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Drum Masters : The Unforgettable Jeff Porcaro

By Edited Jul 1, 2016 0 0

Jeff Porcaro

Delving back into the world of famous session drummers, let's focus on another talented musician who played with many artists, including his own highly successful band (which in itself contained a whole plethora of session musicians) before his untimely death on August the 5th, 1992, at the age of 38. I'm of course talking about Jeff Porcaro, son of famous percussionist Joe Porcaro, and founding member and drummer of the Grammy Award winning band Toto. 

Early Footage Of Toto

Hundreds Of Artists, Thousands Of Songs

Jeff Porcaro
Before he became famous with Toto, Jeff already had a very successful career as a highly sought after session drummer. The man known to most of us for being the guy who played the drums for such famous songs as "Africa", "Hold The Line" and the ground breaking hybrid shuffle beat of "Rosanna", had already been used to record and play songs with many artists, and continued to do so during his career with Toto.  The list is seemingly endless but here are some artists you may have heard of that Jeff worked with -Steely Dan, Bozz Scaggs, Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Jackson Browne, Nik Kershaw, Cher, Go West, Peter Frampton, America, Joe Cocker, Christopher Cross, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, Richard Marx and Sir Elton John.

Michael Jackson wrote a dedication to Jeff in the notes of his "History" album, having worked extensively in the past with him on many occasions. We all know how the drums for the famous song "Beat It" go, don't we? Yep, that was Jeff Porcaro along with "The Girl Is Mine, Lady In My Life, Human Nature and Heal The World".

There are so many tracks Porcaro has played on it's a huge task to even touch on it, but let me try to give you an idea of just what kind of demand he was in. See if think you may have heard Jeff Porcaro play a couple of times or more.

When a Man Loves A Woman - Michael Bolton, The Shoop Shoop Song - Cher, Blue Eyes - Elton John, Cherish - Madonna, Birdland and Twilight Zone - Manhattan Transfer, Have You Ever Been In Love - Leo Sayer, Arthurs Theme- From the movie Arthur, We're All Alone and Lido Shuffle - Bozz Scaggs and just about anything from Sonny and Cher and Steely Dan.

“Definitely the groove master. He was just so heavy.” - Eddie Van Halen

A Legend Is Born

Born in Hartford Connecticut on April 1st, 1954, Jeff was lucky to grow up in a musical family. Not only his Dad - who I've already mentioned - but his two brothers Mike and Steve, all initially liked to play drums with their dad. Whilst Jeff stuck with drums, Mike and Steve went on to become established musicians on different instruments. Mike on bass and Steve on piano and keyboards, they also become members of Toto and established themselves in the industry as "go to" session musicians. 

Many people that met and worked with Jeff say that he had an aura around him. He was big in presence on and off the stage and even whilst still at high school had built a reputation as being "the man". He left high school in his senior year to take his first professional job behind the drum kit... a tour with Sonny and Cher! Despite all this, Jeff remained humble whilst still exuding confidence. People hired him to play because he could record tracks quickly, solidly and with no fuss or messing around. He was always right on the money.

Jeff Porcaro was not known for being a flashy soloist, his strength lay in the fact that he was rock solid at laying down a groove completely suited for the style of song he was asked to play. That is why he was so highly respected and in constant demand by anyone and everyone. Other famous drummers like Steve Gadd and Jeff's best friend Vinnie Colaiuta can't say enough about the talent that Jeff had and the shock his death had on the worlds drumming community was huge.

Most Featured Drum Beat : The Rosanna Shuffle

The Passing Of A Legend

Toto Hydra
When Jeff died in 1992, the cause of his death was surrounded in controversy. He had been gardening on the day of his death, spraying pesticides and later succumbing to a heart attack. The coroner report states the cause of his death was heart failure, from a previously undiagnosed serious heart condition. A month later it leaked that a minute trace of cocaine had also been found in his system. Of course the media jumped on this news instantly reporting that Jeffs death was drug related. People close to him swear that it had been a very long time since Jeff had done anything like that and cocaine is known to stay residual in the system. Friends, family and drummers united around the world, still say that his heart attack was triggered by a reaction to the pesticides he had sprayed that day, whilst unaware of his underlying heart condition.

“Not a day goes by where I don’t spend a great deal of it thinking about him, honestly. He was the most important person I ever met in my whole life and that’s for real. He changed everything for me. He was like the brother I never had. I always wanted to be like him, and I don’t think anybody will ever be like him. Everything he touched turned to gold, and not just his playing, but as a person. His loyalty to his friends and family was unprecedented. There will never be another Jeff. There was only one.”  - Steve Lukather - session musician and guitarist for Toto

Drumkit

For many years of his career Jeff played a mixture of all different brands of drums, but around 1982 he was endorsed by Pearl Drums and Paiste Cymbals. He still loved to play a mish mash of drums though and often used Ludwig, Brady and Gretsch. According to Jeff it didn't matter what drums he played, they all felt good to him.

“Drums are drums, depending on the kind of head and how you tune them".

- Jeff Porcaro

Mushanga

Jeff's Legacy

Jeff was a person who radiated energy and spirit and managed to channel his personal qualities through his music and to all who were around him. He has left behind a legacy of  pure quality musicianship that will go on forever and continue to inspire generations of drummers all over the world.

Drum gizz

How To Play Jeff's Famous Grooves

Jeff Porcaro - Instructional Drum DVD
Amazon Price: $9.99 Buy Now
(price as of Jul 1, 2016)
This video easily breaks down all of Jeff's famous grooves such as Rosanna and Mushanga.
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Bibliography

  1. "Jeff Porcaro Session Tracks." Jeff Porcaro Session Tracks. 29/03/2013 <Web >
  2. "Jeff Porcaro." Wikipedia. 29/03/2013 <Web >
  3. "Jeff Porcaro." Drummer World. 29/03/2013 <Web >
  4. "Jeff Porcaro : The Legend." Drum! Drumming For Fanatics. 29/03/2013 <Web >
  5. Robyn Flans "Jeff Porcaro : A Special Tribute." granatino (exert from Mordern Drummer Magazine). 29/03/2013 <Web >
  6. "Jeff's Drumset History." Jeff Porcaro - The Groove Master. 29/03/2013 <Web >

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