prasa > Modern Drummer, lipec, 1998
Modern Drummer, July, 1998
Artist On Track: Jeff Porcaro
By Mark Griffith
Six years ago, the music world lost a great friend, and three young boys
lost a father. The phrase "gone but not forgotten" pertains to a
number of history's great drummers--Gene, Buddy, Tony, and Larrie--but
within the drumming community, nowhere is it applied with more
sincerity and heartfelt respect than to the one and only Jeff Porcaro.
From the second that Jeff hit the scene in 1971, playing double drums
with Jim Keltner on Jack Daughterty's The Class Of 1971, it was obvious
that he had something special. For a young drummer, playing double
drums with anyone is hard. But if the drummer you have to lock in with
happens to be your idol, as Jim was to Jeff, you're faced with an
entirely different kind of pressure. Then again, Jeff was not just any
young drummer. Rising to that challenge in his first recording session
launched one of the most celebrated studio drumming careers in recent
From there, Jeff played with Sonny & Cher in Las Vegas, on TV, and on
their excellent album Live In Las Vegas. This music may not fit today's
taste, but if you listen closely, you'll discover some great grooves and
a very tight rhythm section that made the music really come alive.
Only five years after Jeff entered the recording business, he played on
Boz Scaggs' memorable Silk Degrees. Even at that young age Jeff was
able to manipulate the time feel in many ways. On "What Can I Say" he
lays back, playing well behind the beat. On "Georgia" he's as "on top"
as he could be without actually rushing. And in both cases the groove
is amazingly comfortable. On "Jumpstreet" Jeff splits the difference,
placing the beat absolutely dead center. His cut-time reggae groove on
"Love Me Tomorrow" is almost as great as his "Lido Shuffle" beat, a
classic groove that every drummer should learn.
By the time of Boz's 1977 recording Down Two, Then Left, Jeff's drumming
had changed. Thought still young, he had already made many recordings,
and, like any great musician, he was constantly evolving and improving.
I have heard many people refer to Jeff's "silky" hi-hat work.
Throughout this article we will chart the evolution of this Porcaro
trademark. Isolate Jeff's hi-hat parts on "A Clue" and "Gimme The
Goods", focusing not on the pattern he plays, but on how he varies the
part of the stick with which he strikes the cymbals. This technique
varies the hi-hat's texture, making it sound more like a maraca, and
fills the music with forward motion. Compare this to the more static
hi-hat sounds on Silk Degrees, made just the previous year. This is
only the beginning of Jeff's unique hi-hat style. (And speaking of
Jeff's hi-hat, notice the absence of it entirely on the shuffle "1993".)
In 1980, Jeff recorded Boz Scaggs' Middle Man. On "Angel You" and
"JoJo", notice how he places the beat exactly and consistently dead-
center, and how on the latter he makes the very difficult hits seem
effortless. "You Got Some Imagination" shows Jeff playing more
aggressively. Pay special attention to how his busy bass drum locks in
perfectly with the bassist. "You Can Have Me Anytime" is one of those
"not slow but not fast" in-between tempos. Jeff attacks this difficult
gray area, and even gets creative with it. And what can you say about
the rockin' "Middle Man" except that it's perfect. These three great
Boz Scaggs tunes provide an ideal study of the evolution of Jeff's
style. Jeff also played on Boz's Other Roads, recorded in 1988.
If you explore Jeff's recording career you will notice some names that
appear repeatedly. A couple of the most notable are Larry Carlton and
Les Dudek. With Carlton Jeff made three recordings: Larry Carlton
(check the outstanding "Point It Up"), Sleepwalk, and Friends. The
latter, highly recommended, is a record-long showcase of quintessential
Porcaro: wide beat, deep-in-the-pocket drumming. The three early Les
Dudek releases sound similar to Carlton's, but possess more of an edge,
like early Little Feat. (You can hear some very distinct Richie Hayward
influences both in Jeff's sound and style.) Say No More and Ghost Town
Parade are good, but Dudek's self-titled recording is excellent. Jeff
shifts beats and sounds very funky on "City Magic", the Zappa-ish "Don't
Stop Now" lets him display some early Purdie influences, and he gets
down and swampy with "Take The Time". The most recent Les Dudek album,
Deeper Shades Of Blue, is also outstanding. This recording presents
Jeff's many blues shuffle variations and could serve as an encyclopedia
of this drumming style.
Steely Dan's entire Katy Lied is a Porcaro masterpiece. His uptempo
shuffle on "Black Friday" is notable, and the swinging "Your Gold Teeth
II" stands out as a drastic departure from the rest of his career. The
slower shuffle of "Chain Lightning" is further proof that Jeff owned
this style of groove. You can also hear him moving the time feel around
from playing on top in "Rose Darling", to slightly behind on "Daddy
Don't Live In New York City", to dead center on "Everyone's Gone To The
Movies". Sure, Jeff could have played "more" drums on this recording,
but that's not what the music called for, and whenever Jeff played, the
music came first.
In 1982 Donald Fagen called Jeff to do some of the drumming on his solo
debut, The Nightfly, on which Jeff plays yet another shuffle variation
on "Ruby Baby". Compare his shuffle approach to Steve Jordan's feel on
"Walk Between The Raindrops" on this same album. Also compare Jeff's
dead-center time feel on The Nightfly to his earlier, ultra-laid-back
groove on Steely Dan's "Gaucho" from the album of the same name. But
regardless of his varied treatment of the time feel, Jeff always had
full command of the time.
Toto's collective musicality and their great songwriting skills make it
a drummer's dream gig. However, Jeff didn't just play Toto's music;
his grooves helped define Toto's sound. In fact, many of Toto's
greatest songs were so dependent on Jeff's grooves, it is often very
hard to tell which came first, the song or the groove.
On Toto's self-titled album (1978), which features the hits "Child's
Anthem" and "Hold The Line", Jeff's hi-hat approach was evolving. On
"Georgy Porgy" and "I'll Supply The Love", his hi-hat is static, but he
applies his trademark "silky" hi-hat on "You Are The Flower" and "Takin'
It Back". Compare the in-the-pocket "Rockmaker" to the similar but
edgier "I'll Supply The Love". Even this early it was apparent that
Jeff was becoming a master at manipulating beat placement.
Toto's Hydra finds Jeff's hi-hat work getting even smoother. Check out
the title tune and "99" for Jeff's subtle hi-hat, and the often
overlooked "Mama" for yet another variation of the great "Porcaro
Turn Back has many highlights. "English Eyes" features some of Jeff's
most aggressive drumming, but he doesn't let that affect the tune's
laid-back time feel. It also contains one of the first examples of my
favorite Porcaro trademark. In the middle of this song, there is a
break that he fills in a signature way: The tune has an 8th-note rock
feel, but Jeff shifts gears and plays a half-time 16th-note groove as
the fill. He did this much more (with other time feels) later in his
Outside of his underlying groove, perhaps the most important aspect of
Jeff Porcaro's drumming was his patience. Jeff let songs and grooves
evolve, knowing that a groove doesn't just happen; it is created
through repetition and sincerity. Jeff was confident enough to be
repetitious, and he never played an insincere note. Listen to how he
paces himself throughout "I Think I Could Stand You Forever". Jeff
contributes to the song's momentum with his "larger than life" tom
fills, but he doesn't complicate the groove. Instead, only his bass
drum gets busier--but not until the end of the tune.
Toto IV is recognized as a classic, but it's much more than the legendary
"Rosanna" and "Africa". Listen to how Jeff incorporates the parts of
the song into his "Good For You" groove. This is more than just a beat;
it is one of the greatest examples of orchestrating a drum part around
the drumset ever recorded. Compare "We Made It" to Toto's earlier "I'll
Supply The Love". The main groove is very similar, but notice how
Jeff's pocket has developed over time. While closely listening to "We
Made It" and "Waiting For Your Love" you'll hear that Jeff by then had
mastered his silky hi-hat technique. And upon even closer examination,
you'll find that there are many other grace notes (besides his hi-hats)
within "Waiting For Your Love". The notes that aren't heard are the
ones that can transform a drum beat into a groove.
Notice how Jeff's perfectly orchestrated tom fills (yet another
trademark) keep the ballad "I Won't Hold You Back" moving. Jeff knew
how to make an entrance. Be it on Boz Scaggs' "Lido Shuffle", Toto's
"Africa", "I Think I Could Stand You Forever", and "Could This Be Love",
Michael Bolton's "When A Man Loves A Woman", or Robben Ford's "I Got
Over It", Jeff's melodic fills were unpredictable yet precise, dramatic
yet musical--and always instantly identifiable as Jeff Porcaro.
Isolation was a different type of recording for Toto and Jeff. The
rhythmic lilt and the manipulation of the beat were absent. All of
Jeff's drumming on this record was exactly in the middle of the beat.
If you don't hear it at first, compare it to Larry Carlton's Friends,
made just the previous year. However, "Lion" (from Isolation) proves
that Jeff could make "dead center" groove more than anybody. Also note
the big fills on "How Does It Feel", and the overdubbed hi-hat on
On Fahrenheit, Jeff really shines. "Can't Stand It Any Longer" is a
perfect Porcaro cut: very aggressive, silky smooth hi-hat, and a deep
pocket. The title track is made especially unusual by the second-line
idea at the end of the song. "Without Your Love" is another difficult
in-between tempo that Jeff holds perfectly. And "Somewhere Tonight"
adds one more chapter to the "Porcaro Encyclopedia Of Shuffles", this
time with a strong reggae influence.
From The Seventh One, "Mushanga" is a unique and creative groove.
"These Chains" is yet another amazing shuffle, and "A Thousand Years" is
yet one more difficult tempo made easy by Mr. Porcaro.
Kingdom Of Desire is, simply put, a modern rock drumming masterpiece,
and is highly recommended. With his drumming more aggressive than ever,
this is the ultimate Jeff Porcaro. There is also a video of Toto live
in Paris in 1990 (released in Japan) that is absolutely indispensable.
Also see Jeff's own instructional video for more visuals of the master.
So far we have surveyed the gigs and recordings that Jeff Porcaro is
immediately associated with. But since Jeff was also a very busy
session/studio musician, let's look at some of the older sessions that
his playing helped define. Etta James' Deep In The Night was a perfect
session for Jeff. The bluesy and soulful James sank into his groove on
"Piece Of My Heart" and "Take It To The Limit", as well as the funky
"Blind Girl". Porcaro is strong, precise, and dead-center on Hall &
Oates' Beauty On A Back Street, and on Jackson Browne's The Pretender.
His mastery of ballads is clear on Aretha Franklin's Love All The Hurt
Away. Allen Toussaint's Motion delivers the funky "Nightpeople",
"Optimism Blues", and "Viva La Money". The title track of Tom Scott's
Street Beat features some of the funkiest Jeff Porcaro ever. And
although Sarah Vaughan's Songs Of The Beatles has heavy disco overtones,
Jeff is very strong throughout.
More recently, David Gilmour's About Face displayed some of Jeff's best
all-out rock playing. In the same year Jeff played on the outstanding
James Newton Howard and Friends album, featuring multiple synths, drums,
and percussion. Warren Zevon's Mr. Bad Example glows from Jeff's
presence, as do four tunes on Michael Jackson's landmark Thriller. And
if all these credits don't point to Jeff's incredible range and
versatility, throw this into the stew: Stan Getz found Jeff to be the
perfect drummer for his modern Brazilian-influenced recording
Apasionado, as did Bill Meyers for his pop-ish The Color Of The Truth
and Greg Mathieson for his outstanding rock-out Baked Potato Super Live,
with Jeff and Steve Lukather doing the kickin'.
Jeff was the master of leaving space, making him a favorite among
percussionists. This trademark always came to the forefront with Toto.
While Los Lobotomys features Jeff playing double drums with either
Vinnie Colaiuta or Carlos Vega, all the drummers leave ample space for
Lenny Castro's percussion. Brandon Fields' Other Places also features
Jeff with Lenny Castro. And Luis Conte's Black Forest is outstanding.
Jeff also did a great deal of film soundtrack work. For Dune, an
orchestra was called in to augment Toto for the entire soundtrack. In
Dick Tracy (I'm Breathless) Jeff supported Madonna on four very
different songs. And Jeff plays quality background music with a small
group featuring Wayne Shorter in Glengary Glen Ross.
Because of his gift for playing all kinds of shuffles, Jeff often got
called to do just that--and only that. On Lee Ritenour's Captain
Fingers he plays on just two selections, one of which is the perfectly
executed "Isn't She Lovely?". On Madonna's Like A Prayer, Jeff's
shuffle is the lifeblood of "Cherish". Jeff also steps in for Vinnie
Colaiuta for one song on Nik Kershaw's The Works, because even Vinnie
couldn't have played the shuffling "Walkabout" as well as Jeff.
There's another groove that Jeff was called to play quite often. For
examples, check out Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgettin'", Eric
Clapton's "See What Love Can Do", and Pages' "You Need A Hero". It
doesn't have a name yet, but perhaps we should call the silky-smooth,
16th-note, deep-in-the-pocket groove simply..."JEFF".
Thanks for the grooves, Jeff. You are not forgotten.