Drummer with the Knack
Thursday 24 August 2006
Bruce Gary, drummer and producer: born Burbank, California 7 April 1952; died Los Angeles 22 August 2006.
Propelled by one of the most recognisable kick-and-snare drum intros of all time, the power-pop anthem "My Sharona" topped the US charts and took the new wave band the Knack around the world in 1979. With their white shirts, skinny black ties and catchy songs, the group looked and sounded like a throwback to the heyday of the Beatles and became the epitome of the short-lived, radio-friendly, post-punk genre, alongside the Cars and Blondie. Get the Knack, their début album for Capitol - which also featured "Good Girls Don't", another US Top Ten single - sold five million copies worldwide
But the follow-up, entitled . . . But the Little Girls Understand and released in 1980, only sold a tenth of that amount. By the time the Knack issued Round Trip, their third album, at the end of 1981, it barely made the Top 100 and they broke up. Although the group reunited in 1991 with the original members Doug Fieger (vocals, guitar), Berton Averre (guitar) and Prescott Niles (bass), the drummer Bruce Gary declined to rejoin.
Like his former Knack colleagues, he had been a musician in demand before the band's success. He had backed the bluesman Albert Collins, as well as touring and recording with the former Cream bassist Jack Bruce in the mid-Seventies as part of a stellar line-up also featuring the jazz pianist and composer Carla Bley and guitarist Mick Taylor, who had just left the Rolling Stones.
Gary had kept busy throughout the Eighties and was justly considered one of the best drummers in the world. He worked with such West Coast legends as the Doors guitarist Robby Krieger, Randy California and Spirit and Arthur Lee of Love, and toured with Bob Dylan, playing alongside Jim Keltner, his "drum mentor". Gary's impressive résumé also included session work for Sheryl Crow, Albert King, John Lee Hooker, Bette Midler, Harry Nilsson, Rod Stewart, Yoko Ono and George Harrison (on the Shangai Surprise soundtrack in 1986).
A versatile drummer capable of playing in any style, Gary also backed Spencer Davis and Denny Laine - he even toured Japan with the surf-instrumental group the Ventures in 1996. He enjoyed being in the studio and, with Alan Douglas, co-produced several posthumous albums featuring Jimi Hendrix, such as Blues (1994), Woodstock (1994) and Voodoo Soup (1995), though aficionados of the guitarist criticised them for tinkering with the tapes and re-recording drum parts. He eventually reunited with the Knack for a version of "No Matter What" for Come and Get It, a tribute album to the original power-poppers Badfinger (1997).
Born in California in 1952, Bruce Gary was drawn to the musical scene of Topanga Canyon as a teenager and soon made friends with people like the guitarist Randy California. After playing with Albert Collins in the late Sixties and early Seventies, Gary began a long-lasting association with Jack Bruce which took in several tours and even a recent, thus far unreleased, session also involving Andy Summers, the former Police guitarist.
In 1978, he joined Fieger, Averre and Niles to form the Knack, a group who took their name from the Richard Lester film The Knack . . . And How to Get It (1965) and aimed to record "high-school songs with a teenage point of view". At first, record companies ignored their demo tape, but a series of gigs at the Troubadour in Los Angeles created such a buzz that, on separate occasions, Tom Petty, Stephen Stills and Bruce Springsteen got up on stage to jam with them.
By early 1979, the Knack had a dozen labels clamouring to sign them. Logically enough, they chose Capitol, the US major associated with the Beatles, and even signed their record deal at the top of the company's famous circular building in Los Angeles (sweet revenge after being turned down four times by the label). Recorded for $18,000 and produced by Mike Chapman, who had just finished working with Blondie on Parallel Lines, Get the Knack became one of the biggest-selling début albums of all time, but also something of a curse. The Knack refused to give interviews and the press soon turned against them and "My Sharona", the rather sexist hit song Averre and Fieger had written.
However, they enjoyed something of a revival in the Nineties when "My Sharona" featured in the soundtrack to Reality Bites (1994) and Kurt Cobain stated that Nirvana were "basically Black Sabbath molesting the Knack".
A personable man, Bruce Gary loved nothing more than meeting other drummers like Buddy Rich, Ringo Starr and the session musician Hal Blaine. In 1990, he served as drum teacher on The Doors, the Oliver Stone biopic, and showed Kevin Dillon how to portray the part of John Densmore convincingly.
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