Rick Keene Music Scene – Rest in Peace Neil Peart

March to the beat of your own drum.

Truer words have never been spoken when it comes to Rush drummer Neil Peart. Peart – passed away January 7th, 2020 at the age of 67 following a three year private battle with brain cancer. One of the greatest drummers in Rock n Roll and music history – is no longer here.

For the most part, Peart was an introvert with a keen eye to the world around him. Like most ‘observers’, Peart was able to put his thoughts into words. Along with writing most of the lyrics for his band Rush, Peart wrote seven books based on his travels.

Please listen below to part of Neil’s story and some classic Rush tunes.

Rush Here

Smoke Meat Pete Here

Top Ten Drummers

The men behind the scenes. The backbone of most bands. The guys whose mistakes can nullify anything in a heartbeat …

To narrow down a list of the best drummers is next to impossible – here is a (rim) shot at just that …

Ginger Baker

Stewart Copeland

Jimmy Chamberlain

Terry Bozzio

Keith Moon

Mike Portnoy

Neil Peart

John Bonham

Gene Krupa

Buddy Rich

Just Between Jerry Mercer and Me

It may have been a Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday. Do the days of the week matter when the phone rings and a Canadian rock legend is waiting on the other end of the call? The bruises linger from the self – inflicted pinching that took place on my right arm as I took the receiver from my ex and spoke to April Wine’s drummer.

I arrived at Mr. Mercer’s home the following day. A greeting ensued at the front door of a beautiful house located a hop, skip and drum roll from the Cajun Blues restaurant. Jerry introduced me to his current wife and his son Sean. His daughter (the server), was also hanging around and her and I laughed quietly with the irony of the circumstances that joined us together in this ‘after hours’ club.

Once the formalities were completed and I was cultured to the fact that Jerry`s daughter was studying piano and the son – a drummer just like Dad , Jerry and I moved from the kitchen and carved a path to the den. The scenario became a video in my mind, a picturesque view of the waterfront took center stage through the bay windows.

 Fame

 “I have an office… Gold records on the wall … Just leave a message – maybe I’ll call …”

Whether or not Mr. Mercer has, “accountants pay for it all …” (more of the songs’ lyrics ),  is something I do not know. It was of no interest to me and frankly – none of my business . What I do know – Mr. Mercer did call me back. I stood there. 

The hair on the back of my neck and on top of my

head along with all the tiny ones that guarded my scrotum –  were standing on guard. Shivers traveled the length of my body. Overcome with nostalgia and the sheer magnitude of what lay before me, my knees developed a mind of their own and searched the floor.

Life ‘s been good so far …

Glints of sunlight recoiled off the yellow discs that adorned the walls. I was the victim. I lay dying on the desert floor in a Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Western as the golden vultures with the names ‘I like to Rock’, ‘Just Between You and   Me’ and ‘Roller’ encircled me.

    “If nervousness and anxiety were to be the ailments that killed me – a death on Jerry Mercer’s floor was not necessarily a bad thing ” I thought silently.

Jerry motioned towards the sofa and we sat.

The ( then ) sixty – one year old could sense the three-year-old schoolchild that currently invaded his couch and he immediately put my senses at ease. He asked about my children. As any parent is aware – there is not a disaster in the world that the idea of offspring dancing through your mind, like angels on a cloud – cannot heal.

“So where do we start?” Jerry asked in a kind way once my tales of tots were completed.

“I thought you would know … “I responded with a nervous laugh. I was not convinced this was the proper time to inform Mercer that this was indeed – my inaugural biographical interview.

Where does one start? At his birth? In his parents’ bedroom …? Should we get them on the phone? Who knew?

“Why don’t we start with how you became a drummer?”The words escaped my mouth and the resonance eased my novice-batting stance. I was ready to step to the plate. The pine tar tossed aside.

 The only interview I had done to this point was never published. I was not over – whelmed during that one and the fact that the majority of my questions were about the Rolling Stones – had everything to do with it.

Annie Liebowitz, the famed photographer, was in town with a collection of her photos. They (the photos), were on display at the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts and my journalistic mentor was kind enough to donate his press pass. He was well aware of my obsession with the ‘World’s Greatest Rock n Roll Band’ and Ms. Leibowitz had been the band’s official photographer for their historic 1972 and 1975   tour.

It is one thing to know a great deal about a subject and a completely different one when you are learning as you go. Not only that – with all due respect to Ms. Leibowitz,  she never ‘rocked my world’ with a ten minute drum solo’!

In the beginning …

Mercer began his tale as Yannique brought us refreshments. My borrowed tape recorder on full alert as the’ rocker’ informed me of his tribal beginnings in the art of percussion.

He started playing in a marching band when he was fourteen as an extracurricular activity. Once he completed school at Verdun high school, he commenced working at IBM and was set to indulge in a career with a growing company.Then, one afternoon, he heard something that altered his life and in the process – startled his parents.

  “I was listening to AM radio. My hit parade was the hip radio show back then . All of a sudden the Ray Charles’ song ‘What’d I Say ‘came on. I had never heard anything like it. I thought to myself ‘that cat has swing!’ I knew right then and there – I wanted to become a drummer!”

Mercer informed his parents of his decision and promptly quit his job to pursue music. His dad told him that it was like ‘jumping off a diving board into an empty pool ‘.Yet, in Jerry’s words; they were very supportive. ”They were Christian and very religious people. I could never have asked for a more loving environment to grow up in.”

Jerry then began his pursuit of all things music. He began studying all of the great drummers; Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa and Max Roach.

He would sneak into the Maurice Richard arena and crawl up on the catwalk to get a bird’s eye view of his idols as they came to town. High above – he would watch with precision as Krupa introduced his talents to Montreal. Buddy Rich would arrive the following week and make everyone’s (including Mercer) jaw drop to the concrete floor. The rafters were also the place that Mercer witnessed an up and coming talent ply his trade as an opening act for the Isley Brothers. It was a young Jimi Hendrix with Mitch Mitchell banging away on drums. Mitchell fast became another hero to the young Mercer.

“Music was much easier to get into back then.” Mercer continues.” You had four choices – Jazz, Pop, Rock or Country. These days there are so many different genres with each one having a sub – genre. I do not envy kids today. Even with all the advancements and the ability to self- record, it is such a difficult environment. “He goes on to say with a laugh.” Even the drugs today make it much scarier than my day.”

Mercer bought a small kit for fifty dollars that consisted of a snare, a high hat, a bass drum and one tom. He would play along to the songs he heard on the radio and whichever records he managed to purchase or get his hands on. He never learned to read music. He learned to play with the feel of the song and this prepared him for his first gigs. He met up and played with Trevor Payne and the Triangle.

Payne

Thus began a long winding journey into the world of rock n roll that almost ended in suicide…

To be continued …

Album Review – Roger Walls; Midnight Ride

Get in your car!

No – wait!

Run back to the house and grab Roger Wall’s new CD – Midnight Ride! For a long drive, there is nothing better for a Jazz fan to keep the toes a tappin’…

Kansas – born Roger Walls brings fifty years of experience to the disc, a half century of knowledge accumulated partly by working with some of the greats in the music industry.

Tony Bennett, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Duke Ellington are some of the people that have employed Roger at some point. Trumpet, alto and tenor sax along with anything that blows – Mr. Walls brings all this knowledge to Midnight Ride.

As Roger said recently from the stage at the House of Jazz; “What’s the point of staying in your room? It’s cabaret time!”

If Roger had stayed in his room, playing at Carnegie Hall for Ella Fitzgerald‘s 75th Birthday party – would have been a dream. Instead, with Max Roach on drums – Roger played for the legendary singer to the song; Tiscut a Tasket with the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

” The song featured me playing a solo – WHAT A RUSH I FELT PLAYING WITH SUCH GREAT PLAYERS FEATURED AT CARNEGIE HALL!

Although the new CD adds an assortment of various styles, it tells a personal tale for Roger. A story told through music …

The first track – Soon come young blues; opens the first leg of ‘the drive’ with an upbeat tempo. Drummer Eloi Bertholet, a fellow ‘farm boy’ from Saskatchawan, instills the proper speed limit to get the listener’s engine revvin’. The song says; ‘ this is Jazz’ ! No more -no less and keeps a curious ear for the next track. A song inspired by a dream …

‘I said you’d be back’ is what a warden of a prison told Roger in one of his many dreams. The storyline consists of Roger escaping and the warden informing him of their soon- to- be – encounter. This instrumental track delivers a manic feel. Trumpets sounding like police cars as the underlying keyboards give chase to a criminal drum beat. Following this song; your speed limit is a little higher as it attempts to keep up with your heart rate.

The third song on the disc is a shock! By far – the catchiest tune on an over- all catchy collection of a dozen songs.

‘Slow walk ‘ combines Rap, Jazz and Funk. An unlikely trio that conjures up phrases such as ‘wtf’? If Roger’s conscience spoke to him – it surley said; ‘ what are you thinkin’ dude’? Yet it works and it works extremely well. The type of tune which places your fingers on the replay button – over and over.

The song settles into a groove quickly. A rhythm of making love to a sultry woman. Not fast – not slow, just right.

Therein lies the beauty of the song. The routine of the same rhythm is disrupted by not one – two rappers. A ‘ take your turn’ adventure in a hip hop dueling session. A female’s voice gives pleasure while the man’s presence – a perfect balance to a funk- riddled tightrope excursion.

A high wire act is something Walls has learned over the years.

Following a move to Quebec with his new wife, Roger discovered Montreal was a great place to be and discovered  a niche playing with French Stars.

“The studio scene was great – I could do 3 beer jingles (there used to be about 30 studio’s in town ), a tv show and a jazz gig in the same day .” Walls continues. ” I was the only one in town that had high chops because of my rock experience and good teachers.”

This opened the ‘ trumpet case’  so to speak and Roger soon found himself among great – if not, legendary performers. Cab Calloway – Al Martino – Paul Anka – Tom Jones – Michel Legrand – Aretha Franklin – Donna Summers – Whitney Houston – George Burns – Petula Clark – Englebert Humperdink -Dean Martin- Diana Ross – Joan Rivers – Dionne Warwick to drop a few names.

Roger recalls when the orchestra he was playing in backed up the Godfather of Soul – James Brown.

” He ( Brown) arrived 15 minutes before we were supposed to go. Nobody in the band knew a set list containing the three songs he was supposed to play. I spoke with him and we narrowed his ‘hits’ to the three. In five minutes – I scribbled the sheet music, xeroxed it and handed it to fifty guys in the band. Talk about cutting it close?”

Close is what you may want to do when you play the next song on the disc; ‘Music to Wish for Girls By’.

A song inspired by one of Wall’s conga players’ favorite songs; Music to Watch Girls By…A popular song written by Herb Albert. Roger’s version turns the track into a Latin- based rhumba and adds spice to a scene that may otherwise be melancholi as the title suggest. Music can transform dreams into possibilities …

‘I Will Wait Forever’ continues the soft section of the CD without the groove of the previous track. It is a song for the special men who fall in love with a special lady and wait forever …

Forever seems a long time ago to Roger. Starting his career in Wichita, Kansas and gaining notoriety with the Central Standard Time band. The band toured all over the States and the east coast of Canada. They made such an impact – Roger and his ex – mates were recently inducted into the Kansas City music hall of fame. Something Roger could not fathom when the band broke up in St.Paul, Minnesota.

” I hopped in my ’59 Volvo and headed to L.A. I played several of the clubs , hooking up with musicians and making a name for myself. A friend could have got me a gig with Lawrence Welk – instead I ended up in Quebec.”

Rene Simard’s company hired Roger and he also was lead trumpet for one of  Quebec’s most popular artists; Garou.  Roger travelled all around Europe, Japan and France. His stay in Japan was the inspiration behind ‘ A Pink Japanese Moon’ – another track on a Midnight Ride.

The song fulfills what Walls wanted to do.  Capture the beauty of Japan! Within a minute, the listener is transported beyond the rice fields into the land of silky screens and geisha girls. A spiritual massage given by Wall’s eloquent use of his instrument amid the sweet sounds of his backing band.

Les Murs De Paris is another track on the album which captures Roger’s memories. In France, Walls played on a t.v show entitled “Apre Mo Lise”. Various people such as Gene Krupa and Sonny Rollins would appear on the show, adding more fuel to Walls’  ‘ Wall of Sound’.

” Don’t forget – in the 1970’s, people would drive from N.Y.to Montreal to listen to Jazz. I played at hot clubs such as The Rising Sun, Rockheads Paradise and Grand Cafe. I played with the Ink Spots, the Drifters and Frankie Hubbard. I even played for Jerry Lewis at the M.S. Telethon!”

These experiences are evident on the ‘train medley’.  Roger’s hommage to Chatanooga Choo Choo, Pennsylvania 65000 and Take the A Train. It commemorates all the years Walls played with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. For older and more traditional Jazz fans – a pleasant trip backwards.

The final cut on the album brings us back to the start. ‘A Midnight Ride’ – inspired by Roger’s love of cars and driving. An upbeat finish to a darkened ride with the moon as a guide.

This album is not the best Jazz album nor is it the worst. It lies somewhere high above a mark. An indentation which millions of players strive to reach each year. An indentation which Roger Walls reached and passed miles ago …

Get in you car!

Don’t wait …

Roger Walls new CD “Midnight Ride”
Available at  Archambault Music ( Jazz) 500, Sainte-Catherine Est
and Itunes!

Want publicity for your band or self? Contact me keenerick@hotmail.com