prasa > Modern Drummer, lipiec 1978
Modern Drummer, July 1978
Like Father, Like Son
By Gary Farmer
Surprisingly enough, much of the drumming heard in today's commercial media is
aptly executed by a distinguished pair of performers, both of the same family,
but of two different generations. The father, 48 year old Joe Porcaro, is
responsible for a lot of the percussion recorded for such TV series as The
Bionic Woman, Baretta, The Six Million Dollar Man and Wonder Woman, to name a
few. He is also involved in starting a west coast school of percussion.
His son, 24 year old Jeff Porcaro, is also an active studio drummer with an
astounding list of credits, considering his youthful age. Jeff has worked with
pop-rock artists Boz Scaggs, Steely Dan, Seals and Crofts, Sonny and Cher, and
Barbra Streisand. He is also currently co-leading a band with keyboard player
David Paich. The group is call Toto, and it's projected to be one of the
hottest recording groups ever.
Both interviews were conducted separately in the cozy garage-reformed studio of
the Porcaro home in Sherman Oaks, California, just north of Hollywood.
Twenty-four year old Jeff Porcaro was born in Hartford, Connecticut and first
got interested in drumming due to the influence of his father. He began playing
seriously at age seven though he is sure "I was playing even earlier than that.
Only my father would actually know when I got started." Formal lessons
initially came from papa Joe, followed by further studies with Bob Zimmitti and
Rich Lapore. Jeff clearly remembers his early drumming years.
"I was using my father's drum, and when I was thirteen I got into a rock band.
I remember walking home from school one day and a friend came running down the
street and told me I got a new drum set. Some kid had won a Slingerland
champagne sparkle set in a poker game and he sold it to my father with cases and
cymbals for something like $250. It consisted of an 8' x 12" and 16" X 16" tom,
22" bass, a snare, and a couple of cymbals, 20" and 18". I was only aware of my
father's work back then. I listened to other drummers, but I wasn't really
aware of them. Eventually I left high school. I didn't actually graduate, but
I did get a diploma. I got this gig with Sony and Cher and I left a week or two
before finals. I never took the finals, but they gave me a diploma anyway. I
had to tell them how much I'd be making, and why I wanted to leave and what it
meant as far as my future was concerned. They were quite pleased. They let me
go without any quarrel.
Though he left school early in return for a drumming career, he doesn't
necessarily suggest that high school age drummers in search of musical fame and
fortune follow the same path. "In general, I wouldn't recommend that an
individual drop out of school at say his junior year for an opportunity like
mine. I don't think my parents would have allowed me to leave ifI was any
younger. If it was totally up to me I probably would have, because I was a
shlock in school. From my personal experience, going on the road at eighteen
did a lot more for me than becoming a school musical genius. They're schooled,
and they're slick, but there's no soulful feeling from those guys. The school
bit doesn't mean anything to me. It's good to look at, and you say, 'Oh yeah,
beautiful, I like that, beautiful touch, you've got stick control'...but those
guys would fall apart if they had to play with Chuck Raney, or someone like
that. If they played anything, they would fall apart."
Jeff's early dates with the team of Sonny and Cher led to some road work and
recording dates with Seals and Crofts, on three of their albums. In 1977, he
joined Steely Dan and stayed on about four months. All of that was followed by
his work with Boz Scaggs. In between, there were numerous recording sessions
with Jackson Browne, Barbra Streisand, Helen Reddy, Leo Sayer and Diana Ross,
among others. After several years of backing other people, Jeff's primary
interest now has turned toward the success of his new group.
"David Paich and I started our own group and plan to make our own album. David
is the keyboard player who wrote Lowdown, Lido Shuffle, and What Can I Say for
Boz Scaggs' Silk Degrees album. The group also includes my brother, Steve, Dave
Hungate, bass, Steve Lukather, guitar, Bobby Kimball, keyboards and lead vocal.
At this point we're calling ourselves Toto. What we're going after is triple-
platinum albums. It looks like it might happen. We have a lot of offers right
now, and we're in negotiation with several record companies. It'll be a real
commercial thing. We have a manager who does Chicago, Rufus, and a couple of
When it comes to equipment, Jeff has a set for practically every musical
situation. A real stickler for the precise sound for each situation he runs up
against, his assortment of gear is astounding.
"I have three Ludwig drum sets. Two of them consist of 22" bass drums, 9 X 13,
10 X 14, 16 X 16, and 18 X 18 toms. One set is black and the other is blue.
The third set is an older one. It's made of wood, with a 24" bass, 8 X 12, 9 X
13, and an 18" tom. I also carry another 26" bass drum. I have two Gretsch
sets. One has 8 X 12, 9 X 13, and 16 X 16 tims, and the other an 18" bass drum,
7 X 10, 8 X 12 and 14 X 14 toms. I have a Camco set that they made for me with
a 24" bass, 8 X 12, 9 X 13, 16 X 16, and 18 X 18 toms. I had Steinway Piano
Company do the finish on them. They're wood and the shells are thick.
Everything is brass plated, so it's all black and brass, with a solid brass 6
1/2" snare drum. And then there's my Slingerland with the 28" bass drum.
That's my "heavy metal" set with everything in chrome, 20 X 20 floor tom, and an
11 X 15. The Ludwig was basically my all-around studio set. I got into Gretsch
for live performances. I use clear plastic heads on them, all wide open.
Fiberglass drums, plexiglass drums and all that is bullshit. There's something
about them I just don't like. There's something about the sound. You can blow
them all away. I go for the wood sound.
"As of late the recording engineers are getting into putting the drums live out
into the open room. The west coast recording techniques were pretty much
standardized in the late 60's and early 70's to the point where everybody's
snare drum sounded the same. And you had to have them that way because that's
the way the engineers wanted it. But now, peoples' heads are stretching out.
Guys are getting back into putting drums out into the open room with just two
overhead mikes, and getting an unbelievable sound. I basically have different
set-ups for different recording projects. With Jackson Browne, I'd have a more
mellow sounding set with huge toms for his kind of music. When I'm doing Boz
Scaggs it may be a little crisper, maybe wide open. But if Boz happens to do
Lido Shuffle, which is kind of Led Zeppelinsih, then out comes the big giant
set. The Camco was made especially for live performances. It looks good, and
sounds good too. I also have a slew of snare drums, all different sizes, ages
and materials. I own four cymbals and one pair of hi-hats. Out of all those
sets, just one set of cymbals, and only one of those cymbals is solid, my 22"
ride. All of my cymbals were once my father's. That's a standing joke between
us. 'Hey dad, can I borrow one of your cymbals?,' and he never sees it again."
Following along the lines of a set for all occasions, Jeff has distinctive
opinions and preferences in head choices and tuning. He puts forth a total
effort to achieve the proper balance of sound to complement the styles of
"For recording, I mainly use Ludwig DB-750 drum heads on all my Ludwig toms. I
use bottom heads. It's a thin head, and the best sounding. I change the heads
on all the drums of my recording sets every three days. I tune them low and fat
as hell and they sound perfect for recording. They're thin, but they're tuned
so loose, they get wrinkles. After a few hard takes they get dents and they're
no good anymore. I use Remo Ambassador on the snare drum, and some of the Remo
clear plastic on the other sets. No black dots. I don't like any of that. One
set has the Evans heads, tuned real tight.
"As far as snare drums go, I recently hit upon something that's a little hard to
talk about, but you have to hear it on records. A lot of them like that big,
fat, meaty snare drum like you hear on Fleetwood Mac. That real thick sound. I
use a 6 1/2 metal snare with the bottom head pretty tight and the snares going
all the way across. I put the top head on and use a splicing block, like those
used for splicing tape, or something about that size. I put it together with
some foam, and I wrap a piece of leather around and lay it so the foam is
resting against the head. I don't like any internal muffling, or cloth with
tape. A wallet sounds good on top of the snare. The top head is tuned loose,
to where each lug is about to fall off. Start hitting it with the snares real
loose and raise the pitch of the head from that position, tightening the snares
slightly. Within about three rotations, you've got yourself a nice sounding
snare drum. I keep the top heads loose and the bottom heads tight on my toms to
get the ptich to bend a little."
Coinciding with many of the "new" players, Jeff's preference in stick grip leans
toward the matched. With the standard grip he found blisters developing on the
middle finger of his left hand simply because of the power with which he plays.
"I don't have any of the chops I use to have with my left hand, but I feel a lot
better using the new grip. It's the only way there is. My father was a
professor of the traditional grip and even he switched to the matched grip."
Jeff also has some strong feelings on matters ranging from drum sticks to drum
"I hate sticks. They're not like they used to be. I remember when you could
buy a pair of sticks and they would last awhile. They'd feel good. The wood
was nice, and you knew it just by the feel of the stick. When you hit the tip
on a cymbal, you could feel it in your hand. Now sticks are warped and the wood
doesn't feel right. They don't last as long. I usually use a stick similar to
a 5A in weight, but not as thick, and maybe a little shorter."
"As far as electronics go, I just did a bunch of records using the Syndrum. I
was one of the first guys to see the prototype of that. Jim Keltner, Hal Blaine
and myself were using those in recording when the prototypes came out. Now,
everybody is using them. That Carly Simon tune, Nobody Does It Better, was one
of the things I did using the Syndrum. The new Hall and Oates, Boz Scaggs, and
Leo Sayer albums have it all over the place. They're the best electronic drums
I've heard or played. You can get them to sound just like a drum."
Recently a new homeowner, Jeff hopes to fix up his garage for use as a studio,
and with the new group, have more time for practice and study.
"I haven't had much of a chance to do any practicing. It's really weird because
when you start doing lots of sessions and working every day, you have to start
meeting up to what people imagine of you as a player. I'm really not into that.
I don't care what people think of me, as opposed to being a really good all-
around player. I just enjoy what I'm doing."
At the ripe age of 24, Jeff has also developed a fine ear for the work of a wide
variety of drummers, along with some astute feelings on the importance of a
drummer's concern for musicality, first and foremost.
"One guy that has really impressed me is Steve Gadd. The finest drummer out
right now. He's unbelievably straight and well schooled. He's getting to be
known as one of the most schooled drummers in history. He's amazing. He can
read anything you put in front of him. He blows peoples' minds. Then there are
people like Jim Gordon and Harvey Mason. I wouldn't put myself up with any of
those guys. They're the guys that are doing it today. Ed Green, Rick Mirada
[Marotta?], Bernard Purdie, and Jim Keltner. In the pop-rock field, Keltner has
to be the master. The shame is that he's done a lot of sessions and is not
someone everybody is aware of. He's done a lot of big records with John Lennon,
Joe Cocker, and all the George Harrison things. Those aren't the real Keltner
though. The real Keltner is stuff like the original Delaney and Bonnie album,
and the old Leon Russell, and his own group called Attitudes. He's incredible.
Among jazz players, there really aren't many guys who are playing like Elvin, or
Philly, or Art Blakey or any of those guys. When those guys do a solo in the
jazz context of soloing, it's cool because they play a chorus and still play
musically. I'm not interested in a guy showing me what he can do rudimentally
when it's not musical. When you don't hear any nice notes, or phrases, and when
there's no soul to it whatsoever, it's like saying, 'Hey, dig what I can do'.
No thank you. That's not for me.
MD: Where are you origianlly from?
JOE: I was born in New Britain, Connecticut, which is about fifteen miles from
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
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
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
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
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
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.