INTERVIEW WITH BOB SIEBENBERG
By his fans all over the world
Posted at “THE LOGICAL WEB”
QUESTION: Where and how did you get that original and personal way of playing drums? Did you study musical theory or are an autodidact?
BOB: I am totally self-taught. I think my personal style, and I'm glad you think that it is, has come from having good influences, going all the way back to my father's Dixieland and big band record collection.
QUESTION: What were your main influences as a drummer?
BOB: Surf music, Motown, Procol Harum, Traffic, The Band, Dr. John... I learn from everyone. Absorb and put it back out.
QUESTION: In general terms, who do you think is a more skillful songwriter/composer, Rick Davies or Roger Hodgson?
BOB: They are both strong songwriters. They come from two very different backgrounds of influences, which was a strength to the band.
BOB: Roger was brilliant acoustically: 'Know Who You Are', 'Even in the Quietest Moments'... I think it was what separated us from the pack of all those other bands in the 70s. He also had the knack of being a very commercial writer. A gift. He just could. No negative connotation meant. His lyrics were sometimes deep and searching. Rick was earthy, and he was easy to identify with. He wrote about every day stuff. And he could go deep as well. His playing was superb and his organ playing fab. He was powerful and direct. Both charming. I know they wrote separately, I was there, but what Rick brought to Roger's songs was meaningful and special. And what Rog brought to Rick's songs was too.
QUESTION: After so many years working with two geniuses like them, what did you learn from them as a songwriter?
BOB: Many things. And if I may, I believe what Dougie brought created a unique thing. What John brought was invaluable. And I like to think that what I brought made a positive difference to all of these Supertramp songs.
QUESTION: What is your favorite Supertramp song?
BOB: This is a hard one... There's something about all the Supertramp songs that I like. I think Roger’s 'Know Who You Are' is my fave, and I love ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Bonnie’.
QUESTION: What is the Supertramp song you enjoy the most while are playing it?
BOB: In terms of playing a song, they are all a challenge to make them happen the way they need to. Maybe ‘Another Man’s Woman’ is the one I would say makes me feel the best when it’s over and I have played it well. It’s a hard one for me to make happen, and when I feel I’ve played it well, it’s a great feeling. But they all get my full attention.
QUESTION: Your drums parts of those classic songs like 'School', 'Hide in Your Shell', 'Crime of the Century' or 'Another Man's Woman' are very originals in their construction and don't seem like regular drums parts... How did you create them?
BOB: 'School' was a done deal, they had played this song live for years. ‘Hide in Your Shell’ was a new song created in Southcombe and was finished in the studio with a new idea of Roger's inserted into the middle. The guitar solo section of ‘Crime of the Century’ was added as a new part in the studio. I played ‘Crime’ pretty much the way I did the first day I played with them, before I was asked to join. It was something I liked about Rick and Roger's songs when I met them. I liked that the drums were treated as any other instrument and didn't have to be in all the time.
QUESTION: Were you able to put your own ideas?
BOB: Yes, most of what you hear came out of my own head. It’s why they asked me to join, to help them make it be as good as it needed to be. Unless it was something unusual, for instance, the song ‘Even in the Quietest Moments’ was pretty hands on by Roger. The middle and the fills are from me, and the drum part in the opening verses was Roger’s idea that I had to make happen. I like it. Cool part. Rick and Roger both had great ideas for the drums. If something they suggested made it better we would go with it, then it would get sent thru my filter. Example: the drum pattern at the end of ‘Dreamer’ was essentially Roger’s, but I changed it ever so slightly. And when listening back, I played it so that the drums would travel across the stereo window. We were very much a band and were always in pursuit of making the songs as good as they could be.
QUESTION: Roger said that he used to make demos and brought them to the band, so everyone could learn his parts... Is it right?
BOB: There were no demos of ‘Hide in Your Shell’ other than the ones we made together at Southcombe. ‘Rudy’ was totally revamped at Southcombe. There was a rough demo by Rick’s of ‘Asylum’ that bears little resemblance to the recorded version. ‘If Everyone Was Listening’ was new. ‘Bloody Well Right’ was a live tune. Just get a good take. Roger had a demo of ‘Dreamer’ that was charming, but it was just him banging on boxes. It was cool, but when we came to record it, it was a very different thing altogether.
QUESTION: Were there any demos for the albums ‘Crisis? What Crisis?’ and ‘Even in the Quietest Moments’?
BOB: There were ancient demos of a couple off ‘Crisis?’, but no detail. There was an old demo of ‘Easy Does it’. There was a partial rough demo of ‘Just a Normal Day’. ‘Poor Boy’ was old, and I believe there was a rough demo. To be clear these were demos that had been made before any of us joined the band. ‘Ain’t Nobody But Me’ was new. ‘The Meaning’ was new. ’Fool’s Overture’ was new. And to clarify, when I say demo I mean the rough form of the song. No arrangement attached. No sax parts, no bass parts. No drum parts. It was all vibe. There were no demos for any of the ‘Quietest Moments’ stuff.
QUESTION: What about the album ‘Breakfast in America’?
BOB: There were no demos brought to the band for any of the ‘Breakfast’ stuff. There was an old demo of ‘Breakfast in America’ that we were familiar with that had no drums or much instrumentation. Rog had a demo of ‘Take the Long Way Home’ that was just piano and vocals. It was beautiful, but when a new song was introduced to the band it would be “It goes like this” by Rick at the piano or Wurlitzer or Rog at the piano or Wurlitzer or perhaps acoustic guitar, would introduce the song, and everybody would fall in. Play thru it a couple of times with little or no direction and then start working on it. Conversations would be had. Where are the stops and starts? Everybody like the tune? Feel good to everybody? The dynamics were usually pretty obvious. And everyone would start to hone in and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse... We would make our own demos at the time.
QUESTION: And ‘Famous Last Words’?
BOB: It was the same for ‘Famous’. ‘Put On Your Old Brown Shoes’ had been around a long time. We played it a lot over the years. ‘C’est le Bon’ was an old tune. I had heard it many times. The others were all new. We worked up ’Don’t Leave Me Now’, ‘Waiting So Long’ and ‘Bonnie’ at Rick’s pre-sessions and fine-tuned them in the studio. I honestly can’t remember where I first came across ‘Crazy’ and ‘It’s Raining Again’. Possibly at rehearsals in Nevada City at Ken Allardyce and Tony Shepherd’s or in the sessions themselves. No demos. There was never a time when Rog OR Rick sat down with us and put on a cassette or something and said “Here is my new song. Play these parts”.
QUESTION: In 'Child of Vision' you are doing sixteenth notes with the hi hat with a very special swing for more than seven minutes... Just like Bernard Purdie created his 'Purdie Shuffle', do you think we could call that pattern the 'Siebenberg Swing'?
BOB: I would be honored.
QUESTION: Were there discussions inside the band during the 'Famous Last Words' sessions about drums just setting the rhythm, like in a conventional pop group, or having a leading role, like on 'Crime of the Century', 'Crisis? What Crisis?' and 'Even in the Quietest Moments'?
BOB: No. These were just the new songs and we approached them as we always had. The exception being we rehearsed Roger’s stuff less because he was living in Nevada City. I worked up the drum parts and took direction as I always did. Everything on this album was new except ‘Put On Your Old Brown Shoes’ and ‘C’est le Bon’. We also worked on a lot of stuff that didn’t go on the album. It’s interesting you see the drums taking a lead role in the early stuff.
QUESTION: Do you think that 'Famous Last Words' would have been better if you had kept your style playing drums from the album 'Crime of the Century' or songs like 'Fool's Overture' and 'Another Man's Woman'? What way of playing drums do you prefer?
BOB: To me there's no difference. It’s me. Perhaps it’s the sound or production. I never thought about it.
QUESTION: Did you ever propose a drum solo on any Supertramp song? That was something usual for the bands from the 70s and 80s, and Supertramp used to record solos with other instruments but never with the drums... Why?
BOB: I’ve never seen myself as a soloist kind of guy. I’m a band guy. And there are very few guys who are that interesting in their solos.
QUESTION: Was 'Brother Where You Bound' a return (or approach) to your way of playing drums on the 'Crime of the Century' album?
BOB: Well, on ’Brother’ I'm only working with Rick's songs and Rick instinctively opens up more room for drums. Also, Roger had a different ‘feel’ than Rick. It was something I was always aware of and I think I captured ‘the feel’ they both wanted. Rick’s was a more natural feel for me. We really had a thing together. I loved Roger’s feel also, but it was usually more forward. ‘Pushing’. And I think we developed a cool rapport too. The feel in ‘The Logical Song’ is a good example. Roger is pushing, but the drums hold it down and give it weight. ‘Breakfast in America’ has a very light feel. And then there’s ‘Bonnie’. Rick would not write a tune with a ‘feel’ like ‘Give a Little Bit’ for instance. And Roger wouldn’t write a tune with a ‘feel’ like ‘Waiting So Long’. See what I mean? It’s subtle but real none the less. I loved them both.
QUESTION: The mythical Ludwig Supraphonic snare that has accompanied you for so many years is a vital part of the Supertramp sound throughout its history... Where and how do you keep it?
BOB: It is in my flight case in my storage at home. My cases were packed and ready to go for the tour that got cancelled because of Rick’s illness. And for your info I was going out with a 24’ inch bass drum with the same toms as 1985 and 1988. Black.
QUESTION: Do you remember what drum kits you had on the tours of 1977, 1979, 1985 and 1988, as well as their settings and color?
BOB: I used the same kit from ‘Crime’ thru ‘Breakfast’ but I used a 24' bass drum as opposed to the 26' for ‘Breakfast’. I added a third top tom and a second hi hat in 1979. In 1985 I used smaller drums, a 20' bass drum.10-12 14-16-18 toms. I thought they sounded good too. We were playing different music in 1985 and had a new scene so I thought I'd change my sound up. Same kit in 1988. All Ludwig and same trusty snare.
QUESTION: Along the years you were changing the setting, with less top toms and more floor toms... Was it due to something specific?
BOB: I think in 1997 I went with one on top, two on the floor. No big reason. It's a more traditional look that I like. I changed to Gretsch.
QUESTION: In some photos from the album 'Paris' a large cymbal appears at your left... What is that and what did you use it for?
BOB: It's a 24-inch Paiste China with rivets. It's a soft sound that is effective quiet parts. I love the sound. I use it in the band that I play in with Jesse and Todd Hannigan. If you really go after it, it will generate a big sound.
QUESTION: In the 1979 tour you surprised us by changing your style so embedded in the song for a more personal one, with many fillings making pretty drawings with cymbals, bells, etc. But in 1988, when Supertramp used a percussionist, you avoided many of those fillings... Do you prefer playing with or without a percussionist?
BOB: I prefer playing without a percussionist. For the very reasons you point out. I would prefer to color things my own way. I like a couple of shakers or tambourines providing some swing, maybe the odd timbale thing and congas, but that’s enough for me. It was amazing to watch Steve Reid do his thing. He’s an amazing player.
QUESTION: Was the bass drum from the 2010 tour the biggest one you've used ever?
BOB: Yes. It was a ’24 but deeper than my ‘26.
QUESTION: In your opinion, what was the best and the worst tour you did with Supertramp? Can you identify a tour when you have played better than ever?
BOB: I look back at all these tours and all the traveling and as grueling as it was, I wouldn’t complain about much. Shouldn’t complain at all! At the time some of it was a pain in the ass, but we are all lucky to have survived our adventures. I thought I played well in 1979. There’s a real jelling of everybody in 1979. We had matured and it was showing. You can hear it on the ‘Paris’ album and the ‘Paris’ DVD. There was a great spirit thru these tours and years. 1983 was less fulfilling because of the size of the venues. It’s hard to connect in a soccer stadium. I love playing indoors where it gets hot and smoky and the band sounds mighty bouncing off the walls and being on the hop every day and being in a new place every day. And I would add that when I listen to the ‘Live 88’ album and the 1997 ‘It Was the Best of Times’, the drumming and the band sounds pretty dang good. My best? You decide.
QUESTION: When Supertramp had a first hiatus in 1988, did you feel that the band sounded exceptionally good in spite that those weren't the best times in the band?
BOB: Yes. That was a great band. Things were OK inside the band. It's the outside stuff that gets ya.
QUESTION: In an interview from 2013 you said that ‘Rudy’ was one of the songs you had played lots of times and you liked to play the less lately, but for me that song is a good example of your sense of rhythm on the Supertramp sound: exact, mathematical, sharp... Why don't you like to play this song live?
BOB: Well, the guy must have caught me on the wrong day. I have no issues with playing ‘Rudy’. It’s a classic old timer that is always a crowd pleaser.
QUESTION: Did you synchronize your beat with the video of the train or was it just your sense of rhythm?
BOB: No, it was just done on the fly. In the early days Dougie would watch the screen and give me a nod to snap it in. After 1988 Rick started playing a set little piano riff that would set it up for me.
QUESTION: You use to play mid-low tempos, which is a way too much difficult if you want to keep synchronization all along the song... How is your relationship with the metronome? Did you use to rehearse with a metronome with Supertramp or in your solo career?
BOB: No. I have never played to a metronome. It’s just my body clock. We used a click track in 2010 to sync 'Dreamer' to the lights. B.J. Wilson of Procol Harum was the best slow tempo guy I have ever heard.
QUESTION: Many of the 70s and 80s famous band albums were recorded live... Did Supertramp record any album using a metronome? And what about the live gigs? Did you ever play with ear monitors and metronome?
BOB: We were all introduced to 'in ear' headphones in 1997. A great improvement to a dozen blasting monitors. And except for what I mentioned before, no, no click tracks on stage. No click tracks in the studio. I would replace the occasional drum box, but that’s it.
QUESTION: You are an excellent drummer, but on your solo records you have sung and played keyboards too... What other instruments do you play and how is your relationship with them?
BOB: Thank you for the comment about the drums. I am not a great piano player, but I have a way of finding cool chords and tinkering until I have something I like. I write the music first. Sometimes it’s a bummer to have to put vocals on it because I love the track. I like playing piano and it’s something I’m happy to do by myself. Singing is another thing. It took me a while to find the vibe in my approach. I’m not a singer by any means. But I think I get the appropriate emotion onto the track.
QUESTION: What is the song from your solo career you are the most proud of as a composer, arranger, or performer?
BOB: Maybe ‘Crazy in the Dark’.
QUESTION: Is the amazing groove on 'C´est le Dip' the most complicated you've recorded ever? Is there a partiture?
BOB: Wow, that’s going back. I don’t know. There’s a lot of Supertramp stuff that is more complicated. ‘Brother Where You Bound’ for instance. But on ‘C’est le Dip’ I was going for a kind of ‘New Orleans’ thing. It is a cool groove.
QUESTION: 'Glendale River' is a great album, but it is not available on CD... Won't you release it on a physical format?
BOB: Thank you. I occasionally think I will, but I have to say I’m not savvy enough to get it done. My daughter has offered to assemble and make some, but I just haven’t yet. I will take your question as a reason to do so.
QUESTION: In a newsletter from some months ago you said that were thinking of putting out an EP of some new music... Are you working on it? How many unpublished songs do you have?
BOB: Well, I have a few. Easily enough, lots of bits and pieces. I get distracted by other things in my life. It’s always getting nudged along but at a snail’s pace. There are two or three that are totally finished. I’ll do better! I am always stimulated by the interest.
QUESTION: Is there any news about your autobiography, 'The Best Seat in the House'?
BOB: It is finished. Again, the process of getting it out there is a muddle to me. It is very much on my mind. I think it will be a great read. I need to have it assembled including lots of pictures and then make it available. Thanks for asking.
QUESTION: Who are your three favorite jazz drummers, from any period (or the ones who have influenced you the most)?
BOB: Well, let’s see... Max Roach... Art Blakey... And the drummer on Miles Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’... I would have to say Gene Krupa... There’s so many of those guys whose names I just don’t know.
QUESTION: What do you think about Neil Peart, drummer of the band Rush?
BOB: You have to admire the work he has put in to play like that. He is obviously a great drummer. I haven’t listened to him much, only because ‘Rush’ was never my cup of tea. I say hat’s off. He’s made his way and his mark. Good for him, it’s not easy to do.
QUESTION: Who is, in your opinion, the best musician you've played alongside? What musicians or artists would you like to play with?
BOB: Certainly, the guys in our band. Even after Dougie and Roger were gone, the guys we recruited were VERY good musicians. Including my son Jesse. One of the most impressive guys I’ve played (twice) with and observed is Gary Brooker. He’s in another world in terms of being a ‘musician’. His body of work and contributions, scoring orchestras and the symphonic thing is awesome.
QUESTION: Do you still play drums daily (or almost) just for the pleasure of sitting in front of the kit, feeling the drumsticks in your hand, get the drums sounding or even improving your skills?
BOB: No, not so much. I still play some but not very disciplined. Playing drums by myself is a snore. I need a band.
QUESTION: Can we consider you retired or are you still an active musician? Will we see you again on stage?
BOB: I consider myself semi-retired. I still play with Jesse and Todd Hannigan. A couple of gigs coming up in December.
QUESTION: If the conditions were met, would you be able to do another huge concert tour around the world?
BOB: I would certainly be able to do a major tour. I stay strong and active. I would get VERY disciplined getting ready to do that kind of work.
QUESTION: Do you think there is any chance that in the future Roger Hodgson can play again under the name Supertramp? If so, how likely is it?
BOB: It would be prudent to say “No comment”... Rick and us as Supertramp put in several years and tours when Roger was finding his feet after 1983. It was great to see him emerge seriously again in 2000 and I enjoyed working with Roger again after all that time. Now, with Rick’s health as something to consider, I am glad Roger is out there flying the flag. I can’t believe how much he tours and travels.
QUESTION: How is your life as a grandfather? Do you enjoy spending time with your grandsons and granddaughters?
BOB: It’s the greatest. I love every second I spend with them. I now have seven. Thanks for asking.