Bun E. Carlos Meets Bunni Carlos

Bun E: That started as a radio promotion. I think it was Westwood One that had asked us to do that. We did it at the Roxy. I didn’t think too many people even know we were doing it at the time. Then we did the first three albums — one each night, three nights in a row. I don’t know if we can really do anything past the third album because there is more production on the records and parts that would be hard to reproduce. Some of the songs have multiple vocal and drum parts.

Bunni: What about Budokan?

Bun E: I don’t think I have the stamina to do that anymore. It gets hard when you are pushing 50. [laughs]

Bunni: Is there a song that you have played so much that you wouldn’t mind if you never played it again?

Bun E: Well, there are a few. I would say the songs that we didn’t write, like “The Flame.” “Don’t Be Cruel” is another one, and I would be like, “Oh no, not ’Don’t Be Cruel’ again.”

Bunni: I’ve tried to play your drum parts closely to what you originally recorded. Sometimes I’ll get a serious die-hard fan that will say to me, “Hey, you guys did the Budokan version of a certain song and you didn’t play the right fill after the second verse.”

Bun E: Wow, really? That’s amazing. They must be drummers.

Bunni: It’s tough, because I want to do the parts and the songs the right way, but also like to put some of my own fills in. How much have you changed your parts over the years?

Bun E: As you probably know, a lot of the songs get worked on for a while before they make it to a record. By then I really have the best part for the song worked out, so I don’t usually change it much from there. I mean, I will change up a fill or something like that, but I keep to the original ideas.

Bunni: Do you have any tuning tips you could give me to get that Bun E. Carlos sound?

Bun E: Well, I use standard drum sizes to start — 12", 13", 14", 16" toms, 26" kick. I usually take the top head off and tune the bottom head first. I tune it up until I get the drum to sing, [so that] I hit a note that stays — that’s pretty much where the drum wants to be. Then I’ll put the top head on and do the same there. They kind of tune themselves.

Bunni: I tune the same way — bottom head first. There is always a sweet spot on the drum and once I get that I also put the top head on as well. I’m glad to know we have the same approach.

Bun E: I try to tune them so when the drums are tuned right it forms a chord, say the 13" tom is a E, then that’s the base note, and the other like the 12" is a G and the 14" is a C. I like my kick drum to be tuned low and deep; again it kind of tunes itself. I don’t have any wrinkles or ripples in the head, but I tighten it up just enough.

Bunni: I also tune the kick that way. In fact, I can pretty much finger-tighten my lugs and I get a really great sound from my kick. How about your snare?

Bun E: I use a Black Beauty. I like to tune it up a little higher than most guys, but I just tune it the way I like it to sound.

Bunni: How do you describe your feel?

Bun E: Oh I don’t know, a little Dave Clark, a little Elvin Jones, ten percent Ginger Baker.

Bunni: That’s pretty good company to be in. What should I do before the show to get into that Bun E. Carlos headspace?

Bun E: [laughs] Let’s see, I eat a banana for potassium.

Bunni: A banana? Really?

Bun E: Yes, you know I passed out after a show a few months ago.

Bunni: I know. That was terrible. What happened?

Bun E: It was after a show in Seattle. We were on the bus and I started not to feel so good. I didn’t want to lie down in my bunk because I wasn’t sure if I was having a heart attack or something, and all I thought was, “I don’t want to die on the bus!” So we got on the CB and asked where the nearest hospital was and they said 250 miles. So I said, “Forget this. Pull the bus over and call the Highway Patrol.” They took me to a hospital back in Seattle. I passed out and when I woke up the doctors were saying I was dehydrated and needed potassium. I told them I drank Mountain Dew on stage.

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