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King Errisson: It's Good to Be King

King Errisson, 40-year percussionist with Neil Diamond
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With the debut of Neil Diamond’s 50th Anniversary Tour in Fresno, CA, on April 7th, his highly acclaimed 40-year percussionist, King Errisson, will be logging in the miles right along with him. And while Errisson always places an accent on accompanying Diamond on his tours and in the studio, recently the musician has also been marching to the beat of a different drum, having released his own self-composed CD, “Secret Life,” and his autobiography, “My Life, My Loves.”

It’s been a very interesting and wild ride up to this point for Errisson, who bears the nicknames “The Thunderball Drummer,” “The Music Fixer,” “The Unsung Hero of Motown” and “King of the Congas,” to say the least. Born and raised in the island paradise of Nassau, as a child the now 30-year Las Vegas resident, who at the age of six began beating his hands on everything he could get his hands on, spent hours in a coconut grove practicing different patterns of beating his hands on a crude set of coffee can bongos. At the age of 15, Errisson got his first professional music instruction and, soon afterwards, began to play and tour with different acts. Eventually, his musical path led him to record deals, movies, TV, and superstar Neil Diamond.

“Hal Blaine, who was one of the greatest drummers in the world and was the percussionist on Neil’s recording ‘I Am I Said,’ was also his musical contractor at the time,” Errisson, who first came to the United States in 1961, recalls. “Neil, having been intrigued by the popularity of Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland,’ had written an extended piece called “The African Trilogy,’ I was a studio musician and Hal asked me to be part of the recording session on ‘Sooliamon,’ which was part of the trilogy but I was also to be prominently featured when Neil performed the song publicly for the first time. That happened on January 10, 1971 on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. That performance was my first opportunity to actually perform with Neil and it was a great experience.”

The forces that led to that moment began with Errisson’s first big break, which came about when actor Sean Connery, accompanied by nearly the entire cast and crew of the future blockbuster, "Thunderball," walked into the Conch Shell Club in Nassau where Errisson was the star of the show Connery praised Errisson’s “magic hands” and asked him if he would like to audition for a role in the movie, which was being filmed on the island. The percussionist got the part, which gave him recognition and ultimately opened up doors for him in America and Canada and gave him the opportunity to subsequently make friends with, and play with and for, some of the greatest musicians and singers in the world, among the latter, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Jackson 5, Tony Orlando and Dawn, Marvin Gaye, and Barry Manilow.

Although Errisson got a call to join Diamond’s band for the singer’s 1972 Hot August Night concert at the Greek Theater, he had to turn down the offer because of previous commitments. But upon receiving a later call, he began rehearsing with Diamond in 1975 and went on tour with him in 1976, breaking his contract with Tony Orlando and Dawn to do so. And the rest, as they say, is history,

“Dennis St. John, who joined Neil’s band in 1971, was the one who made the calls to me,” Errisson notes. “He told me that Neil was looking for a flamboyant drummer and that he needed me to be showy and do what I do. Since I’ve joined the band, I’ve done every tour, save one, and played on 60 percent of Neil’s albums. I never got in his way but the more I did, the more he wanted me to do.

“It’s been a nice ride and it’s been pretty cool,” he adds, laughing. “Neil still thinks I’m trying to steal his show. I try to tell him that I just give added attention to his show but he still thinks I’m trying to steal it. Neil has 16 band members and carries 100 people. He doesn’t leave anything to chance.”

Errisson reveals that he only missed on tour in 40 years – that one due to the fact that he made love to a girl in Vancouver, Canada, who seven years later went to the police and said that Errisson had raped her.

“Seven years after the fact, this girl knocked on my door and my wife told her to go away,” he explains. “The girl had filed a grievance against me. But she had written 10 different letters to me in which she had told me that she loved me and I had kept every one. The police came to the studio and told me that if I went to Vancouver with Neil, they would arrest me. Neil said that since we were only going to Vancouver for two days, I should sit this one out. He then hired a lawyer from Vancouver, who took all the letters and love notes she had written to court. When he showed them to the judge, he told her that she’d better get out of there before he locked her up.”

As for the new CD, his 18th, Errisson says that he composes all his own music and that life and woman are his inspiration. Diamond even recorded one of Errisson’s songs, “On The Way To The Sky,” after rewriting the lyrics.

“Life is beautiful and women keep you on your toes,” Errisson muses. “I love writing stories. I’m primarily a singer on the new CD and I’ve got some of the best musicians on it – horns, bass, piano, guitar, and drums – as well as background singers and a full rhythm section. There are seven people in my band who are always on call. I can always depend on this group of guys. The music is ‘goombay,’ the rhythms of Africa, Europe, and America, as well as jazz, reggae, and rock ‘n’ roll. When you listen to my music, it’s hard to figure out. I write by feeling but I’m more of a storyteller. I compare myself to Leonard Cohen or Neil Diamond.

“Where the book is concerned,” he continues, “I’ve been writing since I was 19. I take notes everywhere I go about everything I do, I couldn’t put my life in one book – there will be three. This book can be found on Amazon and on my website.”

No doubt about it, when it comes to an amazing and full life, Errisson is King.

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