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bobby chen interview by Jay Sciascia

During November and December of 1976 Bobby Chen played and recorded with the Mick Ronson Band. The band consisted of Mick Ronson, bass player Jay Davis, guitarist Mick Barakan and drummer Bobby Chen (pictured far right).

The band did a few gigs around the northeastern USA and recorded the sessions which were released as "Mick Ronson - Just Like This".

What follows is an informal interview conducted by E-mail. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Bobby Chen for taking the time to do this interview.

Jay: Some of your new fans would like to know a little bit about your background before you worked with Ronson. What kind of bands were you in? Did you record anything we may have heard?

Bobby Chen: I have been working in rock'n'roll bands since I was 16 years old -- bars, small clubs, pocket change. It was great just to play with people, but to do this in public and for money -- WOW! I attended Julliard School of Music when I was10 years old for about 5 years. I also attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year. When I got my first [drum] set the neighborhood could set their clocks to me at 1pm. daily. I would play to all my records, Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Animals, The Young Rascals, The Doors, Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, anything top forty. So by the time I got to my first band, I knew all the songs from playing with [the records]. I did some recording, but nothing that any one would care to hear. I have all kinds of tapes from those days including a 8MM film.

J: When did you first meet Mick Ronson and how did the band and recording sessions come about?

BC: I met Mick through a friend of a friend. It's kind of a weird story, but basically I went to the audition with this guy who I didn't know very well. He told Mick that we came as a bass and drums team -- which was not true. This guy made me dress up in flash clothes thinking that Mick would be dressed the same, but Mick was very casual laid back and very unassuming. This was all happening at SIR studios in New York City. We played a bit, just jamming and then left. I somehow got the feeling I should call Mick and it was a good thing. He liked me but not the bass player and it went from there. I think Mick Barakan was already in the band and I'm not quite sure how Jay Davis came in to it. I have been trying to reach Jay but, no luck. We went to Woodstock to this great house -- one wall was just about all glass -- a fire place, a running creek, copper bath tubs. This was in winter of 1976, snow on the ground, just fantastic! We would sit around the fire place and just bang it out until we had something worthwhile. Once it came together then we went to electric instruments and worked on it till we were ready to record. We went to Bearsville studio #2 and started to work. We set up and the basic tracks are live. Just Like This, I'd Give Anything To See You, Hard Life, Takin' A Train, Junkie For Your Love, Hey Grandma, and Crazy Love were all part of the original sessions on 24 track tape. Later in 1977 we were rehearsing for more at a smaller rehearsal room called The Barn. The tunes, Is That Any Way, I've Got No Secrets, Hard Headed Woman, Roll Like The River, Hard Life(ballad version), and Junky(demo) are live right to the machine at The Barn.

J: Had it been awhile since you last heard the songs from Just Like This? What was it like to hear them again?

BC: I think I've been the only person to retain rough mixes all these years. I had no idea that they were going in to production. Thank God for Carlton Sandercock of New Millennium Records. I've always liked this music. My faves were I'd Give Any Thing To see You and Hard Life, in particular. I'd Give, especially in the solo, gets so ferocious. It sure sounds like we meant what we were playing, it feels good! Hard Life just kills me. Mick's playing of harmonics, the pocket or feel of the song, oh man, I get goose bumps!

J: I'd Give Anything To See You seems to be a favorite among most fans. Mick's playing is fantastic, but I also think this is the standout track for you on the album -- the drum sound is awesome. Did you realize at the time that this song was special?

BC: When we went in the studio the one thing I told the engineer was that I liked the sound of Mitch Mitchells drums. The drums were the same set that I got when I was a kid. I still have the set and use them today. As far as recording the track, we just did the best we could.

J: Roll Like The River is listed in the liner notes as a group composition. How did the band come up with it? Did it come from a jam session? It has a great blues feel to it.

BC: We would just jam a lot and use what ever sounded good. I guess, in this case, a bluesy kind of thing was in order. The track on the album is "what you hear is what you get". No over dubs, nothing, it just rocks out.

J: During the guitar solo near the end of Hard Life there are a few notes from Ziggy Stardust. Was this intentional or was someone trying to cover up a flaw in the tapes?

BC: The Ziggy Stardust riff was intentional. It just felt good to play it there. I asked Mick about this and he said "Why not, I wrote it".

J: Were you in the studio for the recording of Ronson's Bar And Grill? What's the story with that one anyway?

BC: I don't remember Ronno's Bar & Grill. It sounds like he was setting up for an acoustic guitar over dub and they just let the tape go. When I heard it it was a surprise to me as well.

J: Why is it that the album wasn't released until now?

BC: I guess the album never came out due to financial problems, management hassles and the like. Bills for studio time were due. The 24 track tapes have been sitting in Bearsville vault all this time and The Barn tapes I've had. This music would have never seen the light of day if it were not for Carlton. He loved Mick dearly. It was hard not to.

J: Carlton at New Millennium says they will be releasing a live show from Buffalo recorded in 1976. Do you remember what songs you did on that tour? Any songs not on the Just Like This album?

BC: Yes, well if Carlton says so, then yes. The Buffalo gig was just before Christmas 1976. We opened for The James Gang (minus Joe Walsh) and Rush. It was recorded right off the mixing board from the house PA. It was a reference tape to see how we were doing. For four guys it sounds pretty heavy. The songs are the songs we were doing at Bearsville.

J: Carlton also said he has enough tape for about five albums! Some stuff is from the eighties. Do you play on any of these sessions? Or do you know anything about them?

BC: I'm not on anything else for Mick. No recordings in the 80's. I know nothing about them. The next time I was in the studio with Mick was to watch Ian, Mick and Harvey Goldberg mixing Back To The Bars album. Harvey worked on the Genya Ravan album Urban Desire. I was spending allot of time at Media Sound studios where we were recording the Genya albums.

J: What was it like to work with Ian Hunter on the Genya Raven album?

BC: I was not there when Mick & Ian did their tracks. I wanted to be, but some how I missed out. But I did hear that Mick's solo was done in one take.

J: Are you still in the music business or in a band? If so, what should we be on the look out for from you?

BC: Yes, I still play alot. I do clubs sometimes. I play alot of weddings. I meet a lot of great players at weddings who play great gigs like Billy Joel or Gloria Estefan. So you never know what it might lead to. Plus I have a family and I like to be home. The road is not all it's cranked up to be. I also did a CD with a guy named Russ Bonagura. It's a rock record and I like the tunes. I don't do something like that unless I really like it. I wouldn't be able to give it my all and that's not fair to the artist. Russ writes great songs and has a great voice. The name of the album is Blue Dreams.


Interview - used with the permission of Jay Sciascia.

Top photo - courtesy of Bobby Chen

Copyright © 2000 Jay Sciascia.  No part of this interview may be reprinted or quoted without the permission of the author. 

Copyright©2000-2002 Richard A. Manson

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