Jeff Porcaro

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prasa > Drum!, listopad/grudzień 1992

Drum! November/December 1992

Goodbye Jeff

By Greg Rule

Jeff Porcaro's passing seems inconceivable, and sadly unfair. To describe him as humble would be an understatement. He simply refused to accept words of praise. "I ripped that off from Keltner, thank him not me," or "I've never played one original thing, ever." A bittersweet groove for Jeff was the one from Toto's mega-hit "Rosanna" [from Toto 4, CBS]. He said repeatedly that it was Bernard Purdie and John Bonham who deserved credit for that groove. Not him. "If someone digs the groove, cool. I'll take credit for the performance. But not for originality!"
Churning deep-pocketed grooves, regardless of their origin, became a way of life for Porcaro. At the '92 NAMM convention in Anaheim, he and his Toto bandmates took the stage at Remo's anniversary party to play one unforgettable funk/fusion burner, the tune "Jake to the Bone" (from Toto's new European/Japanese release Kingdom of Desire, Columbia/Sony Music). In classic Porcaro fashion, his response to words of praise afterwards was, "Forget it, I sucked."
DRUM! traveled to Los Angeles on three separate occasions in 1991 to interview Jeff. Two of those meetings were chronicled in our November/ December '91 cover story: Toto's summer tour rehearsals in North Hollywood, and subsequent sessions for Kindgom of Desire at A&M Studios. The third and final interview, a day at Jeff's Hidden Hills home in late '91, never made it into print. Until now, that is. It would be the last time we sat face to face with him talking about drumming and the past, present, and future of Toto. Here are a few excerpts:

DRUM!: When it comes to the business aspect of drumming, how did you learn the ropes? Trial and error?

Porcaro: Yeah, and everyone can do the same. It's just that I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time, and if you do a good job when you get the call, then word of mouth spreads. You learn more with each date, and from that comes the experience. The more experience you gain, the better you get.

DRUM!: How much influence did your father [Joe Porcaro] have in helping launch your studio career?

Porcaro: Surprisingly none whatsoever. And I think he'd be the first to agree because number one, I don't think he thought I was going to be a drummer. I wasn't serious. I mean, obviously, if you have an 18- year-old son, and he hasn't taken a lesson since he was nine... My whole thing was, I wanted to be an artist. I just wanted to be a freak and paint. Drums was for chicks and making some bread for the car. But see, my dad is mainly into TV and film and I got in through people who didn't even know my dad, or know me. I'll tell you how it all started, I was playing in a high school rock band with Paich [David, Toto keyboardist].

DRUM!: Do you remember the name?

Porcaro: Yeah, "Rural Still Life." There used to be a club on Lankershim called Dante's, a jazz club. The guy who owned it invited us to come down and play on Sunday afternoons. It was just for teenagers; they didn't serve booze. And a contractor, Jules Chaikin from A&M, would bring his kids to see the band. After hearing me, he asked me to join a rehearsal band on Saturdays at A&M. It was Jack Dougherty's big band; Jack was the Carpenter's producer. The regular drummer was Hal Blaine, and, if I remember right, Hal was on the road. I didn't read real well or anything, but I said "Yeah, I'll do it." So I did that for a few months.

DRUM!: How old were you then?

Porcaro: I was 17. I remember that they were going to make a record, but they didn't call me right away; I thought that they'd probably get a studio guy to do it. But one day he called and said he wanted me to play on two of the songs. Hal was playing on some of the tunes, so was Jim Gordon and Paul Humphrey. And then he said, "There's going to be another drummer playing with you, Jim Keltner." He didn't know it, but Keltner was my idol. So for a month, every Saturday, I rehearsed with Keltner. And that was a great experience because my time...I used to rush. Nervous energy. I remember looking at him, and I'd go, "Okay, that's how you have to lay back." I used to physically emulate what he was doing. That experience started it all. I mean, some of L.A.'s best studio players were on that gig. Tom Scott, Larry Carlton, all these guys. And I was still in high school.

DRUM!: Did you get the Sonny & Cher gig after that?

Porcaro: Well, the record came out and Bobby Torres, the conga player on the rcord who was also with Joe Cocker, asked Paich and I if we wanted to do a demo up at Leon Russell's house in North Hollywood. So we did, for no money, and we stayed there for the weekend. The bass player and drummer [sic] on the on the demo were Dean Parks and Dave Hungate. No one know who they were at the time. They were in L.A. visiting, because they were in Sonny & Cher's band. So one year later --I'm a senior in high school, getting ready to graduate--and Hungate remembers me and recommends me for the job with Sonny & Cher. I went and auditioned, got the gig, and from there I started working. That was the start of it, being in the right place at the right time.

DRUM!: Care to talk about Toto's personnel changes?

Porcaro: Ever since Bobby Kimball left the band [in 1984], we've been trying to find a lead vocalist replacement--and we've gone through three singers since Bobby. So we finally decided that the obvious thing was to have Luke [Toto guitarist, Steve Lukather] sing lead. On this last tour we did in '90/'91 in Europe, he sang a lot. So afterwards, I think he realized that he could do it. And now that we've been writing, it's changed things quite a bit. We no longer have a real high vocal and five-part harmonies, so the direction of the music is different, which makes it fresh. It's more rock-oriented, bluesier.

DRUM!: Over that past several years, Toto's popularity seems to have steadily risen in Japan and Europe, but dropped off somewhat in the U.S. Is it true that the band considered calling it quits?

Porcaro: We considered reforming and renaming, yeah, we thought about it. One thing about Toto is that when a band is successful, as far as commercial success, there's a whole trip that goes along with it. There's a lot of really big commerciallly successful bands that are way into the showbiz part of it. Musically they're very commercial and they're able to maintain themselves that way. We never felt comfortable with that part of it. There's work that goes with mantaining that type of exposure, be it going to parties or going to every media event, you know. And plus, there's a youth thing that, as we get older, we may not be in touch with if we want to be "commercially successful." It's a game if you think you're going to change your appearance and get hair-extensions or whatever and be true to the music. We don't do that. To me, having a Toto photo session is a joke because we're not even good at sitting and having our pictures taken. It doesn't translate well unless you happen to catch something candid. So I don't think we've ever worn the success thing too well, or the pop or commercial image thing too well. We make anti-decisions for our career. When Toto 4 came out and we got all those Grammys and stuff, the obvious thing would have been to book ourselves worldwide because all the gigs were there--incredible gig opportunities. But we said "No, we don't want to tour, we've just been touring for nine months, that's too long, we want to go make another album." Well, we should have toured because there hasn't been another album like that one and there hasn't been a "financial heyday" like those '82, '83, '84 years.

DRUM!: What impact did MTV have on the band throughout the '80s?

Porcaro: Well, I personally feel we wasted too much money doing conceptual videos. I think the only Toto video worth watching is a live thing. And I think we're one of the bands who's capable of doing it live. Even if we do a single in the studio, we can go into a soundstage and film it live and make it sound as good as the single-- and really get what it's all about across, because we can play! We can have fun as a unit playing and enjoy the music and that reads well through that medium. But not somebody putting makeup on us and saying, "Okay now lipsync these lyrics into the camera." We don't read well that way. That's not us. And so you could look at that as a downside of our group, but, whatever. That's why I say for us, looking at the future, it's hard to play the games anymore.

DRUM!: But yet you still have a strong commitment to the music, right?

Porcaro: We will always be doing stuff together, always, until we're old men, or whatever. I mean, just as players, whether it's playing on individual projects, whether it's us meeting together in a studio for somebody else's session, who knows? The market is there for making music, and having fun doing it. If we wanted to play jazz, we could have a good time playing jazz, and find a market, a niche, to at least be able to get it out there. It might not be a commercial success, but it would be a musical success. In music, when you try to analyze what young people like, I think it is more along the lines of somebody who writes something substantial, more of a poet thing, and music is more of a background to that. Music is part of the energy, but there is obviously an artist--someone who has something radical to say. Looking back, it was usually the real artists who had something quirky about them, something cool, something different that grabbed your interest. All of sudden musicianship comes along and that's not as tangible as somebody saying this radical thing. Know what I'm saying. Whether it was Dylan, or whoever. So, if Toto has a downfall, it's that we're mainly a musician's band. It's not like we have all these prolific things to say in our songs and those are the first and foremost things in our music. It's not. And that's another factor as to why it's hard for us to stay up in this rock-and-roll/pop commercial realm. I don't think we've been very successful lyricallly saying something and, for me, that's 80 percent of the real deal. Hendrix, Steely, Dylan, or whoever, they were saying something in their music. With us, it's been more of "dig this cool arrangement, dig this cool production, dig this musicianship." So that's why it's a different kind of band. To me it's an uncomfortable band in the rock and roll world. Of course critics aren't going to dig us. I wouldn't dig the band either. It's a good musical ensemble, but it's not the real deal. Then again, it's not the other end of the spectrum either, that being people who look great dancing and have youth appeal and play disco music or whatever. We're right in the middle of it.

DRUM!: Given your diverse and hectic musical lifestyle, with the constant session work and all, is there anything that would make you drop everything?

Porcaro: That's a funny thing. Used to be my number one commitment would be to anything I was doing at the time because, hey, if I get to play, I'll commit to it. But then the group thing became a great commitment because it was best friends playing together. But for me personally, my family is my biggest commitment. We were just in Hawaii and there was a guy playing on these log drums and it was groovin'. And I thought, "Man, forget it. Quit all this stuff and just move over here with the family and groove on a log." That would probably be a lot more fun than the crap I've been playing in the studio in L.A. So know I could have fun playing any kind of music. I'll tell you, though, I really miss playing the R&B stuff. I miss playing that probably more than anything--playing those old Motown hits in the high school band. Basically, I like listening to records, I like all sorts of music, I like keeping time.

DRUM!: Would you ever entertain the thought of doing road work with anyone other than toto?

Porcaro: I've entertained the thought and I've been offered some pretty big tours in recent days. But I just can't do them like that anymore. It's just not in my heart. I got offered this Dire Straits tour but it was for almost two years straight. The money would have been unbelievable. I would have been seeing parts of the world that I still haven't seen to this day. But the bottom line is that I can't stay on the road that long without wanting to be home and hang with the family. [Ed. note: Porcaro had also declined an offer to tour with Bruce Springsteen.]

DRUM!: What's the foreseeable future of the band?

Porcaro: The new record is done and we had a lot of fun making it. So after it comes out we're planning to tour Europe, Japan, Australia, and hopefully there'll be some shows in the States. We've also offered our services to open for some people, so we'll see what comes of that. And, I think this is the last album, contractually, that we have with Sony. They have an option to pick us up for another one, but it'll be expensive. [Laughs.] If they don't, though, we'll have to look for a new record deal.