Kurt Custer's interview
by John Molet

Hi Kurt, here is John from "The Roas to Jacksonville" (radio show & webzine). You'll easily understatnd that, with this name, we're very much interested in southern rock music, and as the french fans never forgot your work in Lynyrd Skynyrd, we wanted to ask you a few questions regarding your career and of course, the years you spend in the Jax gang's band.

First, when and how did you first start playing the drums ?
I started playing drums at the age of 4. My brother got a drum set for christmas, but he really didn't play a lot. I would drag them out of the garage, set them up and play. I would play to Beatles records and other bands like Focus (great drummer), The Monkees, Hermans Hermits, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix to name a few.

We're read you were playing other instruments, can you explain us which ones and houw you started playing them ?
My family was and is very musical. We had an upright piano I learned on and my brother played guitar. My other brother played accordion and trumpet, so music was all around me. Getting a feel for the drums led me to investigate other instruments so I could write music as well as perform it. I didn't want to get "lost in the shuffle" so to speak. I wanted to separate myself from the other drummers and having knowledge of these other instruments gave me an advantage.

Who were your main influences whan you started playing music ?
My main influence was of course The Beatles. Best band ever!! I'm somewhat of a Beatle maniac. Know a lot about them. Other influences were Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zepplin, Free, Queen and The Who. All these drummers influenced me greatly! Mitch Mitchell, Keith Moon, Roger Taylor, John Bonham and Ringo--(people don't realize how good he was)!

Are there bands you 're dreaming about being their drummer ?
Yes, there are certain acts that I would like to work with. XTC is an act I would love to record with. Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding are fantastic writers and performers. I would love to play on anything of Elton Johns. He's great! I would love to record with Skynyrd again. Maybe in the future? I would also like to record with John Mellencamp. I've been a big fan for years! I like his latest "Cuttin Heads." Some great stuff! I did work a bit with Larry Crane (his former guitarist) when I was in Little America.

Which bands did you work for ?
I've worked with a lot of acts both recording and performing. I was in a band called Little America. We had two records with Geffen. First was self-titled with a hit called "Walk on Fire." It did really well for us. Then was "Fairgrounds" in 1989. "Where Were You" was the hit from that. In 1988, I met Steve Earle who saw me lay down a drum track in 1 take! I did "Copperhead Road" in 1988. This definitely brought me the most recognition as a drummer. I'm very proud of the work I did on it. Great time being in the south, meeting a great girl and playing on a great artists' album. Wow! Was that fun! I've worked with Steve Earle on "I Feel Alright" in 1995. Also, I've produced several independent acts like "Steve Meyer and the Renegades" and a band from L.A. called "Fat Shadow." Production is so rewarding as it gives me the space to arrange and improve other peoples' songs. I have a recording studio at my house and that's where I recorded "Peaceful Lunatic."

How did you meet the Lynyrd Skynyrd band and how have you been involved in the band ?
I met up with Skynyrd through Ed King. He called me one day and said he liked my playing on Steve Earles' Copperhead Road. It took me a year to join because Artimus Pyle was "freaking out" about not being able to play in time anymore. That was tough, to come in and replace someone who basically saved their lives after the plane crash. But, I got through it and became their sole drummer for 4 years. Very rewarding. I learned a lot! I basically started to arrange the songs from the first rehearsal. I did write with them as well. Remember "I've seen Enough." Also, I worked with veteran producer (and friend) Tom Dowd (Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, etc.). Arrangement is a strength of mine. Ever since I was little. Music like the Beach Boys also helped my cause because the music was arranged so beautifully! Great Vocals!!

Were you a huge fan of southern rok music at that time ?
At the time I was hired, I did like some Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet and some 38 Special. I was a BIG fan of the Allman Bros. Still am. Ronnie and Greg Allman are two of my favourite singers! Man, what feel! I did know Skynyrd was coming back at that time, but hadn't heard anything concrete from the band.

Is life with the Lynyrd Skynyrd band tough ? What are your best memories with them ?
Life was tough in the band. In some ways, it was like a soap opera. Always something wrong, or always something bigger going on outside of the band. Sometimes, I think those elements brought us down, but we did work great under pressure. I have so many fond memories of hanging out with Gary at his home, playing with his children, hanging out with Craig Reed and Leon (whom I miss dearly!!). We roomed together during the making of "1991." We tore Memphis apart-Lee and I. There are too many to mention. Being on stage was the best feeling in the world, and playing to the European audience! You guys rock!! Very attentive and personal. I like that.

Were you involved in the arrangements of the albums "1991" and "The last rebel" ?
Yes, I did along with Ed King, did most of the arranging of "1991' and "Last Rebel." I basically took what they were writing and put it in a format that was condusive to their sound. Their way of doing music, as only Skynyrd could do. There was some adjusting, though. But, I just seemed to adapt to the guys quickly! We got along really well.

What were your relations with the other members in the Lynyrd Skynyrd band ?
As I mentioned, we got along really well. I was closest with Gary, Dale and Ed. I rode the "party bus" with Billy, Leon, Randall. We were always cuttin' up. We made home movies, watched comedy shows, watched our own shows on video. We played cards a lot and talked about old times too! Sometimes, we would even record ideas as we were truckin' down the road. That was fun! We also got into trouble. But I won't mention the logistics of those times. That will stay in my head. Ha Ha Ha.

What do you think of the alums released with the current luneup ?
I've heard some stuff from their latest albums. Some stuff I like, but I think they can do better. It's a question of inspiration. I don't think they nailed it, but at least they're out there doing it! We always did really well in concert rather than album sales. I would like to see them grow musically a bit.

Why did you leave the Lynyrd Skynyrd band ?
I left Skynyrd in March of 94'. My partner Andy Logan and I had a self-titled record we recorded (Custer & Logan). We had an offer from Capitol records for a record deal, so we showcased and things were looking real good. I left to devote more time to my solo project as it was getting difficult to do both. We had the deal, but at the last minute, one of the Vice Presidents backed out! Man, was that tough! But you forge ahead, you know. Hindsight is 20/20 yes!

Can you tell us about your collaboration with Steve Earle ?
Steve Earle gave me my first BIG break. After "Copperhead" I did a lot of work and I have him to thank for it. Steve basically lets me go in the studio. He knows that I've got an ear for stuff and rhythm parts. I worked extensively with Kelly Looney, the bass player, on rhythm charts. The drum/bass arrangments are basically mine, with Steve's input. He was great to work with in the studio because I would watch him through the glass as he sang. For me, this was inspiring because I would play to match him. A lot of drummers don't know to play with the vocal. That's where the passion is anyway. He liked my drumming since day one and I do enjoy playing with him. He's a troubador. That's for sure.

What is Custer's career these days ?
My career these days takes me all over. I'm currently producing the lead singer from Little America, Mike Magrisi. We're doing a record together and I'm producing it. It sounds wonderful, and will be out sometime in the fall of 2002. Also, I'm doing some occasional studio work with some up-and-coming acts. I'm also starting work on my next album. I've just laid some tracks last week and I'm very excited about them. I'm going to Nashville in May to work with my partner, Andy Logan, to lay some tracks for another record. Also, I'll probably meet up with Ed King and we'll do something together on these tracks. (Hopefully)!

If you had the opportunity, which southern rock band would you like to work (or re-work) with ?
I would definitely love to work with Skynyrd again. If I had the chance, I would. Maybe in the future. We'll see.

Last questions. Is your solo album southern music ? Can you tell us a few words about it ? Did you plan a tour ?
I'm very excited about my new record, "Peaceful Lunatic." My music is a compilation of southern california Pop, Folk and Blues. I definitely have a tinge of southern rock in there, but my music is not. Songs like "County Fair" and "Old Man Snead" have a country rock feel, but I have to say I sound like XTC, Jellyfish and Skynyrd all rolled into one. Harmonies like the Byrds and songs that take you to a place you can relate to. My CD is available at an online record store called CD BABY. The address is CdBABY.com/KurtCuster. There, you will find my biography, along with sound bites to hear some tracks. It's really quite brilliant, this web-site. Great opportunity to meet up with friends and fans around the world and get your music heard. So, tell all your friends to buy it! They won't be disappointed.

Thanks a lot Kurt for answering these questions. The South gonna rise Again. John Molet for RTJ
Thanks again and France rocks!! Custer


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