Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Rock Drummer Liberty DeVitto Interview By Nicholas Isaacs

Rock Drummer Liberty DeVitto Interview
By Nicholas Isaacs

Liberty DeVitto is Long Island Rock and Roll royalty. He’s best known for his thirty years as the drummer for Billy Joel on classic albums, such as “The Stranger”, and “52nd Street”, all the way through Joel’s last studio album “River of Dreams”. He has played before millions of fans across the globe and has been one of the most sought after studio drummers for other music legends. I got to ask him a few questions about how he got started, some of his most famous (and favorite) songs, and his latest projects. Here is my interview with native Long Islander and Long Island Music Hall of Fame inductee, Liberty DeVitto.  

Who inspired you to start playing the drums in the first place?

I had asked my father that question not too long ago. He said they didn’t make Prozac back then, so the drum allowed me to get my aggression out. But it was seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show that inspired me to become a musician.

Were you in band in school?

I was when I was in sixth grade, but believe it or not, I couldn’t do the buzz roll in the Star-Spangled Banner, so the teacher said “Put the sticks down DeVitto, you’ll never do anything with the drums.” I was so upset by his comment that I stopped playing until the Beatles came on American TV. I was 13 years old.

When did you first join a band outside of school?

Not long after the Beatles first came to America. I think every kid got an instrument and started a band. I did. We weren’t very good, but I loved it.

What was it like the first time you heard yourself play on the radio?

My first time was way before I was with Billy Joel. I was 19 years old when I recorded an album with a guy named Richie Supa. The album was called “Supa’s Jamboree”. It was very exciting! After Supa’s song, the DJ played a Rolling Stones song and my friend said to me, “Well, you’re in good company.”

You have a very physical and aggressive style in concert. Do you have to alter that in the studio?

I still play hard in the studio but not as “flamboyant” as live. There is no need to be a showman in the studio. Sometimes, it’s the way I tune the drums.  In “Only the Good Die Young”,  I tuned the snare drum so the head was very floppy. Depends on the song.

Was there a particular song or songs that you looked forward to playing every show?

Because I do play very theatrical with a lot of movement, I enjoy the ballads. “Honesty”, “Vienna”, and “Until the Night” were some of my favorites.

In 1987, you toured with Billy Joel for 6 concerts in the Soviet Union as one of the first western artists to play there. What surprised you the most about playing there?

The people. They were very thankful we came to play for them. I learned that all people are the same and nobody really wants to be enemies. It’s the governments that seem to start all the trouble.

Aside from Billy Joel, what other musical artists have you performed with?

Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John, Sir Mick Jagger, Steve Miller. Last night, I just played with John Popper from Blues Traveler!

I’ve been playing drums for 3 years now. Is there any advice you can give me and other drummers on how to get better?

Practice a lot. I am self taught- never took lessons. Records were my books. I use to put my headphones on and try to imitate the drummer on the record.

Any drummers, aside from yourself, that you’d recommend listening to?

No! I’m the best!!!!!!
I’m kidding! My heroes that I listened to were Ringo Starr, Dino Dinelle, Ginger Baker, Jim Capaldi, Mitch Mitchel. Then Bernard Purdy and Steve Gadd. I would recommend listening to Larry Mullen from U2. He plays to the song. Or my friend Kenny Arronoff. He is another song writers drummer like me.

Congratulations on being inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame and getting back together with the Lords of 52nd Street, Billy Joel’s original back up band with Russell Javors and Richie Cannata. What’s it like playing live with these guys again?

It is great being with old friends again playing the music we helped create. I had to learn my parts all over again. It had been so long since we played those songs.

How did you choose a singer for the group?

We needed a guy who knew the songs and was a fan of the music. Dave Clark has a tribute band so he had been playing the songs for a long time.

How did you get involved with your new band The Slim Kings?
I love classic music but I didn’t want to be in a classic rock band. The singer in The Slim Kings is 31 years old, and the bass player is 28. They bring new ideas and me, the “old school guy” shows them how it is done! Nostalgia is very popular in music today. Bruno Mars is a great example. He sounds like Prince and James Brown.

Also, congratulations on your daughter’s success as an actress! What’s it like seeing her on NBC’s “Chicago Med” every week?

I have to pinch myself. I am very proud of her as I am of my other two daughters.

I also hear you are very involved with an organization called “Little Kids Rock” that helps school districts set up music classes and delivers brand new instruments to them. That’s awesome! How can people find out more?

You can find this all out here and through Sabian Cymbals, who are a huge supporter of “Little Kids Rock”.

Thank you so much!

Thank you Nick!