News - Bob Siebenberg - Supertramp drummer
Hello everyone... Here’s an extract taken from an early draft of a chapter in my book, "The Best Seat in the House". As reported before, I’m having some of it edited and then I’ll look for a publisher. I’ll be interested in the feedback. Many thanks.
I would always go out and see what bands were playing around and where. My antenna was always up. There used to be a pub on the Fulham Palace Road called the Greyhound. It was kind of a three-tiered place with a stage in the middle so you could go upstairs and look down at the stage. I went in one night and there was a band playing called Alan Bown. I’ve told this story before, and it’s absolutely true. The only thing I noticed about the band was this skinny bass player grooving around the stage really cool. The other thing was this sax player whose saxophone was black. I had never seen that before and it stuck in my head. The rest of the night was totally forgettable.
It was great being back in the Bees and playing at the Kensington. The pub rock era was in full swing. It had grown out of an attitude of free music, every night, in small places like pubs, as a backlash against big halls and lots of cash to go see somebody play. We had been at the tip of the spear, along with the Brinsley’s, and of course Eggs Over Easy who just seemed to disappear. One day they weren’t around anymore. They were pretty short-lived in England, but had really made an impact.
Pub rock was what was getting the attention in the press, and we were getting plenty of it. I was pleased to see a review of the Bees in the Melody Maker’s ‘Caught in the Act’ section. Among other praises about the band it said “the Bees have their old drummer back, and they’re better than ever”. My style has been described many ways over the years, but this one was especially memorable to me. I was described as “Bob Cee, the Hip Rodeo Drummer”. I’ll take it.
There were lots of bands popping up. There was Kilburn & The High Roads and Ducks Deluxe. Dr. Feelgood. It was a great scene and a real breeding ground for the next generation of guys coming thru.
I was so busy. I was playing with the Bees and with another band of guys that Richard had put together. I would do a pub gig with the Bees and then pack up and split to the Pheasantry on the Kings Road. This was an old landmark building that had a checkered history, and accommodated some famous occupants. Eric Clapton had once lived in a flat on the top floor. It was now a multi-floored club with a bar on every level. We played down stairs on a stage with a very low ceiling. It was especially a problem for our 6’8 bass player named Jeremy Havard. He had to half sit on a bar stool. We were fronted by yet another Scottish singer named Billy something. We played this gig regular once a week for several months, until for some unknown reason to me, Billy hung himself. He would not be the only Scottish guy I would know who would hang himself.
I can remember so many times standing on the pavement with my drum kit waiting for a cab at 4:30 in the morning. I could identify the sound of a cab coming a mile away. Literally. Finally, hop in, get warm, and back to Fulham.
All this time I had been playing steady and with people who were musical and real about music. Nothing flash about any of these bands. Ever since I had landed in England I had met and hung out with serious guys, [maybe the exception would have been Easy Virtue, but what can I say]. Each step of the way had helped to boost my confidence, which is a large part of the battle, for me anyway. I was always glad to hear someone say they liked the way I played, or they thought I was good. It would make me buck up.
I got a compliment one night in the dressing room after watching Heads Hands & Feet at the Marquee. The great guitar player Albert Lee played in this band. Their bass player, Chas Hodges and I were talking and I didn’t even know he’d seen me play. I admired him for his work in Head Hands & Feet, and many other things. I mentioned liking their drummer, and he said, “yeah, but you’re better than him”. He must’ve seen the look on my face because he then said “I’ve seen you play a lot of times in the Bees… you are”. I didn’t know what to say and mumbled something like “thanks”.
It went a long way for me in the confidence stakes at this point. And it shows you just never know who’s out there listening. For me, it was important to keep my nose down and absorb. Every rehearsal or jam or gig, I play as good as I can, always. I never back off. I never want the leader, or anybody in the band to ever have the thought blow across his head that I’m not playing very good. I do as good as I can all the time. Who knows what is around the corner, and who knows who is out there listening? It’s all you can do. If opportunity comes, you gotta be ready. I love playing, still do.
So, the Bees are cruising, but getting a little weary. The leader was Barry, and he was the only one with a day job. I think he worked for Colgate. I remember one day he said to me “you wouldn’t believe how people are into lather”. Huh? Where did that come from? But the impact on the Bees was this. He literally drew a circle around London and would not take a gig outside it. His philosophy was he wanted the Bees to be the best support act in London. Well, I can tell you this was not good enough for me. It pissed the other guys off as well. I remember riding in the van one day pissed off in a discussion like this and saying “well fuck that... I don’t wanna be in the Bees when I’m thirty”. Then realized what I had said. Everybody in the van was 30 or more or dang close to it. Towel please.
One of the greatest mismatches in showbiz history went down with the Bees. We were asked to open for T-Rex, for three shows. One in the Sundown in Brixton, and two shows at the Sundown in Edmonton, in London. The Marc Bolan experience. He was huge. These places were packed, but there was nobody in the place older than about 14. The place was going bananas for Marc Bolan and we’re up there playing Louis Jordan shuffles and country songs, very un-Glam. Not exactly our scene.
One night this skinny black guy got up to play with us at the Kensington. He was cool and funny and had great presence. He sang a tune or two to great applause and split. After the gig I went and talked to him and his name was Phil Lynott. He was Irish and in a band called Thin Lizzy. I then recognized him from an add I used to see in the Melody Maker. It was a small picture of him from the side, and under it, it just said Thin Lizzy.
Frankie Miller was still jumping up every chance he got, which was all the time and it was great. It was about time to go off with Frankie on his tour and we started rehearsing at Island Studios. We even did a little recording there as well.
Like I say everyone was getting kind of cheesed with Barry. He was in fact holding the whole thing back. Personally, I wanted to travel and make something happen. But Barry would turn down offers to go to the continent. One night after we had played at the Kensington, we had all packed up and were standing around outside finishing our 100th beer, when Barry said something to Ruan who immediately socked him on the chin with his right hand, and grabbed his jacket with his left, to guide Barry to the ground so he wouldn’t hurt himself. A funny thing to do. We all said hey, man, shit! And laughed at the same time. Barry came to right away and said he was ok, and we all went inside to blag another Guinness off Matt. But this is where we were at.
We had 11 gigs to do with Frankie Miller around England. Our first was at a small college in Putney on Putney Hill. We arrived to load all our stuff in, and in those days, there was no such thing as a sound check. The other band was already there and they had most of their stuff set up. They seemed to be rehearsing something and it was kind of interesting.
The drummer seemed kind of cool and some others were just milling around. I started unpacking my stuff, saying hello to everyone one, and got on with setting up. A guy arrived and sat down at the drums and the guy I thought was the drummer was not. They started a little warm up blow and it sounded pretty nifty. Still unpacking and setting up I heard them talking about this new tune and here’s how it goes. A little electric piano intro and then a BAP! in this odd little place, and then a few bars, and then BAP-BAP in another odd spot. They went thru it a couple of times and I don’t think the drummer ever got right it in the allotted time for working on it pre-gig. But, I got it. I could hear it in my head.
The Bees got set up and we were the opener for this band I’d never heard of… Supertramp. What do I care? Never heard of ‘em. I’m stoked about our first gig with Frankie. We got up and did our set and rocked. Frankie was great and we killed behind him. Great blues singer plus, moved around cool. We finished and got our stuff out of the way and went to the pub. When it was all over we came back and packed up the stuff and split.
The Bees had a couple of gigs through the week and then another with Frankie up in North London somewhere in a little college. This time we arrive to set up and no one’s around, so we set up, check the gear...everybody happy? Right, pub. We’re all in the pub drinking and playing darts and the piano player and bass player from Supertramp come over being friendly to all of us. We shoot the shit, their names are Rick and Dougie, and do you wanna play some darts? Sure. We play darts and yap back and forth until it’s time for us to go play. See ya guys, gotta split.
Again, we get up and do our hour or so and get our stuff out of the way and… PUB! Little did I know that during our set, Roger and Dougie were hiding behind the curtain checking me out. Apparently, Rick had told them about me, and this was a good chance to check me out. Again, I never heard a note of Supertramp. It sort of reinforces my earlier point doesn’t it, that you never know who’s out there listening.
We did a few more gigs further afield and it was always pretty much the same routine. In fact, I can’t remember anything about these other gigs, until one night on Sunday, March 11th, 1973, in Birmingham, at a club called Barbarella’s. We do our thing with Frankie, and it always goes down well. We’re tight because we have been playing as the Bees so long, and Frankie is just killer in his own right, and together we were really good.
This night was different. Ruan and I decided to stay behind a little while to have a beer and watch a little of Supertramp. They were definitely different. The line-up was Rick, Roger, Dougie, Kevin Currie on drums, and Dave Winthrop on sax and flute. I recognized the bass player as the skinny guy who grooved around the stage that night at the Greyhound. I thought the piano player was interesting, very rhythmic, and he had this weird little face tick when he played. Sang great. Played great. I thought the guitar player was so so, but had an interesting voice. I thought Winthrop was useless, and I wasn’t that keen on the drummer. I thought he was kind of a show off. Still, all in all, I thought it was pretty good. Some good songs. Ruan and I left after a while for the slog back to London. We both agreed that Supertramp was a pretty good band, and we seemed to like the same things about it. And that was that. Never thought any more about it.
The Kensington had turned into ground zero for pub rock. The Hope and Anchor was a steady gig. We did a few gigs at the 100 Club. We were still pulling them in wherever we played and were having a blast.
I was learning so much, and being exposed to all kinds of music, thanks to Barry and the guys. Mainly, it taught me discipline. The discipline of concentration. Without good concentration, you’re sunk. There are a lot of distractions on a stage but you have to stay focused. It taught me how to remember and sometimes embellish arrangements and help them to grow. It also taught me how to stay inside the lines in critical spots. Spots you would sometimes hear one of the other guys struggling with, and my job at that point was to nail it down for him. No surprises. My ears opened up and I learned how to find the pulse of the tune, all the while making it FEEL GOOD. And that’s what most people liked about my playing. I had a good feel. There are a lot of guys who can play the drums better than me. And there are a lot of guys who get so wrapped up in PLAYING THE DRUMS that they don’t listen. They don’t play with the band....and it doesn’t feel good. The drums have to travel inside a song. They have to get you from A to B naturally and with finesse and with ease. But it’s not easy.
On days off Frankie and I would hang out at the Pheasantry. They had a nice bar on the first floor and we’d sit and chat. He was writing a lot of tunes and talked about forming up a band to make a serious effort with steady guys. His first album ‘Once in A Blue Moon’ made enough of a mark that he could continue. We had vague plans of doing something together. Vague plans are the life blood of musicians, always living on the possibility of doing something. And the next something just might be THE THING.
Frankie was a good pal and I had respect for his motivation. He wanted to pull out of the pack and I liked that kind of thinking. He wanted to do the work. He was not content with hanging around. He wanted to get going.
Well, me too. It was the main motivation to leave Los Angeles. I wanted to get going. Although I didn’t know it, things were about to change.