A conversation with
Below are excerpts from a conversation I had with Prakash John in June 2005. John played with Troiano from 1969 to 1971, as a member of Bush and on Domenic's first solo album on Mercury Records. Later in the '70s, he toured with greats like Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, and Funkadelic. He currently plays with his band the Lincolns, regarded by many to be one of the best R&B groups in Canada.
Originally, I was inspired to play music when I first went to see Donnie and Whitey in a band called the Rogues. Roy Kenner was not in the band at that time. It was George Olliver, Don Elliot was the bass player, and Joey Chirowski was the keyboard player, who I later played with, many years later, in the Welcome to My Nightmare
tour with Alice Cooper. This band, the Rogues, was phenomenal, but it was certainly not your traditional rhythm and blues band. They had the kind of showmanship and antics that were well ahead of its time. I had seen this band at a club. The first tune was "99 1/2 Just Won't Do," a Wilson Pickett song. Donnie played the intro, it's a famous intro. I was so overwhelmed by the intro, and the soulfulness of it, and the execution of the band. It was just a life-changing experience. I thought, "Well, geez, I'd like to do that!" I'd always liked the sound of bass, bass singing and stuff like that, and I had started to play bass. I played in the school band, a little bit, just goofing around, but subsequently, right after that experience, I was lucky enough to get into a band at my high school. My goal was to play with these guys. Miraculously, about two years later, I was playing with those guys, as they asked me to join at the tail end of the Mandala, basically as they were putting a band together with Bush. They didn't know the name of the band at the time, but they knew they were going to do something and they were going to go to the States... have a rehearsal place and make it a band that came out of the USA rather than Toronto. I'd also been fortunate enough to have them scout me from another band, and I guess it was impressive enough that they asked me to audition. Whitey was the center of my focus as I grew as a bass player, because he was such a funky drummer. I'd go out and watch these guys when they changed names of the band from the Five Rogues to the Mandala. Whitey was the entertainer. He was a tremendous drummer and had tremendous sense of groove and an unusual grasp of funk for that time, the New Orleans funk. Because I liked his style of playing and I shaped mine to suit that, it was like magic when we played. I was hired on as a member of the... I guess they called it the Mandala but didn't really play as the Mandala, and then it became Bush.
Whitey and I embarked on a ten year experience of playing together in a variety of bands. It started with Bush. We played with Lou Reed on the Rock N Roll Animal
album, Lou Reed Live
, and Sally Can't Dance
. We toured with Lou Reed. Then we joined forces with Alice Cooper, did Welcome to My Nightmare
and five and a half years of touring and recording. Whitey and I enjoyed a ten year association as a rhythm section. Between the end of Bush and my joining Lou Reed, I was fortunate enough to play for George Clinton and the Parliament, the Funkadelic... both versions... did an album called Chocolate City
and did a few tracks on America Eats Its Young
by the Funkadelic. So I got my experience of being in Detroit and being in this awesome black band. I think that changed my view of music completely. I was already indoctrinated into rhythm and blues with Whitey and Donnie and the whole Toronto scene that only played R&B, but playing with the Funkadelic and playing with George Clinton was a whole different thing. Recording with them in Detroit, living there, meeting all the great stars of Motown... that was as dramatic a change in my music as first hearing the Rogues play "99 1/2." After that, I did get a call from Whitey to join Lou Reed, and did this album called Rock N Roll Animal
, with the famous intro to "Sweet Jane" that still resonates as one of the best live recordings ever. Whitey and I carried our sound of Bush and the Mandala and the Toronto sound to Rock N Roll Animal
. Who would of thought? Two R&B guys just flailing away with Lou Reed, with a great guitar duo of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter... just awesome. Then we had an opportunity to record Welcome to My Nightmare
and do the subsequent touring. The album was recorded in Toronto. It was not what we all naturally wanted to do right away, but boy, it would've been a huge mistake not to have done it. So we were lucky to have been invited to join Alice Cooper at that stage and contribute in a big musical way to the tours and the recordings. I think Welcome to My Nightmare
is probably one of his most famous albums. That’s where we joined forces with Joey Chirowski - Whitey and I - so we had, of course, again, the Mandala in there. So that took us to about 1979, when I guess we decided we would change paths in our direction of music. I think five and a half years is an awfully long time to have been associated with a great organization that Alice Cooper had.
I came back to Toronto and did something that I'd wanted to do from way back when I heard the Mandala, and that is to play in my own rhythm and blues band, and I started a band that's still around called the Lincolns. I guess, in Canada anyway, it's somewhat legendary as a heavyweight rhythm and blues band and has all the discipline and arrangement ideas or directions that one would have had back in the day with the Mandala and the Rogues and Bush. So all of that discipline from Domenic Troiano was passed on to me and onto the members of the Lincolns. We've had people like Tower of Power come and sit in with the band many times. Bernard Purdie has sat in with the band, Whitey has sat in with the Lincolns, and we were lucky enough to get Donnie to come and play. He was sort of removed from live playing in recent years and was doing movie scores and stuff like that. I think Roy Kenner sat in and sang a couple times. One always seems to go back to the roots, which is rhythm and blues and playing original arrangements, dynamic arrangements the way the Mandala and the Five Rogues had put together. Before I got the chance to play with Donnie and Whitey, I actually played in a band with their former lead singer from the Rogues, George Olliver. He had a big band like Wayne Cochran's band... six horns, the rhythm section, and George. It was called George Olliver and the Soul Children. From that band came the Hammond organist that played with my rhythm section, Huey Sullivan. He came from a band that I had started and was also in the rhythm section for George Olliver and the Soul Children. It's sort of an interesting weave of circumstances, and all of it seems to go back to that Toronto sound, uniquely presented by these tremendous Telecaster players like Robbie Robertson, Freddie Keeler from David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays, and Donnie Troiano. There's a long history of that Toronto sound being shaped around the Fender Telecaster, the Precision bass, funk/New Orleans drumming, and, of course, the irreplaceable Hammond organ. I’ve never heard better renditions of unique R&B selections than what comes out of Toronto. It may not be the best, but it certainly doesn't take a back seat to anybody else.
Prakash with James Brown on the set of
Blues Brothers 2000
Whitey and I also played with Mike Bloomfield for a little while, believe it or not... the blues legend himself. I've been lucky enough to play with James Brown and the Blues Brothers. I played with them a little bit in the movie Blues Brothers 2000
. I did a scene in the movie with James Brown, so I finally got to meet the guy that inspired all of us, James Brown... inspiring George Olliver, inspiring Roy Kenner, inspiring Whitey Glan and Domenic Troiano, and, of course, myself. These are the people who have blessed my life and certainly enhanced my ability to play by sharing their music with me.
Origins and influences
I came to Canada as an immigrant from Bombay, India. I came in 1960, I was 13 at the time. I'd stumbled across a radio station that was just next to a very popular AM station in Toronto called CHUM-AM 1050. Just next to it was this fantastic Buffalo station, a community station called WUFO. That's where all the hippest guys, as I learned later, would tune in and listen for all the R&B updates of all the great musicians. I stumbled across this station with Ray Charles singing "Drown in My Own Tears." I don't think the hair has stood down since that moment. I was hooked. A little later, I'd heard this band, the Five Rogues, and they were playing the same stuff, only in their own unique style, this music referred to as rhythm and blues. It included Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and, of course, James Brown. I would say, for me, the bass players that played for Motown - the ultimate bass player being James Jamerson, who was everybody's favorite, and Larry Graham from Sly and the Family Stone, and Verdine White, from Earth, Wind, and Fire, and Bootsy Collins, who, oddly enough, I worked with when I played in the Funkadelic. We used to play together, if you can believe that. I'd come on stage after Bootsy. The Funkadelic would warm up, and then I'd have to come up and play with George Clinton. I don't know what George was thinking at the time. Who wants to try to play after Bootsy Collins was playing? But I did.
I'd say that the Motown artists really shaped a lot of my desire to play bass because of the incredible playing of James Jamerson, Chuck Rainey from the Atlantic recordings of Aretha Franklin... I hate to leave anybody out, but Jamerson, Larry Graham, and Chuck Rainey were the biggest influences. I did enjoy the Beatles... I was really a Rolling Stones fan, because they did R&B, and I liked Bill Wyman. I didn't try to play like Bill Wyman, but I just liked the fact that this was a guy in a rock band from England playing R&B, and that stone-faced look of his really intrigued me. At that time, we used to have a great music scene in Toronto on Yonge Street and in Yorkville. You were lucky to see a lot of great bass players come to town with King Curtis, Ike and Tina Turner, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, all kinds of great people. And I remember catching a show with this guy with a big 'fro, Jimi Hendrix. Now that blew my mind because, while I thought the rhythm section was boring, this guitar player was unbelievable. I had seen him play, oddly enough, when he played for Wilson Pickett, but he looked a lot different on his own. He didn't have a big mohair suit on or anything like that. He had this 'fro and headband and this unreal guitar playing that is still the standard to which most people aspire.
I got to see James Brown himself at the Maple Leaf Gardens. To see him live and to see that discipline... to hear that kind of a band and to watch James Brown in action, as a young person... that probably was the single most influential moment in my life, watching James Brown command the attention of his band and the discipline of the band. I later connected that with the discipline that Donnie had to drive the bands that he led, like the Mandala and Bush. Vocal wise, I would say that Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Steve Wonder, and a lot of black gospel singers and groups made a big impact on me. The Staples Singers, Mavis Staples in particular... James Cleveland, who was the choir director and the driving force that shaped Aretha Franklin. And there was the ever-present Hammond organ, which is still a big part of everything that I do. Oddly enough for me, James Taylor - I always thought that guy was just one soulful dude. He still remains a soulful man, writing soulful music, doing great interpretations of his own music and others. I don't want to make it sound like there are only black musicians and singers who influenced me, because that's not true. I was shaped by classical music early in my career and by music of the Protestant church - Charles Wesley, John Wesley's brother, was a great musician. Growing up in India and growing in the church, church music had a huge impact on me.
In the '60s, when you went down to Yorkville, you could hear rhythm and blues, rock, pop, folk, Chicago blues... you could hear all these people: Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, the Rogues, Jon and Lee and the Checkmates, R.K. and the Associates - that's Roy Kenner's band... people from Steppenwolf - John Kay and the Sparrow became Steppenwolf... guys that later went to Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Full-Tilt Boogie Band... you had all people that came from that environment - mid to late '60s Toronto - growing up playing rhythm and blues in Toronto's unique way. You could see all those people in Yorkville. You also had David Clayton-Thomas and the Shays, from which there was another great guitar player that we shouldn't fail to mention, Freddie Keeler... left-handed player. He and Troiano were the young guys that followed Robbie Robertson of the Band. Even Rick James came from that street, and some unknown people that were just as heavy as the people that became famous. Nobody said, "This is black music, this is white music, this is pop, this is rock, this is country"... nobody cared. It was either good or it wasn't. You had a unique interpretation and you played it, and somebody else would come along and play the same tune, have a different interpretation and was accepted. We didn't have this mania in the press for only talking about bands that play once a year in some environment that is considered to be legitimate and ignore what's the most legitimate, and that's musicians playing every night repeatedly in a club somewhere. Back then, nobody thought, "Well, we can't play too much because the press won't like us and they'd be bored with us." Back then, you played and you proved yourself every week. Nobody segregated the music. Now, I think music is wildly segregated. At least I got the opportunity to hear a lot of this as a newcomer to Canada and a newcomer to that form of Western music, and I got to play a little in it and, later on, came back to Toronto after Alice Cooper and got my own rhythm and blues band together, which still exists today. It all seems to stem from that one thing: a Telecaster, a Hammond organ, a Fender bass, and funky drums, which was embodied by the flagship of bands, which was the Five Rogues, with Troiano leading the parade.
Donnie, Roy, and Whitey had their own concept of what it was to be. That concept came before I was asked to play, but I didn't really need to contribute in that area, because I was the junior member, and I was awestruck of having to play with them. I had my hands full. Whitey and I have always had this ability to play well together, right from the first note we ever played together. "I Can Hear You Calling" is a demonstration of that, "The Answer." If you listen to those tunes, it's Whitey and I traveling on the same path. I got to dictate more of what I wanted to play later on the second album, which is the first Troiano solo album. I didn't have much of a hand in the writing of the tunes, but I think if you listen to any band like Bush, you couldn't escape the fact that the rhythm section in a four-piece band is contributing mightily to the writing, because nobody told us what to play. We'd sort of play along the confines of the chord structure and the discipline of the band as a whole, but - especially that second album - I got to play what I thought we could all play and enjoy, and there are a lot of people who enjoy it. I'm inspired when I hear it. I listen to it and go, "You'd have to be 20 and a bachelor and have time on your hands and starve a little bit to get that kind of energy out of you." And you'd have to have a leader like Donnie, you'd have to have a phenomenal drummer like Whitey, you'd have to have a singer with that edge like Roy, and you'd have to be a bass player that could deliver. So if you can do all those things, the results are good.
We got together and rehearsed at this fabulous ranch that two promoters who loved the Mandala blessed Bush with... a fantastic, multi-million dollar ranch at our disposal for at least three or four months. We were neighbors to Barry Goldwater, one of the most conservative senators in the very conservative area of Scottsdale. We rehearsed there, but we were based out of L.A. Our management team was Reb Foster and Associates, who managed Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night, and we were on ABC/Dunhill, which was RCA in Canada. We found out that Toronto was one of the better places for musicians to get paid. In L.A., you basically have to pay to play. But we did get paid some money, and we played at a famous little club called the Irma Hotel, which is in Van Nuys. I remember youngsters like the Porcaro brothers sitting on Donnie's amplifier, riveted by our playing. Jeff Porcaro, bless his soul, who unfortunately passed away a quite a few years ago... his drumming was largely influenced by Bush and, in particular, by Whitey Glan, and he never forgot it. He was always very generous to me, even being a big, famous guy in Toto and Boz Scaggs and doing all kinds of great things. He and his brothers were there on the sidelines watching... I think they were 14, 15 years old at the time. It seemed like they were so much younger, but I was 20, 21 at the time. I remember Brian Wilson used to come with Danny Hutton from Three Dog Night, always show up at the Irma Hotel, just about every week, for the last set. And he'd always be yelling - if you can imagine Brian Wilson yelling out, requesting for that tune called "Try." He always wanted to see if I could actually play that part and sing at the same time. And thank God for the discipline of that band and the rehearsing that we did, I could actually play and sing - I can't do it now - but, singing and playing that tune was something else. And he'd ask for that tune all the time. He'd just be clamoring away for it. A lot of the guys from Delaney and Bonnie, who are now in Little Feat... I use to, believe it or not, teach - God knows what I was teaching them, but anyway, Kenny Gradney was the bass player for Delaney and Bonnie and is the bass player for Little Feat, and he used to be one of my students. How cheeky of me to even think of teaching a guy like him... but he used to come to my house. I used to teach Nick St. Nicholas, who was a friend of mine from Toronto and the bass player for Steppenwolf. I had a couple of other students... a girl named Rosemary Butler, who had done many things with Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt. So somehow, Bush had the respect of other people, and we were blessed by their presence and their support.
I really enjoyed the fact that Donnie was not a drinker or a druggie. He'd keep me company for most of the driving that had to be done by myself. Donnie never drove, and thank God he didn't, as everybody would say. He never used to drive back then. Mostly, I did the driving, because Roy and Whitey were indisposed most of the time. Donnie kept me company on some very long drives. What a person to have keep you company... somebody alert, somebody who, like myself, was devoted to your family, and somebody who had this insatiable desire to be better every time when you play. So on those trips, it was great to have Donnie there. Whitey was the only guy who could take liberties with Donnie and get away with it, and he would. It just showed you how close Whitey and Donnie were and the respect that Donnie had for Whitey... that they both had for each other. Whitey's one of the funniest human beings known to mankind. He could make us laugh a lot. He was an acrobatic lad who could do all kinds of crazy things. He could really make Donnie laugh. It was something else.
We all played Traynor amplifiers. Peter Traynor is a longtime friend and innovator from Toronto who made these Traynor amplifiers that are the most famous amplifiers that ever came out of Canada. We were the first band to take that equipment across the border and play it in the USA. Peter Traynor isn't a wealthy man, because he sold out to the person that was funding him. Anyway, it's a company called Yorkville Sound. It's probably one of the biggest corporations in Canada. But it is our amplifiers that were made by Peter Traynor that Donnie and I played that actually broke through in the United States and made them money. Traynor went well out of his way to make sure he got it right for Donnie for me. He was a great innovator. He's a genius and a very important person in the Canadian culture of music. After the infamous accident in Death Valley on our way to Vegas, we played the gig, and it was all that Traynor gear - the guitar amp, the bass amp... we just dusted it off, stuck things back on, and it all worked.
The Death Valley accident
Roy was right. Yes, I did say to him as we careened off, "Is there any particular reason that this trailer is now perpendicular to the car?" It was hammering me on my side of the car. I was in the passenger's side back seat. This trailer was just slamming into the side as we were still going forward, if you can imagine what that was like... whiplashing, just hammering, like somebody trying to get through my door. Pretty frightening at the time. As I said before, I did most of the driving. We'd left the night before from L.A. and drove through the night. In the morning, I handed over the wheel to Kenner, who, with Whitey, was now sufficiently recovered from their night's entertainment, the previous night's entertainment, to be allowed to drive. I was really out of it, I was really tired, and Donnie agreed... "OK." I just said to Kenner, "Look, you may want to be careful, because the crosswinds are deadly." And I said, "I wouldn't do anything over 70." Back in those days, we'd all be flying around with a trailer at 75 miles an hour, thinking nothing of it, which is really stupid. Anyway, Roy, in his true fashion, just ignored me and went roaring down the highway and got caught between two camper trailers. We were passing them. The first camper trailer shielded the car, but the crosswinds hit our trailer, and then he started to lose control. I remember looking over his shoulder and seeing that he had dropped from 85 miles an hour down to 75 when we were about to hit the shoulder and go rolling down the side of the hill. When we came to a stop, each one of us knew we were alive, but we thought the others were dead. It was silence like you wouldn't believe. Then we realized the engine was on fire, and then we scrambled out of the car, which was on its side. People thought we were dead for sure, so people just went into town and got the ambulance and stuff, got the cops, and finally, people scrambled down the hill. The reason Roy never got charged was because the cops couldn't believe that he would've been going any faster than the speed limit or we would have been dead. Lucky for us, the night before, on a rare occasion - God was with us - one of the heaviest rainfalls in the Nevada desert history, and that's why that shoulder was soft enough for us to be cushioned, and not die. When we went off that road, with that trailer right next to my head, we were going 75 miles an hour. Now we can laugh, and we do laugh about it. Donnie's Telecaster... the case was broken, but they opened it, and the Telecaster was fine. The case for the SG was not broken, and we didn't discover that the guitar was broken, because we assumed it was OK. And that's why Roy didn't get killed in the desert. Once Donnie knew the Telecaster was fine, it was OK. And then, of course, we were trying to figure out what to do now - get this trailer hauled out - and we played that night. Played the gig. I don't tell that story to make the rest of us sound like saints. We all had our quirks and made mistakes, and that's why Donnie always wanted me to drive. I was the junior guy. I had to pay my dues. Plus it was survival. I didn't want these two lunatics driving.
Bush: Roy Kenner, Whitey Glan, Troiano, Prakash
In the end, it was the overdone partying, if I could put it kindly, by certain individuals that killed the band. That's not new, it kills a lot of bands. The beauty of it is that we still got a lot done in a short space of time. Roy and Donnie worked for a long time together, and Whitey and I worked for a long time together. I certainly don't condone the partying, which Whitey, I would say, enjoyed. Still, Whitey and I, as friends and as a musical team in a rhythm section, worked a long time. At some point, all good things come to an end anyway... and we're still great friends.
It's quite something to honor the memory of Donnie by not failing to point out these great contributions that he made and his band made, and I was lucky to be part of some of it. Few people realize that the second Bush album turned out to be Donnie's first solo album, and the playing on that album is just awesome. I say so even at the risk of sounding like an egomaniac, but people keep referring to the playing on that album, especially the playing in the rhythm section - Whitey and I. "The Writing's on the Wall," "The Answer," "Try"... all of those are Bush tunes. The band had broken up, so Donnie was quite right to go ahead and sing over the tracks and make a solo album, but I put the bug in Roy's ear and said maybe he should get a hold of some of the tracks, take about four or five of the tunes, and sing over them and let people have a sampling of what the second Bush album would have been, because it's a heavy album, and I think Donnie would agree. In no way am I saying this to put Donnie down. This is to mention the fact of the matter, and that is that Donnie, Roy, Whitey, and I worked really hard on that album. That was a great achievement, and Roy is an expert in the field of singing. It's certainly not my area of expertise, for sure. We all had our roles to play, and that epitomized what we had accomplished. I really thank Donnie for the opportunity to play in that band and to be led by him and to fall under the discipline that I loved. He certainly taught me how to rehearse for 8 to 10 hours at a time and not be bored. As a result of that experience, I can outlast anybody at any rehearsal, and I always think that's a Donnie thing. I enjoyed it, I liked it. That really helped me accelerate as a young bass player. Of course, the results are those tracks, and that was quite an achievement by the four of us. I look at those tracks as the crowning achievement of Bush.
At Donnie's funeral, a lot of people harkened back to that album, and I thought how fitting it was for the musicians to realize who was playing on it and how great it sounded and they still thought it was phenomenal. It took Donnie's passing, unfortunately, to bring that about, but I guess that's a time-honored event. You pass away, and people go, "Oh geez, the guy was incredible!" Not that we who knew Donnie didn't realize he was incredible before, but I'm glad that other people are hip to it now. There must be some tapes of people who recorded us on the road with, of all people, Three Dog Night. We were managed by Three Dog and Steppenwolf's management team. We used to have to open for them. That was pretty funny, but it was great exposure and a great opportunity and a great learning experience. But we did stuff like that, and it was just incredible what it did for our futures and our ability to sustain what you have to sustain in the entertainment business. I think it was just a little over a year - the life of Bush - and we did a lot, and that's how one's life should be lived. Do a lot in a small space of time. If you actually keep it up throughout your life, you'd be brilliant. Unfortunately, I only had Donnie for about a year and a half, so too bad for me.
Life after Bush
Bobby Whitlock, who was a founding member of Derek and the Dominos, had asked me at the breakup of Bush to come with him to England and join this band. I was all bummed out because the band had broken up. Also, coincidentally - simultaneously - somebody had stolen my '58 Precision, my beautiful Precision bass that I loved. That just shattered me. And so, stupidly, I didn't go to England to play in Derek and the Dominos. Bobby Whitlock insisted that I go with him, and I didn't. Another great opportunity that I turned down just at the end of Bush was to play in Edgar Winter's White Trash. Here's this musical genius, Edgar Winter, with his sidekick, Rick Derringer, who was playing guitar in that band. They'd come to my apartment, these mighty musicians begging me to play, and I went, "Well... I'm just gonna go home," right? Looking back, I would love to have done those things. Edgar Winter's band was outrageous, but then I wouldn't have done those things with the Funkadelic and Lou Reed. It may have been different. How generous those people were to me, how nice of them to be kind to me. Edgar Winter came back three times... that's sick. It's embarrassing. But I did that, and I have to remember stupid moves as well as the good ones. I moved back to Toronto and didn't play for quite a bit. I was a counselor at a camp for handicapped children. My mother was a teacher of handicapped children. Then the Funkadelic got a hold of me.
In my days with George Olliver and the Soul Children and prior to my joining Bush, I had the good fortune of having to sit in on bass for the Parliament, who were doing a show in London, Ontario. As was their practice, some of the members would not make it across the border in Windsor for reasons I'll leave to your imagination. The bass player didn't show up, and so George Clinton said to get that skinny-ass kid from that other band, meaning me - me, size 29 waist, right - from Toronto... you know, Squaresville compared to Detroit... and the Funkadelic, right? I'd never seen so many black men onstage in my life. Anyway, he said get that kid to come and play with them. And I did, and they loved it. That was so nice of them, and were they ever kind to me. I'll say this about George Clinton: I've never heard him speak a bad word about anybody... black, white, green, yellow. It never mattered. He's not at all intimidated by anybody and is really kind. He wins people over without a confrontation. You're traveling with these guys, as I discovered... me, a milk and cookies man from Toronto, coming from my first tour, taking off with three different station wagons out of Detroit, being one of the drivers - I was well-practiced at that from my days in Bush... this was on my second time with the Parliament. But taking off and thinking, "Oh, somebody's smoking a joint in the car. This is ridiculous," only to find out they all had their own bag of weed and they were all enveloped in this smoke with the window down all the way, on the way to some university gig.
We went down to some black university in Tuskegee, I believe. I remember driving through the night and everything, and we needed gas in some rural area of the south. I'm thinking to myself, "These guys are going to stop for gas at some outpost..." - these black men who are like totally avant-garde for the time. They looked like Sly Stone and those guys. They stopped at a place, and I thought, "OK, this is it. I'm gonna die, right here. We're gonna get shot. We're gonna be dead." We pulled in, it's just dawn, and immediately, all the lights at the pump shut off, like a movie. All we needed were a couple hound dogs sitting on the porch or something. I thought, "Oh no, we're stuck. This is it." These guys come stumbling out of the three station wagons. What a sight for a bunch of white rednecks to see these guys stumbling out... guys in these weird looking coats, George Clinton with his triangular hat on, fur around it, these platform boots - and he takes his hat off and it’s shaved other than a star on one side and a moon on the other - and all these other characters in the band. But George Clinton walks right up to those guys who have the doors locked, and the gun rack behind them, and talks for a little while. I'm just... I'm not getting out of the car, I'm from Toronto. The next thing you know, after about 15 minutes, just by being so nice, the pumps come on. The lights come on. We get gasoline, we drive off down the road. That taught me a big lesson how one should treat the situation as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have. Only this was George Clinton in this weird outfit, smiling, and never having a harsh word, even though people were saying nasty things to him. That's a life lesson: how to be kind to people. This guy's not a saint... but he had his own marching tempo and had his own ideas, which have stood the test of time. Even though people treated him poorly from time to time, he could smile and genuinely do it. That's how we left that gas station, tanks full and nobody shooting us.
When they worked, the groove was so wide, you couldn't help but fall in it. The singing, the groove... it had nothing to do with technique. Bush was a very technical band, and my one dissatisfaction playing in that band - it certainly was not the intensity or the musical prowess - it was that it was so technical. I couldn't play like a lot of my favorite bass players like Jamerson, Larry Graham, Willie Weeks. The groove that these guys could lay on you was unbelievable, and that was a source of my dissatisfaction with Bush. I could never get to play more of the romantic side of the music, of the groove. A lot of it is very technical and very impressive, but I didn't have the kind of freedom that one should enjoy in a rhythm section playing black bass music, which we were all trying to play. With the Funkadelic, it was looser. Nobody cared about mistakes. Nobody gave two hoots about it. When I would come out and play after Bootsy Collins had warmed up the band... can you imagine? What the hell am I doing? See, but I was thinking in technical terms. I thought, "What's George thinking? Why does he have me in this band?" And I'd come out and play. It was something about my Rickenbacker that he liked and the way I played. He wasn't thinking stereotypical R&B either, and I didn't understand that. He liked matching different styles with the groove, and that's why George Clinton was a forerunner in changing the face of traditional black music. He could have anybody play with him, if they suited his purposes. I listen back to those recordings, and I thought he was crazy at the time, but I can hear what it is, because he just didn't want to sound like the Temptations. Fortunately, I had the technical discipline, and as they called "the chops," to carry with me from Bush. It's not as if I didn't have a huge reward playing with Bush. I was just dissatisfied that I couldn't play like Willie Weeks and play the free, open groove. But I got my chance. I may not have gotten that with Derek and the Dominos. We're all led by the same desire to honor black music. I think that was the cornerstone, in my opinion, of what drove Troiano to do what he did in music.
Dick Wagner is a great friend of mine and a great friend of Whitey's, and a tremendous... just an absolutely tremendous songwriter, singer, and guitar player. Dick Wagner is heavy... heavy. Soulful man. Whitey and I went to his 60th birthday party two years ago. Went down to Saginaw, Michigan. There was a performance and a tribute to him. Dick Wagner is a guy that I love. The funny part is I only got the chance to spend a year and a half with Donnie. Whitey, Wagner, Steve Hunter and I, we played together with Lou Reed and then played with Alice. Wagner's writing was the cornerstone of Alice's success with Welcome to My Nightmare
. What a beautiful song, "Only Women Bleed." What a fantastic song. I remember Dick playing that song for me when we were in Lou Reed's band. He was playing all these original tunes for me, and I thought, "What a singer and what great material." He had a great song, "Motor City Showdown," and when he did it at his party, I cried. I thought, "Gee, I forgot how bloody soulful... how emotional that song was." The illustration that his lyrics give you is something else. And if you're from the Detroit area, it means even more to you.
On tour with Alice Cooper, San Diego, 1978
Dick is one of my favorite guitar players and songwriters and singers. The guy could sing. The combination of Dick Wagner, Joey Chirowski, and Whitey Glan in our limousine, to and from the airport everyday... people used to try to bust into the front seat to get a glimpse of the entertainment level between Whitey Glan, Dick Wagner, and Joey Chirowski, probably Joey Chirowski being the ultimate funny guy. I'd just sit there. I'm not a jokester, but I can laugh. I love to laugh. I can't tell jokes, I can't carry on with them, but people wouldn't try to fight to get into Alice's limousine. They'd try to get into ours.
is] a different album. I don't think it turned out the way he would have liked it to turn out, but back then, a lot of money for these albums that was made available was spent on other ways of entertaining the troops in the studio. That album got a bit... not that I'm the guru or the saint of the band, but I just happen to be the guy not drinking and smoking and stuff. Sitting around watching these guys, I could see it sort of veer off into a different direction, and it wasn't based on the kind of music that Wagner could produce. "Nightwork" would probably be the tune that Donnie played on. I didn't forget about the Wagner album, but I forgot that Donnie did play with us on one or two tunes.
At Dick Wagner's 60th
birthday party, 2003
Wagner and Hunter - I remember this clearly - all these guys that came after Wagner and Hunter in '73, all these guys in that band Aerosmith, and a band called Boston, they'd have those dueling guitar things, you know... leads, harmonizing - they got that all from Wagner and Hunter. These guys use to come and follow us all over the place - New York, Boston, wherever we were playing with Lou Reed. Next thing I know, I listen to their albums, and it sounds like Wagner and Hunter. And good for them, but people should acknowledge that Wagner and Hunter were the originators. They're the guys who made that sound. If you hear that live album, Rock N Roll Animal
, play the intro to "Sweet Jane." I'm telling you, that will give you an idea of what the two Detroit guys - well, Hunter came from Decatur, Illinois - and Whitey and I from Toronto, with our R&B roots, hammering away on a Lou Reed song. It's unedited. The beauty of that is none of the mistakes are fixed. Nothing is fixed on that album. It's a true live album. It was the third day I was in that band. I rehearsed one day, played in Toronto - of all places - the opening night, the next night was in New York and they recorded this album. When we were with Alice Cooper, people all over the world would always play that album, more than Welcome to My Nightmare
, so that usually used to irritate Alice. That album got such rave reviews that even Lou Reed hates it, because a lot of people started panning him because of his singing, and I thought that was kind of unfair. Lou Reed has his own style - great lyricist - and people shouldn't judge him on his ability to sing. Nobody said he had to be Al Green or Frank Sinatra. He's Lou Reed. He can sing in that monotone voice, and if he didn't, it would sound silly. Anyway, Lou doesn't acknowledge that album, but that is a famous album, and everywhere in Europe, they'd play it.
Rock N Roll Animal
People still e-mail me about that album. The president of the Jack Bruce fan club finally got a hold of me a couple years ago. He'd been looking for me because was such a fan of Jack Bruce, but he was also a fan of Chris Squire and, oddly enough, me. He was telling me how influential that album was to a lot of people in Australia. Get it, play it full blast, and think of yourself at the Academy of Music in New York. Steve Katz, the guitar player for Blood, Sweat, and Tears, produced that album... the most unusual guy to produce that album, but nevertheless, the best guy, because he left it alone. That's probably my favorite album of all the albums I've done. I've done stuff that's maybe technically better, but every time that album is played, it sounds just like the way we recorded it. There's Lou reed coming in a bar early, two bars late... but that's how he is. You would be surprised at how many people talk about "Sweet Jane" alone. People just go mental when they find out that I played on it or they've been looking for me.
Outtakes of that album actually ended up on an album called Lou Reed Live
. That's a prime example of RCA Records ripping off the bloody musicians. They have two albums, they pay us for one, but they can get away with it, because it was outtakes of the previous album. You couldn't give each musician a couple grand in the early '70s? That's the stuff that really irks me about the business. Once in a while I may think of it in a conversation like this, but really, the overriding factor is the music.
I'm just reminded of a funny little thing with Robert Palmer, who passed away a few years ago. He was doing a tour in Canada in the '80s... he had "Addicted to Love" and those kind of tunes out, and he was pretty big. I agreed to have my band, the Lincolns, open for him. I loved Robert Palmer. So it's the start of the tour in Winnipeg. I'm sitting in my dressing room, and I can hear somebody humming a tune... and it's getting closer and closer. It's the line from "Yonge Street Patty," and into the dressing room comes Robert Palmer, singing this song. I just went, "What?" He knew that album, he bought it in Scotland, and he specifically wanted to come and say hello to me. How about that! I mean, now that’s respect... because who would have thought that there was any connection. So through that and his respect for Whitey, Roy, Donnie, and myself - and he loved that album - he gave us the full PA, full lights, full treatment in the dressing room, play as long as we wanted, nobody's going to yank you off the stage... that was amazing. That was one of the greatest rewards as a result of playing in Bush. That was real respect, and it wasn't just respect for me. It was respect for the whole band. So that was a shining moment for the Lincolns, for myself, and, of course, for Bush.
Whitey and Prakash, 2005
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