prasa > Musician, październik 1992
Musician, October 1992
In Memoriam - Jeff Porcaro - 1954-1992
By Matt Resnicoff
Seven drums sat waiting at the front of the chapel as the eulogies
commenced for Jeff Porcaro, who died August 5 of an allergic reaction
to pesticides he was using in his yard in Los Angeles. Lined around
the drummer's casket were a wreath with a red ribbon reading "Toto,"
and several photos of the young man who had become one of rocks
finest drummers: one serious-looking portrait, a shot of Porcaro
ablaze behind the kit, one in tuxedo with the familiar horn-rimmed
glasses, a proud smile and a Grammy Award clutched to his chest.
Porcaro, eldest brother in his family--Steve and Mike worked with him
in Toto--and the father of three boys, was 38.
As the congregation entered the Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Hall of
Liberty auditorium on the afternoon of August 10, a repeating cycle of
four songs--Steely Dan's "Home at Last", "Deacon Blues" and "Third
World Man", and Jimi Hendrix's "The Wind Cries Mary"--rippled over the
hilly cemetery yard and, inside, filled a hall of musicians, friends
and family. Porcaro's mourners represented a broad cross-section of
the music world, where he was generally considered the studio kingpin
of his generation. He had worked with Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen,
Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, Roger Waters and hundreds of others.
Porcaro had a take-charge attitude with rhythm, an intense gift for
moving things along in the music he touched and in his life. Mike
Porcaro joked the day before the funeral, "It's just like Jeff to go
ahead of everyone, just to make sure it was cool up there for the rest
"I know he's laughing at me real good up there, because he'd love to
see me squirm," Jim Keltner began in his eulogy. The veteran
sessioneer was a mentor to Porcaro since meeting him 20 years ago.
"He was more mature at 17 than most guys I was working with in the
studio. He was cool and he was so BAD. He had so much chops, that I
guess he got from his dad, and was worried he would overuse it in the
studio. He told me all the time, 'I wanna be like you, Jimmy, I wanna
just play simple and GROOVE.' That flattered me, I felt responsible
to follow up. He would follow me on sessions; one night we were with
Arlo Guthrie and we did 'City of New Orleans.' I said, 'Jeffrey, this
is not gonna be a rockin' session, it's gonna be just brushes, so I'm
probably gonna sound terrible.' I was floundering all night, but I
could feel him watchin' me, so I was REALLY tryin', and finally I got
the take and I look back and he was snorin'.
"Jeffrey never stopped inspiring me since the moment I met him. He
had the rare combination of all the qualities a drummer should have:
articulateness, the deep, deep, wonderful pocket, the feeling, and
most of all, time that was RIGHT outta heaven--I don't know any other
way to describe it. When I would hear it I would stop, turn it up and
listen, study and check and be so inspired. Now, of course, it's
gonna be like that but I'm gonna be crying my eyes out all the
time...it's just gonna be so much more special."
Hartford-born Jeffrey Thomas Porcaro had attitude--that much
was as apparent in his playing as in his eulogists' reminiscences. He
propositioned his wife Susan, a journalist, immediately after she
interviewed him for a piece on Toto. According to his manager Larry
Fitzgerald, he "traveled with a storm cloud wrapped around him, an
intense energy. Everything about him came together in his playing.
He gave it all for everything, no matter what."
"When he was in the room, " said James Newton Howard, one of the
pallbearers, "it was easy to determine truth and falseness, in a take,
in an idea. Jeff challenged the limits of our ability and busted us
with one of those looks of his." As a sideman on a Steely Dan tour in
England, Porcaro once ditched his B-level hotel and showed up with
luggage at 2:30 a.m. at employers Walter Becker and Donald Fagen's
luxury accommodations, yelling, "Where's the party?"
Producer Gary Katz read from a letter sent by Becker and Fagen: "In
1974 we decided to sell out and do commercials for Schlitz beer--here
we were in Hollywood, it seemed like the thing to do. Our guitarist,
Denny Dias, knew of a drummer in the Sonny and Cher band and set up a
meeting. On the appointed day, a cocky little Italian kid walked in
and said in a voice that seemed an octave much to low for a person of
such diminutive stature, 'Yo guys, let's groove!' The session was
pretty silly for reasons too complex to mention. Ultimately, the
Schlitz people said 'pasadena' on the jingle, but Jeff was a keeper,
not just as a musician, but as a friend. Fans would always think of
Jeff as a great musician; the musicians he worked with will always
think of him as a great guy."
Katz spoke of an enormously soulful spirit he said Porcaro shared with
everyone. "Every moment I spent with him, I had a smile on my face.
I met him in '74 at Cherokee Ranch when I was working on Steely Dan's
Pretzel Logic; Donald and Walter had a song called 'Night by Night'
that wanted more precision and exactness than they were able to give,
which for them is saying something. Late one night Denny recommended
Jeff; Donald said we'd give it another day and told Denny to make the
call and see if we could get the guy out here. Denny hung up the
phone and said, 'They're on their way.' Cherokee Ranch was a studio
built in a barn, and had above its doorway an ornamental rope with a
noose attached. Forty-five minutes later Jeff arrived and saw the
noose; Denny introduced us and Jeff's first words were, 'I know you
guys have a rough reputation on musicians, but this is way out of
"When Jeff was working," Katz continued, "especially with Donald and
Walter, his sense of devotion was unmatched. If he'd feel he wasn't
doing exactly what Donald wanted, Jeff--being the huge fan and the man
that he was--would throw his sticks at the wall in frustration and
say, 'Get someone who knows how to play a shuffle! Call Purdie!' A
few minutes would pass, he'd collect himself and do another take, and
on those occasions he always brought to my face another smile."
Jeff's formidable efforts on behalf of "Gaucho," Katz noted, rescued
the track from being scrapped.
In the past year, Jeff had turned down offers to tour with Bruce
Springsteen and Dire Straits so he could devote attention to Toto and
to his family. In a letter to Susan Porcaro, Springsteen called the
drummer "a kindred spirit whose beauty went beyond craft and
precision, into the realm of spirit. With that he graciously blessed
my music. He was a soul man." A tape followed of Springsteen
describing Jeff to the crowd at a concert the night after his death,
and singing "Human Touch" in tribute. Dire Straits' Mark Knopfler had
planned to return to the studio with Porcaro in November. "One main
reason for my enjoying making our last record more than any other was
Jeff," Knopfler said. "He was great as a person and as a musician.
If I can find any consolation it is at least that I had the delight
and honor of working with and knowing Jeff. And that he was, he told
me, proud of the work he did for us."
At the conclusion of the indoor service Porcaro's casket was opened
and his drumsticks were placed inside. His fellow drummers--Keltner,
Mike Baird, John Robinson, Rick Marotta, Harvey Mason, Willie
Ornalles, Lenny Castro--strapped on the tom-toms and played as they
walked to the gravesite, followed by Porcaro's family and friends.
Hundreds gathered near sunset on Lincoln Terrace, at the foot of the
Hollywood Hills, where Boz Scaggs sang "The Lord's Prayer".