Joe Porcaro: Legendary drummer, percussionist and educator dies aged 90

(Image credit: YouTube)

Joe Porcaro, the legendary session drummer/percussionist and educator, has passed away aged 90. 

Joe - whose three sons Jeff, Mike and Steve Porcaro also went on to become masters of their instruments - led an extraordinarily successful career as a drummer and percussionist, performing on thousands of TV, film and pop music recordings for household names such as The Rolling Stones, Frank Sinatra, Pink Floyd, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, Madonna and more.

While the cause of death hasn't been confirmed, Steve Porcaro made the announcement via his Facebook page earlier today (7 July).  

“The Porcaro Family is heartbroken to announce the passing of our beloved Patriarch, Joe Porcaro. Surrounded by his wife Eileen and his family, Joe passed peacefully in his sleep on July 6 at 11:37 PM.

Please allow a few days before reaching out with phone calls and texts. Given the enormous amount of people who Joe considered family and whose lives Joe has impacted, it would be overwhelming to respond just now. Please know that we so appreciate your love, thoughts, friendship and can’t wait to celebrate his amazing life with all of you."

Joe began his drumming career in church, adapting field drums and cymbals to create his first kit. From here, the teenage Joe Porcaro cut his teeth as a jobbing drummer playing casuals, jazz gigs - including touring with jazz trombonist Tommy Dorsey -  musical theater and symphonic concerts around Connecticut. Feeling like he had reached the boundaries of his career in Connecticut, Joe and the Porcaro family made the move to LA in 1966 after visiting his childhood friend (and fellow percussionist) Emil Richards. Within two months, Joe found himself backing Chet Baker, which led to him picking up work on TV show, Daktari, as well as performing on music for the Mission:Impossible series.

One of Joe Porcaro’s standout skills were his abilities as a percussionist as well as a drummer. This made him extremely hireable as he was able to perform double-duties when sessions required, and would see him perform on over 1000 film and TV soundtracks, including Die Hard, Beverly Hill’s Cop II, Finding Nemo, Murder She Wrote, Columbo and man, many others.

Of course, the Porcaro surname has become synonymous with studio session musicians: his sons Jeff and Steve founded Toto while simultaneously carving out session careers of their own. Mike Porcaro would join Toto on bass for the release of the band’s fourth album. Joe had already made an appearance on Toto’s third album, Turn Back, but when it came to recording Toto IV, Joe was drafted in to add percussion to four tracks - the standout being a bass marimba part on the band’s monster hit, Africa. 

Joe told the Percussive Arts Society ““After 60 seconds or so, Jeff would stop and say, ‘Dad, hold back, you’re rushing,’” he recounts. “Can you imagine? He’s telling his father to lay back. He put me through the grind. I had to be right on.” Toto would receive no less than six Grammy Awards at the 1983 ceremony for Toto IV - an event where Joe Porcaro was part of the official Grammy Orchestra.

Joe’s career and influence as a player reaches deep into the foundations of the drum kit as an instrument, with Porcaro helping to set the definition of a studio musician. Meanwhile, his work as an educator has helped form thousands of drummers, whether taught one-on-one in drum shops, from his books (Joe Porcaro’s Drumset Method and Groovin’ With The Odd Times, or as part of the Musicians Institute, Percussion Institute of Technology (which Joe co-founded) or the Los Angeles Music Academy, which Joe also helped create during the 90s. 

Joe is survived by his wife Eileen, son Steve and daughter Joleen.

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.