SAN FRANCISCO—With a new album out, Warning (GFlP Records), world-renowned drummer Billy Cobham is threatening a move back stateside. Cobham plans on settling in Southern California, teaching a bit and touring with his latest band. He wants to get back into the public eye after spending four years living on the outskirts of Zurich, Switzerland. “There’s nothing wrong with living in the United States, once you find a place where you can be quiet and have that balance. I need a lot of quiet,” the powerfully built stickman says.
Cobham staked new trails for drummers while with the Mahavishnu Orchestra in the early ’70s, leading the post-Elvin Jones/Tony Williams charges. He’s worked with a Who’s Who of jazz stars and recently guested with bassist Jack Bruce and Grateful Dead rhythm guitarist Bob Weir (Bobby and the Midnites). Cobham’s first solo record, Spectrum, was one of 1973’s best—his solo career lost focus in the late ’70s, but he’s done a couple of promising records with his Glass Menagerie band in recent years. The drummer’s Warning band includes Dean Brown (from the Menagerie) on guitar synthesizer, Sa Davis on percussion, Gerry Etkins at keyboard synthesizers, and bassist Baron Browne. “The more we play, the better it gets,” says the leader.
“The reason we call the album Warning is because it‘s so clear. The drums sound so good. They’re not up front as much as they’re present. You can decipher each drum, each sound,” he says. “It’s going along with the trend towards better-sounding records by way of compact disc digital audio.” Cobham is excited about the sound of the record as well as the music on it, all of which is penned, incidentally, by the drummer. “The material I‘ve written has got me more imbedded in it, ‘cause I’ve had time to put things together the way id like to.” The new Cobham is melodic, high-energy, bluesy, with touches of metal, reggae, and feathery-lightness. Cobham may not be blazing any new trails on Warning, but it’s an important step for him nonetheless.
Last year‘s big disappointment for Cobham came on the Mahavishnu project with John McLaughlin, where infighting among the original members dashed any hopes of a real Orchestra “reunion.” Nonetheless, the drummer’s playing is nothing short of spectacular on Mahavishnu. “I learned that at 41 years old I really have to start going out there and supporting myself—doing my own projects,” he says. “I have something valid to say as an artist, and I think I should take that step forward.”
– Robin Tolleson