Truman Burrows is a 69-year-old former rock ‘n roll drummer who almost played for some of the greatest bands of all time, including The Who, Moby Grape and The Yardbirds, to name a few. But, every time something prevented him from achieving fame and so today he lives in Northern California in a cramped government-subsidized studio apartment with one blind cat and a TV that gets one Mexican channel.
I met Truman back in 1994, when he was trying to promote his newest band at the time, a failing effort called Industrial Camel Toe. I recently sat down with Burrows at a coffee shop in San Jose, California. He insisted on smoking, so it’s a very short interview. It ended abruptly when the police showed up and physically removed Truman from the place. But, that’s Truman.
Q: It’s an honor to be taking to you Truman. Maybe start from the beginning?
A: The beginning of wot?
Q: Well, the start of your career in music.
A: All right. I was raised in Norfolk, Britain. My mum was a prostitute, but she was lousy at it. She hated men and she was a bad actress. So my dad had to work, which screwed up his schedule of drinking, fighting and beating on me and my brothers. It was one happy little house, so I ran away to London as soon as I could. I was 12.
Q: When did you start playing the drums?
A: Well, after all those years with my father smacking me in four/four time, I developed an excellent sense of rhythm. I got an old set of drums when I was around 15 years old and learned how to play them by watching the greats, like Buddy Rich, Max Roach and Billy Gladstone. At age 17, I signed with a female manager and she got me some great auditions. She also gave me the clap and crabs the size of small mice.
Q: You were friends with Keith Moon, the legendary drummer for The Who for many years before he passed away tragically in 1978. Tell us about the relationship.
A: Keith was a good chum, but he stole the spotlight from me for many years. Every time he’d get in the press for some stunt he had pulled, it turned out that I had actually done the deed—yet he got the accolades and I got squat. It eventually made me cross, in a nutshell. For instance, there was the famous story about Keith driving a car into a swimming pool. But, that was me! Moon actually rode a bicycle into a hot tub, yet he took the credit. By the way, it was an MG and I drove it into the pool at the Kensington Hotel, just for the record.
Q: You nearly played for a lot of legendary bands?
A: Yeah, I auditioned for Moby Grape, but they went with some guy who had better coke. I tried out for The Who, but Keith had better broads. And the Yardbirds liked the cut of my jibe, but they preferred a drummer who wasn’t high all the time. They had standards, unfortunately!
Q: What is the biggest mistake you made in your life?
A: Probably my third marriage to Britt Ekland. She married everyone. I think she was engaged with all of the Bee Gees at one time or another.
Q: You went through rehab four different times and you were also homeless for a few years there. Tell us about that?
A: I went to Betty Ford before she went there. I was really good at rehabbing, but more skilled at relapsing. Being homeless was freeing, but the food sucked and sleeping along the freeway is only a little better than the Airport Marriott.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m learning Spanish, and I’m still working on the NY Times crossword puzzle from December 12, 2004. Do you happen to know another word for old burnt-out rocker? B-U-R-R-O-W-S. Wow, it fits. (laughs). Hey, at my age if I can hold down a fruit compote and make a nice bowel movement without it feeling like giving birth to a medicine ball--life is good!
Q: Thanks Truman!
A: You got that $20 you promised?