Dave Mattacks

What do Paul McCartney, Elton John, George Harrison, XTC, Richard Thompson, Jimmy Page, Jethro Tull, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Brian Eno, Joan Armatrading, and Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens)—all have in common?  If your answer was that drummer Dave Mattacks has either performed and or recorded with each of them, you’d be exactly right. And while that cadre of well-known artists might seem limited, Dave has either performed and or recorded with enough musical artists now to earn a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.  Not only that, he’s been living right here in New England for the past 22 years working with many local singer-songwriters and artists either as a session drummer and or producing recordings for them.  How impressive would that be for a local artist say that the drummer on their CD was the same guy that worked with a couple of ex-Beatles, Elton John, Jethro Tull, and XTC?

Dave initially became known and rose to recognition as a drummer after joining the British folk-rock band Fairport Convention in 1969 with whom he has worked with off and on up until around 1997.  It was in 1998 that Dave and his wife left their native England to settle right here in Marblehead, Massachusetts where his musical adventures and creative involvement in the local music scene continued onward. Why the move from the UK to Boston as opposed to many of the other well renowned musical centers of influence across the country?

Let’s begin the journey there—his move to the USA and what’s been happening in his musical world since the relocation. Boston hit all the right buttons for him. It had a good blues, jazz and rock scene and of course there was Berklee College of Music. It had a burgeoning singer-songwriter scene and the vibe was more relaxed and fit his musical tastes perfectly.  Dave is happy to just be a musician and join in with others and not be the focal point.   He gradually connected with and established some key friendships that have helped him be exactly where he is today.

Dave met local guitar wizard Duke Levine in the mid-90s while on tour and drumming with Richard Thompson where local folk duo The Story were on the same bill and Duke was playing guitar for them.  Then some years later they both ended up playing in Mary Chapin Carpenter’s band.  Duke eventually introduced Dave to local film and TV composer Mason Daring and that’s how he ended up living in Marblehead. Further connections also led him to Billy Novick with whom he collaborated on New England singer Debra Cowan’s EP Greening the Dark which Dave also produced.

Through his work and live performances with the Richard Thompson band, he also met a local Boston sound engineer Tom Dube (an engineer with a multitude of credits) who was at the time doing monitors for Thompson and is currently Production Manager Of Concert Operations at Berklee College Of Music and co-owner of Dimension Sound Studio.  When freelance work was leveling off over in the UK for Dave, he reflected on Boston’s reputation for having a lot of singer-songwriters and he approached Tom rather jokingly and asked whether there might be some local singer-songwriters that might be interested in an old folky drummer.  That started some occasional travels across the big pond to do some long-distance session work.

Through those key individuals, Dave began to expand his local musical horizons.  Soon after this move to the USA, he met up with local guitarist and singer Mike Barry who runs Babyland Recording Studio in Medford, MA.  Dave and Mike began a collaboration that started 20 years ago and continues to this day and to the point where Dave considers Mike to be his right-hand guy.  As Dave explained it; “We talk the same musical language.  I like working with people that understand me, understand the language and for me, that’s Mike. We trust each other completely. We get shit done.” Working with Mike Barry, the band Super Genius was born, with Mike on guitar and vocals, Milt Reder on lead guitar, Dean Cassell on bass and Dave Mattacks on drums.  A rocking band if there ever was one.  Dave was also performing once a month at Chianti in Beverly with the band KBMG, or at least he did before the pandemic shut the venue down.  

According to Dave, his reputation is twofold—it was either “Oh you were the guy that played drums on those Paul McCartney and George Harrison albums” or it was “Sorry, what was your name again?” and he’s equally comfortable with either.  Regardless of which perception of Dave you may have, word gets around the local music scene.  Local singer-songwriters are seeking Dave from all angles from album production to performing on their recordings to performing live.  According to Dave, working with Mike has been a most rewarding experience. “We spend many hours in the studio together where it’s basically the two of us laying down drum, guitar, and keyboard tracks. 

Dave’s production approach is simple.  Do several takes and, if it’s not happening, move on to the next song.  If you keep on hammering that one tune soon enough the spirit flies out of it. This isn’t particular to Boston.  This is universal.  One thing he learned from working with George Martin was “do a handful of takes and commit” which means if it’s not perfect then you just work around it.  Glyn Johns had a very similar approach – two takes and move to the next song. There’s a quote from one of Quincy Jones’ engineers in reflecting upon the unlimited tracks available in recording today which reportedly went along the lines of “it’s like painting a 747 with a Q-tip.”  This is how he works with Mike Barry.  The thing that brings Boston and New England into this conversation is that’s there’s a sensibility that’s prevalent here even when working in the larger studios like Q Division and Wooly Mammoth studios. Get it right, but let’s get on with it. 

As for how living in Boston over the last 20 plus years has changed him musically… 

“Living and working in Boston and working with so many other and different styles has been enormously inspiring. The first good chunk of my life was just trying to be as concise and exact as possible from a timekeeping and an approach perspective and spending the latter part of my years trying to move away from that—to get more grease into my playing and to be looser and less foursquare yet to be concise when needed.  I became more aware of this in my 40s and 50s and realized there was a stiffness and since living in Boston this has really come to the forefront.”

As for one thing he would want the readers of MMONE to know about him…

“I hope I’m getting better as an accompanist. It’s important to have good facility but there’s a bigger picture. Levon Helm, Jim Keltner, Charlie Watts, Ringo Starr, Hal Blaine – they all knew how to create an arc from beginning to end of the song. Having that sense of increased consciousness around a song is something to aspire to and it’s something I continue to work on.  Drummers Jeff Porcaro and Steve Gadd had that nailed.  They had incredible facility but never let it get in the way of the song.”

(by Karl E. Sharicz)

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