Jeff Porcaro

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prasa > Sacramento Bee, 8 sierpień 1992

Sacramento Bee, August 8, 1992

Jeff Porcaro made songs come alive

By David Barton

Jeff Porcaro was not a star - even when his group, Toto, swept seven categories of the Grammy awards in 1983. To the mass rock audience, he was just some guy in thick glasses, a name (usually in fine print) on a record sleeve.
But his death Wednesday night, at 38, of an "allergic reaction" to pesticides he was using on his lawn in his suburban Los Angeles home, should not go unnoted.
That's because Porcaro was one of rock's greatest drummers, a man with feel to burn and taste like few others, whose work is a crucial part of some of the best rock and pop music made in the last 20 years.
As recently as this year, he was the drummer on Bruce Springsteen's "Human Touch" album, and he turned down a full membership in Dire Straits after wowing leader Mark Knopfler with his playing on the band's recent "On Every Street."
Knopfler, speaking to The Bee in January, said of Porcaro, "He's amazing, as good as it gets."
Porcaro turned down Dire Straits because he wanted to continue to work with Toto, despite the group's lack of success since its big Grammy sweep.
Likewise, Springsteen asked him to join his current touring band, and offered him a rumored $1 million for his time. Porcaro declined.
When he died, Porcaro was working on sessions for John Fogerty's new album, and preparing for a new Toto tour that would have been launched after the release of the group's new album, "Kingdom of Desire." (A label representative said Thursday that plans for the album's release are on hold.)
Those recent recordings were just the latest in a long, glorious line of great performances that began when Porcaro left high school to play with Sonny and Cher, and soon moved on to work with Steely Dan -- that's him on "Doctor Wu" on the 1975 album "Katy Lied," blending jazz and rock without losing the essence of either; on Boz Scaggs' "Silk Degrees," driving that classic blue-eyed soul hit, "Lowdown"; on Donald Fagen's excellent solo album "The Night Fly," giving new life to the classic "Ruby Baby"; and on Paul Simon's "Hearts and Bones," providing the lazy locomotive chug of "Train in the Distance."
And of course, there was Michael Jackson's "Thriller," of which Porcaro was a large part of the engine, especially on "Billie Jean," the drummer delivering the steady, unforgettable groove that set Jackson as free as he's ever been.
And then there were recording dates with Diana Ross, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Carly Simon and Rickie Lee Jones.
He was dismissed as a "studio hack" by some, especially critics who found little to like in Toto's slick pop - hits like "Hold the Line," "Rosanna" and "Africa" - but he was a brilliant contributor to the work of others.
Porcaro should not be judged by his work with Toto, which was made up of Porcaro, his brothers Steve and Mike, Bobby Kimball, Steve Lukather, David Paich and David Hungate. As decent as it is, it is mostly forgettable.
Instead, he should be remembered for those great records, and what he did for them with his remarkable ability to bring a song alive, to invest a simple drum beat -- for he was above all a simple, direct player -- with a personality, a contour, a feel.
My fondest memory of Porcaro - indeed, my only memory of him as a live performing musician - was in an unlikely spot: Marysville's Riverfront Park.
It was there that Toto, in May, 1985 (already past its commercial prime), was doing an afternoon gig before a small, indifferent crowd, under a blazing sun.
I was backstage, watching the show. Porcaro was in shorts, playing in the shadows, as always. The band, which had a new, widely- ignored and immediately forgotten album out, launched into the first song, "Carmen."
It was a nondescript rocker, the kind of bland-but-competent stuff Toto was known for. But as soon as they started, Porcaro fell into the groove like nobody's business, goosing the band, charging the fills and just smoldering through the song as though it were "Satisfaction" itself.
As he finished the song, swinging through the final roll, he leapt off his stool and turned to the small knot of slack-jawed roadies and visitors behind the stage, who broke into ecstatic cheers.
Exultant, Porcaro thrust his fists in the air like an Olympic gold medalist, thrilled with his performance and fully engaged in the making of rock 'n' roll.
And then he climbed back onto his stool, and carried on.