Jeff Porcaro

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prasa > Modern Drummer, kwiecień 1992

Modern Drummer, April 1992

Getting Replaced in the Studio

By Rick Mattingly

[Portions not relating to Jeff omitted here.]

Sitting in a plane on his way to L.A. in 1976, drummer Danny Cochran thought he had it made. "A friend of mine who I had played with in Texas was doing a record with Dave Mason," he recalls, "and they called me. I packed up my drums, went out there, set them up, and started playing. Right away, the producer came running out and said, 'I can't record those drums. They sound awful.' So he sent someone over to S.I.R. to get some drums that were tuned properly for recording."
Not knowing how to tune for the studio was just the beginning of Cochran's problems. Eventually he was dismissed and Jeff Porcaro was brought in to finish the album. "That was a crushing blow," Cochran says. "But I was just a kid and wasn't really prepared. I guess you have to go through those types of situations to find out that you're not there yet."
About a year and a half later, Cochran got another shot at the studio. "I had moved to L.A. with a songwriter friend named Jerry Williams, who had a deal with Warner Bros.," Cochran says. "We had a great band, and we were rehearsing to do Jerry's album. But when it came time to go in the studio, the people at Warners wanted a big name on the record, because it was Jerry's first release. So they got Jeff Porcaro."
One can imagine how Danny must have felt to be so close to getting on a record and then being told that this famous studio player was going to do it instead. And to have it happen twice. Most guys would probably give up and go home.
But not Cochran. "Sure," he admits, "it was a big disappointment, but I didn't take it as a slap in the face. Jeff is a great drummer, and he was one of my big influences. So I went to the studio every day and watched Jeff record. He was real professional, and watching him work was an unbelievable lesson. At one point they were doing this fast samba, and a stick flew out of Jeff's hand. But if I hadn't seen it, I would never have known it happened because he grabbed another stick from his stick bag without messing up the feel at all. If that had happened to me, I would probably have stopped playing and ruined the take.
"I was able to ask Jeff questions about various things, and he was super nice. He even let me sit behind the drums he cut Silk Degrees on, which blew me away. So it was a big learning experience for me. I took something bad that happened and kind of turned it around.
Cochran went on to record a couple of tracks with Delbert McClinton, and he recently did all the drumming on the latest album by Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets. He feels that in the long run, watching Porcaro in the studio may have been better for his career than if he had done the album himself, in terms of how much he was able to learn.

* * * * * * *

....Although Keltner's feelings were hurt when he was first told that he was going to be replaced, still, everyone was upfront about the situation and he, like Newark, was able to attend the sessions and learn from them. Not all drummers are so lucky. Jeff Porcaro wasn't, but he still managed to turn a negative situation into a positive one.
"Yeah, here we go," Porcaro says, taking a deep breath. "I was with Steely Dan. I had done two tracks with them on the Pretzel Logic album, I had toured with them for a year and a half, and when we got off the road we did the Katy Lied album, on which I played all the tracks but one. I was really proud of my playing on that album, and I couldn't wait for the next one.
"Walter Becker called me one day and told me they were doing demos for the next album, and asked if he could borrow a set of my drums so that he could work out some ideas at home. So I got all excited because I figured that in a few weeks I'd be in the studio doing the next Steely Dan record. A few weeks went by and I didn't hear a word from anybody.
"Then a friend of mine told me that Steely Dan was in the studio doing an album. I was like, 'WHAT?!' So I called the producer and, sure enough, they were recording The Royal Scam with Bernard Purdie. And they were using my drums and cymbals," Jeff adds, laughing at the irony, or audacity, of the situation.
Porcaro admits that his feelings were hurt. "It wasn't because they hired Purdie," he explains. "I just figured that they wanted a better guy, and even when I did the Katy Lied album with them, on the tune 'Black Friday' I was the one who walked out of the studio telling them I was no good at playing shuffles and they should get a 'real guy,' which was how I always put it. They used to laugh at me for saying that, but I was only 20 years old and insecure about my drumming.
"I was just hurt ego-wise because of my infatuation with that particular band. I thought the two writers were gods. But I didn't make a stink about it. I might have been bent out of shape if it had been someone other than Purdie and I thought it wasn't grooving. But as it turned out, I probably learned more from what Bernard Purdie played on that album with that rhythm section than I've learned from any other drummer on any album. So I now consider myself fortunate that they didn't want me to play on that record.
"That's the attitude I usually have if I get replaced," Porcaro says. "In most cases it's one of my mentors or peers that I think is superior to me, and it's great because now I have another album they've done that I can learn from."
As hurt as Porcaro felt when he found out that another drummer had been hired, he didn't necessarily feel that it was the end of his career.

* * * * * * *

Now that these guys are on the other side of the fence and are often the ones doing the replacing, how do they feel about the drummers who are being pushed aside? Understandably, they are sympathetic....
"I got a call to come to England for a week to do an album," Jeff Porcaro remembers, "and I was given the impression that the band didn't have a regular drummer. When I got there, not only did they have a drummer, but he was in the kitchen still arguing with the band, 'Why can't I play on my own album?'
"So that's an uncomfortable situation, where you are the 'hotshot gunslinger' who's brought in. I feel for that, because most of the time I think the drummer that I'm being used instead of is quite good for the group. Most of these drummers have pretty decent time and a pretty decent groove, otherwise they wouldn't be in the band.
"In this particular case," Porcaro continues, "after hearing demos and/or tracks they cut with that drummer, I could see why they couldn't use him. So I sat with him at dinner and hung out, and talked about 'yes, isn't it a drag, but...,' and I explained to him what I thought the producer was looking for, not making it an uptight situation. And after I talked to him about what he was doing on one particular track that I thought maybe they weren't satisfied with, I managed to convince the producer and leader of the band to let him play on that song.
"The best thing I can do," Porcaro says, "is to explain to guys that they shouldn't take these situations as personal insults. I explain things I've been through with producers or artists, and their explanations of why they don't want to use a certain drummer and why they want a 'name' player. In this case, the record company had hired this producer for a reason. It was a new group, and this guy had been hired to produce these songs the best he could so that they would represent the artists the way the record company wanted that artist to be represented. Yes, they want good quality, but they also think about budget, and the producer might not have the budget to spend the extra hours--or days--to work with a band and get a great-feeling track. That's when the politics of making a record come into play and certain musicians in a particular band may be put aside for professional people to come in."
Porcaro points out that the producer is often seen as the villain in these situations, when it might really be the record company who is pulling the strings. "A lot of people do blame the producer," Jeff says, "but that's a misconception. For instance, in the situation I just described, that particular producer is one of the finest human beings in the world, and he hated having to do what he had to do. But he was hired to get a record done in a certain amount of time, and he knew the only way he could get it done was with the tools he needed.
"A good record company representative will explain to the artist or band, 'Do you want to get on the charts? Do you want a record like we sold two million of for so-and-so? Well, this is how we do it. Are you into it or not?' And if it means having to step on the toes of somebody in the band and hurt some feelings, in the overall big picture, that will be done. When the band members understand it like that, and they're not taking it as an insult to their musicianship, then I think it's a little easier to accept.
"I have to tell you," Porcaro adds, "I hear drummers bitching, and most of the time it's guys who are telling me how great they are. 'Aw man, I could do that gig, but this idiot hired so and so....' You know, sometimes the reason that guy wasn't used is because he has a big mouth and a bad attitude."

* * * * * *

"Sometimes I'll get a call from an artist," Porcaro says, "who tells me that he wants me on his next album. Then I hear that he's in the studio with another drummer. All I can do is figure that there was a reason he couldn't use me this time. In a case like that, don't waste more than 20 seconds of your life worrying about it. Move on to the next thing. Or take out the pads and start practicing. Use it as inspiration. Get pissed off, but get pissed off about striving to be better."

* * * * * *

"Look at Jeffrey," Keltner says. "When Purdie replaced him on The Royal Scam, he didn't hold a grudge or focus on the rejection or any of that. He went right to the music. When he got that album, he studied the sucker. And I can tell you that to this day Jeff is a huge Bernard Purdie fan."