RIP Jeff Porcaro (April 1, 1954 – August 5, 1992).
“Here was this seventeen year old kid who didn’t talk or act like a kid, and who played like God”
– David Hungate
What can be said that hasn’t already, about this musical colossus. I didn’t know him or play music with him so far be it for me to try and critique him or add to the glowing testimonials from his former bandmates, producers and artists. But i will anyway…
The words that spring to mind when i REALLY listen to Jeff like when transcribing ‘Lady In My life’ are ‘Active Vocabulary’. Jeff simply had a lot of styles, feels, tempos under his belt. He was musical. He had a producers brain, and his time was outstanding.
And very importantly people loved to be around him. He was ‘a good hang’.
The apparent ease with which Jeff navigated (literally) thousands of studio tracks is quite terrifying. I’m not saying everything was easy for him. But it sounds like it. Everythings grooving. A lot of it isn’t rocket science. It’s just really solid.
Occasionally Jeff would throw in a signature lick that would leave us all breathless like his infamous rolling triplet feel in ‘Rosanna’ or the rapid fire triplet kick drums on the outro of Michael McDonald’s ‘I keep Forgettin’. But it was always appropriate.
It’s like he was saying ‘yo are you listening?’.
Coming back to his command of time and ‘active vocab’. I realised a long time ago how tiny my own grasp on these vital components are. It is REALLY hard to do a good drum take. Try it! Under the microscope of a studio setting even the most basic of drumming can become a battle of nerve, skill and self examination.
Jeff was the undisputed heavyweight champion of that domain.
On the ‘time’ aspect. His pocket and feel were regarded as simply the best. I recently heard Ash Soan on a podcast talking about legendary bassist Pino Palladino. He asked Pino of all the great drummers he has played with who had the best time. Pino said that person was Jeff.
Unbelievably Steve Lukather and his studio contemporaries confirmed the mythical tales of ‘the man with the golden groove’ are true. He really was a one take player. Lukather said usually they didn’t even use a click with Jeff because it didn’t matter. They could even splice in different takes (with no click) and it was seamless.
Here are some thoughts from some people who knew him best!
”He had advanced himself to the point where he could play almost anything. I saw it… i witnessed it, and i was flabbergasted”
– Jim Keltner
”Jeff Porcaro was the best musician i ever played with”
– Steve Lukather
“To me, there was no better drummer than Jeff Porcaro. His musicianship and kindness to me will never be forgotten. Our loss is heaven’s gain”
– Richard Marx
“The genius of Jeff was the interpretation. Jeff had chops, but we’ve all seen chops. He was the master of the pop song.”
– Mike Porcaro
“He was the one person who changed my life. He was a very generous person, and that’s something you don’t see very often in this business. I thought the world of the guy.”
– Michael McDonald
When he came to a session he would light up the room with his enthusiasm. And he didn’t care if the clock was going late. He wasn’t worried about what he was getting paid, or any of that. He was there for the music, and was there with everything he had. He really made you feel comfortable, and he really made you feel like he cared about the music. Jeff was one of the best drummers in the world.”
– Don Henley
“He was one of the best drummers in the world. Definitely the groove master. He was just so heavy.”
– Eddie Van Halen
“He had a tremendous beauty to his playing that went beyond craft and precision into the realm of the spirit. He was a soul man.”
– Bruce Springsteen
“One of the reasons why I loved making this album so much was because of Jeff Porcaro, he’s an artist”
– Mark Knopfler
”He was f**king superman”
– JR Robinson
Finally, here are just some of my Favourite Jeff tracks. Please share yours!
‘Africa’, ‘Rosanna’, ‘Georgy Porgy’ – Toto
‘Diamond Girl’ – Seals & Croft
‘Lowdown’, ‘Jojo’ – Boz Scaggs
‘FM’, ‘Gaucho’ – Steely Dan
‘I’m On Fire’ – Bruce Springsteen
‘Nothin’ You Can Do About It’, ‘After The Love Has Gone’ – Airplay
‘Love All The Hurt Away’, ‘Lady Love Me (One More Time)’ – George Benson
‘The Nightfly; – Donald Fagen
‘You and I’, ‘Every Now and Then’ – Earth, Wind & Fire
‘Come To Me’ – Aretha Franklin
‘Beat It’, ‘The Girl Is Mine’, ‘Heal The World’ – Michael Jackson
‘Running With The Night’ – Lionel Richie
‘Mother’ – Pink Floyd
‘New York Minute’, ‘Dirty Laundry’ – Don Henley
‘Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny)’ – Elton John
‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ – Michael Bolton
‘Breakin’ Away’, Mornin’ – Al Jarreau
‘Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)’ – Christopher Cross
‘Forever Man’ – Eric Clapton