
You have a new endorsee.
Have you played them before?
Oh yes, I played them on the first tour we did in Japan. Yamaha had just come out with their new drum line and they sponsored me for that tour. I played them and liked them very much. I used them on and off, usually when it was too expensive to ship my gear. I always liked them a lot and they've got some great new stuff out there now from what I understand. Next month I'm going to the Yamaha factory or whatever you call it down here and play around with a few things, see what we come up with.
That's always exciting!
Like going to the candy store.
Absolutely, a kid in a candy store.
DRUMS- Yamaha Maple Custom or Recording Series. 10, 12, 13 inch mounted toms. 14, 16 inch floor toms on stands. 22 inch kick drum. 14 inch Dixon snare drum. 3 Yamaha boom stands. DW 5000 single foot pedel & high hat stand.
DRUM HEADS-Aquarian coated heads on all drums.
DRUM MIKES- Sennheiser and Evolution.
MONITORS- Wright Bros.
DRUM STICKS- Johnny Rabb 5b signature series.
ASSORTED PERCUSSION- Rhythm Tech.