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Larry Duff – Interview

Beatlemania, Motown sound, and Jesus Christ Superstar

Larry Duff is one of the most skilled, professional, and well respected musicians in Savannah. He’s played with countless professional and local artists, including Savannah’s own Eric Culberson Blues Band. His career credits are unmatched, along with his friendly demeanor, and his ability to always tell a good story.

Here, he talks about his hard-working ethics, his inspirations, working with a who’s who of hall of fame talent, and much, much more.

So by the time I turn 10, I was able to show the pastor that I could play guitar well enough to play with the choir, and that’s how I got that gig

What are some of your earliest music memories?

In 1957 listening to the radio in our house and I would hear songs by the Coasters, songs like “Charlie Brown,” “Yakety Yak,” “Searching,” “Poison Ivy,” “Along Came Jones,” “Down in Mexico,” “At Little Egypt.” For some reason I was drawn to the rhythms of the songs. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been rhythm oriented. And then there were those songs by the late Great Sam Cooke. Songs like, “You send me,” “Twistin the Night Away,” “Wonderful World,” and “Cupid.” These and many other artists are what kept me clinging to a radio every chance I got.

How did you learn to play drums and who taught you?

I’m self-taught to begin with. Let me take you back a few years. I played guitar in church every Sunday at 10 years old. I would play for the junior choir, and the adult choir. I taught myself to play guitar at nine years old. My father bought me a guitar, and a book with the chords in it. I would play records on the stereo, and take out the chords on the guitar, from the book that I had. I continue to do that to the point where I could play the songs on the records without looking in the book to find the chords. So by the time I turn 10, I was able to show the pastor that I could play guitar well enough to play with the choir, and that’s how I got that gig. And I was paid. A small amount of money every Sunday, which my father would take, give me a couple of dollars, and put the rest in the bank for me. I also played guitar in a seven piece kids band in the neighborhood. Don’t forget, I hadn’t started playing drums yet.

The people in our community would allow us to play for birthday parties, store openings, and other occasions. Because everyone knew us this was their way of trying to help us out. One night at the end of one of our rehearsals, we decide to switch instruments around, just to see what it would be like. I got on the drums, and I loved it. So I asked my father if he would buy me a set of drums. His answer was “not unless you show me you can play.” And I did. And he did buy for me a set of drums. So when I showed the church that I could play not only guitar, but the drums as well, they allowed me to alternate. One Sunday I would play guitar, the next Sunday I would play drums.

Who are some of your biggest musical influences?

My musical background is steeped in gospel and rhythm and blues. My biggest musical influence came in 1964, February 7th specifically, when the Beatles first came to America. I was excited about them like everybody else. And it was then, at the age of 13, when I decided that playing music for a living was what I wanted to do. That decision did not go well at all with my mother, she had other plans for me. But I stuck to my guns and I stay focused. I guess you could say I knew what was right for me. Even if nobody else did.

And it was then, at the age of 13, when I decided that playing music for a living was what I wanted to do

How did you get your start in the music business?

I guess you could say my start in music came from the church, however my first real professional gig came in 1970, when David Ruffin who was one of the lead singers for the Temptations, got fired, and came to Charlotte, North Carolina to look for a Rhythm Section. I came highly recommended, I went to the audition like many other musicians did, I did my best, and I got the gig. I play with David Ruffin for a year. To the professional world, the big leagues. Needless to say I had a lot to learn, and I do mean a lot. And I learn quickly. But because I had studied The Motown sound, and knew the names of the musicians, I pleased David Ruffin because I played a great deal like the drummer Benny Benjamin who created the Motown drum beat. After my year with David Ruffin, I also played with Mary Wells, who was also with the Motown record company. She paid me an extremely high compliment, when I auditioned for her, she said,” You sound just like Benny Benjamin.” She really made me feel Like all that hard work and studying had paid off.

Talk about some of the famous artists you’ve performed with over the years?

Some of the artists I’ve played with are as follows: The Chairman of the Board, a few of their big hits are “Give Me Just a Little More Time,” “Dangling on a String,” “Everything’s Tuesday,” “Patches,” “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers.”

I’ve also played with The Drifters. Their big hits are “Under the Boardwalk,” “Sand in my Shoes,” “Closely Guarded Secret,” “Up on the Roof,” and many, many more.

And then there’s, David Sanborn, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Denise LaSalle, Maurice Williams & the zodiacs, James Taylor. I also performed in an Atlanta Georgia production of Jesus Christ Superstar, I was in the orchestra pit. I also performed on Royal Caribbean cruise ships for 6 years. After I moved to Atlanta, I became a session drummer for The Ichiban record company, performing with Ichiban’s artists such as Theodis Ealey, Sandra Hall, Bob Thompson. I played on Sandra Hall first album called Showing Off, and I played on Theodis Ealey’s second album called If You Leave Me I’m Going Wit’cha. I arranged, and produced, the the very first song on that album which is a reggae version of “House of the Rising Sun.”

How did you get your start in the Savannah music scene?

After I finished performing aboard Royal Caribbean cruise ships for 6 years, I started playing with different bands around the Savannah area, One of them was Gary Byrd and the Outlaws. I stayed with them for a while, and since I am on Facebook, I saw and add that simply said “I am looking for a drummer.” So I answered the ad, and I was asked if I could play Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. Oh, and I said, yes. That ad was posted by Eric Culberson. I went to the gig, play the gig that night, and I’ve been with Eric ever since. That was five years ago.

My absolute all-time favorite Savannah venue to perform in is the Bayou Cafe

Are there any Savannah artists you haven’t worked with, but would love to collaborate with?

I would like to collaborate with a savannah artist that is a very good lyricist. You can’t go wrong with Good lyrics.

What are some of your favorite Savannah venues to perform in?

My absolute all-time favorite Savannah venue to perform in is the Bayou Cafe. I love the energy, I love the atmosphere, I love the people, and the acoustics are very good.

If done right, and if handled right, I’m sure it’ll do well

What are your thoughts on the current state of the Savannah music scene?

I like the music scene here in Savannah. I have met a lot of good players, and I have met a lot of good people. It’s a really good scene.

Any upcoming projects?

As you know, I am working on my own recording project, I have high hopes for this project. If done right, and if handled right, I’m sure it’ll do well.

ALBUM: Full Circle

QUIZ: Keystone Postcard