Corky Laing Interview:
Canadian powerhouse drummer Corky Laing is essentially associated with rock and roll folklore and as one of the elite drummers in the world. Laing is a longtime member for hard rock/heavy metal giant’s Mountain and the blues-rock power trio of West, Bruce & Laing. But Laing’s musical collaborations are seemingly endless. A list that includes alliances with John Lennon, Jack Bruce, Meat Loaf, Noel Redding, Mahogany Rush, Ten Years After, Ian Hunter, Mick Ronson, Bo Diddley and Gov’t Mule …to name a few. Laing is also a producer and composer.
Corky Laing has recently added a brand new chapter to his illustrious musical career. Laing’s most recent project is a fascinating collaboration with two internationally acclaimed professors (Prof. Matti Häyry and Dr. Tuija Takala) intermingling the decree of genetic engineering with a rock opera music scheme. The concept album entitled … Playing God is performed by the Perfect Child, an incredible ensemble of musicians and singers. At the core of the rock opera is Corky Laing who astounds instrumentally, lyrically and vocally. The album concept is brilliant and the music is colossal. It’s an awe-inspiring rock musical production and a cross between … Welcome to my Nightmare, The Wall and The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Corky Laing and the Perfect Child is … Corky Laing (drums, vocals, percussion, guitar), Bonnie Parker (bass, vocals), Denny Colt (guitar, vocals), Lasse Väyrynen (guitars, guitalele, bass, keyboards, backing vocals), Matti Häyry (guitars, guitalele, keyboards, vocals), Tuija Takala (guitar, vocals), Maya Paakkari (vocals), Harri Väyrynen (guitar, bass, vocals), Mikaela Mansikkala (vocals),Hanna Paatero (backing vocals), with Special Guest: Eric Schenkman (guitar) of the Spin Doctors.
… I gave Playing God - by 'Corky Laing & the Perfect Child' -Five (5) Stars.
Corky Laing also records and performs live with his band Corky Lang & The Memory Thieves featuring Bonnie Parker & Denny Colt. Both bandmates also performed magnificently on the Perfect Child rock opera. 'The Memory Thieves' released the album House of Thieves in 2012.
Corky Laing studio and live albums with Mountain … Climbing! (1970), Nantucket Sleighride (1971), Flowers of Evil (1971), Mountain Live: The Road Goes Ever On (1972). Avalanche (1974), Go for Your Life (1985), Man’s World (1996), Mystic Fire (2002), Masters of War (2004).
Other studio releases featuring Corky Laing … Corky Laing- Makin’ It on the Street (1977), The Secret Sessions (1999), Cork- Speed of Thought (1999), Cork- Out There (2003), Jason Hartless Jr. –First Division (2004), Stick It! (2004).
Corky says …
“The drums are the best instrument in the world. When you’re a kid you go to your dad and say, dad, I want to grow up and I want to be a drummer. Your dad says ...You’ve got to choose one or the other.”
Recently, I had the great pleasure to chat with Corky Laing about his brilliant and awe-inspiring rock opera entitled Playing God. We also talked about recent news concerning longtime bandmate Leslie West, the inception of “Mississippi Queen,” Mountain past and present, playing with Mick Ronson and much-much more!
Here’s my interview with legendary drummer, composer, producer, singer, and member of classic rock legend’s Mountain and West, Bruce & Laing … CORKY LAING.
Ray Shasho: Hello Corky! Where are you at today?
Corky Laing: “Hey Ray! I’m outside of New York way-way up on the ocean by Orient Point.”
Ray Shasho: So you no longer live in Canada?
Corky Laing: “No, I was in Canada while my son was finishing college and now we’re back in the U.S. of A. Ray.”
Ray Shasho: I’ve enjoyed chatting with several legendary Canadian music artists …including Burton Cummings, Frank Marino and Gino Vannelli.
Corky Laing: “The Canadian music industry is very small and sort of a family, it’s an oasis of talent especially in the rock field. Most of those guys I know from way back, it’s great. It’s nice to see they are still around, passionately involved, and working it. There are lots of great musicians from Canada. It’s become a world thing now for rock; it used to be really exclusive to the states and now everybody has opened up. It’s an oasis of talent because my theory is … Canadians have to hustle more and they don’t mind it. Canadians are basically blue-collar workers in a lot of ways and they do what they got to do, very similar to the UK attitude. They take nothing for granted; it’s not about the bling-bling … it’s about the commitment.”
Ray Shasho: Corky, let’s talk about your new concept album entitled Playing God … It’s an awe-inspiring rock musical production … a cross between ‘Welcome to my Nightmare,’ ‘The Wall’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Picture show,’ I thoroughly enjoyed the album, what a magnificent musical journey! What was your inspiration for making the album?
Corky Laing: “I’ll tell you what happened … I was lecturing in Canada, my brother is a professor at McGill, and he sort of brought me in to do guest lecturing, and I’d go in and talk about international marketing and the traditional side of the music business. I started with that and I ended up teaching an entire course at University of Western Ontario for about 6 to eight months… and I loved it. What happened is through the network, a couple of professors from the University of Helsinki and The University of Manchester saw me online lecturing and saw a show that I did while I was playing over in Sweden, and they came by and were big fans of Mountain, but I didn’t realize at the time that they were top professors in the philosophy field. They called me and said that they had some opportunities to guest lecture over in Helsinki and Manchester and I said I’d love to. It wasn’t a matter of money … I just loved the idea.”
“But dig this ... It wasn’t about lecturing about the music business, it was about the philosophy of rock. In other words, they would talk about it from the vanish point, how did you survive ethically, in a business or lifestyle that had no rules. It was pretty frivolous when I started. So I began doing more lectures and people were getting more serious about the lifestyle.”
“Then they went on to say … we’ve written these philosophical books and actually put together an opera idea regarding genetic maneuvering and manipulation. They said, “We really love the way you write, would you consider writing a couple of songs for this opera?” This was a couple of years ago and I said why not. What I had the opportunity to do was to use a lot of the ideas that never got used in Mountain and also in West, Bruce and Laing, because I catalogued most of my ideas. So I was able to use them and apply them to certain scenarios. So they wrote the story and I would commute back and forth to Finland every month for the last year and half or so and it started developing.”
“I was able to do anything I wanted to do. All I had to do was to bring the storyline into the song. So I told them there would be a lot of drums because I was going to write to the drumming. Since the actual content was so sophisticated and I had no idea about opera, I just did what I do and they accommodated it. I’m thrilled that you are enjoying it because it is quite an ambitious idea to use the opera as a philosophical teaching tool in universities. That was their idea, it’s not a commercial album sort of speak, it’s an album that satisfies the story. So the fact that it’s accessible and someone like yourself who is very exposed to a lot of music can actually say … wow this makes a dent here … it’s very reassuring on that level. All in all it was a fantastic experience for me.”
“I don’t usually sing a lot but because I had to sing the parts, I’m actually playing different characters on the CD. When we go to do the show in Switzerland, it will be our first workshop where we actually perform the show on stage. I’ll be performing the parts, singing and playing and then various performers from all over Europe are coming in to perform the band ‘The Perfect Child’ which is the band that plays in the show. And I’m preparing for it as I speak to you.”
Ray Shasho: One of the many tracks that I enjoyed on the album is “Perfect Boy.” Who is the female singer on that track?
Corky Laing: “That’s interesting, there’s a band that I have and been working on here in Long Island (Corky Laing & The Memory Thieves) and have done some dates. Bonnie Parker & Denny Colt and they have a band called ‘Tang’ a heavy metal band, they’ve been around for years starting out in the mid 80’s. They’re great …guitar player and bass player. I knew Bonnie for years from way back to the Bonnie Parker Band. She’s just a great little singer and really a powerful little nuclear bomb. She’s a beautiful girl with this power and her girlfriend is Denny. So those girls sing on it and except for Maya Paakkari a Finnish singer who has that Eartha Kitt sort of vibe, she’s the other female singer.”
Ray Shasho: Corky, you have an intriguing voice that instills throughout the entire album.
Corky Laing: “I’m actually playing a few parts. I actually have the opportunity to play God and it’s quite a powerful place to be. I also play Tony who is my favorite character. When they first started asking me, they needed an old blues guy who makes the deal with sort of with the devil to get money to pay for his drugs and his gambling fees and he’s all washed up. That was Luke and my initial introduction and it sort of fit me like a glove. So basically my singing parts are the God’s, Luke, Tony and Sophie’s father.”
“I think some of the conflicts are very contemporary. It’s pretty deep but relevant. I really got involved heavily when I realized the content. The actual subject matter is one of those things I don’t think will go away too quick, it’s very controversial. Biogenetics is about trying to become perfect at whatever we do. That in itself is so contemporary with everyone trying to take whatever medication, whatever science … to live longer, better, or trying to be perfect.”
Ray Shasho: I think most of all, it’s just really good music on top of all that.
Corky Laing: “That’s really the best compliment you can give. That’s my neighborhood I try and come into. I had a chance to really stretch. To be told, do whatever you can and use every fiber of your being to come up with anything because you will not be shut down. It’s quite a wonderful place to be, especially at my time in my life.”
Ray Shasho: You also sang on “Eyes in the Mirror” and on that track you sounded very Peter Gabriel.
Corky Laing: “I’ve got to keep you on the line here … this is very good (All Laughing). That’s a lovely complement. I have to say, I was a little bit reluctant to do as much singing. I was basically singing everything to demonstrate to the other singers, because we roll out stuff musically but basically for the attitude. Over a period of time we couldn’t get some of the singers we wanted so they said we just love the way it feels … let’s just go with it. So I’m glad you get it.”
Ray Shasho: Your mom loved Cuban music and so you grew up listening to Latin rhythms?
Corky Laing: “We were in Montreal and she loved to dance. Somehow I got known for the cowbell and Timbales. People would say, well what brought that on? I’d say, when I started I played dance music and tried to imitate Latin music. Then when Mountain came together I said to Felix that I’d like to get some tom-toms, the reason I didn’t have them is because I couldn’t afford them. I had the timbales and Felix said …no-no man that’s the only thing that could cut through the huge Sunn Amplifiers. Timbales as you know are like nuclear warheads when you hit them hard. So between the cowbell and the timbales, from a percussion point of view, I was able to cut through the Marshalls and the Sunn Amps. Oddly enough, that’s where somehow I’m associated with heavy metal, because of the metal in the timbales. I don’t mind it; it sort of confuses me a little bit when they associate me with a heavy metal grandpa of drumming. I scratch my head on it …but I’ll take it! (All laughing)”
“I just used a good deal of what I know on the opera. You’ll hear tons of bass drums and tom-toms and I kept the cymbals at a minimum because of the grit that comes with the actual drums and so that was sort of translated quite a bit in that. Then there was a quasi Arabic feel towards the end that I picked up from a Northern Moroccan group and it helped soothe the whole story line at the end. Ray, I just let ‘er rip and I didn’t expect a lot of the stuff to translate to the actual record … but you know what, it did and I’m thrilled.”
Ray Shasho: Corky, I’d like to talk a bit about Mountain … first of all, how’s Leslie West doing?
Corky Laing: “I’d have to say I haven’t talked with him for awhile, but that’s only because he’s been pretty much on his own. I was talking with Warren Haynes and I ran into Alice and they all love Leslie, they were asking the same question. He’s just staying to himself. Leslie and I had a couple gigs that we did before he had his leg amputated and he was in terrible pain in those days. Going to a gig was even hard to communicate with him. I hope he’s doing well, I know he’s recorded a couple of records with some of his friends like Slash, so I know he’s playing. So I think he’s probably alright.”
“Ray, when you put yourself in his position, he’s one of those guys who loves to get around. For a big guy, I’ve always been amazed in over forty years how he moves faster and more than anybody I know that has half of his weight. So I think it’s got to be quite discouraging not to be able to get the places literally that he would want to get. Example, he just can’t fly around, it’s a whole situation when he gets on a plane or he has to travel because it has to be accessible. In conclusion … I hope he’s doing well; he’s been playing a bit, has his own trio and does some blues. But Mountain is in the sunset. We can’t get up and play the shows that people would want Mountain to play. Even if we’re fifty years older, it’s not about that, it’s about the energy and conviction that the band was known for, even when it wasn’t playing that great, we always played very hard. So I would say he is doing as well as expected.”
“If Leslie wanted to ever do something, I would do whatever he wanted to do. Right now he’s using a good friend of mine Bobby Rondinelli when he plays a couple of gigs around New York.”
Ray Shasho: Corky, I’ve attended hundreds and hundreds of rock concerts over my lifetime, but the rowdiest show I’ve ever been to was at a Mountain concert in the early 70’s at the Capital Centre in Maryland. Mountain opened for The J. Geils Band. The announcer, who I believe was a local deejay named Barry Richards, introduced the band and was hit with a bottle. Then Leslie West began wailing this incredible solo and people began jumping up on the stage and went wild … it was incredible!
Corky Laing: “That’s funny. When I played with Meat Loaf for a stint, he used to get nailed all the time. In England, what they would do is they had these plastic beer bottles and they’d drink the beer, piss in the beer, and then put the cap on very loosely and throw that on stage. It’s called a piss bomb. I remember playing with Meat Loaf and having to duck from those piss bombs. You either loved Meat Loaf or you hated him. In England it was a very fine line.”
“Mountain was a pretty wild ride. Leslie was a very moody guy depending on what day it was in the week and what type of drug he was taking or I was taking… whatever it is. Again, you’re going back to a time when there were no rules. You did what you had to do at the time and hoped it worked and if it didn’t work in many cases …who the f*ck cares. I’m sorry to say, but the commitment to the music at that point was … I’m not sure how solid that was; it was more about the whole atmosphere. It was more about hard rock and the impact of music as opposed to the subtlety of the music and that went a long way. So there were good things that came out of it.”
Ray Shasho: So when Saturday Night Live created the sketch “More Cow Bell” featuring Christopher Walken and the SNL Players portraying Blue Ӧyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper” … they really should have been portraying Corky Laing with Mountain playing “Mississippi Queen.”
Corky Laing: “It has come up quite a bit. Blue Ӧyster Cult copied me and I copied The Chambers Brothers. Everybody copies somebody. The cowbell was just an idea of function, to do the count, so everyone knew where (1) was. Think about the audio aspect, when you get into an arena and you’ve got those amps at full blast … I would use the cowbell just to keep the time. I did “Mississippi Queen” way back before Mountain. It was one of those spontaneous wrote itself in the limo kind of songs. We were in Nantucket and I was playing with my local band ‘Energy’ and there was this beautiful chick called Mollie who was dancing with this really good friend of mine Roy Bailey, and it was in the middle of the summer in 1969. The lights blew-out in Nantucket, it’s a small island and they never had air conditioning until that summer. So everybody turned on their air conditioners blowing out the power on the entire island. So all there was … was this emergency spotlight shining on this beautiful chick who was wearing a see-through dress. I’m playing drums, and the organ, the bass, and the guitar go off …and there are just drums. We were in the middle of playing “Cripple Creek” and people were getting off the dance floor except Mollie and Roy kept dancing. I knew she was from the South and I wasn’t going to stop playing to get them off the dance floor. I just kept staring at her and then screamed at her … Mississippi Queen! I kept rambling on and on and then screamed …You know what I mean! So that’s the story.”
“What happened is, when the end of the summer came after Woodstock and we had to go into the studio, Felix said do you have any songs; we’ve got an album to do. He sent Leslie and I to the back room and said you guys go back there and write something. Leslie had already done his solo album with Felix called Mountain. So Leslie says you got any words? He knew I had been writing with my local band and I said yea, I actually wrote these words out for this thing that I played with just the drums. So I played it for him and he immediately came up with the lick. It was within f*ing seconds! We looked at each other and literally laughed ourselves sick and thought … wow this is f*ing cool!”
Ray Shasho: Did you get the chance to jam with Jimi Hendrix?
Corky Laing: “Yes I did. A lot of guys did way back, but he was a big fan of Mountain. I have articles that I kept personally where they ask him what are you listening to …and he says I’ve been listening to Nina Simone and Mountain. That’s what he was listening to at the time. Leslie jammed with him ….it was an era where we all crossed paths. It wasn’t like a big deal, nobody was God yet and there was nobody that was a hero yet like Clapton. Everybody played all the time and there were no egos involved. When it sort of kicked into the 70’s, big business came in and everybody had to watch out what they were playing and who they were playing it for ….becoming paranoic … too much cocaine Ray, too much cocaine.”
“If I could say one word that would wrap up my life it would be either blessed or lucky.”
Ray Shasho: One of my favorite guitarists that I also feel is one of the all-time greatest players is Mick Ronson. You’ve also worked with Mick and Ian Hunter in the past.
Corky Laing: “In the musician world Mick Ronson was magical. There’s a record that I did that I was very proud to do called The Secret Sessions and Mick Ronson, Ian Hunter and I were a band at one point in the late 70’s. Ian and I wrote and recorded about six to eight songs and then Ian was offered his own record deal and put out You’re Never Alone with a Schizophrenic. With the arrangement that we had he gave me these songs that Mick Ronson, myself, Ian Hunter and Felix Pappalardi played bass. Then we had Paul Butterfield playing harmonica and John Sebastian came in from the Spoonful. We had some great players.”
“You’ll hear some of the best work that Ronson did apart from Bowie on The Secret Sessions. Even Mick himself, God bless him was one of the most beautiful people, said, that he really enjoyed that because when Felix and I played we stuck to the old American bass and drums when it came down to recording, we played very thick. Mick loved the idea because he could do his high-end guitar playing that I call his spacey stuff. There’s a song called “The Outsider” that Mick plays solo on. He played some amazing guitar, there are about four or five tracks that he played on. I have to say Ray you’re exactly right, one of the best of all time players.”
Ray Shasho: One of the drummers that influenced you early- on was Gene Krupa?
Corky Laing: “He was my number one influence as of drummers. Of course there was Art Blakey in those days … I didn’t know anything about drumming you just know what you love. But to look at Gene Krupa, and watch Gene Krupa as well as listen to him, there was just so much heart and soul. And I loved him. Then who follows in his footsteps but Keith Moon. Keith Moon was just a psychedelic version of Gene Krupa. Amazing performer and I always loved Keith and always wanted to be Keith. Again, I was lucky enough to be with the same management company as they had in Europe so we became close friends. As much as I sat behind him at Madison Square Garden, right with his drum roll, right behind him, I watched everything he did for three days and I still cannot do one of them. And that’s the way I drum, I drum eye to hand, for me it’s all in coordination. So I always wanted to be Keith Moon.”
“But at the same time, my influence would be a Ginger Baker because of Felix’s association with Cream. My all-time favorite character drummer is Levon Helm. John Bonham …yes, I just did the Bonzo Bash a few months ago. They celebrated his birthday with about 15-20 drummers that played on his drum kit. Each drummer played a different Led Zeppelin song and I was cordially invited to play on that and it was great.”
Ray Shasho: Here’s a question that I ask everyone that I interview, If you had a “Field of Dreams” wish, like the movie, to play or collaborate with anyone from the past or present …who would that be?
Corky Laing: “It would be Elvis Presley. I’ve always wanted to play with Elvis and I felt there would come a time. When he was on stage and got into that whole martial arts thing, it’s like visually, he’s a drummer and he’s very physically looking. His songs were very subtle about how rhythmic they were. He started to get into some real good sh*t …and yes, that would be my wish.”
Ray Shasho: Corky, thank you for being on the call today and more importantly for all the incredible music you’ve given us with Mountain, West, Bruce & Laing and into the present with your brilliant rock opera … Playing God.
Corky Laing: “All the best Ray, stay in touch and God bless!”
Corky Laing & The Memory Thieves www.memorythieves.com
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Very special thanks to Billy James of Glass Onyon PR
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