Doors Examiner Interview: Ty Dennis

Ty Dennis
Robby Krieger Band Drummer Ty Dennis

The Robby Krieger Band played in Chicago on Friday, June 3, 2016. Through the internet I had been talking with Ty Dennis, who plays drums for the band. I had been talking with Ty for quite a while and we always seemed to miss connections; either Ty wasn’t going to be with the band on a particular show or some other project came along. But for the show in Chicago Ty and I made arrangements to meet at the hotel and conduct a pre-show interview, and after just a little bit of a miscommunication we met in the lobby. Ty is a very subdued guy who is very thoughtful, and he gave some very considered responses to the typical rock and roll interview questions.

Waylon Krieger and Ty Dennis
Waylon Krieger and Ty Dennis. Photo courtesy Connie Cherry.

DE: How did you get together playing with Robby?

Ty Dennis: In 2001 one of my really good buddies of mine named Angelo Barbera who is a bass player. A really great bass player, my favorite bass player I have ever played with. He and I would play a lot of different gigs together; recommend each other for different things. We love playing with each other. He was playing with Robby. When Robby wanted to change drummers. Angelo recommended me to come and play, so I got to play and Robby liked it.

DE: Was that Manzarek-Krieger?

Ty Dennis: No that was way before that. It was Waylon, Robby, me, and different keyboard players, and Angelo playing bass. That was the birth of my relationship with Robby and then, therefore, Ray.

DE: As a musician, having played with rock legends have you picked up anything from them?

Ty Dennis: Oh yeah, absolutely. I would say more philosophies. Let me elaborate on that. Probably from both of them, but particularly from Ray. Things I remember from Ray is to be more fearless. The Doors would go for things that they didn’t go for the night before on stage and sometimes it’s not great because you are going for it. But that is okay because it’s the statement you are making at that moment and it was not set in stone. You went for it, maybe it was great or maybe it wasn’t, but it’s taking a chance, making a statement which doesn’t have to be perfect. A lot of other bands that I have worked with are not like that. Let me give an example, I have friends who played with Don Henley, it is a different kind of music, granted, but he wants it played exactly like the record. The Doors are a different kind of band, but coming from the jazz background that they have they like to go for it and not play the same thing twice and if you do make a mistake it’s okay because it is for the sake of art. That was enlightening for me because I had always worked for people where it was not really that philosophy. So that is what I mean when I say philosophy. It is okay to go for something. That is the biggest thing that I learned, that I still have with me to this day. But I always try to play well. It doesn’t mean I try to be sloppy or anything like that.

DE: How did you get into drumming and who are your influences?

Ty Dennis: Well, my father is a jazz drummer. At first when he played he wasn’t a jazz drummer. In his twenties he was playing cover music of the time, whatever was popular in the 70s. Now, for years, he has been a professional jazz drummer. He’s retired now, but he still plays jazz. That is how I was introduced to drumming because there were always drums at the house, he had a ton of students he taught. There were a stream of different drummers coming in when I was a kid. They would hang out with me and I would listen to them play. I came to it on my own. My dad only showed me things when I asked him to. Who knows if I would have gravitated towards that if he wasn’t a drummer. Maybe it is in the DNA. My daughter has a little drum set. Who knows what comes first the chicken or the egg?

Also, there was all kinds of great music played in my house when I was a kid. That has a lot to do with, maybe not playing drums, but being able to end up playing in a band like The Doors because without that you might not have the listening skills necessary to play with people like that. They are not coming from just that. You couldn’t play with Robby and Ray if you didn’t understand some jazz feel and be able to play a Bossa Nova, or be able to improvise and understand that philosophy, and be able to hear something on stage and go with it. That’s my background, I am glad my dad exposed me to all those things like Herbie Hancock and Steely Dan when I was a kid, all that great stuff. When I was a kid I remember hearing Black Cow from Steely Dan’s Asia. I didn’t know what it was but it was good stuff.

Connie Cherry and Ty Dennis
Connie Cherry and Ty Dennis, courtesy Connie Cherry.

DE: Do you think The Doors were a subversive band in trying to meld the music and the poetry?

Ty Dennis: I was just reading something about Robert Plant and he was talking about that. He said there was a lot of depth to The Doors. Led Zeppelin and The Doors played the same festival in 1968 where Jim Morrison was not in the best of spirits. Morrison did the crucifixion pose on the side of the stage because he was not happy with the audience. He did it for three minutes. The audience seemed bored, so he wasn’t in good spirits. Robert Plant was watching with his wife and was like, ‘whoa!’. Jim Morrison, in my opinion, had a whole other depth going. He was a smart guy. As a vocalist, I know for a fact he wasn’t taught and didn’t warm up, so to sing like that, not many people can do that. Just a natural talent to sing like that with that kind of range and everything. Definitely not a surface band, there is a message there.

DE: How have The Doors from the heyday of their career influenced you now? How much of their past history imposes upon or reflects in your work?

Ty Dennis: I am happy to carry on playing their music. I am not the drummer of The Doors, but I have gotten to play with these guys for a long time and sit back and watch peoples’ reaction to what they do. I didn’t make the music, I am just recreating it. The most magic for me was with Ray and Ian. For me, when I was playing with Ray, Ian, Robby and Angelo we were firing on all cylinders at that point.

I wasn’t alive when Jim Morrison was, I didn’t get to play with him. I can’t answer about any lineage with him because I haven’t experienced that, but I did get to see peoples’ reaction to them making that music now especially with Ian because he was a big force on his own. We would go to go to places The Doors never went to like South America, Japan, places like that. That’s the only way I can explain that experience is through seeing what the music means to people who have never experienced it before or were too young to have seen it before.

DE: What do you think that experience is from your perspective?

Ty Dennis: It’s always about the energy of it. I can tell you that the audience, if it is a very in tune audience it makes for a better show for the band too. It’s not really separated between the band and an in tune audience. If it is an audience that just sits there like a stone, or is sitting down and you are not feeling the energy back, it makes it feel much more like work. We always want to inspire the audience. For me, I am wondering what has to happen to inspire the audience more. Some people are more subdued than others. When you go to Argentina you don’t have to do anything and they are insane, they go crazy. So to see people get touched or inspired by it; maybe it is something they always dreamed of seeing, that’s pretty cool.

DE: What is your take on tribute bands?

Ty Dennis: I have done tribute bands. I have no problem with it, it is entertainment. For me, it is more an observation, it is not a bad thing. The Doors tribute bands, for instance, are recreating The Doors records. I can tell you for a fact that The Doors records are just how they played the songs that day. The next day they played them different, and then the day after that it was different; it was never to be written in stone like that way forever. The Doors tribute bands are emulating LA Woman from the LA Woman record and they are stuck on why is this seven bars, instead of. . . . It was just how they did it that day. If you ever watched Led Zeppelin live they changed the stuff a lot from the records. In a tribute band they think people want to hear the record and that is fine because that is their take on it. They put their heart into it, but they are copying a snapshot of that day. I play in a tribute band, a David Bowie one, the greatest one in the world. I am not the only drummer, but I work in it a lot. The Space Oddity, he is amazing. I love David Bowie so it is pretty cool to do it and he is doing pretty cool stuff. Check him out, he is great, David Brighton.

DE: Do you feel constrained by playing with Robby rather than your original stuff like your band Three from None?

Ty Dennis: No, they are two different things. As great as The Doors songs are you are still essentially copying someone else’s parts which isn’t bad. The thing with doing your own thing is that you are the creator of whatever you are doing. There is satisfaction in that you are playing your own part. When you’re playing with Robby or anybody you are there to support and deliver the message as part of the band. It’s not, especially being the drummer, it is not about you. It is always about the band. You support the band, make everyone sound as good as they can, and get your drum solo and do your thing. That being said, when you have your own band you can, within that framework, have really great parts. For instance, Rush (Neil Peart) has all his great drum parts. I am sure there is great satisfaction that he has created all these great parts. When you have your own band you can do that. That is what is great about having your own band, plus if the drummer is respected you can play nifty parts in there that encompass the style that you have.

DE: Any plans for more Three from None?

Ty Dennis: Not at the moment. The singer moved to Austin, so I’ll be talking to him, but no plans at the moment.

DE: In your opinion what instrument or position in a band should get the most girls?

Ty Dennis: I think it is a band by band thing. It is more about personality. If you have a rock star drummer who comes out then it’s him. It’s usually the lead singer if they are into that. At the time, it was probably Jim Morrison.

DE: What are you thinking about in the hours before a show?

Ty Dennis: I honestly am not thinking about that right now. City Winery is a small place so I know we can’t play loud. I am thinking about how we can play powerfully, but not loud. It is interesting. In general Robby is trying to play quieter now because it is easier to hear. That is a new challenge for me. The drummer is the hardest person to do that. You can physically play the same on a guitar just turn the volume down. You can’t play the same on drums physically. I have to still play powerfully but contain it. It’s interesting. I am enjoying that experience.

DE: Thank you Ty for taking the time to talk with us today?

After the interview Ty arranged for us to meet Robby and Waylon Krieger outside of the hotel (see pictures in the slideshow). I talked with Waylon while my sister Connie took pictures, as well as selfies with her and Ty. When Robby did come out it was a very unobtrusive moment, I was talking with Waylon and I saw Robby come around carrying his bag, the guitar neck sticking out. At first it didn’t occur to me who it was until Waylon said, “dad, this is Jim from the Doors Examiner, remember the interview I did this winter?” As I watched suddenly I was pulled into focus and I realized it was Robby. When you meet a rock star they seem so different, you’re so used to seeing them onstage they look larger than life because you’re literally looking up at them and the amplification of the moment. I shook hands with him as did my sister and she thanked him for all the years of the great music. We had a couple more minutes of small talk before they had to go off into the SUV and head for the show.

I would like to thank Ty Dennis for his time for an interview, as well as Waylon Krieger and of course Robby Krieger. Thank you for the time and all the great music. It was very cool.

Originally published June 7, 2016.

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