Joe Crabtree is a drummer from the UK who is currently working with the legendary group Wishbone Ash. In 2007, Joe took over the reins from Ray Weston and has touring and recording with "Ash" ever since. He brings plenty of experience to the table having previously worked with David Cross of King Crimson and the progressive rock group Pendragon. Wishbone Ash has been logging an enormous amount of touring miles and Joe fits right in as a fellow road warrior. Joe was smart enough to know (A degree in Physics) that this was an excellent opportunity for him. Wishbone Ash is currently touring The United States. I recently corresponded with Joe.
R.V.B. - Why did you start the drums as you your instrument? Did you come from a musical family?
J.C. - My mum and dad both played piano. My dad played by ear and didn’t read music (he also played guitar) and my mum played from music but not by ear. They had me take piano lessons when I was 5 years old. I hated it but it was a good musical foundation. I stopped when I was 10 and at 11 asked for a drum kit. I think I liked the tribal element of hitting things with sticks.
R.V.B. - What was your first drumset and what songs did you tackle first?
J.C. - I think it was a “Kestrel” drum kit with “Lazer” cymbals. Both brands I haven’t heard of since.
I took lessons from a local self-taught guy who had me play along to Beatles records. The first song I remember learning all the grooves and fills for was “Please, Please Me”. I played it over and over for hours – it was so much fun.
J.C. - I jammed with a friend from school who played guitar. The two of us used to play “Enter Sandman” by Metallica and similar songs. I then got a 5 piece band together and we did a couple of gigs at my school at lunch time. I worked out a lot of the guitar and bass parts for the other members and was very active designing and printing posters and getting people to video the show, etc. it was great fun. I think it’s the only gig I’ve played where someone (a 14 year old audience member) stage dived.
R.V.B. - Did you play music in school? When you were studying for your Physics degree, did you continue to play drums consistently?
J.C. - I never studied music formally but I was always in bands. At the university I probably spent more time playing music than doing academic work. I formed the best uni band with some great musicians who went on to do great work in the industry. The bass player (Jonny Lattimer) who wrote most of our songs ended up writing hits for Ellie Goulding!
R.V.B. - Did you choose the progressive rock genre because of the complexity of the music and the challenge?
J.C. - Yes. It was always fun to me having interesting drum parts and odd time signatures.
R.V.B. - How did you enjoy your time working with David Cross?
J.C. - It was fun working with David. They had a lot of complicated music. We never did many gigs though. I think in 2 or 3 years I played about 6 shows with them.
J.C. - I found out about the Pendragon gig 3 weeks before they were due to go on the road. I was about to go on holiday for 10 days so I had them send me the songs to learn and I planned to learn them while I was away. That turned into me enjoying my holiday and planning to learn them on the long flight home. I then got ill and ended up in a hospital in Kenya on a drip. I had to rearrange my flight and subsequently got home a day late and missed the first rehearsal. I think I wrote out some charts the day before I turned up and was concerned that I wouldn’t be prepared. It turned out that I knew the songs better than they did since they hadn’t played them for such a long time and they didn’t have notes.
I played with them for about 2 years. We did a couple of big European tours. It was my first time on a tour bus and it was all very exciting.
R.V.B. - Wishbone Ash is a more straight ahead rock band. Do you alter your style to play with them or is it business as usual? They are a hard working road band... can this effect your other drum activities?
J.C. - I enjoy the music of Wishbone Ash. Since the band has covered nearly 5 decades of music there are varying styles and it keeps it interesting. I try to play musically. I aim to make the songs groove as much as possible while adding a bit of spice to the drum parts. I know the songs so well by this point that I can really relax and play around with what I do. I feel like I’m creating something new every night.
We’re on the road a lot. In the down time there’s not really enough time to get any other musical projects off the ground but I spend a lot of time working on my educational drum website (https://www.joecrabtree.com ) and an iOS App that I developed (https://polynome.net). I use PolyNome on all Wishbone Ash shows for counting off songs and creating and printing setlists.
R.V.B. - Any great concerts with Wishbone Ash that really stick out in your mind?
J.C. - South Africa with Deep Purple and Uriah Heep was great. We were playing large arenas which was a lot of fun. However, musically it’s usually more satisfying to play small clubs with a good sound.
R.V.B. - Name some artists that you've enjoyed meeting or shared the stage with during the years.
R.V.B. - Does your physics mind come into play with your music technique at all?
J.C. - I have a very logical approach to everything. I guess if something doesn’t feel right I try and figure out why and then try to fix it. It’s the same approach I use when creating lessons for my website.
R.V.B. - How do you enjoy teaching and watching students progress?
J.C. - I love teaching. I no longer do a lot of private lessons but I do hear from people who subscribe to my website. I was recently waiting to collect my bags at Gatwick airport in London and someone came up and started talking to me. I couldn’t figure out if I’d met him before. It turned out he’d been subscribing to my site for a few years and said I’d really helped his playing and his career. I looked him up later and he was doing big festivals and was actually an awesome drummer. It’s really nice to know that the material I put out is useful for other drummers.
R.V.B. - Enjoy your current tour with Wishbone Ash and thanks for answering these questions.
J.C. - Thank you.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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