I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with legendary drummer Ken Mary. Over the years, Ken has played with some of the best bands around, including Alice Cooper, Accept, House Of Lords, Chastain, Fifth Angel and most recently Flotsam & Jetsam. I remember having conversations with my good friend Dennis over 30 years ago about how great Ken Mary‘s playing was. We would discuss which band members we would put into the ultimate band, much like people who play Fantasy Football. When it came to drummers, Ken Mary‘s name was inevitably, always brought up. Not only is Ken an incredible drummer, but he’s also an incredibly nice guy who seems to genuinely appreciate his fans. Check out my interview with Ken to learn more about one of the true good guys of rock!
XS ROCK: So you’re playing with the mighty Flotsam & Jetsam? I’ve heard the new album and it’s really awesome. Are you out on tour now?
Ken Mary: No. We’re off the road for Christmas but we’ll be going back out to Europe in March. We’ll be playing with Destruction and Overkill. That should be a pretty good bill. It’s Italy, Germany, Belgium and a lot of different nations pretty quickly. It should be a little bit of a whirlwind, but it should be good.
XS ROCK: Do you have more U.S. tour dates planned?
Ken Mary: We do. There’s dates coming up in May and June for 2019.
XS ROCK: You’ve played with many, many artists over the years. How did you manage to hook with the guys in Flotsam & Jetsam?
Ken Mary: It’s kind of an interesting story. Steve, the guitarist and I have been friends for a good number of years and they were recording the last album, which was the self titled “Flotsam & Jetsam” album. They were recording a good chunk of that in my studio. I’ve got a world class recording studio that I’ve had since 2003. I was doing a little bit of the engineering and getting them all set up and I was listening to what they were doing and I was really digging the new material, then about a year and half later, their drummer Jason Bitner had left to join Overkill. They were doing the European tour and Steve called me and said “Hey!” would you be interested in filling in for a couple of weeks in Europe? So, I said Yeah, that sounds like fun. From a drumming perspective the material is just a blast to play. The music is just ripping fast and it’s almost like a drum solo the whole show. It’s a blast. When you’re out touring and playing when you’ve been in the music business as long as we have it better be fun! It’s also challenging sometimes too. There are a lot of time changes. It’s very progressive as opposed to straight ahead rock stuff.
XS ROCK: So you’ve been doing double duty with just releasing a new album by Fifth Angel too.
Ken Mary: The way it is in the music biz nowadays is like everybody has five bands, you know…ha ha ha. You know guys like Portnoy is seriously probably in five bands and Reb Beach is in two different bands. If you are making a living at being a professional musician, you’re probably in more than one band. I’m not necessarily in that category these days, because I have other business interests, but the industry has changed a lot. Music as a commodity is over. You can’t actually make money off of the actual music anymore. But, that’s kind of a big deal. It really is a big impact in terms of support that you get from record companies and it is challenging.
XS ROCK: So let’s talk a little about some of your other bands. I’ll mention a band and if you’ll just give me your thoughts about each one. Let’s start with Fifth Angel.
Ken Mary: Well, that was really my first band. I grew up with those guys in high school. So there’s a special place in your heart for that. People have asked why we just did another album after all that time. And the answer is because we could! And it was really fun getting back with the guys with the old chemistry and all of that. We decided to do it because it was a lot of fun. At this point in our careers, I think for everybody, if it’s not fun then don’t so it, right? I think those albums have held up to the test of time. If you go back and listen those records, there were no Pro Tools in those days. No auto-tune. No Beat Detective. None of that. And you just had to be really skilled at what you do. And you listen to what we accomplished, for young musicians, I think it was pretty impressive.
XS ROCK: Alright, now let’s talk about your time with Alice Cooper?
Ken Mary: That was a really fun time and I look back on the time with a lot of fond memories. It was certainly the opportunity of a lifetime. I have lifelong friends from my time in Alice Cooper. You know, guys like Kane Roberts, Kip Winger and Paul Taylor. These are guys that we still go have dinner and talk on a regular basis. I talk to Kane probably three or four times a week. These are people that you kind of went through something special with. In the music industry, you can usually count your real friends from the music industry on one hand. Fortunately, there’s so many people that I met through that experience like Michael Wagner, who’s a great producer. There were just so many cool people. As a matter of fact, I met my wife on the first Alice Cooper Tour I was on, and we’re still married so that’s a good thing. There were so many good things that happened from that. Then, that lead into the House Of Lords. I wound up joining them at the conclusion of the Alice tour and again we’re lifelong friends. I work with Chuck, Lanny and Doug Aldrich a lot. I feel like I’ve been very fortunate in that most of the people that I’ve worked with in different bands have been really been great guys. I’ve gone and spoken at Alice Cooper’s Solid Rock Foundation that he has here in Phoenix, Arizona.
XS ROCK: How about your work with Chastain?
Ken Mary: I go back and listen those records and I think for the time period that we were working in, we were doing some really cool stuff. It was a little more progressive and allowed me to have a bit more freedom and that was during a time when producer were always telling you not to play stuff. The mantra during the eighties was keep it simple stupid! Producers would always tell you less is more. Working for Chastain in those days was a lot of fun because I had a chance to cut loose a little more. And when you listen to what I’m doing now on the new Flotsam record, they pretty much said Yeah, let it rip! Flotsam is like five guys that are going all out pedal to the metal all the time and somehow it works. Don’t ask me how because everyone’s playing crap everywhere. The bass is going nuts, the drums are going nuts, the guitar is going nuts and vocals are all over the place and stuff is happening that you would think would be totally chaotic, but somehow it just all works together and it’s very musical and cool. It’s challenging for the audio engineers to get a mix to sound good with that stuff going on musically.
XS ROCK: You produce and engineer yourself, right?
Ken Mary: Yeah I actually produced the latest Fifth Angel record. I’ve been working in production for about 20 years now. I had a lot of great opportunities to work with some incredible producers like Terry Date and Michael Wagner. I did two albums with Andy Johns who was credited with being the engineer on Led Zeppelin‘s album. He;s considered one of the greatest rock music engineers of all time. I was fortunate to be working with some of the best in the business and that kind of gave me a leg up in that area.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Ken Mary: Wow! That’s tough to say, because sometimes there albums that sell more or sell less, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the art was better or worse. For me, Alice Cooper “Raise Your Fist And Yell” was certainly a highlight, The House Of Lords albums for me, have really stood the test of time and so have the Fifth Angel albums. Chastain and I joked recently. We had an exchange over Facebook and were discussing can you imagine when we made these albums… that people would be listening to it over thirty years later. It’s really cool. It’s hard to say what my greatest accomplishment was. I really enjoyed every band that I’ve played with. I know some people might say, oh, you’re just trying to be a nice guy and not say what you really think, but I can honestly say I’ve really enjoyed it all.
XS ROCK: I remember reading an interview with you once and I believe they referred to you as the nicest guy in rock n’ roll.
Ken Mary: (Laughs) Wow! That’s very kind. I honestly appreciate that. I would certainly like to think that someone might say that about me. When we were touring Europe last time, there were fans there that I think were super amazing and they would come up with like thirty albums that I had played on and they would ask “Hey, would you sign these?” And one of the guys was saying hey, don’t you get tired of signing those records? And I said, If someone cared enough about the art that I made to go spend their hard earned money to buy all of these and listen to these, I’ll sit here and sign these all day! I don’t think there’s a greater compliment anyone can have than to say that I care about your art. I was very honored by that. I really appreciate the fans and I’ll do my best to take the time to sign them to make it more valuable for them, I guess.
XS ROCK: Looking forward to the future, what’s on the horizon for Ken Mary?
Ken Mary: Well there’s definitely some drum specific projects that I’m going to be doing. Not related to playing in other bands or anything, but related to drumming.
XS ROCK: Who impresses you when it comes to drummers?
Ken Mary: Well, there’s so many different styles and some drummers are great in one particular area while another is great in a completely different area. I think it’s almost like we have drum specialist these days. I grew up with listening to jazz and progressive drummers. For me, what was, and what can be pulled into the future. I grew up listening to guys like Buddy Rich and jazz guys. Neil Pert was considered a real prog style player. And that was the kind of stuff that I was drawn to. When I listened to Buddy Rich I was honestly really inspired. At a certain point in my career, I was having a lot of pain in my lower back and I was really inspired by a Buddy Rich solo that he did in the Dominican Republic with Frank Sinatra in the early 80’s, he was already 63 or 64 years old. He died at 69 from a brain tumor. But he walked out on stage and he looked pretty good, but you’re also thinking man, I hope he doesn’t embarrass himself, you know, and he got out there and just destroyed and crushed the drum solo. I was substantially younger than that at the time I was having pain and I thought if he can do that at his age I have no excuses. He re-inspired me to get back into drumming again. You know, nowadays drummers can pull up Youtube and watch all of these great drummers, but when he started out he had no one to watch and learn this type of drumming from. It’s just amazing. And I still would prefer to watch him over 80% of the other drummers. I’m not dissing anybody from today, I’m just saying that’s how amazing this guy was. I think he’s probably the greatest natural drummer in history, in my opinion. I get inspired by greatness.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they surprised to know about Ken Mary?
Ken Mary: Wow! That’s a really interesting question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before. I think for the most part, what you see is what you get. I strive for excellence in everything that I’m doing. If I’m drumming, writing, engineering or whatever I’m doing, I try to do it to the best of my ability. Maybe that’s it. If you didn’t know me, you might not realize that with whatever I’m doing, I’m trying to do it with absolute excellence. I think that’s something that you can carry with you into any area of life and it will serve you well. The pursuit of excellence should be a lifelong pursuit whatever your profession might be.
XS ROCK: I’ve been a fan of yours for many years, so it always a privilege to talk with you. Is there anything that you’d like to say your many fans out there?
Ken Mary: Well, I’d just like to say from the bottom of my heart, thank you all so much. I think there’s no greater honor. Music is art. and when people listen and enjoy it, it;s like the greatest kick ever! It’s so cool that someone appreciates what you created. Thanks so much to everyone for the support and it’s genuinely appreciated.
Ken Mary’s Discography:
1986 – Fifth Angel
1989 – Time Will Tell
2018 – The Third Secret
1984 – In Your Face
1985 – Below The Belt
1986 – Ruler of the Wasteland
1987 – The 7th of Never
1987 – Instrumental Variations
1988 – The Voice of the Cult
1989 – Within The Heat
1987 – Raise Your Fist and Yell
1987 – The Nightmare Returns
1989 – Prince of Darkness
1999 – The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper
1992 – Grin and Bear It
1993 – Victim of the System
1994 – Answer to the Master
1996 – Screaming Symphony
1997 – Fuel for the Fire
1998 – Eye of the Hurricane
House of Lords
1988 – House of Lords
1990 – Sahara
2004 – The Power and the Myth
2007 – Live in the U.K.
Flotsam and Jetsam
2018 – The End of Chaos
1991 – Bad Moon Rising – Bad Moon Rising
1993 – Bad Moon Rising – Blood
1991 – Tuff – What Comes Around Goes Around
1987 – Bonfire – Fireworks
1995 – Pata – Raised on Rock
2004 – Robin Beck – Wonderland
2001 – David Glen Eisley – The Lost Tapes
2009 – Northern Light Orchestra with David Ellefson (Megadeth,￼￼ F5), Bruce Kulick (Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad), Debbie Sledge (Sister Sledge), Shane Gibson (Korn), Jason Hook (Alice Cooper), George Lynch (Dokken, Lynch Mob), Elliot Randall (Steely Dan), Dizzy Reed (Guns N’ Roses), Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot, Vanilla Fudge), Lanny Cordola (House of Lords,The Beach Boys), Kip Winger (Winger), Robin McAuley (Survivor), Bill Leverty (Firehouse), Eddie James, Danny Vaughn (Tyketto), Bob Carlisle (Bob Carlisle), Kendall Bechtell (Fifth Angel), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake), Rose Stone (Sly and the Family Stone), Jon Gibson, Steve Conley (F5), John Davis (F5), Scott Jeffers- The Spirit of Christmas
2010 – Northern Light Orchestra -Celebrate Christmas with Lita Ford (Ozzy Osbourne, The Runaways) Reb Beach (Winger, Night Ranger, Dokken, Whitesnake) Vivian Campbell (Dio, Whitesnake, Def Leppard) Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath), Mark Slaughter (Slaughter) Rob Hale, Brad Noah (Disciple) Brad Vahling (Jeff Hunt Band) Glen Drover, Yogi Lonich, David Ellefson (Megadeth,F5), Bruce Kulick (Kiss, Grand Funk Railroad), Debbie Sledge (Sister Sledge), Shane Gibson (Korn), Kendall Bechtel (Fifth Angel) Troy Luccketta (Tesla), Chuck Wright (Quiet Riot, Vanilla Fudge), Lanny Cordola (House of Lords,The Beach Boys), Kip Winger (Winger), Robin McAuley (Survivor), John Elefante (Kansas, Petra, Toto), Doug Aldrich (Whitesnake, Dio), Rose Stone (Sly and the Family Stone), Jon Gibson, Steve Conley (F5), Pete Hewlett (Billy Joel Band, Amy Grant), Scott Jeffers- The Spirit of Christmas