Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tucson Drummers: The Happenin'...MARX LOEB!!!

 Los Lasers! The Mollys! The Coolers!...and so much more!!!
photo credit: Gary Mackender
SLIT: What bands have you been in? What's the biggest/most "bigtime" band you've been in? Who do you drum for now?

ML: I’ve been playing in bands since 1965. I’ve played in a LOT of bands. That includes “rehearsal bands”—bands that never play a gig. God. I’ve been in a lot bands. Did I mention that? No? Well, I have.
    Sean Murphy will get real grumpy if I don’t mention this so here goes. When I was in High School I was in a band called Thee Id. My dad went nuts with this name—“Wait, you’re in a band called The Yid?” and he’d crack up. Following this Animals Cover-Tune Powerhouse was a group from Sierra Vista—the J.O.U which stood for The Jive Of Us. Uh huh. It was pronounced The Joe…but not by my dad. The family joke for years was “First The Yid. Then The Jew.” I should add my dad was a (very) non practicing Jew. There you go, Sean.
    An extremely short list of the best known ones would be The Floating Opera, Fox, Dusty Chaps, Ethyl, Los Lasers, Gila Bend, Al Perry & the Cattle, Eyepennies, Tony & the Torpedoes, The Mollys, and The Carnivaleros. Damn—that’s in near chronological order too! I should mention here that someone contacted me on Facebook looking for someone in Fox (or as he put it The Fox). Fox was if not the first—one of the first groups in town that did its own material or at least 90 percent of our show were tunes written by band members. It was 1968. Good band too.
    Biggest “Name” Band would have to be The Mollys. A great experience, even if Danny Krieger and I joined with the band in sort of career decline. We still got to tour the U.S., do a bit of Canada and went to northern Italy (twice). I don’t include the Chaps because I left the band before they hit their Country Swing thang and got signed to Capitol.
As far as local fame goes, I’d say the Lasers take it. It was probably the best bar band I’ve ever been in and it was insanely popular. It also had the craziest work ethic of any band I’ve ever been with—we’d rehearse at least 3 nights a week and then play 3. It was our age and the time, of course—not to mention the drugs, but you didn’t get time off for birthdays or extreme illness. I think every one us at one time or another played with very bad fevers. No lie.
Currently, I’m working with The Coolers—a nine piece horn band and I’m still working with Tony, in the Torpedoes, after something like 15 years. I play with Heather Hardy  too. I get sub calls and frankly, would love more work. Hint hint. Oh wait—drummers are reading this.

SLIT: How did you know you wanted to be a drummer? How did you get started?

ML: I blame Paul Desmond, the great Alto saxophonist with Dave Brubeck for getting me started. Let me explain. I was a 5th grader in Connecticut and my school had an assembly where this guy stands on the auditorium stage and demonstrates all these instruments you can learn to play. I took the violin. I took lessons for about 6 weeks and would practice after dinner every night. The noise I made would make my little sister (a first grader) cry. Yeah, I was that good. Exit violin, stage left.
    Okay so then I’m in 7th grade and I’d gone through phases of listening to Johnny Horton (the first album I owned with “Sink The Bismarck”) and I’d been into the Kingston Trio seriously. The first 45 I bought with my saved allowance was “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” by the Tokens. (I still dig that song, by the way). I’d say I started listening to music around 1960—not exactly a great time for rock unless you were into Bobby Vee. But, I’d gotten into the Dave Brubeck Quartet and I thought Paul Desmond was the coolest guy walking. He played an alto—even THAT was cool.
    So I’m in 7th grade and I go to the same assembly—the same guy too. NOW I want to play alto. My parents looked at what you got in the instruction deal. Alto saxophone got you an actual alto which produces sound. They looked down the list and saw that if you took percussion you got a practice pad and a pair of sticks, that is, very little actual sound. Somehow they talked me into taking percussion. Later they regretted this. I took snare drum lessons for about 6 months and we moved to Tucson. I was thrown in the Doolen Jr. High band in the drum section. People in the section helped learn how to read drum music a bit. I sucked. That was 1962.

SLIT: What were your first drums like?

ML:  My first drum kit was actually bought for me by my father’s best friend back in 1965. He’d heard I’d joined a band and only had a snare drum and—I think—the World’s Largest Shit Ride Cymbal. Anyway, it was a Ludwig “Downbeat” set. Silver sparkle. 4 piece—a 14X20 in. bass drum, 8X12 rack tom, 14X14 floor tom, a 4X14 snare drum—that drum is now referred to as a piccolo snare. I think I got a drum stool, a high-hat (with actual high hat cymbals) and I still had the world’s largest ride cymbal. It was real shit, bought a few years earlier. My dad paid $20 for it from Joe at Chicago Store. If you hit that cymbal super hard, it would invert with the cymbal actually making a shallow bowl around the bell. You had to take it off the stand and pull the cymbal back into the correct shape. It goes without saying that I wish I had that entire kit including the World’s Largest Shit Ride cymbal again. Tom Larkins—a collector—has a “Downbeat” snare or did.

Young Marx, circa 1970, drumming with his band "Supper"
Here's another pic of Marx drumming at a High School dance with "Floating Opera" in 1967 with his first drumset.
Says Marx: "We did a lot of Yardbirds, I remember. We did 'Dont Bring Me Down'  by the Pretty Things'This picture is a snapshot and dated on the bottom. Something-1967. The person portraying Yardbirds' singer Keith Relf is none other than Chuck "Wagon" Maultsby. The bassist is Dave Curtis. I think the guitarist barely shown is Bill Lackey. Note the used status of my rack tom's bottom head!"

SLIT: Are you self taught? How did you practice?

ML: Well, I’m both. I was in the Catalina High School marching band and band and I learned more about reading drum music there from the people in the section. When I was a freshman, I met a guy in PE—Michael Stearns. He knew I was in the band and wondered if I liked rock. (This was 1964.) I’d listened to a lot and he said he was putting a band together and asked if I’d be interested. He told me to go out and listen to The Ventures in Space and learn the songs. I did. I sat on my bed and played on placed pillows—one each for the snare, rack tom and floor tom. I would move my right foot for the bass drum. The first song I learned was “He Never Came Back.” I only did one “gig” with the band—named—yes—The Vandals and I used my mighty snare drum/World’s Largest Shit Ride Cymbal combo. I got canned for a Salpointe kid—Mike Parrott who 1) had a drum set and 2) could play Wipeout. The Vandals became The Breakers—a good local band. Mike Parrott-who went on to a very successful career as a Vegas drummer-- and I became good friends. It was a sad time though. Mike Stearns and I lost touch but I found out that he became some kind of New Age Music superstar. Yeah, well I knew him when he copped Nokie Edwards’s licks—so there, Stearns!
    As for me—over the years, I’ve taken lessons sporadically. But mainly, I listen to stuff I want to learn and muscle through it. I’m a pretty simple no frills player—especially now.

Marx drumming with The Carnivaleros  (photo credit: Elliott --Rialto staff photographer)

SLIT: Have you ever toured with a band? If so, describe what it's like

ML: I’ve toured a bit but not as much as I’d liked to. In 2000 I joined the Mollys and they’d been doing van touring for years, not to mention doing a long tour of Australia. They had it down. I honestly loved it. It really hurt my body, but I loved it. (I was 50 years old and had had heart surgery the year before). Sorry if this is corny but it was very much a life dream come true. I played a few times in Manhattan. I played up in Canada. I played in Italy. It’s cool to do something you love and when you tour basically your day is pointed at that 80 minute set where you have to get over to strangers. Its work, but it’s also fun. The rest of the time is travelling and keeping yourself not bored. One more thing—there is nothing weirder than coming back from, say, the North of Italy where people know the song lyrics and sing along and you’re adored to home where your first gig is sort of “huh—you guys are back huh?” This isn’t an ego thing at all—it’s just jarring. I remember Van Christian saying just this many years ago outside of Nino’s to me right after he’d come back from a European tour.

SLIT: Can you drum reggae style?

ML:  I can fake a one-drop beat okay. Keyword: okay. Reggae as a drum form (and there are more beats than just the one-drop) is a VERY hard groove to play legit. Like all roots music—you can know where all the beats fall and play them correctly but if the feel is off even a little or it’s played stiffly—you’re dead. That includes blues shuffles and country, by the way. Want to hear something amazing? Check out Salsa Celtica. They’re a group from Scotland who moved to Cuba for a couple of years and learned afro-Cuban and the language. They mix in Celtic instruments but VERY subtly and it isn’t a shtick. They’re fantastic and their Spanish is damn good too.

SLIT: How do you hold your sticks?

ML: I’m old. I wish I’d learned matched grip but I play traditional grip. Me, Charley Watts, Stewart Copeland and Stan Lynch against the world!!!

SLIT: Who are your fave drummers? Any particular drum lick that you've gotten from another drummer, which you've incorporated into your repetoire?

ML: Bad question. Currently I’m a freak for the newer stuff coming out of Brazil so I’d have to say those unnamed guys. That shit just sounds so fresh to me. Beyond that? I’m a Ringo defender. Charley Watts is great although he’s a weak jazz player. Most of the great session guys I’ve loved over the years. Steve Gadd is one. I love B.J. Wilson of Procol Harem and he has the one lick I’ve stolen and thrown into about a bazillion songs—his intro lick to A Little Help From My Friends by Joe Cocker. That lick is simple and just kills. I love hearing stuff where Dave Tough played. Tough had no technique whatsoever. He followed Gene Krupa in Benny Goodman’s band and the band threw him a party when he came on board.  He never took solos. He was a total groove machine. Dave is my hero. Too bad, because Dave was a very tragic guy, but man—what a feel. Tony Williams…Elvin Jones…the New Orleans guys. A pretty big list here.

SLIT:  What's your position on drum solos? Tommy Ramone or Stewart Copeland? Charlie Watts or Ringo Starr?

ML: I hate and am bored by most drum solos. Once in a while I’ll hear something pretty short and melodic that I dig. Listen to a song called “What?” by Joey Baron on his Downhome CD. Joey takes a short solo that just fits the tune so well and I love it. Most drum solos devolve into playing faster and more complicated patterns. That’s great. So….that has exactly what to do with the song you’ve been doing? If a drum solo is short and conceptual and/or melodic I’ll listen. If it becomes an Olympic event, I get sleepy. Good solos don’t have to be about chops—they can be total trog and be very cool. Did I mention the short length part? When I do solo—very very rarely-- I like trading 4s or 8s with the band. Maybe 3 times and I’m fine. I hate doing them. Its counter to what drumming itself is for me anyway: drummers are the Offensive Guard of music. They ain’t the star Running Back. Sorry—I’m lecturing.
    Tommy or Stewart? For me, Stewart—hands down, but let me explain. Whatever else Copeland is, he’s just a great all-around drummer with a very distinctive style. Tommy had a distinctive style but he’s kind of like local food joint, El Taco. Is El Taco fantastic Mexican food? Nope. But It’s fantastic El Taco food. That’s Tommy. No one else could have done the Ramones music that way but that guy. But head to head? It’s Mr. Copeland.

SLIT: How do you feel about drum machines? How about syn-drums?

ML: Drum machines are a tool and can be fine. It’s also a skill set that some people have. Syn-drums? I have a cheap electronic kit I use to practice. I wear headphones. That way, if my sister comes over she doesn’t burst into tears or gets traumatized. Um—I guess it depends on how they’re used and where. Again—a tool. No opinion beyond that, I guess.

    Howie—thanks for letting me do this. It was fun and I’m very flattered. Hope whoever reads this enjoys it.


  1. a very sweet man, great interview.

  2. Well done Marx.....
    Im with you on so much of your opinions on drummers and playing.

    Johnny Ray

  3. Wow. thanks you guys. I missed the Ringo/Watts choice--I won't play along--both great,both very different. --Marx

  4. Great history Marx ! I never new that about you...You're a Tucson Legend my friend ! By the way I had a shit pair of hi hats and the top one would flip up like a bowl too if you stepped on that pedal too hard !

    E.E. Mendoza

  5. I know he wouldnt remember me, but in 69 he was in a Tucson group for a short while called "Medicine Horse" and had their equipment set up at a guy's house named Nick. they would play at Himmel Park.. I recall them playing "Crossroads" by Cream.. good band.. I think the Guitarist was named Gene..not sure..