Saturday 8 April 2017

Jerry Fehily - Irish Drummer Extraordinaire and Recording Artist

Irish Drummers; Jerry when did you start playing drums?

I was a late starter. I started playing when I was 17. Joe Mac from The Dixies, lived three doors down from me as a child. I was best friends with his son. He played for us one day, just on a bass drum, snare and hi-hat, he was really impressive. We were about 5 or 6. His eldest son Aiden, he used to let me play his drums occasionally, but I never really got into them till much later.

Irish Drummers; How much did your first drum kit cost? 

My first kit cost 90 pounds. My second kit cost 600 pounds, which my father gave me the money for. I paid it all back a few months later. It was a Premier Natural kit which I really liked. 

Irish drummers; Who are your drumming influences?

I borrowed the Led Zeppelin album ‘The Song Remains the Same’ from my friend’s brother, (permanent loan). I learned by playing along to records. Anything by ‘The Police’, (Stewart Copeland)  Thin Lizzy's 'Live and Dangerous' (Brian Downey), most of the Led Zeppelin albums (John Bonham), Pink Floyds 'Dark Side Of the Moon' (Nick Mason). Playing the second tune with the hi-hats from start to finish was difficult! Then my brother got me the album 'Signals' by Rush (Neil Peart) which led to lots of hours playing along to their live album 'Exit Stage Left'. I then heard Genesis (Phil Collins) live album 'Seconds Out' which got me into ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘Selling England by the Pound’, which is an amazing album. Then I got Al Jarreau's first album 'We Got By' with drummer Joe Correro, who  sounded amazing to me. All this time I was playing with about 5 different bands in Cork. I then really got into an album by Chuck Mangione called 'Live At the Hollywood Bowl' with a guy called James Bradley, Jr, on drums, a Lee Ritenour album called 'Feel The Night' (Steve Gadd) and 'Yellow Jackets' (Ricky Lawson) first album with Robben Ford, very groovy album. I became a huge fan of Chick Corea's Electric Band (Dave Weckl) in my middle to late 20's. There's an album called 'Inside Out' I used to try to play along with a lot especially a track called Kicker. I really got into Dave Weckl's Contemporary drummer plus 1 and Masterplan. That was really happening stuff. I was also into everything Vinne (Colaiuta) was doing at the time.

Irish Drummers; Can you tell us some of the artists you played with?

I moved to Dublin when I was 23 and joined the Hothouse Flowers who I recorded three albums  and toured the world with. I got to play or record with Ronnie Wood, Joe Elliot, Sinead O'Connor  Michelle Shocked, Tim Finn ,Midnight Oil, Daneil Lanois, Ray Phiri,  (Paul Simons Guitarist) Dave Stewart, (The  Eurythmics) London Chamber Orchestra  and Irish artists like Moving Hearts, Donal Lunny, Michael Buckley, Ray Lynam , Mick Hanly, Rita Connolly, Steve Wickham and Ben Prevo.

Irish Drummers; Did you take any drum lessons?

I started to study with Johnny Wadham when I was 29. The first lesson I had with him he met me at the Dart Station in Dalkey and walked me down to his house. I thought that was really nice .He had me reading big band Charts and playing along to the records. We also went through Jim Chapin's book on Jazz independence,
 I found three tapes there, one was a Thelonious Monk album with Frankie Dunlop on drums the second  was a Sado Watanabe  album with Ron Carter on Bass and Tony Williams on Drums  and the third was Stan Getz's album, Captain Marvel with Chick Corea and Tony Williams .So I started trying to play along with them as well. John and I became friends and he gave me a key to the house so I could come up any time and practice. He used to let me sit in on sessions he would do every Sunday in Dalkey and occasionally in JJ's on a Thursday with Ozone as well. On one occasion I played the JJ's gig for him.

I studied with Keith Copeland in Jordanstown in Belfast for four years running .It was a week long jazz summer school similar to what Sligo Jazz is now. I also studied with Conor Guilfoyle both privately and in Newpark.

Irish Drummers; Jerry you mentioned The Hothouse Flowers, when did you finish up with the band?

I finished with the Hothouse Flowers  in 1994. I then joined Engine Alley for a while and recorded one album with them. We toured around Ireland a bit.  I was offered a gig with Warren Zevon which I turned down. I'd forgotten that happened till somebody told me recently.

Irish Drummers; How did your music style change over the years?

From 29 onward, I thought Jazz was the way to go. I played right handed till I was 32. A thought came to me at a masterclass by Keith Copeland that if I played left handed I could become a jazz musician so I started to play left handed. I was pretty strict with myself. It's only very recently I started to play right handed again.

Irish Drummers; Apart from the music any other changes to your life?

 At 32 I stopped drinking and doing drugs. I had a bit of a break down. I had a great jazz gig on a Sunday in the Globe, I wasn't talking and I'd stop playing in the middle of songs for no reason. I did one gig in Cork where I didn't play for the whole gig. I just sat behind the kit. I did the diploma course in Newpark the first year it came in. It was a one year course then but it's a four year course now. I didn't play for the year but turned up to all the classes. I passed the playing part of the exams at the end of the year but failed the theory. Jazz theory is pretty difficult. Eventually I had to let the jazz thing go and I did. I just tried to get sober. I stopped playing all together. I did a lot of walking and praying. I think I didn't play at all for a couple of years. My head used to let me play one song a day .I had John Coltrane's Live at Birdland. It had a studio version of Alabama which was my song for the day for a while. Jimmy Garrison's bass line is unbelievable. After being about 8 years sober I set up a music school in Dun Laoghaire teaching kids from a disadvantaged area. I started under a CE scheme and after 3 years I just continued doing it myself. I'm still there today .

Irish Drummers; Did you take any further exams?

7 years ago I did a Masters in Music Performance (jazz) in DIT in Rathmines with Mike Nielsen. I got a second class honour which I was delighted with. It got me back playing every day again and  I really haven't had to stop up to now. I also met John Reilly for the first time that summer. He was teaching at the Sligo Jazz Project. One of the world’s best teacher's, if not the best, at 200 euro (in 2010) for the week. Great! I went the 3 years he was there. He got me playing stuff I never thought I could play. His books are great. At the risk of going on I also really got into a drummer called Ari Hoenig. He's got a really good book and DVD on metric modulation which is definitely the new jazz rhythmically. If it's musical and you can hear it, it's deadly. There's a new breed of Drummer these days. The standard is awesome really, technically anyway. I don't know is it always musical although there are definitely guys who can marry both. Brian Blade, Eric Harland, Marcus Guilmore, Ari Hoenig, Justin Faulkner, Mark Guiliana, Dan Weiss, Justin Brown, Gregory Hutchinson. Chris Dave at his best is so unique and exciting. Undoubtedly lots more I don't know about.

Irish Drummers; What drum gear do you use?

I have a Pearl DLX that I used with the Flowers.  20 inch Bass Drum 10 and 14 inch toms and a Yamaha maple snare. 

Irish Drummers; What current projects are you involved in?

Projects I'm involved with now. I have a band I put together myself called Firm Roots. We play jazz standards. I'm looking for gigs with that at the moment. I'm also in a band called the Sophisticats . We play swing and Latin music . We're aimed at the corporate and wedding market really. The Musicians in those two bands are amazing! I love playing with them. I've a gig next month with Liam from the Hothouse Flowers and James O’Leary from Interference. We're playing a Film Festival in Schull in Cork. That'll be fun! No rehearsal. We'll just show up and see what happens! I'm in a great band from Cork called Floating Opera. We're just finishing an album at the moment and it'll be released later this year, hopefully. There's an artist called Celine Carroll who I've recorded three albums with in recent years, (two of them released to date). She’s writing a musical at the moment. That will be an amazing project.

Irish Drummers; Jerry, what are you’re favourite albums / songs?

The albums I play in my car (where I listen to music mostly) for a good while now are ‘Nefertiti’ by Miles Davis, ‘A love Supreme’ by John Coltrane. ‘Lines of Oppression’ by Ari Hoenig, ‘Empyrean Isles’ by Herbie Hancock and Journey, The Best Of Donal Lunny. There's a song by Massive Attack called Protection, which I really like.

Irish Drummers; Jerry, what advice would you give to aspiring young drummers?

If you're just starting out, try and play with other people, as soon as possible. The fun is in playing with other musicians. The music is the most important thing. The feel and the groove are really important, even really busy playing has to groove. As a young drummer there's a lot of technique to cover. Try and get it done early in your playing .Tony Drennan said to me once "No one’s ever complained of having too much technique".

Even though I've always played by ear, if I had my time over I'd try to learn to sight read well, even though I find it very difficult. Reading music well won't do you any harm. In fact it'll get you work.

 There comes a time when you'll have to catch the bug that your practice will go from a half an hour to hours. All great players put a lot of time into their instrument. It's like a vocation.

Be yourself!  Play the music you love. Practice playing along to records. Know the form and melody of any song you're trying to play (that applies to any type of music). I know that this might sound contentious and as drummers we should always serve the music but playing the simple thing might not always be the right choice. Take a risk every now and then. The music might require it!

Irish Drummers; So plenty of practice is important

Being able to play an instrument well is a real gift! Always be grateful for it and never take it for granted. I know from experience, you can lose it. Always give it 110 per cent (i.e do the best you can) every time you play no matter who you're playing with or what you’re playing. Always be respectful. Treat people the way you'd want to be treated yourself.  As someone said to me recently, “Music is Magic! I agree completely. I feel so lucky and grateful that I'm able to play. Enjoy it!

Irish Drummers; What makes Irish drummers unique to other drummers?

There's always been really talented drummers in Ireland, but they haven't gotten the same level of exposure as say American or English drummers. There's some amazing young talent in Ireland at the moment, in Rock, Fusion and Jazz. It would be great to see someone doing a tour with the likes of say, Sting, Steely Dan, Snarky Puppy, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock etc, and why not? This is the level we should be aspiring to. 

Photo credit; Black Steam Productions