Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Tucson Drummers: The Great!...Pen Pendleton

Pen Pendleton the late '70's

SLIT:. When did you start playing drums?  What was your first set?

PP:    I started playing drums when I was in 4th grade, I guess about 7 years old.  I got a 3-piece set finished in blue simulated sparkle for Christmas.  It was made out of cardboard – but the serious multi-ply cardboard, not the flimsy stuff in the sets for little kids.  It was from Montgomery Wards, which was like Sears.  They had a huge catalog and I had looked at the photo of that drum set (and also the 2-seat go kart) for months.  Since the go kart was out of the question, I asked my grandmother for the drum set; she was the one who sprung for the “big” Christmas gift every year.  It was $35, which was a fancy-ass gift in 1965.  I was on cloud nine, man.  I still have a photo of me playing that set on Christmas morning somewhere, still dressed in my PJ’s and flannel robe, my mind brimming with visions of rabid groupie sex in the Tumbleweeds bathroom 12 years in the future.
SLIT: Are you self-taught? What songs did you practice to?

PP:  My older brother, who oddly was an awful drummer, first taught me how to play.  He really knew music and could break down what was happening and teach it to me.  The first song I learned was Purple Haze by Jimi Hendrix.  It has this syncopated drum riff with alternating snare and bass drum hits.  What a great little grove.  So I played along to records, but the big thing at the time was the Drum Solo, mainly because of the now-forever-dammed song, In a Gadda Da Vidda, by Iron Butterfly.  That was the only criterion for how good of a drummer you were, all you were asked was, “can you play In a Gadda Vida?”  It was like dueling gunslingers in the school cafeteria, everybody trying to outdo each other whacking out that damn drum solo on the metal lunch trays.  Unfortunately, I was also a big fan of Ginger Baker and Keith Moon who weren’t very straight-ahead drummers, which just encouraged the whole solo/fill thing.  So I just played along to records or played freestyle; I never played with other musicians.  The pinnacle of my youth drumming career (hell, my entire drumming career) came at Baltimore’s PS233 school talent show.  I was in 6th grade and did a pretty sweet little drum solo.  Not only did my performance make the next spin-the-bottle party a lot more interesting, but some kids from junior high asked me to play in their band.  But the first rehearsal was a disaster because I had never played with people before and didn’t really know what to do!  I was like a guitar player who only learns how to do solos but doesn’t know how to just strum a tune.
    I went to a new school in 7th grade and gradually just lost interest in playing drums, partially because I didn’t want to go out of my way to be too different from the other kids.  Stupid, dumb-kid thing.
    I didn't start playing again until I was a sophomore in college.  I was back in Baltimore for summer vacation from the U of A and a guy owed me money – a guy who coincidentally also did a drum solo at that same 1970 school talent show – and I took his drum set as collateral.  It was a great set, too: a Sonor jazz kit, I didn’t even know what it was at the time, I wish I had the damn thing now...  Anyway, that started up the whole drum thing again; it was totally by chance.  I took the drums back to Tucson and started playing random rock/roots/blues stuff with some dudes I met at school.  Then in about late ‘78 I met Tucson’s only official punk rocker, the infamous Jeff Lateweic, working at Al Bum’s record store on Broadway.  He was the only guy in town who wore a leather jacket and ripped jeans and the safety pins - the whole bit.  This took considerable balls at the time, because a pack of country music hillbillies who would kick the shit out of you for looking like that was never too far away.   Jeff wasn’t a big guy but he’d give off a totally crazy vibe when he needed to, so not many people messed with him.  He also always carried a semi-auto handgun and a derringer, which I presume provided a modicum of extra confidence.  You Arizona people and your guns...

    Jeff happened to be a bass player, so this alliance is what ultimately morphed into Tucson’s first generation alternative/punk music scene with The Suspects, Pedestrians and Z9.  I had met, also just as randomly, Brian, Cliff and Lee (The Suspects), although Jeff Lateweic played bass for the first couple Suspects gigs and then formed Z9 with Rob Johnson, Rex Estell, Fred Cross and the seriously lovely Ariel Bagby.
 The Suspects (circa 1980)

    So what was the question.., oh yeah – lessons or self taught?  The first and only drum “lesson” I ever had was ironically when Jonny Sevin was at its peak of success and fame in the local scene.  I was a senior at the U and needed some music performance credits so I took a one-unit drum performance class.  The teacher – this bearded, angry grad student guy – just hated the fact that I was in this “big” rock band at the time but had absolutely no technical drumming ability whatsoever – it really pissed him off, actually!  And I really made it pretty clear to him that I was way too cool to care too much about any of that traditional regimental crap anyway (despite knowing deep down that I really probably should know it).  Anyway, one day he saw me making wisecracks in the crowd when he was playing on the quad with his drum corps ensemble, all dressed up in his little drummer boy uniform, and he REALLY hated me after that.  All of which was totally reasonable on his part.  I barely passed the goddamn class.
 SLIT:  How did you get interested in playing drums?

PP:   I was a big music fan and would buy singles with the money I made doing yard work in the neighborhood.  My older brother was an even bigger music fan and had a huge album collection.  So music was a big deal in our corner of the house.  Another benefit of having an older brother was that I was the kid in my little gang of juvenile delinquents who could tell everybody what all the song lyrics really meant.  A kid told his mother what I had told him Honky Tonk Woman was about and he was no longer allowed to come to my house.  I have no specific recall at all why I choose to turn my music appreciation into actually playing – no one else in my family played an instrument, and I also have no idea why I choose to play drums over the guitar or something else.  Drums were the coolest instrument and drummers were the coolest musicians, so that’s probably why (or I just thought guitar would be too hard).  Little did I know that the “coolest” musical instrument would wind up being a computer, although being a fan of Eno’s work on the first two Roxy Music albums may have spawned some subconscious foundational understanding of this eventuality.
SLIT:  What are your favorite types of drum sticks? What do you do about blisters?

PP:    In my Suspects days, I used the sticks that had no tip – they looked like the end of a normal stick on both ends.  I was a real Bam-Bam beater back then, not a whole lot of nuance to my playing.  I even broke the rim on a snare drum once.  Later in Jonny Sevin, I started using a proper stick, the good old 3-B.  I bought Guitar Workshop’s sticks because they were cheapest.  Since I played so hard, I always got blisters; I’d get blisters on top of calluses.  I’d have so much adhesive tape on my fingers, my hands looked like a cross between an ornamented maypole and Eddie Van Halen’s guitar. 

 SLIT: Who's drumming do you prefer: Marky Ramone or Stewart Copeland?

 PP:  This is a simple question that I’m sure I’ll make complicated.  Tommy Ramone is just about my all-time favorite drummer, but I never got to see him play live.  So the first time I saw the Ramones was with Marky and I was so pissed off because he kept cutting the high-hat time in half on all the old songs.  The best part of a Ramones’ song was that tic-tic-tic-tic of the high-hat.  But Marky would play it as, tic-----tic----.  It really upset me!   It was something I really noticed because in The Suspects I worked my ass off trying to play those songs the way Tommy did and here’s the real drummer for the real Ramones and he’s cheating!  Pissed me off big-time.  In fact, I’m still to this day angry about it.  I think it’s been at the core of many bad choices I’ve made in my life.  The root of half-hearted self-loathing and full-hearted self destructive tendencies.  For example, I think it’s why I watched Glee tonight.  So even though I appreciate Marky’s punk bona fides more than Stewart Copeland’s, I'd have to give the nod to Copeland just because Marky Ramone pissed me off and is responsible for me watching Glee.
    Copeland is an amazing and very original drummer, even though so much of the Police’s music is unbearable.  Also, he’s a total assbag for anyone who’s ever heard him be interviewed or for anyone who endured the Police documentary he shot and narrated a couple years ago.  In the never ending battle of the Police members, it was easy to presume that Sting was the biggest dick, but Copeland makes Sting look like Jim Parks.
    Copeland did the music for a Nissan TV commercial that I worked on years ago.  Elvis Costello was recording his Spike album at the same studio and Costello’s bass player at the time, T-Bone Wolk, came into our studio and asked Copeland if he wanted to visit with Elvis, but Copeland said no, because he was embarrassed that he was doing a TV commercial.  He didn’t have an issue cashing the check, as I recall.  What an assnozzle.  But I will give him points for wearing a Greasy Tony’s jersey in an early Police video.  And to belabor the whole Copeland thing.  Back in the day (when I had hair), I was always told how much I looked like Stewart Copeland on the first or second Police album cover.  I was on the concert committee at school and we did a Police/XTC show at the Main Auditorium.  A few hours before the show, Copeland and I shared a pretty comical moment: we both first saw each other from across the stage and basically stared each other down as we both walked along in a parallel line about 15 feet away from each other.  It was like a bizarre version of the old I Love Lucy episode with Lucy and Harpo Marx.  It actually was pretty funny.  But that was the extent of any Copeland-related fun.  Copeland’s older brother was also the band’s manager and he had tried really hard to back out of that show or get the university to pay them more money.  We had booked the show before Zenyatta Mondatta (or whatever the hell that stupid record was called) broke big on the radio (“Do do do do”?!).  So we had paid the “alternative band price” and now suddenly they were a mainstream rock radio act and were getting more than double what our deal was.  But we had a contract and told Copeland to fuck off.  I actually also spoke to the other brother who was head of the band’s booking company (!) and he was also an ass.  A whole assbag family!  Fuck it, I pick Marky.

SLIT:  Have you ever thrown your drumsticks out into the audience?

PP:   Absolutely.  No matter how much we tried to be punk rock there were always a few cheesy “Rock Legend” things you couldn’t resist doing, although you could always try to mask it in post-modern sarcastic irony.  But I only threw out broken sticks, so it was more like a piece of puck rock trash I was throwing away; no big deal.  Not only could I not afford to throw away good sticks, but the thought of throwing a stick in the crowd because I felt that anyone actually coveted one of my drumsticks, as if I was Ringo or the drummer for Rush, was just way too embarrassing and not very punk, either.
    But I loved seeing other drummers do that stuff - my favorite hammy rock star drummer move was by Randy Castillo – one of the great Tucson drummers – from the Wumblies, a Tucson hard-rock cover band staple at Choo Choo’s on 4th Avenue.  He’d end a song with the classic, multiple drum, top-to-bottom, fast-to-slow fill and then he’d do the last few slowed-down beats on the bass drum and at the same time smack his head alternately on each side.  These head whacks were matched to the beats on the bass drum, so effect was that hitting his head was making the noise.  Classic move.  He was a great mid-song stick twirler, too.  RIP, Randy.
    When the Pretenders played the Main Auditorium at the U (a gig Jonny Sevin almost got, but went to the fucking Plimsouls), Martin Chambers would spit a mouthful of water on the floor toms and then when he hit them this big mist of water would rise up, backlit by the stage lights – it was pretty cool.  And he also did the highest stick toss/catches I’d ever seen – he was throwing his sticks 30 feet in the air.  He missed catching them a few times, screwing up the beat and Chrissy seemed pretty irritated.  I didn’t think punk-cred drummers were supposed to do stuff like that, but it was cool anyway.
SLIT:  Can you twirl your drumsticks?

PP:    Not really.  I only learned a how to do it the fake way, spinning between the middle and forefinger – I can’t do it the baton-twirler way.  And I want to proudly state that I have never twirled a drumstick in the middle of a song – that should only be done by metal guys, preferably while doing 4-counts on a cowbell with their other hand.  Rock!

SLIT:  What's your position on drum fills or solos? Do you like them? Do you do them? Why or why not?

PP:    Kinda funny (if you don’t get out much) that when I started playing I did nothing but solos and fills, and then devolved into a militant anti-solo/simple fill player thanks to the whole anti-bombast ethos of punk.  All I like to do is play songs; I hate jamming, it gets tedious really fast.  I like short fills – most songs need fills to transition from a verse to the bridge or chorus.  A fill helps build tension and then creates a release before a change.  Unless you’re purposely writing songs without drum fills as a specific element of a band’s sound (like a Joy Division or a Gang of Four), most rock/pop tunes need fills.  Keep them simple, let them do their little job, and that’s all.  Do it and get out fast.  But drum solos help no one.  I’m all for government regulations on drum solos on a local, county, state and even federal level.  In fact, I would like to be the President’s Anti Drum Solo Czar.  I’d like the next phase of my life to be about giving something back and that would be an ideal platform.

SLIT:  Would you ever destroy your drum set onstage in order to put on a good show?

PP:    The Suspects usually ended one our sets with My Generation and, as an homage to how the Who themselves infamously ended that song and to how punk rock they were 15 years before punk rock (and because we had no better ideas of our own), we did a half-assed equipment smash-up.  We even had a dummy amp that Lee would impale with his bass.  I'd knock a drum or two and maybe a cymbal over.  But carefully.  I was paying off those drums every two weeks to Chicago Store like every other musician in Tucson, so I couldn't afford to break them.  And Jonny Sevin wasn’t really a smash-the-equipment kind of band, although there might have been a couple times when I would have liked to hit Joe Dodge over the head with a floor-tom. 
SLIT: . What's the latest development into your life as a drummer?

PP:    Here’s the long version.  I honestly never had much of a goal to become a professional musician.  I never thought I was good enough.  Even in the context of my bands, it always seemed that my band management abilities eclipsed my musical talent.  So after Jonny Sevin in 1982, I moved to Los Angeles to finish school and start a business-related career.  I would have postponed this for a bit if J7 could have reached a next level, which would have been to do a U.S. club tour, or get our local record deal bought out by a major label, or just do some gigs in LA, but it just wasn’t happening.  I had done some legwork in LA and personally met with a bunch of club owners, did the promo kits thing at all the record labels, I even got a couple meetings at Epic Records, but I just couldn’t get anyone to give us a shot.  And I had a J7 album as a calling card, which was a pretty big deal back then.  It was pretty discouraging.  So I knew I was going to move on – I was going to move to LA, and the J7 guys weren’t, so that was that.  They replaced me with one of my favorite Tucson drummers, Johnny Ray, but unfortunately the band broke up for good.  Lee and Joe had already formed Yard Trauma – still the best band name of all time – which ironically (because they had a much less commercial sound) eventually surpassed everything we had wanted to achieve with Jonny Sevin.

    When I got to LA, the Green on Red guys, who were already living there, hooked me up with some people from their scene: David Wiley from Phoenix’s Human Hands, Matt Piucci from the Rain Parade and Mikey Borens from The Romans.  The band wound up never playing out live, which was too bad because the songs, all written by Borens, were great.  I also remember that at the time I had the privilege, as many Tucson musicians did, of having my equipment ripped off by the infamous Hector who – just my luck – had moved from Tucson to LA.  I wound up, amazingly, getting my stuff back (minus a cymbal or two).   I remember when Hector stole all the microphones from the Night Train the first time they ever let the local punk bands - including The Suspects – play, back in 1979.  I had lobbied the  club owner really hard for the gig and promised we’d be on our best behavior.  I thought the bouncers were going to literally beat us all within an inch of our lives and bury us alive in the crawl space under the stage.  The owner was pissed.  Anyway, I digress...  unfortunately this very promising little LA band never got past the rehearsal phase; I recall David missing quite a few practices, and then many more.  He never beat it.  RIP, David.
    Ironically, I got the most opportunity to play drums over the years through, of all things, my day job.  I worked for an ad agency called Chiat/Day that had a house band that played a few songs at company parties.  It was as lame as it sounds, but a friend and I gradually took over the band and grew it into a pretty amazing little combo.  We had a completely whacked-out collection of cover songs, including the Jonny Sevin version of These Boots are Made for Walking and the Suspects’ version of I’m a Believer.  We even brought in Tucson ringers like Chris Burroughs and Chris Cacavas to play gigs.  Burroughs played with us so often, people assumed that he worked at the agency.  We’d introduce him as a guy who worked in the accounting department.  He’d make announcements from the stage about people getting their time sheets in on time.  We celebrated his promotion to VP onstage.  Classic.
    The last band I played with was called Drunk Money Style about seven years ago.  Poppy, quirky original songs – like Jonathan Richman with a beat (that sounds like an insult to the great Tommy Larkins but it isn’t so instead I’ll say ‘Jonathan Richman with a rock band’).  We won the ad industry battle of the band two years in a row.  It’s not a Grammy, but I’ll take it.  Also did some LA club gigs.
    I got to play five years ago at the Club Congress 20th anniversary with the Pedestrians because famed drummer Billy Sedlemeyer wanted to just sing.  This was a great experience since there wasn’t going to be a Suspects or J7 reunion.  And for the 25th anniversary on Labor Day, Jonny Sevin was scheduled to do a reunion set, but Mark Smythe couldn’t leave his business and we had to cancel.  But thanks to Van and some other folks, The Suspects went up and played a song – Pretty Vacant – which was very cool.  We hadn’t played together for 30 years; shit, I’d only seen a couple of the guys a couple of times in 30 years.
    So these days, I’m unintentionally dormant.  I have a kit – blue sparkle, just like my first one ­ and this one’s not made of cardboard.  Hell, I even have a place to play, but rarely do.  Working all the time, raising two teenage daughters, bla, bla, bla, all the bullshit excuses.  If I was Tucson, I think I’d be playing a lot, but LA is just such a pain in the ass; people are so spread out and everything, it’s just hard to get people together.  Also, since I want to play songs and not jams, it limits me to who I can play with.  Kind of forces me to be in an actual band.  Maybe I’ll just answer a “drummer needed” ad on Craig’s List and show up for some auditions - gotta be plenty of potential drum gigs for a 52 year-old, non-solo playing, punk rock drummer in LA, right?


  1. Fucking GREAT interview guys! Classic Pen! U ROCK!

  2. I love you Pen, you too, Howie. I met Pen backstage at a John Cale concert (OK it was a UFO show that John was warming up for). I was scamming a photo pass and Pen was setting up the Chicago Store drum rentals. The rest is history! And for the was not Hector who stole the mics at NEW WAVE NIGHT but Doc and his employees at THE SHITE TRAIN! The SUSPECTS were about to make the most money ever paid to a garage band (due to advanced ticket sales) and Doc couldn't bear paying anyone who actually earned their money. Scumbag that he was. Thanks again to everyone that gave us the opportunity to play at the HoCo 25th and to relive a very small moment in Tucson history. Pen, you're still a helluva drummer and quite the talker. Luv and kizzez to all