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Ex-Doobie Seeks His Niche : Making one's own music with one's own group is the only way 'to really make things happen,' drummer finds.

August 14, 1992|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Don Heckman writes regularly about music for The Times

Chet McCracken is a man with a mission. After more than two decades in the music business working for everyone from Joe Walsh and Stevie Nicks to Hank Williams Jr. and Tina Turner, the former drummer with the Doobie Brothers is determined to start getting a piece of the action for himself.

"It took me a while to get here," said McCracken, who works every Sunday afternoon with his band at Pelican's Retreat restaurant in Calabasas, "but I finally realized that the only way to really make things happen is to do it with your own music and your own group."

McCracken worked with the Doobies from 1979 until the group disbanded in the early '80s. His composition "South Bay Strut" from the "One Step Closer" album was nominated for a Grammy award.

When the Doobies got back together for the 1987 "A Concert for Peace" in Russia, McCracken was there for the much-acclaimed event. But in the group's subsequent reorganization in 1988, it returned to its original personnel from the early 1970s.

"That was when it finally hit me," said McCracken, "that I was going to have to do something on my own."

Despite his have-drums-will-travel status in the '70s and '80s as one of Los Angeles' busiest, most in-demand pop music rhythm section players, McCracken has always felt that his true roots were in jazz.

But McCracken, 45, with a wife and a 13-month-old daughter to support, is no ivory tower jazzer. He is quick to acknowledge a willingness to produce music with true commercial potential. "I'm not in love with the idea of categories," he explained, "but if what I do has to have a label, then call it melodic jazz. I've got no problem at all with that."

His current Voss Records album, "Partners," includes the same players--guitarist Chris Pinnick, keyboardist Ben Armentano, saxophonist Mitch Reilly, bassist Richard Grossman and percussionist Tim Polen--who are generally on stage with him every Sunday. "I've really been lucky," he said. "We've been playing there since April, and we've had the same players more than 90% of the time. Which isn't bad, with the economy the way it is these days, and guys having to go on the road a lot to get regular work."

McCracken's goal of establishing himself as a commercially successful artist is still in the future. But he feels he has found the right sound, the right group and the right attitude to make it happen.

Where and When

Show: Drummer Chet McCracken.

Where: On the patio at Pelican's Retreat, 24454 Calabasas Road, Calabasas.

Hours: 4-8 p.m. Sundays, indefinitely.

Price: Free

Call: (818) 222-1155

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