Michael Cartellone interview

Hi Michael.

Thank you to accept to answer to our questions for the french fanzine ROAD TO JACKSONVILLE,
south rock music website.
First, it’s a little event because you have created your own website, that we can now find on the web http://www.michaelcartellone.com and where we can discover that you’re not only a great rock drummer,
but also a big painting fan. For the french fans, for them to know you better, we’d like to ask you some questions.

RTJ : First, I’ve read that you had began drumming at the age of 9 years old. Where you already, at this age in a musical surrounding, with your family or friends ? Why did you choose drums ?
Can you also tell us about your career, the groups you played with, the musicians you played with ?

Michael Cartellone : When I was growing up, I was surrounded with music. My parents loved Big Band music, my older sisters: the Beatles and my older brother: British Progressive Rock. Consequently, that list basically sums up most of my favorite music to this day. No one in my immediate family played an instrument, but I had an older cousin named Bert who played drums. Every time we visited Bert and his family, I’d beg him to let me play his drums. My parents saw I was so determined to play, that they sent me to Bert’s drum teacher for lessons at age 9. As for my drumming career, I’ve been blessed to work with a diverse list of brilliant musicians: Damn Yankees, Accept, John Fogerty, John Wetton, Adrian Belew, Cher, Peter Frampton, and Freddie Mercury. Of course, Lynyrd Skynyrd is dominant in this list.

RTJ : After playing with many great rock and hard-rock musicians, you’re now Lynyrd Skynyrd official drummer. How did it happen, how were you chosen ? What was Lynyrd Skynyrd for you when you were a kid ?

Michael Cartellone : In 1998, Skynyrd was recording Edge of Forever in Nashville, TN. Ron Nevison (who produced both Damn Yankees records) was producing. I was living in Nashville at the time and stopped down at the studio to say Hello. One thing led to another and I found myself playing percussion on the record. They asked me to go on the road that summer and now six years have flown by. It’s turned out to be a great gig. They’re all wonderful people and it’s a strong, family oriented environment. I was a Skynyrd fan when I was younger, and really do realize how lucky I am to work with them.

RTJ : To play with Damn Yankees and Ted Nugent must have been a great moment for you, an incredible musical experience. Can you tell us a little bit more about this wonderful experiment ?

Michael Cartellone : Damn Yankees was an amazing time in my life. Tommy Shaw, Jack Blades, Ted Nugent and I have all stayed in touch over the years and remain close friends. In fact, Tommy and Jack happened to be in my hometown New York City recently and we had dinner together. Having played bars in small towns up to that point, followed by a tour as a member of Tommy Shaw’s solo band, I was basically unknown when Damn Yankees formed. I couldn’t have hoped for more as things exploded and we sold 3 million records and worked non-stop for five years.

RTJ : Damn Yankees career was, for us, too short. Did you hope that this lasts longer ?
Why this musical reunion didn’t last longer ?

Michael Cartellone : The end of those five years, we thought we’d take a one year break from Damn Yankees (with the intention of getting back together afterward). During this time, Ted was recording a solo record and Tommy and Jack a duet record. I ended up recording with Tommy and Jack and touring with Ted’s solo band. We did in fact get back together a year later and started recording demos of new songs. At this time our record label, Warner Bros. went through major personnel changes, from executives to Artists on the roster. So, we found ourselves pursuing other record companies. This went on for awhile and during the time the four of us started working separately: Tommy with Styx, Jack with Night Ranger, me with Ted at first and then Accept. To make a long story short: Damn Yankees never officially broke up, it just got put on a back burner for 10 years! It’s hard to say if and when we would do Damn Yankees again. I know we all still have the desire to work together one day, but we’re all very happy where we are right now.

RTJ : Do you feel a great difference between what is called Southern Rock Music and hard Rock Music ? Are these two different approaches of the music ?

Michael Cartellone : There are some differences in playing Southern Rock and Hard Rock. It’s basically the feel with which you play. I approach Southern Rock with a more Bluesy feel, slightly looser and behind the beat. I approach Hard Rock with much more aggression and precision. It’s important to note, that I often use those techniques all at once, regardless of the music I play. I just lean a little more in the direction of the music, so I play appropriately

RTJ : Ted Nugent seems, for us, very close to southern music, generally speaking. What about you ?
Is southern music a particular style, and a special state of mind that you really feel ?

Michael Cartellone : To be honest, I don’t consider Ted Nugent Southern Rock at all. However, Ted does play with that Bluesy feel I mentioned. He actually loves Motown and R & B, which I think shows in his music.

RTJ : Do you love other kind of music ? Have you other musical influences ?

Michael Cartellone : As I mentioned in first question, I love everything I grew up hearing. In addition, I listen to a lot of Classical. I really love listening to Classical because I’m not connected to it in any way. My head doesn’t automatically start analyzing it like it does when most music is playing, so I can just enjoy it. I would have to say that I’m most influenced by The Beatles and David Bowie. As a drummer, I love British Progressive Rock: Yes, King Crimson, UK, Pink Floyd. For years I played in bands that pushed the limits with time signatures and syncopation. I still enjoy playing that style today.

RTJ : How were your first steps with Lynyrd Skynyrd ? Did you play the same way as the former drummers used to play Skynyrd songs, or did you immediately create your own way to play these songs ? Today for instance, do you play the new songs in your own way ?
Or do you feel « obliged » to play them in a « Lynyrd Skynyrd » style ?

Michael Cartellone : When I first joined Skynyrd, I listened to the original studio recordings and live versions (from The Fox and Steeltown) of the songs I was asked to learn. It was interesting to hear how the drumming had developed from studio to live and what each drummer had kept or discarded. Basically, I kept the kick and snare patterns true to the original recordings. As for drum fills, there were some that were integral to the songs and some that I could inject my personal style. I did that on a song by song basis. The important thing to mention, is that a lot of these early recordings are ingrained in the public’s memory. So, you have to keep it very authentic or it just doesn’t sound right.

RTJ : I think, that’s my opinion, that maybe it’s sometimes hard to play with Gary, Billy, Johnny and the others… What do you think about this ?

Michael Cartellone : Playing in Skynyrd is a very natural and easy position for me. All the members are very talented and we all respect each other’s ability. Plus we all get along great.

RTJ : In the great rock drummers, which one were your main influences ?

Michael Cartellone : The drummers who have influenced me the most are Bill Bruford,
Stewart Copeland and Terry Bozzio.

RTJ : I’ve seen, on your website, that you were passionate with painting. What can you tell us about this real passion ? Who are your favourite painters, and your favourite styles ?

Michael Cartellone : My love for painting began at age 4, when I attended Art school during the summer months.
I’ve basically painted my whole life since then, developing my ability as a painter while developing my ability as a musician. I actually thought I’d follow Art as a career until I started playing in bands at age 11. At that point my energy focused on music, although I never stopped painting. My favorite painters are: Rene Magritte, Georges Seurat, Norman Rockwell and MC Escher. It follows suit that my favorite styles would then be : Post-Impressionism, Surrealism and Realism.

RTJ : We can, on your website, find a part of what you did and what is called « The Road Series Paintings », that were made during Lynyrd Skynyrd tours. What do you hope in giving such paintings ?

Michael Cartellone : I’ve intended to pursue an Art career, as well as continuing to be a musician, for years. The Road Series Paintings have made that goal a reality. I really feel that these paintings will be attractive to collectors, even if they aren’t Lynyrd Skynyrd fans. I have other paintings in the works which I will market through my website (www.michaelcartellone.com), as well as a Gallery showing of the The Road Series original canvases in NYC this coming winter.

RTJ : At the end, as it is a tradition on Road to Jacksonville, we ask this particular question : If you have to finish your life on a desert island where you can choose and take five cds (and maybe 1 or 2 paintings if you want), which one would you choose ? (and why ?)

Michael Cartellone : The Desert Island Discs are: Ziggy Stardust (Bowie), Abbey Road, Rubber Soul, Revolver (Beatles) and a CD called Piano Classics (various famous pieces by assorted composers).
The Desert Island Paintings are: Circus Sideshow (Seurat) and Triple Self-Portrait (Rockwell).

RTJ : It is the end (as said Jim Morrison…) I want to really thank you a lot to accept to answer us to our questions.. and to be so kind we do hope to see you back in France, with Lynyrd Skynyrd,
as soon as possible…

Michael Cartellone : Thanks again. Hope to see you soon in France!


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