Top 5 Songs – Andy Newmark

Andy Newmark’s prolific treasure trove of session work spans decades with some of the biggest names in the music business. The Press counts down the American drummer’s Top 5 Songs.

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The drummer impacts the music more than anyone else in a band put together, and is often what makes a band or breaks a band. The drummer’s voice is loud, but soft, and people feel it on the dance-floor and on a gut-primal level. But it can sneak past you. If you like some music, or love a band, you’re probably digging the drummer, and in many cases, it’s probably Andy Newmark.

Sitting comfortably alongside the era’s premier rock drummers like Steve Gadd, Jim Keltner, Rick Marotta, Kenney Jones, and Jim Gordon, Newmark’s economic style was influenced by drummers of the calibre of Earl Palmer and Tony Williams, and the undeniable feel of Sam & Dave, The Ventures, Chuck Berry and Otis Redding.

Newmark is one of those drummer who knows how to say a lot with less: a groove-oriented steady beat without unnecessary fireworks, overly gratuitous fills, or showiness. He got his big break with a young Carly Simon, drumming on early albums Anticipation (1971) and No Secrets (1972), before securing a major gig working with Sly and Family Stone on their classic Fresh (1973).

“Play simple, accompany the song”

Sly had inherited the funk torch from James Brown and was in the process of revolutionising the landscape of popular music by fusing jazz, funk, and soul in a combination that had never been heard before, or since. This launched the American-born drummer’s recording career, and he would tour with Sly in support of the album, with the Faces as the support band. It was on the European leg of the tour when Newmark was approached by Faces guitarist Ron Wood with an invitation to work on his first solo album.

Sessions took place outside London and featured Ian McLagan on keys and Keith Richards on guitar among others. Newmark had recently met nimble bassist Willie Weeks and everyone knew and loved him from Donny Hathaway’s seminal Live (1972) album. Weeks subsequently joined the sessions and the album I’ve Got My Own Album to Do (1974) broke things wide open for the Newmark/Weeks rhythm section. They then made a big splash in rock circles from 1973 to 1975 going from one big-name to another including David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Joe Walsh, Richard Thompson, Randy Newman and Rickie Lee Jones. They also recorded and toured with George Harrison in 1974.

However, this was just the beginning of Andy’s prestigious career. Notable sessions would follow throughout the 70’s and 80’s with and without Willie Weeks on bass, including; crunching out assembly-line product for CTI artists like George Benson and Nina Simone; working on the last two John Lennon albums Double Fantasy (1980) and Milk and Honey (1984); securing a formidable partnership with Bryan Ferry for Roxy Music’s Flesh and Blood (1979) and Avalon (1982), and many post-Roxy Ferry albums; stepping in for Nick Mason on Pink Floyd’s The Final Cut (1983), and solo projects with both Roger Waters and David Gilmour.

These Top 5 Songs selections serve as a tip-of-the-iceberg introduction to the great rock drummer.

Andy NewmarkTop 5 Songs

5. Ron Wood – I Can Feel the Fire

The swaggering opener off Ron Wood’s excellent first solo album I’ve Got My Own Album to Do (1974) is the loose, reggae-workout I Can Feel the Fire. Along with the Newmark/Weeks rhythm section, the track features Ronnie on vocals and guitar, McLagan, Keith, Mick Taylor on bass, and Jagger and Bowie on background vocals. What a line-up! While the tracks were being cut for the album, George Harrison had come down to give Ronnie his magnificent co-write Far East Man. George then asked Newmark and Weeks to join him at Friar Park to work on his upcoming record Dark Horse (1974). Later that year while on tour with Harrison, John Lennon came to one of the final shows in New York and was introduced to Newmark. This led to working together on…….

4. (Just Like) Starting Over – John Lennon

“Play like Ringo”. The Lennon connection: Several years later in 1980 the call came through producer Jack Douglas’ office requesting the Newmark/Weeks combo for a new project. It turned out to be Double Fantasy, Lennon’s final album. Recording took place at the Hit Factory in New York from 1 August 1980. Willie Weeks was unavailable so Tony Levin was eventually selected to play bass. John was straight and sober by now: positive, funny, talkative, in a great mood, and more importantly, accessible to the musicians. No more getting stoned on coke and weed or drunk every day, John had been out of the music biz raising a child and being a house husband living in New York City’s Dakota building for years. His biggest rush at this point was Brazilian coffee. This was a new crowd for Lennon too. Along with Andy Newmark, there was guitarists Earl Slick and Hugh McCracken, and keyboardist George Small who recorded enough material for two records, all cut in four weeks – Monday to Friday. Lennon was old-school. He wanted early takes, “Let’s not beat this over the head”. He wanted it stripped down to the bare bones, emphasising the groove, and he got it. The album was recorded live with no click track and these well-crafted pop songs were recorded conservatively with a no-fuss yet timeless precision. Listen out for the mid-song breakdown where two extra snare hits were sampled and flown in.

3. Avalon – Roxy Music

This sumptuous all time classic was written by Bryan Ferry who had built up the track alone in England with drum machines, added piano parts, humming vocals, and other overdubs. The track was recorded top to bottom with Newmark’s drums and Neil Jason’s bass playing together over the top of Ferry’s atmospheric drum loops. The disciplined Newmark plays with a cross-stick and improvises on the two and the four on the verse, and in the chorus he’s on the beat and off the beat, playing to a click, but mixing it up. It really is a lesson in groove-oriented drumming. The album was recorded in a week upstairs at New York’s Power Station studio, engineered and mixed by Bob Clearmountain.

2. Young Americans – David Bowie

Young Americans (1975) was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia where all the hugely successful Philly soul records were made by the famous American songwriting and production team of Gamble and Huff in the 70’s on Philadelphia International Records. Newmark and Weeks play on much of the Bowie album, except the tracks Fame and Across the Universe (recorded later at Electric Lady in NYC with John Lennon), with Mike Garson (keys), David Sanborn (sax) and Carlos Alomar (guitar). According to Newmark: “A besuited Bowie walked in looking like a fashion model, introduced himself, and got to work. He was all business, friendly, but very focussed and articulate. Bowie could talk to each musician individually and be able to articulate exactly what he needed, speaking our language. Visconti was there but mainly in an engineering role with Bowie calling all the shots, completely in charge, essentially producing the sessions.” When the title track breaks down two-thirds of the way through and time stops, Bowie sings, “Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry”, there’s a drum fill that brings the record back in that’s bathed in echo because it’s so out of time. Visconti was noted to have said, “Andy that drum fill is so out of time I had to put reverb and slap-back on it to disguise it”. Oh the good old days!

1. In Time – Sly and the Family Stone

The track breaks down like this: one on the bass drum, four-16th notes on the hi-hat, into the two, with no back beat. Got that? The opener off Fresh was recorded in Sly’s home studio in Bel Air, the former residence of John Phillips (The Mamas and the Papas) and has a weird yet addictive syncopation. Original bassist Larry Graham had left the band by now and it’s no secret everyone was out of it. By now Sly and the Family Stone still had a magical reputation having just released one of the great funk-rock albums ever: There’s A Riot Goin’ On (1971).  For In Time, Sly, a non-drummer, sat down at the kit and played it the best he could for Newmark, who then took it away, worked it up and out, and eventually nailed it. Sly encouraged over-indulgence and to get down and dirty. Vamping on one or two chords was the order of the day, Sly was moving away from the straight song-oriented music, more getting off on the pure funkiness. A Rhythm Ace drum machine provides the pre-programmed foundation of the tracks. What sounded to anyone like corny nightclub shtick, Sly heard it as a perfect groove. After Fresh, Newmark never played like this again.

Further Listening:

♥   Carly Simon – The Right Thing to Do (1973)

♥   Sly and the Family Stone – If You Want Me to Stay (1973)

♥   Cat Stevens – (Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard (1977)

♥   George Harrison – Blow Away (1979)

♥   Rickie Lee Jones – Chuck E’s in Love (1979)

♥   Pink Floyd – Two Suns in the Sunset (1983)

♥   John Lennon – Nobody Told Me (1984)

♥   Roger Waters – 5:06AM (Every Stranger’s Eyes) (1984)

♥   Bryan Ferry – Sensation (1985)

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From top left: Hugh McCracken, Andy Newmark, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Jack Douglas, Arthur Jenkins, Jr. From bottom left: Tony Levin, Earl Slick, George Small

This entry was posted in Andy Newmark, Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, Joe Walsh, John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Ron Wood, Roxy Music, Sly and the Family Stone, Top 5 Songs. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Top 5 Songs – Andy Newmark

  1. Badfinger (Max) says:

    What a list. Seems like it was a pack of these guys who were favorites of artists and they would rotate around. Great examples…love the number 1 spot.

  2. Array says:

    Oh, hey. You just started following my Music Enthusiast site. I just started a series called Deep Cuts but now I see you’ve been using that. I’ll call mine something else going forward. Blogger’s code or something.

  3. Aphoristical says:

    He’s not the most obtrusive drummer so I don’t always notice him that much, although I did know his name from his appearances on Roxy Music and Richard and Linda Thompson records. Didn’t realise he started with Sly and the Family Stone – that’s cool.

  4. I so love Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. Avalon is such an incredible album. If I am correct both Avalon and Boys and Girls multichannel CDs won high acclaim and awards. Boys and Girls multichannel is an absolute masterpiece to the ears. Love a lot of the other tracks here too (shout out to Bowie). Your writing is always so clear, concise, and knowledgeably written, it’s always a joy to read. Thanks! 🙏💀

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