Chris Slade is famously known for his drumming with AC/DC, but most people may not know that he also played with Jimmy Page in The Firm, Asia, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, David Gilmour, and Tom Jones to name just a few. For the last seven or eight years, he also has a very successful touring band called The Chris Slade Timeline. His band utilizes highly talented musicians to help bring his illustrious 50-year musical career to life by performing songs from all the bands he played with. Their shows are two hours and still only capture a small slice of his influences, powerful playing style, and favorite songs. The band truly has an undeniable chemistry when performing live and they are currently working on a studio CD. To make the shows even more exciting, Chris performs using his Rock or Bust drum kit, which was made by DW Drums for the last AC/DC tour.
Correspondent, Robert Cavuoto spoke with drummer extraordinaire, Chris Slade, about his passion for drumming, The Chris Slade Timeline, the importance of being versatile as a musician, and of course, AC/DC. Read their uber-interesting conversation below
I heard that you were working on an original album with the Chris Slade Timeline. Can you give us an update?
We couldn’t go into the studio because of the pandemic, but we’ve done a lot of recording over the last five years. We have eight songs fully mixed including some AC/DC songs. They are done differently than how AC/DC has done them. We also have some original material. We have two songs that I wrote and another the guys wrote. I put one of the original songs on YouTube and Facebook, and they’ve gotten a tremendous response. We are looking forward to doing gigs again as we are a live band. After doing this for about seven or eight years, we have never had a disappointed audience. We have played shows from 500 people to 80,000 people in our career. The band gets on well as we mostly drive from show-to-show throughout Europe. I’m extremely pleased with Timeline as we can play AC/DC and then switch to Uriah Heep or Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in the same shows. People accept and enjoy it. I’m fortunate to have played with so many great artists like Tom Jones, The Firm, AC/DC, and David Gilmour. We have a lot of material to choose from, so it makes it an interesting show and we play for two hours. The only disappointment is when we say this is the last song [laughing].
With a 50+ year career of playing music, there is no shortage of materials to play live. Do you have the flexibility to switch out songs night-after-night?
We have the possibility to change things, but we found what the favorites are over the years. We have to do “Black in Black” and “Highway to Hell” and some of the strongest other materials as well. We change things up for our own sanity [laughing]. There are so many artists out there that say, “I’m not going to play our big hit song tonight!” I can’t believe it when they do that. To me, fans come to see you play that song. You may have had only one hit song, and you’re not going to play it for them? It’s a disappointment to the fans when that happens. Could you imagine AC/DC not playing “Black in Black?” Artists have done that for decades.
Your singer who handles the AC/DC songs really nails Brian Johnson’s voice.
He really does! He is the life and soul of the stage [laughing]. He is all over the place and even stage dives. He is 200 lbs guys, and you can’t stop him, unfortunately [laughing]!
Are your Timeline shows scheduled for later this year in Europe still going to happen? Perhaps things are a little better in Europe, as most tours here in the US are canceled until 2021.
I think it’s the same over here too. We have some shows in November and December in Spain and France, which we are hopeful that they will happen. Everybody is in the same boat, and every band wants to get back out there. We have moved some shows to next year, and with fingers crossed they will give us the go-ahead. We hope it will be better next year.
Is there a chance of coming here to the US in 2021 provided the situation improves?
I would LOVE to come to the States! The problem is with the visas. I heard this from other bands as well. You can apply for a visa, but you have to have a tour in place first. You can get the visa, without a tour, and there is no guarantee that you will get the visas in time to make the first few shows. It’s like the chicken and egg thing. I have been told by other bands they were granted the visas after the tour started. Promoters and venues don’t work like that. This has happened to a hell of a lot of non-US bands. I can come and work there as I have a green card, but I want to bring my band!
You use a very special kit for your Timeline shows, tell me about it?
It’s the Rock or Bust kits. It’s made by DW, and I had it painted with lightning bolts as sort of a vibe from AC/DC‘s live show during the song “Thunderstruck.” You can’t depict thunder as its very difficult [laughing], so I went for lightning. DW did a fabulous job. They are the greatest drums ever made! I have another DW kit that I used on the Grammys, which I call my US kit. The reason I had that kit was because my Rock or Bust kit wasn’t ready at the time.
How many pieces in the Rock or Bust kit?
You caught me there; I’m a drummer, so I can’t count above three [laughing]. It’s about eight pieces, and don’t forget about the flying bass drums that I use at shoulder level like on the “Thunderstruck” video.
To people who are just starting to play drums or any instrument, can you share the importance of being versatile with learning different styles of music and how it impacted your successful career?
Wow, great question! I’m so lucky that I can play different styles of music. I started off listening to jazz in the late 50s. There wasn’t much Pop music at the time expect Pat Boone [laughing]. My favorite drummers were always Buddy Rich and Gene Kruppa then Pop music came along with Elvis and Buddy Holly, who had a certain style. As this new style evolved, I thought even as a young lad of 12 years old, that I should play everything. If it was jazz, I learned it as best as I could. Some people would say, “I’m not going to play country-western music!” It’s not my favorite music either, but I played it. When I was 13 or 14, I was learning to play New Orleans jazz with other people. It’s very important to play with other musicians. That is how you can build up your style. I started with Tom Jones in 1963 at 16 years old, and we played all different types of Rock & Roll from Little Richard to Dean Martin. Tom could really sing; you have to be versatile with many different styles under your belt in order to do that. For example, Liberty DeVitto is the drummer for Billy Joel, everyone thinks it’s a different session drummer on each of Billy‘s albums, but it’s all Liberty. If you want to make a living at being a musician, you have to play everything.
You started your career at a high point at 16 years old playing with Tom Jones and never looked back. At what point during your career did you feel that you made it?
I don’t think I have made it even as of today [laughing]. Regarding Tom, don’t forget he wasn’t Tom Jones in the beginning; we were Tommy Scott and the Senators. We made a really good living playing the working man’s clubs in South Wales, where we were born. I was earning as much money as my father at the time who was working in the factory. Then we went to London, and all lived in a basement flat together. We literally starved, because we couldn’t find a single gig [laughing]. It was a big kick up the bum as we thought we were really good. I wanted to be a drummer all my life, and people still come up to me and ask, “Have you been a drummer all of your life?” and I tell them, “Not yet!” [Laughing]. This may sound ridiculous now, but for two or three years in the mid-60s, Tom was bigger than Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley combined. We toured and even played Madison Square Garden for a week with the Count Basie Orchestra as the rhythm section. I had to be adaptable, going from playing in a Pop band to playing with one of the biggest jazz bands ever. That was a hell of an experience, and I was able to do it because I could play in a jazzy style along with rock. All the rock drummers were originally jazz drummers like Bill Hailey and the Comets; they were jazz musicians who were inventing Rock & Roll as they went on.
I know when you auditioned for AC/DC back in the 90s, you were convinced on the drive home you didn’t get the gig. At auditions for high-level bands like AC/DC, do you ever get nervous?
I wouldn’t say nervous; I would say apprehensive. I also don’t get stage fright, but I have a big drum kit to hide behind [laughing]. Some people can’t even walk on stage; they have to be thrown on stage. There is a big difference between playing drums and walking out naked with all your clothes on to interact with an audience. I was apprehensive, with AC/DC. I thought I played really badly. On my way home from the audition, which was an hour ride, I got lost because I was kicking myself thinking, “Why did I say that?” and “Why did you play that?” By the time I got home, they had called my house and said I got the gig. I was the 100th drummer they tried out. I was told by their drum tech, Dick Jones, a few months later, they auditioned drummers from some of the biggest bands in the world.
What were the songs you played during the audition?
I remember “Back in Black” and probably “Highway to Hell.” They wanted me to play a brand new song, “Rock Your Heart Out” which is on “Razor’s Edge” and I had to learn it on the spot. They told me to take as long as I wanted to learn it. It was not a straight forward song because it has the offbeat bass drum coming in. I took 20-30 minutes to get it down. I didn’t want to rush then not know it completely when I had to perform it with them. That would have been terrible.
You played with both Axl Rose and Brian Johnson; tell me about the chemistry of performing with both?
I think Brian was doing the best he possibly could do. I could hear him so well because I was using in-ear monitors. He didn’t sound anything like he thought he sounded. But of course, he felt really bad that he couldn’t do what he considered his best. I was shocked when he was no longer around. I was even more shocked when they said they were trying out Axl Rose. I was like, “What?” because I heard all the stories. Turns out he was the nicest guy, and when he started singing, I didn’t realize that he had that voice. He was phenomenal and could cover all the eras! He was never late for anything as AC/DC goes by the second, not the minute when they start a show. Only once did they not start a show on time in 45 years, and I happened to be in the band. It was due to an issue with Angus’s guitar not being set-up properly. As far as they were concerned, they have never been late on stage.
Is it challenging, professional or personally to pick up with AC/DC, where you previously left off?
It was surprisingly flawless. Its like, “Hi guys, what are we going to play now?” [Laughing]
Understanding that AC/DC keeps new albums and touring news close to the vest, can you give an update as the rumors are always flying.
There are always going to be rumors with AC/DC. The only person who knows what will happen is Angus. It isn’t going to be this year! I can actually say that it will not happen in 2020. [laughing].
When you are behind the kit looking at Angus Young or Jimmy Page, does it ever hit you who they are and how influential they are to the world of music?
You can’t do that. If you do that, you will fall apart. It’s hard enough walking out to a stadium filled with 80,000 fans looking at you. AC/DC did a gig in Austria on the Rock or Bust tour in front of 120,000 people, and that wasn’t a festival, it was their show. It was the biggest concert for one band in Austria and even set a record over there. In the 90’s we played to 1 million people in Moscow on an airfield. It was a sea of people that just went on-and-on over the horizon; it hurt your eyes [laughing].
If you get the call from AC/DC, are you ready in 2021?
I’m always are ready to go. I love to travel, playing drums, and being on the road as not many people can say that. I hope I will be doing it for many more years.
Is your suitcase always packed and at the ready?
Believe it or not, it is! I haven’t unpacked my bag from the last Timeline show, which was early this year. There are still rolled up shirts and stage clothes in there. I never know when I will need it again.
AC/DC is truly a global phenomenon. Can you explain what it is about their music that transcends to so many people around the globe in such a positive manner over the last 45 years?
I’ve thought about it. I think they hit a nerve and continue to hit that nerve time-and-time again. It’s not possible to know; otherwise, they would bottle it. There is genius songwriting, which helps [laughing]and the ability to put it across live. As you know, they have always stuck to their guns and have a take no prisoner attitude. That’s another aspect that you have to have in order to play drums with them. As far as their secret, I’m sure they don’t even know. They write riffs, turn them into songs, and do their shows. It’s amazing. Angus and Malcolm had a wonderful guitar relationship, which also had to be a factor as well. There are so many factors. How do you become the biggest band in the world? Everybody starts out with that in mind. From your garage in New Jersey to the world! Many have done it like Springsteen and Bon Jovi. Tom Jones and I came from a small village in Wales, and he is still going at 80 years old. To single one aspect as to why AC/DC or The Rolling Stone made its hard to figure as an only a small percent of bands make it, let alone to that level.