June 23, 2015 Interview – Pat Torpey of Mr. Big
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 a 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 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 got 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 in the couch, I did that for a while out here living in Hollywood.
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.
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 a lot of those people we grew up with, they 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 or 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 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.
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 being 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 an earthquake to my whole life and reason for getting up 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 and approach this day by day?
Pat Torpey – Yes, it is. I have to accept; there is a lot of acceptance. I am not going 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 developing 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.
CrypticRock.com – It did work out. The record came out great with a lot of hard-hitting tracks and it is a solid Hard Rock record.
Pat Torpey – Yes, I was amazed. There were times I thought, “God, why didn’t I do this before?” You have a lot of control over what you are doing. The kind of band we are, were, and have been is like we kind of fly by the seat of our pants. We would go in the studio, especially our first two or three records, and we were going right to tape. We were just playing live in the studio trying to capture these performances. There was a lot of serendipity and chemistry just flowing, and that is kind of what we built ourselves around. This was a different approach because we were able to map things out a little bit better. Pat did a great job at finding moments that we could put in there and make it work. It is a different approach, but if the end result sounds great, I have no problem with it.
CrypticRock.com – Right, all that matters is the quality of the songs. It is fantastic that you have kept such a positive outlook through all of this. It certainly cannot be easy. You have also become a guest blogger on Michael J. Fox Foundation site. Do you find this to be a form of therapy for yourself to help others?
Pat Torpey – Yes, I did that. They have been really nice about letting me do that. It was a really good step for me to take because last year, a lot of times I just did not even feel like getting out of bed; I just felt kind of like, “What am I going do today? Just sit around and feel sorry for myself?” I had some of those days and all these little steps, especially the little things of being creative; working on the record, doing tours, having a reason to get up and do stuff. The Michael J. Fox Foundation thing was just another step that was really positive for me to take, because you have to confront what you are dealing with. Otherwise, you cannot deal with it and it just helped me to kind of put it down in my own thoughts. It was a really positive step for me and hopefully I will be doing some more. I offered my services and they have been really nice about it, they said they will see if they can find something to be involved. I am looking forward to possibly doing some more.
CrypticRock.com – That is great. You are helping yourself, but you are also helping others. You are getting your feelings out, but you are contributing to a good cause.
Pat Torpey – Exactly, right, it is positive all the way around because there are other people that are dealing with this as well. I know when I read about other people dealing with things that I am dealing with, it helps me to get some perspective on it. Initially, when I made the press release about me having Parkinson’s, I sat on that press release for like four or five days. I knew I had to do it, but I could not give the go-ahead. Then once I did, I felt so relieved and I thought, “Why was I so worried about it?” I tried to analyze it and I think it was because, once it is out and everybody knows, I guess I was letting people know that I am a different person now. I was letting people know that something has really changed, and I was kind of reluctant to do that. Once I did it, I felt like I could move on; it was a big step. The Michael J. Fox Foundation was another big step in kind of explaining a little more deeper what I have been through and it was all positive.
CrypticRock.com – Interesting, it would be natural you would be reluctant to put it out there. Many people do not want to be looked at different. Just because you had been diagnosed with this, you want to be treated the same. You do not want to feel sorry for yourself, so you do not want others to feel sorry for you as well. Is that correct?
Pat Torpey – Yes, that is exactly right. You just want people to treat you the way they always treated you. I did have a lot of people and of course fans come up, “Are you OK?” That does not bother me, because it just shows they are concerned and trying to be empathetic. Those are the things you worry about. Just a fear of the unknown, I think that was a big part of it. The fear of just not knowing what is going happen now. That is life in a nutshell anyway; who knows what is going happen? So, it is all good.
CrypticRock.com – That is so true. None of us know what lies ahead. With Mr. Big you did in fact partake in some performing with the band during their run of shows in 2015. Do you have plans to work with the band at some point again in the future?
Pat Torpey – Yes, we have got a couple things coming up right now that are kind of far out. Right now, Billy is involved with some other projects, Paul’s just become a new dad so he is kind of wound up in that pretty much. Eric and I have talked about possibly doing some, because Eric does these acoustic shows where he goes out just by himself and does a little acoustic performance. I talked to him and said, “Hey, you know I’d love to do that with you, maybe just the two of us.” We might be doing some of that. We do not make plans too far out, that is the thing about Mr. Big; people always ask us, “What are your plans?” We do not know, we kind of fall off that bridge when we get on it. We do not make plans too far out, but right now, hopefully we will hit another cycle. There is no reason not to. The spirits in the band are really high and everything is pretty cool. Hopefully we can do some more soon.
CrypticRock.com – That is something to look forward to in the future for sure. What are some of your musical influences?
Pat Torpey – Pretty much everything. There are so many things. Of course I love all the classic stuff, the Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who. I just listen to everything I could possibly listen to. I was really into Classical music, I was really into Jazz ,and I still am. I just like something that I like, it does not have to be in a category. I love some Pop music like ABBA and then AC/DC. I think that is what contributes to Mr. Big’s ability to work together and have a chemistry between us because we all have these really diverse musical influences. Everybody just likes all kinds of different stuff. Billy likes heavy stuff, he likes Jazz and Classical Music, and Paul as well. Paul is a Beatles aficionado. He can play every Beatles song. Even though he is a younger guy, he knows all these Beatles songs. Eric has this vast knowledge about R & B. I think because we all were into many different things, not just one category of music, it helped us to be able to come up with the stuff we did as Mr. Big. Some people have trouble categorizing Mr. Big sometimes because we have “To Be With You,” then “Addicted To That Rush,” and “Daddy Brother,” which are kind of Rock-n-Roll tunes, but there is also a softer side to Mr. Big which we all enjoy as well. It is really a broad spectrum of all kinds of different things that I love. Of course all the drummers that influenced me are all the same guys that influenced everybody, from John Bonham to Buddy Rich, to Keith Moon. We are all standing on their shoulders basically. I love to sing too; so that is another thing. I have always been a guy that tries to bring out the Paul McCartney in me, because I love Paul McCartney’s voice. All that together has made this bundle of whatever that ended up being me.
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 was always the 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.
CrypticRock.com – Right, if you look at a traditional Horror film, they were always suppose to be more slow moving. Now a days, 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 now a days. 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.