In a new interview with Troy Patrick Farrell of the weekly live “This That And The Other” radio show, MR. BIG singer Eric Martin spoke about the band’s ongoing last worldwide tour, aptly titled “The BIG Finish”. Since the band’s original drummer and co-founder Pat Torpey lost his battle with Parkinson’s disease in 2018, the band now feels it’s time to mark the end of this chapter of their legacy. The first leg kicked off in Japan and Southeast Asia in July and August, where the band performed for hundreds of thousands of loyal fans at 11 sold-out shows including Budokan in Tokyo, Japan. Now MR. BIG is ready to bring “The BIG Finish” to the U.S. The first batch of shows throughout the States will start January 12, 2024 in Houston, Texas at the Rise Rooftop. Joining MR. BIG on drums for this special final world tour is longtime friend of the band Nick D’Virgilio (SPOCK’S BEARD, BIG BIG TRAIN),stepping in for Torpey.
Asked why he and his bandmates feel that now is the time to officially pull the plug on MR. BIG, Eric told “This That And The Other”: “Well, I really didn’t wanna end it. I think we’re gonna be done with it. I would just keep the door open forever. I didn’t wanna ever end something. I hate the end of anything, but Pat Torpey is not there anymore. And that’s kind of taking the wind out of the sails. He was the anchor of the band. And Nick D’Virgilio is a great replacement. He’s phenomenal drummer. He sings just like Pat. Nick‘s great. But everybody has so many other projects. I don’t. I really like the MR. BIG project… I have a couple of irons in the fire. But, yeah, it’s over. To me, it’s kind of a bummer. But it’s time. It’s been 35 fucking years, man.”
Martin went on to say that it “feels great” to have a drummer in MR. BIG who can not only reproduce Torpey‘s parts on the band’s classic songs but who also has the voice to harmonize with him during MR. BIG‘s live shows.
“No offense to Matt [Starr],” Eric said, referencing the drummer who played with MR. BIG for four years prior to Torpey‘s passing. “I thought Matt Starr was great. He was fine. The thing about Matt is that he came when Pat just couldn’t do it anymore. He had this little cocktail kit on the side and he would play drums with us once in a while. Matt did it. It was just too soon for me. I wasn’t ready to give up Pat Torpey. And when Matt did it, Matt has his own style. He’s more like a John Bonham. He’s not a Pat Torpey, and I was looking for somebody to play exactly like Pat, because I could. I wanted it, and I was really bummed that Pat couldn’t do it anymore. And Matt did it, and he did a fine job for us. We sounded like a different MR. BIG. Pat Torpey has this finessey kind of things, and he’s like Steve Gadd meets Vinnie Colaiuta meets maybe like a John Bonham. But Matt has got that form, heavy rock [approach], but there’s a lot of finesse in the MR. BIG style — you know, ‘Colorado Bulldog’ and all that. And Matt did a great job; he really did. But then, after Matt, we didn’t do anything. COVID thing, Pat passed away first, actually. And then nothing happened. And then when we were gonna get another drummer, we wanted to do a different style — not a different style, but we wanted to find somebody new that could play exactly like Pat. And that’s what we found in Nick. He’s got the same chops and the incredible voice. Matt can sing too. I mean, he was great. But I’m just letting the folks know out there, there’s no bad blood between Matt Starr and MR. BIG or me or anything like that. He’s killer.”
Regarding the possibility of MR. BIG making a new album as the follow-up to 2017’s “Defying Gravity”, Eric said: “We’re doing it now. We’re working on it now. [MR. BIG guitarist] Paul Gilbert and I — I’ve been going back and forth to Portland, Oregon, where Paul lives, and we’ve been writing and recording everything. And so far, I wanna say, [we have] 10, 13 songs so far. And Billy‘s [Sheehan, MR. BIG bassist] got one that he just brought in. And Nick — we said, ‘Hey, Nick, if you’ve got any tunes, man, throw it our way.’ And he’s got four songs that are pretty good.”
In an April 2023 interview with Border City Rock Talk, D’Virgilio spoke about how he landed the gig as MR. BIG‘s new touring drummer, five years after the passing of the band’s co-founder, Pat Torpey. The 55-year-old Nick, who has spent the last nine years working for the Indiana-based online retailer of music instruments and audio gear Sweetwater, said: “It stemmed through Sweetwater. I’ve known Paul [Gilbert]; Paul was the one guy I knew most. I met Pat, and I met Billy — Gosh — at a music trade show back in the day. And I was definitely a fan of the band. I listened to a lot of Pat‘s drumming way before I ever met him in person. But at Sweetwater, we do a lot of recording workshops and we get artists in to come and people pay to come to the studio and hang in the studio with the artists that come in. Paul does it quite a bit; he’s been there a bunch. Billy was there a while back as well, but Paul‘s been there a number of times. And I’ve been able to play as his rhythm section for these recording workshops. And I also had Paul play on a song on my solo record called ‘Invisible’ that I put out in 2020. Through all of this stuff, we got to just jamming some more stuff. And I know Paul through Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse and a lot of circles of musicians. After the last thing we did at Sweetwater, Paul just sent me an e-mail and asked if I would be interested in going on tour with MR. BIG in Asia. Now, this was [in] July , when he first sent me the e-mail, so nine, 10 months ago or so. And I immediately said ‘yes’. I think I said ‘fuck yes’, all in bold letters… So then I went sort of hog wild here in my studio and I videotaped and multi-tracked my drums. I kind of just went hog wild, sending back these demos of me playing and then singing all the parts. So I sang the lead vocal, and then I sang Pat‘s parts too. Since [it was an] audition, I figured I’d put my best foot forward. Long story short, they said, ‘Yeah, we’d love to do it. And you’re in,’ basically. So that’s kind of how it all happened. It came out of the blue.”
As a session musician and touring artist, Nick has worked with many different kinds of artists and bands, from TEARS FOR FEARS, Sheryl Crow and Kevin Gilbert to Peter Gabriel and Eric Burdon and the ANIMALS. In 1996, Nick took Phil Collins‘s place in GENESIS and played on their “Calling All Stations” album. He has also carved out a major presence in the progressive rock world with his bands, SPOCK’S BEARD and BIG BIG TRAIN.
Before joining the Sweetwater team, Nick spent almost five years touring with Cirque Du Soleil‘s “Totem” as drummer, vocalist, and assistant bandleader.
When D’Virgilio‘s addition to MR. BIG was first announced in March 2023, Sheehan said in a statement: “We found a wonderful drummer in Nick, and he’s got a great voice too. Nick has a vocal range similar to Pat‘s, and he’ll be able to do the parts Pat did with a similar finesse. It’s a big relief because MR. BIG has always been heavy on the harmonies. When the band began, we really relied on each other. We knew each guy would do exactly what he needed to do vocally and to do it righteously, on key, and in time. It’s difficult to find a drummer who sings in that range, but Nick has the voice we really need onstage.”
Gilbert concurred, saying: “Nick gets close to the spirit of Pat Torpey. Billy, Eric [Martin, vocals] and I have been really happy with the music we’ve already shared back and forth. I’m impressed with Nick‘s level of musical adaptability and breadth of skill. He and I have done some recording together, and I was blown away with his groove, and how he just played what fit the song. If the song requires him to be more progressive and stand out, he will stand out. But if the song requires him to groove, he will groove. That’s actually a rare thing, and it really fits in with what we do in MR. BIG.”
Martin added: “I love the fact that Nick was a fan of Pat Torpey and wants to keep our BIG sound intact. When I first saw his audition demo video of the ‘Lean Into It’ song ‘Lucky This Time’, Nick was playing drums with those signature Pat snare hits and singing harmonies spot on to what Pat used to do. It gave me goosebumps!! I am so thrilled to have this man who will be filling some mighty BIG shoes join us on our last tour.”
MR. BIG‘s final tour sees the band performing the entirety of its breakthrough platinum-selling 1991 album “Lean Into It” from start to finish as a featured highlight of the live setlist.