DRUMSPEAK: JOHN SUSSEWELL

Okay its the day of THe Family of Rock Quiz Final so see you all tonight at The Elgin ….Meanwhile time to meet John Sussewell.

I met Suss virtually – on The Do You Know Who Pete Frame Is? Facebook site and discovered that he was on one of Pete’s original Trees (Joe Cocker band). Musicians like Suss are the lifeblood of the music we love and I wanted to hear his story. So the multiapplicable FRock Questionnaire was born. And , I’m pleased to say, many musicians have since responded to it. We’ll be posting up their answers  in the months ahead.

Meanwhile, here’s John…The picture of him below is with Jazz legend and musical accomplice Billy Cobham

John Susswell and Billy Cobham
John Susswell and Billy Cobham
  1. When and Where were you born?

July, 1949, Brooklyn, New York

  1. How might people have heard of you without meeting you?

Musically, through having broken onto the performing and recording scene of New York City back in 1973 (with the late Donny Hathaway, Esther Phillips and Bill Withers).

  1. What’s your earliest musical memory?

While still in junior high school, deciding that I preferred percussion over the piano.

  1. When did you first play an instrument?

When I was four years old and started formal lessons on the piano.

  1. What was the first instrument you owned?

My first blue-sparkle Slingerland trap kit [1965]

  1. What and where was your first public appearance?

At nine years old when I was among five finalists performing a Clemente piece on the piano (Brooklyn, New York).

  1. How did it go?

I came in second or third – not first; I really can’t remember since I think I was playing more for my parents than for myself (you know, vicariously speaking).

  1. What was the specific appeal of the music you were into and/or the music you played then?

How even though I was surrounded by my uncles (jazz enthusiasts of American artists), I saw myself akin to Ringo Starr of the Beatles.  Their Shea Stadium concert in Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, New York, was a landmark event.  I had already decided that I wanted to be a “drummer!”

  1. Tell me about your musical education.

Formal piano studies under William Lawrence (accompanist to Leontyne Price, Marion Anderson, etc.).  Formal snare drum studies under Morris Goldenberg, who at age 13 was the Dean of the Percussion department at Julliard, and my neighbor in Bayside, Queens, New York.  During my years as a student at Milton Academy (Milton, Massachusetts) and Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts), I essentially taught myself by both listening to other drummers and engaging myself in the process of discipline and performance.  In the early 70s, I met Billy Cobham, up front and personal when he was with Dreams (Columbia Records).  He added to my development by suggesting several manuals, one of which is Jim Chapin’s “Advanced Techniques for the Modern Drummer; Volume II.”  That manual became my bible of sorts for drumming.

  1. Who was the first musician you met who you had admired from afar?

Mr. Donny Hathaway when I auditioned and made the cut for touring.  Mr. Billy Cobham, who I wound up on stage with in 1975 when I was playing for the Average White Band and opened for Cobham’s Spectrum concert in New Haven, Connecticut.

  1. What was it like meeting them?

Life changing, professionally speaking.  I was not merely a fan, but a coworker on stage.

  1. What advice would you give to any young folk going on the musical path?

To have fun, but take the craft seriously.  To develop discipline on their instrument that over time will enhance fluency of expression, thereby feeding back into the joy of creating something both unique and lasting.

  1. Music has the same root as magic tell us a few, as many as you like, magical music experiences you’ve had.

Oh, my gosh!  I guess to be brief, those magical moments with Donny Hathaway (particularly at Carnegie Hall “Live”); touring with AWB after Arif Mardin (Atlantic Records) phoned me up to sit in for Steve Ferrone; hearing and joining Kokomo, which allowed me to live in London for nearly two years; returning to New York City in 1977 and being picked up by Ashford & Simpson, with whom I recorded three albums (including their production of the Diana Ross “The Boss” release).  Starting a record label with Candi Staton (1982) and whereas in the face of industry business types who said we couldn’t possibly succeed running our own label, we proved them wrong.  Our very first release on Beracah Records was nominated for a Grammy Award.  Over the next 15 years I grew from not only creatively participating on a series of Gospel releases, but also became the Vice President & General Manager of the worlds largest Gospel Record label (CGI Records with artists such as Candi Staton, Vicki Winans, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, and a slew of Gospel choirs and solo artists from around the States. There are more, but these are among my magical memories.

While perhaps not deemed as significant, on my own I discovered a particular technique with cymbals that (according to my knowledge) I was the first to actually record on a commercial release.  I call this technique “Fire,” since the implementation renders what “fire” sounds like when controlled.  Fire, when controlled, provide both warmth and comfort.  Hereupon, I cup my available palm upon the bell of the cymbal, and then strike the cymbal to render the rhythmic and tonal results.  This application can be heard among the many MP3 files I’ve uploaded over the years. One must listen for it, since when applied it only contributes toward the music, and doesn’t detract from the music.

  1. Any regrets?

No.  Even though my walk morphed from music into Christian ministry, resulting in me spreading my wings and being less accessible to those who wanted to hire me for road-gigs, etc., I look back and say I’d do it all over again.  In essence, I’m thankful for being so privileged – and certainly not envious who in their own right are more advanced with new/refreshed techniques and their creative applications.

  1. What music would like played:

A.      At your birthday party?

Me, performing Billy Cobham’s “Eleuthera.” [http://www.johnsussewell.com/Eleuthera-BillyCobhamWSuss-2003.mp3]

B.       On Thanksgiving day?

Me, performing Donny Hathaway’s “Nu-Po” at Carnegie Hall, 1974. http://www.johnsussewell.com/Nu-Po-DonnyHathaway&SussLive1974.mp3]

C.       At your funeral?

Me, performing my own tune “To Reconcile” on the piano.  Heck, I’d be on the “front-row!” LoL! The first half (“To Reconcile”) was composed only a few years ago; but the 2nd half (“Solaris”) on the organ was composed back in 1978 and played on my Mom’s Lowrey console at that time.  I segued the two to bridge the gap in time: hence, “to reconcile” in an infinitive aorist sense suggesting “ongoing,” and not “static.” [http://www.johnsussewell.com/ToReconcile-BySussHands&Feet-2008-into2009.mp3]

D.      Anytime and for anyone!

1)       http://www.johnsussewell.com/InTheBeginning_SteveWhitworth&Suss.mp3-2008.mp3

2)       http://www.johnsussewell.com/ALL_SteveWhitworth&Suss-ToWhomEtc.mp3-2008.mp3

3)       http://www.johnsussewell.com/Ride_SteveWhitworth&Suss-ToWhomEtc-2008.mp3

4)       http://www.johnsussewell.com/John_Doyen.mp3 [recorded July 18, 2009 when asked by the engineer to help tweak new drum microphones.  Doyen then joined on the guitar later in this 30 minute escapade of percussive musical magic.]

  1. Any other Day of note/celebration you care to nominate a tune for?

Yes.  Significant of how music is the most universal language presently leveraged across cultural lines, Kokomo’s “Angel Love” off of the “Rise and Shine” release [1975].

  1. Your three (PLUS) favourite:
    1. drum breaks:
      Billy Cobham’s tune with Suss, (as existing)
      David Weckl’s tune with Suss [ http://www.johnsussewell.com/IslandMagic-DaveWecklWithSuss-2003.mp3 ]
      Virgil Donati [ http://www.johnsussewell.com/UbiquitiousShuffle!.mp3 ],
    2. vocal performances: Donny Hathaway, Sarah Brightman, Enya, etc.
    3. guitar break(s): Phil Hamilton, Steve Kahn, Alvin Lee, Jim Mullens, etc.
    4. bass lines: Basie Saunders, Will Lee, Norbert Sloley, etc.
    5. horn arrangement: Billy Cobham (London Jazz Symphony), Eddie Palmerie [http://www.johnsussewell.com/Palmas-EPalmeirieWithSuss-2003.mp3], Latin Connection (Mambo Nights): [http://www.johnsussewell.com/MamboNights-LatinConnectionWithSuss-2003.mp3]
  2. Fave gigs or recording sessions you have been involved in?
    1. Donny Hathaway
    2. Bill Withers
    3. AWB
    4. Kokomo
    5. Alvin Lee
    6. Ray Munnings (Funky Nassau revisited ’77).
    7. Ashford & Simpson
    8. Diana Ross
    9. Phyliss Hyman
    10. Candi Staton
    11. Ben Tankard
    12. Steve Whitworth
  3. Anything else you wanna say?

Sure.  Anytime I pick up a pair of sticks, I seek to apply my own personality to drive and support the music being performed.  I approach the kit as a unit, seeking to eek out every bit of sound without imposing upon the territory of other craftsman, or the authority of anyone involved in the process (just my view on the KISS principle: “keep it simple Stupid”).

Perhaps my favorite surface among surfaces in a full drum kit is the hi-hat (sock cymbal); for thereon is my sustain. The hi-hat is the most delicate instrument among the rest; whereas cymbals themselves can be played in more than one way.  Thankfully, experience and opportunity to perform with respected artisans over the decades has afforded me the sensitivity necessary to contribute something unique and lasting.  I can honestly say that I’ve “Sussed Out” what the drum kit demands.  It’s a matter of seamless fluency for me.

2 thoughts on “DRUMSPEAK: JOHN SUSSEWELL

  1. Dylan Howe wrote: “”Hey Gavin really enjoyed this interview – listening to the tracks now, what a drummer! I had heard of him through talk of Cococmo with Jim Mullen and liked the questions, perfect.”

    Hi Dylan! It’s Kokomo! (smile)

    http://www.johnsussewell.com/AngelLove-

    Kokomo-UK-CBS-Internatial-1975-withSuss-USA!.mp3

    I meant to include this among the tunes above in the interview. Thanks again Guys!

    All The Best,

    Suss!

    Like

  2. Oops! The link to Angel should read:

    [audio src="http://www.johnsussewell.com/AngelLove-Kokomo-UK-CBS-Internatial-1975-withSuss-USA!.mp3" /]

    Sorry about that! ;-(

    Like

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