Phosphorous Heads

Lit by Atma Anur


“WELL PLAYED, SIR!” – A Recent Perspective on an Original Influnce: BILLY COBHAM

Atma Anur At WorkUpon recollection of the events that took place in the small Market Square in the beautiful city of Krakow, Poland, quite recently, I came to another quite fascinating realization; that drummer Billy Cobham has grown, yet again, into another kind of musical inspiration for me.

Billy Cobham began inspiring me as a drummer, and as a musician, in 1974 when I first heard him with The Mahavishnu 

Billy Cobham in Poland, 2013

Orchestra on the Inner Mounting Flame LP (this was released in 1971, the year I began playing). I actually heard the Visions of the Emerald Beyond LP first, even though it was the 3rd or 4th LP released by that very legendary group, led by guitarist John MacLaughlin. My early days of contact with the LPs of The Mahavishnu Orchestra consisted of constant listening, and playing along with the songs. My goal was to learn every note I could, and play the drum parts correctly. A specific point would be that Billy Cobham brought to the forefront of drum set drumming the use of the “Paraddidle Beat” as a staple in what we now know as Fusion. And pioneered the use of paraddidles and their variations, as patterns to create odd meter grooves on the drum set (something that I took to heart).

I also choose to learn how to sing the melodies (mostly Violin and Guitar) and bass lines, as close to what I heard being played as was possible. After some years I even began playing along with The Inner Mounting Flame tracks at 45 rpm… as opposed to the normal 33 1/3 rpm… seemingly unbelievable but true.

Billy CobhamI first saw Billy Cobham live at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan in the mid to late 70s, I don’t remember which band it was with, but I do remember a moment when Billy went to ride his high mounted China Cymbal, and a roadie had to come on stage to hold the cymbal stand for him… it was as if the intensity was simply too much for the poor cymbal stand… or at least that’s what it seemed like to me at the time… awesome!

I do believe that my contact with those records changed and shaped me into the musician that I am today, and I must thank Jonh MacLaughlin, Billy Cobham and Narada Michael Walden for all of that inspiration, both technically and musically, and for their commitment to excellence. Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela Doniec

That recent Saturday night was an unreal surprise for me as I found out, just as they were going on stage, that Billy Cobham was playing not only in Poland, where I now live, but my in own city of Krakow… and only a few meters from where I was standing at the time… this seemed completely impossible to me. I of course ran across the Main Square where there was a folk festival in progress (also with very nice music) and made my way to the small Market Square just in time to see and hear some of the first song… and there was Billy Cobham himself on a wonderful spacious stage with a very nice drum riser, playing his 7 tom, double bass drum set up… genius! I stayed to the side of the stage behind the speakers to see him better… I did not hear the amplified sound of the group at this point.

At a momentary break in the action I moved to the other side of the stage where I was ushered into the back stage area at the foot of the drum riser itself (it’s always nice to be recognized), and discovered that each musician, including Billy, had a double sized music stand with long sheets of music on them… for each song. I found out later that the band had only a short rehearsal for the show earlier that same day.

After a couple of songs of my focusing on Billy’s playing (which was awesome), a song in 7/8 came on, not one that I knew, but a very cool piece. I noticed that the bass player was leading the groove to set up the upcoming melody, and that the four piece band sounded a bit stiff at this point as there was really not much groove or communication happening between them.

The bass line seemed to be written, was quite syncopated and in 7/8. The bass players lack of familiarity with the part was obvious… and then I watched how Billy handled this situation. I have been in similar situations many times as a side-man drummer, where a member of the band has trouble keeping the spirit of the music at hand alive due to his or her desire to be „correct” rather than play music for the music’s sake. In this case I saw and heard an example of truly gracious and mature musicianship.

Billy Cobham gently relaxed the groove while playing some snare hits in the places that made the bass line more understandable. He allowed his playing to swing just enough to show the other players where the spirit of the groove should „be” and kept that going until the bass player slowly realized where he should sit in the time. Billy brought his volume down a touch and generally made even more „space” for the other players.

The point for me was HOW Billy did this, both musically and emotionally. His „vibe” was so peaceful and honest that I could tell that the bass player felt supported, not corrected… this was a wonderful moment for me as a listener and a musician to see in action.

I remember thinking to myself „this is how to play as a Gentleman”, to retain the „vibe” of the group while making the music „right”… what a wise and respectful way this is. As I said, Billy was yet again a wonderful inspiration to me, as he always has been, but in a way that I could not have experienced from listening alone. I had to actually see the interaction between him and his fellow musicians. This was indeed the Gentleman’s approach to letting the music, not the musician, speak loudly.

Atma Anur - photo credits Izabela DoniecI was privileged enough to see this from only a few meters away from Billy’s drum riser, on the floor tom side of his set up that evening, the first time I had seen Billy Cobham live in over 30 years. After the show I had a short moment with this master musician, in which I thanked him for so many years of passion and inspiration, he was kind and communicative… and a true Gentleman.

Atma Anur’s Friend & Fellow Musician, Will Calhoun, on Breaking Boundaries & Stereotypes in Rock Music

Atma Anur & Will Calhoun From the very beginning,Living Colour broke boundaries and erased stereotypes. If known only for their breakthrough single, “Cult of Personality,” Living Colour’s place in rock ‘n’ roll history would be secure, but the band’s career is much deeper than that.  From a tour stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, and in anticipation of Saturday night’s show at the Kessler Theater, drummer Will Calhoun talked with DC9 about the band’s 25-year anniversary.

This is the 25th anniversary of the band. How has the music business changed since you first got together?

It has changed a lot. We don’t have CD shops. We used to go out and look at albums, at sleeves. Now, you download songs for 99 cents. You can download songs for free. It can be a nightmare with all this technology. Luckily, with Living Colour, we have a very unique live show. It can be improvised in order to create a unique vibe. Music is very immediate now. You can record a show and then get back to your hotel room and the whole show is edited and up online. The people make comments and they judge you. Technology has made it easier to get information out to people and for an artist that is a beautiful thing.

Why do you think vinyl is making a comeback?

It’s the same reason why people might want to drive a standard car over an automatic. Technology doesn’t change the nation. It’s a new way to do things, but not everybody chooses to cross the street. Some people don’t like cell phones or laptops. There are people who don’t use computers and still have answering machine. I have to say that we physiologically are pretty germane to the sound of vinyl. We both give off very similar vibrations. People react to the sound of vinyl. It’s a whole different sound. It’s a combination of things. My generation really enjoyed vinyl, purchasing it, taking a look at the covers. I am from the Bronx and from the whole generation of scratching. When I see people now scratching on a laptop, I know that is not the same art. I think there is an academic response to the vinyl and how it sounds.

You went to the Berklee College of Music. Is it better to be a trained musician or come at it organically like punk bands do?

My way is to be as skilled as possible. I love classical music. I love jazz. I like to read music. Punk was about feeling. They made a commotion. The music is created out of how you feel. To me, there is nothing wrong with that. It comes down to how you want to express yourself. I feel like you do whatever is best to do your job. I think a punk could be just as good of a musician as someone who is trained. Expression is the important thing.

You have played with an amazing array of artists. What was your impression of B.B. King?

I was honored to be in that session. B.B. is a genius. He was always very respectful. I was trying to make everything fit and B.B. said, “Young man, when I turn around and tell you it’s not happening, then it’s not happening.” It was an amazing session and B.B. took it really easy with me.

What about Herb Albert?

Herb was fantastic. He allowed me to produce and write songs for him. I learned many things from Herb. He has a very interesting background. Herb really surprised me with all the techniques that he could play. There are a million things I learned from him. It was an absolute education to be around him.

What about Public Enemy?

That’s one of my favorite bands in the world. They were friends of ours. I loved their music and their message. The production and sampling were amazing. They did some amazing things with sounds and samples. They are like the John Coltrane of rap to me.

There aren’t a lot of African American rock bands. Do you think the rock industry suffers from an inherent racism?

Yes, it’s because of the musicians and it’s because of the market. Not enough folks are aware of the history of music, unaware of the influence of the blues. It’s a simple yes. There are plenty of black musicians out there who play rock music. We’ve met them over the years. The marketing and signing and presentation of it are still segregated in a lot of ways. A band like the Bad Brains should be larger than they are. There are people still writing about the Bad Brains. It was shocking for me, going on the road in America in 1988 and meeting all these black kids who gave us tapes and CDs of their music. It’s been 20 years and we’ve been to France and Germany and there are still people who can’t accept the fact that black musicians play rock ‘n’ roll. It is a fact. Look it up. There are two sides to that, though. Some African Americans had a hard time identifying with rock ‘n’ roll. I had a conversation with B.B. King about that.

Living Colour’s big break was going on tour with the Rolling Stones and Guns ‘N Roses in 1990. Did you have interactions with Jagger and Axl Rose?

The crowds were amazing and the Stones were complete gentlemen. You’ve probably heard and most folks know about the interactions with Axl. Personally, it was very colorful, but the rest of the band was cool. Axl has come out and apologized about how he was at that time. Charlie Watts still calls me and I’ve played on a couple of tracks with him. I’ve played on Ronnie Wood’s solo album.

It’s been several years since a new Living Colour album came out. Are you working on a new effort?

Right as we speak, we are five or six songs into a new album. The stuff is coming out great. I think something is going to come out next year, hopefully by Christmas time. We have a very busy schedule at the moment. But I think the new album is going to sound awesome.

Vernon Reid was listed as No. 66 on Rolling Stone magazine’s top guitarist of all time. Should he have been higher?

Yes, I think he deserves higher. If you are asking me straight up, I would have to say yes. But 66 is a nice number. People recognize Vernon as a very unique player who came from a harmolodic school of playing. He has remarkable abilities. He does deserve higher, but it’s nice to recognized at any number.

Are there rock drummers you admire?

John Bonham. Buddy Miles was one of my favorites. Charlie Watts certainly. Terry Bozzio is also amazing.


I put together a few fragments taken from a recording I made of Atma  walking and talking with a friend in Krakow’s Main Market Square, in 2011. I decided to place them under the heading “A Visionary in His Own words,” as “Take 1,” to which I intend to add further takes in the future, including transcripts of Atma Anur’s interviews for my radio show of last year. These random thoughts on music and life are all meant to shed light onto the overall vision shaped by this great musician over the years. I wish you a pleasant journey towards the light source.


… insights into the human condition, overall, not the personal one, not the one that I am experiencing, not the one that you are experiencing,  but the human condition which, and this is the crux of what I am saying, as humanity understands human condition, just melt away in truth, and of any judgement. It allows us to see each other, and to love and understand each other. Why? Because each of us can more deeply relate to each other… on the most visceral level, to the human experience. […]

… the point is: how do we get past those barriers? because every artists tries to communicate, that’s why we are doing our art. The poet, the songwriter, the painter, the architect, we are all trying to communicate something; sometimes we know what we’re trying to communicate, and sometimes we’re not consciously aware of what we’re trying to communicate, but, still in all, it’s the act of communication, and that communication is the key to open the bridge to the “we” experience, and to the “me” experience. 

The truth of the matter is the “we” experience is what life is. It IS life. Look at the people in here. This is a big “we” experience. Even us, at this table is “we”, but you can expand the perspective to, something like, “Look at all the people in the Rynek,” then expand that to “Look at all these people in Poland,” and then “Look at all these people in Europe.” […]

[ON BEING “not like the others” & “still working on myself”]

… I can really relate to what you’re saying. By the way, a lot of musicians have your same seemingly individual experience. A lot of musicians. No question. You know what’s funny? So it’s like we’re this kind of spirit… in our youth we’re usually outcasts, but we become some of the most important people on earth. So imagine that! Imagine being so in pain, and being so misunderstood…



… I love this quote, “you are a beggar in your own city, but a prophet in foreign lands.” 


… “If you speak for yourself, it’s just an opinion. If someone speaks for you, it becomes the truth.” And advertising does that all the time… In America, advertising is all about “the experts have said,” it’s always like that. “Nine out of ten experts say…,” we didn’t say it, but “nine out of ten experts said…”

It’s the same perspective theory that some live under, that goes something like: I went on YouTube, and I saw a guy who posted a video of himself playing, and he’s got hundreds of thousands of views. In this viewer’s mind, it means that hundreds of thousands of people think that this guy is the most amazing player in the world. That’s what he sees. Apart from the fact that another musician has been in bands for years playing music in front of people, won awards for this music in his country, and had frequent appearances on national television and so on, if this musician has only a few thousand views, the one with hundreds of thousands of views seems to be way better than him. It is just not true, what is better anyway? and how did YouTube views become the plum line? It’s just a fantasy.


… “Everyone is rooting for the second man, the underdog.” Not the first guy. It means that everyone is in favour of, or secretly rooting for, the “number 2” guy, not the “number 1.” Advertising just picks up on that. Every company says, “the reason that we surpass the leading company is…,” “the reason that we are better than the leading company is…,” even if they ARE the leading company, they write those words. In the States, advertising is all about “us against the leading brand,” including if you are the leading brand. […]


… It’s not about egos, it’s not only about shredding. We’re writing beautiful songs, melodies… That’s what’s going on. This is music… not playing. Not someone shredding alone in a room, which is a completely different way of looking at music, more personal and mostly for practice. You asked me about my buddy. Look, the guy is a shredder. He is just a deeply beautiful human being, very humble, very hard-working… an excited person about music, really, at his core. This is where you, and he, and someone like a Jason Becker are the same type of musician.  What I saw in Jason when I met him, was his desire to do something good, and beautiful. He was not thinking about being a huge rock star. The thing about most guys that I want to work with is something I also see in you, that you want to do something that is good, something that brings joy. I look at this and it melts my heart, and, you know, this is the first quality that I am interested in. The first quality in a musician. All the rest comes after that.