Clem Burke talks about the Opry House shutdown

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Blondie once played at the Ryman Auditorium, and it was a gas – so new wave legends are coming back to Nashville to play in an even bigger historic venue.

The Debbie Harry-led Rock and Roll Hall of Fame act will bring his “Against All Odds” Visit to the Grand Ole Opry House August 24. With guitarist Chris Stein currently off the road due to health issues, there is only one other member of the band’s classical lineup to join Harry on stage: Clem Burke.

The 67-year-old has been Blondie’s drummer since 1975, joining shortly after they formed. 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 called The Tennessean earlier this month, he had just returned from the UK where he had been recording songs for a rock opera he hopes to bring to London’s West End.

But first, he’s back in Blondie’s business. Burke told us about their latest tour and upcoming box set, studied for science and even sat down with a Blondie tribute act.

Clem Burke (second from left) has been drumming for Blondie since 1975.

The past, present and future of Blondie

“The show as we have it now is kind of based on the fact that (the band), especially Debbie, doesn’t really like to look back,” Burke said.

Fortunately, the setlists we looked at are filled with all the hits a big crowd could ask for, but “given we have the ‘Against The Odds’ archive box coming out, it seemed more fitting to do some of the older, deeper cuts.” (The 124-track collection arrives August 26.)

Nashville may get lucky and get the likes of “X Offender” and “Shayla,” along with selections from their latest album, 2017’s “Pollinator.”

Our records indicate that Blondie never came to Nashville on their original 70s-80s tour. They eventually made their Music City debut in 2004, playing the “Dancin’ In The District” concert series, and returned to play at the Ryman Auditorium in 2013.

Burke fondly remembers that last gig – amused that they could to cover “Hollywood Babylon” from the Misfits with special guest Cheetah Chrome at the Mother Church of Country Music.

This concert was immortalized earlier this year, when the venue was named a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame landmark. Blondie is among the Ryman alumni featured on the plaque alongside Hank Williams, Elvis and Bob Dylan, “which is amazing,” Burke said.

“We are really happy to be part of it.”

Debbie Harry performs with Blondie to a packed crowd on the Mountain Avenue stage during Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest on Saturday August 11, 2018.

He played drums for everyone, even “Bootleg Blondie”

“I like working with other bands, people who are my friends, and it also keeps my spirits up.”

This included a stint with the Go-Gos (“I was the nicest guy in the bunch,” Burke jokes) that culminated in a concert at the Crypto.com Arena in LA this last spring. But his most surprising recent gig might be the moment he went on tour with “Bootleg Blondie”, a young tribute act in the UK, in 2019.

“Although it was somewhat controversial with some members of my band, as well as some of my friends, it was really enjoyable for me,” Burke said. “…They really honor the legend of the original Blondie and they do a great job. And it was nice to connect with the fans afterwards.”

Blondie performs to a packed crowd on the Mountain Avenue stage during Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest on Saturday August 11, 2018.

Paging Dr. Burke

The drummer was also the subject of a decade-long study by two British universities. “The Clem Burke Drum Project” revealed that Burke’s heart rate increased to 190 bpm during a concert session and concluded that the activity required a level of endurance comparable to that of professional athletes.

“I received a doctorate from the University of Gloucestershire, and I am about to receive another from the University of Chichester in October based on the study. It is something I am proud.”

If you are going to: 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.

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