Back in the days Mr. Big was one of the few "shredder" hard rock metal bands that prized song craft as highly as virtuosity. The seeds for the group’s formation were sown when bass player extraordinaire Billy Sheehan (ex-David Lee Roth band, Talas) began piecing together a new outfit with former Racer X guitarist Paul Gilbert, drummer Pat Torpey (Ted Nugent, Impellitteri, Robert Plant), and singer Eric Martin, the latter of who had issued a couple of solo releases in the mid 80’s. By 1989 the band inked a recording contract with Atlantic, resulting in the release of a self-titled debut the same year. The album was a success, especially in Japan, and it included the MTV hit singles "Addicted to That Rush” and ”Wind Me Up”. Their sophomore album LEAN INTO IT was released in 1991 and it was a bigger worldwide success with the help of the mega hit ballad "To Be with You". Their third album BUMP A HEAD came out in 1993 and although it included another hit single "Wild World" (a cover of an old Cat Stevens classic), it failed to reach its predecessors sales figures. During next month’s years Mr. Big did a lot of touring including a tour with Aerosmith in Europe, they had three sold out headline shows in Tokyo’s classic Budokan arena, and played a show in Sao Paulo in front of 100 000 people. HEY MAN was released in 1996 but soon after everybody in the band started to concentrate more and more on other stuff than Mr.Big and as a result the band was on hold for nearly two years. In 1999 Mr. Big decided to reform but at that point Paul Gilbert refused to come back so Mr.Big decided to continue with a new guitarist Ritchie Kotzen (ex-Poison) and later on they released two more albums: GET OVER IT (2000) and ACTUAL SIZE (2001) before they called it quits after a farewell tour in 2002. In February of 2009 it was announced that the original line up of Mr. Big would do a reunion tour in the summer in Japan to celebrate its 20th anniversary of their debut album. As expected, that tour proved to be highly successful and they decided to continue the tour outside of Japan. A twenty-date European tour started on the 9th of September in Tallinn, Estonia. On the next day the band arrived in Helsinki and I had a chance to sit down and talk with Mr.Torpey about the past and possible future of Mr.Big amongst other interesting topics. Read and learn on!
INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
TRANSCRIPTION BY ANTAURA ZED
You just played the first show on this European tour in Estonia. How was that?
It was fantastic. It was great; really good.
You’ve never been in Estonia before?
No. I think Paul had and Billy had – they both had; not me.
Tell about Mr.Big re -union. Whose idea it was to put this band back together?
Well, it- I don’t think it was any one person’s idea, it was everybody’s idea. We had a lot of time pass and it seemed to be right. There was kind of a catalyst that got it going. Paul was doing a show at the House of Blues in Los Angeles; I think it was May of last year – not last May but a year ago – yeah, it was May. And I was playing drums with Richie Kotzen and Paul asked Ritchie to open. Paul didn’t know that I was playing drums for him on that show. And so Ritchie told me, “Yeah, it’ll be great. Pat’s going to play drums.” And Paul said, “Oh, really? Wow. I’ll invite Billy down and we’ll have him sit in for an encore – we’ll play some stuff.” So Paul sent me an email and I was like, “Yeah, sure. You know, that’d be great.” And then it was. It was a lot of fun and Ritchie sang too – Ritchie sang a song. Eric wasn’t there; Eric lives in San Francisco. And so one thing led to another and here we are in Finland. A year and a half later we’re playing shows.
So, all of the guys – Billy, Eric and Paul – they are really busy with their own things all the time. Was it hard to set this thing up because they have so many other things going on?
Well, not really. I think once the, you know- where there’s a desire and a will, you make it happen. And, you know, it has taken a while to- we didn’t immediately just jump in and do it, you know, we had to make some plans and start planning. I think officially we didn’t really decide we were going to do the reunion thing until August of, like, a year ago, you know. And then we had to decide: “Okay, well, what are we going to do? How are we going to do this?” All those things, you know, management, we had to make all those business decisions. But the good part is that everybody was of the same mind. We all wanted to do it. There wasn’t one guy going, “Uhhh…I’m not sure, you know…” That’s what’s really the best thing about it – because we’re all kind of in the same place, to use a cliché. And that’s what makes it fun and kind of reignited the spark, you know, of wanting to play together, and it’s just been really fun. We’ve already done a Japanese tour and we did a show in Indonesia about a month ago.
There’s a DVD to be released from that tour in Japan, right?
Yeah, we did a thing at BUDOKAN LIVE – a live CD and DVD. So, now it’s just kind of- we’ve kind of been able to go right into cruising, you know what I mean? It’s like the band’s really tight together. I mean, I feel like we’d play anywhere right now because we’re playing really well and all the cylinders are firing, you know, on the engine.
Mr.Big broke up in 2002. Is there anything different now compared to old days?
Well, I think there are a lot of things that are different in a positive way. I mean, when we stopped playing together there were, you know- there was kind of a bad vibe going on, but it wasn’t like we hated each other or anything. It was just that we’d been through a lot – we went through a lot of the same things that bands go through. The only difference is we don’t do drugs, you know, we’re pretty clean, normal guys. But we just had some musical differences that, you know, started and then got bigger and bigger and then people decided to do other things. So it’s just a part of the growth pattern that I think everybody goes through and now those things are- they’ve tried and now this is fun again. So I think what’s different about it now is also the intensity, because fifteen years ago, or when we first got together in ’92, ’91, ’90, and ’80, we were so, “We’re going to be the best band! We’re gonna be so good!” and everybody was just so intense and crazy, you know.
Yeah, you know, and not just hungry but, you know, so focused that we’d forget to look at the big picture. We were so focused on this one thing that you forget how fun everything is and how great it is to actually be able to be doing what we’re doing, and so you kind of take it for granted a little bit. And that’s not there anymore. And it’s good – it’s a good place to be.
Paul left band in 1999. You continued with Ritchie Kotzen but only three years later you decided to call it quits. Would you briefly tell what actually caused Mr.Big to break up back then?
Well, there was tension inside the band, I mean, I don’t have to give the specifics – it was just personalities, you know musical things. And it had just run its course, you know, like I said: marriages go through this, bands break up, bands get back together – nothing that’s really big and juicy, you know. There wasn’t any big fight and then, you know, “Fuck you!” You know, it was nothing like that. And I remained friends with Paul and Billy and Eric the whole time – the whole time.
You stayed friends but you also played with Paul, Billy and Ritchie on different situations during the years?
Yeah, I did some stuff with Paul – recording with him – and I played with Ritchie. And I did a thing with Billy – a couple other things. I didn’t play with Eric, but that was more of a geography thing – he lives in San Francisco. And I was doing other things as well and I did a couple of solo things – I tried that for a while-
Yeah, in Southeast Asia. Two records were released: ODD MAN OUT [and Y2K]. So there really isn’t, you know- that’s all that really happened. I think fans were aware that we were having some tensions inside the band musically, you know, everybody knew about it. But, you know, I see old performance DVDs and we were still playing really well. We were good and I’m really proud because I see it and I think, “Wow. I hope we can still be that good.” Everybody was really playing well and doing well.
One thing people keep saying – especially here in Finland – is: “Yeah, Mr. Big – they’re just a ballad band with ‘To Be With You’” Do you ever get fed up with that?
Well, not really. You know, it’s kind of like- I don’t have time to really have that upset me because, you know, it’s like, you can’t please everybody so I don’t even try. We just play what we like. We figure that there are enough people out there that are going to like something that we do – I don’t have to worry about the people that don’t. Some people think we’re a ballad band and other people think, “Oh, it’s too hard rock.” You know, it’s like, whatever, ‘cause I can’t explain it. I’m just playing music and taking all the influences that I’ve had my whole life and having it come through me in another way. Music’s like food: some people like burgers, some people like pasta, you know. Whatever. I don’t really care, to be honest with you.
Isn’t it kind of strange when most of Mr.Big material is something else but ballads but you’re still best known about those songs?
With “To Be With You” and- Well, I think that’s okay, I mean, it’s nothing to complain about. Some of my favourite, you know – and I’ve had this question asked to me before – some of my favourite albums, CDs, or whatever were albums that had all kinds of stuff on it: any Beatles thing, any Hendrix or Zeppelin – these old classic records. And they had ballads and rock tunes and instrumental things. So, in a way- If people think we’re a ballad band that just means they haven’t listened to everything we’ve done. And if people think we’re only just about the technical stuff then they haven’t listened to everything we’ve done either. We do some bluesy stuff, we do some pop rock, you know, ballads, you know, acoustic. And one other thing is: we’re really into singing – all of us – even more than before. If you see our show now, we do even more vocal kind of things than we’ve ever done before.
The Fab Four?
Yeah, well, I guess. We have one singer though. We have one real lead singer, that’s one of the things, but- Vocals have always been, for me, that was always a big deal. I wanted to be a good drummer, but I wanted to be Paul McCartney, you know – I wanted to have this voice.
Yeah, exactly. That’s what I say.
Mr.Big promopicture from late 80’s.
Let’s talk about some past projects. Tell something about your working with Impellitteri?
Oh, wow. That was a long time ago. Well, you know, I never really was in the band with Chris. At the time, a buddy of mine was playing bass – Chuck Wright. Chuck and I have known each other for decades. He had a drummer and he left and they were already in the studio and Chris, you know, was trying to get this record together. So Chuck told Chris, “I know Pat” and I’d never met Chris before so he asked me to come down. That was actually the first time I ever recorded double kick drums. I’d never really played much double kick drum but he had a lot of these double kick drum things. So for about a week I was like, “Okay, I’ve gotta get this together and practise.” But then they needed somebody and my picture was on the album because I was there. But I was already doing other things even when that came out.
You never toured with them?
No, I never did. I played a NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show with Chris once – that was the only time I ever played live with him. And then they ended up getting some guy – I can’t remember his name. But I like Chris, he’s a great guy, really cool and we’re still buddies and everything.
How about Graham Bonnet who did sing on STAND IN LINE album?
Graham? I barely know him, you know. I mean, I did a couple of photo sessions with him and that was it. I barely know the guy.
You also worked with Ted Nugent at one point, didn’t you?
Yeah, that was way early on – that was in like, the mid-80s. And that was because Tom Werman was producing. He produced a lot of Ted Nugent, Cheap Trick, a few different things. And there was an engineer guy named Duane Baron who worked with him all the time and he had started working with John Purdell – he’s a keyboard player, a producer, engineer – and John and I used to be in a band together a couple of years before that. John was the singer/keyboard player, I was the drummer, with Chuck Wright playing bass – it was this band called Exposure. When they started working with Ted, you know, they needed somebody to play drums – and I actually didn’t really play drums. They were all nuts and crazy about these sequencers, you know, so I was playing pads into a sequencer and then they would manipulate everything. This was before computer-based recording like Pro Tools and so on and so forth. It was just crazy. I remember so many times just saying, “Why don’t we just set up a kit, let me just play, it’s rock and roll, this isn’t rock and roll.” And, you know, then I overdubbed the cymbals and, whatever, you know, it came out. But that was what that was about.
Actually to be honest, I don’t like that album (IF YOU CAN’T LICK ‘EM… LICK ‘EM) too much. The drums on it sound like, ugh…
Oh, it’s terrible.
Yeah, it is.
And I think so too. Believe me, I’m the first guy to go, “Pfft!” you know. There’s something about people and they think they can control [everything]: “Oh, we’ll be able to move this and move that and this’ll be great!” and I’m like, “Yeah, but it sounds terrible.” I think it does. And they don’t hear it like I do, you know. I hear all the subtleties.
Another interesting aspect of your past is your tour with Robert Plant.
Yes, in ’88 – “the Now and Zen” tour.
That was just before Mr. Big?
Right. And I was already in Mr. Big. Mr. Big was already together, we just hadn’t- we just were finishing up getting the record deal together – everything with Atlantic – and so we had some time off. We weren’t going to start recording until January and this was in October, so I was in the right place at the right time and got a phone call. It was pretty cool. It was a surprise to me. I was pretty excited about it – being able to play with Robert Plant. I mean, Led Zeppelin is a big deal to me. They were a one of a kind band, you know.
During the past few years you have been doing drum clinics around the world, right?
Yeah, exactly, I have. I have been doing clinics in Southeast Asia more than anything: China, Southeast Asia and some European things as well. I did a thing in Italy and a thing in Slovenia and then went to Russia and so on.
Pat live at Finland 2009!
THE EARLY YEARS
I read somewhere that when you were really young you had to choose between a sports career and being a musician.
Well, yeah. I’m a jock, I mean, I like sports. I still do. I still play baseball every weekend – every weekend I play. But the draw of music was so strong, it was like a magnet, you know. I just couldn’t- I knew that was more important to me. Even in high school, when it came time to play football for the high school team or play music, I played music. I just had a more long-term vision of what I wanted to do with my life and professional sports, I mean; I’m not that big so I couldn’t play football. I was okay, I mean, I’m not great I just like to do it for fun – recreation.
Speaking of influences, was Bonzo [John Bonham] one of them?
Huge. But you know, it’s almost kind of, you know- he’s one of those guys who influenced everybody – every drummer and people in music just because of his sound and approach. I mean, even his last name, Bonham: “Let’s do a Bonham thing” – it’s like an adjective now. If I could get to a spot where someone could say, “Hey, do a Torpey thing,” that would be great. That’s a real testament to how much influence the guy had. Up to a certain point there were all these other things in music and then all of a sudden there’s Led Zeppelin and John Bonham and I was like, “Whoa. This is completely different than anything I’ve ever heard.”
Are there any other guys who influenced your playing? Like Neil Peart?
Well, not so much Neil. I mean, Neil’s great, you know. I’m not a huge fan of Rush…until we toured with them. When we toured with Rush, then I became a fan. But up to that point I was more into the early progressive bands like Genesis and Yes, Emerson, Lake & Palmer to a certain degree and The Strawbs, Spooky Tooth, all of these kinds of mid-60s things, you know, psychedelic. Another guy that was a big deal when I was young was Mitch Mitchell, who was with Hendrix. That was a big influence on me. You know, if anybody asks me, “Who are your influences?” it’s like, well, there’s millions of ‘em. There are so many great drummers playing now. I think I’ve seen every Buddy Rich drum solo that has been recorded on video. I saw one today on the Internet that I had never seen before and I’m telling you, you know, I just shake my head going, “Oh my god, this guy is superhuman. Superhuman!” So, there’s so many people that have influenced me but, as far as the rock genre goes, Bonham, Mitch Mitchell, Clive Bunker – the original Jethro Tull drummer – was a big deal for me. He influenced me. I was very young when I saw him and I was like, “Whoa. What the hell’s that?” Just a completely different approach.
Re united Mr.Big: Paul Gilbert, Pat Torpey, Eric Martin and Billy Sheenan
THE FUTURE OF MR.BIG?
What about the future of Mr. Big? Are there any plans to do new material?
Well, it’s kind of a question mark right now. There are no plans, but there are no plans not to. So, we’re kind of taking it as it comes, you know, and it’s been good and as long as it remains good, we’ll probably take the next step. We’re playing a couple of things that are new things to us to play live. “Hold Your Head Up,” the old Argent tune – we recorded a demo of it years ago at Paul’s house and it was pretty cool. So we thought, “Hey, let’s start doing it live the next time around.” It’s a song that we’d recorded and that’s a new thing. But as far as, like, brand new material, we haven’t gotten there yet but I know everybody has ideas. I know I do, you know, I’ve got some ideas that I want to show Billy and Paul – “Hey, what do you think?” you know? So, I hope so. You never know.
You did a tour of Japan and now you’re doing this European tour. Do you have any plans to do a U.S. tour?
Well, possibly. It probably would be in the springtime of next year. They have a lot of these package tours that go out, you know. It’s possible.
How about doing some festivals like Rocklahoma?
Yeah, yeah, exactly. They were trying to get us to do that last time. The thing is, it’s got to be financially viable and it’s got to make sense because it’s not like we’re trying to promote ourselves. Before we were- you know, fifteen, twenty years ago we had an album out, we were trying to play everywhere, you know, even to where the financial aspect sometimes had to be put on the backburner. And I’m not saying we’re only doing this for the money, but what I’m saying is we’re not going to go out and play unless it makes sense to. We’re not just going to just, you know- You know what I’m trying to say. ‘Cause I don’t want it to sound like the only reason why we’re doing this is for money because we’re not making huge amounts of money, you know. I mean, it’s very expensive to tour and to be able to tour and put on the show that we want to put on. So we’ll see. Everything’s good though. I mean, it’s like, you know, I couldn’t be happier. I’m a lucky guy.
Maybe we will see you at a festival in Sweden next year.
Yeah, that’s another thing that’s possible that we talked about. There are a lot of festivals that happen in Europe as well – in the summer and springtime, right?
Yeah, there’s actually something like maybe ten to fifteen huge outdoor festivals in Europe.
Yeah? I’d love to do it. So, we’ll see.
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