Milwaukee Talks: Daryl Stuermer

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OMC: When you were playing in these bands and you were making a living doing this, did you think that if you got a big break, you'd get it as a member of a band or as a leader of a band? Did it come as a surprise that your break came in a different way?

DS: I knew, at the time, a lot groups would come in (to Sardino's Bull Ring), there would be the Chuck Mangione band; in fact, Frank Zappa's band came in one night, and that's where I got my big break. I didn't know that's what was going to happen. I thought, actually, the band Sweetbottom was going to get its own record deal and we would put out our own albums. I didn't realize that someone would come in and see me play -- it was George Duke, in fact (Zappa's then-keyboardist) -- and he liked my playing and submitted my name to Jean-Luc Ponty. I went out to Los Angeles and auditioned for Jean-Luc Ponty and then everything started rolling. That was 1975.

OMC: You ended up taking a different road.

DS: I did. We had made tapes and we had done demos. We actually went out to Los Angeles for a vacation from the Bull Ring, because we wanted a week off. We were actually able to get into some record companies, which I know is impossible now. It was a different era. I know now that the tapes we were taking were not going to get us a deal. They were the real jazz fusion of the time. In reality, we weren't as good as some of the bands that were playing the fusion. We were still young...but we were trying, and it was a lot of fun.

OMC: Did the call from Jean-Luc Ponty to come audition and then, ultimately, getting that job, cause conflict within the band?

DS: I actually thought they were quite supportive. We were all out there (in L.A.) and we had contact with George Duke because he said, "Call me when you get into town." And he said, "Is Daryl there?" and he told me that Jean-Luc Ponty was looking for a guitar player. In fact, Warren Wiegratz and the drummer, Michael Murphy, drove me over to Jean-Luc Ponty's house.

OMC: They were excited for you.

DS: It must be a mixed feeling. Because I know as soon as they left they thought, "Well, if he gets this gig, we don't have a guitar player." I know that that's there, but it wasn't like a jealousy thing. They were very excited that I was getting this, and at the same time they were very sad that I was getting this because now they have to look for someone else.

OMC: So what happened after you got the gig? How did it feel to get this gig?

DS: Jean-Luc Ponty was a legend to me at that time, being the violinist that was with Frank Zappa and also with Mahavishnu. He was a big name to me. And the bass player was from Frank Zappa's band, Tom Fowler. We had a keyboard player that played with Cannonball Adderley's band. I was in heaven just playing with musicians of this level...over the time I was with him -- which was '75, '76 and '77 -- we did an album each year.

OMC: It must have also been exciting for you to be in a big-time studio and touring.

DS: Absolutely. It was a great time and it was a learning time for me. I had never really traveled before, and you know, to go out for the first seven weeks ... then I came home for about 10 days and then I had to go right on to Europe from there. It was very scary also, but you learn very quickly. I was about 22 years old then. It was a good experience.

OMC: It obviously prepped you for your next big experience, which was with Genesis. When you got the call to go out to New York and audition with Mike Rutherford, what were you thinking while you were sitting on the plane?

DS: They flew me out there, they put me up at The Plaza hotel. I was the first of five guitarists to audition. They had already apparently auditioned about 30-some guitar players in England and didn't find anybody that they wanted.

OMC: Clearly this was a tough bill to fit. They weren't going to just take the first guy that walked through the door and could play the guitar, if they'd already gone through 30 guitar players.

DS: Right. I had been listening to their cassette. Jean-Luc Ponty had a cassette of their "Trick of the Tail" and another one, "The Wind and the Wuthering." I knew the standard that they're looking for and I was hoping, of course, I could do it. You never know if you can, you just say, "Well, I think I can do this, but I don't know if they know I can do this."

OMC: So how long did the audition last?

DS: They sent me a cassette of about four songs...I learned their songs and I came over there prepared to play the songs. Mike Rutherford and I talked first, and he put a tape on and I started playing along with the tape. I played about a minute of the song and he said, "OK, that's enough on that one, let's go to the next one." I played it well; I played what was supposed to be played.

OMC: How did you read that? I'm sure your mind was racing at that point, wondering is it a good thing, is it a bad thing?

DS: I wasn't sure. Cause he stopped the tape. I was reading it like, "If he doesn't think I'm doing this fine, then I don't know what I can do." Because I was doing it. I think we got to song three and he said, "You know, I think that's enough. I think you're the one."

OMC: How much input did you find over the years that you had with Genesis and with Phil Collins? Did your input grow over time?

DS: I was always able to start lending a little bit of my own personality within the songs, and as years went along I knew where those boundaries were. I also knew where the freedom was. They wanted me to play the obvious parts, but when it comes to the solo, I can take off from there.

OMC: I was in England in 1987 and in a tube station I saw a huge Genesis poster for an upcoming gig and there was your face staring back at me. Have you found that Milwaukeeans pop up in the most unlikely places?

DS: I bet that was the "Invisible Touch" tour. We were playing in Frankfurt, Germany, and Phil (Collins) is announcing the members of the band and he says, "from Milwaukee, Wisconsin," and somebody yelled out "Sweetbottom." So, I thought, "this is unbelievable." He probably was a serviceman from Milwaukee.

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