Steve Gadd

Hall Of Fame: 1984

Studio: 1979, ’80, ’81, ’82. ’83. ’84, ’85

All Around: 1979, ’80, ’81, ’82, ’83, ’84, ’85

Recorded Performance: 1979

Steve Gadd hardly needs an introduction here. Maybe he would in People magazine or in the newspaper, U.S.A. Today, but not in Modern Drummer. Actually, if you’re a drummer and don’t know something of Gadd’s impact on drumming and contemporary music over the last eight or ten years, you haven’t been listening very closely. You probably haven’t been listening at all. Simply put, Steve Gadd has made his mark. His incredible precision behind a drumkit, and his ability to create rhythms and musical images that fit oh so nicely in whatever song he’s working on have made him a superstar session drummer.

When you set out to speak with Gadd as I did, one thing you need in your corner is patience. Steve Gadd, you quickly find out, is a very busy musician. Many people want him in the studio when they record. Many people seek out his advice, his opinion, and his friendship. When not in the studio or up on the stage, he spends as much time with his family as he can. Some- times he even consents to interviews.

Yet the driving energy inside him— the force that’s responsible for his need to play—gushes out whenever there’s the slightest opening. Case in point: We were knee deep in conversation when the tele- phone rang. On the opposite end was Gary Burton. Gadd had never met Burton before but was, of course, well aware of Burton’s accomplishments on the vibraphone.

Gadd spoke very briefly with Burton, telling him that he was in the middle of an interview and would call him back. When Gadd returned to me, he exclaimed, “That was Gary Burton on the phone. Man, I’d like to play with that cat. I hope that’s what he was calling for. That would be really terrific.” Pause. “Yeah, so now, where were we?” Case closed.

RS: You’ve set so many standards within the realm of drumming and contemporary music that the mere mention of your name commands the utmost respect. Has being cast into the light of “superstar” been a burden on you, or have you enjoyed the exposure and responsibilities?

SG: Well, I don’t think about it that much. I try to deal with what’s happening at the moment, and not dwell on labels and things like that. But whenever I do think about it, I feel the pressure that any other person in my position would feel. You inevitably put pressure on yourself to live up to what you’ve accomplished in the past, if you know what I mean. But I really try not to think about all this for the simple reason that I don’t want the added pressure on me; I don’t need it. It doesn’t do me any good. Not thinking about it is the healthiest thing to do; at least for me it is.

RS: Looking back on your career, do you think that such recognition is warranted? How do you personally feel about your drum-related accomplishments in life?

SG: That would be a hard question for me to answer. I’ve done my best, and I’m thankful for whatever recognition I’ve gotten in the media, as well as from other drummers and other musicians. Again, I don’t think about it much. But since you put the question to me, I guess I’d have to say, yeah, I think I’m deserving of the recognition I’ve gotten over the years.

RS: Is there a danger of being overexposed and over emulated?

SG: I don’t know. I don’t feel any of the dangers that go with the territory. I’m flattered when people like what I do and want to emulate my drum style. I don’t know if it’s a case of being overexposed, as you say, or if the changes in the industry and in musical taste are what’s really important here. Whatever happens and why, it’s up to the musicians to keep their heads on straight and try to adapt to the situation.

RS: You’re the common source of inspiration for so many drummers. Where do you turn for inspiration?

SG: I used to do things like listen to other drummers. Now I listen to other drummers and music strictly for enjoyment. I don’t necessarily get inspired because of what I hear, but that’s probably because I’m not looking for inspiration. I think I look inward for inspiration. I try to keep my concentration focused 100% on whatever I have to do. That does it for me.

RS: What is it about your work and your accomplishments over the years that you find most rewarding?

SG: I feel good about the wide range—the wide variety—of playing I’ve done. I mean, I’ve done simple things as well as highly complex things. And a lot of these experiences—almost all of them—have been with a lot of really strong musicians. I feel good about the different musical situations that were strong and where I sounded strong. I mean, some of the Chick Corea albums I played on, and some of the things I did with Bob James and Gladys Knight are very memorable. These people are strong performers. And what I played with them wasn’t just a lot of technical drumming. It was just me being a part of good music. I’m really lucky to have been in a number of these situations, and I’m fortunate to be recognized for what came out of my drums. That’s gratifying. It really is.

RS: Is there anything that you wish you could have done or might have done but didn’t do?

SG: No, not really. I feel very happy about what I’ve done, like I said. I have no regrets about not doing a certain date or whatever. I’m very happy about what I’m presently doing, too. I have no regrets there, either. Every day is a new day.

RS: Over the years, how has your approach to drumming matured, or perhaps even changed due to the incredible amount of studio time you’ve logged behind your kit?

SG: If there’s been any maturation or change, it’s been due to the experience that I’ve acquired. Because of that experience, certain drum-related or musical situations are easier for me to deal with now than, say, ten years ago, which, I guess, should not be all that surprising. One thing I’ve realized as far as drumming goes is that there are a lot of different ways to look at things. That has definitely relieved me of a lot of anxiety, which in the past would have caused much undo pressure, if you know what I mean.

RS: You’re obviously a busy, much-indemand session player, to say the least. Are you a workaholic?

SG: Not anymore. I used to be a workaholic, however.

RS: What made you change?

SG: Well, physically I found out that I just couldn’t go on the same way day in and day out, with nothing but work and more work. It would have killed me eventually. And now I have a family that I want to spend time with. So now I work to live, not live to work, which was the situation for me a few years ago. I mean, there are times in everyone’s life that are painful for one reason or another, and work becomes a good escape from that pain.

RS: Are you saying that’s what happened with you?

SG: I’m saying that was certainly a part of it. But you also have to understand that the business back then was different than it is today. I mean, the recording business has really changed a lot in ten years. I remember going into the studio and cutting an album’s worth of tracks in a day or two. Now, in the same time that it once took to cut three tunes, artists are cutting one tune, if they’re lucky. Also, during this same time, there was a significant cutback in the number of artists making records. Every- thing that goes around comes around, though.

RS: Is there such a thing for you as playing drums strictly for fun anymore?

SG: That’s a hard question. I mean, when I play I try to get as much enjoyment out of it as I can. I want to enjoy playing my drums. I actively try to stay away from getting involved in situations that are going to be the other way. When I do find myself in sessions that aren’t fun, I find they’re harder and harder to deal with.

RS: Well, how do you keep the business end of making music in its proper perspective?

SG: There’s no uniform way to do that. I tackle that day to day.

RS: Can you be a bit more specific?

SG: I can only say that I try to be open to change and try to be in situations where I have as much control as possible. On the other hand, when I do have the control that I want and need, I try not to flaunt it; I try to stay as humble as I can. I strive for balance. By balance I mean following a very busy week with, say, a slow week. I try to do this in the studio as well as at home. A sense of balance is very important to me. I try to survive in the music business as sanely as I can. I try to remember that the present is like a split second in a lifetime, and that if I get hung up on something negative this instant, I mean, what is its relationship to the whole? It’s hard to explain sometimes.

RS: Let’s talk for a moment in wider terms. What are your views on the evolution of drumming and drumming trends over the last few years?

SG: It’s no secret that drums have progressed all the way up to the drum machine, which gave certain people the opportunity to write and record music without really being able to play a set of drums. But I think that will eventually lead to what I mentioned before: What goes around comes around. We’re starting to feel it already, I think. I believe there’s more live playing these days than there was a couple of years ago when drum machines were really hot. I see people who have been using drum machines wanting to play with a live rhythm section again, you know what I mean? One good thing about drum machines is that drummers have to be more conscious of time than they were in the past. I think that, in the future, there will be more drummers in the studios and less machines. I mean, I’m basing what I’m telling you here not on any hardcore investigation on my part, but on what people have been telling me and from what I see and hear with my own eyes and ears. Do you know what I think? I think there are a lot of good musicians who have been dormant through this sudden surge of electronics that you’re going to be hearing from real soon. And it’s going to be interesting to see what kinds of music and what kinds of directions they’re going to be tackling. I’m not putting down electronics, because I think they’re good. I like them. I just think there are going to be ways—good ways—of using drum machines and things with live players that are going to enhance popular music. I mean, how many rap records can you listen to? People are going to want to hear melodies again, which is okay with me. The music business, like life, is up and down. Once you realize that, I think the big challenge is never to think you know how down it could get, or how up it could get, either. The challenge is to stay sane during the peak periods.

RS: Has the inundation of new equipment, new concepts, electronics, and machines been a bit too much, in your opinion? Is it possible, for instance, that many avenues of exploration concerning new equipment are being overlooked simply because there’s yet another new piece of equipment on the market that steals your attention?

SG: As a professional drummer, that’s one of the things you’re up against and have to deal with, like it or not. A drum machine invented with a drummer in mind would be good for all concerned. This way, the sounds you’d get from the machine would be manipulated and molded by a drummer who has experience with drum sounds. Don’t get me wrong, I like electronics.

RS: Do you use drum machines and such often in your work?

SG: I’ve used them some. I’d like to use them more, but I’m waiting for something to come along that really kills me. Then I’ll indulge more.

RS: You seem to have opened up a little over the past couple of years. By that I mean you’ve done some major interviews, you’ve done a couple of videos, you’ve made a number of public appearances at clinics, and so forth. Will we see more of Steve Gadd in the future?

SG: Yeah. I was a little nervous about step- ping out like that in the beginning, because I hadn’t done any of that in the past. But the more I do it, the more comfortable I feel doing it. I just don’t like to go into situations and be throwing the bull, because people have questions for me and I like to give them answers. I do clinics at the Drummers Collective every once in a while. I did a second video recently, which is, all playing with two different rhythm sections. It’s called Steve Gadd In Session. It’s on DCI Video. I think it’s very informative. That’s important to me. That’s what we do them for.

RS: Do you plan to do others

SG: I don’t know. Maybe I’ll do another video with another percussionist.

RS: Do you have any other projects in the works?

SG: I’m working on a drum instructional book that includes some warm-up exercises with some rudiments that are important. It’s a slightly more musical approach to warming up and things like that.

RS: Are there any artists in particular that you’d like to work with in the future?

SG: No one in particular. I’m interested in anyone who wants to make some good music; that’s about the size of it. I’ll play with musicians I’ve played with in the past and those I’ve never even met yet. It makes no difference. I just would like to play with good, serious players for as long as I can.

RS: What about the balance between studio work and tours? Do you plan to concentrate more on one than the other in the future?

SG: You know, I’ve been doing more outside work than I’ve done in a long while, and it feels good. Touring is rough, though, when you have a family. It just doesn’t make sense to go out of town to play unless the business side of it makes it worth your while. Otherwise, why go? I can play right here in the City [New York]. See, a lot of people don’t seem to realize this, but I’ve never done just studio work in my career. I think the split has always been around 50/50.

RS: You’ve accomplished so much as a drummer. What goals are left for you to achieve?

SG: To keep on going, and keep on doing what I’ve been doing and am doing. It’s always a challenge to connect all this playing and stuff with the proper life-style so it all makes sense. No matter what you’ve done, if you’re living out on the street, it doesn’t mean anything, does it? I mean, it’s nice to have a bunch of things—a bunch of awards hanging on the wall in your house or studio—but the bottom line is that they don’t pay the rent, and paying the rent is what it’s all about.