Paul Simon’s 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover is famous for many things. First up, it’s an all-time classic song, and rewarded Simon with his first and only Billboard No.1 single as a solo artist. But to drummers, it’s known for one thing: Steve Gadd’s timeless drum intro.
Dr. Gadd’s graceful playing on the intro/verse groove is almost a cross-section of him as a player - complete dynamic control between the stepped and struck hi-hat notes, a display of his understanding of rudimental playing, and maybe most importantly, a groove you could set your watch to.
However, Gadd recently sat down with YouTuber/walking music encyclopaedia, Rick Beato (opens in new tab) to give a career-spanning interview covering his early days behind the kit, working with Chick Corea, his iconic playing on Steely Dan’s Aja, his rudimental warm-ups, and of course that drum intro.
As Gadd explains, 50 Ways…originally featured a straight beat on both the chorus and verse parts, and as with so many iconic musical moments, one of the greatest drum intros of all time came about through some between-take noodling.
“We were playing the whole song at the beginning with a backbeat. The chorus fell into place, it felt really good.” he tells Beato.
“At the beginning, Phil [Ramone, producer] and Paul thought they needed something. we didn’t know where it was going to come from, those guys knew that the chorus was cool but the verse needed some work.
“We did it at A&R on 48th street, and I was in a drum room. A lot of times when I was in that situation, it wasn’t easy to get out to the control room to listen and stuff, and I knew from working with those guys when it was time to go in and listen.
“There were a lot of times when they were just going through stuff and talking, and when they were doing that I’d be in the [drum] room. What I did between takes was, I’d be practicing constantly, different things to just sort of…that was my creative outlet for practicing.
“Not doing it loud, not technically, but just these little, different patterns. You know, how to play the hi-hat with the foot and hit it with the left hand after. Things like that.
“Phil heard me practicing that stuff, and I was probably putting it into some kind of little groove, and he said ‘Why don’t we try something like that for the verses?’
"It’s all about trying to come up with an agreement with everyone, you know what I mean? So we finally reached the agreement and that was it…lucky day for me.”
Or a lucky day for us all. Elsewhere in the interview Gadd talks about how he came up with his signature fat tom sound. “Those are small drums” he says of his Pearl fibreglass toms.
“The bass drum was a 22-inch Gretsch. I bought some Pearl concert toms, eight of them. They had one head on and I had bottom heads put on all of them. I chose the ones that were the most tuneable, where I could effectively use them for different situations so I wouldn’t have to be changing gear.”
Most recently, Steve Gadd performed with Paul Simon at last week's Love Rocks NYC, where the John Mayer Trio also made their first performance together in six years.
The Steve Gadd Band will be embarking on a three-night stand at the Catalina Jazz Club, (opens in new tab) Hollywood from April 20-22. You can catch him live with James Taylor on his US tour (opens in new tab) this summer.
Watch the full interview at the top of the page.