Clem Burke, most well known as the drummer for Blondie, has truly lived it up. Even though he thought he’d be retired by 30, he’s still going, and living it up, with a soon-to-be-released memoir to boot. He has been the drummer for four different bands inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—including Blondie, the Ramones, the Go-Go’s, and 2022 inductees the Eurythmics—and has received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the University of Gloucestershire for his Clem Burke Drumming Project. The man just won’t stop.
I caught up with Clem a few months back, as he was getting off stage playing Cruel World Fest in Pasadena with Blondie. He told me all about his many adventures on tour, starting with playing with Iggy Pop in the late ’70s.
“Well, let me tell you what happened when Debbie [Harry] was doing her solo album and taking a break from Blondie. I was working with Iggy Pop. And this was one of the first national tours, promoting him plus David Bowie on keyboards. Iggy called me, asking me to be on drums. Then Carlos Alomar called me, he said, ‘Are you doing it? If you do it, I will do it.’ And so we ended up with three guitarists.
Now, Iggy had a mandate: play as loud and as fast as possible. Also, no food backstage, just drugs and alcohol. A sort of ‘No Blow, No Show’ kind of atmosphere.
There are so many incredible moments. From getting stuck in Canada during a blizzard, waiting for a blues singer who was delivering all these goods. All the way to Detroit in 1981, where we played the Pontiac Silverdome–with no sound check! Iggy, Santana, The Rolling Stones–it was like entering a Roman Colosseum that night.
Anyway, Iggy was so miffed that Mick Jagger didn’t say hello to him. And on top of that Iggy was wearing a mini skirt, suspenders, a leather jacket, and boots. That was night one. Well, night two, he was in pantyhose and a leather motorcycle jacket. Basically naked from the waist down and let me tell you when the spotlights hit him, you could see it all!
One of the songs we did had the lyrics ‘you need more,’ and everyone took it as ‘more drugs, more champagne.’ And the next thing people started throwing things at us–including knives. The bass player got a knife in his hand. Champagne bottles were flying through the air, and there was Iggy standing at the lip of the stage singing ‘give me more.’ The show’s promoter, Bill Graham, collected all this ephemera and made an inventory: coins, bottles, candies, you name it, it was all there.
Another time we were in Austin, Texas on the same tour, at Club Foot, and there was a bomb scare. Someone on stage yelled we had to evacuate. But Iggy just didn’t. He insisted we went into a salute, and he kept saying we’re all going to die and we were just not really telling people about it.
Of course there was also the time in San Francisco where Allen Ginsberg came on stage, smoked pot with us and did a chant. Because of Iggy’s mandate of no food, we’d then go to restaurants and finally eat like crazy. Iggy would order three entrees and feast himself.
Oh, it was all so memorable.
With Blondie, so many crazy things would happen. The last gig before we reunited was at Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia with Flock of Seagulls and Genesis. I got to talk to Phil Collins on that tour, and he acknowledged my skills as a drummer. So, our road crew had gone into our trailer to do something or another, and sneakily the Elvis Costello road crew locked them all inside this trailer. Well, somehow we’re now on stage and things are going wrong and the road crew is not coming to help, we are not hearing anything from them.
I mean, the first song was “Rapture” and for some reason, things were just not going right, and playing out of sync. Chaotic. That was the very last Blondie gig before we regrouped in the late ’90s. So fitting. To this day, we reminisce when we see Elvis Costello’s teams.
It was all just the greatest time. Nowadays we keep it more civilized. With Iggy, it was always decadent rock ‘n roll–it feels different to me now. I haven’t done drugs for a long time, I am very health conscious. But the energy is still there, and we love being on stage. We are now avoiding the chaos as much as possible. These things don’t happen nowadays.
Hey, I must say, Keith and Mick outlived most.”
Catch Clem on tour with Blondie through November.