Butler: When you were growing up... at what
point did you decide on music? Was your family musical?
Well, not really. My cousin Joey played the drums. We used to go to
his house, I liked beating on his drums. I beat the hell out of 'em,
you know? Finally in 1961, I don't know, I guess I was about 15, I
got serious about it. My parents bought me a little drum set and I
was playing for about 6 months when I started doing gigs. You know:
weddings, barmitzvahs, dances at school... I used to make 10 to 20
bucks a night. The first gig I ever did paid me 7 dollars and fifty
cents, and my father had to drive us from Brooklyn to the Bronx to do it.
In high school I
took a lot of music classes, and I took aria harmony. I was in the
bands and orchestras in junior high and high school. I was always
playing weekends, and maybe 3 nights a week, and making money -
decent money for a kid my age. When I was 17, I bought a '64 Chevy
Super Sport with my own money from my playing. It was a cool car and
I was proud that I'd bought it myself.
Then I got out of
school. I had like 4 jobs in a month, regular jobs. And the pay back
then was a joke, you know, you made like 75 bucks a week! They'd take
out taxes, and you'd go home with 40 dollars. Yet I would work on a
weekend and make 60 or 80 dollars cash, and I said, "Hey, what
am I doing this week-stuff for? I might as well just work on the weekends."
That was the last
time I had what you'd call a "day job", in 1964. Then I
just started playing around different clubs, and I got a good
reputation around New York City of having good timing, a good right
foot, and I was "funky", "soulful", and all that
stuff. Then I ran into this group, the Pigeons.
story we have is that Tim Bogert saw you play at the Choo Choo Club...
I think it was
Timmy and Mark [Stein] both who came down to this place called
the Choo Choo Club, in Garfield, NJ. It's a place The Rascals used to
play. I was playing there with 2 of my friends in a trio called
Thursdays Children. We had a keyboard, a left hand bass on the
keyboard, and this great guitar player. With this band we played all
over the New York area, and I got a good reputation as a drummer.
(In fact, we
played some gigs opposite this guy, Jimi James, who was actually Jimi
Hendrix. We used to - I remember going up to an apartment with
Hendrix, goofing off, and saying: "One day we'll get out of this
crap if we're successful!")
Anyway, [Mark &
Tim] came into the club one night and they said: "Hey, we've
been hearing about you, your playing, and we want you to join our band."
And I said,
"Who's your band?"
Pigeons. Our Manager is Phil Basille - he owns the Action House on
Long Island and he's going to put us on salary, he's going to build
us up using the club...blah-blah..."
In those days it
was like I didn't want to leave my friends. But then I realized that
[Thursdays Children] was going nowhere and that maybe I should do it
for a change of atmosphere, and just to get into something new musically.
I went out to see
what they were up to, and I really dug what they were doing. I liked
the whole scene that was going on there on Long Island. It was us and
the Rich Kids, the Vagrants, and Billy Joel had the Hassles. We were
all doing the same kinds of things, slowing down versions of songs,
except we did it better. We were better musicians, better singers,
and our arrangements were more... strange [laughs]. But I really dug
it and so I went with them.
Since then I've
always said to them, "Look at this: I join you and ten months
later you make it!" [laughs]. I joined them September '66 and by
July '67 we had a song on the charts.