Being passionate about something entails having to give it all that you got. For musicians, that means even having to perform to just ten people. In today’s episode with Rich Redmond and co-host Jim McCarthy is a veteran musician and drummer, Joe Vitale, whose career has spanned over forty years of touring, recording, songwriting, and producing with legendary and Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame artists. Here, Joe talks about his many experiences in the music industry and imparts the lesson on keeping your reputation in good name by learning how to make the best of any situation. He shows that through his journey, sharing how he was coming up in the music business with Joe Walsh, Frankensteining “Life’s Been Good,” recording Dan Fogelberg’s “Leader of the Band” and trying not to cry while performing it, and recording the lesser-known song with Joe Walsh called “Too Late to Hero.” What is more, Joe also talks about his processes of having to listen to records and tapes to figure out drum parts, and then imparts some insights on some mispronounced Italian words.
We love to celebrate everybody and shine a light on them. This is a real treat. I met this young man years ago at a Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp, but he is a household name of drummers. The folks that he’s backed up, Ted Nugent, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg, Peter Frampton, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills & Nash. The list goes on and on and then recordings with Rick Derringer, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Keith Richards, a bunch of hacks. My friend and drummer to the stars, Mr. Joe Vitale. How are you?
I’m good. It’s good to be here.
You are coming to us from Ohio, born and raised. I love those stories where you stay in your place your whole life.
I skipped out a few times. We lived in Colorado when we first moved out of Ohio to start the Joe Walsh band. We wanted to live in Colorado. I followed him there to start the band and everything. We stayed out there for three years, but then we came back to Ohio because it’s home.
If you’re reading this, usually people will take us on their commutes or take us to the gym, but it sounds like you’re listening to us between the bedroom and the bathroom. Who knows if you even made the effort to get dressed? Tell us how it all started for you. You were looking perhaps five decades of drumming which is incredible because if you think about all the people that pick up a pair of sticks that want to do this thing, you made it happen. In addition, you’re a musician, a singer, you play the flute, keyboards, and you compose.
I was born into a musical family. My father and my older brother were musicians. I started taking drum lessons when I was six. A lot of guys did start that early and it was good that we did because it’s a good age to start anything. You get into it and you’re not distracted by a whole lot. By the time I was twelve, I had six years into it. My dad had a band and my brother played in his band. I became the new drummer in his band. It was a family affair. We played at weddings, parties and whatever kind of dances and stuff. That started around 1960. I was eleven. In 1964, I watched The Beatles on Ed Sullivan and that was the end of that. It was the end of my dad’s poker band. When you’re Italian, you don’t quit your dad’s poker band. I got together with these guys and started playing rock and roll in 1964.
Everybody talks about that seminal moment, the Ed Sullivan Show. You must have been fourteen years old.
I was fourteen when they were on Ed Sullivan and Max Weinberg was only a year or two younger than me. He talks about the same thing. That moment was life-changing. When we saw that, we knew what we wanted to do. Fortunately, being blessed to be able to do it all these years. We look back and I wouldn’t change anything as far as my decision goes watching them that night on Ed Sullivan. My father was watching as well. The Beatles won. My father was a jazz musician. My father used to always say, “Those guys only know three chords.” I said, “They’re the right three chords.” We had arguments for a while. I don’t think my dad was appreciative of me doing what I did until eventually a few years later, I was on TV. Your dad goes, “That’s cool.”
What was that show?
We did the Johnny Carson Show with Joe Walsh. We did all kinds of shows. By the time we were doing that professionally, there was no more Ed Sullivan. A lot of the rock and roll shows were gone by then. The Tonight Show was happening and in my dad’s eyes, he probably thought, “That’s cool you got to be on TV.” It all ended up good.
That’s cool that your dad got to see you and your dreams come to fruition. You’ve got to meet my folks at my last drummer’s weekend in Nashville. It was like a love affair and you got to meet some of my great students, Sarah Cardiel, and everyone. The kids loved you.
We had a great time. That’s such a great thing you do. I hope I can do another one because that was fun and the people were great. A lot of great drummers showed up for that.
We had Larry Aberman, Daru Jones and then all the kids. The kids are good these days because they have the world at their fingertips. We used to have to drop the needle and hope that the needle wouldn’t skip while we’re playing along.
That’s such a good point because if they’re studying a drummer, they just go to YouTube or whatever. You can get lessons. Besides that, you can watch live stuff and you can see somebody do something. As you said, we had to listen and try to imagine how he did that drum fill or how he did that footwork. Now you can watch it and it’s very helpful. They’re kicking butts, those young kids.
When did you start listening to cassettes, Rich? That came out in the late ‘70s.
My first record was Elton John’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1. I think it was 1976, 1977, around that time.
He had a Greatest Hits album at that point?
He had a Greatest Hits album in ‘76, ‘77. Isn’t that crazy? That was eight-track and then LPs and then cassettes were in ‘83, ‘84 or something like that.
Maybe a little bit before that. You were right about eight-track because we had a 1976 Cougar and from the factory, it came with an eight-track player in it. It would have that click, that skip every time it would change tracks. They sounded okay but then there were issues with it.
It’s funny that you mentioned being able to watch drummers now because I specifically recall the first time being able to figure out a lick in a song that for months, probably even a year had baked my brain. It was from Subdivisions by Rush. It’s in that bar where he’s doing an offbeat on the bell of the ride cymbal and riding the opposite with the hi-hat with his hand. I could not figure out listening to it what he was doing. Finally, they had a Rush Chronicles VHS tape that we had gotten ahold of. They had the Subdivisions music video on there and it showed him how he did that and I was like, “That’s how he does it.”
It’s helpful. I was listening to all kinds of stuff back then before computers and all that. It was tough. One time, I figured out a way to record from vinyl over to tape and at 7.5 speed and then you play it at 3.75 speed so it would go slow and then figure it out. What a pain in the ass it was. Now, you are able to watch videos. You can record them and you can pause and you stop and go over it again. It’s not fair.
They have an advantage, but we had quite the imagination. There was so much romance in the music business because we would wait in line outside record stores for records to come out and then the band would sign. We would look at the liner notes and we would dream about things. Now they don’t even have liner notes anymore.
I think that’s going to make a comeback.
It would be nice. People are like, “You got a chance to play with Garth Brooks, Ludacris, and Bryan Adams.” Those were all great experiences, but they were results of having this super solid twenty-year relationship with Jason Aldean. It seemed like Joe Walsh was your hinge pin where that was your guy and as a result, you were able to cultivate relationships with the Eagles and Crosby, Stills & Nash. That relationship grew into other things.
It’s funny how Joe Walsh was the tree trunk, and then all of these branches grew from that. It’s weird how things happen. When I do speaking events, a lot of the questions are, how did you do this? How did that come about? It’s different. Every gig you get is such a wide network thing that you go through. You have to be in the right place at the right time. That’s always been in effect. You have to be in the right place and right time, then you have to play good and play like you mean it. That’s the one thing that’s an old-school that I learned from my dad. He said, “You’re going to go out in this world and you’re going to play music for a living. Whether there are 10 or 10,000 people, you put on a good show.”
That got me gigs because I played at some dive with twenty drunk guys in there. Somebody shows up and two days later, I get a phone call. It’s a great gig because they liked what they heard. I always look up and thank my dad for that. That was an impression he left with me that no matter what, to those ten people who paid a dollar to get in, you give them a show or 20,000 that paid $300, you give them a show. It doesn’t matter. You’re right about the whole thing with Joe. It’s the same with Jason or the same thing with you. With Joe, we’d be in a studio and right next door to us, Stephen Stills was making a record. He’d come in to listen because they knew each other. Stephen Stills sat in the control room when Joe Walsh was doing the vocal to Rocky Mountain Way. He was sitting there and you could tell that he was talking under his breath, “He should sing it again. He should do another take.” The producer finally had to tell him, “You can sit there and shut up.”
He’s a good guy. We loved him. Because he was in the room and he watched me work and at the time, he grabbed our bass player as well. Stephen came to talk to us and said, “When you’re done with this project, why don’t you come and make a record with me? We’ll do some gigs.” From that, you’re young and you think you’re there. Back in the Colorado days, that’s when we started with Joe. There was a band that Tommy Bolin had and his bass player was Stanley Sheldon. Stanley Sheldon played with Peter Frampton. When they lost their drummer, they needed a drummer to fill in and Stanley called me. The six degrees of separation in rock and roll is true.
You try to be the best you can be on your game all the time and be nice to get along with. Smile and have fun. People remember that. They remember your playing, but they remember if your personality matched your playing and it should. That doesn’t mean that we don’t get mad or get in bad moods because we all do. I hope that most musicians loved playing as much as me and you do. When we’re playing, we’re smiling. We can’t help it. Even if things are all screwed up and the modern sound like crap and your drums aren’t working well, and they don’t sound good, you’re still smiling and you’re having a good time. People see that and they want to be part of that.
It’s like when you’re playing at the Grand Ole Opry. The wedge is all steel guitar and you’re like, “What is this? This is not going to help me.” You’re planning on Eddie Bayer’s drum set, and he’s got the ride cymbal over here above the hi-hat and you’re like, “Who cares? Here we go. I’m playing the Grand Ole Opry. Let’s do this.” I’ve seen you play many times and you play with a childlike abandon. You’re super sweaty, passionate, and happy to be back there. You get a great tone and you play like a young man that’s at the front end of his career that’s excited about what’s ahead of him. You’re never going to be the guy that males in performance and your career has reflected that. It’s great.
Thank you. I’m glad you said it. I need to keep hearing that because I always try to do that. I don’t know any other way to do it other than that’s the way you do it. Most musicians are like that. Once in a while, you get a guy that’s never going to be happy, but most musicians that I know are. That’s why we’re all bummed down right now because we’re not able to get out there and do what we do. It’s hard to deal with because it’s our blood of life. That’s what we do. This was taken away from us during this time with this virus and everything. It’s heartbreaking. Besides the fact that we need to make a living, it’s also the emotional end of it. It will be back and we’ll be back out there complaining about the room.
That whole thing, that spirit that shines through is an amazing thing. The kids at the School of Rock got to experience that. We were doing that drummer’s weekend at the School of Rock and we’re fortunate that Angie and Kelly McCreight are our sponsors. They’re our title sponsor of this show and the School of Rock is all about music education. I’m a product of music education. I know you are Joe. Jim is a big product of music education. We appreciate what they’re doing. There are 250 School of Rock locations in the world. The ones in Nashville and Franklin are top-notch, top-rated, cranking out great musicians. Parents, if you want to send your kids to learn a musical instrument, even if they’re not going to turn out to be professional musicians, they learn so much about teamwork and working in a group and being able to take direction and show up on time. It’s a great thing. We got two email addresses. Tell Angie and Kelly that we sent you. What are they?
Franklin@SchoolOfRock.com and Nashville@SchoolOfRock.com.
Thank you for supporting us. Everybody, reach out and support them. I think that in Nashville, they’re back to social distance music-making with masks. Wear your mask and get that 2-yard sticks, and then you can jump in and play some music.
I’m looking at the discography and it feels like I’m looking at a playlist, a set of music that I used to play in I95 in Danbury, Connecticut, a radio station I used to work for. We played a lot of this music back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. This is a classic rock. We get to the ‘90s, we come to a little bit of an out of left field approach here with a Zakk Wylde album, which I enjoyed listening to and Republica, which is interesting. Is that the Ready to Go album?
I believe so. The Zakk Wylde album was tons of fun. It was completely crazy. I never met Zakk. I heard him play a million times and his manager was our manager at the time. He pulled me into the gig and we recorded in LA. I liked him immediately because he’s exactly what I thought he was going to be. A wild man but with a kind soul inside all that craziness. He is a nice and beautiful person. He had two Marshall stacks in the studio. Nobody records with two Marshall stacks in the studio. I thought he was going to break the windows out of that joint. He was intense in the studio and incredible to record with. That album is good. My favorite recordings from all my life were making that album with Zakk Wylde.
I remember listening when it came out, I wore it out.
I’ve got to check that out, guys.
The Republica, I was in a cover band that played out around that time and we played that song Ready To Go. That was a fun song to play.
Tim is a little younger than us, Joe.
I’m going out to the Joshua Tree. I’m going to look at the stars for three nights and I had LP send me a couple of hand drums. I’m going to teach Kara how to play a djembe and we’re going to jam in djembe and zone out. I got one of those beautiful little dharma drums. It’s like a hand drum made of metal. It’s like a tongue drum. It’s African with mallets and it’s meditative. I’m looking forward to this. Joe, you’ve done many interviews over the years. I want to avoid some of the most commonly asked questions, but things that come to mind when we were talking off-camera about right now, you were supposed to be doing a 50th-anniversary tour Joe Walsh?
The first show was the 50th anniversary of the Kent State University tragedy. That was May 4, 1970. May 4, 2020, was 50 years. We were going to play the whole weekend. They had this big memorial thing up at Kent State. That was going to be the first show of 50 some dates all summer that got canceled. We’re all ready to go. We were set up for rehearsal. I had a great vintage kit laid out for that one gig. We were all excited to do it. When all this happened in early March, we’re thinking, “By May 4, 2020, we’ll be fine.” That’s what they told us up at Kent State. They told us, “It’s iffy, but it’s looking like it’s going to be a go.” We figured that and then all of a sudden, it got worse and worse. By April 1, 2020, we looked at the situation and we said, “This isn’t happening. There’s no way we’re going to play a show in a month.” That was sad but true.
We’re going to get back at this. We as humans are community creatures and we love to gather around the watering hole and be entertained. Our responsibility is to help people forget their problems. It will come back. Jim texted me and he said, “Don’t forget about the mispronounced Italian words.” Jim, take it away.
This started out when we were trying to get a proper pronunciation of your last name because I would imagine you get a variation from people who don’t know.
There are a lot of Italians in New York and any time I do any talks or interviews or what have you from people in New York, they always get it right because they’re used to being yelled at. As far as my last name goes, they’re pretty good at it.
You’re also competing with a prominent celebrity out there from several years ago, Dick Vitale.
He didn’t even put the E on the end.
We were watching The Sopranos. Everybody who wants to be Italian and wants to go to an Italian restaurant and ask for the Gabagool. They even did it in a The Office episode where Michael Scott says, “I’ll take the Gabagool.” I went to an Italian friend of mine and I said, “Do you know that Gabagool is Capicola?” He goes, “Really, dude? I’m Italian.” I go, “That’s right. You are.” Things like Grazi, Bruschetta, Prosciutto.
Jim does some pretty good impressions.
Occasionally, it will come out. There’s a personality on the cooking channel and she’s hot. She’s always showing her girls. She was making desserts that involved some orange slices and things of that nature and a certain cheese that’s Italian that starts with an M and she would always speak normally. She had good diction and everything and a good way about her. As soon as this one word would come up, she would zing the crap out of it and it was mascarpone. You have a lot of Italian words and music, Rich, don’t you?
They say that the Germans, the Viennese, and the French were responsible for classical music. Whenever you talk about the Cello rondo, largo, legato, staccato, they’re all Italian. Joe, you have this wonderful book that you signed for me, and you gave it to me when I met you at the Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp. We were both teaching in North Hollywood at the Rock ‘n Roll Fantasy Camp. It was years ago and you were sweet. You gave me a copy of your book and a backstage pass. Tell us a little bit about your personal life. How have you stayed married to the same woman all these years?
I am a lucky man. My lovely wife, Susie, she’s the one who got me to write that book. I’ve been on bus tours like you. After gigs, you hang out, have something to eat, sit around and talk. You don’t always go to bed right away. In rock and roll, like everybody, we played with different bands. There are always road stories and remember whens. Maybe it’s because of the characters I work with, but I always had these funny stories about these guys. They always wanted to hear him. The guys on the bus said, “You’ve got to write a book. You’ve got to document this.” I was always negative about it because I was like, “I don’t want to write a book. I’m a drummer.” I go home and I was telling my wife that these guys are bugging me to write a book and then she goes, “You’ve got to write a book. You’ve got some good stories.” I said, “I give up. Let’s write a book.” She did all the work. She put the cassette on or whatever recording device we had and she said, “Tell me stories. Talk about this.”
We went through chronological years, and then we went through a box the size of a washing machine to have 10,000 photos. We picked out 750 photos for the book. It’s funny when you look at a photo, the photos helped in the chronological of this book because you think, “When the heck was that? Who’s that guy? Remember that guy? What tour was that?” As soon as you start looking through photos, you’ll see someone in that photo and he’s got Crosby, Stills & Nash jacket on, and it says this so-and-so name tour. I was like, “I know when it was. It was 1982,” or something. We’re looking through all these photos, we put this thing together. It took three years. It’s a no dirt book. I don’t like those books. All these people in this book are my friends. It’s a hilarious book. It’s nothing but funny stuff and it’s the stuff that when you get on a bus after a gig and you’re sitting around, winding down and you tell funny stories sometimes and tell jokes or whatever and it’s the accumulation of 30, 40 years.
It’s a lot of good stories and it is hilarious. A lot of these publishers, they want the dirt. Kenny Aronoff came out with his book. Liv came out with his book. I ordered a nice signed copy from him. They always say the publisher wants a little bit of sex, drugs, and rock and roll in there to make it sexy.
After I got done with the long run tour with the Eagles, my phone rang nonstop because these writers were calling me and wanted, “What can you tell me about the Eagles?” I said, “I can’t tell you anything. I’m telling you that they’re the best guys in the world, the greatest man that ever lived by.” They want all these inside sleazy crap. I’m not going to do that. Not that there is even in existence. I’m just saying I don’t do that and I don’t care for those books. Everybody’s got a right to write whatever they want, but I had a ball writing funny stuff. We got great reviews because it’s funny. I got a guy write to us and when he was done reading it, he gave it to his ten-year-old daughter, “You want to learn about rock and roll?” For us, that was fantastic that a ten-year-old girl could read our book. It was cool.
It’s like a clean comic. You can take the family to see some clean comedy. During your career, you’ve got to do some double drumming with Ringo and Don Henley. I remember you being at the camp and you had this cool little X hat. People that aren’t musicians, the hi-hat cymbal is usually you see the drummer crossing and like Ringo will be spreading the butter on the high and it’s right by the snare drum. Sometimes drummers will take the hi-hat cymbals and they put it over on the right side where the right cymbal would be so they can raise their left hand up higher and be a little bit showier. I was like, “Joe, I love the sound of these hi-hats. That’s a cool thing.” You’re like, “Those are the Ringo hats. They’re not supposed to leave the house.” What are some other awesome war stories over the years like your favorite tours or favorite recordings? There are other things I want to ask you about. There are many things I want to talk about like your son being a musician and all this.
We have talked about the Zakk Wylde album. That was such a memorable album. My favorite album of all time to be recorded was probably the Walsh album called But Seriously, Folks…. That’s the one that had Life’s Been Good on it. That album is a masterpiece. Joe was on top of the world writing. At that time, he had written a bunch of songs. I wrote some with him for the Eagles and he had written a bunch of songs and the Eagles only used a few of them because they’re all right. He had all these songs leftover but they were good songs.
We recorded that album and remember Hotel California was 1976. We did But Seriously, Folks… in 1978. The songs he brought to that album were songs that he had brought to the Eagles. They had enough songs because they’re all great writers in that band. He had some killer songs and that was my favorite all-time album because it was musical and it ended up selling the most copies. It was a brilliant record. Life’s Been Good, it’s classic to this day. It was a long time ago that we recorded that. You made tons of records. They’re all special but there’s that one that’s even a little bit more special. It was great working with Ringo in the studio. I’m sitting there going, “That’s Ringo Starr. He’s a Beatle.”
That’s what inspired you to do music is watching the Ed Sullivan Show and you’re looking at this guy spreading the butter. Then you’re in a room with the guy and you manifest these things in your life.
That was an incredible moment because being fourteen years old, watching them on the Ed Sullivan Show and they were big. It was Beatlemania. They were bigger than life. Some years go by and all of a sudden, you’re in the same room playing and making music with the guy. That was an amazing moment. We’ve become friends but I’m still a fan forever. He’s a wonderful guy to work with. He’s funny. I think he turned 80 and that guy has more energy than all of us put together. He jumps around on the stage like he’s twenty. His shows are fun. Every album to me was all special but there was one that was really special and that was the Joe Walsh record.
Do you want to share that story about how Life’s Been Good was like a Frankenstein tape of different riffs?
It’s a great story. This was typical Walsh. Joe would come into the studio and he’d say, “I got this song.” It wasn’t a song. It was a bit or a riff or something. It would turn into a great song. He came into that session and he said, “I got this song. It’s like a Rolling Stones thing.” He had this Jimmy Page like a Zeppelin twelve-string acoustic thing. That’s a nice song. He loves reggae. He brought in this riff. We had this little sequencer thing.
In other words, we had four songs, four bits, four riffs, and not one of them were complete. That was okay. That’s typical of the way Joe would bring stuff in. We recorded all these riffs and these licks. We didn’t know what to do with them because that’s all we had, these individual riffs. We recorded over and over a bunch of them and it had to be on a Friday. The producer said, “Take the weekend off and I’ll see on Monday.” We cut all this stuff on Friday and then we take the weekend off. We came back Monday and we get into the studio around noon.
The producer Bill Szymczyk said, “Sit down.” He was excited about something and we said, “What the heck is going on?” He hit play on the machine, without vocal because that wasn’t done yet, but it was Life’s Been Good as we know it now like 7, 8 minutes long. He put together all those different pieces and made one song out of it. It was brilliant. He was our George Martin because he was that intricate and important to all the records we made. He’s a fabulous producer and couldn’t play a stitch of music but what set of ears he had. He could hear things that we would have never dreamed of hearing and that’s what a producer does.
Whenever I played on the radio, I would play whatever song would come on and jam with it. Back when I was playing drums in my parents’ basement, I would play to whatever was coming out. When that song came on, that song would frustrate me because that reggae part would trip me up every single time.
Once you mess with it a little bit, it’s not that difficult but when you first jump in on it, it’s a little challenging. It’s a lot of fun live. That song live is still fun to this day and I get to start it. That’s the way the song starts with drums.
The way you’re describing how it was put together makes sense because it’s like, “What were they thinking in the studio putting this thing together?”
The way it was put together sounds like one conception. It sounds like it was conceived. That’s how it was written and it works together beautifully. It’s one of those freaky things.
That was back in the day when they were cutting and splicing tape.
Cutting 2-inch tape which drove us crazy. We were scared to death when he’d bring that razor out, but he was good at it. The editing was something back then. Everybody did it and you had to have nerves of steel, and you have to have a lot of guts to cut a 2-inch tape.
Dan Fogelberg is one of the prominent artists that you’ve played with over the years. One of my most favorite songs he’s ever done is Leader of the Band. It’s an amazing song and the harmonies on it are amazing. It’s funny because it’s such a soft rock song. Is it a challenge to play that and record it?
It was recorded almost live the way he did it. That song was attributed to his dad. Every night when he played that live, I could never get through it. I’d be in tears the way he did it and he was able to do that every night. It almost like he was singing about a song that somebody else wrote about their dad. Not that he didn’t have feelings about it. It was that he was professional about it, and he wanted the performance to go over so well that he put his heart and soul into it. Every night, he would sing that song live and we’d be like, “How does he do that?” It’s like speaking at a loved one’s funeral or something and how difficult that is. He did it in front of 10,000 people every night. It was a beautiful song.
Tell us about your son. He’s a musician as well.
My son rocks. He’s crazy about it. He grew up in a family that was surrounded by music. He was on tours with me as a young kid. Graham Nash used to have him come up when he was like ten and play tambourine on Teach Your Children. He got the bug early. He’s rocking and rolling. He did a video. We endorsed Warm Audio Gear. It almost has a million views already. He’s doing good. He’s a musician, but he did the video too. He’s a videographer as well. He’s good at all that stuff. He’s my teacher of all things digital. I’ve taught him about tape and analog and he taught me about digital.
Keep it in the family. I always tell people if you’re living in Nashville long enough, you’re going to write a song. If you’re hanging out in Hollywood long enough, you’re going to do a little bit of acting. I was impressed, one night, it must have been 2016, 2017. I’m on my black leather couch. I got the big screen there. This movie Ricki and the Flash comes on and you’re playing drums in the movie. I think you had a couple of speaking parts too.
I got to say a few words with Meryl Streep.
Tell us about that experience.
I did a couple of videos with Neil Young and the director of those rock videos was Jonathan Demme. He also did the Silence of the Lambs and Philadelphia, a lot of big movies. The bass player in that movie that played in that band was Rick Rosas. He passed away not too long ago, but he was friends with me as well. Rick and I played with Walsh for a while. I get a call from Jonathan Demme one night. I didn’t know Jonathan Demme. I answered the phone and he said, “Is this Joe? This is Jonathan Demme.” I went, “Get out of here. Who is this?” Long story short and he had me go to New York. They were looking for a guy about my age that could be in a rock band that plays in these bad dives and clubs and stuff for a wannabe rock star, female singer. That’s the story.
He said, “Do you want to be a drummer in a movie with Meryl Streep?” I was like, “I don’t want to do that.” Rick Springfield is a great guy. I am not an actor, but I only had to be a drummer so I was able to do it. It wasn’t a stretch for me to play me. The whole thing was great. You’ve got Meryl Streep and the people that surrounded this movie, it was a Sony production. It was a big-time movie. You get to be a fly on the wall to see how the big-timers do it. That was an experience. It is crazy the way they do stuff like that. It’s twelve-hour a day and it’s brutal. The crew, I don’t know when they slept. They work hard and it was fun. There were several outtakes though that I wish had made it to the cut because I thought they were cool. I’m not the director.
You’ve got to keep it under two hours somehow. You inspire me so much. The fact that you can teach the way you do. You can speak the way you do. You have a recording pedigree. You have a touring pedigree. You’re an author now and not only that, you can play flute and keyboards and compose. You have three solo albums, Roller Coaster Weekend, Plantation Harbor, Speaking in Drums. I encourage all of our audience to check those things out. Did you ever tour as a solo artist fronting a band under those records?
I did in 1975 with my first solo record, which was Roller Coaster Weekend. We put a band together and we went out and toured with The J. Geils Band, the Ox band, and John Entwistle. We did a US and Canada tour. We had a good time.
The cover of that record, a younger Joe Vitale. You look like you could have been in Saturday Night Fever with Travolta. You are a good-looking guy. This is a portion of the show that we call the random question of the day. Jim is going to hit you with a random question of the day.
Random question, being that you’re Italian and when I talk with Italian people and we talk about food, I naturally get hungry. What food have you never eaten, but would like to try?
The funny thing about sushi is that I’m cool with all of it. I’m not crazy about a sea sponge because it’s a little funny. You feel like you’re eating SpongeBob. Also, the octopus. It’s such an intelligent, likable, friendly creature. They can be mean, but they’re hyper-intelligent. I feel a little guilty eating the octopus.
Have you ever tried oysters?
I’m not a big oysters guy. I fry them. I try to avoid the rocky mountain oysters.
You mentioned SpongeBob SquarePants. Are you guys familiar with the Frozen movies at all? Have you watched them?
No. I can’t say I’ve watched them.
Were you familiar with the song Let It Go? That was a huge hit back in 2013. We’ve been watching on Disney+. They have a five-episode series on the making of Frozen II and the two people, it’s a husband and wife team who write all the big hit songs. They wrote Let It Go. They wrote all the big songs in the first movie and they were charged with writing all the songs in the second movie. It’s been resonating with me as we’re talking here how their stamp has been put on such a massive imprint of human history. I think it was the highest-grossing animated movie of all time. Looking back at your discography, I would imagine that they look back on that and go, “That’s cool that we left our mark on a massive impression of human history.” Looking back on it, do you ever tune into a classic rock station and go down memory lane and go, “Wow, what a run?”
It’s amazing sometimes that you hear a song and is recorded long ago and you listen and go, “I record that song.” There are a lot of big hits that we’ve all been on but there are also thousands like you played on one cut on a record. The record didn’t do so well but it was okay. Once in a while, I’ve noticed that with Sirius Radio and a lot of the stuff that they do. Once in a while, I’ll hear something like, “I haven’t heard that in years and never on the radio.” It is interesting to hear them. I’m used to hearing the big ones and that’s always fun but once in a while, they’ll play something that was an obscure track. I can’t even remember the names of some of these tracks. You hear them and you remember. You could recognize what you’re playing.
You listen to classic rock and you’re like, “That’s me.”
It’s like Lonnie Wilson walking into a Nashville Publix and hearing himself on the overhead on any given time at a country station.
Lonnie Wilson has about 125 number one hits he’s played on. It’s crazy.
You look at that thing and it’s amazing to me to be able to go in there. For some of the deep cuts and the ones that maybe aren’t as popular, is there a song that comes to mind that you are proud of that maybe wasn’t as popular?
There’s a song that I and Joe Walsh recorded. We did John Entwistle’s solo album. The album is called Too Late the Hero. The title cut, Too Late the Hero, is unbelievable how cool it is and I’m proud of that cut. It was the three of us in London. I played flute, piano, drums and timpani. Joe played all the synthesizers and guitars. John sang it and played bass. He used me and Joe because he liked what we did as a team, but he also knew that we did more than drums and guitar. He needed that. That particular song Too Late the Hero is a long piece, but it’s a monster cut. It’s slow and plotting, but it’s beautiful. We’re proud of that. That was one that you probably never heard on the radio. The album didn’t break any records or anything. It was a good album though, but that title cut was cool.
Who are your peers that you’re coming up with? Is it The Libertines and The Carmines and the Bonham?
In the early days, I listened to a lot of Buddy Rich and then I listened to a lot of Ringo and Hal Blaine. One of my favorite drummers in the ‘60s was Dino Danelli from the Rascals. Libertines even says this, everybody wanted to be Dino Danelli because they had tons of hit records. He was a great drummer and he was cool. He was cool slipping the sticks and the twirling and the way his whole-body language. As a player, if you ever watch his old videos, he was cool. John Bonham appeared. I love Keith Moon and all the drummers you mentioned, that came later.
They were inspirational as hell. Ringo to me was a song drummer. He played a song on the drums. He played the song. He didn’t just play time. All the records that Hal Blaine made, it’s frightening. When you see The Wrecking Crew movie and they show the list of credits, those guys have played every song. What’s sad is that those guys didn’t get a lot of credit because there were groups that they were the musicians and the guys in the band weren’t good enough to make the records. They didn’t get credit because the record companies didn’t want the fans to know that your guys didn’t play on these records. It’s sad because those guys were fabulous musicians. There was a slew of guys in the ‘70s. I did a double drumming tour with Russ Kunkel and with Joe. It was fun.
Jim, wasn’t this fun, informative and inspiring? It’s a testament to you, Joe being able to manifest all your dreams and be able to inspire a future generation of people, and what happens when you combine talent and an awesome personality, follow through, hustle and no sleep.
I can’t wait to do this in person with you. This virus sucks. I want to hang with my buddies.
I would love to meet you in person someday.
I remember talking about Ricki and the Flash and a lot of fun things. You stopped out to Blossom Music. You were going to come to the show that night and then we went to lunch and we both ordered the same thing off the menu, a chicken salad on a croissant. I was like, “We both have the same taste. I can’t pass up chicken salad.” You got called. You had to fly to New York to play on a video game. You couldn’t come to the show.
I’m figuring, “I’ll catch you the next time around.” Now is the next time.
If you had to do it all over again, if you had to go back and maybe drumming wasn’t an option, what would you do? What’s a secret little passion hobby thing that you’d love to make into living?
I would have either been a cook because I love to cook or I would have gotten into electronics because I love working with electronics and stuff. I mess around with it now and it’s a lot of fun. Billy Amendola from Modern Drummer put up that video on YouTube. Remember when we did that round table discussion with Hal Blaine. You were there and I was there, Russ Kunkel, Jim Keltner, John Ronson, Alan White and all the guys. That was the camp we did together. It was on Facebook not too long ago.
Joe, we appreciate having you here. What’s the plan for the next five years?
My drums are in the cases. My suitcase is packed. I’m ready to fly out the door on tour. I think we’re all in that same boat. When this thing settles down and we get back to normal, the first rock shows that we all do are going to probably be the greatest rock shows in the world. People are going to be chomping at the bit to get out and rock and roll and sitting in the sits. It’s going to be like no other concert. Imagine the first downbeat of the first song of the first concert in front of the crowd for the first time after all this. It’s going to be crazy. The count off for the first song in a big arena or something, I can’t wait. It’s something to look forward to.
They’re adapting and pivoting with the live playing. They’re doing the drive-in concerts.
Didn’t Garth Brooks do that?
Darius, Brad Paisley, and a few others. They broadcast his concerts at drive-in movie theaters. Here at the Nissan Stadium in Nashville, they set up a stage in the parking lot and had a live performance to people in their cars.
I did not know that. I’ve been here sequestered in Los Angeles. I have been watching a lot of news. I have never watched as much news in my life to find out what’s going on with this virus. It’s crazy. You don’t know what’s true and what’s not.
Stay safe and don’t go too far. You’re going out in the desert, that would be fun.
I even wrote a song about it, “Wash your hands and don’t touch your face.” Joe, I appreciate you and your friendship, and coming and joining us and sharing all your insights and gifts. Jim, I appreciate your time and talent. For you guys who are reading, thanks for supporting the show. Give us a five-star rating. It takes one second to leave us a review. Tell all your friends about it. We’re going to be here. We’ll see you next time.
Born into a musical family, Joe Vitale is a veteran musician and drummer whose career has spanned over forty years of touring, recording, song writing, and producing with legendary and Rock ‘N Roll Hall of Fame artists. Along with vocals, he also plays percussion, keyboards and flute. His drumming encompasses all styles of music. A dedicated professional, his quality of performance is evident in his resume.
He has recorded and toured with Ted Nugent, Joe Walsh, Dan Fogelberg, Peter Frampton, The Eagles, Crosby, Stills and Nash, and CSNY to name a few. In addition, he has recorded with Rick Derringer, Ringo Starr, John Lennon, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Ronnie Wood, Van Morrison, Carl Wilson, Don Felder, Boz Scaggs, John Entwhistle and many others.
Joe Vitale’s songs & performances have appeared in many movies & TV : Spy Games, Joe Dirt, The 40 Year Old Virgin, The Warriors, Devil’s Rejects, Beverly Hillbillies, History of the Eagles, Fringe, That 70’s Show, just to name a few.
Vitale has also co-produced albums for Joe Walsh, Stephen Stills, CSN & CSNY. His many songwriting credits include the classic Joe Walsh song, “Rocky Mountain Way,” and also, “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” from The Eagles classic album, “Hotel California,” both co-written with Joe Walsh.
He has three solo albums, “Roller Coaster Weekend,” “Plantation Harbor,” and “Speaking In Drums,” and a book, “Back Stage Pass,” about his career in music. He’s also produced his son, Joe Jr.’s, first album, “Dancing with Shadows.”
In 2010 and 2011 Joe played drums for the historic “Buffalo Springfield Reunion”
Joe continues to tour, record, write and produce. He’s also added to his resume, counselor and music director at Rock & Roll Fantasy Camp. He has no plans for slowing down. You can read more about Joe on his website: www.joevitaleondrums.com