NMG Musicians Spotlight - Craig Krampf
©2009 By Bronson Herrmuth
Craig Krampf has crossed back and forth across musical genres effortlessly many times throughout his over 40 year pro career. Some of the artists and songwriters he has recorded with include: Steve Perry, Kim Carnes, The Motels, The Church, Melissa Etheridge, Patty Loveless, Tanya Tucker, Nick Gilder, Ashley Cleveland, Alice Cooper, Alabama, Jonell Mosser, Son Volt and Little Richard. He was a member of The Robbs, Flo and Eddie and The Turtles, The Nick Gilder Band and Alien Project. His credits include playing on well over 200 albums, including more that 60 top 40 hits and more than 60 gold and platinum record awards, plus many movie and TV soundtracks. He is also a Grammy Award winning songwriter, a successful producer, and the Secretary/Treasurer of the Nashville Musicians Union. One extremely talented and very busy guy, meet one of Nashvilles' finest drummers, Craig Krampf.
Bronson: You started playing and performing music at such a young age Craig, was it your parents who got you started?
Craig Krampf: As far back as I can remember, there was always music being played in our house. My dad, who always wished that he could have played music (his family was too poor to afford the .50 a month trumpet rental), bought a lot of records. Sometimes they were used records from jukeboxes, and the record player was always going. It was a lot of ethnic German/Polish music, a lot of polkas and waltzes, but we also had the early "hit" records, big bands and very early cowboy/country music. We even had a lot of kids' records and a lot of them were actually very hip. My older brother Carl started playing the accordion at age ten and soon I was "playing"? along on wooden chairs and pots and pans. I got a $40 Sears' drumset for Christmas when I was eight years old, and within a year, I had a real set and played my first gig, a Catholic communion. My parents and brother definitely played a huge role in my early love of music.
Bronson: What made you choose the drums and do you play any other instruments?
Craig Krampf: As I said, my brother started accordion lessons (back then every German/Polish child in Milwaukee had to play the accordion) and it was just natural for me to "drum along" while he played. I think from all the records that were being played in the house that I just sort of knew what the drums were supposed to do. And when I was 10, I also started accordion lessons. All the while I was still drumming and playing gigs, but my parents thought that I should play a "real" instrument too. I took accordion lessons for about six years and I'm glad I did; it gave me a foundation of reading music, chord structure, scales, harmony, etc. I can play one polka now on the accordion.
Bronson: Who are some of your all time favorite drummers and why?
Craig Krampf: At a very early age, I became aware of Gene Krupa and became a fan. He was on the cover of all those early Slingerland drum catalogs that I would pore over, and I heard him on those early Benny Goodman records that we had. Of course, one of those was that famous drum solo he did on "Sing Sing Sing". I finally met Gene in person when I was a teenager and he was incredibly warm and nice, a real gentleman. I was really lucky to get to see so many of the greats in person when I was young: Sonny Payne (Count Basie), Art Blakey (The Jazz Messengers) Sam Woodyard (Duke Ellington), Jo Jones, Roy Haynes, but the one that blew me away the most was Joe Morello, who of course, played with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I've always said that I could comprehend Krupa and Rich, but Joe played stuff that to this day remains mind boggling. I saw the Quartet many times and every time it was an unbelievable thrill. Bill Hayley and The Comets' drummer, who I believe was Dick Richards, played rim shots on every backbeat. I credit hearing their early records with teaching me that and it's the way I play backbeats to this day. In the early days of rock, there was also Jerry Allison with the Crickets, Mel Taylor on those early Venture records and later of course, Bonham, Keith Moon and Mitch Mitchell. I really learned the most about studio drumming from listening to all those wonderful records that Hal Blaine played on. To the folks out there that don't recognize his name, please google him.
Bronson: Do you have a preference for playing live or in the studio?
Craig Krampf: They're both incredibly fulfilling. I love being a part of making records. It is pretty cool to think that what I play at this moment in time on this recording has the potential to live forever. That could sound scary to some, but that thought inspires me to always try to do my best and reach for the best for whatever I am called on to do. But it is also so good to get out there in front of the crowd and sweat. The instant reaction from the audience and the interacting of the artist and musicians on stage can be magical. Like recording, it is about living in the moment and savoring that moment when you play. Any time that I get to play, it is still a thrill and an honor. I am a lucky man to get to do this.
Bronson: You've played and recorded with so many great songwriters and artists Craig. Is there anyone that you've always wanted to play with but haven't had the opportunity yet?
Craig Krampf: Well, there is somebody who unfortunately is no longer with us, the incredible guitarist Clarence White. I always wished that I could have played with Clarence. And for those artists still out there rocking and if we're dreaming, it would have to be Bruce Springsteen, ACDC, Neil Young and Emmylou Harris.
Bronson: Any advise for other musicians trying to break into the session scene and get studio work?
Craig Krampf: Whenever the opportunity to record comes, be it on any level at all, take it and learn from the experience. In some ways, there are a few more opportunities to learn because of all those home studios out there, but nothing matches the moment when you are finally in a real professional studio with a great engineer, artist and producer. Until that moment comes, keep practicing, working on touch, feel, groove and tempo. I have always said that it does take a lucky break, but you have to be really ready for it when it comes.
Bronson: You've played so many different styles of music and so well. Do you have a personal favorite genre if you had to choose just one?
Craig Krampf: I guess I am mainly known as a rock drummer, but many of my favorite recordings that I've played on also include the sensitive folk/Americana singer/songwriter stuff like some of those wonderful things on Melissa Etheridge's first album and so many of the songs on the Kim Carnes' albums that I got to play on. I've had a good run at Country too. I think for me it comes down to, if the music is real, honest and passionate it really doesn't matter what the "label" of it is.
Bronson: You left a very successful career in California and relocated here. What year was that and who helped you the most in getting established once you arrived in Nashville?
Craig Krampf: We came here in December of 1987 (wow) this month is our 22nd anniversary. Jimmy Bowen brought me here in 1983 to do a Hank Williams Jr. album; he actually flew Susie my wife in too so she could be shown around while I was in the studio. We really liked Nashville, but we weren't ready to make the move in '83. By 1987, it was time to come. My career was still going great in Los Angles, but we knew that Nashville was a better, more civil environment to live and raise our three daughters while still getting to work in the recording industry and music business. A friend and fellow musician/producer/songwriter that I had known and worked with back in LA, Josh Leo, booked me early on for several Alabama records and that definitely helped me get rolling here.
Bronson: Are you enjoying your new position as the Secretary/Treasure of Local 257, the Nashville Musicians Union?
Craig Krampf: It has been a challenging, new learning experience and I love the job. It is about helping and looking out for musicians and when we get to do something that really makes a difference for someone, it is incredibly rewarding. I urge the young musicians out there who don't know about the union to come and talk to Dave Pomeroy, the new President or myself. The union can help you in many ways that perhaps you didn't realize...for example, health care insurance plans, free rehearsal hall, protection and a good wage for your work. There is strength in numbers. A little commercial here: please visit our new website www.nashvillemusicians.org to learn more.
Bronson: Any upcoming projects, shows, or events you'd like to let our readers know about?
Craig Krampf: I having been playing with Jonell Mosser pretty regularly for the last 4 years and so, keep an eye out for upcoming shows. Occasionally, I get to play live with a great young band, Cassino, and it's really cool and fun stuff. Also, I played on the new Beth Nielson Chapman album; it's quite an amazing piece of work and should be released in early 2010.