Saturday, October 30, 2010

Tucson Drummers Series: The Awesome...REX ESTELL!!

Legendary Drummer for The Pills!!
Rex Estell today, rocking out on his drumset
SLIT: How did you discover the drums?

The Beatles, Ringo of course, his b-day qued me into which instrument I should play,
as I wanted to play guitar and sing, like anybody enamored with Beatlemania like my family was. By the time The Who, Cream and Jimi Hendrix had taken over, drums seemed to offer the most satisfaction.

SLIT: Was there an "Aha" moment?

RE: Sort of.  I acquired a Silvertone with a lipstick pickup for 15 dollars and a
homemade amp for 30 dollars, and tried to sound like Hendrix without any skills,
only knowing Gloria and Hanky Panky at that point. A friend and I hitchhiked with
his new drumset to my basement, where they remained for weeks, and my parents
decided I would make a better drummer, and bought me a set for Christmas;  Decision

SLIT: Did you take lessons?

I took guitar lessons, though I'm self taught on the drums, except for a lesson by
Randy Castillo at the Night Train on foot and toe control.

SLIT:  What bands have you been in?

RE: Around 20, give or take a few, beginning with a Beatles cover band called Seltaeb,
shortened to 'The Bats', and another one that played Aice Cooper, Edgar Winter, Johnny Winter,
and Allman Brothers tunes called Potash. Moved to Tucson, after a few years of not playing, I played with a band on Halloween, and started playing again, first with Ariel, leading up to Z-9, then the Pills, Animation, a 3-peice techno band with Jeb Lipson.

 I was to become a singer after Rich Flowers of the Psalms tried out for the spot,
and sounded great, though decided not to join up, so the guitarist Arkie Wolff
suggested I sing and we get a drummer, which we did. That would be Spyder Rhodes,
previous to his becoming the DJ at Club Congress. We formed the Front, which became
the Watch when we moved to L.A. in 1985. a Cure/Church/Cult inspired outfit.  I
would continue to play guitar and sing after that, still playing drums for jams and
such, as drummers made friends easily in L.A.and were always ready to play.
On a side note on what it all led up to: My associations with developing Ahead drumsticks would begin, continuing my interest in drumming, drums, and making musical equipment and accessories more reliable for live performance, and/or the recording studio. My roommate requested the use of my studio and drum set, I gave him my support, and we did a large part of the R&D to launch the worlds first aluminum drumsticks. That would be my contribution to the world of drums
ultimately.  They last forever, if used properly. I began playing Drums for David Garver in 2004,
and am on six songs on his  album Blind Artist:

SLIT:  What were the various styles like?

RE: First came Garage, the Troggs, the Kinks, British Invasion stuff, then on to
Blues/Rock/, mixed with Pop, Punk, New Wave, ending up with Techno, and then back to
basic rock n' roll in 2004 recording-wise, with the Taos musician/actor David Garver
playing drums on 6 songs for his album 'Blind Artist'. 

SLIT: How many have you recorded with?

RE:  Most, though only few tapes seems to remain. The Pills, Animation, The Front at Randy Chu's studio, The Watch at Studio City, the Whiskey, the Roxy, oh, and most recently, David Garver, formerly of the Boheims.

SLIT:  How did you get involved with the Tucson scene?

I moved there in 72' from Indy, Indiana and spent a lot of time watching bands and
checking out the live music scene, pretty much in awe of all the bands that came
through, or were from Tucson. A Gold Mine for music at the time, and still is it seems.

SLIT: How'd you join the Pills?

RE: Robin, Fred and I were Z-9, with Ariel Bagby on vocals, a real punk/art school band
that would become the Pills upon Brian wanting to play with us, and Ariel, bless her
heart, going back to school, doing photography and taking great shots of the band
along with Cliff Green, and others. Z-9 was unique in our Souxsie meets Blondie way,
though Brian brought direction and gave the band a stronger image that was a perfect
blend of the New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, and the boys next door. Tripp (Mark back
then) Smythe would join after one gig, and would add experience with another voice to the band. the final 5-piece line up would put the Pills in a league of their own, even though grassroots fans would remain, curiosity seekers would also come in large numbers.

SLIT:  With the Pills, did you have any weird experiences due your wearing eyeliner and

RE: Just a lot a whistling and hoots and hollering, and even more disappointment when
it was realized we were 'guys'. Robin, Tripp and I especially, Fred, not so much, he
had an athlete's body, and Brian just for being Brian, his hair, and rock star
looks getting reactions no matter what. Always fashionable, and ahead of the times
generally! We spent a lot of time in the 'Ladies' room, at our fans or make-artist
behest always!

SLIT: Back in the day, was there a rivalry between the Serfers and the Pills? 

RE: Maybe, though I don't remember any, we loved each other and were their biggest fans and they ours.  We were all aware of the effect of our appearances, style/anti-styleand of course, the music and the impression we made had on peopled.  It was 'shocking' in a fun way, to be sure. They were Neil Young to our David Bowie so no problemo, as far as I recall. Others may differ, I was always
setting up and tearing down, moving equipment and missing out on some of the fun, the same for you or any drummer, I'm sure.

SLIT: What was it like recording the Pills EP? 

RE: Great! It could've been better, though I have no complaints, we were lucky to get
something as good as it was. We wanted lots of 12 string guitars, horns, pianos, a
super pro sound and we got it somehow. There was a level of creative tension as it
was a big deal and we all had high hopes, mixed emotions and uncertain living
situations that made some things less fun. Gas money, dinner, rent, gas, food, rent,
strings, sticks, transportation, food, same as it always was.  Always an expense
that needed to be covered. Oh, and beer, smokes and smoke.

The Pills EP, side A (c. 1980)

SLIT: What's your opinion of The Pills EP?

RE:  I think it sounds great today, DC-10 stands up to today's music well, it's well
recorded, and sounds like we were having fun, so we must have been!
The Pills EP (outer sleeve): Rex is second from the left!

SLIT: Any memories of the KWFM sessions at Westwood?

RE: The bathtub of imported beer in the lobby, and all those folks squeezed into the studio
NOT dancing, though that was okay, they were into it, we just weren't used to no
 mayhem, except for what we were creating. It's up on their website under concerts.
Live in the Studio, doesn't get better than that! Brian didn't feel too good, so he
did his best, playing with a cold isn't any fun. We should re-do some of those
tracks with a dubbed vocal, the performances were our best, caught on tape even!

SLIT:  What drummers influenced you?

Lots! Ringo, Keith Moon of the Who, Charlie Watts of the Stones, Jerry Nolan of the
N.Y.Dolls, Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols, Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick, Ginger Baker
from Cream, and then the locals, Marx Loeb, Billy Sedlymayer, Van Christian, Winston
Watson Jr. (who was in Snowblind at the time and rehearsed next door to us, so I got
to hear him play off and onstage, then there's Johnny Ray, who rehearsed in the SAME
unit we did, next door to Winston's), Brian from the Phoenix band the Nervous, even
you, Howie Salmon, I always saw a lot of myself in you, based on your attitude and
love of music, drums, writing, journalism and art, and always wanting to take it all to
the next level. I'm easily inspired by talent of any kind, drummers more so than
others perhaps.

SLIT: What bands/music do you like?

RE:  I still love the old school rock/punk/goth/techno bands of yesteryear, and living in New Mexico I get exposed to more eclectic world music and local grassroots punk-hybrid stuff. Which I like equally, though I have my expertise in rock and alternative music overall.

SLIT:  What do you think of drum machines?

RE: I loved dancing to them, New Order and all that, and it wasn't that much fun having
to play like one, all 16th notes on the high hat which I like, though that was short
lived. I'm more interested in getting the audience up dancing or whatever that like
to do, back in the Pills days, it was jumping to the beat, if you had any room to.

SLIT: Did punk rock/new wave change your life? 

RE: Oh yeah! I was working at Odyssey Record during the 2nd British Invasion and it was Jeff Latiwic that made me aware of what I needed to hear, and after that, I was
totally into the various scenes, all of them were offshoots of different influences,too many to count, from the Stranglers to Gary Numan, the Skids to Billy Clone and the Same, and it all came out inspired, fun, and memorable.

SLIT: Would you ever do a Pills reunion?

RE: Yes,  if they would still have me. Everyone else has reunited, and we are all still here, at least I hope we all are, I haven't spoke to Fred in years.

SLIT:  Do you still play drums?

RE: Yes. Yes, I will always play drums, it keeps me young, in good shape, and in touch with
that part of myself that needs to be part of a group to feel 'normal'. A new kit would be great, though I'm replacing my heads to keep me interested, the right skin makes all the difference when it comes to drumming.

SLIT: Are you in a band?

RE: I played for David Garver for 5 years and we did some great gigs, as it was always
effortless, and suited for my style. I'm pressed for time as my Astrology biz is
more than full time, so I have to squeeze it in. (rehearsal, recording, wood shedding,
etc.) I have done some techno stuff on MuLab that is fun, though very time
consuming, yet the results can be very satisfying, I'll do something with that when
I have more time. I'm on a new drum 'roll' as I've played a new kit that got me excited about drums
again. I'm currently infatuated with Slide Guitar, and the Delta Blues thing,
always have been, though only now am I sticking to it.

Thanks for your great questions! This is the Howie I've always known, even if it was 'on the fringe', and you never disappoint! Rex


  1. Good job Rex,,,,, Thanks for the shout out !!!!

    Johnny Ray

  2. Really cool interview, Rex. I second, Johnny--