Best known for his time pounding the skins for the legendary English band The Cult, drummer Les Warner was the backbeat behind such tunes as the band’s epic “Love Removal Machine.” These days he splits his time between a variety of headlining bands, sessions work and live gigs. He has even moved from behind the kit to pick up the bass and jam in a badass Vegas-based Kid Rock tribute band.
Mr. Warner checked in to talk about his time in The Cult, Bow Wow Wow and his early days with Julian Lennon and Johnny Thunders.
Question: Why did you choose the drums?
Answer: I always wanted to be a drummer since I was a kid, maybe six or seven years old. I was raised on The Stones and The Beatles. My dad brought home .45 records every week with a handful of sweets, and he introduced me to music. I liked hitting things and liked sweets. I credit my dad with me being a drummer. I blame him! (Laughs)
Q: When did you know this was what you were gonna do?
A: At 14 I knew I wanted to be a rock star out there playing music. At school I would sit in the back just drawing pictures of drum kits, dreaming of it. I just played in every band I could. Then I got to live my dreams.
Q: The legend is 150 people auditioned to be the drummer for The Cult. Why did they pick you?
A: Funny enough, about three different people put me up for that job. I had a nonchalant sort of attitude when I went in for the audition. At the time the band had a No. 12 hit on the charts with “She Sells Sanctuary.” Right in the middle of that song there is a drum fill, a big drum fill that everyone knows. I went in there and purposely did my own thing so I would stand out.
Probably 149 drummers did the fill as it was on the record. I didn’t do it because I wanted to create a vibe. Plus, I looked good at the time. I was skinny and my hair was great.
Q: I saw you with The Cult opening for Billy Idol, and the band trashed your drums at the end of the set.
A: That’s what you do, yeah. We do that a lot. I usually joined in most of the time. The show was over, what else was there to do? Otherwise you just look stupid standing there. (Laughs) Wild times.
Q: Why did your time in the band only last a few years?
A: I was immature, 24 years old. I toured the world and played on records for three years, but things weren’t quite right. It wasn’t what it should have been. If you join a band that exists before you, then you are at their mercy. I got famous fast. I dealt with it with booze. I achieved my goals and then it fell apart for me. I was left broken. But that is baggage I’ve left behind.
Q: You started your career doing sessions with Johnny Thunders.
A: I did a bunch of session work. I started out as a session player in London. I did sessions with Julian Lennon, a session with Johnny Thunders. Some with The Waterboys.
Q: Did any of that make it to records?
A: None of that stuff really made it to any cuts, which was sort of weird. [For] Julian it was his first demos. We did some of his father’s songs from the “Double Fantasy” record. I thought playing with Julian was my big break but that stuff never came out.
Johnny Thunders it was an after-the-fact session. It probably went on a compilation somewhere. There was a bunch of stuff for TV and film.
Q: As a session player, do you ever know where things end up?
A: No, unless, of course, it’s obviously a big hit. The majority of the sessions you do, you just do it. Bang! Get paid. Off to the next session, really.
Q: What are you up to these days?
A: I was working with Bow Wow Wow for a while. I did a whole year of gigs here and there with them. The new girl singer is pretty good. And it was a pleasure playing with Leigh [Gorman] because he’s such and amazing bass player.
The Bow Wow Wow thing for me was so different from my style. It was a challenge. Probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done because of all those rhythms.
I’m like a sessions guy in Vegas. I sub in a lot. I’m sort of in between right now. It happens sometimes. You go through periods.
I also play bass in a Kid Rock tribute band. The tribute thing is pretty good. I didn’t want to play drums doing the tribute thing, so I picked up the bass and said, “Let’s have some fun.” It’s really for fun, but I started making good money, so why not?