A regular nominee (and winner) in British Blues polls Wayne Proctor has established himself as not just a drummer in demand, but also as producer – with a CD for Oli Brown (‘Here I Am’) already under his belt behind the mixing desk and others in the pipe-line. I managed to get a few minutes to find out about how he got to where he is, and where he plans to be going in future. Here’s the interview.
Okay Wayne, where are you from in the UK?
I’m originally from Nottingham, Robin Hood country.
And you seem to be, judging by British Blues Awards, the UK’s favourite blues drummer. How do you feel about that?
It’s a bit weird. I started playing with Aynsley Lister in ’98, so to have played on the scene for so long and never get acknowledged. Then when Ian Parker came off the road I had a bit of a break and came back with Oli Brown and King King . In the last three years we got best band with Oli, best album, best drummer and the year after I got best drummer in Blues Matters magazine all of a sudden. Madness! I don’t take it too seriously. It’s nice to be recognized but I don’t do it for that. I just want to play my drums and produce records.
But, since you are so popular, you’re the right one to ask – what makes a good drummer?
(sighs) Ah, well, good timing, good feel. A touch for the music. Having big ears in the proverbial sense. So you can hear what everyone’s playing onstage and play to their emotions; so if they’re being sensitive, you don’t power through that. You play to what those guys do and bounce off each other, which is what makes the chemistry of a band.
Why did you become a drummer?
(laughs) By default. I started guitar when I was eight so I’m originally a guitarist. My guitar teacher ran a music shop and every time we had guitar lessons I would programme a drum machine. So we would say for instance ‘This time we’ll play ‘Sultans of Swing’ so I’d programme the drum part exactly as it was on the record. When you’re ten years old it’s unheard of really, but I did and when I was about fifteen he formed a band, needed a drummer and said – “Well you can play drums” and I was like “No I can’t. I just programme a machine!” And he repeated – “You can play drums!” So He gave me the drum kit from the music shop and suddenly I was a drummer with a band doing something like a hundred gigs a year.
At that time I was totally self-taught. I had my favourite drummers who I listened to and that was all until I had some lessons with a guy from Sheffield, Tony Kenelly. Then I later studied at DrumTech in London which has got a massive list of top drummers. So yeah, I started drumming completely by default. I suppose it was like, with the drums having so many components, you have to hear the components and put them together. It’s like production in a way – putting together the instruments to make an album or putting together the individual drum instruments.
You’re first pro gigs were with Aynsley Lister in 1998. How did he hear about you?
I was managing a drum shop for somebody and friends with Aynsley’s previous drummer. I just got this phone call on a Saturday afternoon asking if I wanted to do this gig. Basically, can you be in Derby for half past seven? My Dad brought the drums over and because I knew his drummer I had the album and knew the parts. I went to see Aynsley and played and he said ‘My God this sounds good’ and promptly sacked his old Band (laughs). A few months later he signed to Thomas Ruf.
Interesting you say Aynsley changed the Band. Drummers seem to be the most changeable part of a Band.
Well I was with Aynsley for four years, Ian Parker for seven.
Sounds like a footballer, always on the move. Not a long time in average job terms by an employer.
Well, take session drummers, or say John Mayer – he has the best drummers in the world. Steve Jordan, Keith Carlock, they both did six months. In relative terms, seven years with Ian Parker is a lifetime really.
What’s the biggest gig you’ve played to date?
Tough one really because everyone I’ve worked with it’s been a steady growth thing. I suppose the biggest show was last Summer with Oli at the Montreaux Jazz Festival. Not that many really, about seven thousand. But that was very cool.
And are you still Oli’s drummer?
I’m a freelance drummer. I was with a band with John Amor, the big guy from The Hoax, for four years. They were doing their farewell Tour. Alan and Stevie Nimmo – Matt Beable was the bass player in that Band. A fantastic band to be in, a real band. Everything was split three ways – so if the band lost money you all lost money and if it made money you all did. I never set out to be in a band. Without sounding ruthless, I was a session drummer, a gun for hire. I set my own fee. I didn’t always get it – sometimes it was like ‘Well this is what’s on the table’ and I made my mind up whether I did it. I trained myself to be more versatile rather than just be a band drummer.
Despite that diversity you’ve become known as a Blues drummer.
I guess because my first gig was a Blues thing. My audition for Aynsley involved him asking me to play a double handed shuffle thing. I sort of knew how to play one but you apply yourself to the Artist you’re working with, so with Ian Parker he was a serious singer/songwriter and it wasn’t purely Blues so I got to play more as a song drummer, but he was signed to a Blues label. You apply yourself to the artist really, and like Aynsley isn’t a Blues artist anymore, he’s a singer/songwriter too. So I don’t feel like I’m pigeonholed as a Blues drummer because I don’t just do one thing. There’s an album coming out in April with a girl signed to Warner Brothers called Alex Hepburn, she’s fantastic, that’s a Pink/Amy Winehouse Pop style. So you’re a drummer and you might do a Blues gig, or you might do a pop gig or a Rock thing. They just see you as a drummer. The more mainstream world doesn’t even know about the Blues World so…
Are your own favourite drummers from the Blues world?
Not at all. I’ve got one of the most uncool drummers of the world as my hero. There is a running joke that I’m the biggest Phil Collins fan in the world. In terms of his drumming style I just love him.
But you never felt the urge to sing as well as drum?
Everyone makes that joke as well. They ask “When are you doing your solo album?” And of course I’d be playing guitar as well and having a studio I’d be producing too. So when are you doing it? They ask. Oh yeah, my first album will be called ‘Jacket Required’ or something like that.
I recently interviewed Denis Palatin who has a CD out of drum technique and I saw on your website that you also have something like that out. Can you teach drumming via a CD?
I’ve got a drum loops CD out. It’s not a tuition, it’s really for songwriters. Say they’ve got a chord sequence and they don’t want to just work to a metronome, they can download it. Or say they want something with a hundred beats per minute with a certain feel the CD will say something like ‘John Bonham, hundred beats per minute’, and it have something like the ‘Immigrant Song’ style feel. So they’ll copy it and play along.
I remember Ian Parker using a drum pedal on his acoustic show last year so maybe he uses it too. Replacing the real you with a virtual you in fact?!
Well, it’s not done to a final stage. It’s more for inspiration. A lot of bands like the sound of a real drummer rather than a drum machine. Drum loops area big business. Some of the biggest drummers in the world have recently done their own drum libraries.
I can see a time when everyone will go to a library for their virtual drummer…
I think people thought that with drum machines in the eighties but it didn’t happen. Once the dust settles and everyone realises ‘Oh, you use it for THAT!’ it fits itself into the process. With Jon Amor we used to use drum loops from CD’s and I would play over the top of them so the background would be the drum loop and I would play something over the top and it would make something very big and rhythmical.
Fitting the final sound together is obviously a fascination for you. It led to you becoming a producer in fact. How did that come about?
Well, one of my first records was Claptons ‘August’ and Phil Collins played drums on that, and produced and mixed it as well. When you’re eleven you don’t think ‘Why shouldn’t he do that?’ you just go ’Wow, that’s cool!’ and it’s not really uncommon. The drummer on Madonna’s first hits like ‘Holiday’ (John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez) He produced it all too. Jeff Porcaro with Toto did a lot of production too with Lionel Richie.
Again, it’s like a drummer puts the various parts of a drum kit together to make a sound?
I think so. It’s the components. In place of ‘Bass drum, snare, hi-hat’ you’re going ‘Drums, bass guitar, guitar, keys.’ You’re piecing the music together.
What did you learn from Producers in the studio? People like Jim Gaines.
Arrangement more than anything. Jim has been involved in a lot of big records. When he did Aynsley’s record that I played on he’d just come from doing Santana’s ‘Supernatural’ which sold 35 million records. What he did with Aynsley, before we even started recording was this: We’d always do four times round, it’s a musicians normal thing. But he’d go “I don’t think we need four, let’s get a vocals in”. It got you out of thinking in four bar blocks. He was saying like, try and get your moments linked together. So you might have this really great intro, but don’t milk it. It’s only good for so long. Maybe four times round is too much. Let’s get the next moment in. He kind of went in and picked the moments when he could trim the fat. And you realise that the information he’s passing on is in all music, any style and you start to recognize moments and little tricks they do to keep a song moving and keep it interesting without it relying on bells and whistles. Maybe they’ve put something in because the song wasn’t strong enough and you start to hear it. I always try to push musicians I work with. If I’m purely the producer I really like to work with the artists on the songs first. If they can sit with an acoustic guitar, sing you that song and the words are good and the melodies strong… then you put the drums round it and the other instruments, and it blossoms.
Coming back to working as a band member, how did you get the gig with King King?
I’ve known Alan and Stevie Nimmo since ’98 when we did the BosPop Festival in Holland and they were stood at the side of the stage and went ‘That drummers alright! We should use him’
So they thought about it, and in 2013 decided ‘Let’s go for it!’?
No, we’d done stuff together. The first thing I did with those guys was as the Nimmo Brothers, in I think 2005.. I played on their ‘Picking up the pieces’ album in 2006, did a couple of tours around 2008 and a tour again about a year and a half ago. Then, when they came to form King King they had a drummer but needed someone to fill in. I was taking a break from touring then. I’d done something like twelve years with 200 gigs a year and I was burnt out. Sounds dramatic- like Clapton!
Was it the drugs, booze and girls?
(Laughs) If only it was! It was more like Schnitzel and white beer. But I needed a break, so when Ian Parker decided HE needed a break I went full on into being a producer and didn’t tour for two years. They (King King) gave me some gigs and the Oli gigs came up as well and I was ready to play drums again. I’d gotten into playing studio stuff.
Did you produce the new King King Album?
Well, I co-produced it with Alan. We did it at my studio and mixed it there.
What do you think is the key to King King’s escalating success?
They know how to be authentic and to do it well. I think Alan’s DNA as an artist comes from all the classic British Blues Rock: Free, Bad Company, there’s Zeppelin in there. The classic Blues of your Fleetwood Macs and Peter Greens. A lot of the older DNA in there, the older Blues guys as well.. A lot of songs that have a Blues-Rock influence – and he and his brother do it particularly well. Then he brings in good musicians around him who can support him and know that style so you’re all talking the same language. They’ve always managed to cherry-pick really good players.
What was the key to producing their CD? What did you want to get across as a sound onto their disc?
Well we only decided at the end to co-produce the album. It was being done at my studio so I would make suggestions about how I would do it if I was producing. Some were used, some weren’t. Alan’s got a very clear view of how he wants things to sound. So while engineering it with my business partner Andy Banfield, who also runs the studio, I would make a suggestion – and as we worked, our working relationship got stronger, so I felt I could make more suggestions and we bounced ideas off each other.
Is that also how you worked with Oli Brown (on ‘Here I Am’?)
Very similar. In that case I was more the Producer on that one.
And there was no problem also being a band member?
Well, I say it to everybody and I said it to Aynsley Lister as well as I’ve just done his new one as a co-producer. Right from the start we have to have an open dialogue and if I said something it wasn’t to p*ss him off, it was making a suggestion. If we try something we might surprise ourselves, but if we don’t we’ll never know. If the producer says “Hey, can we try something else in that section?” and we all say no, well it just doesn’t work! It’s a very organic approach. The same with Aynsley’s album, the King King album, we bounce ideas off each other and have a good rapport, and it just works.
Which do you see as your musical future – producing or drumming?
I think that it was – ten years of 200 gigs a year with Ian Parker, and relationship break-ups and everything. A lot of things came to a head in 2007/2008 and everyone needed a break. Three members of the band broke up with long term girlfriends. Everyone just needed a break. I’m passionate about making good music and particularly making quality albums – not just knocking them out. Now, coming back to it, I’ve got my energy back and I’m so excited to be playing again with really good people. And the songs, like the King King stuff – this new album – I’m super proud of it. Alan’s written some of the best songs he’s ever written, his singing is fantastic. The band feels so mature. The songs feel strong, and going onstage knowing we’ve all put this effort in. The first reactions from promo guys and management saying that it was a quality album, and you think ‘That’s it. Job done!’ – I’m proud of it.
Thank you for your time Wayne and good luck with the rest of the tour.