Conversation with Narada Michael Walden:
Drummer, Producer, God Lover
Scott "Dr. Music" Itter
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 drummer.
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!"
Dr. Music: 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 you."
DM: You're popping up everywhere.
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 you've done?
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 area.
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
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 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
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."
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 yourself?
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 unfortunate.
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?'
..'Would you 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
DM: Do you still find that you're one of the few drummers that
use the traditional grip?
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."
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 career?
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."
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: www.naradamichaelwaldenfoundation.com
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 interview exists.
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 world.
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.