Once, Blondie played the Ryman Auditorium, and it was a gas — so the new wave legends are coming back to Nashville to play an even larger historic venue.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act led by Debbie Harry will bring its ‘Against The Odds’ tour to the Grand Ole Opry House on August 24. With guitarist Chris Stein currently off the road due to health challenges, there’s just one other member of the band’s classic lineup joining Harry on stage: Clem Burke.
The 67-year-old has been Blondie’s drummer since 1975, joining soon after their formation. Over the years, he’s played with everyone from Bob Dylan to Nancy Sinatra to The Ramones, and he remains as prodigious as ever: when Burke gave The Tennessean a call earlier this month, he’d just returned from the U.K. where he’d been recording songs for a rock opera he hopes to bring to London’s West End.
But first, he’s back in the Blondie business. Burke told us about their latest tour and upcoming box set, being studied for science and even sitting in with a Blondie tribute act.
“The show as we have it now, it’s sort of based on the fact that (the band), particularly Debbie, doesn’t really like looking back that much,” Burke says.
Luckily, the setlists we’ve peeked at are packed with every hit a big crowd could ask for, but “being that we have the ‘Against The Odds’ archival box coming out, it seemed more apropos to do some of the older, deeper cuts.” (The 124-track collection arrives August 26.)
Nashville may luck out and get the likes “X Offender” and “Shayla,” plus selections from their most recent album, 2017’s “Pollinator.”
Our records indicate that Blondie never came to Nashville during their original ’70s-’80s run. They finally made their Music City debut in 2004, playing the “Dancin’ In The District” concert series, and returned to play the Ryman Auditorium in 2013.
Burke remembers the latter gig fondly — amused that they were able to cover The Misfits’ “Hollywood Babylon” with special guest Cheetah Chrome at the Mother Church of Country Music.
That gig was immortalized earlier this year, when the venue was named a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame landmark. Blondie is among the Ryman alums listed on the plaque alongside Hank Williams, Elvis and Bob Dylan, “which is amazing,” Burke said.
“We’re really happy to be a part of that.”
“I enjoy working with other bands, people that are my friends, and it also keeps my chops up.”
That included a stint with the Go-Go’s (“I was the best looking guy in the band,” Burke jokes) that culminated in a gig at L.A.’s Crypto.com Arena this past spring. But his most surprising recent gig might be the time he went on tour with “Bootleg Blondie,” a young U.K. tribute act, in 2019.
“Although it was somewhat controversial with some of the members of my band, and also with some of my friends, it was really enjoyable for me,” Burke says. “…They really do honor the legend of the original Blondie and they do a great job. And it was good just to get up close and personal with the fans afterwards.”
The drummer was also the test subject for a decade-spanning study conducted by two British universities. “The Clem Burke Drumming Project” revealed Burke’s heart rate rose to 190 bpm during a concert-length session, and concluded that the activity required a level of stamina comparable to professional athletes.
“I received a doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire, and I’m about to receive another one from Chichester University in October based on the study. It’s something that I’m proud of.”
If You Go: Blondie and The Damned perform at the Grand Ole Opry House on Wednesday, August 24. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets start at $59.50.