Interview With Legendary Mountain Drummer Corky Laing
Known as “The Supergroup That Never Was,” Corky Laing’s POMPEII recorded The Secret Sessions between 1976 and 1978 after a re-introduction to old friend Ian Hunter via Steve Wax of Elektra / Asylum. Laing recalls, “The late 70s was a turbulent time as the musical taste went through a generational change. Punk was just beginning to surface in the rock landscape. It replaced the increasingly complacent era of glam and classic rock with a new confrontational and rebellious attitude. Bands like Mountain and Mott the Hoople were becoming oldsters. In this environment, my record company Elektra/Asylum was preparing to bail on me, but before doing so, they asked if I wanted to form a so called “supergroup”. I had no choice, and so began the journey into The Secret Sessions. Steve Wax, the president of E/A hooked me up with an old mate, Ian Hunter to begin the work. Bob Ezrin was brought in to produce and together we proceeded to invite our famous friends to the Briarcliff Studios in Westchester, NY to see if we could put something interesting together.” Before long Laing and Ezrin had assembled a cast that included Free’s Andy Fraser, the Alice Cooper Band’s Steve Hunter, Lee Michaels and Ian Hunter. Just as things started to click, Laing says, “it all went south. Well, actually Ezrin went EAST – all the way to the UK to record “The Wall” with Pink Floyd. Then Steve Hunter got a call from Bette Midler and became the musical director for her film, The Rose. Andy Fraser really did go south – to continue with his solo project and Lee Michaels went, well, wherever Lee Michaels wants to go.” At this point that left Corky and Ian Hunter to salvage the embryonic supergroup. “To my surprise, Ian invited Mick Ronson to join in and I asked Felix Pappalardi to step in on bass.”
The long awaited album is now being released on Record Store Day April 21, 2018. We talked to Corky about the project and more in our interview below:
XS ROCK: Tell me about the Secret Sessions release coming out on Record Store day?
Corky: Everything, but the timing was right when, in the late 1970s, I was offered to put together a “super band” with Ian Hunter (Mott the Hoople). We had the best musicians and writers, the best studios and the best producer. Unfortunately, these were turbulent times as Punk was overtaking the music scene and we “classic rockers” suddenly became old-timers. Consequently, the super band never came, but the music was created and you can now here it on this vinyl. I think there is something truly special in the combination of two North Americans, Felix Pappalardi and me, providing the powerful rhythm section and the more subtle and ornate input of the two Englishmen, Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson. Also, I would recommend that you check out to the digital bonus track, “Knock Me Over” which, to me, carries the legacy of the Secret Sessions in the sense of being true to your art and always trying to write the best possible materials. Never being blaze about one’s career and always aiming to “knock over” and being “knocked over”.
XS ROCK: When did your career began?
Corky: I was playing in bands since I was about thirteen, but up until the time I became a member of Mountain, however serious I was about playing, I wasn’t really thinking of becoming a full-time musician. So, I guess you could say that my career started in September 1969, because after that, with the success of Mountain and then, West, Bruce & Laing, my career sorta took off on its own.
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for starting or being in a band?
Corky: I was the youngest of five siblings, so needless to say, I wanted to get noticed. I’ve also loved music of all kinds from early on, so starting a band was a no brainer. I got to do what I loved doing and got noticed doing it.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
Corky: I love them all. I’m always writing something, when recording I’m able to create something long-lasting and performing to live audiences is where it all comes together.There’s nothing more rewarding than giving your all on stage followed by an enthusiastic response from the audience. Live is where it all happens; it’s the give and take of energy and feel. It’s all real and happens there and then.
XS ROCK: What is your most outrageous tour story from the road?
Corky: Life on the road is outrageous. It’s “hurry up and wait” for close to 23 hours a day just to play for those 80 minutes. Then again, it’s those 80 minutes that really matter, so, ultimately, outrageous or not, it’s worth it.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
Corky: Once when on stage, someone from the audience shouted: “Can you play Mississippi Queen in 5/4 time?” I turned around and did “Mississippi fucking Queen.”
XS ROCK: Were your parents supportive of your aspirations to play in a rock band?
Corky: Unfortunately, I lost my father before my career really took off. He was supportive enough, although he didn’t think that music could ever be a career and insisted that I continued with my studies. My mother was always thoroughly supportive with all my musical endeavours.
XS ROCK: Out of all of the Legendary artists you have played with, Who did you enjoy playing with the most?
Corky: That’s a tough one. I enjoy playing with anyone, legendary or not, as long as they enjoy playing and we connect musically. I’ve been lucky to play with so many greats and couldn’t possibly pick just one, so let me mention three.With all our ups and downs, I must say that playing with a guitar virtuoso (and an excellent singer) likeLeslie Westwas truly something. At his best, no one can make their guitar sing likeLesliecan. As far as bass players go,Felix PappalardiandJack Brucewere in leagues of their own. Both were totally versatile in everything musical and I can just count my blessings for having had the opportunity to work with both of these geniuses.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
Corky: I never get tired to play “Mississippi Queen”. At its core, it’s simple enough; you get the cowbell there, the riff there and the verses and choruses, and then you’re off. It’s a great song to jam on. It’s different each time. The majestic “Nantucket Sleighride” is another one of my favourites. On live performances, we’ve recently added flute to it and it just blows me away. Then there are songs with great tom-tom feels, like “Don’t Look Around” that are great fun to play. Having said that, with musicians I connect with, I enjoy playing almost anything.
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
Corky: I was sucking in all influences, but I suppose as a drummer I should concentrate on drummers. I remember seeing Gene Krupa on TV at an early age and being mezmerised. Then, years later, when my local band in Montreal was opening for The Who and I had a chance to observe Keith Moon from a few feet away, I knew I wanted to be him. Keith was an amusement park to himself, whilst creating these perplexing drum patterns and fills. So, if I should mention just one, it would be Keith Moon.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Corky: Still being here at 70, performing, and writing and recording new material with the same enthusiasm I had when I started – and loving every minute of it.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
Corky: I’ve always wanted to be an architect, but while at University, I studying English literature and my plan was to eventually become a teacher. I thought I could have combined teaching and playing weekends and summers pretty much the same way I was combining studying and playing. To be honest, I’ve no idea what kind of a career I would have had.
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
Corky: I’ve used them all; Pearls, Ludwigs, Mapex, Yamahas, Tamas, Premiers. You name it, I’ve played it. Currently I play with my Ddrum kit with three rack toms and three floor toms. I use Evans skins, Dream cymbals and customized Hot Sticks. My kit further always includes a cowbell and a double bass pedal
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current state of the music industry?
Corky: I can’t say that I like it. It’s more like an entertainment marketing business that’s using whatever that sells, which in some cases, happens to be music. But it doesn’t seem to be about the music at all, it’s about selling. However, with things like the vinyl coming back and the live shows scene, hopefully, slowly recuperating, perhaps there’s hope yet again.
XS ROCK: Tell us about any other projects you have coming up
Corky: I’m thrilled to be hitting the road with two guys who are among the best musicians I’ve ever worked with, Chris Shutters (guitar, vocals & flute) and Mark Mikel (bass, vocals & keyboards). We’ll play US dates in the spring and summer, and a UK tour in October with some other European dates. More dates are getting confirmed every week. And we are also creating new material, a taste of which can be found as a bonus digital track on Pompeii, “Knock Me Over”. On the gigs, we celebrate the Mountain repertoire as it was meant to be played and, perhaps, throw in a few originals as we proceed.
Together with my manager and partner, Tuija Takala, we recently finished writing my memoirs called “Letters to Sarah” and just signed that with a literary agent. The book covers the first 50 years of my life from early childhood to the passing of my mother, Sarah, in 1998. It’s called Letters to Sarah, because it contains excerpts from dozens of letters (out of the over 200 hundred) that I wrote to my mother from the road. Tuija found the letters from my rehearsal studio. It turned out that my mother had saved them all and they’d then been kept in my siblings’ archives before finding their way to my studio. We still have a little work to do in choosing photos etc. for the book and I’m looking forward to that. I’m hoping that you’ll like the book. It is certainly different from your average rock biography.
In addition to the new material, there’s going to be quite a few releases that cover the projects that I’ve been involved in the past few years. There’s going to be a DVD of Playing God: The Rock Opera that I co-wrote and had one of the lead roles in. There’s also going to be a tour documentary of my North American tour last summer, and a live CD and a live DVD of a performance we did at Bowling Green Ohio in December with the current band.
I didn’t plan to make it to seventy, but here I am and I plan on keeping going. I’m excited about that.