Ladies & Gents....

A conversation with :

( Musician / Composer / Producer ) 


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Photo : Drummerworld


of all the Instruments out there .....what made U gravitate towards the Drums ?

MIKE CLARK :  My father was a drummer, and he quit playing when he was about twenty years old.   But he had a tremendous jazz collection . From the time I was born , I was listening to the music.  He brought his drums down from the attic when I was four.   Then I had a kind of a natural ability . I could like play like kind of straight off ,  so the next night he took me to the night club and I sat in with the band and  I just kept playing ever since.  All throughout the US he traveled because he was working for the railroad and took me to jazz clubs all over.  He would pay the drummer $5 or $10 and buy the bandleader a drink, and ask could I sit in.  He was a wonderful man and I heard all kind of cats, it was the most incredible time , because  it was all new to me ...but I was down with the music . I was practicing all day even as a child . Because I kept showing up on all these pro gigs ,I was getting better and better so they started calling me to do Child Prodigy-type  gigs.  I was a jazz drummer, I didn't start playing funk I was playing bebop the whole time . 




So ,  you are literally a... "Child of Bebop"? 

MIKE CLARK  Yeah ,  oh yea ...... The big band I was in from 6th & 7th grade ,we had some very sophisticated jazz bands, and we were writing & arranging . We were trying  to play like Clifford (Brown) and Max (Roach)  in those days. 



Any main influences / mentors ,  who may not have been necessarily famous...... but was still ,  a big influence.    What were the early days like for U ?

MIKE CLARK :  Well , of course... there were the famous guys , but later when I got to be about 17,  I was playing some blues gigs in Texas &I ran into a drummer there named "Ray Torres" he recorded a hit called "Hey Baby" with Bruce Channel and Delbert McClinton in '62.  It was a big hit on the top of the charts, like for 14 or 15 weeks in fact; the Beatles began to use the harmonica after they heard "Delbert" doin' his thing. 

Man !    That's Hardcore ....

MIKE CLARK Yeah, I was subbing for Ray and I never really heard him play . I went out & I heard him play one night and he floored me!  He could play like all the Texas shuffles and the offbeat shuffle, he had a million ways of looking at that and he could play a lot of stuff that reminded me of Jabo (Starks)  when he was with Bobby Bland's group ; before I even knew who Jabo was!  You know what I mean? 

Damn !

MIKE CLARK  So he kind of took me under his wing and taught me how to tune the snare and how to interact with the band . Ray Torres showed me how to crack the back beat and stuff so right after that a guy heard me practicing, I was 15 or 16 at the time in my house, and he came up and knocked on the door and asked my father, "who's playing drums in there" ?  and my dad said: "My son" and the  guy said, "Does he want to work, does he need to work?" and my dad said :
"Yeah he needs to work" .... so the guy said, "I'll pick him up Friday night"  And he took me to a club in Texas  and I played a gig paying $10 in 1962 or '63 and I played with Albert King, man!




That's  Absolutely,  Crazy !  

You've played with everyone From   "SLY"   to   "Woody Shaw" ....

How Do U do it , MaN ?

MIKE CLARK :  There was only so much funk on the set at that time, you know what I mean...? And there wasn't a lot of cats.  The jazz cats didn't play good funk at that time & the ones who were funkin' at that time, we didn't even know their names !!   It wasn't until later on that  (Bernard) Purdy became popular,  Panama Francis & "Smokey" Johnson ...And all those cats like Earl Palmer, we didn't know their names .  The same time this was happening , Rock and Roll & R& B was becoming popular on the  AM radio stations ,you didn't have to go far to find it, you know?  Because of my age , I was young  & this was my high school girlfriend's  partying music, so even though I was a jazz cat  , I was absorbing all of that and I was figuring out how to play that style.  So, after this guy  hired me for this club... I ended up playing with this long procession of famous blues cats and R&B cats .  I started listening to "Stax " (Records) and trying to immulate that kind of sound and on these gigs live &  if   you didn't play that way in those days were square !  You might as well not even play those drums!  Then on the other side , when I wasn't doing that....I was playing jazz .

So ,  " Jazz & Funk "   were  like a natural extension of  my experience.       




Studio  &/or  Live ....adapting to Styles , is it easier over the years ?

MIKE CLARK :  Oh yeah..... now it's much easier , because I've been doing it for so long , it's pretty much like driving a car.  I could   get in any car and drive pretty good, you know what I mean?  So, it doesn't take me too long to 'sus out' the band. ( unless there's rhythms that I have to coordinate or if there's a really difficult music... )  Well , then I have to deal with it.    Most of this stuff  ? ....I've played so many gigs by now,  that I can usually get right in there;  and they either like me or they don't !  I can do a good job ...but , if somebody's taste isn't really my style ....then that's understandable.  The job will  get done at this point!!     

It's easier now.....yeah!!

                                        mike clark on drums


The "Molar" technique ....

MIKE CLARK :     The Molar stuff !     Well,  it's a funny thing ....because,  I use to go see  Buddy Rich and Louie Belleson, Sonny Payne and the Big Band cats. The other cats like Sam Woodyard & those guys they were hard funky swingers.  I listen to Sam for the cymbal beats, but those other guys had the molar thing in the left hand, you know?   I've been peeping that for years, and working on that for years, since the 60's .When ( instructional ) videos came out ,  it became a little more clear , on how to move the hand in the traditional grip, to get that kind of  vibe happening.  I've never developed it to an insane point like some guys do, because once I moved to New York  it became all about the music.

  There wasn't really any space for that, because in my everyday life in New York, I'm not playing a lot of funk. I'm playing a lot of jazz ,so your interactions and communications have to be pretty real. So , if I start going off on one hand....  cats will probably say: " Hey what are you doing, you know"?   Funk gigs on drum solos or at clinics & stuff like that , it's a groove and I'm still working on it, I'm tappin' all the time ! ( that's what Jim Chapin told me)   "Buddy Rich learned to tap"  he said , and I said what do you mean?  Jim said: "Well Buddy Rich learned to tap with one hand, like"....*vocalizes the tapping* I see these guys now, Dave Weckyl / Dennis Chambers / Gene Jackson ...can do it at blistering speeds .   The younger guys are taking it to another level.   That's what always  happens, the next generation always improve on  things ,  since I can remember?



Does it always come down to the "Left Hand" eventually ?

MIKE CLARK :   Yeah , it always does.  One way or the other......whether it's backbeats or like you said:  the "Molar" stuff .... the left hand with all the stuff filling in... is IT for me .  I'm still like  a  Ghosting drummer, I'm not just playing 2/4 , I'm still fascinated by the ghost notes  , because it  ties the whole thing together !   For me, my particular funk is in ...where you are......where you're putting something......or where you're not putting something , you know what I mean?


MIKE CLARK More than just the over all ....* he sings a beat that's Funky as hell*  I  mean that's got to be in there , pretty Fat !  But we use to concentrate more on where you were laying something... like where you ended up with a fill or how funky you can get with a phrase or an idea. Nobody thought of it as how funky you were with just the bass & the snare , that was kind of  taken for granted in those days,  you know;  all though I don't take it for granted now




(  Here's a stupid  " Drum Clinic " type  question..... ) 

" LIVE " DRUMMERS  vs. drum machines ?        on recordings  or  elsewhere .....

MIKE CLARKThe "Live" Drummer is where the  Meat & Potatoes are !!!

I'm not a "Jealous" drummer.... so, I  love  to sit down close to the stage and feel the drummer, the bass drum hitting me, I love all that!   If it's a machine doing it or a loop or something like that , to me  it just doesn't have the life force .... the beauty & the motion ,  that  a real drummer does, you know what I mean ?    I'd much rather see a  "Live" drummer.....  than lisen to "Great" drumming on record !   (  even if he sounds great. )

That's a great point !

MIKE CLARK  Yea...Man !    I use to sit in front of Elvin's bass drum ,  Tony (Williams) & Philly (Joe)   and Bernard Purdy  &  Clyde ( Stubblefield )  just close to the bass drum I could get it all , you know what I mean? 

Oh Indeed

MIKE CLARK   So anything short of that...I don't like the conservative approach.  Some stuff with the drum machine sounds good .  I  hear records with Michael Jackson & Quincy Jones....   if it sounds funky,  sometimes I can't tell if it's a real drummer or not.   I'd rather have the live thing.

I  think  most  people would...

MIKE CLARK Yeah,  I think the challenge is what the guy is doing up there, how he's interacting with the other guys, how he's putting it together, like making a stew or looking at a painting, you know what I mean ?  I do feel it's a challenge myself to sit down and play straight to a click track or something like that .  Sometimes it takes a minute to get that together,  because that's not part of my experience and I don't do it alot . But other than saying: "Okay I'll  walk a straight line for 45 feet and never fall off"  ......

It really doesn't mean all that much to me. 


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So , who's tryin' to create the NEW  language  ?

MIKE CLARK Well let's see, umm .....there's some people I do know and some people I don't know.  I saw two drummers at the NAAM show going head to head one played with Janet Jackson and  I can't remember who the other guy was. *Lil' John Roberts & Chris Dave*  They were going head to head , two drum sets set up in front of each other. 

How long ago was this?

MIKE CLARK  This was at the NAAM show in LA two years ago.  It was new language, it was street stuff, it was funky and the chops involved were funky, it was VERY musical . I just thought it was way down, it blew my mind.... really floored me!  Also, I've been listening to Lenny White playing jazz again and I think everybody needs to just sit in a club and hear him getting down with Wallace Roney, Buster Williams because he's putting it down   so phat!  He's swinging so hard and the language he's putting up against it..... is wonderful. 




Yeah ,  Lenny White .....  has Definitely  put somethin' on IT  !  

MIKE CLARK   He's always been like that.  I knew him when we were both,  I hate to say  young...( Ha Ha Ha  )   but , we were just 18 or 19 and he use to come out to LA, to see me play with Woody (Shaw)  &  Bobby Hutcherson . We use to hang out and he's always been so great.  I've been hearing him lately and he's cracking like those guys in Texas on the funk .  ( but he's playing jazz)   What he's saying is blowing my mind !    I love Gene Jackson, umm... a lot of new guys I don't know,    I love Dennis (Chambers).   He's so smooth , with so many polyrhythmic  ideas.




And these Kids Today .... like the Tony Royster's ?

MIKE CLARK :  I think Tony (Royster) is great.    I've heard some of his stuff.  I like Zack Danziger,  I haven't heard what he's doing lately , but he was really bringing out some stuff that I was digging,  I've noticed since I've been  doing the "Jam Thing" with my band, for about a year and a half now, that a lot of the guys out there playing funk again! They're not doing a lot of fancy drumming, sort of 60's boogaloo  like James Brown type things,   that's how I hear it in my head and in one way they're going back to get some  history. (which I think is important and in another way they're going forward  bringing something new to the music that I like ) They're going back ,but they're putting something I never heard with it,  not this big techno blast of chops , but it's some interesting placement & dynamics.   Some really good grooves again .

The thing about the jam band thing, they're all playing live everybody's hitting, I still like Clyde Stubblefield &  Jabo Starks those guys I still love because of....

I  mean    " Man , look at what they did " !!!

"OKAY" ?      How do feel about Playin' to loops or with a DJ ?

MIKE CLARK DJ Logic is Absolutely INCREDIBLE !!!  He's off the hook , man!   He's like a jazz head in his brain, you know what I mean?  I've played with several DJ's,  so that's nothing new to me.  Sometimes it's great,  but it depends on the cat. 





Omni-Important ?     or    In the way ?


MIKE CLARK They're Important !!   

Bass players... ( depends on the cat )   like any ''other'' instrument :


They can get in the way ......

Block you out .....

Crowd you .....

Show off ......

Ignore you ......

And way too loud &  make you sound like you   don't know how to play.


Preach it !!

MIKE CLARK  A good bass player understands dynamics, and he's really playing for the music but  , not just the groove.... also adding his own creativity that just kind of lays right with the drummer.  It doesn't mean he has to follow the drummer , but people that can grab that blend really fast.  That's one thing I've noticed about jazz musicians in New York, I can play a jazz gig here and almost assuredly it's gonna swing immediately right off the stage .The bass player and drummer have such an understanding about 4/4, it's really clear, it's not too loud, and it's funky . They all understand that kind of funk. 

Now on the funk gig, I like a bass player that really understands.There's a guy I play with here named " Mark Peterson ", we don't play together that much but when we do....I already have a smile on my face when I put my stuff in the cab!    He's funky, he knows just what to do, and he hangs with me you know, and I hang with him!  But if a guy is up there showing off, it's okay during a solo... but if  they're blowing you out trying to go for it all night,  at this point I don't want to back anybody up.    I did that when I was a kid , we got to play together.


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Photo : Rick Mattingly



I'm gonna say some "Names"....

Give me the first thing ,  ( in a word or 2 )  that "Pops" up  :


Buddy Rich  ~ "Fast"

Gene Krupa ~ "Funky"

Art Blakey  ~ "Swings"  ( Hard )

Max Roach  ~ "Language"

Louie Belleson  ~ "Great chops, Innovator"

Rufus (Speedy) Jones ~ The "Badd-ass Shuffle( a lot of people don't know that )

Tony Williams  ~ "Genius"

Philly Joe Jones  ~ "Poetry"

Roy Haynes  ~ "Mo'  Poetry"

Elvin Jones ~ "Thunder"

Jimmy Cobb ~ "Tippin''

Billy Higgins ~ "Jazz Soul"

Lenny White  ~ "Fire"

Clyde Stubblefield  ~ The "Teacher"  ( The reason for the rest of us! )

Gaylord Birch ~ "My  Dear, Dear  Friend"  ....

Jerome Brailey ~"Stone Cold Funk"

Chris Dave  ~ "Funky, Funky, Funky"  ( Killin' )


" Aiiiiiiight "     ( Whew...)


Let's play  The "Either" or :

Live or Studio  ~ "Live''

Gretsch or Sonor  ~ "Gretsch"

Bass or Piano  ~ "Bass"

Blues or Classical  ~ "Blues"

Cash or Credit  ~ "Cash"

Virtual or Real Time  ~ "Real Time"

Analog or Digital  ~ "Digital"

CD or Vinyl ~ "Vinyl"




"Ahh"     Anything  you want to tell me about.....  Thrust ?

MIKE CLARK :  Paul (Jackson) and I were best friends and still are to this day !  Since we were 17 or 18 years old.  We lived together, had a lot of cribs together when we were young.   All the cats in Oakland use to come to our crib to jam in the daytime or whenever we could, whenever we weren't working.  The thing Paul and I did on "Thrust" .....?    We'd been playing like that  Waaaaaaaay  before we met Herbie.

That explains it!!

MIKE CLARK :  Yeah, right !  Paul & I had a duo , he was the  organ player and I was the drummer, he sang and we had a couple of different ways of making money.  So we played together , night & day ...all day, all night.... then "Herbie ",  (a humanitarian and genius)  had seen the world and I had never seen the world until I met him.  I'd been around a lot too, in traveling; but he opened up a whole new world of excellence in every aspect of my life.  Herbie, Paul and I  were really involved in what we were doing deeply, we'd talk about it all day.... we never told each other how to play or discuss techniques , we just talked about how it felt and whether the internal workings were hip or not.   When the three of us would get down like we did ,  on "Actual Proof " ....

it was just a Natural expression. 

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                                                             Photo by :  Herb Greene

We did it.... in "ONE" take.   The producer didn't want me to play like that he wanted me to play a real stupid drum beat and play straight.   I had figured that I played straight on the rest of the tracks on Thrust , on this one I wanted to do some playing.   So I fought for it!!  I said :  "No man, I wanna play " and he said "Well, you guys have got one take to make it in".  So that was it, it just came right out!  Yeah, I was pissed man!  Because even though I loved the rest of the tracks ,they were very straight and they didn't want too much going on. So , Herbie had turned me on to chanting & I snuck out of the studio and chanted for 20 minutes .... I chanted to be able to express myself on this record    I came back in ....and BOOM!!!    The music  jumped out and it was as joyous as when we played it . To this day still , when I listen to it.  I can still remember how everybody looked,  what they were wearing and how it felt, you know? 

We were so high  spiritually from playing,  that at the end of the tune ...everybody looked in a " state of shock ".  When we went in and heard the playback, the producer ( David Rubinson ) who argued with me , thanked me and said : " Thank you for fighting for this,  that's one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard in my life ".  And I was really happy with that ,  even to this day . 


MIKE CLARK  And all we had was that little skeleton to work with *sings the Melody* and we just filled in the dots & everybody had their eyes closed ...... we were talking to each other man, it was beautiful, you know what I mean?    That's how I feel about that one.  I didn't know anything about studio sounds, I just brought a drum set in out of car, took it out of the trunk and hit! You know what I mean?    Harvey (Mason) was the only guy that I knew , who could get studio sounds, we were young  I was 24 or 25yrs.  I was playing jazz with Woody Shaw & Bobby Hutcherson , and all these cats ...So , I wasn't thinking about a studio funk sound  at al l,  and the next thing you know...... I'm in "Herbie Hancocks" band !!!   But I had played a ton of organ gigs in Oakland , so my funk thing was somewhat.... uhhh.... whatever it was !       Somewhat there !




The Future......

MIKE CLARK  Well,  let's see ....that's a wonderful question.  Because of how compressed the world is right now , it would be easy to say how difficult the world is now. (our country especially).     America looks pretty rough right now with everything that's going on. 

What I've learned over the years is :    the deeper you have to dig for it ...the deeper you have to dig for your enlightenment , your happiness to really reveal who you  are underneath the scaffold , that we build.  Like a lot of times we have to be hip, or we have to be this or we have to be that, we got to be so many things to bring out the true nature of the person. It's really a helluva battle &  it takes tremendous courage. 

Sometimes the more dues someone is forced to pay....has to pay .....or put themself  in the position to pay .....(or however that works)  the more beauty you could bring out of this life!   Like a diamond has to be really forged I guess, you know what I mean ?   So,  I see the future as not really being a Negative , even with all the stuff coming against us.  I see in it,  a chance to really develop ourselves and really build a real future for our country &  for the whole world.  We have to build a world that's beautiful for everybody,  so people can live with Dignity &  be happy.   It's there, we just have to bring it out sometimes.  Like playing music ....the more you're going through ??? 

Charlie Parker said:

" If you ain't living  IT ....  it won't come out your horn"


Brother  "Mike"...

I can't thank you ENUFF !!   

This is a "First" for me .    ( on the other end )

You're the 1st of  the "Inner-views" &  I'll never forget this .



Mike ...

Thank You .      Thank You .


MIKE CLARK :   I'm so happy that we had this chance to talk , 

and I appreciate you thinking about me & giving me a chance to "Spit It Out" a little bit  , man ......

it means a lot to me. 


Same Here , Mike ......Same Here.

A Lot !










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