Sunday, October 10, 2010

Tucson Drummers: The Legendary!...Howie Salmon interviewed by Dave "The Rave" LaRussa

"Hi kids, DJ Dave "the rave" La Russa here. 
Dave "The Rave" La Russa (photo credit: Patti Keating)
Like you, I have been enjoying the reemergence of Slit Magazine on the internet, and it occurred to me that one drummer needed the chance to answer some questions. Slit originator Howie Salmon of course. I sent Howie an email asking if I could turn the tables on him and he agreed! Herewith, the Slit interview with legendary Tucson drummer, Howie Salmon... enjoy!"

"You may begin with your questions!"(photo credit: Mae DeLorenzo)

 SLIT: In addition to the Limbs, what other bands, musicians and musical project
 have you been involved in?

 HS:The first band I was in was called the “Two Man Band”. Me and a neighbor
 friend would get together and write and sing songs together, and play them
 on bongos. We’d record them with one of those little mono cassette
 recorders, where you’d push “play” and “record”. We wrote a whole bunch of
 songs that way. I was about 12 years old. The next band was called “The
 Blue Haze”, and that was with a different friend from Orange Grove. This
 was just a “jam” band. I played drums (I had a set by then) and we’d just
 make a bunch of noise jamming, not really playing any songs. I also
 jammed with Dave Seger once; he came over to my parents house and me and
 him played some some songs together, but that’s the only time we’d
 practiced. There also some other . That was pretty much it, until I got
 involved in the band scene in the early ‘80’s. In the ‘80’s, I drummed for
 White Pages, Phantom Limbs, Rainer & Das Combo, Al Perry & The Cattle,
 Jacket Weather, Marshmallow Overcoat, The Dogs,
and sitting in for a
 variety of other bands.

 SLIT: Do you still own a drum kit? Do you still play?

HS: Yes, currently I play drums for a local band called Avanim, (accent is on the last
 syllable) which is a mix between surf music and klezmer, with some early-Beatles
 type rave-up action thrown in. Oh, I should mention that our lead singer,
 Sam Cohon, is the rabbi for Temple Emanu-el, and that our set of songs is
 actually a Shabbat prayer service, basically set to a spaghetti western
 soundtrack. We are the “house band” for Temple Emanu-el, and have been
 playing every month for about ten years. We have an album out  (recorded
 in 2003), which was engineered and mixed by Stuart Kupers, of
 Machine of Loving Grace and the Annie Hawkins Band. We actually played a
 set of songs at Club Congress several years ago. You can find it on YouTube.

 SLIT:Was there a lightbulb moment when you realized you wanted to play the drums?

Yes, it was watching Bill Sedylmayr’s band play at a talent show at
 Orange Grove when I was 12 years old. Their band was composed of Bill
 Sedylmayr, Dave Seger, Van Christian, Tracey Burris, and one other guy…
 they were big rock stars on campus at 13 years old. I remember watching
 Bill playing drums (he became “Billy” only years later with the New Wave
 scene), and thinking “this is great! I want to do that!” I remember them
 playing “Smoke on the Water”, “China Grove”, and a song of their own
 called “Born to Boogie”, which was basically Grand Funk Railroad’s “We’re
 An American Band” with the first few lyrics of Sly & The Family Stone’s
 “Dance To The Music”. I really thought they were great, and I can trace my
 interest in drumming to Bill & Dave’s band playing at Orange Grove. They
 played lunchtime concerts for the school outside on the kiva.

 SLIT: Did you take lessons? First drum kit? First gig?

HS: Yes, I took a series of six half-hour lessons after school, while a
 student at Orange Grove. I had a pair of sticks, and a rubber drum pad. I
 learned how to read drum music (basically, just how to tap out quarter
 notes, half notes, whole notes). I also learned to hold my sticks in the
 marching band style, as if I’d have a drum slung over my shoulder. I also
 learned how to do a double-stroke roll. Other than that, that’s the extent
 of my formal drum training. Everything else I learned by copying drumming
 licks from records. Before my Mom bought me a used drum set for my birthday,
 I’d made my own drum set out of a big cardboard box, and coffee cans.
 My tom-tom was a coffee can, and my cymbal was a coffee can lid.
 Both my “snare” and my “cymbal” were wired to my big cardboard box with coat hanger.
 When I wanted to hit my bass drum, I’d kick it. I’d blast out music, and just
 have a great old time with my cardboard box/ coffee can drum set. When I
 got a real drum set, I started playing along to songs. I practiced to the
 Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Woman” over and over and over. When I got that
 song down (which was tricky, because it requires a lot of syncopation), I
 could drum a lot of songs that I liked. When I entered high school, I’d
 stopped drumming…until the end of my senior year, when I’d met Dianne Call,
 who was in an art history class I was taking. She kept pestering me to see
 her punk band “Channel 88” at Tumbleweeds…so one Friday night, I went to
 Fourth Ave and saw her band. While there, Dave Seger comes up to me,
 shakes my hand, and asks if I’d like to be in a band. He remembered that I
 was a drummer back from our Orange Grove days. I said “sure”, and three
 weeks later, I was drumming at Tumbleweeds with White Pages.

SLIT: You are also a painter & comic book artist. Does your art inspire
 your drumming in any way, and vice-versa?

 HS: It’s interesting how you can translate musical styles into visual
 styles. Yes, I’d say that my art inspires my drumming, and vice versa,
 only because they both reflect similar artistic values. I’ve been very
 inspired by the early Ramones; their music is straightforward, direct,
 powerful, humorous, sometimes melancholy, smart. I aim to have those
 values in my artwork. So, it’s okay if I’m drawing with a Sharpie on a
 roll of butcher paper; the materials aren’t as important as is the
 boldness and confidence of the line. Simplicity add power and certainty to
 your work, but you musn’t let it get boring-- Strive to make your work
 “interesting”. The passion and the personality of the artist can make a
 simple work interesting. So my music and art complement each other (and
 thus “inspire” each other) because they’re rooted in similar artistic

SLIT: When you are listening to music, do you focus on the drumming, or is it
 the other instruments that draw you in?

 HS: I listen to all of the instruments, and how they work with each other.
 I’m a big fan of the “call and response” approach to music. I want to hear
 musicians show that they’re listening to each other by hearing one
 musician repeating a phrase or lick that another musician has played. It
 unifies a piece of music, and it’s the same way with art: it’s what holds
 a composition together: repeated phrases--or completed phrases, but
 translated through different voices (so to speak).

 SLIT: Favorite moment(s) on stage?

 HS: I can’t pick a favorite. Everytime I’m on stage is a great moment for
 me. I treat every show I’ve ever played as if it were my last show.

 SLIT: Favorite recorded song featuring your drumming?

HS: There are some great tunes on Phantom Limbs’ “Train of Thought” album
 that I’m especially happy with: “Stigma”(mainly the surf-styled intro and
 the swamp-a-billy outro), and “Dissipation”. Both songs have great
 dynamics, and also have that “call and response” style of playing that I
 really enjoy. Those two songs are probably the best I’ve ever played with
 the Limbs, and certainly the best I’ve ever recorded with any band.

 SLIT: Would you ever consider playing in a band again?

 HS: I am in a band! But if you mean a band that plays gigs around
 town…possibly. It’s got to be something that interests me, something
 that’s worth all the effort, because being in a band can suck up a lot of

SLIT: What do you think of drum machines?

 HS: They’re glorified metronomes. How can anyone do call-and-response with
 a metronome? I’d rather there be no drum machine, and just hope that the
 players have a sense of rhythm.


  1. Drum they told him barambahm bahm bahm!
    Nice interview by two of Tucson's most modest folks!

  2. That was a really great interview!! Good questions & GREAT replies!! I mean one caught a strong bit of *Howie* from it I think... very cool :) I loved the story about cans & stuff... why did I never think of that??

  3. Mazel tov howie for keeping the faith kicking at Temple. My dad loves your licks! Nice interview gents. forgot to mention your one night stand with the band News Exposition in the Cellar. oy vey!