Written by Lara Pellegrinelli from NPR
If the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, sometimes two apples will land on similar turf. Brian Blade has been Wayne Shorter‘s drummer for several years and leads his own project called The Fellowship Band. His older brother Brady Blade is perhaps best known for his drumming with Emmylou Harris and is an all-around music industry mover and shaker.
The two have a lot in common besides their instrument. Both have moved back to their hometown of Shreveport, La., making for more frequent holiday get-togethers. And Brady’s new Mid-City Records label will be releasing Brian’s new recording with The Fellowship Band, Landmarks, in the spring.
Since Brady will be following Brian to New York to catch his Village Vanguard run this week — NPR Music and WBGO are broadcasting the first set — we decided to explore the bonds of kinship with a little he said, he said.
Lara Pellegrinelli: You and your brother look a lot alike. And, come to think of it, I’ve never seen you in the same place at the same time. Any chance you’re the same person?
Brian Blade: That’s funny! I feel like Brady and I don’t look a lot alike, but we get mistaken for each other quite a bit, more now than when we were younger. We’re blood, so there are those features that are similar, but I don’t know. He’s such a firecracker and we’re so different in so many ways.
Brady Blade: I get that! When I’m walking through an airport and especially if I have cymbals or something, I’ll hear, “Brian!” “No, I’m Brady.” “Oh.” It’s pretty funny. He’s a little thinner than I am. He’s a skinny kid — I still call him kid. I like my sandwiches, personally, so I have a little bit more weight on me. But I take that as the biggest compliment when they think I’m Brian Blade. That guy’s the best.
Tell me about your father, Brady Blade Sr., who has been the pastor of the Zion Baptist Church in your hometown of Shreveport for 52 years. What kind of influence did he and the church have on your musical development?
Brian: My father and my mother. My mother Dorothy taught kindergarten for 25 years. They’re both teachers and instilled the desire to learn and to be taught. If we wanted to learn something and they couldn’t teach it to us, it’d be ‘get them a teacher, get them a coach.’
That transference of the love of music came to Brady and myself from Brady Sr. In church, my father gave us the opportunity to be part of the worship service and it laid a bedrock for every other musical situation that we would take part in. The things I learned playing with those great singers — my father being the primary one and then the congregation — how praise would be at the foreground of what we were doing. It made everything else make sense later when I wasn’t in church — what music was about for me. I’m thankful we had that opportunity. When I’m home on a Wednesday or Sunday, I’m at the drums! It’s great. It remains a part of my life.
Brady: In the biggest sense ever. I was exposed to gospel since I came out of my mother’s womb. I probably heard it in the womb, too. Brian and I both started playing drums in church. And I think we try to apply that feeling of playing in church to whatever music we’re playing: jazz, punk rock. The emotions that come from that — it’s just unbelievable. It brings me great joy, as I think it does for Brian.
My dad’s a great singer, a great bass player. He’s got a band called the Hallelujah Train. Brian and I double on drums, [guitarist] Daniel Lanois, U2’s producer Malcolm Burn, and Buddy Miller, who’s now the [musical] head for the TV show Nashville. So it’s this all-star band, a 25-member choir and a girl named Sereca Henderson on Hammond B-3. This is the best band I’ve ever been in. And my old man is the front guy. He’s 74 years old and he’s killing it.
What was it like to grow up in a two-drummer household? They say that the second child always tries harder. Were you rivals?
Brian: Thankfully, we were never rivals. Brady was five years older and I felt like I was always on his heels. And he was glad to have me there, taking me all around with him and showing me all he knew, giving me his records. Like the first time I ever heard Bob Marley, the record Kaya. He had it on vinyl. The first time I ever heard Chick Corea, this record called Friends. Brady gave it to me. It’s just endless. Everything he brought into the house became mine eventually. So the first drum set, that became mine eventually. It was the perfect hand-me-down situation.
Brady: I have two daughters. They’re 4 and 8 and I got a drum set for them for the house. And, even with me being a drummer, some days I’m like, “Wow, my parents were very patient people.” All of the musos in my town would hang at my house. My brother would rehearse with a jazz band probably early in the morning. And I’d have my incarnation of a punk rock band at night. It was all day in the summers. I don’t know how my parents dealt with it. They never complained. Later in life I asked my mom why she let all this insanity come into her house. She said, “Two things. I knew where you were, so I could keep an eye on you. Second, you needed to develop your craft.”
It looks like you and your brother’s careers diverge at jazz. So why did or didn’t you go down a path towards jazz as opposed to something else?
Brian: That’s a good question. It goes back to another connective force in our lives: Dorsey Summerfield Jr, who taught at Caddo Magnet High School and had a band for 30 years called the Polyphonics. Brady was the drummer during high school. When I was in the Polyphonics later, it was an immeasurable experience, playing with these professionals who expected you to give it everything you had. That really put us on another level of understanding. Mr. Summerfield would be like, ‘You need to listen to this John Coltrane record.’ Or, ‘Check out this Duke Ellington record.’ So that advice [took] root in me — not that it didn’t in Brady — but I think I went more so into trying to absorb those records.
Brady: I tend to focus more on the business side of things. I didn’t even play for a while after college. I worked for Polygram, had my own imprint label with Matt Robinson, a management company in England. I was going back to graduate school when Brian was doing Emmylou Harris’s record Wrecking Ball and couldn’t tour for whatever reason. She called me directly and I was like, “Miss Harris, no offense, but I think you’ve got the wrong brother.” That turned into a fantastic nine years and, because of her, I started playing again. I didn’t even own a drum set. I had to borrow a kit from my brother.
I do want to go back to school and finish my master’s and Ph.D. I plan to take an MBA course at Centenary College, where I graduated, and I’m probably going to work on my master’s after that. Because I want to teach economics by the time I’m 60.
Both of you seem to have big ears and what I’d describe as expansive visions of the genres of music that you play. I was wondering if you think there’s something special about the way your brother hears.
Brian: Brady’s sense of song doesn’t just come from one thing, but all that’s distilled itself in him and makes his voice at the drums. You hear the backbone of something deeper and more connected than just the beat itself. Brady’s gift wells up from those early experiences through to the now. He’s able to connect himself in this way because, first of all, he has regard for the song — not just for his part, but the whole thing. That sets him apart.
Brady: We’ve always listened to quite a diverse range of music, whether it was straight-ahead [jazz] or Sly Stone or The Who. My brother was the one who turned me on to U2 when they first came out. We were little kids. I think Neil Young is one of the big influences on both of us. He used to have a band with Rick James in Canada. You can look it up on the Internet. Young has this thing that frees us and has the funk in it. It’s got folk, it’s got country — all the stuff we love. Pinning down my brother’s music these days is tough because you’ve got him with The Fellowship and Wayne Shorter, then there’s the Mama Rosa project where he plays guitar and sings.
I remember his residency at the Vanguard three years ago. He did a Fellowship set, but the second set was arrangements of all of these Beatles songs and the crowd went crazy. He pulled it out as a surprise — unbelievable! He never ceases to amaze me. He’s just my favorite drummer and he’s on a continual search for excellence in music.
We’re going to webcast Brian and The Fellowship Band from the Vanguard. Has Brady offered any advice on the project? What are we going to hear?
Brian: Artistically, no. He trusts my instincts with what I feel is important musically. From a business sense, he has. He can wear both hats so much better than I can that he really vibes me when it comes to certain things like, ‘Oh, you ought to try this agent.’ I don’t think about that as much as I should. The Fellowship Band made a new record down here at Blade Studios, which is coming out sometime next year. It’s called Landmarks. And it’s going to be coming out on a label that my brother started here in Shreveport called Mid-City Records in cooperation with Blue Note/Universal. So we’ll be playing music from that upcoming record, which is 99% originals. [Pianist] Jon Cowherd and myself contributed the music from the band.
Brady: Creatively, that’s his ballgame and I don’t interfere. He doesn’t ask me anything. He has very specific goals for that band musically and I’ll just look at him and be proud. The only thing I provided was the financial means to make the record happen. Because we didn’t have a distribution deal in place at the time, but we knew we wanted to be in business together. To be able to work with him creatively and, in business capacity, drive the bus, so to speak, so he can do what he does, I’ll unselfishly do that for him any day because I’m ultimately a fan. I think we’re going to make a great team going forward with this musical journey. And this record — I can’t wait for you to hear it.
One final question: what’s the greatest thing you have learned from each other?
Brian: Hmm. We’re blood brothers, you know, so ultimately we shall remain that. Even if we never worked together or played music together, it’s that we try to help each other along the way in every way we can. And it’s so great to feel like you have someone in your corner. He’s a great brother.
Brady: Wow. What I think my father instilled in us was unselfishness and humility. Brian is probably the nicest person I’ve ever met. Somebody’s got to be the bad guy. I pretend to be the bad guy, but I’m probably not. It’s only in business. If it was up to us, everybody would just love everybody.
Brian is really not of this era in many ways. He just recently got a cell phone. He still writes letters in perfect handwriting, I love receiving his letters. We used to correspond with each other traveling around the world. He takes the time to do that. And he takes his time with many things.