Lenny Castro Interview – Los Lobotomys 2005 – Amager Bio/Copenhagen, October 2005.
By Sune Schack.
Lenny Castro – the busiest percussionist in the show biz
– That’s me. Right now, right now – that can only last for a couple of months
Lenny – is it always like this?
– The business always goes up and down – always up and down. It’s like the old saying – it’s either feast or famine, it’s either one or the other. The music business is constantly changing. People do an album, they go, they tour, they finish the tour, then they do another album.
But you’re always busy?
– Yeah. Always – thank god.
How many days a year are you travelling away from your family?
– These days – not as much as I used to, but before it used to be sometimes half the year, a little bit more than half the year I would be gone. Now – there’s not as many large tours going on and I am not going out with the Fleetwood Mac anymore. I have kind of moved on to different situations right now so.
So it’s short – you go away a lot but it’s short?
– Yeah but it’s short – sometimes is two or three weeks at a time. It’s always different. But I just got this Stevie Wonder-thing which is gonna be this short little tour that we are doing. We will be gone about three weeks – and then, possibly, since he is gonna be promoting his new release, we might be doing some more work.
Where are you going with him?
– So far I heard that the tour starts in Japan and ends in Paris – so within those three weeks …
So you don’t know exactly where the touring goes …?
– No, haha – I’m hoping I’ll come back to Copenhagen.
Don’t follow Stevie Wonder, then – haha! No, he’s a great guy.
– Yes, he is a great guy.
You have known him for many years. Actually – I wanted to ask you … How did you get started in show business, in music? When and how?
– In the business part? When I was actually playing professionally? I’ve been playing. Well let’s see, I actually really started making money at it when I was about 14-15. In New York. Working in jazz clubs and Latin bands, after hour’s clubs and different things and stuff like that. And did that for a while until I graduated at high school. I went to college for a little while and got bored with it, went and started working in a famous drum store in New York and worked there for about 3 or 4 months and through the drum shop I got my first big break with Melissa Manchester and I went on the road with her.
That was your break through?
– That was the break. That was my first really main act.
Do you remember the year?
– It probably was around ’75-’76. Let’s see, I graduated in ’74. It was probably around ’75 when I got the gig.
Did you always have in mind to become a studio musician?
– At that time – no, when I was young I knew nothing about studio musicians. I just wanted to be A MUSICIAN. That was it. Whether it was studio, live, whatever. I really didn’t have that much experience with studio when I was younger. The studio stuff happened later on – when I moved to Los Angeles. But I just wanted to be a musician. I used to read vinyl covers, imagine myself on stage with different people, read credits and stuff like that. It really wasn’t “I wanna be a studio musician”. I just wanted to be a musician and play music with everybody.
With everybody. Yeah! And you sure did!
– So far I am doing pretty good, haha. I’ve missed a couple. Maybe because they’ve died or something. I have missed one or two.
You have played with them all, Lenny – just say it! You have played with anybody. So now you’re here in Copenhagen with Los Lobotomys. And that’s kind of a reunion – you might say. We discussed that yesterday – when was the last time?
– When I was in Copenhagen?
No – with Los Lobotomys. The live gig – was that ’90, ’91?
– 1991! Yeah – that was a while back.
That’s a lot of years. 14 years.
So – you’re happy?
– Yeah! I am very happy to be back with my bro’s – especially after all this time. You know. It’s good to know that this is still alive.
It is …
– And that people are still appreciating it – more and more now.
And you have been working with David for like – you said that yesterday …
– Oh, 30 years I think it is. I think it might be a little bit more.
And you are an original member, founding member …
– Yes. And the name was also my idea too haha.
You came up with the original Los Lobotomys name, yep… We all know that! That’s pretty cool. How would you describe Los Lobotomys music today? Still a playground for adult musicians ;o) …
– It’s still a playground for musicians – that’s what it is. It’s a place where musicians can go and really express themselves. To the fullest extent.
The playground – no limits, right?
– Yeah – no limits, you know, as far as your creativity goes. Your creativity goes as far as your mind can go.
And having fun?
– Yeah – it’s always fun. Especially when you’re in a group of cats that you’re related to well. It was funny because today Chad was – about the gig yesterday – he was so surprised. We had not played together in a while but there were so many things that we were doing together, simultaneously, at the same time. And he was like ‘waauuuh’ – this is like a mind melt.
To get back to Chad – I saw you guys yesterday, actually I not only saw you, I heard you ;o) And you were grooving really nice, you two guys together. You could actually hear like – he was a stand-in in the middle of the 80s but it just got back in no time.
We are gonna talk about connecting to somebody – and you’ve worked with all the best ones around. I really wanna ask you about Jeff – Jeffrey Thomas Porcaro. Would you mind sharing some thoughts with us about your cooperation with him.
– Jeffrey, oh yeah! I owe a lot to Jeff and his family. The entire Porcaro family, his father Joe, Eileen – his mother, his sister Joleen, the whole family. When I first met Jeff he kind of took me under his wing. And the family embraced me. And it was funny because when I first met Jeff it was in a recording studio – we were working for Diana Ross.
In fact, one of the albums that I signed outside (Lenny took his time before the concert to sign about 200 LP covers outside the Danish Amager Bio venue – among one of them the legendary Diana Ross album)! was the album that we did when we met – and when we saw each other we looked – and we had never met before. I didn’t know who he was, he didn’t know who I was. We looked at each other and after the session we played a little bit and we felt like we had known each other for ever. Like we were old soul brothers.
Groove brothers …
– Yeah – groove brothers. It was the beginning of a really beautiful relationship between me and him. And from there he took me to the Boz Scaggs gig and he said: “Hey man – do you want a gig”, and I said: “Yeah!” So he put me on the Boz Scaggs gig without even an audition. You know – it was funny because I went up, set up my equipment and I played for a while with Boz. And I thought it was an audition and basically it really wasn’t. And after we played I went to Jeff and I asked, you know: “Did I get the job?”. Because nobody told me anything. And I was like – everybody was “OK, cool, see you later, see you tomorrow!” And I said: “Did I get the job, Jeff?” And he said: “You had the job before you got here!” So he was always – he really enjoyed my playing and the relationship that we had. And from that point on he tried to get me on just about everything he was working on cause he enjoyed having me there.
You were on a lot of tracks with him – weren’t you?
– Yes, we were …
Do you have any idea how many?
– I really don’t.
It must be at least over 200?
– Must be! Must be! I mean …
A lot of people miss him, I do. Very much, and LA, the entire music scene …
– The whole scene misses him …
Yeah, he was a groove machine… talking about the grooves, that’s your world, Lenny – grooving. Can you groove with literally everybody or do you find it easier to groove with this guy as opposed to this guy?
– No. I can groove with just about any guy that’s up there. No matter what kind of genre, jazz, rock, whatever it is, whether they are great drummers, not so great drummers …
Loud or soft …
– loud or soft or whatever – you know, you have to be open-minded to be able to do the kind of things that I do and play with the kind of guys that I play with.
Going back again – your groove with Porcaro. The nice thing about that must have been that he is so minimalistic, or he was so minimalistic…
– Yeah. We complemented each other. He played just the barebone basic and I just filled in around him. And it locked. And it just melted together very, very well.
Is it correct that you kind of made up the Rosanna track together with the drum pad and the percussion pattern
– Yeah. The percussion pattern – that’s like our triplet shuffle go-nuts part which I never heard anybody do before. It was something that I just started doing off from Jeff’s shuffle. And it was just born like that. And the same thing with Africa too – that groove that we did with Africa was something like – we just sat there and played and played over and over until we perfected it.
Do you think he would have pulled you into TOTO too if he had had the chance?
– Probably …
Did they ask you?
– No. They never did, they never did, but him and Luke and a few of them they actually did me a favour by not pulling me in to it because I didn’t get handcuffed or chained down.
You would have been stuck?
– Yes, and it kind of made him a little jealous. You know – the first time I started working with Stevie Wonder, I came back from the first tour and I went to visit Jeff and I was like: “Jeff man – I played with Steve and doing all that stuff” and he was like: “Yeah – I wish I could too”. And I said: ”What did you guys do” and he was like: ”We had business to do and meetings and bla bla bla all connecting” and the thing was, he told me that if you get locked into this situation our losses are your losses. If we loose money, you loose money. But at the same time you get chained down to a compan and to a group and it becomes a little bit confining, so I was really …
In a way they did me a favour by not asking me to join because I was free to run and play with anybody when they weren’t working.
But in a way you two guys must have been the most recorded artists around that period of time?
’77 to ’92? 15 years …
– Yeah, up until he died.
15 years and SOOO many records, right?
– Oh yeah, so many records … ;o)
Then – when being called for a session, do you ask who the other musicians are?
– Sometimes, just to know who’s going to be there. It really doesn’t make a difference to me, though.
Doesn’t it influence your decision – if it’s this or that guy?
But you say “no” to a lot of things and “yes” to others – that’s your luck, because you have your name. You can say: ”Oh, thanks for calling but …”
– Sometimes. Physically you can only do soo much. And sometimes you do have to turn things down. And it’s unfortunate. I hate to do that. I hate turning anything down. There’s a saying that I got from Ricky Larson – it goes “I don’t turn anything down but my collar!” Which is what I truly believe. And it really pains me when I have to tell somebody no. I don’t ask who’s going to be in a session. It doesn’t matter to me. Sometimes I don’t even know the artist – sometimes they say: ”Be at the studio at bla bla bla …” ”OK – what time, which studio, ok I’ll see you there. And I’ll show up. ”Who’s this for” – ”Oh, it’s for this rock band or this person.” ”Oh – what a surprise!”
So on a lot of your many records, you’ve never seen anybody – just you in the studio?
– Yeah, sometimes I have never even seen the artist. Sometimes it’s just me and the engineer. Or me, the engineer and the producer.
Talking about the producers – when working with so many people, so many stars throughout the years, so many great producers. Who of those do you think have brought the best out of you. Do you remember that?
– Oh, there are guys like Tommy LiPuma. He’s the kind of producer that really just let’s his musicians go. He hires the right guys for the right reasons. And he just let’s them play. And that always brings the best out in many musicians. And a lot of producers hire me because they know what I do – and sometimes they don’t even tell me what to do.
They give you a lot of freedom? That’s my feeling… don’t limit Lenny Castro ;o) He knows how to limit himself …
– You know, sometimes I do get limited, but it’s OK. It’s part of music. It’s part of being a musician. It’s the discipline. That was something that was part of my training also – I did get some discipline. When I studied classical music I learned a lot of discipline – you have to have that. And if the guy just wants a tambourine in that 16th note with a backbeat and nothing else – then give it to him. Because he is writing the cheque. He is producing, he knows the artist.
Did you ever have the feeling that what they are telling you to do sounds like shit – but you do it for eh, not just for the money but because he said so?
– Yeah, not that it sounded like shit but I have had times when I have said: ”Wauu – I could have done a little bit more – maybe a little bit more percussive-wise, maybe take a litte bit of a chance here and there”. But you know – you just learn to live with it. You go: ”Ah – it is what it is and if that’s what they want, then that’s what they are going to get”. And you have to respect that.
But in the studio – you want to do your best, every time?
– Of course.
And if they want something else that you don’t think sounds nice – did you ever say: “OK, I am not going to play that!”?
– Well, no. I have never played anything that I don’t like. Even if it is the stupidest thing in the world. I mean, I’ve done some really crazy things in the studio – but I have enjoyed them all. I have enjoyed every second of them, every stroke and every bang, every clang and every ding.
And you do make very nice dings, hehe!
– So I have been told, haha.
We are looking forward to that – you have been around now for, how much, 30 years? 33 years? Do you ever think about … ”When am I gonna stop… do you have another 25 years in your pocket?”
– Oh, like I told my wife: ”I am gonna play till I drop”.
And you have got 2 big kids, right?
– Yes, I have a son, Tyler, who’s 23. He’s a great drummer. And a daughter, Christina, she’s 21.
He plays what style?
– He’s into the heavy metal genre and he’s an incredible artist too.
Drummer, you said …
– He’s a drummer, yeah. He actually started playing guitar before he played drums. He got his first guitar lesson from Eddie Van Halen – Eddie taught him his first chord.
Did he make any recordings?
– No, not yet, not yet. But I am hoping.
Would you help him?
– Oh yes, off course. I will always …
Every dad is gonna do everything for the child …
– The thing is, I have tried to let him grow on his own, I have given him a little bit of guidance here and there but I want his sound to be his sound. I want him to have his own identity.
Will you be in the lineup? When he makes his first record?
– I hope so, haha …
Do you think he will have you?
– Sure he would, are you kidding me!
He’s proud of you?
– Yeah, of course he is ;o)
He must be – and you proud of him!
– Yeah, I’m proud of both of them – also Christina, she’s 21 years old. She’s into cooking – she’s into the culinary arts and she’s studying to be a chef.
– No, but she does sing. She has her mother’s voice. Her mother was a background vocalist my first wife. She was a beautiful singer. In fact, she used to sing with TOTO for a while, she was singing background for TOTO. We worked together on a lot of things. We went on the road together a lot, we did Boz, we did Christopher Cross, we did TOTO and Al Jarreau together. It was wonderful, it was a lot of fun. I miss her a lot!
Thanks a lot for the interview, Lenny, my man. Look forward to hearing you play tonight …
– Thanks, Sune! My pleasure. It’s groove time!