The Ultimate Jam Night Interviews with Matt Starr of Ace Frehley and Mr. Big
Ultimate Jam Night is a rock and roll extravaganza taking place every Tuesday evening at the world famous Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip. One of the members of the house band is Matt Starr, drummer extraordinaire – best known for his work with Ace Frehley, Mr. Big, Bang Tango, and countless other rock and roll collectives. In addition to being a much sought after musician, Matt Starr offers career counseling as well as drum clinics, inspiring talented hopefuls across the country with in person and online sessions!
We caught up with the omnipresent Matt Starr backstage at Ultimate Jam Night 63, just right before he was due to go out tour with none other than Joe Lynn Turner! Read on to find out more about the happenings of Mr. Starr and his involvement with Ultimate Jam Night!
How did Ultimate Jam Night come about and how did you become involved?
Well, there was another Jam. This was another thing at a small bar in the valley and Chuck (Wright) filled in for the bass player. And he had sent me an email and said, “Hey do you want to come down and play?” I said, “Yeah, sure!.” And he said, “Here’s the song list; pick a few songs.” I said, “Okay.” So I picked a few. I said, “You know what, I know everything on the list, so it’s all good.” He goes, “No, tell me specifically what songs.” I said “Okay, I’ll do this, this, and this.” He writes me back and goes, “Okay, you’re on at 10:05.” And I thought, “Jesus, that’s pretty specific, okay, whatever.” I showed up at 10 thinking. No. Five minutes later, “Matt Starr!” So he had started devising this system of booking a jam the way you would book a night full of bands, but you’re booking each performer so that each person has a time slot; it’s very specific. He did that for about a month filling in, and the place just got packed, you know? So he was doing something right, so I think for him he realized, “Oh, hey, I kinda got something going here.” And he’d been wanting to do that and combine the burlesque and all that stuff and then, maybe 6 months or a year later, he had an opportunity to try doing it at Lucky Strike. So he invited me and Gilby Clarke and so that was the start of it. And at first I just came on as the house drummer, but then I got involved in the booking and the organizing role. Duties get spread around between several people, but happy to be one of the folks.
Does anyone ever come here that you’re starstruck about?
There’s definitely been people. I played with Wayne Kramer from the MC5. And I know Wayne, I actually have an office right next to his. So I know him, but I’ve been doing this long enough that when I’m playing I’m working, so I just do that — but afterwards, you’re like, “Holy shit, that was fucking cool as hell.” You know what I mean? So, yeah, Wayne Kramer, that was a really cool moment. Playing with Bruce Kulick has been great, a lot of fun. I did a Cult song with John Tempesta, Chris Wise, and Damon Fox, all from The Cult. And I sang. So just moments like that, that are really cool. And the cool thing is most of these guys are already my friends and afterwards you make new friendships. So it’s really been a super cool experience.
What has it been like recording with Ace Frehley?
I played on his last two records. Great. You know, he’s a super sweet guy, a super talented guy. He’s a musician first and foremost. Really down to earth. We had a great time. I’ll probably do some more recording on his next record too.
You told me you’d be touring with Joe Lynn Turner – how did that come about?
Yeah, I’m doing some West Coast dates. So Stevie from Trixter had reached out and said, “Hey, would you be into doing some dates with Joe?” And he sent me the set list and I knew every single song, and I said, “Yeah, of course, let’s do it.” We’re doing a few dates on the west coast and, you know, we’ll see what happens after that.
Burning Rain, what’s going on what that project?
That’s a good question. Everywhere I go that’s kind of like — that and Ace are the two questions I get. But there’s a lot of Burning Rain fans out there, you know? It’s an amazing band, and it’s always just been a scheduling issue. You know, you have 4 different guys who are all in different bands and projects and so getting everyone’s schedule to line up is the issue. There’s talk about doing a new record, like in the last six months that’s come up in conversation, but nothing’s locked in yet.
When you look back on your work with Bang Tango and Beautiful Creatures, what do you think of it now?
Oh, it was great. I loved that. The Deuce record – great – and Ready to Go was the Bang Tango record. We recorded that in like an afternoon, in a rehearsal space with Anthony Foxx who was actually the guitar player at the time in Beautiful Creatures, and he ended up producing and mixing the Bang Tango record and ultimately doing a lot of work on the Beautiful Creatures record as well. And now he lives in Nashville and works with Marty Fredrickson and Aerosmith and Foreigner and etc. etc. So that was like his first entrance into engineering and producing.
Let’s talk about Mr. Big and how you became involved.
With Mr. Big, I was playing on a jam and I was on drums and they said we’re going to play AC/DC and then the host of the jam (who was also the singer) said, “I don’t want to sing, can you sing?” And he knew I sang, so I said, yeah – alright. Begrudgingly I sang and as soon as a I walked off stage Billy Sheehan came up to me and said “Who are you, what are you doing?” He said, “I don’t want to lose you. I want to keep an eye on you and keep in touch.” Then about a year later I got a call from him asking me to do a few shows, that potentially they might need a drummer sub for a couple of shows. I said of course, and then when we got in the room he goes, hey let’s get together me and you and just play a few of the Mr. Big songs. I know how you play, I just want to play with you and play some Mr Big songs so I can tell the guys. I said ok. We got in the room and before we started playing he said, so our drummer (Pat Torpey) has Parkinson’s Disease and is probably not going to be able to do the tour. So we’re looking for someone to do the whole tour. It was pretty emotional for him, and for me too, I didn’t know Pat at the time. I was like, OK. He goes, OK lets play and we played “Take Cover,” which is an amazing groove that Pat wrote and also “Addicted to that Rush.”
So we played each song once, he goes OK great cool I’ll talk to the guys. That was pretty much it. He went away for about a month and then we all got in a room, played a few songs together and it was cool. It was kind of the most informal audition process that I had been through. It felt like, gee, I feel like this is a done deal but no one is telling me I have the gig, so it was weird – there’s a lot of that in this business where you’re just waiting to find out kinda thing. But that’s what happened, then we did a two month tour through Europe and Japan, Asia, Russia. All over the place. We played Buddakan which I had never played before, it was amazing. Then we did another tour of the US and South America. That’s been awesome. We’re going to do some more dates later this year, actually.
Tell me about your career counseling sessions and how that came all came about?
I do drums lessons on tour in whatever city i’m in. That and during my drum clinics, it kind of turns into that. I have guys asking, “Well how did you do that? How did you get this gig? How did you get from here to there? I’m doing this, I’m playing with this band but I really want to be doing this.” So, I figured, why don’t I offer that as an actual (career counseling session) – rather than just doing that with drummers in drum lessons. I can offer that to any musician, because it’s really all the same. So I started doing that and the response has been great, really positive. That’s another thing, same as drum lessons, it just translates well to be able to do that either via Skype or FaceTime. I’d say about 60% of the people that I work with I have not met in person. It’s about where are you and what you want to be doing, and what is that gap and what needs to be done to get you from A to B. Some of it’s very specific and practical stuff, and a lot of it is up to the individual person – but you need the motivation and direction. I think a lot of people have an idea, like, wow it’d be so great to tour the world and play rock and roll and then they go yeah, but I got a job. It’s about clearing through that, staying focused, and keeping on it.
If someone wanted to contact you about one of your counseling sessions, how would they get a hold of you?
Just go to mattstarrmusic.com – Facebook is Matt Star Music, Twitter. You can reach out to me any old way but the website has information about the career counseling and testimonies and all that kind of stuff. That’d be the best way.
(Interview by Ken Morton – Photos by Jack Lue)
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