Jeff Porcaro

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Julia Stoff

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prasa > Downbeat, 8 wrzesień 1977

Downbeat, Sept. 8, 1977

Spotlight Gazette: Jeff Porcaro

By Ron Cohen

The bespectacled young drummer taps his hi-hat as the band skips gently into a new tune. Soon both his hands are fluttering between the hi-hat and the snare. He bares his teeth smiling, almost. Quickly, like magic, his hand is hovering over the bell of his ride cymbal as he drops his stick upon it. The music is growing louder. The hi-hat is driven by his foot now, up and down very fast. His arms are churning around the drum set, filling gaps in the music with thundering rolls. A guitar screams, another follows. The energy of the music and the musicians continues to rise. The drummer is pushing the music even harder, he jumps from his seat as he reaches for his cymbals. One crashes, then another and another, then two cymbals and he's standing; he looks as if he is going crazy.
The drummer is Jeff Porcaro (pronounced poor-car-o) who besides owning one of the most frequently misspelled and mispronounced names in the music business, also owns a very impressive list of credits. At the age of 23 he is already an experienced and very successful studio musician. Over the last four years he has recorded with artists such as Walter Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, Seals and Crofts, Barbra Streisand, Jackson Browne, and most recently with Daryl Hall and John Oates. Jeff has played some jazz with Hampton Hawes and the Larry Carlton/Robben Ford band of which he says, "I get nervous, but it's a challenge."
Perhaps a bigger challenge is the toll Jeff's body takes because of his explosive playing. "The one drag is the pain, the physical pain that I go through. I used to get all these cramps, and the last two years I've been waking up and my knuckles have been real stiff. Doctors say it is traumatic arthritis, self-induced. I love playing live gigs but sometimes what I put out, my bones, the structure of my body can't take it." When it was mentioned that he looks as if he might collapse during some drum solos, Jeff shrugged, then laughed. "That's always a good ending."
Luckily for Jeff, success as a studio drummer makes it possible for him to regulate his playing. Nowadays he can pick and choose who he works for and whether or not he plays live. But Jeff recalls his first session as "being a drag. They weren't big albums, they were people's first albums. It was like a three hour session, four tunes maybe, the charts out there, everything laid out, there wasn't too much imagination involved. Still it takes talent to play those types of sessions. Sessions that I may do now, and a lot of people do . . . all the people you work for are loose and nobody's worried about when the break is. I've been on a session where the string players, when it's time for the break, in the middle of a take, all of a sudden the strings are gone. I can't believe it."
If Jeff sounds annoyed, it is only because of his enthusiasm for playing. He started at a very early age. His father, Joe, a studio percussionist and a noted teacher, got him going. "My dad was doing the Hartford Symphony and all of us, my other two brothers Mike and Steve, were taking lessons from him at the same time. We would go down with him on the weekends to the drum shop and he would find some free time from his regular students and give us lessons." Beyond taking lessons, Jeff was teaching himself and copying those studio player techniques exactly as he heard them on record. At the same time, he was copying contemporary pop groups. "It was just a combination of copying all of these cats' techniques. And then, of course, what would happen was that we would have a high school band. When our band went out I would apply beats and figures and things that I learned from the records, and eventually . . . I thought it was good."
It wasn't long before Jeff recorded his first album, right around the time of his seventeenth birthday. Soon after came a job with Sonny and Cher, then Seals and Crofts, then Steely Dan.
"Steely Dan was my favorite group even before I knew who they were. I thought they were a bunch of bikers from up north (California). They looked so mean and bad on the inside jacket of their album, Can't Buy A Thrill. But I thought they were it . . . harmonic-ally, the lyrics, man, Becker and Fagen blow my mind. And still to this day, they are it, they are what should be happening now."
Jeff's respect for Steely Dan does not stop him from listening to other kinds of music. "I like listening to everything, because as far as sessions go, you are called upon to imitate certain things and I think it's a groove if you can imitate those and be authentic."
Working on a daily basis in the studios, Jeff speaks frankly about them. "Some (studios) drive me up the wall. I would never walk in some again, I don't care who it was for. I just don't like feeling uncomfortable. When it comes to playing, I find the best results when it's loose, when it's relaxed and everybody is laughing and having a good time." Jeff feels the sound is the most important consideration. "The playing of the music, showing up on time, blue carpeting and all that is nice, but the sounds gotta be there. There are dates where the playing has been phenomenal, yet you go back and listen to it (the recording) and it just doesn't sound good."
Recently, Jeff and arranger/composer David Paich (who co-wrote much of Boz Scaggs' triple platinum Silk Degrees) have been in the process of forming a band of their own. Jeff enjoys the studio role but says of the new band that "I get to be more creative . . . and get back to the old sound of a group . . . a good old rock 'n roll band . . . with an identity. What kind of identity? What type of music -- music that will give you a stiff neck."