AN INTERVIEW WITH DONY WYNN
By David Iozzia
When I sat down to talk with drummer/producer Dony Wynn, we were deep in the heart of Texas, rolling them up in the City of Austin. Rolling up fajitas that is, in corn and flour tortillas, in a quaint Tex-Mex restaurant.
Dave: Dony, what a pleasure and honor this is for me to finally meet you in person and to sit down and talk about music, life and the cool city of Austin. First off, my sincere condolences on the death of singer Robert Palmer. You drummed many a year, on many a tour, on almost every continent with Robert. He was a big favorite of mine, and I know a lot about Robert as a performer. Tell me about Robert the person.
Dony: Besides my parents, Robert Palmer was, and is, the singular most important person in my life.... So far. Our partnership wasn't just about music, even though it became my ticket to the world. His role as teacher to my student opened doors to literature, gastronomic delights, wine and spirits, celluloid, clothing, art, photography, different cultures, artisans of all polka dot and stripe. All in all, a guide to living well and righteously. A creature of this planet. You could say he put some spit and shine on this rube. Every mark I make in the creative domain of this life, which is just now rounding into a new chapter, there is a piece of him in it. In everything I do, Robert's always there on the sidelines, cheering me on to dig deep and be the very best I can be. My burden, his gift.
Dave: Name the single most important gig you played with Robert Palmer. Where, when and why?
Dony: I can't say that one was any more important than any other, but there are some that are standouts, for whatever reason. There was a show we did in St. Louis at the Fox Theater that was magical. Downstairs, we'd seen autograph after autograph on the walls from many a famous performer all giving big props to the theater's acoustics. As we prepared for the show we wondered why so many compliments on the acoustics, figuring everyone was just brown nosing. In the middle of "Woke Up Laughing," a most transcendental song, done in the Imburu style of several different time signatures at once, Robert strolled back to the drums (when we both had a break in the arrangement!) and we had a quick conversation, both remarking at what a magical room this was, and now we understood the kudos written on the walls beneath this stage. The song and the theater were floating as we played, like being in a studio environment, the most magical time I can ever remember on stage. Otherworldly. As it turned out, Keith Richards picked that stage to present his backing of Chuck Berry for the film, "Hail, Hail, Rock and Roll!" I know why now. We also had a great show at Town and Country in London circa 1991. An incendiary show that the BBC captured for historical sake. Nut crunching, that set, with a great meal at my favorite Indian restaurant, Khan's, afterwards. All in all a swell evening. We also played a very small theater in Munich on that same tour, and as it turned out all of our buds in Rod Stewart's band were in town with a night off. When your peers are in the audience you tend to pick up your game a notch or two. We did. We threw down and the boys in Stewart's band were sent reeling. Mission accomplished. Like babies with big dicks.
Dave: Is playing on "almost every continent" an accurate statement? Tell me about the one spot on this planet that you did not play with Robert but wish you had?
Dony: Fairly accurate, safe to say. But one place I always wanted to go, but we didn't at the time due to the unstable nature of the governments, was South America. Buenos Aires in particular. Have always been fascinated by that locale. Still. And if I do, I will disappear for a few days to the South Pole, get lost for a while.... about the only pristine place left on Earth.... gotta hear the silence... leave humanus walkus erectus far behind.
Dave: Robert Palmer seemed to be a magnet, attracting all types of musicians that wanted to play with him. Guitarists like Andy Taylor (Duran Duran), Steve Stevens (Billy Idol), Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme), and bands like The Meters, Little Feat, and UB40 come to mind. Has anybody ever turned down Robert's request to play for him?
Dony: AC-DC's Angus Young. And also Jeff Beck. The only two who ever declined our invite. Angus' reasoning was straight ahead. Their members never play with anyone else. Jeff on the other hand just doesn't give a shit about much else except tinkering with his hot rods. He does albums to finance his car habit. Beck is in a league of his own, too; like Miles Davis or Hendrix, they are off in their own world doing whatever in the hell strikes their muse, and is probably the only way they get off, by going out to that edge of that cliff and diving off where most are even afraid to climb the mountain in the first place. I'd had a chance to play with Jeff Beck and Randy Jackson at a NAMM Show one year, but two weeks before rehearsals Jeff dropped an engine block on his thumb, thereby canceling the showdown. Shame that, was looking forward to it. As it was, Robert liked to hire many different folks to complement his vision, and luckily for us we had the reputation for attracting and creating with the best and brightest the world over. Not a bad situation and we took full advantage. Still wonder what would've happened with both Angus and Jeff, but I guess we'll never know....
Dave: My kid brother, Joey, has always been a musical traveling partner of mine. We've driven to many a show, in many a town. As teenagers, new wave performer Gary Numan was a favorite of ours. You recorded with him and Robert, re-doing Gary's "I Dream of Wires." Please tell me more about your interaction with Gary Numan?
Dony: Odd but likable bugger. Only ate burgers and only drank Cokes. Shifty eyes. He was on a flying tour of the world -he's a pilot- and he seemed uncomfortable with his new found fame, and that's probably why he was flying around the world in his plane, as he was, trying to elude the mania surrounding him. But he was very comfortable making music with us. Music was his comfort zone. He mentioned watching movies to get his lyrics. He plagiarized! We watched Barbarella and all during the movie he was furiously scribbling. But he played us some of his new stuff while he was there in Nassau and Robert was immediately attracted to "I Dream of Wires." As it was, his bass player Paul Gardiner was down there visiting, and we cut a few tunes for "Clues," which was an album way ahead of its time, utilizing sequences and drum machine patterns with some odd German machines Robert had picked up in Japan. That whole album was nothing but bass sequences for me to play to. I called it the "blips and beeps" record. So it was quite shocking hearing the final mixes as I had no idea what to expect. Really proud of that record.
Gary Numan actually played a very pivotal role in Robert's development. In the early 80's while on tour for the record "Secrets," - in Salem, Massachusetts of all places- Robert came banging on my door at about midnight. I was in the company of a very sweet and sexy thing I'd met in Rochester, but hey, Robert was knocking, so I answered the door and there he stood practically shivering with excitement, like a little kid, telling me I had to listen to this new tune he'd found. Luckily for me, the gal was understanding. Well, for the next five hours, he played the Numan song, "Cars," over and over and over and over again. Damn near drove she and I crazy, but I was tickled by his manic fascination, something that would repeat itself many times during our association. And after dissecting "Cars" we plugged into a new way of analyzing the beat, utilizing drum machines into our music, for example. That's what prompted him to buy those German machines while in Tokyo. Numan was the inspiration for integrating synths and machines into our music. Something we utilized for every record since.
Dave: Robert Palmer wasn't just a great singer, he was a great songwriter. But he also covered songs by Bob Dylan ("I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"), Billie Holiday ("Don't Explain"), Marvin Gaye ("Mercy Mercy Me/I Want You"), Devo ("Girl U Want"), and Todd Rundgren ("Can We Still Be Friends?"). Which songs written by Robert could these performers have hypothetically covered and did justice to?
Dony: Bob Dylan: "Disturbing Behavior"
Billie Holiday: "Aeroplane"
Marvin Gaye: "Dance with Me"
Devo: "Your Mother Shoulda Told You"
Todd Rundgren: "She Makes My Day"
Dave: Last Robert Palmer question: Those four ladies in short black skirts from the "Addicted To Love" video. Do you have their phone numbers or e-mail addresses for a dirty, old man like myself?
Dony: Those women were way too skinny for my taste. I like them more curvy, like Brazilians and Mediterranean women, so I'm sorry, can't be of much help here as those women did diddly for me. Still don't.
Dave: Same four ladies. You're stranded on a desert island in the South Pacific. Would you rather be stranded with them, with no chance of ever getting off the island? Or, would you rather be stranded with four natives on the island with whom you could not converse, but who probably could build you a raft to one day sail away from the island?
Dony: Give me the natives every time!!!!! Bimbocity ain't no picnic on an extended basis.
Dave: Same desert island. The phrase "desert island disc" alludes to a CD or a bunch of CDs that you'd want with you if you were stranded on a desert island. I'm going to take technology a step further and ask you for a list of "desert island DVDs." What are your choices? You can name 5 DVDs: two Hollywood films, two live musical performances and a compilation of one porn star's greatest scenes.
Dony: Gosh, let's see.... here is a list of my fave rave movies knocked me out, "Barton Fink," "A Clockwork Orange," "Tender Mercies," "Happiness," "Oh Brother Where Art Thou,?" "Down By Law," "Pulp Fiction," "Being There," "Adaptation," "Tombstone," "Dr. Strangelove," "Slingblade," "Amores Perros," "Fitzcaraldo," "Snatch," "The Professional," "Rumblefish," "The Last Emperor," "It's a Beautiful Life," and "The Ship Sails On." Live performances? I don't really get off on watching music DVD's. But there is one live performance that's been captured that really moves me anytime I see a clip, and this is a live performance Bob Marley gave in London that leaves no doubt the man was blessed more so than most. Porn? Tori Wells, hands down!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Dave: After your stint with Robert Palmer, you played in football stadiums drumming for Brooks and Dunn, and you played in small clubs with the New Wave band Wang Chung. What was the biggest positive and the biggest negative playing with each of those acts?
Dony: No negatives whatsoever, even though there are times when you get frustrated with many things whilst on the road, mostly due to the uprooting of yourself from everything you hold near and dear. But still, nothing to bitch about on any level, except being away from my dogs. My relationship with them was a major reason for my leaving music for a few years. My relationship with them is extremely important, for many reasons, so I don't take it for granted at all. Positives? The list is infinite. The most obvious being able to travel the world and submerse into the cultures you encounter. Learning so many things from each performance that help you to be a better listener as well as player. Watching the landscape speed past always excites me, knowing I'm traveling to someplace that will give me a whole new set of experiences to draw from. A lifetime in each day.
Dave: How does your equipment and how does your frame of mind differ when playing stadiums versus club tours?
Dony: Arenas are different in that you must play very direct, very wide, as if you are twenty feet tall and weigh a thousand pounds. You have to make the asses move in the rows in the backs of the arena, so you have to have this massive groove to move those asses. Almost akin to being overtly dramatic as an actor in a play, you must overemphasize your performance for it to project. The groove doesn't change in the club environment, but you can see and feel the audience, whereas you can't in an arena. You just hear this huge roar coming from out of the black. Clubs are so much fun! Especially if you do like Robert did and throw in clubs amongst the bigger dates. We'd only announce our appearance the day of show on whatever local radio station, so the fans would feel they were getting a special treat, which they were, and the excitement was just nuclear. You get a real feel of the audience in a club setting. The energy exchange is something else! Equipment wise, nothing changes, except whatever artist you're backing and the tunes you are performing. The tunes dictate everything about my set-up, which changes radically because of whom I'm working with and the music we're attempting. I custom tailor every kit for every tour I do. In the studio, too. I change set-ups every song I record.
Dave: My pre-conception of Austin's music scene could not have been more wrong. I was expecting rock/blues clubs with Stevie Ray Vaughn wannabees playing everywhere. What I saw was diversity and different styles of music. Dony, please elaborate on the local musical talent that you have discovered and your future plans for producing and developing these artists?
Dony: Even though the scene is still rife with rock/blues/rockabilly/country type acts, the ones that are still championing those genres are really pushing the envelopes in many creative ways. One of the best examples is a band called Grady. Two badass gunslingers from Canada, Big Ben and Gordy, and they locked horns with Chris Layton (ex-Double Trouble), and the sound and the chemistry that these guys are tapping into is just nuclear. You'll be hearing from them. But that type of music is only a small petri dish of what's germinating in this town. You can, on any given night, see speed metal, world music, rap, experimental, pop, any number of national touring acts of every musical genre on every level from arena tours to tiny clubs. Austin has always been a music capital, but there is a most definite scene exploding here that features some of the most unique songwriters/singers I've ever heard. Not unlike San Francisco in the late 60's or Seattle in the early 90's, Austin has a thriving underground scene that is pushing the various envelopes to an all new high. There is a fierceness at making a totally unique statement that is pervasive, and everyone is very subtly challenging the other, so you end up with folks pushing themselves well beyond what they might normally offer to be able to strut their stuff their own way. And with the proliferation of great home recording equipment here, I'm hearing a return to imagination. The records that are coming from this process are mind-blowing.
I've always been connected to the music scene on an international level, and Austin has always been a place where I've spent much time and have loved dearly; so I see Austin as the most perfect place for us to launch F+M, a record company and an artists' refuge, being that we are in the middle of this explosion. I'm looking forward to immersing even further to help to record and bring to fruition many of these local songwriters and their material, and expose them to a world beyond our county lines. We will. And then I look forward to working with musicians, writers, and singers and bands from all over the world. A collaboration, a meeting of the minds, if you will, courtesy of new technologies. The dam will break once word gets out on what we're up to down here. More to come on that front. Indubitably.
Dave: What words of encouragement and advice would you offer to a band that's considering travelling to and playing in Austin for the first time?
Dony: Plan on staying for a few days! Literally, there is so much to see and do here that will be totally influential on your creative outlets. A big buzz exists here. The food is groovy. The women pretty. The trees plentiful. Living is easy. Austin is exploding with creative energy, from musics of all types, to the tech sector, the filmmaking community, the theatrical community, art of all media, it's here in spades, awash in cultures that are enriching the other in most unique ways. So I say, come get you some! Try and book several gigs for a week long stay. Make the most of the opportunity, as there aren't many cities as cool as Austin. Take it from someone who knows!
Dave: Is there one question that you've never been asked that you've always hoped an interviewer would ask? How would you answer that question?
Dony: Can I please give you millions of dollars for your time and effort? And I would've taken him up on his offer. No question.
Dave: You've played and recorded with some really good musicians throughout your career. If you could form your own rock supergroup for one CD/tour, who would be in your band?
Dony: Ooooooo, now that really depends on the tunes. Completely. But a fave rave list who could cover all bases? Hmmm..... Manny Yanes on bass, and Keith Richards on secondary bass, Adrian Belew on guitar, Ry Cooder on guitar, Tony Maiden on rhythm guitar, Bernie Worrel and Garth Hudson on keys, Riyuichi Sakamoto and Wendy Carlos on synths, Wayne Shorter on sax, Wynton Marsalis on trumpet, Jose Rossy on percussion, Big Luther Kent as lead vocalist, alongside Alison Kraus adding vocals and violins, Bjork and Tom Waits on background vocals, with Kronos Quartet string section. We'd kick butt and take names!
Dave: There's an ass-kicking rock band playing at the gates of Heaven as we speak. Robert Palmer is singing, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn are on guitar. Who is in the rhythm section?
Dony: James Jamerson and Larrie Londin.
Dave: Back in college in the late 70's, my professor in Philosophy 101 asked me my philosphy of life. I was a punk rocker then, an angry young man, and I answered "Fuck Everybody But Me." Obviously, I was young and stupid, and had experienced next to nothing at that point. With all you've done, seen, heard, and learned as you've walked planet Earth, what is Dony Wynn's Philosophy of Life?
Dony: Simply....and I'm certainly not the first to say it, but love conquers all iniquity. Embrace it. Live it. It will keep everything negative and harmful at bay, and allow you to truly live the life you were destined to lead. Don't even acknowledge that fear, doubt and worry exist, as they DON'T. Just products of your mind and perception. Ride that wave for all its worth as the shoreline is ever-changing. Change is necessary and good. Leap off the cliff every chance you get!
Dave: Dony, I'd like to thank you for letting me conduct this interview. I appreciate the words of wisdom you've given me over the years and your hospitality when I stopped by to visit you in Austin. Feel free to comment on or promote anything that I've neglected to cover.
Dony: The only thing I can add is when I parted company with Brooks and Dunn in 1999, I was happy with my musical accomplishments and if I never played another note of music, I was happy. Job well done. But my passion for music was renewed when I heard a Buddy Miller record, "Poison Love." It affected me in the same way Hendrix did many years ago. I heard a passion in their performances that motivated me to make a similar bold statement on my instrument of choice, drums. And after many years of subtly looking I found someone who inspires me the way Robert Palmer did oh so many years ago. His name is Billy Harvey. This cat is unlike anyone I've ever met, and his material is something else. Usually when you listen to someone's music you can pick out influences. When you listen to Billy's music, you can't pinpoint one influence. His is totally unique and within his song structures I'm able to exhibit a side of my drumming that no one has ever heard before. I'm totally gleeful at finding Billy and being able to make music with him. I smell great things on the horizon for this aggregation he and I have put together. If you want a sampling, go to www.billyharvey.com. Really inventive site. And with Billy color me back in the saddle again.... with a vengeance! We're gonna build this one from the ground up. In the trenches again and damn happy about it. And I'm also still fortifying on my new label, F+M (fools and madmen). We are actively working with some of the best new singer-songwriters I've been able to find along the way. All relative unknowns. And the dam will one day break on this vision with a chance to create a totally new type of music business. One never before seen. I have high aspirations for this label. My business partner and good friend Bobby Thomas and I have found a most incredible way to enter into the music business, like a cross between HBO and e-Bay, but for music. And I know that we will ultimately attract the best and brightest from all fields. That is my dream, to create an almost Disneylike atmosphere that attracts anyone worth his or her salt to be part of that creative energy. And I'm not just talking about music, I'm talking about every creative endeavor, wanting, as I see it, to synergize all the creative minds out there on accomplishing things never before seen or heard, as all these are interdependent and mutually responsible.
We live in a fantastic time. All things are possible. Imagination and fortitude are the keys to your dreams. Each day a time to build and explore what can be. Work to make it so. Yeah...