Modern Drummer Interview – “Narada Michael Walden: Drummer, Singer, Songwriter, Educator, and Producer to the Stars”

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Since busting out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, when he was still a teenager to become hot drumming property with Mahavishnu Orchestra and Jeff Beck, among others, Narada Michael Walden has earned remarkable accolades on both sides of the glass, putting out a series of successful crossover albums as a leader, and producing superstars like Steve Winwood, Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, and Diana Ross. Since the mid-’80s he’s resided in San Rafael, California, where he owns and operates Tarpan Recording Studios and continues his gold and platinum streak. Modern Drummer magazine interviewed Narada (pronounced, if you’re wondering, like Florida) about his latest solo album, Evolution, in the April 2016 issue, on newsstands now. In this exclusive online article, he discusses working with a couple of his famous former drum students and comments on the individual tracks from Evolution.

Tony and Omar

Tony Thompson and Omar Hakim would come to my house when I lived in Holliswood, Queens. I had a room in the basement that I soundproofed with the help of my friend Greg DiGiovine, who was my manager at the time. I could play my drums at any time and practice for the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I’d invite all my local friends over and we’d play. Howie Grate was another powerhouse who would come over.

Tony and Omar came over a lot. I thought they were young, brilliant cats—smooth and liquid. Tony wanted to work on making his time and feel more relaxed. We would play with click tracks, and that prepared him for working with Chic—to play with intensity and not rush. Sometimes I’d play piano and he’d play drums, and we’d work on drum fills and make everything smooth and not feel like it was rushing. And man he got it down! Tony Thompson was a genius player. I’m sorry he’s not with us physically anymore, but his sound will live forever.

Omar Hakim has a natural gift. I was always so surprised at how flawless his chops and dexterity were at such a young age. And he was a happy, happy cat; we just enjoyed playing and enjoying music and growing together. I had a lot of fun times in Queens playing with these great folks.

Teaching at the Collective

The Drummers Collective downtown, that was a whole other set of people I met that just wanted to grow their chops or funk feel or a combination of both. A lot of drummers wanted to learn how to play in five, seven, nine, eleven—all different odd meters. So I spent time doing that kind of thing. We’d have two drumsets, and I’d play and ask them to play it back to me, kind of mirroring each other. They would tape this on a cassette machine [laughs] so they could take the lesson with them and study and learn from it. A lot of my students still have those tapes. They’re quite valuable because we got into some serious lessons. I miss those times and I love all those people.



I recorded live drums for Evolution at Tarpan with my white DW kit in the main room. It’s four-on-the-floor, Rick James–style, acoustic drums. I recorded to have a live feel, but for the dance floor, by pumping up my drums to make it sound [programmed]. I wanted everything to have a cohesive sound that I can play live with my band.

I approach the drums very naturally. I’ll cut a basic track on my keyboards to a drum machine loop that I’ve programmed, and then I’ll put my drums on top of that. That’s usually what I’ll do, unless it’s a live-in-the-studio thing where I’m going to cut live drums—and even if that’s the case I’ll still make a loop of a handclap, a conga, or something else to use as a click track.

The track “Evolution” is on fire with spirit from my family, my children Kelly and Kayla, and my wife Katie. It has Marvin Gaye inspiration for the world and for keeping our environment together with love for spirit and humanity. I dedicate it to Curtis Mayfield and Bob Marley and all the people who are searching for bringing about a better world through music.

“Billionaire on Soul Street” is also a Curtis Mayfield feel-meets-top-ten-radio. My family and music inspire me to feel good, like a “Billionaire on Soul Street”!

“Baby’s Got It Going On” is a track I’m very proud of. It’s a Rick James–inspired vibe. It’s one of my happiest and strongest songs on the record.

“Freedom” is the Richie Havens song that he played at Woodstock. It’s my homage to his great genius.

“Song for You” [came about after] I was teasing my studio assistant Kimrea and told her to give me a song title in three seconds. She gave me that title and I wrote a funky, dance floor, feels good, around-the-world song.

“It’s the Sixties Now” is my way of [talking about] everything that brings me to love San Francisco—and it’s still the same. Flower Power and people looking for freedom in the heart. This is my prayer that we continue in the same spirit that Hendrix and Joplin and all the people brought in the ’60s.

I composed “Tear the House Down” with Lionel Ritchie twenty-five years ago, and I reinvented it for now.

“Me and My Girl” is another one I wrote with Lionel years ago that I updated for this record.

“Heaven Is in My Heart” is another family dedication to my life, looking back on going to high school in Plainwell, Michigan, and teaching and working at the Plainwell Sanitarium to pay my bills. It’s about who I loved and who raised me, to my grandmother, my parents, and my brother Ron, who passed away. Everything I love in life is in my heart.

“Standing Tall” is a lyric written by Jennifer Saran that comes from a phrase I loved that Merl Saunders Sr. would always say: “Standing Tall says it all.” Mariana Rosimis passed that on to me, so I wrote a song about it.

I cut “Long and Winding Road” when I was working with Jeff Beck, thinking that we might do it with Rod Stewart or someone else. But we didn’t end up doing that, so I put it out with me singing because I love the song.

I composed “Show Me How to Love Again” for a previous album and reworked it with Booda’s remix. It’s a cry to all men in the world. We get so corroded, we have to learn how to love again.

Columbia Spectator NYC Interview: Narada Michael Walden talks about playing with Mahavishnu, switching to producing dance music, and making people happy


Musician Narada Michael Walden’s résumé is nothing short of impressive.

Having worked both as a jazz fusion drummer playing with legends like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jeff Beck, and John McLaughlin, and as a producer working with stars including Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, Walden continues to thrive as an artist with a wide palette of influences, performing both music and dance. Currently touring with his band, Walden is set to play at the Iridium Jazz Club this upcoming Friday.

Walden’s career as a drummer started with promise when he joined the Mahavishnu Orchestra after drummer Billy Cobham left the band.

“It was the best in the world, because I went from working in a restaurant to playing with the best bands in the world,” Walden said. “Mahavishnu put me on the map…and gave me the opportunity to be more known. That opened the door to meeting Jeff Beck and everybody who later came after that.”

Walden’s life as a musician changed when his friend, Ramon Silva, asked him to produce an album by Don Cherry, called “Hear & Now.”

“Tony Williams played a track, Lenny White played a track,” Walden said of the record. “It was very nice to have my first intro to production that way. And then I produced an album for Stacy Lattisaw, called “Let Me Be Your Angel,” which is more rock, soul, pop music.”

But to stay relevant in music, Walden couldn’t play and produce jazz forever. When his label threatened to drop him in 1977, he had to explore innovative musical territory.

“My record label told me that if I didn’t have a hit, they would have dropped me,” Walden said. “At that time in 1977, disco music was hot, so I just jumped on disco music. I always wanted to be successful and make it and not be dropped as an artist.”

Walden ascribes his artistic success to his diverse musical taste and his ability to make this transition.

“If you listen to all kinds of music when you’re a child, then you can stay in music forever.”

While Walden transgresses genres, jazz holds a special place in his heart. It has influenced him throughout his life and across multiple instruments.

“Jazz opens up to high music,” Walden said. “If I could understand jazz…I could put my mind to almost anything I wanted to.”

In this way, jazz was always a part of what Walden did.

“When I was working with Whitney Houston, I was always bringing Mahavishnu Orchestra energy into Whitney Houston’s music,” Walden said. “I got the best of the worlds and mixed it a little bit.”

Even in Walden’s drum playing, jazz has always been an influence, no matter the genre. “When I played rock, I played jazz influence into rock,” Walden said. “I love the freedom of jazz in rock. So you can go higher. Because jazz is the highest for me, it expresses on the highest plateau.”

Walden’s creative efforts go beyond his work in famous fusion bands and his dance productions. He has also been prolific as a solo artist, performing his own compositions and arrangements up until this day.

Today, Walden tours with his own band. His most recent releases, “Thunder,” released in 2013, and “Evolution,” released in October, showcase his musical diversity.

“‘Thunder’ I made after my tour with Jeff Beck, so ‘Thunder’ kind of represents the rock/blues spirit that I felt on the stage with Jeff,” Walden said.

“Evolution,” meanwhile, is more personal.

“I almost wanted to make a dance statement and a happy record, because I have a new family. That’s what the new evolution is. More happy, upbeat, and dance to this evolution of life.”

After all, music is about happiness, according to Walden.

“[I] wanna just play in Europe, play in all of the world eventually, and make people happy with music,” he said. “That’s the mission.”

Narada Michael Walden and his band will be playing at The Iridium Jazz Club this Friday, Nov. 13.

Grammy and Emmy Award Winning Multi-Platinum Producer Narada Michael Walden To Release New Full Length Album EVOLUTION on Tarpan Records!

The new press release for Narada Michael Walden’s “EVOLUTION” has hit the web!

Multi-Platinum Producer Narada Michael Walden to Release New Full Length Album 'EVOLUTION'

September 23rd, 2015  San Rafael, California, – Tarpan Records is pleased to announce the international release of EVOLUTION the upcoming full-length album by Narada Michael Walden releasing on October 30th 2015. The albums’ first single, Billionaire On Soul Street, which was released on August 14th, 2015 and the forthcoming album represent a change of direction for Narada, one that brings him back to his roots in Dance and Club Music, Funk and Soul. The first single was, and full-length album will be released on Narada’s own imprint, Tarpan Records.

Narada Michael Walden has produced many household names including: Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, George Michael, Mariah Carey, Stacy Lattisaw, Steve Winwood, Ray Charles, Sister Sledge, Patti Austin, Gladys Knight, Rev Al Green, Barbra Streisand, Lionel Ritchie, Elton John, Sting, Carlos Santana, Shanice Wilson, Tevin Campbell, Lisa Fischer, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones, Wynonna Judd and The Temptations. He was awarded Grammys for Producer of the Year in 1988, Album of the Year for the movie soundtrack The Bodyguard in 1993 and the R&B Song of the Year in 1985 for Aretha Franklin’s Freeway of Love. Billboard Magazine also named him one of the “Top Ten Producers with the Most Number One Hits”.

As impressive a production and songwriting resume as Narada Michael Walden has assembled over the past forty years, he has earned equal acclaim as a recording and performing artist in his own right. Beginning as a drummer with the pioneering Mahavishnu John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra (following Billy Cobham at 20 years old), Narada also toured with Jeff Beck, Tommy Bolin, and Weather Report. With twelve acclaimed solo albums of his own which produced Dance Hits such as I Don’t Want Nobody Else to Dance With You, I Shoulda Loved Ya, Divine Emotions, Gimme Gimme Gimme and Tonight I’m Alright along the way, he has achieved greatness in a wide range of sonic arenas. Walden’s music includes groundbreaking soundtrack work on such blockbuster films as The Bodyguard, Free Willy, Beverly Hills Cops II, 9 ½ Weeks and Stuart Little including Gladys Knight’s License to Kill for the James Bond Film, Jefferson Starship’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now for Mannequin to the EMMY-winning One Moment In Time, the theme to the 1988 Olympic Games.

In early February 2012, Narada Michael Walden returned from a well received 10 day stint of shows at the Blue Note in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan to perform at the White House in an all-star band for President Obama’s “Red, White and Blues” Concert with legends B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Trombone Shorty, Booker T Jones and more.

Narada enlisted some amazing musicians and performers for his band on EVOLUTION including: Nikita Germaine (Train, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, James Taylor, and Patty Austin) on Vocals, Frank Martin (Angela Bofil, John Handy Band, Tuck & Patti, Jose’ Neto, Airto & Flora, Sting & Trudie’s Rainforest Band) on Keyboards, Angeline Saris (Gretchen Menn, Zepperella) on Bass and Vocals, Matthew Charles Heulitt (Zigaboo Modaliste) on Guitars.

Narada explains about the album’s first single: “This album EVOLUTION means the world to me because it reflects my personal feeling of spirituality and that feeling renewed for life by having my children Kelly and Kaylah in my life and my wife Katie. Having children now at this time in my life really has touched my heart to feel like WOW! Look how lucky and how blessed I am by God. I used this slogan, this sentence that I got from Kimrea who works at my Tarpan Studios. Cause’ I feel so good like a Billionaire on Soul Street. “EVOLUTION is a strong statement from Narada, inspired by the “retro” sound that is so prevalent on the radio and in clubs today. The album features mostly original material and two covers; Freedom by Richie Havens and Long and Winding Road by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

Tarpan Records will release Narada Michael Walden’s new album EVOLUTION internationally in October of 2015 with help from distribution and marketing powerhouse Independent Distribution Collective. This new album is a Dance masterpiece, with many flavors of Narada’s vast history mixed in.

His label, Tarpan Records is a home to both established and amazing up-and-coming artists as well. Tarpan Records specializes in artist development, full service project management, promotion, and distribution. Initially focused on Narada’s releases, the plan is to apply this business model to up and coming and established recording artists in the years to come.

Narada Michael Walden and his all-star band will perform a series of shows across the USA in the next few months in support of the release of EVOLUTION.

November 13, 2015 – The Iridium – New York, NY

Show Times 8:30pm & 10:30pm

November 17, 2015 – The Birchmere – Alexandria, VA

Showtime: 7:30pm

November 21, 2015 – Reggie’s Music Joint – Chicago, IL

Show Times: 6pm & 9pm

Get the single Billionaire on Soul Street now on iTunes: or any other digital retailer.

For more information on Tarpan Records or any of its releases check out:

Interview Requests contact Billy James at Glass Onyon PR 828-350-8158

Live Performance Bookings contact Stephan Gehrig SGENT NATION LLC

Tarpan Studio Bookings contact Tarpan Studios 415-485-1999

#billionaireonsoulstreet #NMWevolution

Narada Michael Walden Drops New Single “Billionaire On Soul Street”

Tarpan Records founder and legendary producer Narada Michael Walden has been busy creating some new musical magic. The single “Billionaire On Soul Street” is available now!

This single is the first look at Narada’s upcoming album “Evolution”. If you enjoy it, please share the video with the hashtag #billionaireonsoulstreet!

To get a closer look at Narada, his work on the new single and insight into the current state of the music industry check out his interview with Michael Lello from here: