Jim Keltner, Jeff Porcaro, Rick Marotta, Vinnie Colaiuta, and Craig Krampf
Times have certainly changed. Circa 1964, the exposure of the Beatles altered the lives of most would-be musicians of that era. For those who fancied playing instruments, the dream seemed to come together in the image of four lads playing in a self-contained unit. For drummers everywhere, Ringo Starr became the one to emulate and his situation became the one to covet. In previous decades, drummers like Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson had provided that kind of inspiration, and now Ringo Starr became the idol of the ’60s generation. It was staggering at the time to find out that another drummer played the’ first Beatles’ recording session. Who was this Andy White person who played drums on “Love Me Do”? A “studio drummer?” What was that?
For a long time, a shroud of mystery covered the fact that our favorite groups on vinyl were not always the same individuals we saw in concert. Certainly the records never revealed anything to the contrary. But as the facts began to unravel, a new hero emerged: the studio drummer. In recent years, the desire to play in a group has been, in many cases, replaced by the goal of session work. And yet, interestingly enough, many of the top recording players never set out to be session players, and even now, are interested in returning to the basics of ensemble effort. (Cases in point, Jeff Porcaro with Toto, Rick Marotta with Ronin, Yogi Horton with Chew and Larrie Londin with his new Nashville group.) Is it simply a case of’ “the grass is always greener, ” or do they know something we don’t know?
In an attempt to answer that question and others relating to the studios, MD asked a number of L.A. studio drummers to get together and talk about what they do. Because of tight schedules, two separate meetings were held. The first was with Hal Blaine, Shelly Marine, Jim Keltner, Craig Krampf and Vinnie Colaiuta. At the second meeting, Jim, Craig and Vinnie were joined by Jeff Porcaro and Rick Marotta. It was obvious throughout these discussions that everyone enjoyed the contact with their fellow musicians, and the opportunity to bounce ideas off their peers. Anybody who still believes the myth that all studio players dislike each other and stab one another in the back to get gigs need only read the following discussion to see the warmth, affection and respect which each of these musicians holds for the others.
RF: Often, in interviews, you guys talk about the magic moments. Is it possible to describe those moments?
Jeff: You can’t explain the magic moments.
Rick: That’s why it’s called magic.
Jim: Yeah, because check this out: Many times, for me, I found out that those magic moments were not magical at all to anyone else but me. When that happens, you start thinking twice about magic moments.
Rick: It might be more interesting to describe the magic moments we have hearing other people. I remember hearing stuff he [Jim] played years ago that I thought no one human could come up with, or listening to Jeff play on “Rosanna.” Each of us likes the other’s playing more than our own.
Jim: That’s true. Like a magic moment for me musically was when I saw Vinnie play for the first time. Everybody had been telling me about Vinnie Colaiuta—Vinnie who? But when I saw you that night, man, I just won’t forget it. It was one of those moments, like when I saw Elvin the first time, or Tony the first time. The feelings were pretty much the same. It was tremendous.
Rick: Like Jim said earlier, sometimes you think it’s a magic moment, but when you try to explain it, no one will have even heard the record, or you walk off saying, “That was unbelievable; I really felt lifted for a minute.” People look at you like, “What the hell are you talking about? You played backbeats.” That’s something that’s so nebulous and so personal.
Craig: I have felt a couple, so I’m thinking, is there something . . .
Rick: . . . wrong with you? [laughter]
Craig: Yeah. I saw fireworks.
Vinnie: But you can’t really put your finger on them, can you?
Craig: I can.
RF: Can you be specific?
Craig: A couple of one takers when the whole band comes together.
Jeff: Oh yeah.
Craig: There are a couple of nights that stand out. There was one night with Kirn [Carnes] on Mistaken Identity, a track we had a heavy black version of. It was fast, the tempo was incredible and we had half the album done. It was the night before the Christmas break and Kirn came in at 1:00 in the morning and said, “This is not for me; this is for somebody else.” The guys were starting to celebrate and we were going to meet again in two weeks. The keyboard player, after our partying for a while, walked to the keyboards, played the song at about a quarter of the tempo, and pretty soon, one by one, everybody joined in. Val gave Kim a mic’—she was standing right next to the drums with a hand mic’; screw leakage and all that stuff—we played the song one time at 4:00 in the morning and that was chills. You were talking about crying on the Dylan track— that was unbelievable. That was a magic moment.
Vinnie: Everybody had that collective vibe, right? As opposed to burning out by doing it 20 times.
Craig: One takers are the ones that stand out.
RF: Does a mechanical device like a click track interfere with that magic?
Rick: It depends on who can play with a click and who can’t. A lot of musicians can’t play with a click track; it’s not only drummers. There’s more to it than the drummer. It’s a weird thing. When you put headphones on, an acoustic guitar is as strong an influence to the music as the loudest, strongest thing you can play on the drums. If you play to a click track really well and the bass player or guitar player can’t play anything to the click, it’s terrible.
Vinnie: If you get a guitar player who’s real on top of it, and you’re trying to lay back, it inhibits you when you try to go for something.
Rick: You can’t slow him down. He’s as loud as you are.
RF: How imperative is it to have that skill in the studios today?
Jim: You have to do it.
Rick: I don’t think you have to use it, but they’ve learned over the years that rather than everybody being influenced by the one player who might rush or drag, if you put the click down, it’s going to start somewhere and finish in the same place. You don’t have to worry about losing an entire song because it’s twice as fast at the end from the way it started out. What happens in between is how the band agrees on the time. So I think if you have people whose time doesn’t rush or slow down, you don’t need a click.
Jim: With the click being like that, where someone rushes a little bit and somebody else drags a little bit, when you put it together later on and you don’t hear the click anymore, all that can sound real nice and human.
Jeff: One thing in today’s music, though, is that there is a lot of music where people are using time-based stuff to write songs and that’s how they’re cutting them—with synths and sequencers and what not. Sometimes you have to get into that. And that gets harder because it’s not a matter of cutting a track to a click. After they take the click out, it feels good. If some of those instruments are going to be digital, realtime instruments, there are electronic hassles with them. If you use a Linn drum as your click, you’re playing a figure that’s in real time. If they add any more synths to what you heard audibly in your ‘phones, there’s a milli-second delay, and they have to use all sorts of stuff to chase that click and make things lock in.
Jim: The Linn is not compatible with digital click.
Jeff: Sometimes you go to dates, and the producers or the artists have the tempo that they want the tune to be cut at, and they have a little click machine. They take the time to set the tempo and they listen to four bars, or a demo, and say, “Yeah, that’s the tempo.” It is not the tempo and you know as a drummer, feel-wise or groove-wise, what the tempo should be. You are playing along and you know the chorus has got to be way up here, you know the bridge has got to breathe more, you know that the fills sound s t i f f , and it’s wrong. That’s a fine line.
RF: Do you say something at that point?
Jeff: You try to. But even if you ask anybody who writes songs, there are some songs, I don’t care what tempo you pick, that just don’t make it with real time all the way through. I remember Seals and Crofts—before any of these things like the Linn came out—used to record with the Roland Maestro. They used to edit, take tape and record pieces of the Maestro at four different tempos. They would make all the verse sections one tempo, and all the choruses were at a tempo slightly above. You knew that when the chorus came, you could go up a little bit, because they knew vocally and lyrically you could, and then you’d come back down and you’d have the old tempo there. Sometimes that was easier.
Craig: I think what Rick said—that it’s not just drummers—is important. For the longest time, we were the only ones who were responsible for time. Now it’s the whole group.
Jeff: But one of the bad pressures, man, is the fact that some artists and producers have a whole rhythm section there. They’re all good players, but getting five people with clicks and the right balance is hard, and a couple of them maybe aren’t making it with the click. They’re demanding that they get a good drum track that’s right on with the click, so you’re trying to concentrate on playing with the click, but you want to move with the piano player and you’re going, “No, I can’t.” It’s so hard and you start flipping out. And you know they’re in the booth just listening to you and the click, but they want everybody else to play so you get the feel. [laughs]
Rick: It’s stuff like that that makes you crazy. People say, “This guy has got an attitude; this guy is crazy.” Shit, you listen to some jerk tell you, “We have to fire the drummer—the time is bad.” Meanwhile, in the ‘phones, you’re listening to this folk-guitar player who’s playing with no time. It sounds like two giant speakers going “WHONG, WHONG,” and they expect you to hold the band back.
Vinnie: On top of that, you might be running down the tune a couple of times without a click and it’s grooving. Then they turn the click on and it’s a whole other scene.
Jeff: And that psyches you out. Then you work for an artist who says, “Why are you known for keeping such good time? You should be listening to my lyrics, rushing when I’m rushing and slowing down when I’m slowing down.” [laughter]
Rick: There are no answers to some of these questions. If you’re going to do this kind of stuff, every day you’ve got to get up and be prepared to use your resources. “Today I’m working for so and so,” and you’ve got to go check your file on that person. “I’ve got to go in with this snare drum, and with this thing happening here, and this thing happening there.” It’s more than what you think about a click track.
RF: You were talking about the computers before. How essential is it to be on top of that in the studios today?
Jeff: It’s everybody’s personal preference.
RF: Is it really personal preference? Or is it expected of you today?
Craig: I think it’s getting to be now.
Rick: Not if you’re a drummer. They expect a computer specialist to work on the computers. I know synthesizer players who go in and play, and there are programmers sitting right next to them. One person is hired to put his hands on the keys and someone else is hired to get the sound. They do the same thing with us. If they want to hire any of us to go in and program a Linn machine, that’s fine, but why hire someone who is known as this kind of a craftsman, who is a physical person, to come in and do the brain work?
Jeff: But, by the same token, all of us might have an extra metal snare drum, and a wood snare drum; you have the tools of your trade that you’re called upon to use. Sometimes it’s nice to know a Linn machine real well—to know how to set it up yourself, to know to write down on a piece of paper what the tempo is that you’re at and whatnot. Sometimes, some of these people don’t know how to record it on tape properly. It’s great for a drummer to know the Simmons. And it’s good to help somebody and say, “How about if we do half and half?” It’s nice to have the option. They may say, “We want all Simmons here,” and I may say, “I hate playing an all-Simmons kit. How about if we use a real bass drum, a real snare drum and some Simmons toms?” It’s good just to have those options.
Craig: I still feel that we can program drum machines better than keyboard players. I think we can put on more legitimate parts.
Jim: Sometimes, Craig, I have found the opposite, like on one particular track I recently played on, where I just played the snare drum. I played two different snare drum sounds on top of the Linn snare drum, which made it a total of three snare drum sounds on this track. The rest of it was Linn. When I first started doing it, I was thinking that I wasn’t crazy about the idea. At one point, I tried to tell them, but I’m not one of those people who says, “It sucks man, change it!” I hem and haw, so I tried to make it a positive statement, “Maybe I could do a little something else . . . ” “No, that’s okay, leave it like that. That’s good.” So I said “Okay,” and kept listening and thinking, “This is stupid. It’s not what a real drummer would play.” You know who programmed the machine before I got there? The second engineer! So later on in the evening, after I had done my stuff, a synth went on and some other things, and I said, “Listen to that thing man! It’s a great track.” [laughter] I loved the way the drums were moving. They were moving dumb as a post, man. It was something I wouldn’t have done, but it really worked good. Stuff like that happens and I start wondering if maybe I’m to much of a drummer for the Linn machine sometimes. For a long time, I maintained that you couldn’t do a shuffle on the Linn machine—the kind of shuffle I like to do—but I just did one the other day that was very convincing.
Rick: How’s the new Simmons sequencer? Does anyone know?
Vinnie: I messed with it at this guy’s house. It’s just like a regular sequencer and it’s got a four-bar thing with little dots. Some producer said it wasn’t a real reliable unit, but I’ve never used it.
Jeff: The Simmons themselves aren’t reliable units. The best thing about the Simmons is the touch-sensitive pad. Steve [Porcaro] took the pad and hooked it up to a Prophet. It was the Simmons sound but 80 times better than you can get out of the Simmons.
Craig: A couple of times, in the early days, I wish I would have had computer drums. If somebody wants to do a sequence track now with synthesizers—if your’re working for a producer who you know is going to want everything Nazi-like and 100% perfect—I’ll be the first guy to recommend cutting at least part of it with a drum machine.
Rick: I actually like those kinds of mechanical tracks. I remember in the very beginning when they first came out, I walked in and Steve Porcaro was sitting there working with the prototype of the Linn machine. I said, “This is an interesting little thing here,” and he said, “Yeah? Jeff won’t even walk into the same room with me when I have this machine.”
Jeff: We all hated those things when they first came out.
Rick: But it’s good for what you use it for. When I hear someone make a part up, put in all the drum fills and do all that stuff on a Linn machine, it’s good for certain mechanical things. When you want any kind of human touch, all the machines play almost the same. Whenever they say you can do a whole song and you can link up the songs, they’re really right and it’s not bad at all. I’m not critical of it. It serves the purpose, but there’s nothing that is going to replace that little bit of movement in two open bars of a fill that Craig or Vinnie is going to play.
Craig: Speaking of the Simmons, this could be bullshit, but I went to the drum store and the guy said, “Krampf, you haven’t bought any tom heads.” I said, “Well, it’s been all Simmons,” and he said, “Oh, have you heard about the injuries?” I don’t know if this is true, but the Simmons don’t give—it’s like a brick wall—and all of a sudden there is a rash of injuries. I wonder if the problem with my arm is related.
Jeff: Dig this: When I first got the Simmons, we did a track one day. When you have the ‘phones on and the sounds are happening, you can’t tell how hard you’re hitting. I had half my regular set and all the toms were Simmons. We did about four or five takes, and that night, man, I wondered if I had sprained my hand or something. For the next four days in a row, I could just tell from where my hands hurt that using the Simmons was exactly what caused it. It’s like hitting cement. There’s nothing giving.
Craig: The doctor I saw said this isn’t tennis elbow, but it was the first case he had ever seen of what he had to call “drummer’s elbow.” I will get the results Tuesday, but I just had the electro tests and all that stuff. The doctor thought the ulna nerve was being pushed by this elbow and causing the lack of feeling. It was very depressing. Using the Simmons is the only thing that I can think of that I’m doing different.
Jim: I’ve been having a lot of fun with my Simmons. There are so many ways to use them. But you’ve got to be careful not to lay into them the same way you do a drum. You don’t really have to, which is one of the main reasons I like them so much. I don’t have to work so hard.
RF: With all of the things they can do to your drum sound in the studio, does the drum itself really matter that much?
Jim: Well, sometimes I hate tom-toms. At one session, my tom-toms will sound wonderful, and I’ll go to the trouble of putting them in a box. But at the next gig, forget it! Then I always think, “What’s the use?”
Rick: It’s not the drum I hate. I hate the rooms. If I could do sessions in one room for the rest of my life, the room of my choice, it would be great.
Jim: You know who has it great? Roger Hawkins and those people down in Muscle Shoals. His drums always sound magnificent. They’re always in that same room.
Rick: Over at Paramount, they put your drums in this room where there’s just enough room for your elbows to move. You hit as hard as you can but don’t hear a note acoustically of your drums.
Jeff: That’s always a drag because you do one session where there’s a nice power amp on the headphone system, everything is hifi, your toms sound great and the room sounds great. You get enough bottom out of it, you’re not having trouble with your floor tom, you’re not having trouble with the snare drum or the bass drum, and that night you go somewhere else and the set sounds like shit.
Jim: I get demoralized. I hardly feel like playing anymore. I love that feeling when I go in, and I can just sit down and play, man. But if I have to go through this . . .
Jeff: The rooms I’ve played in New York all sound good.
Rick: I don’t like the sounds in New York.
RF: But don’t you get to use your own drums most of the time there?
Jeff: I could if I wanted to, but a lot of the studios in New York have a couple of sets there, or you can call people like Marotta, Gadd or Ferrone who have extra sets. You can call their people and rent their sets.
Rick: I wouldn’t rent shoelaces from those people in New York. They sent rental kits to sessions and that’s half the reason I left. I couldn’t find anybody to set up my drums in New York. I would hire someone to set up my drums and that person would pawn them. There’s no real business there. I must have gone through ten people. Maybe it’s getting better now, but you had to rent drums there unless you wanted to carry them yourself. I used to call this one place for maybe two years for every session, and they sent drums that had no business being in anybody’s case. They expected you to fix their drums. I would get a call from them and they would say, “What do you do? How do you make a snare drum sound good? What should we do to the toms?” The tom heads would be black. Every drummer in the world had tuned and detuned them for the last five years, and they put them on the snare drum. I remember hitting a snare drum and the whole drum ended up in my lap.
Jim: That’s what you get for being an animal.
Rick: That’s what you get for being in New York.
RF: There is a special set of politics inherent in the music business. Would you be willing, without mentioning names and jeopardizing your gigs, to talk about that?
Jim: People used to call me on the phone asking questions like, “How’s everything? What have you been doing?” Then they would proceed to tell me that they knew they could play, but they were so frustrated that they didn’t get calls to go into the studio. It blew me away. They’ll be talking about the politics, and saying that it’s who you know. I got to the point where I would really preach against that, so now it’s hard for me to even talk about politics. I know it exists, but I think for years, I just denied it.
Jeff: Politics is only involved in a certain clique of studio work where there are contractors. I can tell you right now, the time I did sessions, half of the sessions would be for independent artists or producers, and half the work would be from contractors who asked if I could make this session or that session on such and such a date. The contractors make what the highest paid musician makes, and all they do is call up the musicians and make sure they’re there to fill out the contracts. Some contractors contract every kind of date, from one vein of music to the next. One time I recommended Vinnie. This guy is the kind of contractor who calls up all the time, and when you can’t make it, he asks, “Who should I get?” Okay, I said, “Try Vinnie,” and the guy says, “Well, what has he done?” I told him what I knew Vinnie had done, and the guy says, “Well, I’ve got to hear him first. I can’t take a chance.” So what the hell did he ask me for? If you call me up and ask me, I’m doing you a favor by saying, “Try this cat out.” This one particular contractor blew at least five weeks of work for Vinnie by not going down to at least give a listen, when he could have seen him in any number of clubs.
RF: When was that?
Jeff: Here’s the big joke. Everybody knows how hip Vinnie plays, and it wasn’t that long ago that these idiots were pulling this. That’s the jive that everybody runs into at one time or another. There are so many different kinds of music that you know a lot more people could be working. If I wanted to be a contractor and be successful and well liked, I would really get into the album I was hired to contract. I would get with the producer and listen to all the tunes they planned on doing, because producers are, in fact, the ones who say, “Yeah, I would like to have so-and-so on my album.” Nobody’s going to doubt the fact that some artists dig having name players. “Gee, I always wanted to have so-and-so play on my album. Can I have this rhythm section; can this guy arrange?” If I were a contractor, I would listen to the tunes—if I were a real musician who knew music and had a feeling—and I would say, “See, this is a Chicago blues shuffle, so I’m going to get this drummer, and these two guitar players should be on this because they have the finger-picking thing down.” I would do that kind of thing, and still think about continuity for the artist, if it’s the kind of thing where it’s supposed to sound like a band.
RF: When the phone starts ringing off the hook, is there really a fear that you can’t say no to a job, or you won’t be called again?
Jeff: It depends on how much you are into the gig and doing what you’re doing. I remember when Toto started, my old man said, “There go your sessions,” and people were saying, “Why do you want to start a group? So-and-so and so-and-so aren’t going to be calling you. If you’re on the road for four months straight and then you’re doing an album, you can’t make all these sessions. Everytime this certain artist or producer who used to use you asks the contractor to get you, and you aren’t available, they go to the new kid. They become used to that person and establish a relationship with that person.” That person may also be the type who takes the contractors out to lunch and buys them Christmas gifts. Movie and TV people do that all the time; that’s a whole other scene. So people said, “There go all those gigs.” The thing is, there went all the gigs with the jive contractors, but not those with the friends and people who are just making records. They’re the ones you enjoyed doing anyway—the ones who still call you at home and say, “What are you doing tomorrow?” There are some people who, for whatever reasons, choose doing the whole realm of studio work, so they have to put up with a lot of bullshit. They have to put up with somebody saying, “Well, you’ve got to play Saturday; you’ve got to do me a favor,” and these players feel obligated to do it or they’ll get on the bad side of the contractor.
RF: The TV and film contracting politics are different?
Jeff: From what I hear.
Rick: I would hear things that used to get me when I was younger. I guess I’ve mellowed with age, but now, nothing really bothers me that much. You hear about some people working and you know it’s purely a political thing. There are a lot of musicians who work and who do their gig okay, and they’re very political. I think a lot of talented players don’t know how to do that. I’m sure all of us get these calls from people, “How do I break into the business?”
Jim: Right away that tells me something about them. When I was young, I called Shelly Manne and asked what size his hi hats were and things, but I never would have thought of calling him and asking, “How do you get into the studio?”
Jeff: Some people call and ask, “How many sessions did you do this week?” What is that?
Jim: What does that have to do with music?
Rick: I don’t even think about those kinds of things. I always figured it’s like being a gun slinger, and there’s always a new kid who comes into town and says, “I’m a faster, quicker draw than you; I’m this and that.” When it really comes down to it and you play, some things you’re going to play great on and some things you’re not going to play great on. You have good days and bad days—we’re human beings. Politics is politics. It’s hard for me—not having any idea how to handle politics—to figure out the social situation of recording. Sometimes you work with people you don’t like and you don’t even want to know them—you have nothing in common with them. I’m not talking about producers. I’m talking about everybody. People don’t always like me.
Jim: To even consider politics in whatever line of work you’re in, you’re already jumping into a game that you have to be prepared to play. For me, I don’t want to know about it.
RF: But it’s real.
Rick: But he’s saying that it’s not real to him, and I understand what he’s saying. You don’t want to have to think that it happens.
Jeff: The thing is to realize that it’s there, even though it hasn’t affected a lot of us. Certain contractors say, “You have to work this date because if you don’t, you’ll never work for me again.” That happens and some people make those choices because they have to out of necessity.
Jim: Yeah, it’s not that you’re being blind, or closing your eyes to the realities around you.
Jeff: But believe me, without politics you can be happy and work.
Craig: They say that the ultimate of that exists in New York commercials.
Rick: From my experience, because of the people I worked with in commercials in New York, I can’t see it there. But, it’s true everywhere.
Jeff: It’s really in the Los Angeles movie industry.
Jim: I heard it was in Nashville. [Everyone agrees]
Rick: the very first session I did in L.A. was when Spinoza brought me into town in 1971 to do a Paul Williams album. A guy in the next room at A&M came out to Spinoza and said, “Hey, how you doing man? What’s your name?” “David Spinoza.” “Who’s that drummer?” “A friend of mine from New York.” “Yeah? Ya know, we have a lot of great drummers here in Los Angeles.” That’s politics. It rears its head in every aspect of every business.
Jim: The best thing is to dance above it and do your best. If people call you for sessions, fine, and if they don’t, let your music come out. It doesn’t matter if it’s in the studios. You’ll end up in studios if you play on records. You’d be amazed how many people call me, not just kids, but adults, asking how to get into the studios. Asking questions about getting into the studios is not the way to get into studios. That has nothing to do with it.
Rick: You’re working in some sleezy dump, some producer who may be in the audience hears you and knows he can get you for nothing, and that’s your first session.
Jeff: I don’t care who you know. You have to be able to play.
Rick: It’s a difficult thing. It was real hard for me moving from New York to Los Angeles. People said to me, “Call this producer; call this person,” and I never could do it, ever. There are some people who can do that, but I never could. It took me years to call Spinoza, and I grew up with the guy. There are two or three people in New York I can do that with. Those are the only phone calls I make, and they’re more social calls—they’re really my friends. I worked with them for ten years. That would be like Jeff calling David Paich—that’s friendship.
Jim: You see? Here in this room, everybody was unanimous when Rick said he wasn’t the kind of person who could call people for work. Nobody in this room could do that if they had to.
Rick: I do know musicians who call all the time, and that is how they work.
Jim: There’s nothing wrong, necessarily, with somebody having a different personality than the guys in this room. [laughter] There are aggressive people in the world and there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they can back it up.
RF: Everyone in this room has gone through super, super busy times when the phone is ringing off the hook. Again, just as in any job, there’s something called burn out. You keep saying yes because you’re never really sure when the next gig is, but you are doing more than you can handle.
Jeff: It’s just like anybody in life doing anything. You know your limits and that’s it, period. It’s no different for drummers to burn out than for you to burn out.
Rick: When you get there, I think you learn from your mistakes. I know I did it in New York and I stopped doing it. I realized that I can’t do this. I was one of those real lucky guys who everybody was calling to do their sessions, so I took everything for a while.
Jeff: And it was fun to play.
Rick: Then it gets not to be fun after a while and you stop. What do you think we’re doing here? If we were working all the time, we wouldn’t be able to come over here on a Sunday afternoon.
Jeff: It’s not like it was seven or eight years ago either. When the disco scene was happening, everybody was working. You worked four sessions a day, grooved and you stayed up.
Craig: For me, the first thing that happens is that the attitude will start to go. When someone would ask me to do something, where normally I would say, “Sure, fine, we’ll try this,” all of a sudden, I wasn’t so agreeable to try things. Then I realized that I would be hurt more that way than thinning out some things and taking a little of the burden off my mind.
Jim: I hardly ever work. There was a period from about ’71 to ’73 where I did what you’re saying, almost every day, at least one session, and sometimes three a day. I almost killed myself.
Thank God I didn’t get the ultimate house with the tennis court and all that. You can really be misled into doing something like that. In this business, there’s more money being made by the work that we do than a lot of the highest paying jobs anywhere. There were years where I made way more money than I thought was really right. I was always thinking, “What am I doing? I’m just beating on things.” [laughter]
Rick: You’re a magician.
RF: Your statement, Jim, leads me to the next question. Has any one of you in this room given any consideration to the fact that you may not be doing this forever?
Vinnie: I freak out about that all the time. I just wonder what I’m going to do when I grow up.
Rick: Every once in a while I say to myself, “How long can I do this?” Every month you get to where you’re saying, “I’m reaching a certain age and maybe people are going to think I’m burnt. What should I do next? Should I go on to another business?” And then two days later, I say, “I love to play. I could play in clubs again like when I started and enjoy myself.”
Jeff: What we do takes a lot of our health and youth—a lot of energy. We’re all artistic, sensitive-type people and, I think, just like with anybody else, we’ve got a certain amount of time where the physical body can let us do what we’re enjoying right now at the limit that we take it to.
Rick: You said the key—to the limit to where we take it now.
Jeff: Obviously, the thing we do happens to be something we love. We’re lucky and fortunate enough to be doing something artistic. We all learn things besides drums that are involved in our work. Hopefully, there are other things you can do that pertain to music.
Vinnie: I go on some dates and see some people my age and younger who can write tunes and can go on to be conductors or anything. If I don’t start doing something else, like trying to write tunes or something, what the hell am I going to do? What do you do, take some night classes?
Jim: I consider you as being young and fresh in the business, isn’t that right?
Vinnie: That’s because I’ve only been doing it for a couple of years, but I’m 27 now.
Jim: You started before I did then. I didn’t start until I was 29, basically. To me, a person your age, with your talent, has all this before you. You know what you ought to do right now? This is my favorite thing to tell people who are still in their 20’s. If you started right now, with all your spare time, learning to play something like the keyboards, or guitar, or whatever strikes your fancy, can you imagine how good you’ll be playing that instrument in five years and what a new awareness you’ll have of music?
Rick: It’s a hard thing to start over.
Jim: It’s not starting over; it’s beginning. You have got to want to do it, obviously.
Vinnie: Mike Baird says we’ll never be out of a gig.
Rick: That’s a great attitude.
Jeff: We’ll never be out of a gig.
Rick: I always feel like every time I work, it’s my last gig. I have been such a loner the whole time I’ve played. I’m always off alone, just a drummer, never really connected to any group, so I don’t have that kind of a social thing where I have a lot of friends in the business coming up to me and saying, “Don’t worry about it.” Where were they those six awful months when I moved to Los Angeles?
Craig: I think it’s what Jeff said—it’s as long as we can perform at that level. For me, it didn’t really get going until I was 33 or 34, but I consider now that my fast ball is still good, as long as I can pitch…
Jim: A lot of the stuff I’m doing nowadays is, to me, stuff that almost anybody on the scene could handle. So I’ve been finding out more and more the last few years that, in order for me to really satisfy a lot of my musical feels, I have to create my own thing. And that also helps bring a new quality to each new session.
RF: Is the ultimate goal doing your own thing? For you, Jeff, it was, wasn’t it?
Jeff: It’s fun regardless of what it is.
Rick: It’s fun if it’s successful.
Jim: But see, dig this, look what Jeff had going for him. He grew up with those guys in Toto.
Jeff: It’s real funny, because it was fun in high school, and it was the same group of guys with that chemistry. Everybody has been together since we were 10, 11, 12 years old, except for [lead singer Bobby] Kimball. That makes it easy.
Jim: All good things come to you when you’re in a band. You get the best. You get much more than just being a studio drummer. What is that? But let’s face it, being in a band was how we all started, wasn’t it?
Jeff: And it’s not whether the band has a record deal or is successful or whatever. Because of the innocence of childhood, you always remember the group who played in the garage. How long did you play in a back garage of an alley, man, seven days a week? Forever, man, five years straight and that’s the kind of stuff you grooved on. You didn’t make any money! Some people get in bands out of necessity instead of out of love.
Jim: That’s the key right there—love.