Keith Carlock

Drummer Keith Carlock

After touring with Sting and Steely Dan, and recording Donald Fagen’s Morph The Cat, Keith Carlock faces the musician’s cruelest fate: a night off in Cleveland. “Where is the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame”? Carlock wonders while on tour with Fagen.

Carlock’s latest credits include tracks for new albums by Walter Becker, Diana Ross, Leni Stern, and Faith Hill, as well as a soundtrack for composer Carter Burwell. As if that’s not enough (along with just finishing up a summer tour with Steely Dan), you can also catch one of Carlock’s incredible riffs-and-ruffs solos at He pulls out all the stops, navigating Civil War funk, full-set flurries, New Orleans second-line, and staggered snare ruffs in a high-handed style that has become his trademark.

“I’m focusing on playing groove,” Carlock says, “meaning it doesn’t have to be 2 and 4; groove can be broken up in an atypical way that still has a flow. I’m improvising different street-beat patterns and breaking them up like a jazz drummer would, playing the swing ride cymbal pattern and comping with the rest of the kit. I’m using that approach with an 8th- or 16th-note framework, thinking in eight-bar phrases all the time. I might play over the barline, but the phrases are always there. I’m not playing free. When I’ve said all I can say in a section, I might completely change tempos or textures or sounds, and then let that develop. I want the listener to hear a musical solo.” Advertisement

A highlight of Donald Fagan’s New York performance came in “Third World Man,” where Carlock turned Steve Gadd’s economic fills into pile-driver waves that stunned the sold-out audience. “I just took liberties to do my thing in the holes,” Carlock explains. “That was the one place in the show where I could open up. I think of it like the end of ‘Aja,’ where Gadd played over that rhythmic vamp. I’m playing around the rhythms, doing whatever comes in the moment.”

Ken Micallef