Jeff Porcaro



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prasa > Modern Drummer, październik, 1997

Modern Drummer, October 1997

David Garfield's Tribute To Jeff Porcaro

By Robyn Flans

August 5, 1997--the fifth anniversary of Jeff Porcaro's death--saw the US release of Tribute To Jeff Porcaro. Spearheaded by top LA studio keyboardist David Garfield, the CD features seventy-eight musicians-- including Toto alumni and Porcaro family members--and drum tracks by such notables as Jim Keltner, Richie Hayward, Abe Laboriel Jr., Gregg Bissonette, Steve Gadd, Bernard Purdie, Steve Ferrone, Tris Imboden, Carlos Vega, Joe Porcaro, Simon Phillips, and Vinnie Colaiuta, not to mention an incredible array of percussionists, and such vocalists as Michael McDonald, Bill Champlin, Boz Scaggs, Don Henley, and Richard Marx. With a 40-page booklet that includes personal photos as well as drawings actually done by Jeff, this obviously isn't a run-of-the-mill project. A lot of the performances were donated, and Garfield is splitting the royalties with Jeff's children. There is no doubt that the project is David's heartfelt tribute to a musician and a friend.
David Garfield worked with Jeff from 1983 until the drummer's death in 1992. Between his involvement in the LA session scene and the recording of this project alone, Garfield is able to offer a comprehensive perspective on working with Jeff and with a multitude of today's leading drummers.

RF: What was the genesis of this project?

DG: I had always wanted to do something in Jeff's memory, but I didn't get an idea for the CD until I was approached by a Japanese company wanting to do a tribute recording. I realized that somebody was going to do it anyway, so I felt it was important that I rise to the occasion to make sure it was done right.
We planned it for almost two years. I felt if I were going to do a record about Jeff, it obviously needed to be oriented toward drummers. But it needed to be a drum groove record, not a drum solo record. My idea was to pick the drummers Jeff was influenced by, along with guys who were his peers, and have them each play on a song.

RF: What was magical about playing with Jeff?

DG: When we first started playing together, what blew me away the most was that he really put out all of his energy when he played. He was not a laid-back studio player. Although Jeff sounded laid back and in the pocket on the records, when he played he put everything into it. That's what made him different from all the other guys.

RF: How did it make it different for you as a musician?

DG: The kind of energy and focus he would put into his take would often inspire a great performance out of me.

RF: Do you remember the first thing you ever did with him?

DG: In 1983 he came into the studio to play on one tune on my first CD. He was almost a larger than life character, even back then. Being around him was a thrill. Over the next few years we would occasionally play on a session together or we'd do a gig at the Baked Potato. When I started producing some things in the later '80s and started using him in the studio, what really blew me away about him was how he would get the take before anybody else. He would get there early, learn the song, and get his drums all tuned up with fresh heads. Then, when it came time to put the red light on, he would just nail it. He'd keep playing great on the second or third takes, but he had already done it. I learned to save his first takes, because they were impeccable. he would go to all the right sections at all the right times. He wasn't like some guys who would say, "Let me punch that in" or "Let me do that again."

RF: How did you come up with the list of drummers and the music for the Tribute project?

DG: That was pretty easy. Jeff was crazy about Jim Keltner, Bernard Purdie, and Vinnie Colaiuta. And, of course, his dad was somebody I felt was a must. I've played with Joe a lot more since Jeff passed away. Steve Gadd's name came up as one of the drummers who Jeff respected a lot on the other coast--someone who would not normally be doing a session with us. Then there was Carlos Vega, who was like Jeff's sidekick; he came up right behind Jeff and was tremendously influenced by him. Simon Phillips was a logical call since he's with Toto--and from what I have heard, Jeff really admired and respected him. Then there was Richie Hayward, who Jeff really dug. Steve Jordan came in through Jeff's wife, who told me Steve was a friend of Jeff. We started out with a list of nine or ten, and every time we'd run into someone, the list grew. Abraham Laboriel Jr. was a protege of Jeff. he wasn't on the original list, but I went down to Florida and did some sessions with him and it turned out that he really reminds me of Jeff. He grew up in the studio watching Jeff, and he plays like him. I realized that guys like him should be represented as well, because they're the next generation.
I started calling everybody, and I asked them each to pick out a song that Jeff played on that they particularly liked and would want to remake, or to pick out a groove Jeff played that they really liked and that we could do a new song around. Gregg Bissonette wanted to do something based on a groove he played when he played with Toto. We based the whole arrangement of "Big Bone" on the "Rosanna" groove and then transcribed some of Jeff's fills from "Africa" and a few other songs and inserted them. We actually planned out certain drum fills, and it ended up being very subtle.

RF: Had you played with these drummers in prior situations?

DG: All but three or four of them.

RF: I'd like to take each drummer on the project and have you talk about his special qualities and what it's like to work with him.

DG: In the order of the record, I'll start with Carlos Vega. Carlos is a master of understatement, which is something he learned from Jeff. He learned how to say it within the groove and without too much flash and too many cymbal crashes. Carlos is just a very subtle, tasty drummer with smooth timing and finesse, who plays for the song. I was half expecting him to be the one to take Jeff's place in Toto. He was always Jeff's stand-in; he can play so much like Jeff.
Next was Steve Ferrone, who wanted to do Paul Simon's "Trains In The Distance," which Jeff played on. He was captivated by that song, and he said he thought Jeff probably played brush with one hand and bass drum. He loved Jeff's subtleties. From my experience working with Ferrone, I would say he plays for the groove, with no flash. He likes to keep it on the back side of the beat, too--real relaxed and solid. I personally like the way he held everybody down on "Let's Stay Together," which is what we ended up doing instead of "Trains," because we ultimately wanted to do an R&B classic.
Abe Laboriel Jr. amazes me. He is just like Jeffrey in the sense that he can get a song on the first take. When I recorded with him down in Florida, he'd get everything on the first take and then go off while everybody else was repairing the rest of the band's tracks. He focused on the song, learned the arrangement, and then nailed it. And once he nailed it, it was nailed; there was no question about it. Believe it or not, when he came into the project, he had never heard "Lowdown"-- he's that young. We studied Jeff's tack and transcribed certain licks. On the bridge, he plays the "Mashanga" [sp] beat. This record is filled with little, subtle, musical Jeff things. Abe is very powerful. He's what I consider to be the brightest rising drum star. To me, he's the next Jeffrey--ready to take over the studio thing. He plays very tastefully; he's an excellent musician. He's got a really big sound with 18" hi-hats, which is different, and he uses very few drums. He does use a few drums that Jeff gave him, too.
We did "If Six Was Nine" with Simon Phillips. I think he's a wonderful musician, and he's done a great job with Toto. But to me, he represents the opposite of Jeff. To begin with, he uses a ton of drums. If I work with Simon, I require a full three-hour session just to get his drums sound-checked properly. And he used every one of those drums on that song, too. Simon's also an excellent soloist, whereas Jeff never liked to solo.
Simon also has a very strong concept of how he thinks the drums should sound, and it's very identifiable. "If Six Were Nine" was the only song we did more than three or four takes on. Most of the time we only did three takes--usually we kept the first or third--and occasionally we did a fourth take. But in Simon's case we ended up doing six takes. But he has the enthusiasm to keep it going.
"Bag's Groove" is Joe Porcaro, who is one of the swingingest drummers I get to work with. The first time I heard him, at Dante's back in the '70s, I thought, "This guy sounds like Philly Joe Jones." We hit it off musically, and I love playing with him. We get into all kinds of McCoy Tyner/Elvin Jones kind of stuff. He's a great musician, and he's been like a surrogate father to me. He doesn't mind playing a little solo, either. There are three drum solos on the record: Simon's, Steve Gadd's, and Joe's.
"My Heart Want's To Know" is a new song we wrote about Jeff in his honor. It was a collaboration between four people, and the track had Tris Imboden on drums. Tris and Jeff go way back; they were contemporaries in local bands back in the early '70s. Tris reminds me a lot of Jeff in his playing.
I had been on the road with Tris right before we cut the record and we were planning to cut this song that I had written with Jason Scheff, John Pena, and Larry Lee. The lyrics are all about Jeff, and the song is one that Jeff would have played the hell out of. We decided to cut the song with Jason Scheff singing, along with Bill Champlin and Jay Graydon and some other guys--sort of a reunion of that contingent that used to work with Jeff. The stories and the jokes were flying, but it was a very cohesive unit. This particular track is like an LA hip-hop/funk track, and Tris really nailed it. What impressed me about Tris is that he took the demo tape home, learned the song, and came into the studio completely prepared with a whole little part worked out--which was a little different from what someone would normally play. There are a couple of 2/4 bars and odd phrases, and he had them all worked out in advance, which was quite impressive. The groove he put down was very solid, but he can get a little flashy if he wants to.
"It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry" is a song Boz Scaggs picked out. The drummers on it are Richie Hayward and Jim Keltner. Boz had wanted us to do something from the Mad Dogs & Englishmen era because he said Jeff was really influenced by that and we didn't have anything on the record representing that. On this cut, we got three guys from Little Feat and Jim Keltner, Boz, and organist Mike Finnigan --an eclectic mix. Jim is like a magician. he comes up with the most off-the-wall, creative stuff. He showed up early with his special Chinese tea in his thermos, and he had his sunglasses on and his arm bands. He's so incredible. Jim and Richie are very different drummers, but I figured they would play together great. Jim decided he wanted to do something with brushes, so the two of them are playing brushes and it really gives it a nice feel. Richie had the tendency to get a little busier than Jim, but together it was a good balance.
It's hard to explain Richie. I'm a big fan of Little Feat, and I know Jeff was too. This was the first time I got to work with Richie, and because of the two drummers and the size of the session, it was hard for me to really focus exactly on what he was doing. He's a wonderful guy. He's got a great vibe and a great sense of humor. The gathering of guys on that session was unbelievable, and Boz sang his vocal live. We didn't punch in one note. We had the two guitar players from Little Feat. Fred Tackett has been working with Boz a lot with Jim Keltner, so we had those guys together and then Paul Barrere and Richie, also from Little Feat, and Neil Stubenhaus. It was an interesting mix. Jim was the bandleader in charge of tempo and the count off. Once we got the track, I had Jim do some overdubs on tambourine and tom-toms. The kind of stuff he comes up with is magical.
Next is Bernard Purdie. I had heard so much about Bernard and the "Rosanna" beat and "Babylon Sisters" from Jeff. When I was doing Jeff's instructional video, he wanted to do "Babylon Sisters," but we couldn't get it together in time because it was too complicated. So I felt I owed it to Jeff to cut that song on this record. I did the chart and got Bernard out here. He ended up playing a very strange kit with an 18" bass drum. He told us exactly how to mike it. He had very specific orders on how to get a sound. Bernard was a pleasure to work with. His groove was impeccable. His enthusiasm was great and he was very supportive. When you're producing and playing at the same time, certain musicians can get you down and drain your energy. Other guys can energize you, and Bernard was like that. He was a trip: He was counting off the song before I was even sitting down at the piano. He was no-bullshit; it was, "Let's get the track." When we were sitting in the booth later, I played him a tape of Jeff talking about him that he had never heard, which brought tears to his eyes.

RF: When you worked with Bernard, could you see where Jeff got some of his stuff? Could you feel that connection?

DG: Oh yes, definitely. The Purdie shuffle was one of Jeff's favorite grooves. And then he took it somewhere else.
After that were the Gadd tracks. We did two tracks with Steve, mixed together like one big piece. To work with this guy was the biggest thrill of my life. I've always loved his playing, plus he's a neat guy. I picked him up at the airport the night before and took him to the Hughes Market so he could get some yogurt and stuff to take back to his hotel. The whole day in the studio was no-nonsense, all music. He was so easy to play with. He's got to be one of my favorite players in the world. He came in and got his stuff working--very relaxed and very professional. Every time we played, he would dig in, kinda like Jeffrey. His time and his whole concept was incredible, and I would have to say in terms of his attitude, he's the most like Jeffrey.
Then there's Gregg Bissonette. Gregg is such a scholar of the drums. He knows so much about everything to do with drums--what people played and how they played it. On his track, we arranged all these different grooves and sections. We rearranged a song Jeff wrote with me for the first Lobotomies [sp] record, called "Big Bone." We rearranged it based on the end of "Rosanna," and then we transcribed some of Jeff's fills from various songs, so the whole tune is crafted around Jeff. Gregg is so scholarly like that. If you look up the word "drummer" in the dictionary, there will be a picture of Gregg in there. He's one of my best friends and one of my favorite drummers. If you recall, Gregg filled in for Simon in Toto when Simon was ill. On Greg's track, I brought in Mike Porcaro and Steve Lukather, so it was almost a Toto reunion with Gregg. Luke and I had played on the original of that tune.
The last track is Vinnie. It's a ballad called "Long Time No Groove." We came up with this piano and synthesizer thing between David Benoit and myself. Then I went down to Nashville, and David Hungate put fretless bass on it. It's a beautiful piece. Hungate was telling us all these old stories about Jeff from when he was first working with him. He said that at the end of a ballad, Jeff used to wave his brushes in front of the mic's and move them left to right--and they used to sound like birds flying away. Jeff used to do this all the time, so we were instructed by Hungate to make sure to have that done on this tune. Originally we weren't going to have any drums on this song. Besides that, we didn't think Vinnie would be able to play on the project at all because he was out with Sting. But the project dragged on longer and longer, and we were able to get Vinnie on "Long Time" when he came in to play on "Twenty-One Drum Salute." We had him overdub some cymbals and colors, and then we had him throw that brushes thing on the end. Vinnie had never done it before, but when he did it, it sounded exactly like we thought it would--and it's the last thing you hear on the record. Jeff's sister was down there that day and she recognized that thing Jeff used to do. It's more of a musical statement of "We miss you" than a drumming statement.

RF: Who is on the "Twenty-One Drum Salute" that you haven't mentioned yet?

DG: Peter Erskine, Ralph Humphrey, John Guerin, Dave Weckl, John Ferraro, and Mike Porcaro. We got Mike to play something on there because Jeff always talked about what a great drummer he was. Then Jeff's three kids played, along with his nephew, Chase, who is really a good drummer. As far as Jeff's kids go, Miles is the real drummer of the three, and he sounds good.
Then Steve Jordan played the cocktail drums. That was a trippy experience. He played a very cool part. Steve had very strong feelings about Jeff and about what to play. We kinda crafted his part in sections. We turned off a lot of the other guys' parts and he listened primarily to Gadd's part and got in time with him. I'd love to work with Steve again. He was very articulate with the music, very refined, and not afraid to have opinions.
Working with Dave Weckl was cool. He wanted us to come up with an effect to make him sound like a drummer in the distance. He had some very neat ideas, and he played only groove. Everyone thinks of him as a chops guy, but his attitude was, "This is about Jeff, and Jeff was about groove," so he locked into this great pocket and stayed there. We put him through this telephone filter that made it sound like a loop. So he's got his own sound, and we kinda put him off to one side.
Peter Erskine was also terrific to work with. He's just a great guy and a great musician. He came in with a piccolo snare and set up some cymbals, and it was a pleasure. Then John Guerin came up with a really cool tom-tom part. He was very melodic.
Everybody was a pleasure to work with. But most important of all, when you listen to this record and look at the booklet, you can't help but remember all the good things about Jeff.

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