Beret and the Beat
Late Night’s Anton Fig Begins a New Chapter of his Musical Life

By Lee Valentine Smith

In three decades as the pulse of David Letterman’s sidekick bands, first on Late Night and then on Late Show, drummer Anton Fig became one of the most-heard drummers of all-time. Now that the Letterman dynasty is done, the South African-born and New York-based drummer and songwriter is continuing his journeyman status that began in the ‘70s. After years of playing on great records by KISS, Ace Frehley, Cyndi Lauper and many others, the beret-topped musician has finally issued an album under his own name. The recently reissued Figments is a self-produced and released sound collage with a myriad of special guests including Brian Wilson and Fig’s former bandleader Paul Shaffer. Now that he’s not anchored to a daily grind at the Ed Sullivan Theater, his current travels bring him to Atlanta on an international tour with blues genius Joe Bonamassa. Fig spoke with INsite from his home studio in NYC.

This album has been a long time coming in several ways.

Well, when you have a steady job like I had with Letterman it takes a while. I had collected a bunch of songs and that was basically the starting point for everything. Once I had all the songs together then I had to see about recording them separately. It was a long time coming because it’s the sum of all my influences and people that I’ve worked with.

Every song is different and each track features a completely different line-up of players.

Right. I figure as long as I’m playing drums and producing it all seems unified because of that commonality. With the digital age it’s all about playlists so in a way this is a playlist record.

Do you think you’ll ever do an all-star band and lead from behind the drums like Ringo?

That would be great and I have thought about it but I’ve never really considered it so much as a touring thing, just more of a studio album. There’s so many logistics involved in trying to get everyone together. At the moment I’m on the road myself, playing with Joe and I’m selling the record at the shows.

How does it feel to be out on tour after being based in New York City for so long?

It’s much different than I’m used to, being in town all the time and coming home for dinner and then going out to play at a club or just doing sessions in the day. But I thought it might be nice to try something like this with people I know

How’s it going so far?

We just finished our “Three Kings” tour, celebrating the music of BB, Albert and Freddy. It’s been really fun. Joe’s great and it’s a really cool organization. The tour has been amazing. We played Red Rocks and DVD’d the last show of the tour at The Greek. We’ve played some fairly large places so in the fall I think it’ll be indoor theaters and it should be really, really nice.

Dave’s final show was in May. What was it like from the inside?

It was pretty surreal. I couldn’t really wrap my head around what was happening even though I knew it was coming. They’d told us about a year out that he was going to retire, but it didn’t seem real until maybe the last month. Even then it was a parade of people coming by to say goodbye and all that. It was just kind of hard. After the show there was a party, and you just couldn’t go up to everyone. I went up to Letterman, shook his hand and said thank you. It was sort of like a death in the fact that it was this living organism made up of people. And those people will never come back together again. It was almost too big to grasp the whole enormity of it.

There’s a great clip on YouTube shot from behind your kit.

Yeah, I took my camera on stage and I decided I was just gonna shoot it right when the show was done. It looks like everyone’s just in a daze, the audience is in a daze. It’s almost like it’s in slow-motion. They told us we had to get our stuff out of there and so by 10 in the morning the next day, my drums were gone and the studio was pretty much flattened. It was completely over.

So what’s next for you?

Right now, I’m just touring and playing live in a successful operation and it feels like a really good thing to be doing. I just want to keep going and getting better as a musician and as a person.

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