'Roots' Drummer Questlove On His Late Father Lee Andrews
DAVID BIANCULLI, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. Lee Andrews, the lead singer of the Philadelphia doo-wop group Lee Andrews and the Hearts, died Wednesday at age 79. Here he is on the 1950s hit "Teardrops."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “TEARDROPS”)
LEE ANDREWS AND THE HEARTS: (Singing) I sit in my room looking out at the rain. My tears are like crystals. They cover my window pane. I'm thinking of our lost romance and how we should have been. Oh, if we only could start over again. I know you’d never…
BIANCULLI: Lee Andrews' son Questlove, who has achieved fame with his own music group The Roots, hosted a tender appreciation on Instagram after Andrews' death. "I love you," he wrote to his father, who took him on tour when he was a young boy, "for every backstage experience, for every drum lesson, for giving me your tireless work ethic," unquote. In 2013, when Terry Gross interviewed Questlove for FRESH AIR, the subject turned to his father, Lee Andrews. And Questlove was just as grateful then.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
Your father is Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews & The Hearts that had several hits in the 1950s, including "Teardrops," "Long, Lonely Nights," "Try the Impossible." It was a vocal harmony group.
AHMIR THOMPSON: Yeah, doo-wop.
GROSS: Doo-wop. And did you grow up with the idea that performance was just, like, a natural part of life?
THOMPSON: Yeah, I kind of - my parents kind of tricked me into thinking - well no, I tricked myself into thinking that this was just a normal, everyday existence. My father had his first wave of notoriety in the late '50s, and then it cooled down a bit in the '60s. He retired, opened up a boutique store with my mother.
And then when the baby boom nostalgia kicked in, in the '70s, with doo-wop music and, you know, the onslaught of "Grease" and "American Graffiti" and "Laverne & Shirley" and that type of stuff, my father was first in line to sort of cash in on it to do these sort of like Dick Clark extravaganzas at Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden.
And so I grew up, at the age of two, backstage, watching, you know, Harvey and The Moonglows and Frankie Lymon's Teenagers and Reparata and the Delrons and Johnny Maestro & the Brooklyn Bridge, all these oldies acts. Like, I grew up thinking that was contemporary music, even to the point where in music class in the first grade, when we had to bring in our favorite single - we'd bring in 45 records to play - you know, all the other kids were bringing in contemporary stuff.
They were bringing in like "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb and, you know, "Macho Man" by The Village People. And I was bringing in like "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, thinking that this was new music.
THOMPSON: And my teacher's like no, this was popular when I was 14. And I didn't get that. But yeah, that was probably the best education I ever had because my father literally groomed me for show business. Like, at first, he taught me how to read a Rand McNally map so I could navigate - I was a human GPS by the age of 6.
THOMPSON: By 7, I graduated to wardrobe. So he taught me how to steam, how to iron, how to clean suede and leather, how to shine shoes, all those things. So I knew how to do wardrobe by 7. By 9, he taught me how to do - cut light gels. And so I became - I ran the light system. So yeah, I was a 10-year-old kid in these nightclubs getting ladders, setting up lights, setting up spotlights, doing their show.
Like, I was their light director. And then one day when the drummer - he wasn't sick. He got in an accident, and his arm was sprained, and the drummer couldn't play. And with the casualness of me today, my dad just said, you know the show, just go play it. And I was 12 years old, and that venue was Radio City Music Hall.
Ironically, right across the street from 30 Rock, where I work today, so, like, my very first drumming gig was at Radio City Music Hall at the age of 12.
GROSS: So your father's from the doo-wop era, and you started performing on your own in the hip-hop era. So would you compare his performance ethic and yours and what he thought was good showmanship and what you did and do?
THOMPSON: I based a lot of the pacing of our shows on my father's roadmap because there was a point where - like during the first initial wave of the nostalgia - you know, we only had 20 minutes. Like, there's, like 10 acts on the bill. So by the time the late '70s to early '80s arrived, I'll say that the initial doo-wop nostalgia sort of cooled down, and people were making way for, like, the British invasion nostalgia.
My father wisely kind of got off that platform and went to another platform that no one was on, which was the nightclub circuit. And, you know, we'd do the Atlantic City, the Poconos, the Catskills, Vegas, like, places where there would be casinos and the need for this type of entertainment.
So he would pace - I mean, some of these shows would require five shows to be performed and each show different. It wasn't until later that I found out that he could have just did the same, you know, 45-minute set each time out, and it wouldn't have made a difference. It was probably, like, a new audience. But I don't know, in his head, like if one person decided to stay for all five shows, then he was going to make it worth their while.
And so he knew how to perfectly pace it. He knew which cover songs to cover that were universal. He knew how to utilize my mother, who, I guess you could say was like the June Carter to his Johnny Cash. My mother - gorgeous, beautiful and had an awesome comic timing, since she knew - like, she did audience participation well. Like, she's really the star of the show.
And so seeing this stuff, you know, I just applied it to pacing The Roots' shows, which I felt gave us kind of a leg up more than just, you know, the average throw your hands in the air and wave them like just don't care banter of hip-hop back when I first started.
BIANCULLI: Questlove, speaking to Terry Gross in 2013. They were discussing his father, doo-wop singer Lee Andrews, who died Wednesday at age 79. Coming up, film critic David Edelstein reviews the new movie “Krisha.” Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.