The Genius Of Jeff Porcaro’s Drum Parts For Toto’s ‘Rosanna’
By Daniel GlassI’ve decided to celebrate my 50th “Moment In History” column by focusing on Jeff Porcaro, a drummer who left us 25 years ago, but is still regarded as one of the greatest studio drummers of all time. I recently heard the “drums only” version of Toto’s 1982 hit “Rosanna” posted to YouTube, and was inspired by Porcaro’s performance to share the following thoughts:
If you’ve ever tried to play “Rosanna,” you quickly realize how hard it is. Every section of the song — from the basic groove (inspired by Bernard Purdie’s famous “Purdie shuffle”), to the four-on-the-floor prechorus pattern, to the melodic bass drum lines in the chorus — requires a lengthy study unto itself. In an era before click tracks and Pro Tools influenced everything we do, Porcaro managed to fit these parts together as seamlessly as a walk in the park.
“Rosanna” is pretty much a masterclass on what a drummer should do in the recording studio. A sound engineer once told me, “When listening to a playback, trust your ears, but also watch the movement of the meters on the mixing board. Your goal should be to make each meter go to exactly the same spot with every stroke.” Porcaro’s performance on “Rosanna” personifies exactly what that engineer meant. Every backbeat, ghost note, fill, cymbal crash, and rhythmic idea is expressed with absolute clarity and consistency. It’s this kind of articulation that makes for an epic studio drum track.
Technique aside, what continues to set Jeff Porcaro’s playing apart today is the grace, elegance, and sheer musicality that he brought to pop and rock music. He was able to incorporate complex musical ideas into radio-friendly pop songs, because each idea made perfect sense in the overall musical context — not just for drummers, but for the average listener looking for a toe-tapping beat. Like the man himself, Porcaro’s drums danced and sang and brought us joy and happiness. It’s the reason he was in such great demand in his time, and why we can still learn so much from him today.