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Interview with Paul Deakin

[This interview followed a joint interview with Robert Reynolds and Paul Deakin in Ireland while touring with Kevin Montgomery in 2006 - which you can find here.]

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Lonesome Highway took the opportunity to talk further to one of its favourite drummers about his influences and about his early days in music.

What influences did you have that you wanted to be a drummer?

The Beatles of course.  I was born in 1959, so I heard them through my brothers and sisters.  I was probably more into the Monkees.  I started playing when I was very young.  Not very seriously, but I had a little toy drum set from when I was about 6 years old.  I was always banging on things then too.  So why do you become a musician... it's because you're not good at sports and you need to pick up girls.  When you get to junior high it's one of the only ways to meet girls if you're not a sports person.  I got into drums in the seventh grade and I started taking proper lessons.  

I was fortunate to grow up in Miami where the university was one of the top places, in terms of music, in the world.   It had a great jazz department.  They taught out of that so it was just local music lessons.   It was a really good program, and you learned everything from theory to rudiments.  Not just the marching band stuff but all styles.  That really exposed me to drummers like Elvin Jones when I was thirteen.  Not a lot of people were, at that age. 

I also listened to Neil Pert, but actually I didn't know who he was till I was about eighteen.  That was, however, never my proclivity, even though I was blown away by some of the things that those guys can do.   But that started me off on playing the drums.   I love playing jazz and playing texturally but then I got into a funk band in my early college days, a funk band and also a punk band.  I leaned towards Charlie Watts more than anybody, he's about my favourite drummer.   Another one, who I just recently saw, is Chris Layton, the drummer from Double Trouble, I saw him live in a club and he was somebody who could just play a groove and you can feel so much with it.   It's about getting your spirit through when you're just playing. 

Besides listening to the music that I like, I've been exposed to a lot of other things.  When I studied at college there was a guy named Steve Bagby, Jack De Johnette's drummer.  This was when Jack was a piano player, before he became a drummer himself, he was the most melodic drummer I'd ever seen live.  Steve would do a jazz master drum class for seven drummers, we'd sit around each week and he'd have us play something and ask us what we were listening to.  I'd mention the Clash, another one of my favourite drummers is Topper Headon, and he'd say that just because it's jazz that doesn't mean you have to play like a pussy.   And he got on there and got into it.   So that aggressiveness he would handle when it was needed.  He showed me how to be emotive, how to get the things you need.  That inspired me and the way I play. 

It is who you're playing with too.  One of the favourite compliments that I was paid was that I was a songwriter's drummer.   If I can get inside a song I'm doing it right.   I'm so fully aware that I'm an accompanist instrument and that's what I like.  The most embarrassing moment is walking across the stage, once I'm behind the kit I'm fine.   Not that I'm introverted, but when you're up there it's a little bit fish in a fish bowl.   So when I can get up there and be in my own world and can feel everything gelling in a band that is great and then it can extend into the audience and you have that energy too.

The music is obviously the core of what you do.  Many people in the music industry would feel that going from staying in top hotels, as you did with the Mavericks, to staying in a b&b or sleeping in the van again is a step backwards.   But it's your love of playing that keeps you here...

Playing with somebody like Kevin (Montgomery) is great, as he is so gracious about wanting everyone to have a good time, which is not always the case when you're backing someone up.  We've been playing with Kevin about 5 or 6 years now, and with the Mavericks not working, then working again and now back to not working, we continued to do these tours with Kevin, and they are truly a lot of fun.  And Kevin pays us well.  I think back on the money we wasted in the early days of the Mavericks.  Day rooms at the Four Seasons and so on.   It was the rock 'n' roll lifestyle and fun, but one tour of the UK in a camper van and I wouldn't have had to work for ten years (laughs).

Do you play any other instruments?

I play a little guitar and a little bit of bass but I'm not a multi-instrumentalist.   I can play vibes pretty efficiently but it's drums mostly.  I play the guitar well enough to be able to write. That's something I'm looking forward to getting into.  Robert writes a lot more than I do and has always written.   Another thing was that back in the Mavericks Raul said that he was writing all the songs and he wouldn't sing any of the others.  In this new venture it's open for all of us to write.  Also doing the band (Hillbilly All-Stars) with Chuck is great fun, and he is a great guy.

How will you balance both projects?

Well, the Hillbilly All-Stars is more like a production touring company, it's something that Chuck and Robert and I will own, but because it is what it is, it will only work as much as we want it to.  It depends on where it is going to.  We're going to pretty much keep it as the three of us with guests.  That’s the core of it.   But if it happened that Limberjack took off and Robert and I had to do work for that, and there was something like a corporate date that didn't depend on any of us being there, we would still have a great show with someone else sitting in.  I see it as being at least 90% of the time it would be the core people.

You're still based in Nashville?

Oh yeah.   I love it there.  We haven't been signed to a Nashville label in over 5 years, but it's home.  Jay Joyce, the producer, is setting up a production deal that could, as we said, be with a Nashville label.  The thing is that we can record so inexpensively now so that although we've done 10 songs, it could be that we do 10 more, depending on the reaction.  Jay really did help shape the sound, it was interesting in that he changed a lot of how we were doing things.  He didn't want to hear the demos that Matt had done.   He said 'Here's a guitar, play me the songs' and he listened to those.  He's not heavy-handed at all, but we were wet clay and he was able to mould us. 

So he's as responsible for where the sound is going as any one of us.  Anything that will push the parameters in Nashville is good and the time is ripe to do that.  You don't need or, in some cases, want a major label involved.  Unless you have the right person in place, it is likely it won't work.  Someone like David Mead should be right up there, but with label changes and people moving on, he's got lost in the shuffle.  That's part of the risk of signing with a major.   I'm 46 years old now with a five year old kid and I want to be around as much as I can.  Or else doing something where I feel I'm providing for a better future.

Interview by Steve Rapid

Lonesome Highway
August 2006

Paul Deakin, 2006
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