What's A Session Drummer?

Behind the popular faces of your favourite singers, there lays a group of hard-working musicians, who devote their life to providing the music that you all know and love. Usually hidden away at the back within that line up, sits the driving force behind the music... the drummer. The person who makes you want to move and groove along to your favourite song, tap your feet and beat on the table.

Have you ever wondered who those unknown musicians are that play the music for your favourite singers?

Within the music industry, they are known as "Session Musicians". Hired by artists to play music for them in the recording studio and whilst touring on the road. These are the musicians who come up with that guitar or piano lick that stays in you head or that famous drumbeat that starts a song, making it immediately recognizable. They are not high-profile figures from groups or bands like "John, Paul, George and Ringo". If you bumped into one of them in the street, you probably wouldn't know them to look at, but you surely would have heard them play. This is the first article in a series, about the most recorded, recognisable (by your ears, not your eyes) and popular session drummers of all time. 

Steve Gadd and YamahaCredit: By Stiopa (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Steve Gadd

What do "Chuck E's In Love - Rickie Lee Jones", "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover - Paul Simon" and "Aja - Steely Dan" all have in common? These songs have arguably the most recorded drummer in history playing drums on them...Steve Gadd.

Along with Rickie, Paul and Steely Dan, many artists call on Steve to lay the foundation for their tunes. Artists like George Benson, Joe Cocker, Chick Corea, The Bee Gees, Barbara Streisand, B.B King, Weather Report, Frank Sinatra, Paul McCartney, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Carly Simon, The Manhattan Transfer, Joss Stone, Randy Crawford , have all on numerous occasions hauled in Gadd to bring their music to life. It's all about his unique style and ability to make the music not only interesting but feel amazing...

I remember my first introduction to Gadd. I was studying drums, which I would later go on to study at the "Conservatorium of Music" in Western Australia. Part of my learning process was to study the styles of many different drummers. It was Steve Gadd who stood out and grabbed my attention. I could actually feel what he was doing with the instrument, and it didn't sound as clinical as many other drummers. My teacher at that time had a fantastic learning technique which involved listening to other drummers styles to hopefully influence my style for the better. He would compile recordings of many different artists, and for my homework, I would have to go home, listen and tell him who was playing drums for each track. It was always Steve Gadd who I could hear from a mile away, and till this day, I still hear tunes on the radio and straight away know, that's him!

"Steve Gadd's drumming on ’50 Ways To Leave Your Lover’, 
for instance, is the archetypal example of a drummer halfway selling
a song before the singer has even started"

-Bill Bruford

50 Ways To Leave Your Lover

Who Is This Guy?

Steve GaddCredit: Credit: By Mike Park Flickr name lbsmsp (Steve Gadd) [CC-BY-2.0 (httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsBorn April the 9th, 1945, Steve Gadd hails from a suburb of Rochester in New York called Irondequoit. He started playing drums at the age of seven and by the age of 11, he had already sat in and played with "Dizzy Gillespie". Still, at that time, who'd have guessed that this young boy, would go on to become one of the most influential drummers in the world. In a career lasting more than 3 decades, he is known as the master at sitting back within the beat and making good use of the "less is more" principle. Gadd has a distinctive playing style that pulls you into the music, making you feel the beat and taking you on a journey through the song. Chick Corea once famously said, "Every drummer wants to play like Gadd... because he plays perfect". Interestingly it's not perfect in the sense of every note being "bang on the money". Gadd's perfect playing comes about because of his connection to the music and his abilility to make drums (a percussion instrument) sound musical. If you want to hear another drummer who is known to have the most rock solid grooves in the history of drums, you should have a look and listen to Jeff Porcaro. Many may say he is not as technical as Steve, but I think both of these drummers have the same goal in mind and that is to, unselfishly,  provide the best possible feel for the music.

Gadd attributes the formation of his distinctive style to a couple of unusual approaches he used during his many years learning the instrument. He believes that "tap dancing" lessons that he took in his younger years, strengthened his coordination and influenced his foot technique on the pedals. The second and much more obvious influence seen and felt in his playing style, comes from the 3 years he spent in the U.S Army as a drummer playing in the "Army Music Program". This enabled him to play rudiments extremely well and incorporate them into his fills and grooves like no-one had ever done before.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term rudiments, they are to drummers what scales are to pianists, guitarists etc. Rudiments are sticking patterns used to help with co-ordination, touch(on the instrument), improve timing, and fills played around the kit. They are the fancy drum rolls you see and hear in marching bands, played on the snare drum. A good example of rudiments can be seen and heard in Steve's drum solo called "Crazy Army" which you can view near the end of this article.

Chuck E's In Love - Steve Gadd On Drums

Forever A Family Man

Many session musicians like to keep their private life, exactly that...private. A good example of this is Vinnie Colaiuta, whom it's almost impossible to find out anything about, other than drums. Steve however, shares many pictures and information about his beloved family with the whole world. Within the music and entertainment industry, marriages and relationships seem to fall by the way side far too easily. Steve Gadd is an exception to this, managing to sustain a long and happy marriage with his wife Carol. They met in 1971, later married and raised 4 children (2 daughters and 2 sons).

Now living in Phoenix Arizona, Steve and Carol are animal lovers and share their home with 5 dogs. A family man at heart, he rejoices in time spent with his now grown up children and grandchildren.

Gadd still actively tours, records, produces and hold drum clinics all over the world and apparently (when he has time) still holds the odd private lesson or two.

Gadds Endearing Relationships: Yamaha, Zildjian And Vic Firth

Steve has been playing Yamaha drums since 1976. With a full endorsement, Gadd mainly uses the "Steve Gadd Commemorative kit". Yamaha made this kit for his 30th anniversary collaboration with the company. For those drummers interested, this is what his current set up consists of : 

  • Yamaha snare drum 14 x 5.5 Birch with wood Hoops 
  • Yamaha small tom 12 x 8                                           
  • Yamaha small tom 13 x 9                                          
  • Yamaha floor tom 14 x 12                                          
  • Yamaha floor tom 16 x 14                                          
  • Yamaha drum throne ds-840                                    
  • Zildjian hi-hat cymbals 14" K Session                        
  • Zildjian crash cymbal 18" K Constantinople               
  • Zildjian ride cymbal 18"K Session Custom               
  • Zildjian crash cymbal 16" K Session Custom         
  • Yamaha hi-hat stand hs-1000                                                                                            
  • Yamaha 22" or 20"  Maple bass drum                                                                                    
  • Yamaha double bass pedal dfp-9310 
  • Vic Firth "Steve Gadd" signature series drum sticks.

How To Play The "Late In The Evening" Groove

In Gadd We Trust!

With influences playing such an important part in any young musicians life, any serious up and coming drummers who haven't yet familiarised themselves with Steve Gadd, will be missing a vital component, essential if they want to build upon their playing style . He is a master craftsman who should not be missed.

There are indeed many amazing session drummers, but none so recorded and so tastefully musical in the way they approach the instrument as Steve Gadd. He has already inspired many generations of drummers, and this is something that will never change.

I love groove stuff. I love stuff where the groove is real strong. Not only where it feels good for me, but you can tell that it feels good for the people listening. That's very rewarding, to communicate those kind of feelings." 
-Steve Gadd 

Steve's Signature Drum Solo "Crazy Army"

Steve Gadd Mega Pak (DVD)
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If you want to learn exactly how to play all of Steves famous grooves, including "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and "Crazy Army", this is what you need. I can personally, highly recommend this pack. I spent many long hours studying this whole book.