Michael Walden has always been a musical inspiration to me
through his work as a drummer. Jeff Beck's "Wired"
album and the Mahavishnu Orchestra release, "Visions
of the Emerald Beyond," were both monumental stepping
stones in my musical journey through life. It wasn't until
I started to research Walden's career statistics that I came
to find that he is responsible for 56 charted #1 hits, more
than any producer in history. He has produced hits for some
of the biggest artists that music has ever known; artists
like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles,
and Aretha Franklin just to name a few. He is also
a three-time Grammy winner, receiving the Producer of the
Year Grammy in 1987. Okay
.so he's more than just a
this interview, I wanted to learn who Narada (pronounced Narda)
Michael Walden was. What drives this man to perform with such
success? What kind of a person is this? Anyone responsible
for so much success with so many different people has to have
a pleasant personality and demeanor, right?
I had no idea how right I was, until we began our conversation.....
Michael Walden: "Scottie, it's Narada!"
Narada! How are you?
NMW: "I'm okay. I
just jogged over to the studio [Tarpan
Studios] and just wanted to make sure I touch base with
DM: You're popping up
NMW: "I like to pop
up. As long as you're alive, it's important to pop up."
DM: I hear the Oakland
Symphony has acquired you now, too, Mozart. I hear Mozart
is your new name around the office!
NMW: "Aww, that's
very sweet. I was asked out of 130 people to be chosen of
1 of 4 to compose a classical piece for next year's opening
How does composing a symphony differ from everything else
NMW: "It's quite
similar actually. The album before the one you mentioned with
"Eternity's Breath" on it, is an album called Apocalypse.
That album with Mahavishnu Orchestra had the London Symphony
with Michael Tilson Thomas, produced by The Beatles' producer
George Martin, so I'm very familiar with the symphony. And
also my earlier solo albums would have symphonic pieces. So
I've always had a yearning that way.
So, in this new thing I'm gonna put together for next year,
it'll be symphonic in nature, then I'll bring the drums in,
then maybe even a choir and some rap. So, we'll see how it
all goes. I really want to tie the worlds together - old school
meets new school
..with Mozart wigs." (Laughs)
NMW: "Hey, now you're
in Chicago. I'm from Kalamazoo."
DM: I do a radio show
in Detroit each week, so I'm very in touch with the Detroit
NMW: "Well, Kalamazoo
is smack in the middle between Chicago and Detroit. It's not
really Detroit or Chicago; it's just right out in the middle.
My dad's from Chicago, so I feel more of an affinity for Chicago.
But, the music of Detroit also banged me on the head really
hard. But, the music of Chicago banged me hard too, with Curtis
Mayfield and his early productions of The Five Stairsteps,
and of course The Impressions, and "The Monkey Time/Major
Lance." There's so much music coming out of Chicago,
then all of the blues stuff that came out of there as well.
So, a lot of music in the Midwest, and really untouched by
the rest of the world, quite frankly."
DM: Yeah! We always think
of L.A., of course, and New York Chicago sometimes
gets lost in there.
NMW: "You're right,
because no one speaks up. But I think it's time that you speak
up, I speak up, people who are from that neck of the woods
start speaking up. We're more shy and humble in nature, so
we don't really rattle the chain about things that much. You
know the coast people think they're 'all that' because they're
by the sea. But we almost take it for granted, these Great
Lakes in our backyards!"
DM: Oh yeah. I think the
Midwest is a breeding ground for so many things.
NMW: "Oh yeah, man.
It's in the water. And also, the breeding of the people; we
mix Indian blood, African blood, European bloods all
these bloods come together [and] makes a gumbo that produces
this sophisticated blues
.sophisticated ghetto mentality
that just takes over the world. It's a combination of the
world, man." (Laughs)
DM: Along with all the
other stuff you're working on, you're working on a solo album
with Sting and Clarence Clemons as guests?
NMW: "Yes, it's done.
It's called "The More I Love My Life." And I also
have another band album, so we're trying to get the release
for this year . And, I'm also working on a Bach project."
DM: I see that "Brothers
In Arms" is out from Temple Of Soul!
NMW: "Yes, brother."
DM: That is some funky
stuff! Tell us about it.
NMW: "Well, Clarence
is my brother. He has been since back in '85; he played sax
on 'Freeway Of Love,' our first platinum with Aretha Franklin.
I just adore him. He's got a heart of gold. We're very close,
and God has been good to us. Whatever I can do with him, I'm
always there for him. He's been one of my closest friends
in the music industry to really be there for me. You know,
it's funny how many people you can have number one records
with, but when you look around, who'll be there for you? Who'll
really answer a phone call? It doesn't work that way, unfortunately.
It works more just a heart connection."
Would you say that's the most negative thing for you about
the music industry?
NMW: "But I don't
even want to say negative. It's just human nature. It's just
the God lesson; not to be attached to the result. We do the
things that we love to do, we enjoy it and we love it, and
then we move on. But life is moving fast for everybody, so
I've learned to take the four agreements to heart: Agreement
#1 says be impeccable with your word; Agreement #2 says don't
take anything personal. Like the fact that you have a #1 record
but you don't hear from the person. Don't take it personal
because they're doing their own thing as well; [Agreement]#3
- don't assume. Always have the courage to ask the question;
and [Agreement] #4, always do your best. So my best really
is not to have any negatives in life. And the fact that I
can breathe, and the fact that I can walk and feel gratitude
in my heart, hey man
.it's all good."
DM: Basing your life around
those four things has got to be such a positive experience.
"It's written by Juan Miguel Ruiz. My mom kinda turned
me on to the book, and I really enjoyed those principles.
They help me a lot because it's easy, if I'm not careful,
to take it personal. If you don't like my song, my new baby
or whatever, then you could take it personal. But you have
to realize, just because somebody doesn't like something doesn't
mean that it's not good."
DM: Right. Everybody takes
it a little bit differently, and that's the beauty of music
I think. It's a personal experience, it really is.
NMW: "Yeah, that's
right. Something you may like, I may not like, and vice versa
- and that's okay! That's what this whole thing is about,
man. So that we can have a good time on this Earth, and find
things that really bring us happiness, and make progress.
Make progress, man."
Michael Walden and his mother
this point, Narada asked me what I do for a living. Now, let
me tell you that this was a first. Never has an artist asked
me about my personal life. Narada asked to know about me with
genuine interest and caring, and for that reason alone I have
a special place in my heart for him. I proceeded to tell him
that I'm a stay-at-home Dad, and he told me how John Lennon
was also, and how he loved to bake bread and listen to soft,
relaxing music. Narada has a very special way of making you
feel special; like you are important to this Earth.
DM: You've been with every
major legend/influential artist you can possibly imagine Aretha
Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Jeff Beck, Whitney Houston, Ray Charles.
Is there anybody left that you want to work with?
NMW: "Yeah, I'd like
to work with Michael Jackson. I'd like to work with Prince.
I'd like to work with a lot of the new folks that are coming
up. Some of them I really admire. I like this girl out of
the UK named Adele. I like Duffy. I'd like to work with them.
I want to stay current in the music industry, so to stay with
some young shots is important, you know? Yeah, so there's
many many things I'm still looking forward to doing. In my
mind, I'm still like 19."
DM: I always think of
you as a drummer, more than a producer even. Is it 56 #1 hits
[as a producer]? That's what I hear.
NMW: "Yes. It's been
quite a few."
DM: How do you think of
NMW: "I think of
myself as a God lover. A God lover who's here to do a great
amount of work, and my motto is 'It's supposed to be fun.'
So, I just look at whatever I can do and try and keep it fun
so I can enjoy it, you know. The whole thing is, I can feel
good about it and enjoy the process."
I think there are a lot of musicians who are out there doing
things and they really don't enjoy them anymore, and that's
NMW: "It's just a
matter of re-thinking it. It's not a big dilemma. We think
it can be a big dilemma, but it's really not a big dilemma.
In the matter of a second we can switch it, if you just think,
'Would you rather be dead in the ground?'
rather not have the gift of music?'
..'Would you rather
be in a position where you couldn't play?' So really, in the
twinking of an eye you can really change it around. And maybe
think about this, the inspiration is flying 24 hours a day.
All we gotta do is be receptive and reach our hands up and
grab the birds of inspiration and bring them down. But they're
flying 24 hours a day."
DM: Do you still find
that you're one of the few drummers that use the traditional
NMW: "Oh, I think
there are many many great drummers who use all kinds of grips
anymore. I never felt comfortable with just switching over
to anything else because I was raised that way, and if it
wasn't broke why fix it?"
DM: With the Grammys and
so many awards of recognition that you've gotten, is there
any one piece that you're most proud of?
NMW: "I'm most proud
of the first Grammy I ever got for Aretha Franklin
'Freeway Of Love' Song of the Year. It was my first Grammy.
There's something very special about the first thing you ever
do. I'm also very proud of winning an Emmy for the Olympic
theme song with Whitney Houston called 'One Moment In Time.'
And I'm also proud just to be here today. I'm proud to have
survived when a lot of my friends have passed on and couldn't
hang on to the train track. And I'm very happy to be here
now, to be able to talk to you. Just tell the world that life
is a good thing, and God has really given us. With the flippers
and porpoises and the seas, all these great animals and creatures
running around here for us to enjoy, that I'm very happy to
be able to have the gift of life, and I'm very happy to proclaim
my happiness. This is what I'm here for. So through music,
this is what I'm trying to do
.is inspire humanity,
to be closer to God, closer to themselves, and closer to the
real feeling of gratitude for being on the Earth."
HERE to watch the video for Aretha Franklin's "Freeway
And lastly, I'm sure this will take a book to fully explain,
but how did meeting guru Sri Chinmoy change your life and your
NMW: "Very very simply,
guru was instrumental in giving me direction at a time when
I really needed the direction. It came to me through Mahavishnu
Orchestra and the music of John McLaughlin. That music just
really inspired me and turned me around and gave me a focus
again, because I wanted to be Jimi Hendrix's drummer. Jimi died
the year I graduated high school, which is '70. So then John
McLaughlin gave me a new hope, a new direction. So, guru with
John McLaughlin kind of taught me 'Don't compete with Billy
Cobham, compete with yourself. Compete with yourself. Be the
best YOU you can be.'"
DM: OH! One more question!
On "Led Boots" from [Jeff Beck's] Wired, at the beginning
I heard that you guys played over the tape leader. Is that true?
NMW: "I did, yeah.
But it wasn't something that I was trying to do, it was magic.
You see, there is such a thing called magic." (Laughs.)
So, how can I explain to all of you how I felt after my conversation
with the man that is Narada Michael Walden? Let me start by
reiterating what I just said; I had a conversation with the
"MAN that is Narada Michael Walden." I didn't speak
with the drummer. I didn't speak with the songwriter, or the
producer. I spoke with a MAN, a man that encompasses so much
more than music. When I came into this interview, I considered
Narada to be the best drummer I had ever heard. I considered
him to be one of the greatest music producers in the history
of the world. But all of that somehow seems so secondary and
inferior now that I have talked to the man. I came to find that
I was even more inspired by his zest for life, his spirit, and
his enormous heart. I thought there could not possibly be anything
that could overshadow this man's musical talent, but I was wrong.
With his constant desire to deliver hope and inspiration, Narada
is one of the most charismatic and pleasant people that I've
ever had the chance to communicate with. The love, kindness,
and caring that this man has for the world and everything in
it, is something that finishes second to nothing.
Official website: www.naradamichaelwalden.com
For more info about the many ways that The Narada Michael Walden
Foundation is helping others, please visit:
The "Special Thanks" section for this interview
is one that is emotionally special to me. You see, I was contacted
via email by a woman named Lisa Walden after she read some
of my reviews. I did not make the connection. I responded
with a heartfelt thank you, as I fully appreciate it when
anyone reads something I write. She went on to explain that
she was married to Narada for many years, and she appreciated
the kind words I had for him. She then offered to put me in
contact with Narada, and she is the very reason that this
I think we can all learn from these two very special people,
Anukampa Lisa Walden and Narada Michael Walden. Even though
they are no longer married, they share a sincere bond of caring
and love with each other. The world would be a better place
if we could all follow the example set forth by these two
extraordinary human beings.
Lisa There are no words that can express my appreciation.
I appreciate you reading my reviews. I appreciate your belief
and trust in me as a writer. I appreciate you being in this
Narada I am so very thankful for the kindness and caring
you have shown me. Your loving spirit is something that inspires
me in my daily life, and I thank you for that. You are a gift
to this world.