An Interview: Willie Waldman
J-man: How are you today, Willie?
Willie: I am trying to book an Umphrey’s McGee… I have a little side band with Umphrey’s McGee called North Indiana Allstars, and I’m trying to throw together a late show in Milwaukie and hype it up right now to the guys (Laughs).
J-man: That’s great!
Willie: So, we’ll see if we can make it happen. So that’s what I’m up to.
Willie: Other than that I’ll be taking off to play with Robbie Kreiger the guitarist of the doors, tomorrow.
J-man: I’m going to start in with a few of the questions, if you don’t mind. What are your thoughts on the festival scene?
Willie: Oh, that’s a good one. Some are cool… Boy there are some bogus ones too. You’ve got your really corporate ones; which some times aren’t very fun to play. Meaning the Lollapallooza’s and stuff. There are so many security guards and you never have the right pass. It’ll take all of the fun out of it real quick. Even though there’s fifty thousand people there.
Then you have some of these small one’s that can be really fun like Muncie! Some have worked out and some have been a disaster; where you show up and there are five cars (Laughs)… and the guy doesn’t have any money (Laughs). You know what I mean?
Willie: Then you’ve got the middle ones like 10,000 Lakes or some of them that are usually pretty fun. A lot of that to is weather dependant too, man. I was at moe.down one year where it rained literally three days straight. There was mud knee deep and it was cold so… Yeah the music was great, but it’s kind of rough when you’ve got two hundred people out in the pouring rain.
J-man: Yeah, that’ll put a damper on things… Literally.
Willie: Yup, and some of them I think lack focus. What I mean by “lack focus”, there are like five stages going on at the same time. It’s like the battle of the bands on frat row. You know, every frat house has got a band, and there’s like no focus…
Willie: You know what I mean?
J-man: I do.
Willie: Sometime I like if they only have one or two stages. We played Summer Camp one year and we were up against George Clinton.
Willie: (Laughs) You know, that’s alright… We still had a couple hundred, but you know what I’m getting at. And sometimes it sounds like you’ve got three different bands sound mixing up… (Sigh) I don’t know…
J-man: I understand what you’re saying.
Willie: So that’s a funny one… Focus.
J-man: I agree with you totally.
Willie: Well, you know what I mean, Man? It’s cool to see some of these lesser bands too. That’s another thing; instead of having like a hundred bands, have some lesser bands, have like twenty bands! That way those guys actually get a chance… Instead of putting all of those poor bastards out in Timbuk Tu, you know what I‘m saying?
J-man: Right, and I think it’s pretty clear which festivals are about music and which festivals are about money. I think that’s pretty apparent.
Willie: Yeah, that’s kind of a rotten one, the money one… I mean, you spend three grand on plane tickets and you get there and the guy is broke. Why did you just spend seventy thousand dollars on staging and act like you’re a trust fund kid with a million dollars and really you don’t even got a hundred dollars in your pocket?
We’ve run into a couple of those. It just blows my mind that guy would bet one hundred thousand dollars in expenses without a nickel in his pocket, thinking just because he’s been on a couple of Phish tours that everything’s going to be ok.
That was a rough one…
J-man: What do you do when that happens… If you show up and there is no money?
Willie: You know what it was; Dogstock… That’s what I’m really crying about. There was this guy down in Melbourne, Kansas. The worst part is guy was already in collections. You want to give Waldman a bad check and think it’s cool? No. He tells me to meet him at his house, three hours later there’s no one there.
J-man: Good, god…
Willie: So we spent all weekend going around on a golf cart trying to get payments, just to get a bad check. It wouldn’t have been as big of a deal, but I had to bring John Molo, Steve Perkins, half of L.A… And then I’m supposed to feel bad for you? Why the fuck am I out three thousand bucks? I ain’t rich. You can’t let something like that effect you, but in retrospect; we’re all a little weary of these smaller fests just because of that… Which kind of sucks too in it’s own way.
Then there that festival in Muncie. We go down there and the thing was killer, so you never know.
J-man: What was the festival called that had the financial issues?
Willie: It was called “Dogstock”. It was down in Melbourn, Kansas. It went down about two or three years ago and everybody got burned. Most of these guys sued the guy, but I didn’t bother with all of that; it is what it is.
J-man: Yeah you cut your losses at that point.
Willie: I guess the real mistake was not getting a deposit, but you try to believe people. I think the guy meant good, but he was just betting everything shit on people coming out in the middle of nowhere camping, not really knowing what he’s doing.
J-man: That also happened with this shitty little festival called “Grateful Garcia Gathering” in Wisconsin and a couple of other festival across the country. It sucks to see that, but you would think those people would try to make amends; even if down the road to try to pay these musicians back. Usually those fests just fall to the way side. But this shithead in Wisconsin is still holding his shitty festival and fucking people over.
Willie: Some of these; you need to have a check before you start. A couple of them have lied to me. They act like rich kids. Basically what they are trying to say is “I have a hundred grand in the bank. I can write a check no problem.” If you’re going to throw something like that… Even the guy who threw Woodstock had a backer with two million dollars. If they needed, there was a guy there to write a check. A lot of these kids don’t have a dime to their name… So they have no business doing this stuff.
I mean, I wouldn’t risk that kind of money on the whims of who is going to come to some crazy festival. (Laughs)
J-man: Right, it’s a crapshoot.
Willie: Right. Budget it. Fine, let’s do a nice little super kegger party. But we don’t need to rent seventy thousand dollars in staging and lighting. Get you a nice little PA, get you a couple of lights… You know what I’m sayin’?
J-man: Yeah, I do and I agree.
Willie: Do what you can afford. Some nice local bands. Why promise Galactic thirty grand, if you don’t have thirty grand?
Willie: I mean, that’s really the problem; these guys start bringing in all of these out of town guys and they don’t have money for them. But if it’s the guys within’ fifty miles; fine, lets have a kegger. It’s a whole different thing when you’re flying people in and stuff.
J-man: Absolutely. Once it goes beyond the regional thing, you’re talking about an exponential amount additional expenses.
Willie: Yeah and some guy needs to have that money. I had a guy out here in Indiana did it and had a little fest. I kept asking him “You’ve got the money?” “Sure, sure.” Alright, I didn’t get it; ok. So I paid everybody out of my own pocket. Next thing you know the guy gets his knees taken out because he borrowed thirty grand from the mob.
Willie: He really did borrow thirty grand from the construction mob, and they came and broke his knees. Think about it, “Why?” It’s like in all of these movies, you see these guys take out thirty grand for some stupid basketball game and Vinnie comes lookin’ for him (Laughs).
Willie: Why would you bet thirty grand of the mob’s money?
J-man: That’s insane.
Willie: Enough of that, what else?
Willie: (Laughs) You got me going…
J-man: Can you talk about your experience as a session musician as opposed to a touring musician?
Willie: Yeah, there is a big difference there. Oh, that’s an interesting one since we’re talking business! First off; Session musician. Number one you got to do everything, so not necessarily what you like. I got into a lot of hip-hop… Snoop Dogg and stuff, which at the time I couldn’t say that I really liked. My best friend was engineering that stuff at Death Row (Records), but that was a lot of hanging out. So basically you go to the studio with no expectations, especially with the brothers. I’d play a little trumpet here and smoke lots of free blunts… That was a good part of it; lots of free blunts!
J-man: I’m sure…
Willie: “What do you do?” “I play trumpet.” “Ah, he worked on that motherfucker’s song.” Something that’s kind of fun; you’ve got to do a part for a guy… Snoop Dogg would be like “I want Dah bah dah bop rap rap rap rap. Dah bah dah dah” So you got to learn “Dah bah dah bop”
Willie: … And I’m trying to figure out what the hell he’s talking about, right? Number one. So I have to learn that and pretty much stick to it. If he wants “duh duh duh duh duh dah dunt. Duh duh duh duh duh duh dunt.” you’re not going “dee dah dah dee dah dah dah dunt.” So you have to roll with it and stick to whatever they give you.
Then the next… This is a fun one; when the record label.. They hold you money ninety days to a good six months. That’s one of the reasons I got back into to touring was because it always waiting on the money with those cats… And calling some crazy accountant at the record office. “Oh, your check is in the mail.” To weeks later, “Where’s my check?” “Oh, we’ll get it to you in two more weeks…” “Where is my check? I’m going to come down and pick it up.” “No, no, no, no…” Anyway, eventually you see the dumb thing. But, by that time you’re starved. (Laughs)
A lot of hanging out I’d say the big difference is you don’t want to be tied up with studio shit. I missed a couple of decent tours. I’d rather go hang out with Jane’s Addiction. When I finally got the call, I was on a plane to Idaho, Damn! (Laughs)
Willie: Fuck. Damn. Shit… But what am I going to do? (Laughs) Oh well. So it might take a week or two of hanging out to get some stuff and then they may not even use it. So the real goal is, to get all kinds of stuff and a couple will pop up… A couple will make it. Like it took a couple of times hanging out with Sublime to get one, but six or seven different songs before he went with one. A lot of those guys do a lot of songs. Rapper do… Oh thirty, forty, fifty songs in a month…
Willie: Yeah, they do a lot of songs. Tupac did three a day. It’s a whole different vibe when these white boys sit there and mess around with a tune. The homeboys, man; they’re movin‘. So, like 50 cent and those cats… they’ll have like four versions of a song. So, a version with horns, or strings… Then there is another version with maybe three instruments. Then there is a band version that’s disco’d out.
One of my biggest songs “California Love” with Tupac was actually a remix. I’m on all of the original tracks. The funny thing is the version that became famous is the one with the horn parts. But I had about ten that didn’t become famous. Like the Chili Peppers; I did some stuff with them, but they never used it. They deleted the parts. We got paid… It just never got used.
J-man: I see. What was the highlight of your musical career?
Willie: Hmmm… I would say… Oh… Playing with Satriani at Madison Square Garden was pretty good one. There is a Youtube video of that… Also, playing with Bob Weir for the first time. I was a Deadhead on new years of the year 2000. Getting a platinum record with Snoop Dogg and those guys. The Death Row stuff was pretty cool. It was really cool… And it was a fun scene too. It was a good time… Just that whole sort of 90’s/2000 hip-hop era in L.A. was just a really good time.
J-man: I can imagine.
Willie: Some of this jamband stuff has been fun too, I’ve got to admit. I like some of the jamband shit too.
J-man: The Willie Waldman Project is a rotating cast of musicians, how do you feel about having a different band all of the time as opposed to a band with set members?
Willie: I like the different band and it roots in my session playing, because we had different people all the time. We’d have new guys walk into the studio and nail a number one record. That was a Steely Dan concept and it’s also very rooted in Miles Davis and John Coltrane. None of those guys had a set band. Especially in the electric era, I know Miles… and guys that played with Coltrane. He had different drummers and bass players. A set band, you get very set in what the other guys gonna play. But since I’m doing an experimental improv thing, it’s really good to mix it up. To have some new guys and even some young kids with no credits.
It’s like; one of my versions of Banyan with Nells Cline, Mike Watt and Perkins; we first started doing this… it formed into a set in 99. Meaning, we did a lot of freeform but after four years it turned into a set, which we recorded on Sanctuary Records called “Perkins Balance” and it went from freeform into a set. So, I like mixing up this freeform stuff… To go back to our original topic. We’re always making this stuff up. It’s no songs, no pre-conceived ideas. It’s really cool to be mixing it up, I think. I’m not trying to get set things.
J-man: I’ve heard you’re a partier… Is there any truth to that?
Willie: I have a good time.
J-man: You have a good time…
Willie: I don’t know… I go both ways; sometimes I go to bed at 9:00 at night and I don’t do shit… But trippin’ and all of that… I love trippin’… and I like to have a beer when I’m playing for some reason and I have a good time, man! But, I’m balancing out. I don’t get too nuts. But I’ve got a saint wife. I’ve got kind of got the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde thing which I guess keeps me in one piece.
J-man: Right on.
Willie: It’s not 24/7 (Laughs). I come from the rockstar L.A. world. You know, smoke some good pot. (Laughs) I love some good pot. (Laughs) A little bit of whiskey and a beer. Yeah, man! I mean, you got a mushroom? Fine! (Laughs)
Willie: Where I grew up, we partied a lot down there, playing with Albert King and it was just that kind of scene. You know, the young kids don’t really party… (Laughs) Have a whiskey with your beer. You know what helps me with some of that is I practice two or three hours a day. So that if I do have five beers, I’ve been practicing two or three hours a day. A lot of these guys, they pick up their instrument at the gig! So they’re struggling. When I show up to a gig, I’ve already played two hours.
So when I show up at a gig, I don’t want to say it’s a crutch. You know I’ve been playing enough. It’s not like I haven’t touched my fuckin’ horn in two weeks. In my book, what’s worse than partying is lack of practice. I’ve run into a lot of cats, where all they do is pick up their horn or their guitar at the gig. They can be straight and they suck ass. Their scales aren’t that fluid or they’re hesitating, this and that. It ain’t cause they’re messed up, it’s because they aren’t practicing enough so they’re fluid. But yeah, I do like to have a good time.
I hate to say it but my whole generation; Snoop, Flea, the Jane’s Addiction cats… Our whole generation was a blunt and a Coniac. But our whole generation practiced. Some of these youngsters; the only time they play is at the gig. I think you’re limiting your horizons. I’ve got a couple of them, I’m not going to name them. I bought them music books recently, but I can’t get none of them to practice… And they’re giving me shit about having a beer. I’m like “Come on man, you’re not really taking it serious if you don’t pick up your guitar every morning and do something.” At least try to expand the variety of what you’re doing.
Ok, you’ve got your modes good, and minor chords but you don’t know augmented and diminished… What’s wrong with learning some of that? “Uh blah blah blah… I don‘t know.”
J-man: Your responses have been great. I do a lot of interviews, but this is entertaining.
Willie: (Laughs) Good! It should be funny!
J-man: I don’t often get to ask people if they like to party… But I figured I’d take that shot with you.
Willie: That was a good one, because I know it’s out there, man. But I’m not trying to hide either. Fuck that, you know?
J-man: I am the same way.
Willie: Good or bad, it is…
J-man: It is what it is.
Willie: I think trying to hide it is worse… But whatever.
J-man: What do you have planned for this spring/summer?
Willie: We’re just having fun. But, not tons… I have a Clifford Brown Jazz Fest I’m playing with Eric Krasno of Soulive. I’ve never played with him, so I’m excited… and Freakbass. Clifford Brown was a famous trumpeter. So, they needed a trumpeter, hehe. Other than that; I’m going canoeing, man. I’m doing seventy five miles of boundary waters. I’ve got some gigs spread out.
You know the keyboardist form Umphrey’s McGee (Joel) just got married so I left him alone for the last two months. But, I want to get some gigs going with those guys… I like those guys. Yeah, our little band The North Indiana Allstars. That probably won’t take til August, but that’s ok. I couldn’t really bug the guy in the middle of his wedding. (Laughs)
Willie: … But, you know. I like Jake a lot. He lives up here with me in Northern Indiana.
J-man: They’re a great band. I’ve been really impressed by how they have progressed over the course of the decade. I mean, they’re at the top of the Jamband/Festival scene right now.
Willie: They should be. They’ve got their shit together. That dude, Jake can play, man. That guy practices… That guy is good. Those bands up here, everybody grew up on Beethoven, Bach, and lots of practicing and a band director in your face.
J-man: Yeah those guys are great.
Willie: I’d say they’re the best… Besides Phish. Trey ain’t no joke either. But Phish and them, to me; are the best cats out there as far as that thing goes. They (UM) has to work on their song-writing a little it and their vocals and they’ve got a real chance of a break out… and a big one, you know what I mean?
J-man: Absolutely. Willie, thank you so much for one of the more entertaining conversations that I’ve had recently.
Willie: Sure. Thank you, man.
Willie called me back a half hour later to make the point that the Dogstock gig where they didn’t get paid; was actually a blast. He had a great time, met great people. It was one of the top three fests of the year, but when they went to collect the check; the money wasn’t there. He ended up losing $3,000 but had a great time. On the other side of that, gigs like Lollapalooza, where you can get paid $10,000... Sometimes those can be a drag even thought the money is coming in.