It goes without saying that there is one man without whom we would not even, as drummers, even be talking about Toto… Take Jeff Porcaro’s sublime shuffle on ‘Rosanna’ – by his own admission it’s a combination of the Purdie shuffle and Bonham’s ‘Fool In The Rain’ groove, but with his own sublime touch making it a unique and much admired groove.
This and his other fantastic work with Toto led him to be dubbed ‘the man with the golden feel’. But throughout his career from Steely Dan to Toto, and as a first-call session player, for Michael Jackson, Madonna and more in the 1980s, Porcaro was remarkably humble.
On the subject of being a drum hero, Jeff told Rhythm back in 1988: “We all have our heroes that we set as our standard of what we strive for and deem as high-level playing. I don’t see myself as anywhere near the people I admire. When somebody tells me they admire me or I see a kid with a poster of me in their room, I feel like saying, ‘Have you heard Jim Keltner or Bernard Purdie? You should be checking these guys out first.’ But people say, ‘But Jeff, your time feel and the music…’ Well, I’m talking about that stuff too.
“I went through a lot of years of unbelievable guilt as far as how successful I would get in the studio. And I feel I was only successful because of experience, not because I was some drumming phenomenon. How you play with ’phones, with a click, with a rhythm section is all experience. Reading, too. I can’t read s**t. If I scuffle, I say to myself, ‘Okay, just play time through this, listen to what the guitar player or bassist play and nail it the second time.’”
Here he is playing ‘Jake To The Bone’ live in 1991
Simon’s list of drum dates includes Toyah, Lyndsey De Paul, Bonnie Tyler, Tears For Fears, Heaven 17, Human League, Madness, 10cc, Nik Kershaw, Judie Tzuke, Judas Priest, Mick Jagger, Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, David Coverdale, Michael Schenker, Mike Rutherford, Robert Palmer, Pete Townshend and The Who. But as a virtuoso drumming talent Simon ached to play jazz-rock fusion at the limits of his ability and he gravitated to Jack Bruce, Jeff Beck and Ray Russell. It was working with Beck that introduced him to US bass god Stanley Clarke, his passport to the US fusion scene. Later he’d appear with heavyweights like Al DiMeola, Frank Zappa and Joe Satriani.
In 1992 Simon was the surprise replacement for the tragic Jeff Porcaro in legendary LA supergroup Toto – a gig he held for 21 years, and in 2006 he was asked by the band to record their next album in his studio. “I engineered and co-produced Falling In Between. I think that was probably the definitive album with me in the band and I think it is excellent. It’s a huge responsibility to produce and engineer… and play! It is stressful, but it’s something I do and I am used to doing. But with five other people in the room and having to look after sonically what is going on… yeah, it was exhausting.”
Here he is playing Jeff’s ‘Rosanna’ shuffle...
Best known as Michael Jackson’s drummer and MD for his Bad and Dangerous tours, Lawson was the original drummer for Los Angeles jazz fusion sessioneers The Yellowjackets. He occupied the band’s drum throne from 1977 to 1987, in which time the group released four albums; their self-titled debut, Mirage a Trois, Samurai Samba and Shades. In this time Lawson helped the band pick up a Grammy for their track ‘And You Know That’.
The late drummer, who sadly passed in 2013, went on to work with Steely Dan and – filling in for regular drummer Simon Phillips –Toto. In a 2008 interview with Rhythm regarding his time with Steely Dan, Lawson told us: “You have to get the groove as they played it, and then you can put your own little thing on top of that. If the boss is happy, then I’m happy.” An approach he almost certainly applied to his brief stint live for Toto.
Here's Ricky in action with Toto, playing ‘Hold The Line’
Like Steely Dan and Toto, it takes a special kind of drummer to get the gig as Ringo Starr’s regular drummer. Gregg plays with Ringo’s All-Starrs, and in 1995 Gregg did a European tour with Toto, filling in for Simon Phillips.
Bissonette’s background covers everything from big band jazz and fusion to heavy rock. A first-call LA session drummer, Gregg has won Grammys with Carlos Santana (on the track ‘El Farol’) and Larry Carlton and Steve Lukather. Starting out with jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, Gregg found fame with the flamboyant David Lee Roth, playing on multi-platinum hits. He’s toured with everyone from Tania Maria to Spinal Tap.
On being versatile, Gregg told Rhythm: “You need to be open-minded and to check whatever ego you have at the door. It’s about being hired to do a job and 50 percent of the job has nothing to do with playing the drums, it is what sort of person you are. Are you going to be positive and lift the session, or negative and complain? There is no room for complaining, you have to find the positive in every situation.”
And here's Gregg’s take on the ‘Rosanna’ shuffle.
Another Steely Dan alumnus, Keith Carlock is a natural choice to step up to the Toto drum riser. Recording and touring with the Dan led to gigs with Sting, James Taylor and John Mayer, and he also plays with his instrumental jam band Rudder. He added his touch to Toto’s latest album, XIV, a record that sits up there with the best of Toto’s output.
Of his ability to land such high-profile gigs, Keith told Rhythm:“You have to be able to vibe with the people you’re playing with personally. You don’t want tobe a high-maintenance guy demanding attention. I try to prepare so I know the music inside and out before I get there. Often there’s little time for rehearsals and these guys don’t really want to rehearse anyway, so it is nice when you can come in and just nail it. I always ask for the latest show recordings which I study, get to know what they are used to doing. I make tempo markings and even write charts if there is a lot to learn in a short time and that will help me through rehearsals. Of course I want to get away from the charts as soon as possible. But charts help me learn the stuffquickly and that’s where my university schooling came in handy, being able to do that. Hopefullythey also appreciate me bringing something different to the table. I don’t want to copy – not that I could – the person before me. I try to find ways to add my own thing, something refreshingfor both the band and artist. What really matters is just knowing what mature choices to make in the music and the most important thing is having a solid groove. Everything goes from that.”
Check out Keith’s ‘Hold The Line’ solo, with traditional grip!
The Nashville session ace, who has played with Boz Scaggs, Kenny Rogers, Rascal Flatts, Taylor Swift, Willie Nelson and more, is Toto’s latest touring drummer. Of getting the call to back the musical legends, and step into some pretty big drumming shoes, he told Rhythm:
“Being in Nashville I met up with David Hungate [Toto bass player] in 1993. He and I worked on and off over the years and have always had a great relationship. The guys from Toto were inducted into the Musicians Hall Of Fame and through David Hungate I was asked to sit in Jeff Porcaro’s spot for that induction. So that was the real official meeting when we played together and that was in 2010. From that I did some recording with Boz Scaggs that David Paich was involved in, so we kept that door open. One thing led to the next and there we were.”
On playing ‘Rosanna’, he told Rhythm: “It’s really funny – having played the sessions that I’ve done in Nashville, for a long time that was a limited musical scope of what you would run into. When I was a kid, those half-time shuffles were my favourite thing to play… I’m finally getting to play it.”
Here’s Shannon playing ‘Pamela’ with Toto.