Interview, Part Two: Max Weinberg on His Time with Conan O'Brien, Taking Advice from Ringo Starr and Being a Business Man
(This is part two of our interview with E Street drummer Max Weinberg. Part one can be found here. Max Weinberg and his Big Band are at the Argosy Casino in Alton tonight.)
Matt Wardlaw: As you alluded to, you're really playing some intimate venues on this tour, which is really cool. I would guess that it probably gives you the opportunity to be a road dog in a way that you haven't done in quite a while.
Max Weinberg: [Laughs] The idea of being a drummer and a musician on the road is something I've embraced since I was a little kid. There's nothing better about it. Nils Lofgren [E. Street Band guitarist] for example, I think has been on the road literally continuously for something like 42 years. That is a big part of the pageantry of being a musician.
I had the good fortune to be on television for seventeen years while my children were growing up. In retrospect, one of the greatest aspects of working on television was the fact that I was able to be home at eight 'o clock every night and have weekends free, have a real life and present a different spin on music [to the public], which became very popular. But it all is as I said, a life led through music. As long as you're addressing that as a musician, you'll be fulfilled. When I'm up there playing, the last thing I'm thinking about is if I'm in a club, an arena, a stadium or a TV studio. I'm interested in playing those drums and getting that feeling that I had, and I'm able to find it pretty much every night, that I had when I was a twelve-year-old kid, up in my room practicing and just beating the hell out of the drums.
Since you mentioned the television show, when you first stepped into that gig, what were your expectations going into it? Was it in the cards that you would take on the sidekick type collaboration that you eventually evolved into?
No, I never thought of that. In fact, when I met Conan about five months before we went on the air, which eventually led to my creating the band hiring the people that I did, all of whom I knew in various contexts, of course LaBamba [trombone player Richie Rosenberg] and [trumpet player] Mark Pender from Southside Johnny's band. I hand-picked everyone for their individual abilities, which is what band leaders do.
I had no pre-conceptions, other than the one thing I knew I wouldn't do was a lot of rim shots, and I wanted no undercurrent sort of rumbling of music when the host told a joke. That was something that was a hallmark of some of the other shows, and I decided that when you heard music from us, it was because we were playing music. Whether it was playing our own stuff, accompanying guest musical artists or playing the voluminous amount of music that was married to the comedy sketches, we were primarily there to perform music. The other stuff that came out of it was just mounting a daily show and [the] ability to commit to the comedy -- which was one of the most fun parts, just totally getting outside of yourself and doing the outrageous things that I did on television.
The writers work really hard, and you want to give them what they're hoping for -- and it brought out another side of me that people didn't quite expect, particularly fans of the E. Street Band, where we presented and always had been very serious about what we did. But, you know, seeing me walk pixelatedly[sic] nude down the hallway of Rockefeller Center, which became a favorite clip, that was something you didn't expect from me. I tried to be a good sport about everything and I figured that at 1 o'clock in the morning, if I can give somebody a laugh -- well that's a good thing because people need to laugh more, and that's what our show was about.
When the first chapter of your time playing with Bruce wrapped up at the end of the '80s, you gave Ringo Starr a call, because of his similar experience with the end of a high profile project. What kind of advice did Ringo have for you?
Since I met him in 1980, Ringo has always been a great pal and certainly an inspiration both musically and personally. Here's a guy who turned 70 this past July and he looks about 40. Amazing. He's actually been one of the few people I've ever met to turn back the hands of time. He's just a remarkable individual. He was very helpful at the time with how to move on. Because he had certainly been through that a decade and a half before me in terms of a full time group disbanding.