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While Lucky Lehrer may not be a household name for many, his innovative drumming style combined with his iconic stature as a progenitor of the American punk rock scene, has cemented his iconic status among fans and musicians. Lehrer co-founded SoCal punk heroes, Circle Jerks, in 1979, and has also played with such legendary acts as Bad Religion, Red Kross, LA’s Wasted Youth, and the Darby Crash Band. He’s appeared in several films including the seminal documentaries, The Decline of Western Civilization, and American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980-1986.
Lucky has also been a longtime proponent for the decriminalization of cannabis going back to his mid-70’s college days where he wrote on the frontpage of the school newspaper, “The nation’s policy on cannabis appears inconsistent and ill advised.” Four decades later, Lehrer continues to make his argument, including hosting a pre-election celebrity jam at the famed Whiskey a Go-Go on Sunset Strip in West Hollywood. This week, AXS connected with Lehrer to chat about this special event, his legendary career, and how music and marijuana have been intertwined throughout history. Check out part one of our two-part interview below:
AXS: On November 1st, a week before the elections you will be hosting a special edition of the Ultimate Celebrity Jam at The Whiskey a Go-Go dubbed: “Ultimate Weed Jam – A celebration of Marijuana.” Tell us about the event, why it’s so close to your heart, and what fans can expect from the show.
Lucky Lehrer: For close to two years, Chuck Wright of Quiet Riot has been hosting an amazing jam in Hollywood that features some of the biggest musicians in L.A. The show is at the Whiskey A Go-Go, is free to attend, and draws great crowds. The theme of the Nov. 1 event is a celebration of marijuana music and we’re calling it the ‘Ultimate Weed Jam.’ My friend Cheech Marin (of the famous comedy team Cheech and Chong) is appearing [via video] in support of California’s Prop 64. The Proposition seeks to clarify and extend cannabis rights.
Marijuana is discussed in Chinese medical literature dating back to nearly 3,000 B.C., and has been for achieving euphoria since ancient times. I see Prop 64 as a civil rights thing. Honestly, smoking anything probably isn’t great for your lungs; edibles seem to be a good option. But as a practical matter, I’ve seen the devastation that overuse of alcohol and tobacco causes. Then, there’s the pill epidemic. The bass player of the Circle Jerks died on a combination of pills and booze. It’s hypocritical that the big pharmaceutical companies, the liquor and tobacco companies continue to thrive when marijuana, one of the most studied substances of all time, causes less problems, yet is treated much more criminally.
AXS: Music, in particular rock music, has always been inexorably tied to marijuana. How much great music do you think we’d have missed out on without Cannabis?
LL: I was recording with a punk band in Barcelona last month and we went to a local music store to get some guitar strings or something. Next door to Spain’s version of the Guitar Center was the Marijuana and Hemp Museum. This was a clear reminder of the relationship between music and marijuana. Using marijuana seems to unlock creative doors to explore musical ideas. I don’t perform under the influence but I don’t mind kicking back and listening to my favorite music this way, and I’m not the only one. Putting the Ultimate Weed Jam together at The Whiskey a Go-Go, my friend Chuck Walker came up with a list of nearly 50 popular songs that make reference to marijuana. Celebrity musicians will be performing some of those songs at the Ultimate Weed Jam. Fans can expect to hear song like Sweet Leaf by Black Sabbath, Misty Mountain Hop by Led Zeppelin and more, it’s going to be awesome.
AXS: You have been playing drums for many years. You have a unique style that somehow meshes Latin rhythms and the jazzy swing style of Buddy Rich into your speedy punk and hardcore-fueled signature. How did that develop for you?
LL: Some of my earliest experiences were in a local band playing weddings and Bar Mitzvahs, back then those dates were called “casuals.” Ironically, there’s something about the traditional ethnic music, um-pah um-pah that, when speeded up, is music to mosh by. From the start, I wanted to mix things up. I’m sponsored by, among others, a Latin percussion company; I’ve always been interested in a wide variety of music. My goal is to be innovative and appropriate to best support the song. I brought elements of swing, Latin and prog rock to punk to create more nuanced and interesting rhythms to hardcore music.
AXS: You teach drumming to others, but you are a lifetime student of the drums yourself. Why is it important at this stage in your career to keep trying to improve? You’ve already been hailed as the best punk drummer of all time.
LL: Percussion knowledge is infinite. I get together with friends like Glen Sobel (Alice Cooper), Joey Heredia (Sheila E.), Brian Tichy (Billy Idol) or Matt Starr (Mr. Big) and we can talk about sticks, mallets from ballads to bossa novas for hours. Today on YouTube, the amount of information being shared by top drummers never ends. Just last night, I was watching a 5 minute video by one of my friends, drum teacher guru Bruce Becker. That led to watching videos with Mark Schulman (Pink, Cher) and more. By the time I looked up, an hour went by. Then it was time to apply some of the techniques I’d seen. Yet while online information is great, nothing can replace an actual teacher.