Recently I interviewed Shawn Eisenberg, drummer for Roy Young, Ian Hunter and the Hunter Ronson Band from 1986 to 1988. Shawn currently lives in Canada and operates a web designing/hosting company, operates a drum teaching facilities and remains active in the local Toronto music scene.
96 Decibel Freaks: When did you start playing the drums?
Shawn Eisenberg: I started playing in 1968 when I was eleven years old. The music scene was exploding at the time and I thought that if I could play drums in a band it would make me a whole lot cooler than I actually was. Girls would start noticing me, I would get famous and my parents wouldn't make me go to school any more. However it didn't quite work out that way.
96DF: What bands were you most influenced by while growing up?
SE: I was a huge Led Zeppelin fan. I remember the first time I heard Whole Lotta Love it totally short-circuited me. I liked a lot of the blues based bands that were happening at the time as well as The Beatles, the Stones, Hendrix, Cream, The Who and even some of the heavier bands like Deep Purple and early Black Sabbath. Early on the loudness and heaviness of the bands were as important to me as the quality of the writing, I guess it was a rebellious thing. Later on, the writing, playing and message of the bands became a lot more important. My sister was the person that introduced me to the "art" bands. That's when I first heard Mott and Bowie. She's a couple years younger and her crowd listened to that stuff all the time so I kind of absorbed it through osmosis. It was always on around the house when her friends would come over.
96DF: What drummers were most influential on your drumming style?
SE: Man that's a big question. My influences come from a lot of places relative to what I'm listening to at the moment. When I was listening to a lot of Rock in the late sixties and early seventies the drummers in the bands I just mentioned had a big influence on me. You know guys like Bonham, Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Charlie Watts, and Ringo. When I was in college I was listening to jazz and fusion style drummers like Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Lenny White, Billy Cobham, Narada Michael Walden and all the Miles Davis guys. When I got out of college and started to play professionally I started to listen to a lot of the groove guys like Jim Keltner, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, and Jeffery Porcaro. I also began listening to a lot of old R&B and blues records. Working in Toronto, you had to know those tunes and grooves. So to answer your question, I think that anybody that's good at the style they're playing influences my playing to some degree. There are not any one or two guys that had an overall influence on my playing.
96DF: What bands did you play in prior to joining Ian's band?
SE: I was playing with Roy Young in a ten-piece house band. Kathy McDonald (John Baldry: You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling) was the featured singer. We featured guest artists like Solomon Burke, Long John Baldry and Holly Woods. When that broke up part of that band went on to form Liberty Silver's band, we got another house gig at a club called the Bluenote, where we featured guest artists like Ben E. King (Stand By Me), Sceamin' Jay Hawkins (You Put A Spell On Me) and Jane Child. It was sort of like R&B boot camp. I had also played with Johnny Dee Fury, Michael Picket, The Extras, Downchild Blues Band, Mark Haines and The Zippers and The Connection, as well as a whole bunch of local Toronto bands.
96DF: How did you become part of Ian's Band in 1986?
SE: I had just come of the road after playing a bunch of college dates with The Connection. The band was Joe Mavety (Marianne Faithful) on guitar, Michael Fonfara (Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground) on keyboards, Anton Evans on Bass and myself. It was a great band but we didn't have a whole lot of work. I started to call around to see if I could scare up some local dates to keep the rent paid until we had more gigs. A guitarist friend of mine, Papa John King (of Long John Baldry's band) mentioned to me that our old buddy Roy Young was bringing Ian to town to do some live dates and would I be interested in trying out. I said sure, could he get me a tape? I never thought that it would ever be more than that one tour. I guess I wasn't seeing the big picture at that point.
96DF: What was it like to play with Ian and Mick? Did you ever say to yourself, "Wow, I can't believe I'm playing with Ian Hunter and Mick Ronson!"?
SE: It was intense. Every night was on. Though the band went through quite a metamorphosis even within the short time I was in it. The first iteration of the band that I played in had a horn section and Ronson wasn't in the band yet. In the next lineup Mick joined the band and the horns were gone. The final tour that I did, Roy Young was no longer on the bill, John King was gone, the background singer, Carmela Long was gone and Howard Helm joined us on keys. We went from an Eight/Nine piece band to a five-piece band. The arrangements took on a tougher edge and Mick started to hit his stride. With Mick being the main guitar player, the band started to take on a more original sound. Probably closer to what Ian heard in his head. I never really thought about "whoa, how cool am I", there really wasn't time. I was just trying to hang on to my gig. Though it was definitely fun to play tunes that you knew the whole audience came to hear with the original artists.
96DF: What was the most memorable gig you played with Ian and Mick?
SE: There were a few. One of them I remember while playing at a club called Illusions in Oshawa Ontario. We were playing Cleveland Rocks and all of a sudden I hear this different voice singing the tune. I look upstage and all I can see is this blond guy singing while the audience is going wild. Turns out it's Joe Elliot from Def Leppard. Ian and him sounded real good together! Another time was when Roy Young was in the band and him and Ian had made a pact to not drink any alcohol during the show, (save the vocal chords, help the arrangements, don't ya know). We were in the middle of some tune, I forget which, and Ian ran over to Roy's piano to get a drink of his ginger ale during a sax solo. It had been a few nights and Roy was going spare, so he had been spiking his ginger ale with a little rye. Ian was dry and he downed Roy's drink. If looks could kill. Needless to say they didn't speak much that week. The other night that sticks out in my mind was a gig we did in Boston. The audience was so loud that the band couldn't hear me count in any of the tunes, I couldn't scream loud enough over the crowd. That one shook me. Serious Hunter-Ronson fans!
96DF: Do you have any other memorable (non-gig) moments of touring with Ian and Mick?
SE: During our American tour we had an extra day off on our schedule. We were driving through the Midwest, Indiana I think. Our bus driver who later came to be known as "Ol' Wrongway" ran out of diesel in the middle of nowhere. So there we were stuck on the tour bus our whole day off, while our driver moaned about how his boss was going to fire him for sure. I thought Ian was going to kill him. I also got a great kick out of sitting on the bus after the shows listening to Mick go on about the deli tray on the rider. How he imagined it was going to be on the next show. Hearing him say "prosciutto ham" was totally endearing. I think part of him really loved the road life. Ian and Mick had a very unique chemistry, they would carry on like an old married couple sometimes. We would all just watch it without watching it if you know what I mean.
96DF: Did Ian or Mick ever talk about the final days of Mott the Hoople?
SE: I guess the band [Mott the Hoople] was bitter over the demise of Mott due to Ronson's relationship with Ian. If Ian and/or Mick decided that someone wasn't on their wavelength they could be pretty callus in their dealing with them. I think it was mostly due to boredom actually. The road can get pretty "same old same old" so you tend to invent little dramas to keep things interesting. You have to keep in mind that Mick and Ian were part of the whole Bowie phenomena. Appearances are everything. How you are perceived and all that. It's all part of the mystique. I think it was in one of Ian's interviews when I was in the band where he mentioned that "Rock & Roll is not a Mugs' game". Therefore one has to be mindful of the group dynamic in order to maintain the mystique. If you step out of persona or change gears it has to be with the group in mind. Not always easy if you have a life outside of your career. From what little I know of Mott, from what I remember of the things that Ian said, some of the original members wanted to settle down, start families, have "normal lives," what ever that means. I don't think that "lormal" is always congruent with the "rock & roll" life. It may explain why the  reunion [at Virgin Records] never happened. Differences of opinion as to the validity of "normal". I suspect that "normal" is something that frightens Ian. Normal can lull one into a sense of complacency. Normal doesn't get tunes with a sense of urgency written. Normal is not what people pay money for. So there's a tendency to subvert all attempts at normalcy that "water-down" the message. You can guess at what the prolonged effects of this type life is on interpersonal relationships if you're not the beneficiary of the results. Interesting, no?
96DF: Which song did you most like playing with Ian's band and why?
SE: I came to love a lot of the tunes but my favorite was Irene Wilde. There was just something about the sentiment in that tune that struck a chord in me. It's funny in all the time that I played in the band I never told anyone that. I guess we never really talked about that stuff.
96DF: A key to any band is the rhythm section. During 1986 - 1988, Pat Kilbride played bass in Ian's band. From some of the live recordings that have surfaced, the stuff that Pat was playing sounded amazing. Some reviews from the period, however, suggest that his playing could be erratic at times. What was it like playing with Pat?
SE: Pat's a great musician. He's as comfortable playing electric bass in a band like Ian's as he is playing upright in a symphony or a jazz setting. He's just one of those rare musicians that have the chops to play what his ears hear in just about any musical situation he finds himself. He was a huge Jaco fan. I think Jaco played on "All American Alien Boy" and Pat brought that level of playing to all the tunes. Pat and I were roomies on the road and his antics kept us all from going nuts. He did the best Ronson impression ever. He would do it in front of Mick until the two of them would end up wrestling around on the floor. He was the kid in the band but he sure didn't play that way. As far as the reviews go I'm not sure what they're referring to. Every night that I played with him he played his ass off.
96DF: What prompted you leaving the band after the 1988 tour?
SE: Between the second and third tour that I did with the band my image changed significantly. I was having trouble with my body image; I was loosing my hair and starting to gain a little weight. That summer I cut my hair changed my diet and started going to the gym in anticipation of the tour in the fall. I wanted to loose weight and be healthy for the tour. When Ian and I saw each other again at the end of that summer before we went into rehearsals, the way I looked kind of threw him. On our 1988 tour in America it got out that Ian and Mick were looking for a record deal. The pressure was on. Mick brought Ring Management from L.A. on board for that tour. They sent out a rep to travel around with us. I guess the rep sensed Ian's discomfort. On every gig we played it seemed that there was another drummer sniffing around the dressing room after the show. Ian told me that he was getting pressure from the management company, that I'd better play my ass off every night or I'd be let go. I think that the combination of wanting to get the band signed, the pressure from the management company and how I looked put a strain on our relationship. When we returned after that tour Ring Management called me up and said that they would no longer need my services citing musical differences between Ian and myself.
96DF: Have you been in contact with Ian since leaving the band?
SE: No I haven't. I was bitter after what happened in 1988 and I think I was too close to it for a while to contact him. When Mick passed in 1993 I wanted to call and wish my condolences but after all that time I thought that it would seem that I was using a tragedy to my own ends. So I stayed silent. This is the fist time I've spoken publicly about any of this. It's really too bad because given a different set of circumstances it could have been a great relationship. It really clicked musically at times but I think having to re-prove themselves to get a record deal took its toll on those around them. I was just one in a long list of casualties.
96DF: What bands have you played or toured with since 1988?
SE: After getting back to Toronto I picked up where I left off. I played with Michael Pickett again (Canada's Premier Harmonica Player). I went on tour with a guy named George Fox for a while. He's one of Canada's New Country artists. I played in a fusion band called Konstant Flux with Pat Kilbride and one of the former horn players from Ian's band as well as bunch of local bands. I also formed a band called Pretzel Logic (a ten piece tribute to Steely Dan).
96DF: What are you up to these days?
SE: I run thedrumstudio.ca it's a teaching facility that I run out of my home studio. I'm sharing my experience, expertise, and education with other drummers that are looking to further their musical abilities in whatever style they choose. I'm currently playing in a local blues band just to keep my hand in. I also own a web house, webmedia-solutions.com where we do websites for everybody from Imperial Oil to small individuals. So if you need a state of the art site here's the link. I'm a husband and father of two, an avid outdoorsman and a moto GP racing fan. If it's got two wheels and it goes fast I'm there!
And, oh yeah, by the way, Ian, if you're reading this, it was a gas even when it wasn't. A lot of the things we talked about came to pass. I guess it's the wisdom of years. Please feel free to get in touch if you'd like. I'd love to see you when you're in town next.
Top photo - courtesy of Shawn Eisenberg
Other photo - courtesy of Adrian Perkins
Copyright © 2002 Rich Manson. No part of this interview may be reprinted or quoted without the permission of the author.
Copyright©2000-2002 Richard A. Manson