Jerry Marotta has drummed for some of the biggest names in rock in the ‘70s and ‘80s, including Cher, Stevie Nicks, Carly Simon, and Marshall Crenshaw. That was his kinetic kit driving the memorable Orleans chart hit “Still the One” and laying the grooves beneath Hall & Oates’ Voices smashes “You Make My Dreams” and “Kiss On My List.”
But Marotta also contributed stellar stick work to the first four solo records by Peter Gabriel: Those are Jerry’s bass kicks, snare hits, and flams decorating such now-familiar fare as “DIY,” “Games Without Frontiers,” “Biko,” and “Shock the Monkey.”
Nicknamed Car (1977), Scratch (1978), Melt (1980), and Security (1983), Gabriel’s groundbreaking early releases not only distanced the singer from his previous work with Genesis (Nursery Cryme, Foxtrot, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, etc.) but prepped both him and his audience for the more expansive, exotic sonic palettes of the multiplatinum efforts So (1986) and Us (1992).
Now Marotta is resurrecting some of that old material for concert stages everywhere with The Security Project. Joined by renowned Warr guitarist Trey Gunn [King Crimson, Steven Wilson, Puscifer], keyboardist / Eighenharpist David Jameson [Time Machine, Beyond the Wall], and guitarist Michael Cozzi [Shriekback, Shakespears Sister, Sky Cries Mary], Marotta has recaptured some of that old magic on the new album Contact.
We spoke with the Dreamland Studios drummer earlier this week about his tenure with Gabriel, the challenges of covering the classic Peter repertoire, and the differences between traditional “tribute” band and The Security Project.
AXS: Hello, Jerry! How are you?
JERRY MAROTTA: I’m good, man! How are you?
AXS: Thanks for talking with us. We’re looking forward to catching The Security Project here in Cleveland.
JM: I’m looking forward to it, too.
AXS: So how did the band start out? You formed the group five or six years ago, and the name suggests it was done in homage to Security, on the 30th anniversary of that album.
JM: It was an idea…we weren’t thinking about the anniversary; it just happened to work out that way. We just put the thing together. It was really to commemorate the music from that particular record, Security. That’s the way it started. It started with a singer named Josh Gleason, who was in a band called The Waiting Room. Someone introduced me to him with the idea that we could work together on something, because he was a big Peter Gabriel fan. But Josh had a family with small kids, so he couldn’t really tour with us the way we wanted to tour. So Josh was in the first incarnation, along with Fuzzbee Morse [Frank Zappa, Jaco Pastorius], who is a good friend of mine, and a great musician. He was he was in L.A. After that first tour we decided to tour more, which Josh couldn’t do, so we found singer in Liverpool named Brian Cummins. Brian became the lead singer, and Fuzzbee did guitar. Trey was in Seattle, and he had a friend named Michael Cozzi. Michael is this phenomenal musician, composer, and engineer. We asked Michael if he knew a guitar player who’d want to sit in with us, but Michael said he would do it! So we did that lineup for a couple tours. About a year and a half ago Brian was no longer with us. Trey and I had worked with a woman named Happy Rhodes, who we’d recorded with and has like eleven of her own CDs. We asked if she’d be willing to do it, and she agreed. Now, for me, I was very into the idea of having a female, because we’re not really a tribute band. We’re not trying to recreate the experience in the same way that, say, The Musical Box does with Genesis. They have this “real Genesis” tribute experience with props and projections and all the theatrics. You’re literally trying to recreate things that way, but we’re not trying to do that. So we got Happy, who definitely doesn’t sound like Peter! And that’s the band as it stands now.
AXS: I would liken it to the way a modern symphony orchestra interprets the great works of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. Only now the canon is that of Peter Gabriel!
JM: Exactly! Right! Now, some of the music really does need to be played the way it was played and perfected on record. There are songs like “Lay Your Hands on Me,” “San Jacinto,” “The Family and The Fishing Net,” and “Wallflower” that are very much epics. I call them epics. They’re the classics, and we’re not thinking about rearranging them. We do those the way they were recorded. Then there are others like “Intruder” and “I Don’t Remember” that we have morphed into something a little more original…particularly with Happy singing. That helps us push some of the material in different directions. I love the way we’re doing those songs; they’re quite different than the way I did them with Peter.
AXS: The group doesn’t have a conventional bassist. Instead, you have Trey on Warr guitar and David on keyboards covering the lower sounds that, say, [bassist] Tony Levin played on those old records. Those dynamics are fascinating—but they must be tricky, technique-wise!
JM: Trey was in King Crimson with Tony, of course, and he’s playing an instrument very similar to Tony’s Chapman Stick. It’s a “touch guitar” with bass strings and guitar strings. Trey has his hands full, but he’s done an incredible job covering Tony’s ground. The whole band is just amazing. David Jameson is our keyboard player, and he had a lot to learn. He had help from [Peter Gabriel synthesizer player] Larry Fast in putting together the sounds for the songs, because Larry was very instrumental in creating all that music.
AXS: How’d you and the others decide on which Peter Gabriel songs to revisit?
JM: There’s a basic foundation of songs that we all agree on that we want to do. There’s hardly a song that any of us doesn’t want to do! The music is phenomenal. I don’t know how familiar you are with all of it, especially from back then. We do “Moribund the Burgermeister” and “Humdrum” to “White Shadow” or “On the Air.” We’ve done “Not One of Us,” “No Self Control.” Then we’ll do stuff like “Wallflower” and “San Jacinto.” There’s a real focus on the Security record, which to me is one of the all-time great records. Forget about the fact that I actually worked on it. It’s just that I saw the effect that that particular record had on music in general, on how music gets made. So we initially focused on that one. The thing we try not to do is play the songs Peter does in his show, like “Sledgehammer,” “Big Time,” and “Don’t Give Up.” We generally don’t do “Solsbury Hill.” Those are all the songs people can still hear when they go to see Peter perform today. We try to do the songs that people generally won’t hear when they see Peter, because they’re more obscure. That’s been the idea.
AXS: Did Peter give any specific instructions for your drum work back on those early albums? Like, did he verbally provide a blueprint of how he wanted things to sound?
JM: Not really. I mean, to some degree he helped push it. He used a process of elimination. But my background—having come from Cleveland---my background is soul. Rock and soul. And Cleveland is the home of that! But my real background is R&B and soul. That was my love growing up. Ironically, that’s what Peter loved. He loved that, and you can see that when you think about “Big Time” and “Sledgehammer.” Those songs pay tribute to Motown and Philly and Stax and all those old R&B and funk songs. That was the real connection for us. Peter knew where I was coming from and I knew where he was coming from, so we basically just got together and started hashing the songs out. He didn’t really ever have specifics, you know? He just knew what he didn’t want, and we worked from there. He’s good at that. He was brilliant at driving that process and guiding all of us.