INTERVIEW WITH BOB SIEBENBERG
By MARK WALKER
Posted on RHYTHM
Bob Siebenberg (aka Bob C. Benberg, resulting from a bizarre work permit situation in his youth), is one of the true greats of 70s pop/rock drumming. Whilst some so called “muso” bands of the period disappeared further and further up the path to obscurity, with songs that lasted twenty minutes and had more key, time signature and tempo changes than should actually be legal, Bob’s combo, the multi faceted Supertramp, adhered to their ability to create perfect pop songs with lyrics that always struck a chord and chords that always struck a melody to die for. And keeping it together at the back were the beautifully understated drums of Bob, that always oozed feel, control and taste.
That was then, and this is now. Supertramp are back with a new double live album recorded at their Albert Hall shows last year, which includes songs from their first studio album since 1988, “Some things never change”, plus plenty of greatest hits. I caught up with Bob before one of the shows.
QUESTION: Ten years ‘off the road’, Bob, it’s a mighty long time. What have you been up to?
BOB: Well, I did a solo record for Polygram, out of Germany, I think it came out in Spain and France, moderate success, but not enough for them to fund the next one! That took a couple of years, and I still write, I’ve got a studio in my home. But I lost some enthusiasm, I was kind of burned after the band, and it was kind of nice to not be in the music business for a while. And I have two kids, Jesse, who’s 21, who’s playing percussion in the band, and a daughter who’s 17, so in that time period I just kind of focused on raising my kids, got involved in the community where I lived, I coached the high school baseball team, and just kind of left the music business behind for a bit, and was happy to do so for a while.
QUESTION: Seeing as Jesse is playing percussion with you on tour, presumably you taught him drums as well as baseball?
BOB: Well, in a loose way I suppose I taught him. I think I taught him from him watching, and he’d always have a little drum kit set up. I’d just kind of show him things and kind of clock his head into things that I thought he should think about, and I tried to establish good taste with him in terms of the drummers that he listened to, so he didn’t go too far astray, in my opinion anyway.
QUESTION: What drummers did you suggest?
BOB: Well, I grew up and still think that Jim Capaldi is a great drummer, BJ Wilson from Procol Harum, the late great, he was tremendous I thought. And Levon Helm is still a big fave. I like Mitch Mitchell, the different jazz thing that he was doing, those were the guys that I really liked. There was also a drummer named Mike Kelly who played for Spooky Tooth.
QUESTION: That’s interesting the names you’re pulling out with regard feel. What was special about Supertramp in the 70s was you were a musicians band, but you made great pop songs, with drumming rooted in feel as opposed to pyrotechnics.
BOB: Well, that’s what the essence of being a drummer is, to make things feel good. To understand the groove, just let it sit there and let people kind of dig this, and not jolt their heads out of the rhythm every four bars or something.
QUESTION: Did Supertramp ever officially split?
BOB: Well, we just stopped playing. It had been a long time for us to play, you know every two years or something we’d be on the road, and it just kind of came to its end I think, for a while. Nobody said anything, nobody said we’re not going to play for ten years, or never again. At the end of the last show that was here in 1988, we just kind of all drifted off. I still keep in touch with Dougie Thomson, I used to keep in touch with John Helliwell and occasionally talked to Rick Davies. We just kind of let things drift, I don’t know if anybody was too bothered whether we would play again or not. But I was quite happy to get the call to come play again!
QUESTION: What was it like recording the last album, “Some things never change”, with Jack Douglas?
BOB: Well, he made it so easy to go back into the studio. With us it used to be like pulling teeth to get tracks, it used to be really hard for us to make records, sometimes we would really struggle with it. A track like “Child of vision”, we went after four or five days in a row five or six times and never got. And then we walked in on the sixth day, played it and that was it.
QUESTION: Of the early albums, which was your favourite?
BOB: “Crime of the century”, hands down, I think because it was the first one, the experience of all that was amazing with Ken Scott, the whole recording process, the whole atmosphere in the studio making that music, still stays my favourite.
QUESTION: When most of Supertramp’s classics were recorded click tracks were a thing of the future, but do you like to use them now?
BOB: Personally I don’t mind them, I just treat it as another guy in the room I can’t see, but I’ve always been kind of against it just in concept. I think that music needs to breathe, and I don’t see anything wrong with the chorus kicking up a little bit and back down in the verses where it relaxes again. I don’t see anything wrong with that, and I think that the click thing and the computer thing have kind of made it go cold a little bit. You lose the emotion of a musician in some cases, it really is just people in there playing these instruments that make it what it is. As soon as you lock that to something you’re detracting from it I think.
QUESTION: How did you start drumming?
BOB: Well, my dad had just had Dixieland music on the turntable all the time, and I think I just got the feel of that, the music thing going, and I used to watch Lawrence Wilk on the TV, this old band leader guy, and I noticed that I always kind of watched the drummer. And when I was 8 or 9 years old this guy came to our school wanting to know if anyone wanted to be in the orchestra, and if you did come up afterwards and tell him what you wanted to play, and I went straight to this snare drum, I knew it was a drum but I didn’t know what it was called, and I joined up with the school orchestra. One thing led to the next I guess, and I got into a surf band in California, this was about 1960, with two guitars and drums, we’d play songs by Dick Dale & The Deltones, and The Coasters, just kind of instrumental rock’n’roll. We’d go along and see Dick Dale, and that’s the guy that really turned me on to wanting to be in a band. This was pre Beatles, pre Rolling Stones. We played at football dances, the local youth hops, garage things, like the “La Bamba” thing in the movie, that’s what it was like, you’d open the door and people would come.
QUESTION: Were you ever taught?
BOB: I’ve never taken lessons. I’m fairly unschooled in my rudiments and those kind of things, but I’ve learnt to play.
QUESTION: Are you enjoying being back on the road, or has it been hard work?
BOB: I am enjoying it, to play on the big stage again is great. It’s been really successful for us, but it is pretty gruelling. We did fourteen weeks in Europe, and by the end of that everyone was feeling toasted. We took a week off and then did five weeks in America. We play three or four nights in a row, day off, three or four nights, day off. It makes the time go by fairly quick, but you’re getting wiped out meantime. I just schedule my entire day towards showtime, that’s why I’m there, so I gear everything towards feeling as good as I can.
QUESTION: Is it fun performing with your son Jesse on percussion?
BOB: Well, it’s amazing, he locks right in, he basically knows my heartbeat I think, so I’ll swing my head over and look, and there he is, really grooving away and locked right in. It is really nice.
QUESTION: And is the Albert Hall something special?
BOB: It really is. We played here in 1976, two days after Jesse was born! There is no other place like it. When you sit on this stage and you look out and you see this room, it’s a really special place.