MD 1988

November 1988
I'm driving in my car, thinking about what
I'm going to write about Jeff Porcaro. The
volume of the radio is nearly off while my
mind is preoccupied, but suddenly I'm
prompted to turn the music up. What I've
heard, almost subliminally, is a groove that
feels so good. I laugh when I realize it's Boz
Scaggs' "Lowdown," and the subject of my
preoccupation is playing drums. I know that I
heard that drum track from an almost
inaudible radio because I couldn't not hear it.
The song ends, and I change the station. The
next song that blares from my speakers is
"Pamela, "from the newest Toto album, The
Seventh One. It's that feel again, and it
becomes obvious that that's what I want to
convey about Jeff Porcaro.

Hours later, I'm sitting in a restaurant. In the
midst of a conversation with a friend,
something I can barely hear in the
background catches my attention. It's "Georgie
Porgie"from Toto's first album, and I wonder
why I haven't noticed any other music that's
been played in the restaurant all night. Maybe
it has to do with the fact that no one plays a
groove like Jeff. If you've ever seen him play
live, you know it's because he commits his
body and soul to FEEL THE MUSIC!

He'll laugh when he reads this, and I wish I
could convey his contagious laugh with words.
He's been playing professionally since he was
17, when he left high school to tour with Sonny
& Cher, then graduating to one of the more
musically hip gigs around—Steely Dan. Then
he became one of the most employed session
players, working for the full spectrum of artists.
He'll laugh at the accolades because he simply
doesn't—or won't—acknowledge his special

In my 1983 interview with Jeff, he made one
of the most ludicrous statements anyone has
ever uttered: "My time sucks." Yeah, right. But
leff would rather compliment someone he digs
than talk about why people dig him. His modesty
doesn't allow him to wear attention well,
and he insists that his playing is just a stolen
combination of influences. What he overlooks
is that he has synthesized those influences into
a style that is all his own. He may have absorbed
his hems' playing, but what has been
born is an amalgamation that is combined with
his own vital, vibrant, emotional personality—
the animated way he expresses himself verbally,
the sensitivity he possesses as a human
being, the lack of pretense, and his omnipresent
vulnerability. All of that is infused in his
performance as a musician and creates that
sound that makes me feel a drum track he's
played before I can identify the song.

RF: According to Toto's bio, the new album
was done differently than the past albums in
that it was done live. Is that true?
JP: Somewhat true. The first thing different was
that we had coproducers that we worked well
with. Toto has always produced their own records,
but then we're worried about the technical
end, the control room, the engineering, the
making of work tapes, and on and on to the
mastering of the record. That takes up a lot of
time. Plus, when you're producing yourself, you
listen to the track as a band. Maybe the track is
burnin', and it feels good, but maybe I'm listening to it and
thinking, "I know I could have done a little bit better on that
bridge." But I look around and everyone else is quite satisfied, and it is satisfactory, so I'm not going to cause waves by saying, "Let me do another one." I know through experience everyone is going to say, "Man, it sounds great," and we move on, because we're too kind to each other.
On this album, we had Billy Payne and George Massenburg,
who we'd all worked with before and respect highly. So if we cut
that same track, Billy or George might say, "Ah Jeff, try to do that thing you did earlier on the bridge," and we'll go out and do another one. The reason we would do another one is because we
did this album as artists. We weren't worried about all the technical things.
RF: Does it work the other way, too, where you tend to scrutinize
too much, and the producer might say, "I think it's cool the way it is"?
JP: That has happened, too, and that's also what they were there
for. They were there to push the potential to what it should be.
We still tried to arrange, dictate the sounds somewhat, and get the feel we wanted. But back to live recording, when we did this album, we tried to do as much rhythm section—bass, guitar, keyboards, and drums— in the studio, with live vocal, as possible. This is the first album we've done where we've heard a vocal going on while we cut. On a couple of songs—for instance, "A Thousand Years" and "These Chains"—I actually listened to the demo cassettes through headphones while I recorded the drum tracks. It was like playing along to a record, which I did when I was learning how to play. I did that on those particular tunes because the demos were great, the two guys were singing, so it was definitely the right tempo, and the production of the demos was such that I heard all the parts. So I played along. The only other track that's not live is "You Got Me." That track was a demo that David wrote for Whitney Houston. We heard the song and said, "We should do this in Toto." The song felt great; it was all electronics, drum machine, and stuff, and we decided to add real drums, percussion, real horns, guitar, etc.
RF: The tune "Farenheit" was pretty machine-oriented.
JP: There were two tunes on that album that were Synclavier
drums, and the rest was real drums. "Farenheit" was half Synclavier, and the choruses were real drums.
RF: How electronic are you these days?
JP: Less and less and less and less and less.
JP: I'm not particularly keen about them—how they are as instruments
to play or their sounds. A lot of people are very excited and
think their sounds are cool, but it's all very Mattel Toy to me. I still like acoustic drums in a big room, and I feel I can match any sample by playing drums in a proper room with proper recording, proper outboard gear, gates, AMS's, and all sorts of digital things. You can process real drums on the spot and they'll sound just as good as any of the electronic crap around.
RF: Don't you use Dynacord electronic drums?
JP: Yeah, I use Dynacords for a couple of things. I don't trigger
Dynacord from my real drums much. Live, instead of setting up a
bunch of timbales and gongs, I'll use the Dynacord gong and its
gated timbales.
RF: Like on what?
JP: "Africa," the "Dune Theme," "Mushanga," and a couple of
things. On this particular tour I won't be using it. Luis Conte will be using my Dynacord stuff and performing those bits of information for us. My brother Steve just produced a couple of tracks for Fernando Saunders, the bass player. We did it at David Paich's studio, where I played my whole Dynacord set. I've done it sometimes for people, but it doubly goes to show me that nothing is as versatile as a real drumset and a human being.
RF: When we did our last interview, machinery was running
JP: Was I into them then?
RF: You were more into the fantasy of what they could be, because
it was just starting.
JP: And I kept looking at them, saying, "You're light years away
from where you should be."
RF: But we were talking about being able to phone in a part in
perfect time. In our article "Drum Machines, Friend or Foe," you
said, and I quote, "I see a future of walking into a studio with a briefcase full of my own sounds—all different kinds of sounds.
They will be electronically perfect. I can put them in a Linn
machine, or whatever is available in the future, and play like I
always play."
JP: It still hasn't happened. Samples have happened, but what I
saw potentially back then was something that you could play as a
player, and be able to have your own sounds. That will happen in
the future. But it has to be something with all the beauty of
playing—meaning it's a physical thing, a dynamic thing. When
my mind and my body say, "Man, slam it," that has to come off. If
they can duplicate what happens with a real acoustic drum, yeah.
Nobody's got real dynamics yet. I've heard at the most five increments, and everybody's joking themselves if they think there's more than that. Electronic stuff is cool in its place, but for me personally, it's still like the old days. When I first got Syndrums, I used them on four records: a Boz Scaggs record [Down Two, Then Left], a Diana Ross record, a Leo Sayer record [Thunder In My Heart], and Carly Simon's "Nobody Does It Better," which was the first record out with Syndrums on it. I did those four records in a one-month period. Right after that I saw a Ford commercial with Syndrums, and I threw up my hands and said, "Okay, that's it." As soon as you hear something on a TV commercial, it's Mattel. It's a toy.
RF: In the studio, do you see a swing back to acoustic drums?
JP: Oh yes, I definitely do. First of all, a lot of people thought we'd save time by programming drums—that they are efficient.
RF: That isn't true?
JP: I don't think that's true. I've gotten a lot of calls in the past two years where people wanted me to replace drum machines. Then they went back to just using clicks. Then they would say, "Let's get a rhythm section." Studio owners have been tearing down the walls of their 200-square-foot rooms for synthesizers to build 1,500-square-foot rooms for live drums again. At least around here I've been seeing that a lot. It's not cost efficient, either. They thought, "I don't have to pay a lousy drummer no more; I can program stuff." But it takes people hours and hours to do that, when a capable drummer can record as many songs in a day and a half as it would take a week to program. And it'll feel better and won't sound like every other record on the radio.
RF: Are you as negative about electronics as you're coming off to
JP: They're just not my cup of tea. I react to sounds from electronics as I do to fireworks at Disneyland. I go, "Wow, that was great," but fireworks at Disneyland are not anything like seeing a meteor explode—hearing a real snare drum and the beauty of the drum. If it's a tune where you don't want any dynamics out of the drummer, yes, electronics are cool. You can get some pretty far-out electronic sounds, but for me and the music I do, and for my career, gigs come up 10% of the time where I have the opportunity to use those things.

RF: What does your set look like these days?
JP: A standard set. I guess Pearl is calling my set the jazz-style drums. When I went to a photo session, it was with a set of drums that weren't mine. When I got there, I said, "The toms seem deep; these aren't my sizes." They said, "These are the standard sizes."

They explained that, in the past couple of years, the power-tom
sizes became their standard drum. They have the super power
toms, but the standard drums that have been around since the '20s
and '30s, they call the jazz drums now. So when you see pictures
of me behind a drumset in an ad, it's deceiving. It's my setup, but those aren't my sizes. I use Pearl jazz-size toms, 10", 12", 13", and 14" and 16" floor toms, an 18 x 22 bass drum, a Pearl piccolo snare, a Pearl standard-size metal snare, and I have a Ludwig Black Beauty and a 6 1/2" regular Ludwig metal snare drum.
RF: I know you endorse Paiste Cymbals. What hi-hats do you
favor, since that's one of your trademarks?
JP: I have several pairs I like. I have a pair of 602 Paistes that I'm in love with. I have a pair of 13" Zildjians—a Z on the bottom and a K on top. One of my favorite pairs is an old, old, old A Zildjian 14" on top and an Italian Tosco on the bottom that has four quarter-inch holes drilled around the bell and two sets
of rivets on each north, south, east, and west
point on the bottom cymbal. They're incredible.
This Tosco is real thick, but very brittle—
not a lot of harmonics on the bottom. That
combination worked out great. I got the Tosco
cymbal when I was in Italy with Toto.
RF: Was work on the hi-hat something you
concentrated on as a kid?
JP: No. It was probably the last instrument to
come into my repertoire of drum instruments. If
it had been important to me or I had studied
the hi-hat or paid special attention to the hi-hat
in general, it would have been easier. This
year, I'm finally comfortable playing quarter
notes on the hi-hat through a whole tune or
through a whole groove. See, I was never taught
that way, so my foot would stay still._l was
taught to chick the hi-hat on 2 and 4 from old
bebop records, and everything else involved
playing the hi-hat closed or a little bit swishy
open. I used to listen to all those Sly Stone
records with Greg Errico, and I loved his hi-hat
stuff, and the guy who took over for him, Andy
Newmark. I stole a lot of hi-hat stuff from those
two guys, plus David Garibaldi and Bernard

RF: So you did think about it?
JP: I thought as much about it as I did bass
drum and snare drum stuff. I'm talking about
during this period when I was really picking up
stuff. Pre-disco R&B stuff had a lot of hi-hat
happening. Funk had a lot of nice hi-hat stuff
going on, like David Garibaldi and the Tower
Of Power stuff. But what I never realized or
never heard or had the ears to hear, was that
Bernard always kept quarter notes, 8th notes,
or even 16th notes going on the hi-hat with his
foot—sometimes loud or sometimes real tight
and short—while he was playing 16ths or 8ths
or whatever on top. This didn't become obvious
to me until I got out into the real world and
saw a lot more drummers playing. And when I
would try to do that...I'm not the most ambidextrous
type guy, so coordination with my
feet would be real funny. John Guerin does
stuff with his foot that blew my mind.
Tony Williams would blow my mind, so
then I'd go, "Gee Jeff, you've got to learn
at least how to play quarter notes. Oh
yeah, this helps my time if I keep quarter
notes going while I'm filling. Good idea,
Jeff." I didn't realize that until I was 21
years old. By the time I got to be 25 and
26 there were Vinnie Colaiuta and all
these guys whose hi-hat technique and
ability was incredible. So the only thing
I ever woodshed if I'm sitting at a set of
drums is doing quarter notes with my
left foot.
RF: Back to The Seventh One. What are
your favorite tracks?
JP: I like them all, I really do. I think
each one stands on its own merits.
RF: Did you have particular fun on any
of them?
JP: I had fun on "Mushanga" because,
walking into the studio, I knew what the
thing was going to be, but I wanted to
think of a new beat for me—something
different. I didn't want one of those situations
where, after I heard what I did, it
ends up that I stole it or I'd heard it before in some sort of context. It was fun doing that beat. Now that I know it, I wish we could cut the track again. It was one of those things where I had to figure out the sticking a certain way; there are no overdubs.
RF: Can you explain the beat?
JP: No, this beat of all beats you cannot explain, [laughs] It's
impossible. I sat for an hour trying to explain it to my dad, and he was cracking up because it involves hitting every drum, the rim, the head, the hi-hat, and it's all this split-hand stuff. It's basically a simple thing once you do it, but it's confusing to figure out for the first time—at least for me. And as soon as I got it, it was, "Quick, let's cut the track." We just cut it with David and me, and I went into a trance and tried to remember it, because a lot of it had to do with me just getting comfortable with my sticking. The track came out great, but then after we cut it, I finally got the beat down and started adding more things, like playing quarter notes on the hi-hat and things like that. And I like "These Chains," but that's because it's exactly a ripoff of Bernard Purdie doing "Home At Last" on Aja. It's not exactly the same beat, but that was the sole inspiration, just like with "Rosanna." I like "Stay Away" a lot, the rock 'n' roll thing with Linda Ronstadt, and I like "Anna" a lot, and the whole damn album.
RF: The bio also says that there has been sort of a re-commitment
to the band, and that you guys are taking less session work in
order to spend your energies here. Is that accurate?
JP: Every day that anything is needed for Toto, we're all committed to being here for what we need to do—whether that means touring, making a record, writing, or whatever. Any time in between is up to each individual guy to do what he wants to do with it. Me, I've always done a lot of sessions, and I still do. I've got to admit it, I do sessions. Other guys in Toto have been writing more. When I wake up, I don't get inspired to spend a day or a week writing; that talent is not a natural thing in me. But when I wake up in the morning, I'm tapping my foot, so it's nice if I have a studio to go to so I can play some drums.
RF: I want to go through a list of songs and have you tell me how
you came up with the groove and the patterns, and what was the
inspiration and the approach.
JP: It's hard for me to remember that stuff, but I'll do the best I can.

RF: Do you remember "Your Gold Teeth II" (Steely Dan)?
JP: Oh yeah! I definitely recall "Your Gold Teeth II." It was written in 6/8, 3/8, and 9/8; that is the way the bar phrases were written for us. It was Chuck Rainey, me, and Michael Omartian for the basic tracking session. We ran it down once, and all of us thought, "Wow, this is going to be unbelievable," especially me, because I was 21 and I wasn't the most experienced bebop player—and I am of the same mind today. When I heard "Gold Teeth II," the first reaction in my nervous little body was, "I am the wrong guy; I should not be here," knowing the kind of tune and knowing those guys real well. They weren't really aware of a lot of drummers back then, but they were aware of Jim Gordon, and I thought Gordon could do a better job playing that. He was more experienced at getting a better feel. I was very nervous about it. Fortunately, the whole rhythm section had a bitch of a time. This was my first sight-reading.
RF: It's a hard song.
JP: Not only that. You say, "Okay, it's a big band...," but it's not a big band. It's a little quartet composition, and the phrasing of thelyrics also had to swing. Fagen did the perfect thing. We lived near each other, and we would hang out and listen to Charlie Mingus together. He gave me some Mingus album with Dannie Richmond on drums, and he said, "Listen to this for two days before coming to the studio." So I listened to Dannie Richmond and tried to copy a couple of things he was doing and copy a couple of things that I had heard my dad play. There was this Mingus vibe to the rhythm of the song. I remember that everybody had such a hard time that we would record other Steely Dan songs, and every night before we'd leave, we'd play "Gold Teeth II" once. I think it was about the fifth or seventh night of a four-week tracking date that we got the track of "Gold Teeth II." Next?    

RF: "Lowdown" (Boz Scaggs).
JP: "Lowdown" is from a David Paich composition that he wrote
for what would be Toto. David and I had done some demos in late
'75, early '76. There was this one song that, when we got to the
fade, we snapped into a completely different groove. That groove
was bass drum on 1, the last 16th note of the second beat, and the third beat, 16th notes straight on the hi-hat, and snare drum on 2 and 4. Boz Scaggs heard this song and said he wanted to do it, but Paich said no, it was going to be for a group we were going to have one day, but he would give him the fade. So Paich took the fade and wrote "Lowdown" for Boz. Boz wrote lyrics and melody and stuff, and we went into the studio. When we cut "Lowdown," it was 1976 and there was an Earth, Wind & Fire album out that I had been playing over and over again. It might have been I Am or the one before that. Instead of 16ths, the groove was quarter notes on the hi-hat with the same beat I just described. We wanted to get that kind of Earth, Wind & Fire medium dance-groove rhythm.

But instead of doing quarter notes, I did 8th notes, so if you take the figure I described to you and substitute 8th notes on the hi-hat, and every two bars or so open the hi-hat on the last 8th note of the fourth beat, that's it.

We cut it that way, but the producer said, "Gee, do you want to
try adding 16th notes?" because disco was starting to come in
around '76. I wasn't the keenest guy on disco and said, "Naw, you
don't want to do that, man. You don't want to ruin the groove."
He said, "Just try it," and Paich and Boz said so too, so I overdubbed the hi-hat, which they put on the opposite side of the
stereo mix. While I was overdubbing the simple 16ths, I started
doing some accents and answering my hi-hat stuff, and it got to be a lot of fun.

RF: "Love Me Tomorrow" (Boz Scaggs).
JP: The most reggae that I had heard at that part of my life was
probably Bob Marley. I hadn't heard of Peter Tosh or any of those
cats yet. Maybe the most up-to-date record that would tell you
what I'm talking about would be "Kid Charlemagne," but if you
listen to the groove on that and on "Haitian Divorce" from The
Royal Scam, that's Bernard Purdie. You'll hear some of the same
kind of groove on the Aretha and King Curtis Live At the Fillmore
West albums, both of which Bernard Purdie played on. On King
Curtis Live At the Fillmore West, when they do "Memphis Soul
Stew," you get a taste of this Bernard Purdie loop that I've heard a lot from Rick Marotta, too. My main influence for "Love Me Tomorrow" was the Bernard Purdie kind of shuffling type loop,
very reggaeish, but it's a bad imitation of Purdie.
RF: Were those timbales on it?
JP: Yes, set up right by the drums, and it was me.
RF: "Hold The Line" (Toto).
JP: That was me trying to play like Sly Stone's original drummer,
Greg Errico, who played drums on "Hot Fun In The Summertime."
The hi-hat is doing triplets, the snare drum is playing 2 and 4
back beats, and the bass drum is on 1 and the & of 2. That 8th note on the second beat is an 8th-note triplet feel, pushed. When we did the tune, I said, "Gee, this is going to be a heavy four-on-the floor rocker, but we want a Sly groove." The triplet groove of the tune was David's writing. It was taking the Sly groove and meshing it with a harder rock caveman approach.
RF: "Georgie Porgie" (Toto).
JP: "Georgie Porgie" is imitating all the Maurice and Freddie
White stuff, it's imitating Paul Humphrey heavily, it's imitating
Earl Palmer very heavily. When it comes to that groove, mybiggest influences were Paul Humphrey,
Ed Greene, Earl Palmer, and the godfather
of that 16TH-note groove, James Gadsen.
That "Georgie Porgie" groove I owe to them.
RF: Would you explain that groove?
JP: It's the groove on "Lowdown," just a
different lift of it maybe, a different tempo.
I stole all those grooves from those guys,
but I may lay the beat just a little bit differently,
depending on the song.

RF: Like "99."
JP: Right, "99" is from that same genre. It's
my R&B chops that I got from those people.
RF: "Dirty Laundry" (Don Henley).
JP: "Dirty Laundry" is just me laying it. It
was an electronic track, meaning it was
sequenced; that Farfisa organ part is a sequence
going down, so I was just bashing.
I played 1 on the bass drum, 2 and 4 on the
snare drum. I'm just pounding. It's just a

RF: How did it come to you?
JP: If you took the drums out and listened
to it, there would be nothing else you could
play to that song except that groove. Nothing
else fits. Because of the machine, the
tempo is dictated, the dynamics, and what
the song is about, dirty laundry. It's an
attitude thing. The backbeat was obviously
laid back as far as I could lay the sucker
back, and I hit as hard as I could hit.
RF: "Africa" (Toto).

JP: I was about 11 when the New York
World's Fair took place, and I went to the
African pavillion with my family. I saw the
real thing; I don't know what tribe, but
there were these drummers playing, and
my mind was blown. The thing that blew
my mind was that everybody was playing
one part. As a little kid in Connecticut, I
would see these Puerto Rican and Cuban
cats jamming in the park. It was the first
time I witnessed somebody playing one
beat and not straying from it, like a religious
experience, where it gets loud, and
everyone goes into a trance. I have always
dug those kind of orchestras, whether it be
a band or all drummers. But I just love a
bunch of guys saying one thing. That's why
I loved marching band, and I said, "Gee,
someday there's going to be a little drum
orchestra where everybody plays one thing,
and you don't ever stray from it. You do it
until you drop. You're banished from that
land if you move from that one part."
So when we were doing "Africa," I set
up a bass drum, snare drum, and a hi-hat,
and Lenny Castro set up right in front of me
with a conga. We looked at each other and
just started playing the basic groove—the
bass drum on 1, the & of 2, and 3. The
backbeat is on 3, so it's a half-time feel,
and it's 16th notes on the hi-hat. Lenny
started playing a conga pattern. We played
for five minutes on tape, no click, no nothing.
We just played. And I was singing the
bass line for "Africa" in my mind, so we
had a relative tempo. Lenny and I went
into the booth and listened back to the five
minutes of that same boring pattern. We
picked out the best two bars that we thought
were grooving, and we marked those two
bars on tape. We made another mark four
bars before those two bars. Lenny and I
went back out; I had a cowbell, Lenny had
a shaker. They gave us two new tracks, and
they gave us the cue when they saw the
first mark go by. Lenny and I started playing
to get into the groove, so by the time
that fifth bar came—which was the first bar
of the two bars we marked as the cool bars
we liked—we were locked, and we overdubbed
shaker and cowbell. So there was
bass drum, snare drum, hi-hat, two congas,
a cowbell, and a shaker. We went back in,
cut the tape, and made a one-bar tape loop
that went 'round and 'round and 'round.
The Linn machine was available to us.
Maybe it would have taken two minutes to
program that in the Linn, and it took about
half an hour to do this. But a Linn machine
doesn't feel like that! So we had an analog

We took that tape, transfered it onto
another 24-track for six minutes, and David
Paich and I went out in the studio. The
song started, and I was sitting there with a
complete drumset, and Paich was playing.
When he got to the fill before the chorus, I
started playing the chorus, and when the
verse or the intro came back, I stopped
playing. Then we had piano and drums on
tape. You have to realize that there are
some odd bars in "Africa," so when you
have a one-bar loop going, all of a sudden,
sometimes Lenny's figure would turn
around. So Lenny went in and played the
song again, but this time he changed his
pattern a little for the turn-arounds, for the
fills, for the bridge, for the solo. We kept
his original part and the new one. Then we
had to do bongos, jingle sticks, and big
shakers doing quarter notes, maybe stacking
two tracks of sleigh bells, two tracks of
big jingle sticks, and two tracks of tambourines
all down to one track. I was trying to
get the sounds I would hear Milt Holland
or Emil Richards have, or the sounds I would
hear in a National Geographic special, or
the ones I heard at the New York World's

RF: "Good For You" (Toto).
JP: That's just a rock 'n' roll thing.

RF: There's a great drum break in the middle
of the song.
JP: Just that weird-feeling fill—that's all it
is. I can't recall what it is. The reason it's a
weird-feeling fill is because it was one of
those spontaneous things; what you hear
on that record is the first time I ever played
that fill.
RF: You don't have a problem with weird feeling
JP: The reason I don't have a problem is,
first of all, they're weird-feeling because I
tried to do something else and I failed, but
yet something came out that still was sort
of in time. If you listen to it, that fill is
rushing. After I learned that fill and I had to
play it live, there are live tapes where the
fill was even hipper because it layed where
it was supposed to lay. Sometimes something
good comes from an accident or going
for something.
RF: The Clapton song, "Forever Man."
JP: "Forever Man" is the kind of drumming
I stole from Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner.
It's a very bad example of what you'd hear
on those Tulsa rock 'n' roll type tracks, like
the Leon Russell or Delaney & Bonnie type
grooves Gordon, Keltner, and Chuck Blackwell
would play.  

RF: "Pamela" (Toto).
JP: I immediately thought of Stevie Wonder
doing "Sir Duke." That's a "Sir Duke"
groove; Bernard Purdie did that groove.
RF: Let's talk about your approach to ballads.
I love the feel to songs like "I Won't
Hold You Back" and "Anna."
JP: My ballad playing is me emulating Jim
Keltner, and all I think about is Jim Keltner,
Jim Keltner, Jim Keltner, Jim Keltner. Since
I was 16 years old, I've had a vivid picture
of Jim Keltner sitting at a set of drums on
my right. I think of relaxing the groove so
that there's space. I like space in ballads.
And sometimes I like those long, open fills
I stole from Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner.
Drummers have to be sensitive to the song,
the dynamics. Toto's ballads happen to give
you a lot of dynamics. You can get out
there and still stay open.

RF: When you play the Baked Potato, you
really let go. Most people don't ever get to
hear you play like that.
JP: It's because I'm allowed to play like
that, because it's a small club and I'm
amongst my friends. A lot of drummers
come by the Baked Potato, and they're guys
like Sonny Emory, who I'll meet for the first
time. I'll say, "Sonny, play a song." He
plays and I think, "Oh shit, I can never go
up there again." When I play there, I try to
get off some chops; it's my one opportunity
to get off stuff I don't normally have an
opportunity to do. I realized, though, that
when I do it, I'm holding back solos sometimes.
You might not think so, but I know
when somebody gets into an outside thing
where don't have the facility to be real
free. l'm tight and nervous, playing too loud
and too fast. People don't see me do a lot
of that because I'm not really good at it
I don't get called to do that a lot. There are
better guys at that than me—guys who are
much more musical than me on a broad
area. It's a hard thing to explain. I got called
by Zappa to do a couple of albums, and I
would not take the gig; I would blow the
sessions, he'd be pissed, and he'd never
call again. When I've heard the material
and seen charts, there is stuff that I just
can't do. I can't do stuff that Bozzio or
Vinnie can do.

RF: The feeling I get when I see you play
the Potato, though, is that there is a whole
lot of you that is being repressed. I don't
think I've ever seen you miss what you
were going for.
JP: But I have. I can smooth out a screw-up
real cleverly.

RF: You must do it real cleverly.
JP: I do. You have to learn how to do that.
When someone goes off into an over-thebar
thing and it's a great figure, I'll hear
Vinnie immediately; his ears catch on to it,
and he has the facility—the motor sense
from the mind, to the muscle, to the technique—
to go bam, just like reading a word.
I don't, so I'll go for something, and I know
from my first 16th note that I've screwed
up. I'll cover it with something, and someone
might say, "Gee, that's exciting," but
it's simple, it'll get me out of there, and I
don't mess up the time. But I'm sitting there
frustrated as hell, and my arms are real stiff
because my nervous system goes nuts when
I go for something where I'm thinking so
much. So I'm playing that uptempo samba
that I don't have the chops for, and I'm
struggling. People see me smiling and
RF: There's a great drum break in the middle
of the song.
JP: Just that weird-feeling fill—that's all it
is. I can't recall what it is. The reason it's a
weird-feeling fill is because it was one of
those spontaneous things; what you hear
on that record is the first time I ever played
that fill.
RF: You don't have a problem with weirdfeeling
JP: The reason I don't have a problem is,
first of all, they're weird-feeling because I
tried to do something else and I failed, but
yet something came out that still was sort
of in time. If you listen to it, that fill is
rushing. After I learned that fill and I had to
play it live, there are live tapes where the
fill was even hipper because it layed where
it was supposed to lay. Sometimes something
good comes from an accident or going
for something.

RF: The Clapton song, "Forever Man."
JP: "Forever Man" is the kind of drumming
I stole from Jim Gordon and Jim Keltner.
It's a very bad example of what you'd hear
on those Tulsa rock 'n' roll type tracks, like
the Leon Russell or Delaney & Bonnie type
grooves Gordon, Keltner, and Chuck Blackwell
would play.

RF: "Pamela" (Toto).
JP: I immediately thought of Stevie Wonder
doing "Sir Duke." That's a "Sir Duke"
groove; Bernard Purdie did that groove.
RF: Let's talk about your approach to ballads.
I love the feel to songs like "I Won't
Hold You Back" and "Anna."
sweating, and they think I'm having the
best time of my life, but actually I'm going
through terrors up there. My right hand,
man, I'm holding the stick so tight and
going, "Please don't cramp, because if you
cramp, I can't play for two weeks, and
man, I'd better start practicing again." All
that stuff goes through my mind. Sometimes
I have no business being up there, for
that particular band. Maybe there's an inbetween
where I don't have to get into that
outside stuff. There's stuff that I do play
that I think is exciting, which isn't mainstream
stuff, but it also isn't fusion.
RF: You're not Vinnie Colaiuta, but you're
a different drummer.
JP: I know that, and I respect myself for
what I am, believe me.

RF: It's all a matter of personal preference.
Maybe the people who are slayed by Vinnie
aren't the ones who would be slayed
by you, but obviously there are people who
would prefer to listen to you.
JP: I thank people for that, and I know
that's true, but when people say, "Man,
Jeff, go for it. You've got time, you've got
groove, you can do things those guys do.
Just woodshed, and don't be lazy," well,
I'd rather paint. Plus, I'm close to what
those guys feel like as human beings—what
they feel like spiritually and artistically—
and if I could play like Vinnie, I would not
be able to not use those chops. I know
people who don't like drummers because
they think they're too busy. If I had those
chops, I would use them. It's impossible
for Sonny Emory or Gerry Brown not to use
them. I know if I had the chops they have
how frustrating it would be to do sessions.
RF: My original point was that there is a
whole side of you that very few people get
to see, and I've thought to myself that you
must feel awfully repressed doing sessions.
JP: Not at all. On some sessions I do—and
you may not hear them—I get to play that
kind of stuff.

RF: Like what?
JP: Lots of instrumental stuff that's released
in japan. I thought on albums like Katy
Lied I did somewhat that kind of stuff. I
have not been frustrated or felt held back
from anything I've wanted to do. Believe
me. Not yet. I'd love to have more time for
the Baked Potato type gigs—live gigs where
I'd just play and not be under pressure,
having fun.
RF: Your dad recently said that what you
played in the beginning was hipper than
what you play today. What did he mean by
JP: I don't know. Maybe he personally liked
what I played when I was younger more
than what I play now.
RF: Do you agree? Were you more adventurous
JP: I really don't know. I might have been
more adventurous with the kind of music I
was playing at the time. But I think I can
look at some stuff I played back then and
disagree with that. Maybe some people
haven't heard all the stuff I've played over
the years. Maybe people who only heard
me do Steely Dan stuff ten years ago think
that's a lot hipper than stuff I do now, but
maybe they haven't heard all the stuff I've
done now.

RF: I assumed your father would have heard
most of it, though.
JP: My father? He's maybe heard one tenth
of everything I've ever done. He doesn't
buy pop records, and I don't go around to
his house saying, "Daddy, listen to what I
played on." But I think my dad said what
I've been trying to tell everybody for years:
I'm just a street drummer. My father heard
me play with Sonny & Cher more than he
heard me play with anybody. Maybe he's
talking about what I played when I was a
really young kid, back in the Jack Dougherty
days—that first album I did that was
like a big band that I did with Keltner. We
played uptempo sambas and stuff like that,
so maybe he thought I'd be some great
bebop jazz fusion drummer or something.
RF: Let's talk about the studio. I would like
to detail everybody's function in that situation,
and how it relates to you and affects
you as a drummer. First, the producer.
JP: There are many kinds of producers. I
think the best way to do it is give examples
of different people. Say the producer is Gary
Katz. He is the kind of producer who knows
his artist real well, and works for the artist.
He also knows the musicians, and he knows
the artists' music so well that he knows
who is best suited for the session. As a
producer he has his set ways of doing records,
but his set ways are many different
ways—whatever works best. He's the kind
of producer who has natural ears and can
tell you things aren't feeling as good as
they should be or there's something wrong,
and make those suggestions in a very nonthreatening
way, and be very complimentary
and understanding. And that's the Gary
Katz kind of producer.

RF: Considering that Steely Dan puts a
drummer through hell, that's quite interesting.
JP: We're talking about the producer.
[laughs] Let's take a Richard Perry. Richard
Perry is very well-versed in music and has
a very good musical background. He is a
musician and a singer. Richard's sessions
may rely on having an arranger there, and
Richard does a lot of big hit records, so a
drummer may get a lot of very set dictation
from him.

People like Quincy Jones do more preproduction
on the master tape, meaning
they will put the tracks together with great
drum machine sounds and sometimes with
nice involved drum programs also. They
already have set in their minds the beat
they want. Most of the time, I don't even
know why they hire a drummer, but if they
do hire a drummer, they're going to want
the guy to duplicate what the drum machine
is doing. Sometimes Q will have a
rhythm section thing. It depends on the
project that a versatile guy like Quincy is

Then there are producers who I call "figurehead"
producers. They should be executive
producers. They may be there in
the studio, but they're leaving it mainly up
to the arranger, the artist, or whoever.
Sometimes you find the producer to be one
of the guys. If it's a five-member band, he's
the sixth member. They work with the band,
they're very helpful, and they're musicians,
too. And a producer may be different according
to the project, because the artist
may be more dominating as far as what he
wants, and rightfully so—not that the producer
doesn't have the same talent, but
maybe the producer is just there to help
and oversee.

RF: The engineer.
JP: For drummers, the engineer is important.
A lot of them have their own different
thing. They all have special mic's they like
to use, some have certain studios they like,
some have certain consoles. Some engineers
might be very good, but they might
be very set in their ways: "This is the only
way I get drum sounds." There are certain
engineers I work for who even have snare
drums: "This is my snare drum." Some of
the drums may sound great, and there may
be something special about them, but
there's always the size stick and who's hitting
it. You may use the same mic', with
the same EQ, have your same level, record
in the same room, and it's still going to
sound different. There are engineers who
don't like tom-toms. I remember when the
Simmons first came out, there was a particular
engineer who just loved them because,
"Man, it takes so long to get tom
sounds, but with Simmons, I just have to
throw it up and it's there." You also have
engineers who are only used to a dead
room. If you put them in a live room, they
go nuts. Some may be experienced and
versatile enough to make that change.
RF: How much latitude do you get?
JP: I've been fortunate that on the sessions I
happen to do, I have a lot of latitude. One
of my favorite, favorite engineers is Al
Schmidt. Al Schmidt recorded all the rhythm
stuff for Toto IV, and not once—for that or
anything since—did I ever hear, "Show up
an hour early before the session. Can I hear
the bass drum? Can I hear the snare drum?
I have to set my gates. Can I hear the tomtoms?"
I remember Roy Halee. When I
worked with him on a Paul Simon record
in New York, Roy was the same way—the
kind of guy who listens to musicians play,
and as you're running a song down, is hearing
how you play. It cracks me up how
many engineers never walk out into that
room to hear what your instrument sounds
like. They just stay in that control room.
"Snare drum doesn't sound good, man." Al
Schmidt, Roy Halee, and George Massenburg
would walk out into the room,
listen to the sounds, and hear if I changed
the snare drum. What if I'm using a highpitched
piccolo snare drum on this tune
now, and I'm in a big open room? They
walk around, they may put up some more
overhead parabolic reflectors, they may
move the baffles in a little closer, they may
move a couple of the mic's to get a tightersound, but they listen and get your sound.
Hopefully, you have an understanding with
the producer, the arranger, or artist of what
that sound is supposed to be. But, of course,
you run into things like, "Muffle your toms,
that sympathetic ringing..." And you just
came from a studio where your drums were
RF: The artist.
JP: The functions vary, how good they are
varies, how fun the music is to play varies.
But the artist, to me, is the most inspiring
thing. First of all, I'm being paid a high
wage to work for him. Or, I'm being paid a
high wage to work for the producer who
suggested to the artist that I'm the guy to
use. It depends on the session. Lately, on
most sessions I do, the artist has the influence.
I'm a guy who gets upset if I walk
into the session early and hear someone
bugging the artist before he plays. Or if I
see that the artist doesn't have what he
should have, I get personally upset. It becomes
a personal thing to me. It's important
that the artist be comfortable and have
what he needs so all that's on his mind is
to do his thing. If an artist gets the musicians
excited, you're going to get something
good. I don't care what style it is,
you're going to get something good.
RF: I have to ask about Ricky Lee Jones.
Carlos Vega mentioned his experience in
my interview with him, and he mentioned
JP: I was called to do the entire Ricky Lee
Jones Pirates album. On her first album, I
got called in to replace a certain famous
drummer's drum part, and I replaced it. I
forgot the name of the song, but it was a
ballad and I played brushes. She remembers
that, so she wants me to do her whole
next album. The producers are Russ Titelman
and Lenny Waronker, and I get a tape
of the demos a month before the sessions.
What a great thing. I go to the session, it's
Chuck Rainey on bass, Dean Parks on guitar,
Russell Ferrante on piano, Lenny Castro
on percussion, and Ricky Lee Jones playing
piano and singing. The drums are in an
isolation booth with a big glass going across
so I can see everybody in the main studio. I
have my headphones on, and we start going
over the first song. After the first pass of the
tune, Ricky Lee in the phones goes, "Mr.
Porcaro, I know you're known for keeping
good time, but on these sessions, I can't
have you do that. With my music, when
I'm telling my story, I like things to speed
up and slow down, and I like people to
follow me." When she said it, there was
something in the tone of her voice that was
weird, but that wasn't predominant in my
mind. The first thing that entered my mind
was that it reminded me of Seal & Crofts,
who liked to have their bridges up, but not
radically. So the natural thing for me to say
to Lee Herschberg, the engineer, was, "Can
I have more of Ricky's vocal and piano in
my phones," very calm.
We start playing again, and I'm pretty
good at listening to people and following.
She stops halfway through and says, "The
time is too straight. You gotta loosen up a
little bit. Did you notice on this one line,
I'm speeding the line up, and I need you to
speed up with me." I go, "I'm sorry. Lee,
can I have a little bit more of Ricky's vocal.
Take my drums down in the phones just a
little bit." We start again from the top and
we come to that same section and I hear
her intentionally speeding up, it seems like,
and emphasizing it. I'm following, and that's
cool. She slows down again, and I thought
I was slowing down, but she stops again
and says, "Can you hear me good? Try to
get out of your..." I got the impression she
was saying to get out of my "perfect studio
musician" routine and be an artist for her.
When she said that, the blood rushed up to
my head, because I'm always nervous when
I play for anybody, especially people who
are critically acclaimed and supposed to
be the artistic statement of the times. So I
get real nervous because I don't want to be
squaresville; I want to be hip. And I look
out into the studio, and all the guys in the
band—who I've known for years—are looking
at me with this look on their faces, and
I think, "Wow, what's going on? This is
real strange." So we do it one more time,
and it is so weird that I think it was Lenny
Castro who went into the control room and
said something to Russ and Lenny Waronker
like, "Guys, what's going on? Call a
break or something."
A break is called. Ricky is still at the
piano, and I am sitting at my drums going,
"What the hell?" And I'm staring at her.
She's not looking at me, I'm just looking
over at this person hunched over the piano,
and she's playing a different song than
I have on the demo. Lenny Castro comes to
visit me, going, "Man, something is weird,"
and I say to Lenny, "She's messing with
me." I didn't want to go to Russ and Lenny
Waronker and cause a scene, but I told
Lenny to tell them that they better pay attention
to what was going on—to call off
the dogs or I'd be skating. I'll take criticism,
but I won't take anything that is unnecessary.
So I'm sitting down, and she's playing.
She doesn't have headphones on, but Chuck
Rainey and I do, and we're playing along
with her and it's grooving! It's a shuffle
groove, and Lenny and Russ hear it in the
booth and go over the talkback, "Ricky,
put your phones on. Listen to this." She
puts her phones on, she's still playing, and
she's going "Yeah!" with a big smile on her
face. I go to myself, "Thank Cod." So Lenny
and Russ say, "Let's move away from this
first thing and do this," and I'm going,
So we start laying the track down, and I
come up to this simple fill: triplets over one
bar. It's written out on my music, and I
play the fill. She stops. She says, "You have
to play harder." I say, "Okay," with a smile,
and we start again. I have brand new heads.
I like to keep brand new Ambassador heads
on my drums, and my toms are sounding
nice. I play the fill again. She stops. "You've
got to play harder." Everybody looks at me.I look at everybody. I go, "Okay, let's do it
again." We start again. One bar before the
fill, I hear, louder than hell in my phones,
"We're coming up to the fill. Remember to
play hard," while we're grooving. I whack
the shit out of my drums, as hard as I've
ever hit anything in my life. While I'm hitting
them, she's screaming, "Harder!" I stop.
She stops. I'm looking at my drums. My
heads have dents in them; if I hit the drum
lightly, it will buzz, and I'm pissed. I'm
steaming inside. I'm thinking, "Nobody talks
to me that way." Lenny Waronker says,
"Let's do it again." We start again, and
everybody is looking at me while they are
playing. We're coming up to the fill, and
she goes, "Play hard!" and I take my sticks
like daggers and I do the fill, except I stab
holes through my tom-tom heads. I land on
my snare drum, both sticks are shaking,
vibrating, bouncing on the snare drum. I
get up and pick up my gig bag. There's
complete silence. I slide open the sliding
glass door, walk past her, down the hallway,
get in my car, and I drive home.
I get home, and the first call I get is from
Lenny Castro. "It's insane here. She's going
to sue you. She's got all these musicians
here and you split." I said, "Let her sue me.
Nobody, but nobody, talks to me that way."
If I was the wrong cat, the producers should
have broken up the session, called me over,
and I would have been the first to say,
"Hey, you don't have to give me two days'
notice. Find somebody else. I'm the wrong
drummer. I'm sorry, I wish I could have
been a better drummer for you guys, but I
did the best I could." But they let a situation
go on way too long for anybody,
especially someone like me who worked
for them before. I thought I demanded a
little more respect.
She never sued me, and I didn't hear
anything for a couple of years. Last year I
get a call from James Newton-Howard. He's
producing Ricky Lee Jones' album and he
goes, "You won't believe this, but she wants
you to play on two songs." I go, "Does she
know who I am?" What I really didn't know,
but had perceived—although I didn't take
it into complete consideration—was maybe,
at the time, she was going through some
hard times, like we all go through, and I
got messed with. Maybe we all handle our
hard times differently. The way James
Newton-Howard explained it over the
phone was, "Maybe she doesn't remember
that situation too well." I said, "Whether
she does or doesn't, I'd love to play with
her. I hold no grudges. I know that you,
knowing that whole story, won't let that
happen. If I'm wrong, you'll just stop the
session and do an overdub while you find
a drummer for the next session."
I get there. Ricky says, "Hi Jeff, good to
see you again. You seem to have lost
weight." Well, actually I had gained 30
pounds from the last time she saw me, so
for a second I thought, "She's messing with
me." But I realized she was much more
together than the last time I had seen her,
and she looked gorgeous. The plan was to
do one song a day; we were booked for six
hours a day for two days. We did the first
song in two takes. "Thank you, see you
guys tomorrow." The second song we did
in three takes. At the end of three takes, in
front of the whole band, including people
who had been there when I had stabbed
my drums with the sticks, she says, "Jeff, I
really have to tell you this. No drummer
has ever played so great for me, listened to
my music so closely, understood what I'm
saying with lyrics, and has followed me as
well as you. I just want to thank you for the
good tracks." I almost broke up laughing
because I had played no differently for her
the year before.
The story got around where it was either
Jeff who went way left under the pressure—
which I can go; I've gone left under less
pressure, believe me—or that Ricky went
left on Jeff. Whatever the case may be, that
was just one situation. We've worked with
each other under other circumstances. Yet,
I would still do the same thing with anybody.
I'll help you find somebody for your
session. It's not like I'm a triple-scale,
$1,000-a-day drummer, like a lot of drummers.
I've been double scale since 1975. I
believe I get paid great for what I do, but if
anything, people will tell you I work for
free and I don't charge for overtime. So it
wasn't an attitude trip or anything. I just
demand respect—human respect.
RF: Aside from the studio thing, there's Toto,
which is your own. Everybody thinks it's
glamorous to have your own band. But
isn't it harder to be in your own band—
where the successes and failures are absolutely
your own—than doing most session
work, where you wash your hands of it the
minute you walk out that door?
JP: Get four MIT scholars and show them
my career in the band, and show them my
career as a musician. They'll have me put
in an insane asylum for even thinking about
being in a band. Being in a group is hard,
too, because you have five guys, but it's a
study in boy scouting. It's a little club. It's
hard to keep a democracy together, as this
country knows, and Toto has done it for
ten years. Not too many bands have been
together for ten years, and we've done it
with the ups and downs of being ripped
off. We're not rich. If any of us put money
away in our early 20's that's still collecting
interest, that's what we're buying groceries
with right now. Maybe it'll be better if this
album does well, but believe me, there
have been so many opportunities for Toto
to have said, "Man, let's not be a band
anymore because it's not economical." But
the joys of being in a band are so great,
and the potential of there being economic
success doing something you love is always
there. I don't know how long it can
last, because as everyone gets older and
there are more financial responsibilities and
families, that is more important than anything.
So other things start taking a back
seat. The importance of having freedom
takes a back seat.