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Tasha Sabatino drums in the name of love

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Under the influence

Tasha Sabatino drums in the name of love

  • Tasha Sabatino on the Riviera
    Nathan SabatinoTasha Sabatino on the Riviera

On March 26, will host our Press Box Bash at Club Congress. One highlight of the evening will be a special performance by Howe Gelb, in which he will pay tribute to Johnny Cash's "Live At San Quentin." Drummer Tasha Sabatino will join Gelb for the set.

Born in Tucson, Tasha Sabatino started playing drums at 13. Mo Tucker of the Velvet Underground was the only drum teacher she ever had.

In addition to playing with Gelb this month, Sabatino drums with the Lemon Drop Gang and Loveland, and is currently forming a new two-piece band with local guitarist/singer Nathan Hendler.

Her husband, Nathan Sabatino (Golden Boots, Loveland) owns and operates Loveland Studio. Mother of teenaged Peaches fan Mia, Tasha rounds out her family with 2 horses, 3 dogs and a cat.

What are some songs you can’t stop listening to?
I’m in that loop with a couple of songs. The original version of “Love Is Strange” by Lonnie Donegan, and this Argentinian—well, he’s kind of the Argentinian Tom Jones—“Penumbras” by Sandro de America [who passed away in January]. I can't name what it is about it—

The Japanese call that "ugen," the ineffable. It’s not a matter of affect—the songs are not necessarily sad—something happens that’s kind of alchemical.
I think there are certain songs, even songs on the radio—with Mia, I end up listening to the radio a lot, and there are certain songs that I just get choked up by, and I can’t get enough of them. There’s just some emotional response that totally make me cry, or move me to the point of my heart pounding out of my chest for them.

What drummers have influenced your playing?
Keith Moon (The Who), first and foremost. And a bunch of our friends here in town.

Are there drummers whom you admire, but that sound nothing like you? Who are they?
John Convertino is a good source of inspiration, definitely. Lots of jazz drummers, Elvin Jones, Art Blakey. Lots of Cuban and Brazilian drummers.

That’s where I was going next. When you get sick of rock & roll, what do you tend to listen to?
I kind of never get sick of rock, or of any style in particular. I always listen to everything. I listen to country, lots of Latin music—have you heard Tinariwen? They’re Bedouin. So good.

Who were your musical mentors?
Well, it’s kind of contemporaries. Dimitri Manos (Golden Boots, Tom Walbank and the Ambassadors, Jazz Telephone) is definitely my favorite drummer in town. And then there are all these kids, like the guys who played across the street last night [Sergio Mendoza y la Orkesta, Brian Lopez and friends]. They are young, ridiculously talented, super-soulful, fantastic players. Those kids are amazing.

What singers do it for you, and what do you think it is about those singers that does it? Is it technical singing prowess? Lyrics? Stage presence?
James Brown, all of the above.  And Ray Davies. Well, both Davies—I just love the Kinks.

I love Eleni Mandell. I like women who sing with some balls, not babying it up at all. Here in Tucson, Emilie Marchand; I love me some Emilie. And Stephanie [Dickson], whom I play with, is so amazing. She really wows me with her stage presence. The first time I saw her sing, I didn’t know her, and I thought “I have to be in a band with her.” It was love at first sight.

I think for me, singing is a soulful thing. If there’s honesty in it, or what to me seems like honesty, I want to listen to it.

Why don’t you sing more?
I’ve been getting that question a lot lately. I love singing, but I’m just not confident about it.

You sang a Velvet Underground song at the recent tribute, yes?
“After Hours.” It was a good entrée to singing. Mo Tucker wasn't exactly a great singer.

Are you a sad songs when you’re sad kind of person, or do you bust out the party music to try to cheer yourself up kind of person?
Sad song records. Marvin Gaye. Otis Redding. And Faron Young—I’ve been listening to so much Faron Young lately, and that stuff is sad, really sad.

I go through spells with stuff. I have been listening to the Eleni Mandell kind of contantly. I listen to Pieta Brown a lot—she is one of my dear friends, and that stuff breaks my heart a lot.

What do you think about the upcoming Runaways biopic?
Love it. Totally psyched. What I’ve seen of it looks great.

What other movies about music do you think are great?
“Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser” is one of my all-time favorites. I can watch music documentaries nonstop.

We are both women who’ve been playing music in Tucson for a couple of decades. Do you think it’s gotten better? No. I don’t, really. I am constantly shocked at how it’s a [sausage party] every time I play. I mean, Steph and I talk about it too. And I’ve always just played with anybody, because I don’t care, but I have noticed lately that it’s almost worse lately. It seems like there are fewer women playing.

Enough of the heavy stuff. Time for the rapid fire round. What’s your favorite makeout song?
Ooh. Pretty much any song’s good if you’re in the mood. I’m such a sucker for soul music, always. Good soul kills it for me every time.

What was your first dance with Nathan at your wedding?
Louis Prima and Keely Smith’s “I’m in the Mood for Love.” Super sweet.

If you were a superhero, what would your theme song be?
It would have to be James Brown’s “Make It Funky.”

Beatles or Stones?
Stones, all the 60s-70s stuff. Really, anything before ’82.

Bob Dylan or Neil Young?
Dylan. Blood on the Tracks.

Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holliday?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. Billie. But I love Ella.

Ella’s the technical singer of all time. There are a lot of standards for which Ella’s is the definitive version. But Billie—
Soul. Amazing.


Under the influence

"Under the influence" is a new weekly feature at, in which we talk to artists about what moves them.

Elvis Costello recently refused to name influences when asked. Ever full of a bit of perversity, he replied, "I'll tell you what I love. You tell me what my influences are."

It is with a righteous love that we begin our conversations with artists.

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