‘Not Fade Away’: Steven Van Zandt Recruits Long-Lost Beatles Drummer
Not Fade Away is a film that fans of early rock’n’roll will want to put on their radar. Directed by Sopranos boss David Chase (and featuring James Gandolfini in the cast), the movie is about a group of Jersey teens who form a rock band in 1964 after seeing The Rolling Stones on TV.
When Chase needed to to find a music supervisor for the film, he went right to another former Sopranos cast member, Steven Van Zandt. “Yeah, we got the old band back together,” he tells CBS Local. “Me and David Chase and James Gandolfini.” Van Zandt’s role in The Sopranos went beyond playing Silvio Dante – he was also a music consultant to Chase. So it was no surprise that when the director needed a music consigliere again, he went to Van Zandt.
“He came to me early on, and he said, ‘If I do this, I want to do it with you.’ We have very similar tastes.”
This time around, Van Zandt’s job included choosing the music for the film. But he had a bigger job as well: he was charged with teaching the actors how to be a band.
“I begged him at first, ‘Please find musicians that can act.’ And of course he didn’t!” So Van Zandt set up a small-scale version of The School of Rock.
“David knew it was going to be a challenge,” Van Zandt says. “If the band didn’t ‘sell’ the fact that they were really in a band, then the movie wouldn’t work. Three out of the four guys we had to teach from scratch. And it’s amazing because in three or four months, they learned how to play. They were in my studio six hours a day, seven days a week, but still, you look at this kid playing drums in the movie… and he is playing the drums.”
The drums presented a bit of a challenge. Most people learning to play drums adopt a wild style, popularized by drummers like Zeppelin’s John Bonham and The Who’s Keith Moon in the late ’60s and early ’70s. But the film takes place in the early ’60s, and the drummers of that era had a more subtle style. As Van Zandt explains, “In ’62 and ’63, all the drummers played with their left wrist up like the jazz guys.” So he tracked down a drum teacher well acquainted with the style of the times.
“I brought in a guy named Andy White. “He was the drummer that George Martin hired for a famous Beatles session. George Martin auditioned The Beatles with Pete Best, he signed them, and didn’t like Pete Best’s drumming for whatever reason. So they let Pete go and they got Ringo and they came back to do their first record. But by then, George Martin had hired a studio guy… that was Andy White. It’s him playing on “P.S. I Love You” and “Love Me Do,” [the two sides of] their first single. And he moved to New Jersey many decades ago. We found him and brought him in as a teacher. He taught [actor] John Magaro to play drums.”
Van Zandt notes that the actors learned to rock well. “They can actually perform right now as a band,” he says. “We got really lucky – they weren’t singers, but they can sing. That’s them singing in the movie and that’s what I was most worried about. When actors try and pretend they’re singing, it never quite comes across. In this case, it’s them singing. That was a lot of fun.”
Of course, the plot of the film resonates with Van Zandt, who was inspired to play in bands after seeing The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, among others, in the early ’60s. And it turns out, the same it true for Chase: “It’s an emotionally important movie for him,” Van Zandt says. “It’s his tribute to his love of rock and roll. He was a drummer in a band in the early ’60s, so it’s a little bit autobiographical. Not completely, but the emotions are autobiographical.”
Not Fade Away hits theaters December 21st.
— Brian Ives, CBS Local