Interview by Blake Maddux –
When asked if he always planned to make a living as a saxophone player, Deric Dyer replies, “I don’t think that most musicians think about that. Because if you really did think about it, you’d be nuts to take this up.”
Luckily, Dyer didn’t let any second-guessing stop him from pursuing a career in music, not even when he was living with dirt directly beneath his feet. The Boston resident spent a dozen years on tour with Joe Cocker in the late ‘70s, late ‘80s, early ‘90s, and early aughts. Immediately before returning to Cocker in 1989, Dyer was heard and seen by millions all over the world when he blew his horn for Tina Turner on her 1987-88 box-office record-smashing Break Every Rule trek, which included a show that ended up in the Guinness Book of World Records.
He has also played with the gamut of Boston-area musicians, from the locally beloved to the internationally recognizable. In addition to his solo work, he is a member of Mad Dogs Unchained, which honors Joe Cocker’s legend with note-perfect renditions of his songs.
On May 4 at Beverly’s 9 Wallis, Dyer will front a lineup that will include keyboardist Mitch Chakour, guitarist Cliff Goodwin, and singer Megan Wolf, whose vocals aim to make the audience feel as though Tina Turner herself were in the room.
What is the short-as-possible version of how you ended up living in Ireland, England, and Bermuda?
My mother and father met in a band. I was born in County Mayo Ballina, and when I was 11 months old my parents moved back to England. My mother was a singer, my father a trumpet player, and my father chased the work his entire career. The Beatles came along, and he was playing the biggest nightclub in London, called the Pigalle, working with like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Shirley Bassey. Really high-end. The band went from 25, down to 15, down to 10. He saw the writing on the wall and was offered a gig playing in a house band at a hotel in Bermuda. And my mother said, “We’re going to Bermuda!” I remember flying into Bermuda. I was 11 years old. When we got off the plane, it was like walking into Disney World. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
What brought you to the United States?
Bermuda would do college weeks every spring. End of March into April. And there was a band from Worcester called American Standard. They were working at the same club that my band was working at, and I became very friendly with them. The week before the finished their contract up, they kept on asking me to join their band and move to America. I finally, said, well, might as well give it a go. I was 19.
Where was the first place that you lived in the US?
The guitar player’s mother owned a triple decker in Worcester, and I rented a room in an unfinished basement with a dirt floor. It was pretty damn scary, but I fixed it up. I stayed there for four months and then we ended up getting a band apartment that we moved into. I came in September ’75, and by mid-January we were living in a fairly nice apartment. But think about it: Bermuda…Worcester.
How did American Standard become Joe Cocker’s backing band?
Our manager was connected to Michael Lang, who did Woodstock. He was Joe’s manager, and he wanted a new, young band that didn’t have the problems that a lot of musicians did. And we never had drug and alcohol problems. When American Standard got hired, they also felt like they had to augment the band with some name players. So they brought in Bobby Keys, who you know from the Rolling Stones. He played on a lot of records as well. And also Nicky Hopkins, the piano player. At that point I was 21, working at that level. I did that for a couple of years and Joe made the band smaller and so I was back in Boston.
What was Joe Cocker like as a boss and a person?
Probably one of the nicest people I ever met. Now he did have his moments. If he’d had a little too much to drink, he could be a little much to handle. But that wasn’t Joe. The man that I know was just very nice, kind, very bright, incredibly well-read, genuinely caring guy. I loved him like a brother.
How did the audition for to play for Tina Turner come along?
I had met Jerry Peterson, who was in a band called Billy & the Beaters, who had a song called “At This Moment” that was a massive hit. I called him to say congratulations, and he said that that he had been invited to audition for Tina, but his wife was expecting a baby so he couldn’t do it. And I said, well, do you mind if I go after it? He said Tina’s drummer played with us all the time, Jack Bruno, so send me a bio and I’ll pass it to Jackie. They were trying people, Tina didn’t like anybody, I auditioned, and I got the gig. I had been twiddling my thumbs, no gigs, thinking my career was over, and ended up on the biggest tour of 1987, travelling the world. I literally went from my basement to flying on Learjets eating caviar.
How would you describe Tina Turner as a boss and a person?
She was very different to Joe, but ultimately similar. She was more openly demanding relative to what went on onstage. You understood quietly with Joe what needed to be done. With Tina, the exact same thing was expected, but she demanded it in a whole different way. She’d tell you what she wanted and if she didn’t get it, then you were going to get called to the dressing room. And you didn’t want to go to the dressing room! But I loved her. She was nothing but gold to me. I would probably say that year-and-a-half that I was with her were probably the best years of my life, and I’ve had some pretty amazing years.
What was the average crowd size that you played for with each musician?
The average [for Tina Turner] probably was about 20,000. We did a live HBO broadcast from Rio, and that was a couple hundred thousand. [the number that I found was 182,000, which set a new world record for a concert by a single artist.] People that live in America don’t realize how much of a superstar Joe Cocker is in the rest of the world. When we played America, a lot of times we’d come and do the summer circuit, which is a lot of sheds [amphitheaters]. Most of them are anywhere from probably 5,000 to 8,000. Sometimes we’d do theaters, 2,500 or whatever. But for the rest of the world, a normal show would be 15-20,000 people.
Who are some Boston-area musicians with whom you have worked?
I played the Boston scene for the longest time, working with Jonathan Edwards, Steve Cataldo—we had a band together called The Reflectors—from the Nervous Eaters, and I played on Ric Ocasek’s solo album. The 11th Hour Blues Band would let me sit in all the time. It was an education in itself. Geoff Muldaur. Just a bunch of different stuff. Then I was in Farrenheit. They were touted to be the next big band out of this area. They got signed to Warner Bros., and we did a record [in 1987] with Keith Olsen, who had done Fleetwood Mac. When the records was just about done, Charlie [Farren] came to me and said, we want to go back to being a three-piece. So I came back to Boston and I didn’t have anything.
How did Megan Wolf get the job of singing Tina Turner’s songs for the 9 Wallis show?
We have another project called Mad Dogs Unchained that’s actually coming in to 9 Wallis in June. Megan said yes to us to kind of fill that spot as a background singer. We went to Europe for three weeks last year and we’ve released a CD. Megan’s wonderful. She’s really talented. She allows me to be able to cover a lot of tunes that I wouldn’t normally do.