Lenny Haze --HazeXperience and former Y&T Drummer |
"Been a Great Ride"
By Eric Compton | Published: Feb 18, 2015
...continued from Part I
MM - Speaking of drummers, recently the last surviving member of the original Ramones line-up, Tommy Ramone, passed away. What is your earliest memory of The Ramones? What kind of impact did they have on you as a performer? Did Tommy influence your playing? Did you ever get to meet the band and how were they?
When I first heard the Ramones, I hated them. Then I saw them in a small club in S.F. and was blown away. So, I listened to them and Johnny was a monster on rhythm guitar. Nobody but Johnny Ramone and Joey Alves can play guitar parts like they do doing all downstrokes on the strings. People don't get how tough it is to do and the difference in sound from up and downstrokes. Tommy is the simplest player with a great feel for accents and Dee Dee all downstrokes as well. Joey wrote some of the dumbest lines but they are genius and perfection in their own way. My favorite thing he wrote was in Rockaway Beach. The opening line--"Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum / The sun is out and I want some". That is such a descriptive opening that phrases easily for a song. It sums up the song without giving it away. To this day that is one of my all-time favorite lyrics.
I smoked pot with Dee Dee at the old Tropicana hotel on Santa Monica Blvd. in Hollywood. There were like rooms with kitchens and three beds over by the pool. We got two of those and a double room back then because it was cheaper than everyone with their own room. You had to pass the pool to get to any of the rooms out there, so I'm walking to my room and I see this pale, marshmallow white guy with a tanning mirror that he is holding under his chin. He's wearing a black leather jacket, motorcycle boots with the buckles and his white jockey shorts. And he's laying by the pool tanning! I am trying not to laugh but it breaks out and I get out the words "Dee Dee smoke weed-ee" He's like huh? I say "You're Dee Dee Ramone right?" He's very jazzed I recognized him. He's like "yeah yeah from New York, you ever been to New York?" Yeah I say, and this goes on like an Abbot and Costello's "Who's On First" skit. We puffed hard and I can say I got stoned with a Ramone. They were nice guys who loved what they were doing. Totally unpretentious and just loving playing music. They always would say how they can't believe people really like them.
"We had live chickens on stage with wigs on dressed like Motley Crue as we came out of the drum riser wearing GI Joe masks."
Also where we mixed Earthshaker was in New York at Sterling Sound on 58th street. They were in there doing the Phil Specter album (or maybe the one before that album). I talked to Markey and Joey daily. Both were very humble nice dudes. You know I had a hard time with AT&T using Ramones songs on their commercials. General Motors too. I would wonder if they would've allowed it. They were not into corporations and they honestly could care less about how much money they made.
I remember an interview on the radio with Johnny and the question is: "How do you respond to the musicians that say you don't play good guitar". He says "they're right I don't play too good. But I never said I could play, will ever play, or care to play good". I thought to myself, let's see anyone else play those songs. And fuck...what tone he gets.
For Tommy as an drum influence? No, not in the standard sense. But I liked his off-the-path of normal cymbal crashes and odd accents. He hardly used his kick. I thought he played perfect on the records. If you noticed or not, he played not one fill roll or patern on all the records he played on. No drum fills...none. Neal Peart--phenomenal player, but would've sucked in the Ramones. As would've Tommy in Rush. It just shows you that it comes down to personal taste. Both are amazing in their own ways. To stay within yourself as Tommy did; to me, it's amazing. He was spot on for creativity for the songs.
Another drummer from that era that also died in the last year is the guy from Devo. I defy any rock player to play Satisfaction as he did it. Amazing drums on that song. The discipline is off the hook. He played like a machine, as though he was programmed. Tommy Ramone did that just in a different way.
MM - Outside of music, I had read somewhere that you and John Belushi were really good friends. Any truth to that and if so how did the two of you meet?
No, I never met him. What the deal was, when I split from Y&T in '86, someone said I was Belushi waiting to happen. And it was said that they [Y&T] were tired of my Belushi-esqe ways and I was a detriment to the band. I have never commented on being a Belushi waiting to happen so here goes: Yeah, I partied quite a bit, but I never was incapable of performing my job. If I had been I would see that I never did it again.
Yes, I had gigs that were not stellar but so does anyone that ever goes on stage. We are all going to have days where you get up and piss on the floor. Grab something to drink and it becomes something to drop. You bang your knee. Everything you can screw the pooch on, you do. Now, I count in the first tune, hit the cymbals, hit the sticks together, drop one and it snowballs fast from that to you can't wait for to be done. Everyone has them in their job in life and those days happen to everyone, so forget it. Everyone of us is our harshest critic.
"Yeah, I partied quite a bit, but I never was incapable of performing my job. If I had been I would see that I never did it again."
In Y&T, I had a reputation for being a party animal and still do. What I gotta say to that is if I had done all the partying I supposedly have done I would be pickled in a jar with a tape label that said "rock drummer" and there would be my brain, heart, liver, lungs, and kidneys for all to see in that jar. Besides that I would've needed way more money. Not that I was poor or didn't party hard by any means. But to party like the myth and legend of Leonard Haze goes, I would've needed a lot more money and nine lives like a cat.
After Y&T, I was told my playing days are through. I hadn't played in two and 1/2 years. So I needed a lot of work and practice. I felt it returning but slowly. What and who got my playing back together was Matt Sanguinetti mostly and Ben Wong the bass players on the HazeXperience CD. Matt convinced Ronnie Montrose that what he had heard about my skills leaving and not coming back was an erroneous myth. Matt ran me through all the songs Ronnie might play daily just him and I two months before the gig. Matt plays guitar very well also. After I was starting to get it Ben would come in and we three would rehearse the Montrose set Ben had been playing with Ronnie. When I played the Montrose gig I was 85% back and now about 95%. Some nights I'm all the way but age gets everyone. Nobody is immune.
MM - Lenny, I know you were childhood friends with the late Y&T guitarist Phil Kennemore. Prior to his death in 2011 were you still friends together and seeing each other?
"Now, as far as me playing even a song or two with Y&T ever again, I don't know, but I don't think so. It isn't in me now. I'm past them and they're past me too. We have done that. New challenges lay ahead."
Yes and no. Phil was busy touring and recording the last Y&T stuff. We would run into each other around town. For a while, it seemed like there was a memorial or benefit each and every week. I knew Phil's entire family. His brother Jeff and I were close friends as were his brother Paul and I. Phil's son Sean and I have a great rapport and a love for 70s punk 45s. Now this is trippy...Paul Kennemore and my wife went to grammar school together and Paul had a crush on Kelly (my wife). In the 8th grade, I had a shop class with Phil's brother Jeff. I have so many Phil, Jeff, and Paul stories. I have a picture of the three of them working on the "Don't Stop Running" video. Jeff did special effects in Hollywood, Paul was an actor and an artist too. So much artistic talent in those three. All passed away from cancer. Fuck I still get that hole when I think about it. Nobody should have to go through that shit. Phil was a life long friend and we spent a lot of time together him and I writing, smoking, drinking, listening to the Beatles, watching Three Stoogies or cartoons...going to Oakland A's games or the Mabhuay Gardens the old Waldorf. We saw lotsa bands together Phil and I. We went out a lot had a lot of fun. We had our share of arguments but love was always involved, passion as well. Respect too. I miss Phil everyday.
MM - You were kind enough to take part in the all-star benefit concert back in 2010. Are you still connected/talk with his family?
I would, but most of them are passed too. I do speak to Phil's wife Hannah and son Sean. Hannah is a HazeXperience fan and I see her at our gigs. Hannah is still hurting deeply and that is difficult to see but we get along great and always have. Her and my first wife were best of friends too. Phil and her had a unexplainable relationship but they were deeply in love and passionate. Without passion we are just another animal on earth. Passion sets us apart. Phil was passionate about anything he got into.
MM - Do you still talk to Dave these days? Are you the two of your still cordial? When was the last time you saw him?
Yeah, we speak and have business together. The HazeXperience guitarist needed some work done on his 77 Marshall Mk II. So I called Dave and asked him where he takes his Marshall. We had a nice conversation that went from baseball, Marshall repairs, how their touring was going, health questions, our wives. We even threatened to go to lunch soon which I think we will do. I am playing a gig close to his house with the HazeXperience and his buddy and engineer, Tom Size, is going to mix us that night. John Nymann was looking at playing a gig or two with us but the dates we were speaking about he will be doing out of town Y&T gigs so scheduling conflicts are there. But yes Dave and I are cordial, friendly even. I see no reason why it would be any difference. Other people caused the animosities anyway.
David Meniketti is one of the most tallented human beings on this planet. He has a distinct playing style on guitar that is his own. He can hold his own and not be playing catch up to anyone. I am very proud of my time and accomplishments with Y&T. I have nothing but admiration for Dave, John, Mikey, and Brad. May they do great even better than ever. I really mean that.
Now, as far as me playing even a song or two with Y&T ever again, I don't know, but I don't think so. It isn't in me now. I'm past them and they're past me too. We have done that. New challenges lay ahead.
[Update: Leonard rejoined his bandmates on stage, March 14, 2015 at The Fillmore in San Francisco to perform two songs, "Winds Of Change" and "Dirty Girl". He said that playing that place was on his bucket list.]
MM - What were the discussions to start back with Y&T for the 2001-2006 period? Was it to just tour only or was their plans for an album together?
Originally it was to do a benefit for Joey Alves and our former tour manager Len Beraz. Joey had been having problems with some headaches and his eyes so they checked him out and found a abnormality between his sinus cavity and brain. And then our forrmer tour manager Len Beraz thought he caught bronchitis from me but after about three weeks it hadn't improved so he went back--lung cancer, 4th stage. So, I contacted Dave. He and I figured it would be the best way for the three of us to do it. We never said anything about playing another gig after. It never worked out.
MM - Ultimately why did you leave the group in 2006?
I really don't know, but we had two major issues. Dave and Phil wanted me to play to a click track live which I wasn't opposed to that much. It was how they wanted it done. That's where the trouble was. They wanted me to be the only one hearing it. That's great except I didn't start every song or count down every song. That was point of contention one. Point two was I would load the songs into the device in order of appearance after the set was finalized prior to going on. That way all I had to do was (in the dark) hit the big red light advance button after each song. But I couldn't read the name of the song or the bpm (beats per minute) settings. I just got a number on the click and I would match it to my set list. Easy enough. Well at least when the songs order doesn't get changed or songs are added to the set, but that happened...a bunch. Well, at least 5 times. I am the only person hearing the click and there were others starting songs and then I am getting blamed for tempos not being correct--Clicktrackergate.
Lenny in his early years
Then it got silly and I must confess I didn't handle this part well. I was accused of purposely not playing with the click track and that I let it get way off. Then it was that I am not using it and I am turning it off early in the show. Well, one blew out, so no click on that show is true. So, I am not using it because I can't, not that I don't want to. But you need a click to at least count us into songs and I am not starting or counting. Songs start wrong tempo so they stay wrong tempo because it will sound stupid to change them drastically.
But in our case it wasn't the using of the click...it was arguing again over trivial stuff and I knew it. It was just time to call it a career with Y&T. I am proud of what we did. All we were told always was "you can't do that"--nobody plays lead guitar and sings lead...you can not use a kick drum that size; it won't record. You can't record this loud. Too many kick drum beats. You guys need to lighten it up. You're playing too much live. You can't do that. Leave that alone. No, you can't record that way. That will not work in this studio. No, you can't finish the tour, the record isn't going to the stores anymore... We felt it was us against the world.
MM - I know you and the band have gone back and forth over the years regarding the band name. You technically started Y&T and named it. Do you receive money from the band for their continued use of the Y&T name?
Let's say that finally we came to an arrangement that all parties involved agreed was fair and equitable. You know I have gone through a divorce and the Y&T split was like divorcing four wives at once. That is a shit sandwich because it leaves a horrible taste in your mouth. But I can never hate those guys or not be proud of the recordings or the songs we wrote and performed. People don't believe it because they don't choose to, but I hope Y&T is more successful than ever. I worked hard for it and I still would like to see the major success happen. It's still cool to be a part of even from the sidelines.
MM - Do you see yourself working with Y&T again in some capacity in the future?
I won't say never because I can't predict the future. But as of now I am done and it's pretty certain I ain't going for three. Besides, they don't need or want me. Mike plays great and I think it's a great unit. They sound like Y&T and that is Y&T as I see it. It isn't the original four, but so what. They play and sound great. I love that band whether I am in it or out. I wish them nothing but success, safe travels, and good health.
MM - Have you attended a Y&T show to see how they are live these days?
Honestly, not in about a year maybe two. I don't go to many places or go see anyone really. I saw them at the Fillmore two years ago. I thought they were great. David was playing exceptionally well that night. They did Black Tiger front to back. John played good. Mike got a bit artsy with his solo but I thought they did exceptionally well.
"Getting old sucks but it beats not getting old. As long as I can make music I'll be happy. When I can't do that look out--asshole coming...old asshole."
The last time the four of us played together was a benefit for a friend of all of ours that was wasting away with cancer. His last request was for us to play together at his party and we did a set. The last time ever the four of us played together. If someone would've told me that would be the last time the original band could've played together, I would've called that person a liar.
It seems like I lose someone every couple of days at least every couple of weeks. It sucks. My grandmother told me the hardest thing about getting old after the parts wear out and cause pain is seeing your friends die. She always said when you are young god gives you things--friends, jobs, family, health, opportunities. When you get older god takes those things away. I didn't understand it then. I get it now. And that sucks. Getting old sucks but it beats not getting old. As long as I can make music I'll be happy. When I can't do that look out--asshole coming...old asshole.
MM - Craziest opening act you've seen open for one of your bands?
Back when we were playing at the Old Waldorf in San Francisco, I believe Black Tiger had just been released. My friend Jeff O'Leenar had just started a new punk band. I loved his band the Nuns but they had broken up so Jeff wanted to open a Y&T gig. Now let me explain Y&T fans are dedicated and loyal like no others. I go out to the front of house mixing area to listen. About half are standing flipping the bird. End of song two "BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! BOOOOOOOOO! FUCK YOU PIN HEADS!" O'Leenar goes "so you liked that one so much, we got another that sounds just like it". Now after that song the crowd is flinging bottles, cocktail glassware, a chair or two... O'Leenar says "fuck off, you're hearing more". After their show Jeff comes up to me and says they were no problem. I go Jeff, the top of your nose is bleeding. He's like "yeah can we play tomorrow too!?" I liked them.
Nightranger got shit opening for us. But the strangest billing I have ever been on was Peter Gabriel, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Y&T, and Television. Every band got booed. We were added for ticket sales. We sold about as many tickets as Peter Gabriel. Our fans were beating up intellectuals and punks; it was funny. We had played with Petty before and that worked. Gabriel had Robert Fripp too. He was a trippy dude. Played great. Different but great.
MM - You've hung around Bon Scott, Ozzy, and Motley Crue? What is your wildest memory of performing with one of them?
We had live chickens on stage with wigs on dressed like Motley Crue as we came out of the drum riser wearing GI Joe masks. It was the last show of the Theatre of Pain tour Ann Arbour, Michigan at the University Arena next to the football stadium. We got fined by the SPCA $5,000 for the exploitation of a farm animal. We saved them from Colonel Sanders but by putting them in almost direct contact with Satan himself on Motley Crue's stage we endangered and exploited those chickens for profit . I had it on video tape but lost it in a fire. It was hilarious. Whenever I speak to their Former production manager Jake Berry he brings up the chickens. Their former security head Fred Saunders says "I still dream about those fucking chickens and chasing them around on that stage". It is one of many pranks I have pulled.
MM - Lenny, I wish you the very best for HazeXperience. Thanks again for your time!
Look for a Lenny Haze column to come in Maximum Metal Magazine...