prasa > Drum!, listopad/grudzień 1991
Drum! November/December 1991
In and Out of the Studio With Jeff Porcaro
Interview by Greg Rule
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
At the far coner of the dimly lit room, just past an onlooking 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
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 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 (see discography, page 18). DRUM!
caught up with Jeff amid the rehearsal madness and compiled the
* * * * *
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
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?
Jeff: 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
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 Motwon
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 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" Example: (diagram missing)
DRUM!: But "Rosanna" is just one of many notable grooves you've
played. Take "Mushanga" [The Seventh One] for instance.
Jeff: 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" Example: (diagram missing)
DRUM!: You've said that when you were cutting "Africa" [Toto 4] you
made a tape loop. Have you experimented with loops since then?
"Africa" Example: (diagram missing)
Jeff: 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 mikes just right so that we got a natrual 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 [Sheffield
Labs] must have been an incredible challenge?
Jeff: 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.
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 see's the light of
day, it's on some shelf somewhere.
DRUM!: Do you try and keep a copy of each record at home for
Jeff: 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?
Jeff: 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 aften, but when it
does, I keep it in mind next time I get called to do a project with
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. Becuse you 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. Once again DRUM!
was on the scene, and it went something like this:
Day One, 10:00 A.M. Matt Luneau and Paul Hurd of the Drum Doctor
arrive at Studio A with Jeff's equipment. They wheel in several
different drum sets, an array of Paiste cymbals (including a couple of
unidentified prototypes) and an Anvil case full of snare drums. The
kit is set up in the main room of the studio--a large, ambient room
with wooden floors and a high ceiling. By 10:15, the drums are locked
into place and the process of changing heads begins. Coated Remo
Ambassadors are installed on the top sides of the snare and toms while
a Remo PowerStroke 3 is the choice for the bass drum. Jeff's snare is
cranked tightly while the toms are a bit looser--with the bottom heads
tuned slightly lower than the top heads to produce a subtle pitch bend
effect. A packing blanket is placed inside the bass drum and secured
with a sandbag.
10:40 A.M. After tuning the kit, Matt and Paul depart and the
engineers from A&M begin placing microphones. The selection includes
an AKG D12 and a Neumann 47FET on the bass drum, AKG 414's on the
toms, a Shure SM57 on the top of the snare and a Sennheiser 441 on the
bottom, a 452-10 condenser on the hi-hat, and six AKG C12's as
overheads--two directly over the kit, two approximately six feet in
front of the kit, and another two at approximately 12 feet in front.
11:00 A.M. Jeff arrives, tells a hilarious Ike Turner session story,
grabs a pair of sticks, and starts to warm up behind the kit. After
15 minutes, Ross Garfield "The Drum Doctor" arrives with a snare drum
for Jeff to try out. It's a 5" x 14" Solid/Select maple shell, Tama
die-cast hoops, a Sonor throw-off, and a 42-strand snare. Jeff loves
it. According to Ross, "Jeff's got the tuning thing down, but he
likes to have a second set of ears sometimes."
11:30 A.M. Engineer Greg Ladanyi wheels a pair of bass cabinets into
the studio and positions them on each side of Jeff's bass drum. His
plan is to route the bass drum signal through the speakers and mike
them for additional ambiance.
1:00 P.M. The process of getting drum sounds begins. As Jeff hits
each drum repeatedly, Ladanyi works the huge Neve console like a mad
scientist. With no outboard effects (other than a bit of compression
here and there) he quickly achieves a very lively and very powerful
drum sound. When he starts bleeding the bass drum throught the
cabinets, everyone in the control room seems amazed.
1:45 P.M. As Jeff lets rip on the kit, Ladanyi rolls tape. Soon
after, he invites Jeff into the control room to hear the playback.
Jeff returns to the studio to tweak the 14" floor tom and change a
crash cymbal. Once done, he's ready to track.
3:00 P.M. David Paich, the last band member to arrive, enters the
studio and takes a seat behind his heaping pile of MIDI gear. The
band is set up in a circle, face-to-face, in the same room. Each
musician has a remote mixing console which allows them to customize
their own headphone/monitor mixes. With the guitar and bass
amplifiers isolated in separate booths, they're ready to cut the basic
tracks for "I'll Never Hurt You" together, without a click.
3:40 P.M. After a console problem is fixed, they're once again ready
to roll. The first time through is solid, but, unfortunately, Jeff's
headphones fly off his head half-way through the take.
4:00 P.M. As an added precaution, John "JJ" Jessel--Paich's long-time
keyboard tech--brings in an Alesis SR-16 drum machine for a click
reference. Jeff quickly creates a repetitive eighth-note handclap and
cowbell pattern to play along with. A couple of takes later, it's a
keeper--with no overdubs necessary.
Day Two, Noon. With the basic tracks for "I'll Never Hurt You" in the
can, today's goal is to cut "Don't Chain My Heart," a mid-tempo
shuffle written by Paich.
12:35 P.M. Jeff arrives and, along with Lukather and Mike Porcaro,
starts to warm up in the studio. For this tune, Jeff is laying down a
solid four-on-the-floor kick pattern with a tasty offbeat shuffle
pattern over the top. He's programmed an eighth-note triplet click
pattern on the Alesis SR-16.
1:50 P.M. Paich finally arrives and the tape starts to roll. After
the first time through, Ladanyi calls the band into the control room
to hear the playback. Afterwards, everyone is convince that Jeff's
track is a keeper.
2:05 P.M. After soloing the bass and drums, they indeed decide to
keep the drums. The process of singularly overdubbing bass, rhythm
guitar, and keyboards begins. Lukather, now behind the board, relates
to Ladanyi, "Whatever we do, we've got to make sure that we don't fix
the life out of these tunes." Jeff agrees. "If we punch the bass
guitar in and out too much, my fills are going to start sounding
2:30 P.M. With the bass and drum tracks now complete, the band gives
the tune a high-volumed playback. Heads bob, harms flail, and high-
fives abound. Lukather turns to Jeff, slaps him on the back and says,
"Awesome man. Awesome. This is one of your finest!" And on that
note, the control room empties. Just another day in the studio for
the man with the golden groove.
Jeff Porcaro: a Selected Discography
With Toto: On Columbia: Toto; Hydra; Turn Back; Toto 4; Isolation;
Dune (Motion Picture Soundtrack); Fahrenheit; The Seventh One; Past To
Present. With Michael Jackson: Thriller, Epic. With Steely Dan: On
MCA: Pretzel Logic, Katy Lied, Gaucho. With Boz Scaggs: On CBS: Silk
Degrees, Down Two Then Left, Middleman. With Elton John: Too Low For
Zero, Geffen. With Paul McCartney: Give My Regard To Broadstreet,
CBS. With Hall & Oates: Beauty On A Backstreet, RCA. With Jackson
Browne: The Pretender, Asylum. With Dan Fogelberg: Windows And Walls,
Full Moon. Larry Carlton: On Warner Bros.: Larry Carlton, Friends.
With Diana Ross: Baby It's Me, Motown. With Rickie Lee Jones: Rickie
Lee Jones, Warner Bros. With Don Henley: I Can't Stand Still,
Elektra. With Lionel Richie: Can't Slow Down, Motown. With Cher:
Bittersweet White Light, MCA. With Donald Fagan: The Nightfly, Warner
Bros. With Melissa Manchester: Hey Ricky, Arista.
Porcaro's Power Tools (diagram missing)
Drums: Pearl MLX (maple)
1. Alternates between: 3 1/2" x 14" Pearl Free-Floating brass piccolo,
Pearl 5 1/2" x 14" steel, 5" x 14" Solid/Select maple, Ludwig Black
Beauty (plus many more)
2. Brady 10" soprano snare drum
3. 18" x 22" bass drum
4. 8" x 10" mounted tom
5. 8" x 12" mounted tom
6. 9" x 13" mounted tom
7. 12" x 14" suspended floor tom
8. 14" x 16" suspended floor tom
Cymbals: Paiste Signature Series
A. 14" hi-hats
B. 10" cup chime
C. 6" cup chime
D. 18" crash
E. 16" crash
F. 20" ride
G. 17" crash
H. 20" Wuhan China-type
Jeff Porcaro also uses PureCussion RIMS, Drum Workshop DW-5000 pedals,
Calato/Regal Tip "Jeff Porcaro" Performer Series drum sticks, Remo
coated Ambassadors on batter sides, clear Diplomats on bottoms, and a
PowerStroke 3 on the bass drum. His drums are custom finished by Pork