When it comes to drum and percussion work, the roll call of artists Joe Lala has worked with is a veritable "Who’s Who" from the recording industry.
In addition to playing on 32 gold and 28 platinum albums, Lala was a founding member of Blues Image, whose "Ride Captain Ride" reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970.
He later enjoyed success with Stephen Stills and Chris Hillman in the short-lived, all-star group Manassas.
In the late 1980s, a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome ended Lala’s days as a percussionist. He then turned to acting, with roles in TV shows like "Seinfeld," "Melrose Place" and "Miami Vice," in addition to roles in several movies.
These days Lala remains active with some voice-over work, and he has even been sitting in again with some of his buddies on their musical projects. Goldmine caught up with Lala at his Florida home, and we discussed his Blues Image days, his role as a long-time session man and even his appearance in the ill-fated 1978 movie "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band."
Goldmine You recorded three albums as a member of Blues Image and even had a major hit record with "Ride Captain Ride." But at the height of your success the band’s singer, Mike Pinera, left to join Iron Butterfly. What do you recall about that time?
Joe Lala: What I recall is that we were so stupid that we didn’t seek an attorney, because we were with the same management company and that company solicited Michael Pinera to leave us and go with another one of their acts. They shot one band in the foot to try to benefit the other band, who hadn’t come up with anything since "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."
Michael was such a dynamic stage personality — crazier than a shit-house rat — but so dynamic, and he commanded the stage. We ended up doing one last tour — we had been together since 1967-68… and now I’m opening up for some guy who’s ass I used to basically wipe.
GM: But after he left, neither Pinera nor Iron Butterfly ever came up with anything else. In hindsight, did anybody ever call him out on it and say "Hey, you shouldn’t have done it?"
JL: At that time, which was in the early ’70s, the record label waved $150,000 bucks cash in front of him. Offered him "Equal Partnerships" of the group, and he just sat down with us at a band meeting and said "You know, I’ve got two older parents, man, and I have to kinda look out for them." And I said "But Mike, don’t you understand — we could be a staple." I had the foresight to know that Chicago was gonna be a real long-lasting band. And we used to hang with those guys, and we were on the same page most of the time. And it was about keeping it a business, man. Yes, you’re friends, and you gotta be able to enjoy who you’re hanging with and who you’re on the road with, but make sure that somebody is watching the ducketts and certainly not somebody that your manager recommends. So basically, yeah, I was a partner on "Ride Captain Ride." No pressure from Pinera or Frank Konte. We signed away a lot of the publishing rights and some of the performance rights just to get signed. His thoughts (Pinera) being,"Man, we’re gonna sell so many records that the mere pittance these guys are taking isn’t going to affect us." Well, guess what?
GM: The Manassas project with Stephen Stills and Chris Hillman was short lived, yet resulted in a gold debut album in 1972. How did that come together, and why did it only last for two records?
JL: I was with Blues Image, and we were playing at the Whisky A Go Go in L.A. I had heard through word of mouth that "Oh man, S