This is a translation of an interview with Chris “Crystal” Taylor, Roger Taylor’s former drum tech and personal assistant. There are some stories he has told elsewhere (“Crystal’s Tales”), as well as technical details about drums. The interview is by Roger M. Takahashi, drummer of the Japanese Queen tribute band Queer, who has become such an expert that Crystal Taylor sometimes defers to him when fans ask questions about Roger’s drum kit.
Crystal Taylor Music Life “Roger Taylor” special edition, August 2019 Interview by Roger M. Takahashi Translation from Japanese to English by me [Part 1 of 2]
Roger M. Takahashi (RT): Thank you very much for this opportunity. I’d like to start with a question about you: how did you get involved with Queen Productions?
Crystal Taylor: I didn’t especially try to get in. I was with another band on tour for a few years, and then in January of 1976, I got a phone call asking if I was interested in joining Queen on tour for 4 months in the US, Japan, and Australia. Of course I said yes.
RT: What were you doing before that?
Crystal: I was with a bunch of bands that would tour clubs and stuff in the UK. I was working for a famous pop star called David Essex in 1974. All the girls would be screaming every evening. It was crazy but fun. After that, I was with a slightly successful band called Pilot in 1975. I also worked with Elton John and Pink Floyd at Wembley, Knebworth and such. Of course, there were lots of others.
RT: Did you know about Queen before they reached out to you?
Crystal: Seven Seas of Rhye and Killer Queen sold well and were good songs, so I knew those. When I was in the car on my way to Brighton with a friend, the DJ on the radio goes, “So, we’ve received Queen’s new song,” and it was Bohemian Rhapsody. I was saying what a good song it was, but when “Galileo, figaro…” started, I thought, “What the hell is this??” But two months later, I would end up hearing “Galileo, figaro…” every day for 14 years, haha.
RT: What were your impressions of the band members when you first met them?
Crystal: After I got the call, I went to John Reid’s, and met Freddie. That was the first member. He was very polite, and said “Hi!” to me. Brian came in next, and he bumped into me with his clogs. Then he says “sorry” like ten times! Then I went to Roger’s flat and met my new boss. I remember it well, with his long blonde hair and high voice, I thought, “This guy is definitely gay.” I was completely, utterly wrong, though!! I didn’t meet John until a rehearsal in Waterbury, Connecticut, in the US.
RT: After working with them, how would you describe them briefly?
Crystal: The four of them have completely different personalities. Brian is really serious. As for John, he’s really quiet before you get to know him, but once you do, he’s a really fun guy. And Roger, we probably all know what kinds of things he likes. I have the same interests as him so we got along really well. Freddie is really shy, but a fun guy to be with. Most people probably don’t know this, but he has a surprising sense of humour.
RT: Please tell us more about Roger. What’s his personality like, and what kind of person is he?
Crystal: This is a hard question. He was born to be a rock star. First of all, he was the first one to buy a really huge house. A really expensive car, too. It was a black Ferrari 308 GTB. He was also the first to buy a house overseas, and the only one to buy a cruiser motorcycle. Off stage as well, he was acting like a rock star. Of course, he liked “various things” associated with rock stars. Ah, oh yeah, he was a wonderful drummer. Of course as a person, too!
RT: Was it easy working for Roger?
Crystal: Yeah. Like anyone, he can get into a rage quickly. But he goes back to his regular self immediately. I met him through work, but we became really good friends, and often went out to do stuff together. On days off, too.
RT: Can you give us 2 or 3 memories from your time with Roger in the studio or on tour?
Crystal: I went to the Monaco F1 with Status Quo’s Rick Parfitt and Roger. But we were arrested on the first night and thrown in jail!! You may not believe me, but we really hadn’t done anything!! Then, we were released the next morning at 6 am. It was a completely new experience (strained laughter). Also, we would often go skiing in Scotland, and at the bar there were a bunch of people having a good time that didn’t know who Roger was. They asked us what we did for a living, and we told them we were vacuum cleaner salesmen. They believed us for sure, haha.
RT: Haha. Please tell us any stories that make you laugh when you think about them.
Crystal: There are too many that I can’t answer. It makes me laugh just thinking about all the things we got up to together. We were really like high school students you couldn’t control.
RT: By the way, who are your favourite rock musicians?
Crystal: I like lots of different genres of music, except rap. That’s a horrible product. My top two favourites are Pink Floyd and Bob Marley, I guess. I like music styles in between, including ABBA. When I first went to a Pink Floyd show, there were around 60 people in attendance. It was when Syd Barrett was still in the group. And I met Bob Marley when he came to see a Queen show at Madison Square Gardens. I had a beer with Tyrone Downie, the keyboard player for The Wailers. He told me back then that they came to see Queen because they loved Another One Bites the Dust. John and I are the only ones that listen to reggae, so when I told John right before the show, when the taped intro was playing, that Bob Marley was watching, he became ecstatic and raised his bass to full volume!!
RT: What kinds of idols were you into when you were a child?
Crystal: Idols, hmm… I didn’t have any in particular. But The Beatles changed everything with their music, hair styles, jackets, and boots. Then came The Rolling Stones. They had long hair and didn’t have a clean image like The Beatles. But I saw them and grew my hair long.
RT: Do you ever listen to Queen songs?
Crystal: No, I don’t. It’s always on the radio.
RT: What are your top three favourite Queen albums?
Crystal: I still think to this day that Side Black of Queen II is amazing. After that, A Night at the Opera, I guess. Third, I’d say New of the World, I think.
RT: In contrast, please tell us if there is any work you don’t like.
Crystal: Dreamer’s Ball! I really hate this one!! This kind of song is inconceivable. And I saw Brian and Roger have a tremendously horrible argument about this song, so I also came to hate this song when it was played live. I’ve also had enough of We Will Rock You!! I probably heard it too much live. Body Language is also terrible. For albums, I hate Hot Space and The Miracle.
RT: Next, I’d like to ask you questions about your job as a drum tech. What’s the most important consideration when designing Roger’s drum kit or when putting it together?
Crystal: Ahh, technical stuff! I remember things like parties, but we’re talking about stuff from a long time ago. But I’ll give it a go, haha! First of all, you have to set up the drummer’s necessary things in the necessary location. On top of that, it has to look beautiful when you look at it head on.That’s why I arranged things as beautiful and cool as possible. When a new kit arrives, the very first thing you have to do is set up the tom toms and bass drum facing the opposite direction. What I mean by that is, if they’re facing the performer with the adjustment screw, you have to move that in the opposite direction from the performer, facing outward. The reason is, if something happens during a performance, you can adjust the screws while they’re playing, or switch out the part that is causing problems, right? Also, the legs of the cymbal stand were placed as far as possible from the front of the bass drum. By doing so, you could resolve a lot of things.
RT: What are the details of the biggest trouble you experienced during a show?
Crystal: The biggest trouble, eh. Not being asleep during the show, I guess! Ah, sorry, just kidding, haha. I always keep a spare bass drum pedal and snare drum nearby. Also, drum heads in all sizes. Roger tears them fairly quickly. The snare stand is always firmly secured to the drum riser, so if the head of the snare tears, you have to remove the snare drum only from the stand and replace it with a new one. Same for the bass drum pedal. We use Ludwig’s Speed King, and it’s a good pedal, but it breaks really frequently. When that happens, I have to slide between the snare and floor tom by Roger’s feet while he’s playing to switch out the pedal. I’m a big guy, so it’s really tough to slide in there. The most it ever happened was when it broke three times! That really was a tough one. When we get a new kit, we always order two bass drums. Roger always asks me why, but I always answer that it’s just in case. The second bass drum is always tuned so that it’s ready to go, and every evening during the show, it’s placed close to me. And, one night during a show in the US, it happened. Every night, I observe all of Roger’s movements in great detail, and here the kick pedal’s beater gets sucked right into the drum head. I immediately said, “Oh shit!” and went over to the middle of the stage with a bass drum. I removed the mics for the bass drum and toms, and removed the screws from the two toms above. I switched out the broken bass drum for the new one, put the two toms and mics back in place, and disappeared off the stage with the broken bass drum. Freddie saw this and announced, “This has never happened before!” The crew cheered and gave me a round of applause, but I paid no attention to it and returned to my spot. Someone was timing it, and I finished the job in 45 seconds. This is an accomplishment I should really be proud of!!
RT: You are very detail-oriented in putting together a kit. Which one is your favourite?
Crystal: I think it’s the biggest Ludwig kit from 1976. It was really cool. Even now when I look at it, I think, that was well done, that’s a good one.
1977-02-05 Madison Square Garden, by Richard E. Aaron
RT: Roger often changes his kit to match the album or songs he’s playing. Does Roger come up with those ideas? Or do you and Roger work together to assemble the kit?
Crystal: He had an endorsement deal with Ludwig, so it was all free of charge. We discussed what colours we should pick, or how we should do this and that. Of course, in the end Roger had the final say.
RT: In 1976, unlike before, there were toms lined up in a very large kit, and aside from the floor tom there are eight rack toms from 6” to 16” lined up. Is it true that Roger didn’t like the sound of the Ludwig Octaplus and modified it by attaching resonant heads on the ones bigger than 13”?
Crystal: How did you know that? That’s completely true. We put marks in the exact same spot as the batter head, and slowly drilled holes, being careful not to damage anything, and it took a long time! (Note: A total of 60 holes were drilled in the 13”, 14”, 15”, and 16” toms!) It’s much cooler to have heads on both sides instead of just one!
RT: That Ludwig Octaplus kit originally had clip mount tom holders, but after the concert at Hyde Park, they switched to Rogers Big R tom holders. Was that your idea, Crystal? The bass drum’s tom holder mount by both Ludwig and Rogers have a 1” diameter so you could have kept it as is. Was there a particular reason why you switched that to Rogers as well?
Crystal: Truthfully, the Ludwig clip mount is a terrible product (Note: it’s a U-shaped structure where the toms are inserted to the left and right from above. The two toms are fixed in place, so adjusting the angle affects both at the same time.) Because if you bring one tom closer to you, the other one turns the other way! This makes it unusable. There was a music trade fair at Earl’s Court, so Roger and I went together. We saw the Rogers Memriloc system there, so I told him, “We’ll buy this and I’ll install it for you!” After that, we bought the required amount, and I went back home with all of the drums. The living room in my home ended up looking like a drum factory, haha. We worked together to make 60 holes to add lugs to the bottom head of the toms, and 8 small holes and 4 big holes for the Rogers tom holders.
RT: Inside the bass drum, there’s a metal pipe for reinforcement that’s not available in the catalogue. Did you make it yourself?
Crystal: Why do you know that?! Yeah, I made it myself. I have a friend who’s a pipefitter, and I used copper because it’s soft and light. A plate is welded on one end, and it’s secured to the bolt of the tom holder mount. The tom that’s placed above is large, so the goal was to reduce the heavy load on the bass drum. It was made very well.
RT: Regarding the tuning of drums, I believe for the toms and bass drum the resonant heads are tighter, but in contrast, it’s the opposite for the snares. Is this correct?
Crystal: Of course I can do tuning as well, but Roger was the one who actually did it. Roger is really accurate with his tuning, and would constantly keep things tuned during a show. Just like a guitarist tuning his own guitar. Oh, right, you’re correct, the bottom head is quite a bit tighter than the batter head, which is quite loose. It’s scary how much you know!
RT: Starting from 1977, the bass drum front head design went from the crest to album covers. Whose idea was that?
Crystal: Roger’s. I offered up some ideas, too, but Roger’s were excellent. We used a company called Cream. Do you remember the first drum head with the Queen crest? That was a silkscreen print. The others were all printed. It’s funny, I remember the name of the woman from the company that worked with us. You can remember it like this: Roger Taylor, Chris Taylor, Margaret Taylor!
[End of Part 1 of 2. Part 2 will come later, and covers the drums of 1977 to 1986.]
Thanks for this translation! LOL, I know a lot more about drums now than when I began reading. Actually I didn't realize how technical drum sets are. Loved reading Crystal's first impressions of the band
Crystal Taylor Music Life “Roger Taylor” special edition, August 2019 Interview by Roger M. Takahashi Translation from Japanese to English by me
[Part 2 of 2]
Roger M. Takahashi (RT): Only the 1977 rack toms’ bottom head used Ludwig’s “Coated Silver Dot.” Why was that the case?
Crystal: Ah! I don’t remember! We were probably trying something…
RT: Around this time, Pollard’s Syndrum Quad 478 would appear on stage. Whose idea was that?
Crystal: When we were on tour in the US, a rep from Pollard came to us and asked us to try them out. I think Queen was probably the second one because they said they first gave them to The Cars. Generally they didn’t have drum-like sounds, but we started using them in the middle section of Get Down Make Love. As for where else we used them, I bet you would know, haha.
RT: From 1979, you switched from Ludwig Timbales to Remo Rototoms, and I’ve never seen that horizontal bar for the stand as a manufactured product. Is that something you made yourself?
Crystal: It’s probably something I made. I don’t exactly remember though.
RT: When that horizontal bar is set up, it ends up taller than the same bar for the cymbal stand. You’ve said before that you use Premier stands, but then the diameter of the pipes don’t match up. Also, the design of the feet from the 1979 and 1981 tours differ. Please tell me how you dealt with this. This is the biggest puzzle for me.
Crystal: Yeah! That’s exactly it! The reason why there are two different methods is because we use whatever is lying around in storage. It’d be foolish to buy something new when there are so many things, right? At the warehouse there’s a super detail-oriented guy like you who remembers everything clearly, and he brings out the stuff you need when you ask him to. Yeah, like you said, we did make cuts as needed. I think you would know, but you know the thing that puts the 8” accent cymbal on the tom holder? That’s something I cut. If I didn’t cut it, it wouldn’t have been installed well.
RT: Around this time, a small Slingerland drum kit is being used. Where did you get that?
Crystal: Roger says to me, “I want a small kit,” so I went to a shop I love called Footes, paid with cash, and brought one back.
RT: Recently, I saw a picture thought to be from the late ‘70s, with a yellow Rogers XP8 drum. The biggest Rogers drum is 24”. Was that used in any recording?
Crystal: Roger phones me up and says, “Go buy me a drum that’s not Ludwig!”, so I bought it. Pretty sure it was a 24” bass drum. But it wasn’t yellow, I think it was a really awful salmon pink! For the Jazz sessions, it was decided for the first time that we’d go to Mountain Studios in Montreux, and I think we bought it around that time. Back then, we had studios in Switzerland and France, so we needed a lot of equipment. But we didn’t use that for any recordings.
RT: Whose idea was it to have Roger’s face on the drum head? It’s from a 1977 promo shoot; who decided to use that?
Crystal: This was Roger’s idea, too. Roger thought of it when the book he was reading had a cover like that. We both thought, “It’d be cool to use this!” and reached out but the fee to secure the rights was ridiculous. So I picked the most appropriate photo of Roger and made one. So, both Roger and I worked together on that one.
[1980-09-19, Rosemont, Illinois, by Paul Natkin, with 1977-XX-XX Elektra promo shoot.]
RT: For the 1981 The Game tour in Montreal, during Get Down Make Love, there is video footage of the 12” single head tom missing. Was there a tear or some sort of problem? If you remember, please tell us.
Crystal: If something that should have been there wasn’t, then the head probably died. So, I think it was removed and replaced. Man, you’re looking carefully, haha!
[Get Down Make Love cued up at 1m 52s; two drums are clearly visible above the bass drum when there should be three. There is a mic pointed at the empty space. Skip ahead to 4m 08s and you’ll see the third drum is back.]
RT: For the 1982 Hot Space tour, when you applied chrome to the drums, whose idea was it to take the 16” and 18” toms and hang them from the stand instead of using them as floor toms?
Crystal: It gets difficult to answer questions about this time because I became more of a personal manager / band coordinator as opposed to a roadie / drum tech. That’s why I’d go on tour with them but didn’t assemble the drum kits. That said, recording sessions were different, and I assembled kits for those. So, in response to your question, the two of us did it that way during recording, and it worked well, so I think they left it as is.
RT: I’m not able to reproduce the crash sound on Action This Day using a Simmons SDS-V. Did you use something else, for example a Linn rhythm machine, and mix the sounds?
Crystal: No, it’s from a SDS-V without anything else. The Linn was on the other side of the drums, and I was the one who used it. Another One Bites the Dust, Radio Ga Ga, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Under Pressure and We Will Rock You, we only used it for the hand claps on those songs.
RT: Cymbals and gongs were by Paiste until the 1984 The Works tour, when they all switched to Zildjian for the first time since the band’s debut. Was this only due to the sound quality?
Crystal: There were big changes to the tour’s stage design, and the gong wouldn’t suit it, that’s it.
RT: Also, the 16” and 18” toms go back to being standard 3-legged floor toms. Were those modified from the ones used in the previous year? Or did you purchase new ones?
Crystal: We bought new ones! I don’t remember drilling new holes, that’s why!
RT: Around this time, the snare had internal mics both above and below. Whose idea was this, and who put it together?
Crystal: That was the PA guy, Trip. He’s a spectacular sound engineer, that guy.
RT: In the One Vision “making of” video, I was very surprised to see a square bass drum beater. The shaft is bent to allow the flat side of the beater to make contact. Since when was that being used?
Crystal: When I started working, Roger’s bass drum beater was flat from wear, even though it was supposed to be round. While we were touring the US, I went to a music store and found one that was flat from the beginning (Note: the Danmar square beater). So, I bought all six that the store had in stock. It was around 1978, I think? I always bent the shaft so that 100% of the flat surface would hit the drum.
[One Vision “making of” video cued up to show the square beater very briefly.]
RT: During Live Aid, you were sitting between David Bowie and Roger, and behind Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Please tell me your memories from this time.
Crystal: Those were good seats! That day, all of the performers were granted the right to go to the seats with the royal family. John and Freddie opted out, saying they didn’t want to sit around all day. A limousine came to pick me up, and then went to pick up Roger and Brian. It was 10:30 am. And at 11:00 am we met some members of the royal family, and received our tickets for reserved seating. Of course I knew the royal family would sit in the royal box, and but I didn’t know where that would be. Then Andy, a friend of mine who worked for promoter Harvey Goldsmith, says to me “I got you amazing seats.” David Bowie, Roger, Brian and I weren’t concerned at all about who might sit in front of us and we were just chatting idly when God Save the Queen plays loudly and Prince Charles and Princess Diana appear in front of us. It’s our national anthem so I stood up and when I looked at the stage, I saw on the huge screen a 30-foot version of me! I thought, the whole world is looking at me. The next day, all of the newspapers had a picture of me in it! Amazing, haha!!
[1985-07-13, Wembley Stadium, by Dave Hogan]
RT: For the 1986 Magic tour, the drums suddenly switched to Yamaha. Roger had stated in an interview, “I have absolutely no interest in Japanese-made drums,” so why this change all of a sudden? Is it because of the stage PA system, or because Brian was using a Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer?
Crystal: It has absolutely no connection to the synth. Maybe Roger just thought it was time for a change?
RT: I’ve seen Roger say that he always goes on tour with two identical sets of drums. Does this include the Syndrum and SDS-V?
Crystal: Huh!? He said that? I don’t believe it. Like I said before, there was a spare bass drum and a spare snare, and the pedals. That’s it. He sure is exaggerating, haha!
RT: I’ve been wondering about this a long time, but seeing how Roger is habitually fashionably-dressed, I’m guessing that he has been choosing his own stage outfits since around 1976, but is this correct? Aside from Freddie’s tights, was someone choosing the stage outfits for Rogers and the others?
Crystal: It was completely their tastes, and they were choosing and buying things themselves.
RT: Were there stylists and make-up artists that would go on tour with them?
Crystal: Someone in charge of the wardrobe would always go on tour with them. They took care of things like dry cleaning and ironing. Make up was always self-applied.
RT: After that, sadly there were no more tours, but I would see the return of Ludwig drums in the music videos. Why is that? Since they weren’t touring anymore, was one kit set aside for music videos?
Crystal: That kit is from after I retired. So, I have nothing to do with it.
RT: After touring stopped, Roger had more opportunities for solo work. Were you assisting him at those times, too?
Crystal: For Fun in Space, Strange Frontier, and The Cross’s Shove It, yeah. They were all done at the studio I hate, Mountain Studios in Switzerland. For all of them, it was just the three of us: Roger, David Richards, and myself. I was so bored, and skiing was the only thing you could do there. Oh, that and drinking, haha. Roger produced Jimmy Nail, Feargal Sharkey, Mel Smith, and others. We were always a team. It was a good team....
RT: What was the deciding factor when you decided to leave Queen Productions?
Crystal: I knew that Freddie was ill and that they wouldn’t continue touring. I’d also been touring for 20 years, and thought it was the right time. I can’t get into the real reason, but I thought there was nothing left for the Queen members to do. If I ever get a chance to write a book, I’ll tell the whole story.
RT: Were you satisfied with the working conditions of the crew?
Crystal: I was very satisfied! The pay wasn’t bad, and most of all, all of the members treated me well. I never asked for a pay raise, and never thought the workload didn’t match the pay. I was allowed to use the company Range Rover whenever I wanted, and when I had a girlfriend in Los Angeles for 4 years, I could visit her whenever I wanted on days off and Roger would let me use his house and car. When I went to New York, Freddie would let me borrow his place. I was happy to work with them.
RT: When you watched the movie Bohemian Rhapsody, did the inaccuracies with the equipment stand out and bother you?
Crystal: I hate that movie. They went off and formed a band with the Queen name somewhere that wasn’t true, had them play Live Aid, and everything else is full of mistakes. You’re telling me they hadn’t played for two years before Live Aid? They had played five weeks earlier in your country, Japan, right? Before that, there was a tour in Australia. Rami Malek as an Oscar winner, that’s something he doesn’t deserve. I don’t mean to say bad things about Rami, but he completely missed his “true funniness.” [Translation note: the Japanese word used is difficult to translate, so “funniness” can be ridiculousness or strangeness.] The production team depicted him as a sad, miserable, lonely person. The exact opposite of all of this is the real Freddie. The We Will Rock You recording scene where the wives did the foot stomps and handclaps, give me a break with this bad joke. It’s all of the road crew and band that did that. It’s a fond memory of mine. Do you want to know more? Well then, if you do a talk or something through Music Life, I’ll talk about eeeeverything! Nudge nudge, wink wink!
RT: Haha. When I see Roger’s recent drum kit, there is not an ounce of beauty, and it’s very disappointing. Do you feel like giving him advice?
Crystal: Ah, that………. No!
[2019-08-13, Charlotte, North Carolina, by Jeff Hahne]
RT: And, finally, if you have memories from Japan, please share with us.
Crystal: I have lots of memories from Japan! Only wonderful ones. I was completely culture shocked when I went in 1976. It was full of things I had never seen before. The buildings, billboards, and the food. I’d never used chopsticks before and it was my first time with Japanese food. I thought I might die if I didn’t learn how to use them. Every single person I met was really polite. I did a lot of sightseeing in Japan. More than any other country on this planet! The temples and castles took my breath away. Of course, there was the shopping, too. In particular, I got addicted to Walkmans and digital watches. I also bought aaaaall of the lenses and accessories for Nikon cameras! I could master it quickly and painlessly. I’d guess all of the crew spent money until they were broke. They’d buy kimono for their girlfriends. The concerts were wonderful. For Queen, the best fans were Dutch and Japanese, and that fact will never change. On the first Japanese tour, we played twice in one day, with the first show at 2 pm. You want us to rock at this time of day? The next was 6 pm. We were done by 9 pm and headed to Byblos [night club in Tokyo]. That, or Lexington Queen [another night club]. The Japanese road crew was always superb. As soon as they put the equipment in the flight cases, they would load them into the truck! Ahh, I’d better stop here, so I have stuff to say in my book, haha!
RT: When you look back to your brilliant days with Queen, when would you say was the best moment?
Crystal: That would probably be the time I answered the phone the first time. If I hadn’t answered, I wouldn’t have met wonderful friends and crew, and the four wonderful members of the band. It was really a wonderful time.
RT: Please give a message to fans in Japan.
Crystal: Usually, I don’t speak for other people. But this is a very good opportunity, so today I’d like to speak on behalf of Freddie Mercury, Roger Taylor, John Deacon, Brian May and everyone on the road crew. Everyone… that’s right, each and every one of us loved Japan. No matter the tour, everyone happily welcomed us. I love the country of Japan, and above all, all of the people are wonderful as humans, and I loved them. Thank you so much for being kind.
RT: Thank you very much for your time.
Crystal: Thanks for giving me an opportunity like this. I’m certain it was tough coming up with those questions, but it was a fun and wonderful interview. Thank you very much.