He’s the only drummer that has the “Mozambique feel,” is what legendary Vermont banjo player Gordon Stone says about his drummer Russ Lawton, after an outstanding performance at Harpers Ferry in Alston, MA, on August 13. The pair have played together on and off since 1980, mostly in the Burlington, Vermont music scene. Now, Lawton with two decades of experience has sunken his teeth into the “Mozambique” style of play as Stone’s full time drummer and involvement in a number of other music projects in the Salem Massachusetts music scene. Not to mention an occasional performance with some special friends.
Lawton first met Stone while playing for the band Zzebra. They were an African rhythm band playing in Vermont during the summers and L.A. in the winters. “The music has taken me so many places, “says Lawton.The band played hundreds of memorable gigs in the late seventies and early eighties. “We were playing jam music even back then with Zzebra,” says Lawton. They opened up for Jimmy Cliff a number of times Jimmy personally watched Zzebra’s sets. One time after their set, Jimmy Cliff said to Russ, “Now you got to hang here mon, and check us out!”
In the nineties, Lawton’s mainstay band has been Rhythm Loco up until joining Stone full time. Rythmo is now down to one gig a month, just keeping the flame alive.
The Gordon Stone Band’s newest release, “Even With the Odds,” features Lawton as the full time drummer. The past year has brought the band a number of gigs in outstanding venues up and down the East Coast. Lawton is fond of the different rhythms the band brings. He and Stone share many of the same influences. He and Stone are currently seeking record distribution and management for the band.
Without question, one of Lawton’s most special and memorable performances was not with Stone but with Phish’s Trey Anastasio in the 8’ Fluorescent Tubes show at The Higher Ground nightclub in Winooski, Vermont on April 1, 1998. It was a one time performance that joined Lawton with long time friend Tony Markellis a.k.a. The Meat Man, Lawton and Anastasio who proved to be a real inspiration and a master of perfection to Russ.
Markellis and Lawton have been friends through jamming and producing for some time. Trey likes Markellis’ work with The Unknown Blues Project and gave him a call asking him about being involved in a side effort. Trey asked him if there was any drummer he would like to involve in the project, knowing they needed one, and immediate a Mr. Russ Lawton came to mind.Russ agreed upon request, and headed to the Phish rehearsal space where they began a series of rehearsals for the performance. It was there along with Heloise Williams of Viperhouse and Tom Lawson of The Pants learned the tunes that Trey created for the performance by laying down the music tracks, later adding Tom Marshall’s lyrics (just waiting for such an occasion).
The performance, now a legend to the Vermont music scene featured an array of new tunes mixed with props, production and costumes that should be a staple in your tape collection! Many special guests appeared throughout the night such as Dave Grippo sitting in on sax and Jon Fishman sitting in on drums. Russ Lawton played a major role in the whole performance.Throughout the performance it was evident that the bandmates for a night really hit it off.
“It was a real inspiration for me,” Lawton proudly stated with a smile, “I have total respect for Trey and his work ethic.He has a focused perfection just like when you see him on stage, if something isn’t right, he patiently works it out with precision. He treats everyone with a great amount of respect and just makes you feel comfortable. There I was knocking right on his front door, and I felt totally relaxed. Hopefully, we’ll do it again.”
The 8’ Fluorescent Tubes isn’t even Lawton’s most recent run in with Trey or Phish. The Gordon Stone Band (formerly the Gordon Stone Trio) is just coming off their Friday night LEMONWHEEL gig in the beer garden second stage).Being a member of such a fantastic festival was a real experience for Lawton. Sitting backstage at the wheel let him realize what colossal strength of Phish and what they have become and mean to their fans. Lawton says“Its great to see Trey in his natural home (Phish), they really are at one with their people.”
Not a Wednesday night goes by at the Deacon Giles Cafe in Salem, MA, without Russ Lawton sitting in with 5 or 6 acts, playing both drums and guitar at his local open mic night referred to as “Hoot Night.” Talents of all styles take turns on the stage to sample their music or just have a jam. Russ’ kit is always on stage, whether for Russ to sit in, or for other drummers to play. The night always begins with a solo set from Russ playing his own songs on guitar. It has really grown to a popular event every week, looked forward to by area musicians. What could be better than musician playing to a whole crowd of other musicians.
“Musically Russ humbles himself,” says Jason Maggio, drummer of the band Cosmic Debris, who perform regularly at Lawton’s Hoot Night, “His wrists look like they can explode at anytime.” Maggio also adds “Personally, there’s nothing I enjoy more than performing, but that guy, he loves the music.“Debris’ guitarist, Matt Waldman says, “Hoot Night is the single best thing going on in the Salem music scene, and Russ is a helluva a drummer.” Some of Russ’ main influences as drummers are Steve Gadd, Ringo and Tony Williams. “I’ve gotten a lot from everyone,” adds Lawton, “Guys from Charlie Watts to Peter Tosh have affected my music.