Interview – Pat Torpey of Mr. Big

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In life, no one can predict where the road will take them next. Back in the late 1980s, when the Hard Rock scene was in the midst of a transition period, a band by the name of Mr. Big came onto the scene bringing together a mix of aggressive guitar and bass playing with a Classic Rock sensibility. Becoming one of the biggest American Rock bands in Japan, 1991 saw Mr. Big break through into the mainstream stateside with the massive hit “To Be With You.” Difficult to pigeonhole, their sound can simply be described as a marriage of everything Rock-n-Roll should be about. Reactivating for good around 2008, the band have been touring around, releasing new material, and sustaining popularity worldwide.

Set to complete their new album, The Stories We Could Tell… in the Summer of 2014, the unexpected news came down last July that their long-time drummer Pat Torpey had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Faced with the news, Torpey had a long road ahead, one faced with acceptance and one which he would refuse to back off of. Recently we sat down with Torpey for an introspective look at the history of Mr. Big, facing Parkinson’s Disease, plans for the future, and more.

CrypticRock.com – You have achieved a very accomplished career as a drummer in Rock-n-Roll in your time with Mr. Big, among other projects. Since you began drumming at such a young age, what was it like to see all the hard work paying off?

Pat Torpey – It was really great. I kind of attribute it to not giving up. I was getting to be in my late twenties and my parents were concerned that I was not going to find my way, but I just kept sticking at it. I think a lot of times, a big part of making it in any sort of artistic endeavor is tenacity; you just have to stick to it. I think that is one of my assets; not necessarily a musical prodigy, but just would not give up. It was really great, of course, to start seeing some success and seeing that I actually could see a spot in my life where I did not have to go looking for quarters on the couch, I did that for a while out here living in Hollywood.

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Atlantic
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Atlantic

CrypticRock.com – Persistence is essential with anything you do in life.

Pat Torpey –  I agree. I get asked that question a lot. A lot of times young people or somebody trying to make it, whatever “make it” means, but they always ask me, “What can I do to make it? What’s your secret? ” I tell them, “There is no secret, just don’t give up, just hold on, just keep working for your dream.” It sounds cliché but it is really true.

CrypticRock.com – It is true. With Mr. Big, the band had a lot of success from the late ‘8os into the ’90s. It seems a major deal of that success was over in Japan. What do you attribute the success in Japan to?

Pat Torpey – Well, I think what happened, right before we got together, Billy and Paul, who had a pretty good following in the guitar and bass playing circles, had gone over to Japan right before our first record had come out. They had gone over there for some music trade shows and there was all this kind of excitement generated that Billy and Paul were in a band together. We saw that and thought, “We should make some trips to Japan.” We went over there, and right off the bat there was a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. It just kind of came and it just grew faster than anywhere else in the world. Even to this day we are  still very popular over there because they are very loyal. I think it is that we just had the right combination.

A lot of times people think, “Oh you are big in Japan because they love all Rock bands from America.” Well, they don’t actually love all Rock bands from America. You cannot just take it for granted and we did not. We did that, we went in the beginning, we were over there in ’89 two or three times, in ’90 two or three times, in ’91. We just kept going back because there was a demand. We just thought if there was a demand let’s go there and strike where the iron is hot.

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Atlantic
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Atlantic

CrypticRock.com – That is quite interesting. The Japanese are very loyal to the bands they like.

Pat Torpey – Yes, we kind of grew up with our fans there. Now, we just went back there and played Budokan at the end of last year. We see our fans run the gamut from old to new, young people. I think what I was saying is that a lot of those people we grew up with, were young people when we first went over there, we got to know them, they became our friends. We had a lot of those types of fans there who still come to see us, even though some of them have kids and families now. So our fan base over there runs the gamut; it is young people, middle-aged people, and even probably some grandparents. We see moms and dads with their kids and they are all singing along, so it is pretty great.

CrypticRock.com – That is great. Mr. Big reunited in 2009 after a seven year break. In the time since the reunion the band has released two studio records and toured extensively. What ignited the band to reunite?

Pat Torpey – It was pretty organic, I would say. In 2008, Paul Gilbert was doing a solo show at the House of Blues here in Los Angeles. He had asked Richie Kotzen to open up the show. At the time, I would play with Richie sometimes. I was not full-time with Richie, but once in a while he would ask me to come play a show with him. It was always fun. He asked me to play this one at the House of Blues. Paul did not even know I was playing with Richie, so when he found out he said, “Hey, let me call Billy and have him come down and you guys can sit in and we will do a couple Mr. Big songs.” I said, “That would be great, it would be really fun.” We did have a great time, the crowd went crazy, and it was a really good response. I think after that, Paul, he was the one that was kind of a hold out. I think Billy and Eric and I were ready, we would have gotten together at any time, but Paul was doing his own thing, and was involved in other projects. He did send out an email saying, “Hey I really had a good time and maybe it is time we put the band back together and do some shows.” It just started from there. We ended up recording, doing some more shows, and then doing another record, therefore, for all intents and purposes, we were back together. Nobody dangled a big check in front of us or anything. It just happened by its own desire of the band members, which is pretty great actually.

CrypticRock.com – That is the way you want it to happen. It has been a great reunion and great to see the band back.

Pat Torpey – Exactly, because if someone would have just said, “We will give you a bunch of money to get together,” if one guy is disgruntled and another guy is not sure if he wants to do it, then, obviously, it is not going to last. It is good that it came together this way.

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Atlantic
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Frontier Records

CrypticRock.com – Seeing you have been a man who has kept himself extremely active through the years as a musician, in 2014 you found out you were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.  One can imagine this had to be a shock and extremely upsetting.

Pat Torpey – You are exactly right, it was a real shock. I guess the best way to put it is you identify yourself by what you do; at least that is how I look at life. I mean, you know you are a person, but you are also known by what you do. You are defined by what you do, and I am a drummer; that was my identity. All of a sudden that was kind of shaken, because all of a sudden I thought, am I still gonna be a drummer? It was something I have been doing for forty plus years. It was like an earthquake to my whole life and the reason for getting out of bed in the morning. To make a long story short, I went through a dark period of time and it was really tough when I first got diagnosed, but it also answered a lot of questions. The symptoms of this began all the way back in like 2008. I started feeling just little things that were strange and did not make sense to me. Like little moves that you do on the drums that used to be automatic; all of a sudden was not automatic. It was intermittent as well, it did not happen consistently. I just thought and chalked it up to maybe I was tired or getting old. So to answer your question, it was a real blow. Then what was really great about it is that I found out how many people really care about me and the great support system I have around me with the guys in the band, our management, and especially my wife. My wife is my guardian angel; she basically saved me. It was tough, but I am doing much better, I found a way, and I’m trying to do it every day.

CrypticRock.com – With such a disease, perhaps one of the first thoughts that come to mind naturally would be the inability to do everything to the full extent you once did. Do you try to approach this day by day?

Pat Torpey – Yes, it is. I have to accept; there is a lot of acceptance. I am not going to be the drummer that I once was. Although, when you get older anyway, which we are getting a little bit older, we have been around a long time, obviously there are a lot of things you cannot do when you are in your late 50’s that you could do when you were 20. That is just a part of life. This was a little more intense, obviously, and the good part about it is my symptoms are pretty controllable. In other words, if anybody knows anything about Parkinson’s or even people that do not, immediately you think of the tremor. There is a tremor, there is a lack of nerve control. With medication, which I am on now, which has really helped me, my symptoms are pretty minimal. If you and I met, you would not be able to tell that I had Parkinson’s disease, you would not notice anything. I notice it, I feel it, but I am able to function pretty normally. It does effect drumming because it is a much more fine-tuned nerve and muscle control. It does affect that in a more adverse way. Basically, you just kind of find a new way to do the things that you did and you might not be able to do what you did before. You just find other ways to approach it and that is what I have been doing. I am getting stronger every day, I feel more confident about what I have to do every day and life is really good.

CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear. Fortunately you have a good support system with your family and your bandmates in Mr. Big. The band did release a brand new album last year titled The Stories We Could Tell… You were in fact part of the record. What was the experience like for you?

Pat Torpey – It was a little different. Like I said, I had to find my way and find a little different approach on things. Eric and I got together and Billy and Paul were doing other things. Eric and I started working on some of the material, which Billy and Paul were a part of, because we always had these jam tapes. We have all these little song ideas that we record. We have hundreds and hundreds of ideas and we will pick one, start working on it, and develop it. What I realized is, working with our producer, who is Pat Reagan, we talked about how we could get the drums to sound good and because getting in and doing it the way I used to, physically was kind of hard. Especially at that time, I was just coming out of my dark kind of rough period and I was weak and I had lost a lot of weight, so I did not have the endurance to track. Tracking Rock-n-Roll drums in a studio takes a lot of energy and endurance, it is like a marathon. What we did was, we got a Roland electronic drum kit and I kind of sat behind there and came up with the grooves. Through editing, working with this drum kit, and making sure the sounds were good, we were able to make the album work.  I was amazed because I told Pat Reagan, “If this does not sound good, I do not want it to come out because it has to sound good; that is the bottom line.” He did an amazing job at what ended up sounding like me, because it really was. It is me, but it is a little different approach. Like I said, I have been finding my way since then and I have gotten better at doing this. At the time it was all new territory and we wanted to get the album out. It was a bit of a challenge, but with the support system and everybody working together, we were able to do it. I was pretty proud of the way it sounds.

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Frontier Records

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Apple Records
Apple Records
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CrypticRock.com – That is a fantastic mix of musical influence. My last question for you is pertaining to movies.  CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films.  If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorite Horror films?

Pat Torpey – I do. I like movies in general; especially good movies, and I like Sci-Fi movies. Recently I saw Prometheus (2012) and I really liked that, because I like Ridley Scott. That whole Alien series was really something that I always enjoyed. As far as Horror movies, I have not seen any of the recent movies. When I was younger though, there were always good scary movies. I remember seeing, of course, The Exorcist (1973) and some of the classic stuff. There was an old movie called The Curse of Dracula (1958) that I remember, when I was a kid, it had such a big impression on me.

CrypticRock.com – Sci-Fi films like Alien do cross over into the Horror genre as well, because they are quite frightening.

Pat Torpey – Exactly, the first time I saw Alien (1979), I was blown away. Before it was Star Wars (1977), and Star Wars is what it is, but all of a sudden Alien took it to a whole darker kind of evil thing, that was just a nightmare. Prometheus is kind of the same. Like I said, I love Ridley Scott. I like what he does in movies; he does not disappoint me. Prometheus is a good ending to the whole thing. I mean you have to like those kinds of movies to like it because I heard other people did not like Prometheus, they thought it was too slow, but I liked the whole idea of it.

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20th Century Fox

CrypticRock.com – Right, if you look at a traditional Horror film, they were always supposed to be more slow moving. Nowadays, it seems everything is action orientated with Horror and Sci-Fi. CGI has really changed things.

Pat Torpey – With CGI, there is no limit to the amount of eye-candy you get. It is almost overwhelming. I think it makes the watcher a little bit lazy with the story. Dig a little bit deeper to see what the story is about. I think it contributes to the way most people watch movies nowadays. They expect a certain level of action, have a very limited attention span, and they do not get deeper into what is being portrayed behind it all.

For more on Mr. Big: www.mrbigsite.com | Facebook | Twitter
Read Pat Torpey’s article on michaeljfox.org

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5 Comments

  • Dneska jsem se kouknul na koncert Avantasia 2014 live. Vůbec jsem tě nepoznal. Máš stále super voice!! Good luck. Gargamel form Czech Republik. 🙂

  • I am so releaved to read this article and now have been listening to mr.big s latest album feeling like i m listening to the whole essense of all of their previou albums at once, and thank to the positive energy and at the same time the outcome of the rehabilitation of his, now i m gonna really look forward to the future sessions of mr.big my all time favorite! Japan always love you!

  • Pat inspired me to start playing the drums last year and now I practicing “Electrified” because I love the drum solo introduction to this song at live in Japan 2002. Of course I’m a bad drummer yet. I think as if I’m training my brain rather than playing music. But like you said,I’ll keep working on it! I watched the TV program about the study of IPS cells and regenerative medicine will help people in the near future. I believe that we can enjoy your unbelievable drumming on the stage again. We are always MR.BIG’s big big fan!!!

  • I’m a guitarist of 40 years. I play it, record it and teach it… It’s not only my life, it’s my career. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s around the same time as Pat. I thought itsy have been Carpal Tunnel but the timing of my hands was bad and they felt week. I’m still in my dark place and I feel symptoms are getting worse,,, the biggest issue is tiredness to the point of exhaustion. I couldn’t do a gig these days and at the moment I can live with the though of losing my musical edge. It’s fair to say I’m nothing like the player I was.

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