Russ Lawton: Man in Motion
Benjy: I want to talk more about the current tour with Trey, but first let’s talk about other things you’ve done in the past two years. There’s the first Trey tour, which is when I interviewed you last. Then you have Gordon Stone. You have Outside Out. Am I remembering this right, that there was something unique at the Gathering Of The Vibes two years ago?
Russ: They wanted Gordon Stone to play solo. He said, “Why don’t you come play with me?” And that’s when he wanted to start doing some of my songs, so we did a few of my tunes and we did sort of a duo type of thing. I played on a mini-kit and then I did some of my tunes. I did “Too Quick To Judge” and maybe a couple other ones, I can’t remember. “I Don’t Know” [sings: “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel”]. Yeah, we did that one too. And it was kind of a turning point for the band. Gordon was psyched to get some vocals in the band. Gathering of The Vibes was fun and I loved doing it. As a matter of fact, if I don’t play it this year, if I had the time, I’d just like to go to it.
Benjy: You also have a side-project, Rhythmo Loco. How’s that going?
Russ: We’re working on a new CD. We’re in the studio. As a matter of fact those guys are mixing without me this weekend.
Benjy: You’re in Gordon Stone’s band. You have gigs scheduled. You get the call from Trey, and suddenly you have a tour with him instead. What’s Gordon’s reaction?
Russ: Gordon’s very cool about it. Believe me, I wish I could find a drummer that could fill right in and do the job just as well and know all the material. I think Gordon’s at the Middle East tonight in Boston, but he’s really cool about it. This came up and we had a month to get it together. I’m like, “Look man, this came up.” And he knows. It’s like if Mike [Gordon] called him. When a good opportunity comes up, you got to go for it. I’ve sacrificed for a lot of bands and missed a lot of opportunity to stick it out.
I look at Gordon in a sense that he likes things to be changed up anyways. It’s almost more of a jazz type of thing. It’s like John Scofield. He did the A Go-Go album, but when you go out and see him it could be a totally different band. I’ve seen him with two different drummers. You get that rotating band thing going. And that isn’t always the best thing either. Granted, the bass player we have now, Rudy, called the house to wish me luck on the tour and I wasn’t there so he talked to my wife Deb, and Deb said, “Well how were those string of gigs you just did?” And he was like, “Oh, they were okay.” Whatever. There’s nothing like being in a band. You think about Dave Brubeck or you think about Miles Davis where you’ve got Tony Williams – you’ve got the cats. There’s nothing like growing as a band, because a band will grow. You can be the best drummer and freelance, but you have to know the songs. When you’ve got some gigs under your belt, if it’s a good band, it will keep growing and there’s nothing like it. But Gordon’s really cool about it and I appreciate that.
Benjy: You’ve done some other notable things since the last Trey tour.
Russ: I worked a lot with Gordon Stone. We’ve done a couple tours – four tours actually. Now we’re trying to get a new album out. We were hoping to be recording now, but then this thing happened. We’ve done some preliminary stuff in the studio. I don’t know how they’re turning out. I haven’t talked to those guys about it, but sometimes you get the rhythm section to come in and you get the core down and then they go in and overdub on top. So I don’t know how that’s going. Before that, I did a movie with Gordon called Mud Season. That’s a great movie man. I did some drumming on that. In the opening scene there’s this real Vermont guy and he’s out hunting in the woods with his gun and we bust into this theme on the pedal steel. And then we did this scene where there’s an accidental death (although I call it the murder scene) and we did the music for that. And then I play sometimes with the local blues guys around Salem. And that’s cool because it’s like right in my back yard. A lot of the rock guys from Boston that are my age moved out of Boston and got families. There’s this guy Johnny A. who’s got a record out that’s doing really well. He’s been opening up for B.B. King and he plays with us sometimes. It’s all local guys, but it’s a fun gig though. This guy Kenny Clark – smoking keyboard player. If you’re ever around Salem, they have this thing on Tuesday nights at Dodge Street. They call it Fats Hammond. There’s two Hammond B-3 players, a guitar player and a drummer. It’s a really cool thing. A lot of the jam band kids have been coming down to that. And Kenny’s from Vermont. He and I did a tour with Michelle Wilson after the Trey tour and when I jumped in the van he’s like, “What’d you say about Vermont? I’m from Essex Junction!” Smoking keyboard player.
Benjy: Do jam band kids come up to you at Gordon Stone shows who know of you through the Trey gigs?
Russ: Oh yeah, sure. We were doing a fall tour and in places like Chicago they were coming up to me and, you know, yelling for “Jibboo” for awhile (laughs). In a way it’s a compliment and in a way it’s like, “Okay.” It’s tough. At least they’re yelling for your songs. They’re not yelling for Skynyrd or something.
Benjy: Let’s talk now about this tour. You guys started on Wednesday in Boston. Tell me about opening night.
Russ: Well it was pretty nerve-wracking for me. It’s my hometown. I had like fifteen people out there I knew – musicians that I’ve played with for years, neighbors that have put up with my drumming that I invited down because they’re so sweet to me. First nights are always tough. There’s a lot of new material. I’ve got four mini-discs of rehearsal tapes and stuff that I’ve been going over, practicing. I like to know my songs. I like to know what’s going on, you know? But it was really good. I thought it felt really good.
Benjy: Do you think you guys were prepared?
Russ: Yes. It’s just no matter what you do, you’ve just got to do it. You can be in rehearsal for years but once you’ve got a couple gigs under your belt it’s a whole different thing. I’ve read a bunch of reviews. My wife has told me there were reviews in The Harold, The Globe, even Paul Robicheau did something on-line for Rolling Stone. They’re all rave reviews. And if they don’t like you, Boston is rough, man. Every Vermont musician hates Boston. As Tony goes, “Well, they don’t like anything in Boston!” But we’ve got some great reviews, man. They were flipping on it.
Benjy: Let’s talk about the shows after that. It’s been, what, three shows so far. What were the other two like?
Russ: Syracuse was really amazing. I walked off stage and I said, “That was like church!” I mean, we had enough sleep, we had one gig under our belt, and it was good. Sometimes we’re just doing this repeating thing and it’s like a rave or something, it builds a little bit at a time. We just came off stage and I was like “Woah man! This is amazing!” It was really good. Last night was really good too, but sometimes when you have this amazing night, the next night is hard to compare.
Benjy: Tell me about the new songs.
Russ: The one we played on Conan yesterday, that’s a cool one. Some of these titles it’s like, “What does he call this one?” That one’s called “Push On ‘Till The Day.” I think that’s it. When the horns come in on that, I just get this smile on my face. I love “Sunday Morning.” It’s a cool chilled out one. We segue from “Push On” to this song “Tube Top Flop” that’s a reggae kind of thing where Trey plays this thing that’s very beautiful. We did that last night on Conan. We played “Push On Through,” we stopped, Conan came out, shook hands, and then we busted into that before they cut to a commercial. I love playing that. It’s like a great little laid back instrumental reggae thing. Let’s see what else we’ve got.
[Russ takes out a stack of mini-discs with labels on them]
“The Way I Feel” – of course that one was on One Man’s Trash. That song “Drifting” is really good too. “Burlap Sack And Pumps” – that’s an instrumental that’s really funky. Then of course we bust into some of those instrumentals that he’s done for the guitar, which are really nice.
Benjy: Are you as excited about these songs as you are the older ones?
Russ: Yes. And what’s cool about it is that we have some of those rocked out ones. Some of these are a little more chilled out, a little more laid back with a different kind of funk. And now we have the horns to color it.