* In & Out of the Studio (1991)






DRUM! November/December 1991 Interview by Greg Rule

Kingdom Of Desire Session

It's 2:00 pm, in North Hollywood, California. As the summer sun turns streets into asphalt skillets, residents flock in droves toward the nearest beach, pool, or air-conditioned sanctuary. For those en route to the Power Plant rehearsal complex, however, they're about to discover that the real heat isn't taking place outdoors, but deep within the carpeted walls of Studio #2 where a new, stripped-down incarnation of Toto has taken up temporary residence.

Comprised of Jeff Porcaro on drums, brother Mike on bass, David Paich on keys, and Steve Lukather on guitar/lead vocals, the band is conducting full- blown concert rehearsals and testing new material for their upcoming record. At the far corner of the dimly lit room, just past an on looking Eddie Van Halen and Stuart Hamm, sits Jeff Porcaro, peering at the tribe from behind his glistening set of blue Pearls. Four clicks of his Regal tips ring out, and, like a hammer on the forehead, the band launches into a ferocious instrumental romp. With a cigarette hanging loosely in his mouth, bandanna wrapped around his head, and a menacing Rod Serling lip-grimace on his face, Jeff proceeds to burn like a five-alarm fire. Two hours and ten songs later--capped by a grueling, triple-stroke bass drum workout on the Sly Stone tune, "Higher"--he emerges from behind the pummeled tubs, holding his hip, limping, and laughing. "Man, I'm getting too old for this!" High fives are exchanged and slowly the room clears.

For Jeff, the next stop is Chuck E. Cheese's pizza parlor for his son's five-year birthday party. "See you tomorrow," and off he goes. The next day is, if anything, more intense. With the deadline of an upcoming Ventura Theater warm-up show (I saw this show!) looming nearer, the boys are buckling down.

While Jeff finalizes the art design for the concert tee-shirts, Paich grills the backup vocalists. Lukather, on the other hand, fiendishly recites lewd prose from a tattered paperback (which elicits a chorus of belly-laughter and jeers). Minutes later though, it's back to the grindstone. The band cruises through their monster hits "Hold The Line," "Rosanna," and Africa" before Jeff and percussionist Chris Trujillo rip into a dizzying, syncopated duet. Next come the new tunes, the dark and moody "Kingdom Of Desire" and "On The Run," an up-tempo shuffle.

As the day wears on, the band- members grow increasingly confident with the arrangements and performances. In less than a week the gear will be packed up, loaded onto the trucks, and the tour will officially begin. And so goes the brilliant and ever-blossoming career of L.A.'s top-gun drummer. His chops have never been tastier, as those fortunate enough to catch the '91 tour will attest. For others, however, they can check out Jeff's latest by picking up new discs from Toto, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Richard Marx, and 10CC--not to mention the hundreds of other cuts he's graced.








DRUM! caught up with Jeff amid the rehearsal madness and compiled the following report. DRUM!: What changes, if any, has your drumming gone through over the past couple of years?Jeff: I just keep getting worse. [laughs]

DRUM!: Seriously, at one point you said that you were focusing on developing your left foot.
Jeff: And I still don't have it together, man. It's so hard to find the time. First of all, I'm 37 years old now. I have two kids, another on the way, and I enjoy being a father and a husband. I mean, I could shine all this on and be a farmer--and enjoy life that way. But, don't get me wrong, I do like playing the drums. It's just that I don't get much time to woodshed. Any free time I have away from the family is wrapped up in doing sessions or working with Toto. So I'm finding myself trying to sneak into sessions early so I can have an hour by myself to work on new things, new ideas. But, basically, I'm still trying to refine my time. That's all I think about, still, is time and groove. And I'm still trying to get it right. Really! It's a hard thing.

DRUM!: Listening to some of your earliest tracks, and following through to the present, there's never appeared to be a period when your time wasn't happening.
Jeff: You know, I think I was real fortunate to have been exposed to time at a very early age--especially with my Dad [Joe Porcaro] playing all the time. When I was young and listening to music, I REALLY listened to music. I mean, I wasn't listening to music for the party of it, but for the groove. I was heavy into bebop. It was that cymbal beat "ding ding da-ding, ding da-ding." When that was grooving, when guys like Elvin Jones were walking, that, to me, was time. And so, I find it frustrating because people say, "Yeah man, your time is good." And I go, "Look, I appreciate it." But my ears, over time, have gotten so in tune to listening to time and groove that I get real critical of myself. I can honestly say that, out of all the sessions I've done, there's probably only one where I was satisfied with the way it felt.

DRUM!: Which record are you talking about?

Jeff: The Steely Dan tune "FM," which was just an overdub to a click track. That tune, for whatever reason, just felt the best to me. But I've never been happy, man. It's just so hard for me to listen to stuff I've played on. It just frustrates me.

DRUM!: You've said that you don't consider yourself to be a real drum enthusiast. No drums around the house or anything?
Jeff: Yeah, it's true. A lot of students ask my Dad about me, how often I practice, how I play things and so forth. And, I've got to be honest, my Dad calls me a "street drummer." He taught me when I was about nine years old for two years on and off and that was it. I mean, I never even made it through that first Buddy Rich rudiment book, or whatever. My technique is the worst. People might look at me and say, "You've got good technique," and yeah, okay, if you get to play ten hours a day, six days a week, for the past 20 years like I have then, yeah, you develop some sort of technique. But it's nothing really.

DRUM!: Nonetheless, you've developed some hand and foot things that are definitely worth talking about. For instance, your ability to play double and triple strokes on the bass drum pedal. How did you get it happening?
I tried to copy a beat that I heard a guy do on a record and the only way to do it was to figure out how he was getting a double beat on the bass drum. And I couldn't make it happen by doing two separate beats on the pedal. You can't do that. So the way I made it work was by sliding my foot up the pedal. And it maybe took two years to get it where that action felt natural. [The following fill requires clean double strokes on the bass drum. You can hear Jeff unleash a blazing version on "Animal" from the Toto, Past To Present album.]

DRUM!: How did you get your one-handed, sixteenth note hi-hat technique together?
Jeff: It's something that I learned by watching and listening to other drummers. If you play an R&B thing with sixteenth notes and you switch over to a two-handed thing after a certain tempo, then to me, it becomes a completely different feel. I was used to listening to James Gadson and Ed Green, Marvin Gaye records, all those Motown records. Those grooves sounded like silk, and all those guys did it one-handed. So when I was young and started doing sessions, if someone asked for a sixteenth note groove, then that's the they way I did it. But I used to go nuts because keeping those sixteenth's going without fatigue isn't an easy thing to do. It's just a thing where the more you do it, the better you get at it. Same with shuffles, same with everything. See, I've never played one original thing, ever! And if I did play an orignal thing, I would tell you. But what I like to do when I copy something is to experiment with different accents. Like, when I play a regular dotted-eighth shuffle, for instance, I try to find all the different ways to make it lope.

DRUM!: On the subject of shuffles and lopes, your name seems to have become synonymous with a certain half-time shuffle groove.
Jeff: Sometimes that hurts my feelings, and I'm very serious about this. I've heard it now for too many years where people will say, "Yeah that 'Rosanna' groove, that's the Jeff Porcaro feel." "Rosanna"

DRUM!: But "Rosanna" is just one of many notable grooves you've played. Take "Mushanga" [The Seventh One] for instance.
Well, Steve Gadd had made a trip to PIT to give a clinic, and my father happened to be there. Then, later, my father showed me this fast samba that Steve played for the class. It had to do with an inverted paradiddle. "Mushanga" is basically the sticking from that same thing. Then I added some stuff to it. The tom pattern came from listening to Floyd Sneed of Three Dog Night on the tune "King Solomon's Mines." There were all of these toms going on and that's what I wanted to hear. So that was in my head when I was working on "Mushanga." I'm still waiting for that original idea. "Mushanga"

DRUM!: You've said that when you were cutting "Africa" you made a tape loop. Have you experimented with loops since then? "Africa"
Lots of times. I did a 10CC record in New York several months ago that had this really nice hypnotic thing and I said, "Let's make a loop." And they were like, "What, a loop?" And I said, "Yeah, like the old days." And the problem was that we couldn't find an analog machine that didn't have all these computer things on it. Most of these new analog machines now can't do tape loops unless you disconnect a bunch of electronics. So they said, "How do you do it?" And I said, "Let me go out there, play to a click, and I'm just going to play bass drum, cross stick, and hi-hat for 16 bars. Then I'll pick my best two bars. We'll rewind the tape and start it four bars before that section. I'll start overdubbing some percussion, some cowbell, shaker, a little tom part, a conga part and then loop it all." Then, on the downbeat of the loop, I played this big revolutionary-type rope drum. It was a huge, like 20" x 20" drum. And the room at Bearsville was just big enough for us to place the room mics just right so that we got a natural sixteenth note delay happening, without using digital effects. It was almost the way Bonham used to do it--that stone hallway he used to record in.

DRUM!: Let's talk about some of your other sessions for a moment. The direct-to-disk record James Newton Howard & Friends must have been an incredible challenge?
Those are very high-pressure records because you can't screw up. Say, if you have five songs on one side and you mess up song five, then you have to start all over again. And there's no rest in between tunes. If the first tune is a burner in 7/8, then you've got the amount of time between songs on an album to A, change your music if you're reading, and B, just get yourself psyched up for the next tune which is a waltz with brushes. You know what it's like when you're playing real hard to make a quick switch to a slower tempo-- your hands are still shaking from the intensity from the track before. It's tough.

DRUM!: Approximately how many sessions do you think you've done?
Jeff: Last year a British publishing company put out an encyclopedia of music which had a listing of musicians and the records they'd played on. I had quite a few, but it was probably actually only half of what I'd played on. A lot of stuff never even gets released. Probably half the stuff that anybody does never sees the light of day, it's on some shelf somewhere.

DRUM!: Do you try and keep a copy of each record at home for posterity?
No. I used to do that, but not any more. I'll be in the car and hear something on the radio and say "Oh, this is cool." And someone will say, "Yeah man, that's you on that track." You forget sometimes. A lot of people think that you spend six months in the studio with an artist. But no, most of the time it's not like that. You walk in one day, see a chart, play the tune, and then split. And lots of times you'll forget what the tune even was.

DRUM!: Have you ever done a session where your drum sounds were later replaced with bad samples or something of that nature?
Yeah, not so much where they've raped it, but stuff where they later on triggered other samples or gated everything. I hate gates. You're not hearing the little ghost notes and all the little breathing. It's the in-between stuff, for me, that gives you the groove. You strip that stuff away and you've got nothing. You've got boom-chank-boom-chank. So, that doesn't happen too often, but when it does, I keep it in mind next time I get called to do a project with that person.

DRUM!: What advice would you give to a drummer getting ready for his or her first session?
Jeff: Basically, try not to think too much. Because your playing starts to sound like thinking. It's funny, I've seen some guys get really hung up thinking too much about the music. People should be more honest with themselves. People need to relax and have fun. When you get your first studio call, you'd better not play any of the crap you've been rehearsing or reading out of books. You'd better just play time. Period! Really good time. And make it tasty. And have dynamics, listen to the lyrics of the song, and be there as a timekeeper. If someone calls on you to pull a trick or two out of your hat, then cool. But basically, that producer, that engineer, that arranger, or that singer, they aren't drummers. They're not going, "Wow man, dig how cool that cat's playing." They're saying, "Dig how cool that groove is." They only know groove and time. They don't know that you have a nice wrist or you're doing nice things with your fingers and stuff like that. ! ! ! ! ! ! Two months later, the scene shifts to the posh recording studios of A&M in downtown Hollywood. With the band back from a hugely successful European tour, it's track-cutting time.

Let's Hear A Word from Dad, Joe Porcaro!
Like Father, Like Son
Modern Drummer Interview 1978
MD: Where are you origianlly from?JOE: I was born in New Britain, Connecticut, which is about fifteen miles from Hartford.

MD: How did you first get interested in drumming?JOE: My father was a drummer in an Italian symphonic band, those bands that used to march in the street. My father played the snare drum. I used to go along with him, and learned to read music from a friend who played the clarinet. I hadn't studied at all at that point because I was playing and marching with my father, learning by ear. I was just playing snare drum, and when I moved to Hartford I joined the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization). We wanted to get a jazz group going, but I hadn't yet played on a drum set. The first time I played on a set was when a friend of my father's left his set at the house. I set them up one day when my father went to work and started wailing away, but I broke the head. I hid it under the bed, (laughter). I was about 9 years old. Finally, we got the band started and one of the priests played piano. Emil Richards, a well-known percussionist here in L.A. was there and played the xylophone.

MD: What kind of drum equipment were you using back then?
JOE: My first set consisted of a bass drum from the bugle corps, a field drum mounted on the bass drum acting as a tom-tom, and another field drum for a snare. We also used the cymbals from the drum corps. That was my first set of drums. In fact, Louis Bellson played on that set. Our church was next to the State Theatre in Hartford where all the bands came through. There was a playground next to the theatre where all the neighborhood kids would hang out, and when the name bands came in, they would see us playing softball. All the bands had softball teams back in those days and they'd play us on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. The singer in the CYO band went back stage in the theatre one time, and got Louie to go to the rehearsal hall. He was very young, and had just joined the Tommy Dorsey band. That was a wild experience for me, watching Louie play on that funky old drum set.

MD: Speaking of Tommy Dorsey, I see your name here on his album cover.
JOE: The Dorsey band was the very first band I went on the road with. I was only with him a couple of months. From there I joined Bobby Hackett's quartet. I was also the house drummer in a jazz club in Hartford, so I got a chance to play with a lot of great people. This club would bring in people like Zoot Simms, Freddie Hubbard, and Donald Byrd.

MD: What about formal instruction?
JOE: I was self-taught until I turned sixteen. Then I realized my real ambition was to make it as a drummer, so I took a few lessons. I studied with a guy named Bob Shields, who was the drummer at the State Theatre. We worked strickly on reading, and playing the snare drum. Later, I met Al Lepak, and it was a whole new ball game with him. He had a system of working on rudiments that was very complete. He's the head of the percussion department at the University of Hartford, and turned out a lot of great players. He's responsible for me being here, along with Emil Richards, Bob Zimmitti, Rich Lapore, and a lot of others. Al made musicians out of us. I was with the Hartford Symphony, and played almost every opera that had ever been written. But, my major ambition was drum set. Eventually, that CYO thing developed into a sixteen- piece big band. We'd play all of the big band charts. When I was sixteen and seventeen, I'd rehearse with a lot of the big bands around town, and jam every Sunday afternoon. There were a couple of black clubs where we'd go to jam and sit in during the week. That's where I fist met Horace Silver.

MD: Of all your early musical experiences, where do you think you gained the most?
JOE: I really think I learned a lot as house drummer in that jazz club, working a whole summer with pianist Jaki Byard. He taught me an awful lot. He moved on to play with Maynard Ferguson and did some teaching at Berklee.

MD: What brought you out to Los Angeles?JOE: I wanted to go further musically. I knew Emil Richards was living and working out here. He had come back to Connecticut and rapped to me about L.A. Of course, when you're a musician and you keep working at it, you try to become the best you can and you want to be where it's happening musically. The way Emil talked, it just seemed like L.A. was the place to be especially with the demand for studio work. We came here in 1968. The guy upstairs must have really been taking care of me, because when I got here I had no trouble getting work. The first year I was in L.A. I made more money than I'd made in five years back in Connecticut. But it stemmed back to the experience I'd had back there; playing jazz, symphonic, operas, summer music theaters, everything. I wouldn't have had the chance to develop that much in the big city with all the competition.

MD: Do your current experiences require you to read a lot of music?
JOE: Sure. Having played all sorts of repertoire as a member of the Hartford Symphony for severnteen years I feel confident reading. When I came here I was ready for just about anything. But let's face it, you never learn everything. I still come across things that are mind boggling. I remember Emil showing me some figures that Frank Zappa layed on them for a record session. Figures I had never seen before. And I thought I had seen it all. We learn every day.

MD: Do you still manage to find time for practice?
JOE: Oh sure. It's hard to do it every day because of the studio demands, but certainly when I have a day off. I have some hand warm-up exercises that I do, and I try to listen a lot. I try to get to the clubs where my kids are playing, as well as others. I think it's very important to keep up with what's happening.

MD: Any preferences in drum equipment?JOE: No, I just use whatever equipment comes through the house here. I use Ludwig drums in the studios. Of the new equipment I've seen, fiberflass is great for live playing. It really projects. I even like the sound it produces in the studios. But, I prefer wood drums. It's a warmer sound. I don't really make too much out of drums. I hear of companies making 4-ply shells and 6-ply shells. Truthfully, it doesn't make that much difference to me. Oh, I suppose the trend toward multiple drum set-ups is OK for the contemporary rock stuff, but for jazz playing, I don't think it makes any difference.

MD: You use the matched grip?JOE: Yeah. I started out with the traditional grip, but changed over because I play mallets a lot. Since I hold the sticks matched for mallets, I decided to go all one way. I try to influence my students that way, but I don't force them. I can teach either way.

MD: Have you gotten into the electronic thing at all?
JOE: No, not at all. Jeff has, but I haven't. I'm not really that interested, plus it's much too complicated for me. But I'll tell you, the more I see it, the more I'm beginning to understand it. Who knows, someday I may give it a try.

MD: How do you view the drummer's role in any musical setting, solo or ensemble?
JOE: I'm not really wild about solos, but if a drum solo is musical, it can be beautiful. People say a particular solo was "too technical", but I like to see the virtuosity of the player. At the same time, I like to hear solos that are musical. One of the best solos I ever heard was by Philly Jo Jones, who is one of my favorite drummers. He did a tune on his own album called Salt Peanuts, which I thought was a gem. Max Roach did a gorgeous solo on the same tune recorded live in Canada with Charlie Parker. I've also heard some beautiful solos by Buddy and Louie, too. In regards to ensemble playing, I like to feel I'm the backbone of the rhythm section but I don't want to be a drummer who just keeps time for everybody. It all depends on what the rest of the rhythm section is like. When everybody is playing time the same way, I like to get loose and stretch out a little bit.

MD: Are there any new young drummers you particularly enjoy listening to?JOE: Harvey Mason, for what's going on today. And Steve Gadd is really way up there for me. I love what he does. John Guerin. And, my son Jeff. I really like to hear him live. He's very exciting to watch. He gets into a little show thing sometimes, but he's got a lot happening for him musically.

MD: Have you been doing any clinics?
JOE: I've done a few clinics, but I really don't like to do them. I try to get into basic things for the kids. So many guys are doing clinics nowadays. I try to show them the things they don't get from the others. Mostly basic stuff. We have an educational project that might be happening here in correlation with the Guitar Institute of Technology run by Howard Roberts and Pat Hicks. They've approached Emil Richards to come up with a staff for a west coast percussion school with the same type of format they have with students going to college. Emil and I are trying to make it happen, and if it does, it will be one of the best schools anywhere. We're going to go all out. It will be a complete percussion school where a drummer will be able to get the best education possible. It's essential that young students study with a teacher who will show him the basics. It's important to be in an environment where you have to play everything.

MD: What else are you involved in musically at the present?
JOE: Mostly TV serials. Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Wonder Woman, Baretta. There's a Movie of the Week with the Fonz coming out that I'm playing on. I also did Hawaii Five-O, and Medical Center last year. I'm very happy with the work in the studios out here. I think I've reached the plateau. As far as I'm concerned, I'm doing everything I've ever wanted to do in music.