By Rick Mattingly

(Reprinted from Modern Drummer: October 1987)

As I walked into the studio where Narada Michael Walden was going to be photographed for MD, his publicist ran up to me. "Do you by any chance have a pair of drumsticks with you?" she asked. As I opened my briefcase to see, she explained that Pearl had sent over a drumkit, Paiste had delivered the cymbals, a gong had been rented from Carroll sound, and Narada himself had ordered fresh flowers. But no drumsticks.
Although I often do have a pair of sticks rolling around in my briefcase, on this particular day I didn't. This studio was many blocks away from Manhattan's 48th Street music stores, so I decided to call Danny Gottlieb, who happened to live nearby, to see if he could lend us a pair of sticks. Danny was not only happy to help out, but he even said that he would bring them over, as he hadn't seen too much of Narada since many years before when they had both attended school in Miami.
A few moments later, Walden arrived, and he was delighted to hear that Danny was on his way over. When Gottlieb showed up a few minutes later, the two drummers embraced and began talking about John McLaughlin; Narada had worked with him several years ago, while Danny had just returned from a tour with McLaughlin.
Sticks in hand, Walden sat down behind the drumset so that the photo session could begin. But Narada had no intention of just sitting there, he wanted to play, and he invited Danny to grab an extra tom-tom that was sitting on the side and play with him. And for the next 20 minutes, everyone in the studio was treated to what can only be called a "spirited" exchange. They played loud; they played soft. They played slow; they played fast. They played grooves; they played free. Sometimes they looked at each other and smiled, but most of the time, they had their eyes closed while the drums had a conversation. At one point, the photographer's assistant approached Narada to wipe the sweat from his face, but Walden wouldn't let him. "No man, sweat's cool; sweat's real."
For me, watching Walden wailing on the drumset answered a big question that I'd had when preparing for the interview: Did he still have his chops? Granted, chops are not everything, and there is nothing wrong with the in-the-pocket grooves on the recent Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin albums that I had been listening to. But I couldn't help remembering the first time that I heard Walden on the Mahavishnu Orchestra's Apocalypse album in the early '70s. Here was a guy who had never even been on a record before, and suddenly he had replaced Billy Cobham, who was definitely THE hot drummer at that point. Walden quickly proved that he deserved to be in that band.
Over the next couple of years, it seemed that Narada was going to take his place alongside the prominent fusion drummers of the day: Cobham, Lenny White, Alphonse Mouzon. But then he began putting out his own albums of what he called "good dance music" and what most people called "disco." The emphasis seemed to be on his vocals rather than his drumming, and while he might have made some new fans, he lost a lot of people who had admired his work with Mahavishnu.
And then, in 1980, Walden produced a record for Stacy Lattisaw, which included the number-one hit "Love On A Two-Way Street." He continued to prove himself as a producer with such artists as Whitney Houston and Aretha Franklin, with the result that he won Billboard magazine's Producer Of The Year Award in 1986.
But what about his drumming? I was somewhat relieved to hear that he played on almost everything he produced, and his publicist told me that Narada was much more excited about the prospect of an interview in Modern Drummer than he was about an upcoming appearance on Entertainment Tonight, but I still had reservations. His official bio lists him as "world-class drummer, keyboardist, singer, composer, and performeräseasoned arranger and award-winning record producer." It's not that I regard drumming as more important than those other things, it's just that, since this happens to be a drumming magazine, I'd like to know that the people I'm writing about still have strong feelings about drumming.
If the sounds coming out of Narada's drumset hadn't convinced me that he is still in love with drumming, then the expression on his face would have. The man was in heaven. After he and Danny had worn each other out, Narada sat smiling. "Oh man," he said, "I haven't played like that in a while." Gottlieb was equally enthused. "I was throwing some stuff at him that I learned from John McLaughlin," Danny said, "and he was giving it right back to me. The guy's still a killer." Danny asked if I'd mind if he stayed while I did the interview, and I told him I wouldn't mind at all. Afterwards, as we walked out together, I thanked Danny for coming to our rescue with the drumsticks. "No man," Danny said, "I want to thank you for calling me. Being around Narada is such an inspiration."

RM: Pretend for a moment that you're not you. If you were to listen to the Apocalypse album by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, followed by the most recent Aretha Franklin album, do you think that you'd be able to tell that it was the same drummer on both records?
NMW: No and yes. No because the styles are very different. On Apocalypse, I had free rein to express everything. Yet there are sections of straight grooving in there, too, so that's why I would also say yes. But I can see how a lot of people wouldn't think it was the same guy.
Until I went with Mahavishnu, I had always played pop and rock music. Joining Mahavishnu was my break. I idolized John McLaughlin for what he stood for and the music he played. I learned how to play in five, seven, nine, and all of those odd signatures, because that's what he needed. It's the same in the pop world. If you're going to play with Aretha Franklin, then you have to give her what she needs, as opposed to going in there saying, "Okay, I'm a bad cat. Dig this."

RM: When you are playing on a straight pop record, what kind of discipline does it take not to use all of the technique you have? Are you ever tempted to throw in a hot lick someplace?
NMW: Oh definitely. All drummers love to just whack it and jam. But after you make a lot of records, you start to let the music dictate what it needs. As I grow older, I find myself trying to use a little wisdom so that it's not like my show all of the time, but when something is needed, I can supply it. I was lucky enough to be exposed to good people. I was raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is not far from Detroit, and a big hero of mine was Benny Benjamin. If you listen to all of the great Motown records, he was always playing fills, but he was grooving so strong that it all meshed. I think that's the magic. As long as it's grooving and the spirit is there, it all comes together. But at the same time, I make a conscious effort not to do things that aren't needed. That way, when I do play something, it makes it that much grander.

RM: One of the reasons given for the Mahavishnu Orchestra's popularity was that the musicians were always playing at the top of their abilities. Can you talk a little about pushing it to the limit?
NMW: John McLaughlin always made a very conscious effort to play for the Supreme, and that intensity showed in the music. He was on me to give 110% every night. When you work with someone you admire, and you know that he can tell when you're really playing and when you're not, you do things you don't think you can do. The spirit-or the Supreme or the soul-becomes a very consistent part of your nature. When you're pushed to the limit, that's what touches people. People say Whitney Houston is a great singer. That's because, when she gives, she gives. When Aretha's singing, she gives. When Danny plays, he gives. That's what touches people. It doesn't have to be a big power thing. It can be very subtle, but because you feel it so deeply, it will pull people in. It doesn't matter what kind of music you're talking about. It can be jazz, rock 'n' roll, country music, or anything; if you feel it, you can pull it off.

RM: Can you speak specifically about what you learned about drumming from John McLaughlin?
NMW: Drummers aren't always going to understand the way I talk, but this is what I learned: I learned how to surrender-to be the drummer he needed me to be. When you're playing with someone, you have to learn how to be with that person. I had to learn to close my eyes, because if I looked at him, I would get so turned on by the speed of his fingers or the expression on his face that I would not be concentrating fully on the spirit of what I was playing. I had to close my eyes to reach that deeper place so that my playing would mesh with his.

On a more technical level, I learned how to utilize the toms more, because that sounded good with what he was doing. Of course, Billy Cobham inspired a lot of that. I wasn't necessarily trying to fill Billy's shoes, but I did need to give John that kind of support. It was a new frontier for me. I liked to lock into a groove that the other musicians could fly over. But John wanted me to fly as well. So in that respect, he taught me to free myself, and to be free, you have to surrender.
So I would say that, with Mahavishnu, I learned about the spirit. The Mahavishnu Orchestra always played to the limit. When you do that consistently, you know when the spirit is right, and you know when it's not quite there. Hopefully, you can then play even the simplest thing on a Whitney Houston date or an Aretha session, but when you listen back to it, you'll know that this is the take you should use, as opposed to another one that was not quite there. You know that the spirit has been captured because you've been there.
So I'm not really giving you technique, but I really believe that the spirit is the technique. Look at Elvin Jones. It's his love and emotion that makes whatever he plays tremendous, even if it's sloppy. You dig him for that. I think that drummers are really gifted to have the talent of rhythm, because rhythm is the spirit. Drummers are some of the best people walking the earth, because they are in touch with the higher power-the rhythm power. I think that a lot of drummers could make great producers, songwriters, or anything they want to be, because they know what it's like to be the heartbeat of the music.

RM: In fact, due largely to yourself and Phil Collins, people can now accept the idea of a drummer being a producer. But what about ten years ago? Did you encounter any resistance when you first tried to expand into other areas besides drumming?
NMW: Yeah. In fact, that's why I left New York. After playing with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, I could only get gigs as a fusion drummer. I got a call from Weather Report and played on the Black Market album, I did some things with Tommy Bolin, and I did some rock things that had some fusion feeling to them. I understood the pop sensibility, but I never got calls for that music.

So I moved to California, because the people out there weren't so conditioned to me being just a fusion musician or a jazz cat. I really think that moving to San Francisco helped me open some doors that I wouldn't have opened otherwise, because I was able to get a fresh start. But even so, I realized that I would have to make my own records to prove my point. People are not going to call you to produce something unless you've proven yourself somewhere along the way. That's just the way it is in life.

RM: Did being a producer teach you anything about being a drummer?
NMW: Yeah, I think that's how I was able to learn the power of not overplaying. If you can say things simply, they can come off a lot stronger. If you listen to some of my early records, I'm playing everything there is to play. But I had to learn how to say it in a few words, rather than in paragraphs. A lot of drummers get in the habit of playing a lot of fills. But after you get in a situation where you have to just play time without any fills, you really start to realize how important a fill is. Then, when it's time to play a fill, you know that you can only play one thing and so it better be something good.

Sometimes you have to be in prison before you can appreciate being free. After you get out of prison, a single tree can have so much significance. You don't need a whole forest; just a single tree is beautiful. Music is like that. John Coltrane understood how to play over changes; look at "Giant Steps." After he did that, he could express freedom. His freedom was so beautiful, because he understood the discipline of not being free. So after all of the sessions I've done where I've just played strict time with no fills, if I were to play some fusion music, I think I'd be much better at it because I would appreciate what I was doing more.
You have to learn to put your ego in the backseat and let the music be what it needs to be. It's like being a member of Duke Ellington's orchestra. You can't just save your intensity for solos. You have to play the ensemble figures with the same intensity. You can't lose interest just because you're not in the spotlight, because then the music will suffer.
When you play live, you have to project more energy, but in the studio, you don't have to overact. It's like the difference between doing a play on Broadway and making a movie. On Broadway, you have to really project your voice so that everyone can hear you. But in a movie, they can come in for a closeup, and you can be a lot subtler and even whisper. So a record is like a closeup.

RM: Do you play on everything that you produce?
NMW: Yeah, I do.

RM: Have you ever produced other drummers?
NMW: Many years ago, on the first records I produced, Tony Williams, Lenny White, and Steve Jordan each played tracks. But outside of that, I haven't. It's not that I wouldn't want to; it just hasn't worked out. I know what I have to have, so it's much easier to just go ahead and play it.

RM: What happens when you produce a group like theStarship, who has a drummer? Why did you play instead of Donny Baldwin?
NMW: That was a situation where they needed the track cut fast, but they were on the road. Had they made it back in time, I would have used Donny, because he has great time. But they didn't get back in time, so I went ahead and did it. I tried to enter Donny's consciousness and play what I thought he would have played. But if he had been there, it wouldn't have been a problem. If somebody I produce wants to play the drums, fine.

RM: What is your usual procedure when you record the drums? Do you put the drums down first, or do you start with a drum machine and then replace it at some point?
NMW: It depends. Sometimes I like to program a Linn and have the other musicians rehearse with it while I listen. That way, I understand the song better than if I were sitting behind the drums thinking about where to put fills and so on. When you do that, you don't get the overall picture. So I start with the machine. Then, once we're all cool about what we're going to do, I'll go to the drums and we'll cut together. But it's really important I get a handle on the song first, so I don't end up walking all over someone else's part.

RM: But you do like to cut live with the rhythm section?
NMW: Oh yeah. Again, it's the spirit. But if I happen to like the sound of the machine on a certain song, then I might just add some live hi-hat and cymbals, or some live toms. Combinations of drum machine and live drums always work well. There's no one set rule for me.

RM: Could you give some specific examples of different things you've done?
NMW: Okay. There's a song on Aretha's Who's Zoomin' Who album called "Until You Say You Love Me." l wanted something really eerie for that song, so I recorded a pattern on the Linn at very high speed. Then, when I slowed it down, it had a really different kind of sound.

On Aretha's song "Freeway Of Love," I knew that it had to have enormous spirit, so I played on that one. The song "Who's Zoomin' Who" needed the cuteness of a cheap little drum machine, so I used a little 808. Big, fat drums would have taken the charm out of that song.

RM: What kind of tips could you give drummers about getting good sounds in the studio?
NMW: Well, it's so subjective. I could sit here and say, "You've got to have a big, fat snare." But there's Steve Jordan with his high-pitched snare drum, and it's great. So I'd have to say that you should just go for what you love. That's the beauty of life and the beauty of drums. You've got all of these different kinds of drums and all these different sounds.

RM: What's your personal preference in sound?
NMW: Everything. On this tune, give me a big, fat, nasty old drum. On that tune, I want a ticky little Motown thing. There is no rule for me. I hate rules. I have a bunch of snare drums and a collection of different sounds. So rather than say what kind of drum someone should have, I'd say that the important thing is to have an engineer who can get whatever kind of sound you can envision. I work with a very talented man named Dave Frazer. He's wide open and has a lot of imagination. I can say, "Fraze, this song is called 'Explosion,' so the snare has got to be a killer. It has to have crack, but it also needs depth." He'll get it. So you need a good engineer who knows how to mike. Tom Lord Alge did a great job on the Steve Winwood song "Higher Love." Proper miking is important.

RM: You play other instruments, and you've got a great career going as a producer. But you still identify yourself first as a drummer. Why is that so important to you?
NMW: I could just say that I like to beat on things, but actually it's deeper than that. I think that rhythm is joy, and my soul's deepest response is to rhythm. When I play, I become a child again. You can see it in my face. Ever since I was a little boy, I wanted drumsets for Christmas. I would destroy them in a matter of hours, because the toy drumsets weren't much heavier than paper. But I was so excited to have a drumset. So I guess it was predestined for me to be a drummer. I learned to play piano, because there was a piano in the house and my family loved music. But whenever I heard music, I always gravitated towards the sound of the drums.

It's a real God gift, and one that I'm happy to have. Again, rhythm inspires the world to be happy, and I feel a real connection with that. In all cultures, the striking of a drum signifies the divine qualities of freedom and liberation. I love melody, and that's why I got into piano, but my soul is free on drums because I've taken the time to understand how to play them.
I think also that I've always been impressed by the dynamic spirit of drummers. Drumming is a lot like sports in that way. When I was a young child, I liked to watch boxers. It wasn't the blood and gore that attracted me, but the emotion on the boxers' faces. It's that immediacy, like before you can even think about it, it's done. Muhammad Ali used to say that he would have to watch the film to tell you what he did, because it happened so fast. Music is like that. When you're playing with a John McLaughlin, there's that same depth of emotion. You can see it in the musicians' faces. First, it takes that God gift of being able to hear. But then it takes concentration to be able to focus on it and hold it. And like a boxer, if you lose your concentration, you won't see that punch coming, and you'll be knocked down.

RM: When you brought up that image of a boxer, I couldn't help thinking of the way Elvin Jones looks when he plays.
NMW: Yeah, it's the same thing. He's not fighting, but it's the same passion. He's dealing with something, and it's beautiful. When you play with that much feeling, a higher spirit comes down and moves you, and moves the audience. "Grateful" is the only word I can use to express how I feel about having the chance to he a musician who can move and touch others. I think that God wants me to play drums to inspire people. Drums can proclaim victory, and that's something I feel very akin to-the positiveness of victory.

Look at Phil Collins. He always says that drumming is his first love, because he took the time to learn the instrument, and it inspires everything he does. In fact, rhythm is the key to so much of the popular music today. All of those who are making hit records have a strong connection with rhythm. If they don't, they don't make it. Melody often takes a secondary position, Don't get me wrong. Melody is beautiful. A great melody and a great lyric will touch the heart. But competition is very real in this world. You need the edge, and the edge is rhythm. The way to take a great melody and a great lyric and have it be a number-one record is through the phrasing-how you say it rhythmically. Rhythm will make or break that record.

RM: A moment ago, you said that your soul is free on drums because you took the time to understand how to play them. A few years ago in an MD interview, you spoke of wanting to start a drum school. Is that something you still plan to do?
NMW: Yes, I do. I haven't done it yet because I got trapped into the thing of being so busy. Everybody in the world is calling, and I love it. After you work all of your life to build up a reputation, you can't tell people, "Sorry, I haven't got time." But I think that a drum school would be a great service to humanity, and it's something I'd really like to be a part of. It would be great if Steve Smith or Danny-or whoever-wanted to be involved. The thing that inspired me was that I used to teach at Drummers Collective in New York when they first opened. It was great, and I hope to have time to teach again in the future.

RM: Would you say that you have a different approach to teaching?
NMW: Yeah, very different. When I taught at Drummers Collective, I would work with the students on rudiments just so they could build up some speed, but then I'd go to the keyboards so that we could play some music together. It was a more musical experience than if I had just been breathing down their necks saying, "You're not holding the sticks correctly."

I also like to teach with two drumsets, so that we can do a call-and-response type of thing. That's how they teach in India. The teacher throws something out and you answer. Actually, that's how a lot of kids in this country learn to play guitar. They'll put on an Eric Clapton record and play it over and over until they learn to play all of his licks. Then they'll take those licks and make them part of their own repertoire.
Drummers can do that same thing. A lot of times, students will ask, "How can I feel freer in five or seven?" The first step is to listen to the greats who have done it. Once you learn how to hear it, then you can do it. Listen to Billy Cobham. Listen to Gadd. If there's a record you admire, analyze it. I don't think that people take enough time to digest what has already been given. Everybody's so concerned with the latest thing, but so much truth has come down that we have yet to digest. You can take just one lick that Gadd played and interpret that in ten different ways. All drummers have their thing that they do. Cobham had his thing on the toms. I learned what he did, and then I would break it up my own way. I found that emulating other players was a great way for me to learn. Before I knew it, I wasn't just emulating what I heard someone else do, but it had become part of my thing. It's important to learn what the other cats are doing, but then you have to use your imagination to bring something new to it.
So that's how I would teach. I'd play a lick, and if I'd see the students' eyes flash, then I'd teach them that lick. "I'll play it, and then you play it. No, that's not quite it. Listen to it again. Now you try it again." We would just keep throwing things back and forth. When you hear somebody play something, it can inspire you to greater heights, like the way I was inspired by Danny when we played together.
So then I might hold a groove and have them solo over me. I'd listen to how well they locked in with my time feel, so that they would not just be soloing in a mindless fashion. Then I would have them hold a groove while I'd solo, and I would let them hear how I'd be aware of the time they would be establishing even though I'd be doing a solo.
After we'd done enough of that, I would go to the piano and play grooves so that we could just work on time. Once we had the time established, I'd tell them to play fills. What happens a lot of times is that the time creeps up a little when you try to do a fill. So you have to learn how to control it. John McLaughlin used to ask, "Which horse is the strongest: the horse that can run down the hill the fastest, or the horse that can slow down and stop halfway down the hill?" So you've got to learn to ride that horse. That was something that I had to work on. Many times I'd get so excited by this guy wailing on guitar that, before I knew it, the time would be creeping. A little bit of that is okay, because it's a very human emotion. But you have to make sure that you are controlling it, rather than having it control you.

RM: Having the students imitate what you are playing is very similar to the way we learn to speak.
NMW: Yes, it's much like that. I find that I get good results that way. I also believe in tape recording lessons, because there's usually too much information to digest all at once. If I were to take a lesson from Elvin, Tony Williams, or anybody, I would want to tape it so that I could go back to the things I didn't understand and work with them until I did understand.

RM: You talk about being free and flying on the drums. When you do that, you can't be worrying about making mistakes. You have to take some risks, because you'll never get very far if you always play it safe. But how do you learn to let go?
NMW: It's just a matter of gaining confidence. Let's say a new dance comes out. When it first comes out, you don't want to do it because you don't know how to do it. But then you see some people doing it, so you go home and figure out how to do it. Then you go to some parties, and you do this dance. Before you know it, people are saying, "Wow, you really do that dance good." When you hear them say that, you start to gain some confidence. You start adding some of your own little moves to it. Then you start asking girls to do the dance with you. Your confidence is shining now.

So the point I'm trying to make is that, in drumming or anything else you do in life, confidence comes from doing something. After you play drums long enough, when you hear something that you want to do, you go for it, and you trust that your instincts will get you through it. You will stumble a lot at first, but you realize that the only way to get good is by stumbling. It's like in tennis. When you start out, you can't be worried about winning. You've got to learn how to make all kinds of shots, and a lot of times, you're going to knock the ball out of the court. But that's how you learn to control the ball, and that's the only way you're going to get good. Prince is like that in his music. Some songs are real duds, but others are masterpieces, because he really takes broad strokes, as opposed to just really calculating what's going to be a hit.
So with drumming, I'd say to people that they should acknowledge the discipline of time and learn the craft, but as you're doing that, stretch, stretch, stretch. That's the only way that you're going to have your own style, and it's so important to have your own style. But if you're timid and afraid to try things, it's never going to come out. John McLaughlin was very instrumental in helping me to do that. He would come behind my drumkit when I'd be soloing, and he'd grab my sleighbells, shake them, and say, "Enjoy the Supreme, Narada. Enjoy the Supreme." He'd be pushing me to give everything I could give, and I'd just be crying-playing things I never thought I could play. There's so much to give, but it's not just a matter of how many notes you're playing. It can be the simplest thing, but you're really feeling it.

RM: You seem to believe that freedom, then, is somewhat dependent on a disciplined knowledge of the instrument.
NMW: Well, I do think it's important that people feel the freedom to play the drums. You don't have to study. There are many great musicians who just pick up an instrument, and their love of it just manifests itself. So I wouldn't want to confine people, but I'd try to make them realize the importance of knowing what the masters before them have discovered. It's important to know the tools of your trade. Yes, play your instrument on your own, but also take the time to know your rudiments so that you can be even better than you might be on just your natural instinct.

Look at Sugar Ray Leonard. He obviously has a great natural talent for boxing. But by working with a great trainer and learning all of the different punches and combinations, he was able to sustain a world championship, as opposed to winning and losing and winning and losing. His study and training gave him consistency. That's what musicians need. It's very frustrating when you feel that one night you're great and the next night you're not so great. I went through that, and it was terrible to feel like "I'm great; I'm horrible; I'm great; I'm rotten."
So I'm a believer of both: You have to have natural ability, but you also need to understand the technique so that your soul can blossom through it. Just to have technique-there are many drummers who only have technique, but no soul power. You don't want to have the technical knowledge with nothing behind it. If you had to make a choice, it would be better to have the soulfulness and not know any technique. But the best thing is to have both. That way, you are inspired, and you have the technique to give that inspiration to others.
To up-and-coming drummers I would say, "Realize the God in yourself. Realize that the spirit in you is a real inner shrine. To help that inner shrine speak, know your rudiments. And if you can listen to the masters that have come before you, it will inspire you."

RM: You mentioned Benny Benjamin earlier. Who were some of the other masters that inspired you?
NMW: There are so many. A guy who was a big inspiration to me when I was in high school was Sandy McKee, who played with a group called Cold Blood. He is one of the most underrated drummers in the world.

RM: I remember Steve Jordan talking about Sandy McKee.
NMW: Oh man, if you want to hear some inside funk, listen to this guy. I also dig Phil Collins. Talk about playing to full capacity-he does it. When you see Genesis live, Phil and Chester really get it going. It's not really complicated stuff, but it's all worked out and they get some voodoo happening.

There are a lot of bad cats. Omar [Hakim] is a great drummer, and he keeps good time. I miss Jordan on the Letterman show. I miss that high, pingy snare drum he had. Tony Thompson is another one I like. I wish that more people would listen to some of the forefathers, like Max Roach. He's still making records, but it's like they're in a bin in the back. Do you know what I mean? Art Blakey plays with a lot of spirit. I see him play, and it's like I'm looking at a great Nigerian king. He's got some chops, too. Art Blakey was the first guy to make jazz swing like rock 'n' roll. There's a song by Jimmy Smith called "The Sermon" that takes up a whole side of an album. That was my favorite record when I was 11 years old, because Art was laying down that backbeat, and I could relate to the backbeat.
Mitch Mitchell was a big influence on me, because he was one of the few drummers in the '60s who could really play. He understood rock power, but he also had some chops. He really inspired me to develop good hands. Nowadays there are so many good drummers, but back when I was coming up in the '60s, you could count the bad cats on your hand. Everyone's so much better today. It's inspiring.
I feel a kinship with so many drummers. There are a lot of great people who have made it and who are still struggling to make it that need to be reminded that drummers have a special mission. When we hit the drum, it inspires and makes a difference, even if we're just playing in some hole-in-the-wall club. I can remember playing in a lot of little nightclubs with smoke all over the place, but people would come up and say, "Wow, you play with so much spirit! Are you going to be here tomorrow night, too?" People need music. It's a real gift, and it's tangible. People feel that, because they can't see the spirit, then maybe the spirit is not real. But it is, and music can really do a lot of good for the world.
So to all of my brothers and sisters who play drums, I want to say that you must never forget the power of your heart's love, so that you can truly do what the Supreme wants you to do. Being able to communicate through music is a gift that God gives us, and we must always try to please the Supreme.

RM: I'm sure it's not difficult to feel that you're playing for the Supreme when you're working with Mahavishnu, but what about a drummer who's working in small clubs? It's not always easy to feel inspired in a situation like that.
NMW: We bring a lot of problems on ourselves, and I'm as guilty of that as anyone. Many times we feel, "I'm stuck in this situaton," and it's hard to rise above that, but you can make anything beautiful if you choose to. In my life, I played many holes in the wall, but I would stick a flower on my drums, or I would take a photograph of someone I loved. You need to find a way to inspire yourself. Have a picture of your mother, your father, Jesus Christ, Buddha, or whoever inspires you. In my case, Sri Chimnoy inspires me. But there are many roads to God, and you have to find your road.

Another thing is to be clean. Have clean hands when you play the drums. Make sure you smell good. Be pure. Go out and run, and work up a sweat. Be in good shape. Breathe properly. Do things that inspire purity, because purity inspires inspiration. If you have to play the drums in a rotten atmosphere, just try to rise above that and inspire yourself. Inspire your life and then everything you do will be inspired.
It's all a matter of love. I felt love for John McLaughlin. Elvin felt love for John Coltrane, and that's why Elvin could do what he did every night at such an extreme height. You could hear that love. That's what we need more of: more love for ourselves and for the situations that we're in. Bands break up left and right because they can't stand each other. Well, who's problem is that? You're going to have problems with people no matter what band you're in. You've got to learn how to jump some of these hurdles.
That stuff all surfaces when you play. You can see people's insecurities, their doubts, their loves, their joys-everything surfaces when you play music. Drummers have big hearts, and sometimes they run into confusion because life has many obstacles. So you need to take time to nourish yourself. You've got to meditate, man. Meditation is simply being able to concentrate on your own inner being, so that your own uniqueness can shine. Take what you're good at and intensify it. There is no fixed goal. The music can grow every day.