Legendary drummer Corky Laing has spent most of his life behind the drum kit. Starting his career as the drummer for the Ink Spots in 1961, he is best remembered as the drummer for Mountain and West, Bruce & Laing. He will be bringing his Corky Laing Plays Mountain tour to the Grog Shop on July 6th.
We got the chance to talk with Corky about his career and his upcoming appearance in Cleveland.
Greg Drugan: Hi Corky, thanks for taking some time with me today.
Corky Laing: No problem, I appreciate the support!
GD: How has the tour been going so far?
CL: It’s been pretty amazing! Although I must admit we’ve had a couple of incidents, we got broken into in San Francisco. They didn’t take any equipment, but the took my bass player’s bag that had his passport. So we had to rearrange a few things crossing the border making our way into Canada. But things worked out. Then we get to Vancouver and we get broken into again! We unloaded all of the equipment in the venue, but Joe kept his fretless bass in the van and they took that. So now we are driving around Vancouver, looking for some dude who has a bass in his hands.
GD: That’s horrible!
CL: But other than that, the tour is going great. It’s very challenging because we are playing city after city every night. We drive about six to eight hours a day and then playing at night. I have to feel like an 18 year old again and we are playing the Mountain repertoire and we are playing it exactly as it was recorded in the early days. We are going through some time warps but the response has been really great! It’s not really about me, or Leslie West or Felix and Steve; it’s about the repertoire that we put together over 40 years ago.
GD: Who is in your band for this tour?
CL: We have Joe Vinti on bass and Chris Shutters, from Toledo, Ohio by the way, who is an amazing player. They fit right into that vibe from that era and I’m lovin’ it!
GD: So you are playing songs from Mountain, are you playing any other songs from West, Bruce and Laing or other covers?
CL: Yes we are! I guess people who are aware of West, Bruce and Laing will be familiar (with those songs). Surprisingly people are responding to the West, Bruce and Laing numbers and I happened to have played drums on the Woodstock version of “Going Home” from 10 Years After. There’s a wonderful story to that. They needed to put a drum recording on the live track because Ric Lee’s microphone at Woodstock wasn’t working. I happened to be recording Mountain Climbing at the Record Plant and they invited me in and I was more than happy to help. Trying to fit in the loop with Alvin Lee on guitar and who knows what kind of medication was going around and it was twenty-seven minutes long! That was challenging. What I was getting at, is that we play that song too.
There are some surprises! But Cleveland, give me a break. You guys are the rock capitol of the world! You have to be on your toes and we are really looking forward to playing there.
GD: Well, we are looking forward to seeing you. Looking back on your career; how did you first get involved with playing the drums?
CL: Oh that’s pretty simple. I really liked some of the jazz stuff that was going on in the ‘50s. I grew up in Montreal and Cuban music was prevalent and my mother had all of these Cuban records. I listened to a lot of Latin drummers and that’s how I got into the cowbell and the timbales. Then I heard Keith Moon. We did a show in Montreal on their first tour back in the ‘60s. Watching him, and getting a chance to be on stage behind him and watching him was like an amusement park. It was like choreography but sitting down! He was having the time of his life. I remember saying to myself, “yeah, that what I want to do in life.” Even if it’s just one hour on stage, you wanted to be like him. I was only 16 years old at the time and he was just a baby in his own right. We became friends but that was my inspiration in terms of rock. You can’t forget Ginger (Baker) and the drummer for the Kinks. When I heard “You Really Got Me” I mean that’s one of the best rock drumming that you can get! Then you had Hendrix’s Mitch Mitchell, what an amazing drummer! When you watched those drummers, they weren’t tethered, there was no click track! They were free, and they were playing free and I aspire to that. I gotta say, I’m no session drummer and I respect those guys. But in the late ‘60s, early ‘70s there was a freedom that was emulated by these rock drummers. It had a lot to do with the generation, the freedom and the pulse of those guys, just moved a whole generation. A lot of the drummers from that era are not around anymore.
GD: You mentioned Woodstock earlier; you weren’t in Mountain when they played Woodstock, but did you attend the concert?
CL: No. But here is a story. I wrote a song with the bass player in my band Energy called “Who Am I But You and the Sun.” Felix loved that song and he was producing Energy until he was called off to produce Cream that year. When he went to play with Leslie West at Woodstock, he sang “Who Am I But You and the Sun” and it was on the Woodstock record. At the same time, I told you earlier that I sat in on “Going Home.” So here’s the thing, I have two gold records from Woodstock and I wasn’t there! I’m very proud of those records and my ex-wife has both of those. (laughs) She deserved it.
GD: When you joined Mountain, did you already have most of “Mississippi Queen” written?
CL: Yes, but let’s put it this way, if it wasn’t for Leslie and that lick and they way he sang it, it would have never been the song that it is. It was recorded by somebody back in ‘69. I was actually playing Cripple Creek at the time and I met this girl from Mississippi and I wanted her to keep on dancing. I kept screaming out at her without the mic “Mississippi, Mississippi” to get her attention. She was gorgeous and she was wearing a see-through knitted dress and it was a hot night. So I was inspired to write about her and her name was Molly by the way, and she came from Mississippi. So I wrote the lyric at that point and a couple of years later, we got (the band) together and Leslie says “You got any lyrics?” and I said yes. Then in probably ten New York seconds he had the lick and started wailing on the song. It was a wonderful moment. It’s the kind of song that wrote itself.
GD: Is it true that you used the cowbell to count the song in, but it originally wasn’t supposed to be in the intro?
CL: Yes, that’s right! I used the cowbell on a lot of songs in the studio. Felix decided to keep in in on that song. Back in those days when you did play live, you had these stacks of amps on both sides so I had to really play hard. I played as hard as I could and the cowbell worked really well in the arena’s. You can’t just count in big places like that and the cowbell just echos and it works.
GD: After Mountain broke up, how did you get hooked up with Jack Bruce?
CL: That was a smooth transition. Felix was producing Jack’s first record and we were around at the time. I crossed paths with him in Montreal and he had just read the review in Rolling Stone of Disraeli Gears and Rolling Stone said it was the worst record ever. So we hung out in Montreal after he recovered from a very depressing night. He was playing with Tony Williams over in Europe and when Leslie and I were in London we decided to call him up. So we said “Why don’t we get together and jam?” That was it, it was pretty natural.
GD: You’ve worked with several great artists throughout your career, is there someone you would like to collaborate with today that you haven’t already?
CL: Yes, Elvis Presley. I’m sorry, I know it can’t happen but it would have been a lot of fun to play with him.
GD: How was your experience teaching at the University of Western Ontario and do you still give guest lectures?
CL: Yes, I still do it as much as I can and I love doing it. I was going to be a high school teacher before the summer of ‘69. Standing in front of a class, with all due respect, you entertain students with interesting subjects. When I taught the course, it was a great experience. I was on the road with Joe Satriani at the time I was teaching this course and they let me off on the weekends. Then I would interview each of the guys: the agent, the road manager, et cetera and I would have each of the students record a question and I would ask those people directly. The road manager would address the students separately and the kids loved it! They felt like they were there. I probably got more nervous going there every day than I did playing Carnegie Hall. It’s scary, all those kids are looking at you! I really enjoyed it and I learned more than I taught.
GD: You will be playing here in Cleveland soon, do you have memories of playing in Cleveland?
CL: I have a great story. It was a point where I couldn’t even get arrested. I was telling this story to a guy and we were having a couple of beers and he said “Do you mind if I write a book?” He did and he wrote a book called “Stick It”. I think it was Dave who was running the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, invited me to do a book release there. At the same time, they asked if I could do a little bit of a show and I did and I loved it. Then they asked me to be a judge for this contest they were have having for drummers. So it was a full blown, multi-tasking adventure there. When they advertised for the book signing, it looked like I was inducted into the Hall of Fame. My friends said, “I didn’t know you were inducted.” Well, I wasn’t inducted but it’s a perception which I never argued with. But I have that memory and I was there for three or four days.
We played with Joe Satriani there and Leslie actually got up and sang for Joe because Joe is an instrumentalist. But it’s gonna be a great show because Cleveland knows the repertoire.
GD: We are looking forward to it! Last question, is there any chance with working with Leslie again? I know it’s been a few years.
CL: That’s a tough one, but I never say never. He’s the very best of the best. He’s going through some medical problems. He’s terrific and I’m celebrating his playing and his writing because it’s all Mountain material. I would hope that everything works out for everyone and we’ll see what happens!
GD: Thanks again for your time and we are looking forward to your show!
CL: Thanks again for your support.
Check out Corky Laing plays Mountain at the Grog Shop on July 6th.
Tickets are available at www.grogshop.gs