Mike Clark is a rarity in the music business: he has seen it all and yet refuses to slow down. While Clark was first made famous in his work with Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, he has since delved into various side projects with noted musicians from the so-called "jamband scene." While touring with the current Headhunters incarnation, Clark was kind enough to indulge JamBase for a few minutes from his Phoenix, Arizona hotel room...
JamBase: Hey how's it going?
MC: I'm alright. I'm here in Phoenix and just chillin'.
By Adam Foley
JamBase: It's pretty hot there I assume?
MC: It's pretty damn hot.
JamBase: I'll bet. Well, thanks a lot for taking the time out to actually do this for us. Let's see... you're from Oakland, right?
MC: I'm from Oakland. I've been in New York since 1979, but yeah, I'm from Oakland.
Right on. So growing up I assume you had a lot of influences from the Bay area?
My father was a railroad man so we traveled quite a bit. He was also a jazz drummer so he took me to the East coast and to the South and stuff. So most of my influences were jazz artists from back East and famous ones and non-famous alike. And I was playing professionally at an early age also. At age five or six, I was like a child prodigy so I really had a lot of experience logged in on the bandstand, you know?
So most of my stuff came from actually playing.
Yeah, which is cool, you know.
That's very cool and I imagine that just having your dad around as that kind of an influence would probably expose you to the best of what's out there as well.
Yeah, exactly! He really did.
Yeah, good deal. So who were some of your heroes growing up then?
Let's see: Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, John Coltrane, Lee Morgan...
So just a ton of different people then?
(Laughs) Right. Oh, and Miles, of course!
Nice. Very cool. So over the past few years you've had the opportunity to tour and perform with some of the so-called "jambands" with the Prescription Renewal and musicians from Galactic and the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey...
What was that like, in terms of playing with those guys? I mean, did you alter anything stylistically or I assume you're probably used to that as well? What was that like?
Well, it was no different than what I usually deal with in my daily life in New York. I play with all kinds of different guys, you know what I mean?
Yeah, most definitely.
It's kind of like another day in New York, I mean it was great. And it was special because I like all those guys; but, you know I play with the Vanguard guys in New York, I play bee bop, and post bop, funk, all kinds -- Knitting Factory stuff.
You know, really everything. So it wasn't different musically and that's how I've felt about it. But that's definitely not a negative--I mean I loved doing it. I love all those cats. You know, I love Jacob Fred, and I love Charlie [Hunter] and Skerik and Robert [Walters], you know, DJ Logic and Fred Wesley. They are all like my musical family...
By Adam Foley
I hear ya.
Yeah, but I know a million guys from New York, so we're all doing the same thing! (Laughs)
Yeah, I gotcha. So, each collaboration is probably special in its own way, but have there been any personal favorites of yours, just really special experiences for you?
Well one time, Charlie Hunter, Joe Lovano and I did a trio at the Knitting Factory, and that was the top of the world musically.
Oh, yeah, I can imagine what that must've been like...
Yeah, it was definitely top-shelf, is the best word I can think of. And I also did a record called Summertime, a straight-ahead jazz record of my own, and it was really a great experience. Musically it was very rewarding. And right now I'm having a blast. I'm totally focused on this new Headhunters band. I mean it, these guys are all amazing. I mean, you got Donald Harrison on saxophone...
P. Jackson By Forrest Hirtzel
Man this guy's got so much soul, he can play anything... he's a brilliant artist. Victor Atkins on piano--he also played with Elvin Jones--he's just a great keyboard player and pianist. And then of course, Paul Jackson and Joe Summers and I go way back.
Oh yeah, back decades!
Yeah, so these guys are truly great musicians. So each night it's true. Now that you brought it up and mentioned it, it's truly a jamband because we really are jamming each night. I mean, we have skeleton arrangements and then we just fill 'em out differently each night, nobody knows what's going to happen.
That's really cool, 'cause I was kind of curious if you were taking the vintage Headhunters tunes and putting a new spin on them, or if you were trying to stay more true to the original sound for the most part, but it sounds like you're doing a little bit of both.
We're doin' a little of both. We're doing "God Make Me Funky" and "Watermelon Man," and some of the tunes that people love from the old band, and we're doing new stuff too, and musically it's really great. I can't think of any other word. Each night is a new experience, you know what I mean?
By Dino Perucci
Oh, most definitely. Well good deal! So how does the current Headhunters tour come into play with your own side projects; the Prescription Renewal and whatnot? Is that kind of on the backburner for now or are you going to try and do both simultaneously?
Well, actually I've been playing some acoustic jazz gigs, and now I'm doing Headhunters, and I haven't really done Prescription in quite a while, 'cause all those guys have their own careers as band leaders themselves, so it's not that easy to get all those guys, you know? So I can't wait for them or I'm not sure if they want to do it anymore because everyone's got their own music they're involved with. So I'm doing a whole lot of other stuff. But you know, I may try to get Prescription going again. I'm not sure. I haven't or I can't right now... this is taking up so much energy. It's forced me to look ahead into that. I'm not planning ahead, but sooner or later I'm sure some of those guys will come out with me again.
Yeah, definitely. So just kind of taking it one day at a time, then?
Yeah, exactly. I can afford to do that at this point, so why not? (Laughing)
Well cool, I don't want to take up any more of your time, but I guess your last stop on this tour is going to be in Boulder, so I'm definitely looking forward to that show.
By Scott Smith
Oh yeah! Man, I love playing in Boulder... and speaking of the Prescription Renewal, this next year we have Live at the Fox from Boulder with Charlie and Fred Wesley and Skerik and Robert Walter and myself is going to come out. So that record is going to come out on CD.
And then I may try to put some tours together.
Wow, that would be amazing! Any idea on when the release date for that CD is?
You know, I'm really not supposed to be talking about it, but I couldn't resist dropping it out there like that, so I can't mention any label or anything yet, 'cause I'm not done with it. So I'm not sure if I just did the right thing or the wrong thing, but I just had to say it! (Laughing)
Hey, fair enough. Well thanks again for your time, and have a great tour, and I guess I'll be seeing you in a couple weeks!
Cool man, thanks a lot bro, take care.
Interview by: Nathan Rodriguez
JamBase | Colorado
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