IT MUST BE THE '80S:
THAT (DATED) GATED DRUM SOUND
CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): You guys actually did record original albums...from what I could pick up on [through the press release], a lot of that stuff was almost done against the odds, wasn't it? Because you never really had much support, in the way of major labels, management companies, or anything like that...
JIMMY WATKINS (JW): You're about right on that, yes. One album was on Whalesville Records, which was started by a couple of executives that had just left Atlantic. But they really kind of ruined the record, I thought, because they came in and told us everything we had to do. I won't bore you with all the details – they said, “OK, every song has to be 110 beats per meter.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
They said, “Well, we've done scientific research...that is the exact beat that sells the most records. Every song has to start with the main melody of the chorus, but instrumentally, and then, in 10 seconds, the vocal has to come in. And you can't do any drum rolls or guitar licks that people don't expect, because people don't like to be surprised.” Every neat little thing we did, that was really ours, that we really felt good about – they took all that, totally homogenized it. It wasn't just us. If you think about it, they homogenized all the music at that point.
CR: Well, just that horrible gated drum sound that has dated pretty badly – to name one obvious example, I guess...
JW: Exactly, the gated drum sound, sure.
FAME IS A HARSH MISTRESS (PT. I: THE '80S)
JW: We were tentatively hired for a record contract by United Artists, and we had to go to Miami to meet some bigwig, sign these papers. This was right at the height of the Bon Jovi, Ratt, Poison [era]...all the bands that were young, skinny, long-haired, good-looking.
The guy told me, and I'm not kidding you: “Look, we'll let you guys record the album. I couldn't put you on the cover, 'cause nowadays, the only bands I'm signing are bands that I could find on a teenage girl's wall, on a poster. Now, what I might do is have you guys give us your songs, record them in the studio, with our producers – and we'll send a band of young, skinny, long-haired guys out to do live appearances.”
CR: And you basically said, “Get lost”... [JW laughs] So, after the fourth album comes out in 1990, that's when things wind down, isn't it?
JW: We started hearing people yelling for MC Hammer while we were onstage,“Funky Cold Medina” started to come up on request lists, things like that. I mean, we did the other trends – we did disco when we had to, for maybe a year – but we said, “You know, we're not about to start talking into the microphone with sampled music behind us.” So I, at least, decided to quit.
Frankly, my guitar player and I had been touring together for 16 years. He and his family, even more than himself, depended on me to always take care of him. A couple of years before I quit playing, he met a woman and got married, a wonderful woman he's still with today. And I could see that if I quit, he would still be well taken care of. He's still into playing music today. In fact, he's in a very good band, from what I recall: Bad Mannerz.
FAME IS A HARSH MISTRESS PT. II (THE '90S)
CR: When you look back, what was the best album that you did, and why?
JW: Our last album was the best. Number one, that was the best band we ever had, the best songs we ever wrote, and the best studio we ever recorded in, the Platinum Post. On the schedule board up there, it said, “Al DiMeola, White Summer, and Judas Priest.” I thought, “Oh, boy, this is pretty good company to be in!”
CR: Yeah, I wouldn't argue with that [much laughter at this point]!
JW: Yeah, if anything, the stars seemed really aligned, just perfectly. Before we started recording, editing and mixing that album, I told myself, “If this doesn't work, I'm going to have to quit, and do something else.” Plus, rock 'n' roll was fading a bit, with all this rap, and sampling, and all that...
CR: So, then, you put this album out, and it doesn't work...
JW: Well, it worked, you know, for awhile. It looked like, “Wow, this thing will really take off!” It went like gangbusters, it seemed, for a month or two, and then it just fizzled right out. It was over.
CR: That had to be a kick in the teeth for you, I'm sure...
JW: The whole thing was a really emotional ride, I tell you. The whole thing. But nonetheless, I decided to hang it up. Everybody else but me kept on playing. They just went out and found themselves bands to play with.
WILL THE REAL WHITE SUMMER (...PLEASE STAND UP?)
CR: You mentioned a couple people using the same name, and they've caused you a little bit of a headache, I guess.
JW: I'm not a real big Youtube guy, but somebody called one day – a good friend, he's kind of laughing: “Boy, you guys really sucked when you were young!” I was like, “Well, what do you mean?” He goes, “Yeah, I saw you on Youtube, playing...” He named some Led Zeppelin song.
I thought back, “We've never played that song. What are you talking about?” He told me how to get there, the exact link – these are young kids, 19 years old maybe, [from] Alberta [Canada], or some place. As I looked further, I found one in Australia that was almost the same – young kids. I mean, they weren't bad for their age, but I sure didn't want them representing me, my band, and my band name, you know?
So I wrote to both [bands], asked if they'd please stop using the name – or at least, change it a little bit – and neither one of them even responded.. I talked to a lawyer friend – I don't have money for lawyers, these days – and he said, “If they're in other countries, you have to have an international copyright on the name. Do you have that?” I said, “Well, heck, I don't even know if we do. As far as I know, I've never heard anything about international in relation to our coyprights, which were done nearly 40 years ago.” So, anyway, it's too bad.
LIFE AFTER WHITE SUMMER
CR: What do you actually do for a living?
JW: I write Internet magazine articles for HubPages. I've got 249 articles on HubPages right now, and three books in the pot. One of them is a history of the United States during my lifetime, which is 1955 till today – I'm really into history. That's my favorite subject.
I'm furthest along on a history of the Christian faith, from the time of Jesus, till today. That one has been sent to an editor, so it may end up being first. It wasn't supposed to be, but it looks like it's just further along. The other one is primarily about interrracial dating and marriage, but it also hits on themes of race in America. The problem, in all three cases, is whittling it down, because I don't want to put out a book of over 200 pages, being a first-time author.
CR: I'm surprised you've never thought of writing about your experiences with White Summer...I think that'd be almost a natural thing.
JW: Well, I actually did write that whole story, from day one, all the way through – and a lot of it's really funny. I've got a lot of really funny things that happened over the years with the band, that I wouldn't put in any family newspaper. But I have written the book you're talking about, and I finally shelved it. I thought maybe people wouldn't be that interested. If I get a book out there that enjoys a modicum of success, I'll probably go back to that, once I have some readers.
WHITE SUMMER'S RETURN
JW: We decided, before very long, that every year we'd do a one-night only concert – in Michigan, or Florida – so that in one week, we'd get together and jam, and also, so our good friends and fans can enjoy a night with us, and us with them. I's worked out to about every other year. I think this is the tenth one [reunion show] we've done in 20 years.
We were up here in, I guess it was, '08. Jimmy and I were I in Benton Harbor for Thanksgiving at the same time. We went to Czar's, and jammed with the band that was there. They recognized us and asked if we'd come up and play. So we played a few of their songs.
[Czar's owner] Tom Jennings came right over and said, “Who are you guys? What's the deal here?” We told him , and he'd heard of us. We told him that we still get together, and he said, “Well, if you do any reunion things, I want you to do 'em here.” So we [first] did it [at Czar's] in June '09.
LOOKING BACK: “IT WAS A REAL MOMENT”
CR: What do you think the highlight [of White Summer's career] was, that sums it all up for you?
JW: I'm not sure I can pick a clear winner. Playing for 40,000 people at Indian River Music Festival could easily be the highlight. You dream about playing for a crowd that size; that's a lot of people. Jimmy Schrader played the Jimi Hendrix version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” That was right in the middle of [Operation] Desert Storm. And when he did, all those people stood up – it was a Sunday afternoon, so they were sitting in the grass. They stood up and put their hands on their hearts, virtually all of them. It was a real moment.
But other than that, when our fourth album got airplay on about 100 radio stations – that was pretty big, too, because we heard it lots of times. And boy, that's an exciting thing, when you're riding in your car, turning on your radio, and it's you! I don't know if I can pick between those two – they're different experiences. One's live, and one's on the radio, but those would probably have to be my two highlights.