For the drummer, who’d built a sterling session and live career for nearly ten years with artists including John Lennon, Paul Simon, Jim Croce, James Taylor, and Steely Dan, 1978 was yet another super-busy year. In the studio, on the road, back in the studio, back on the road…it’s no wonder the circumstances surrounding some recordings are somewhat vague to him today. That said, the studio star actually remembers quite a bit about the records he made that year; here he shares his impressions of a dozen.
Chaka Khan Chaka
Steve Ferrone was on most of this album, including the hit “I’m Every Woman.” I played on the David Lasley ballad “Roll Me Through the Rushes.” We were all doing so many sessions then. And I was touring almost that whole year with either James Taylor or Linda Ronstadt—honestly, I’m surprised I did as many records in ’78 as you’ve come up with here!
Warren Zevon Excitable Boy
I played on “Lawyers, Guns and Money” on this one. That was a highlight for me, one of my favorite records I played on. I did a lot of work with [guitarist] Waddy Wachtel, who also produced that record. Mick Fleetwood played on “Werewolves of London.” Jeff Porcaro played on “Nighttime in the Switching Yard.” Russ Kunkel is on that album as well. [Note: Marotta also played on the track “Veracruz.”]
Bryan Ferry The Bride Stripped Bare
This started out when they hired Waddy Wachtel and me to play on the record, which was recorded in Switzerland when Roxy Music was on hiatus [Bryan Ferry was Roxy’s singer.] I went out, and Waddy was coming behind me after he finished up his previous projects. When I got there, I remember it was a mess—the traveling arrangements…and then I get there and they tell me Bryan had just broken up with his fiancé, Jerry Hall, who was leaving him for Mick Jagger. Then there was a problem with the rest of the players getting there. So I’m there all by myself for almost two weeks, and I just started playing all the different instruments and doing the arrangements. And then management said, “Listen, we’d like you to produce the record, being you have it under control.” So I said, “Okay,” and it was a really good record to work on.
This was one of the first albums on which I worked very closely with the artist. I made mistakes on it—it was a real learning process. I was learning how to produce vocals. But it was a great experience for me. Bryan was so very specifically good—he’s like a great character actor—and he had such character in his voice. He was so ahead of his time. Interesting songs, all great.
When Waddy came out, he produced with me, and then a few other producers came in. But Waddy and I really had a lot to do with that record. I even played the guitar solo on [the demo of], I think, “Same Old Blues,” which Waddy had to learn. I was playing just about everything on that demo. Then all the “real” guys came in after the preproduction. I might have used Syndrums on “Take Me to the River.” Alan Spenner, who was in Joe Cocker’s band from Woodstock, was on bass on that album as well. This was one of my favorites.
Ralph MacDonald The Path
This was Ralph’s second solo album. Ralph and I worked together all the time in the studio and live. He would always call to find out when I’d be in town to play on a few tracks. If I couldn’t do it and Steve Gadd was available, he would do it. I always loved working with Ralph.
Phoebe Snow Against the Grain
I remember this one. Liberty DeVitto also played drums on it, Ralph MacDonald was on percussion, and Richard Tee was on keys. Phil Ramone produced it. The songs I did were fun and interesting.
We did a version of [the Aaron Neville hit] “Tell It Like It Is” that might have been cut at these sessions. I did an arrangement of the song with Richard Tee, and I remember saying to him, “Let’s do it in four.” And then Tee and I came up with and sang all the background vocals with Phoebe. Unfortunately I can’t find [the recording] anywhere.
Herbie Mann Brazil: Once Again
I learned a lot from Herbie. He was a mentor kind of guy. On this record he brought in Brazilian players, and it was samba school for me. It taught me all about samba music. For some reason, he really liked my playing and we toured and did records together. When I was touring with Herbie, Tony Levin was on bass.
The Jacksons Destiny
That record I remember very well! I played on [the Jacksons’ comeback hit] “Blame It on the Boogie” and a few others, including a beautiful ballad. One of the producers on that record was Bobby Colomby, the drummer from Blood, Sweat & Tears. What I remember most about it was Michael in the vocal booth singing. All the brothers were there too, and they’re playing on it. And it sounded really good. And then on the talkback I hear someone say, “How’s it feeling?” And one of the brothers stops and says, “Hold on! Michael, can you dance to it?” And Michael says, “Oh, yeah!” The talkback voice comes back on and we hear, “Okay, it feels good!” [laughs] I remember that Michael was very present and very much part of the recording. He did the vocals as we were running the tracks down. That was a good one.
Baby Grand Baby Grand
I remember this one because [bandleaders and songwriting team Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian] went on to form the Hooters. Rick Chertoff produced it. Many years later Eric wrote the Joan Osborne hit “One of Us.” That’s one of my all-time favorite songs.
Tom Scott Intimate Strangers
Tom’s records were always highlights, because he was so meticulous. And he always had great players. Steve Gadd and I shared the drum chair on this one. [Marotta played on the track “Nite Creatures.”] Ralph MacDonald was on percussion. Tom wrote out everything and then would say, “Play whatever you want.” If it was [made] better he would say, “It’s great—let’s do it that way.” If not, he’d be the first to say, “No, that sucks.” And that was for all his records.
One of my favorites that I play on that he produced is the Doc Severinsen album Brand New Thing . My brother Jerry and I cowrote the track “Chicken Chatter” with Tom. Some of those tracks are scary good. Anthony Jackson was on bass. He’s one of the best bass players to ever pick up the instrument. Any time I recorded with Tom it was what I called very controlled chaos. He was really so good and so musical.
Andrew Gold All This and Heaven Too
I don’t remember which songs I recorded on this album. I know I didn’t play on the hit “Thank You for Being a Friend.” I think that was Andrew. I used to curse him because he was a left-handed, non-sensible drummer and then I’d have to copy him and play it.
David Spinozza Spinozza
Whenever I did a record with Spinozza, he would write out very meticulous arrangements. But I worked with him so much on so many sessions, it was like we were in a band. Back then the studio musicians were like bands—same guys, every day, every session. We went on the road together, we made records together. Steve Jordan was on this album as well. Rubens Bassini was on percussion. It was recorded at House of Music in New Jersey, where we did the John Tropea and Deodato records as well. I first met Rubens when I played with Deodato. Rubens was great!
Steve Khan The Blue Man
I played percussion on the track “An Eye Over Autumn (For Folon)” on this one. [Steve Gadd played drumset on the release; Gadd and Marotta split drumset duties on Khan’s next album, Arrows.] Steve Khan is another one who would write out stuff. He would be very clear in his writing. But he was very receptive to input. Other guys, not so much. He always let me share my ideas.
Rick Marotta (center) as he appears in the gatefold of Linda Ronstadt’s album Simple Dreams, which he toured behind through much of 1978. The album, which was released toward the end of the previous year, spent five straight weeks at number one on Billboard’s album chart, topped the magazine’s country chart, and sold more than three and a half million copies in its first year, breaking the record for a female artist. From left: keyboardist Don Grolnick, road manager Don Forte, guitarist Waddy Wachtel, Marotta, guitarist Dan Dugmore, bassist Kenny Edwards, and Ronstadt.
The Drummer Shuffle
One of the hallmarks of hit singer-songwriter albums recorded during the ’70s—the kind that Rick Marotta made his bones with—is the presence of multiple drummers on one album. Jim Gordon, Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, Russ Kunkel, Marotta himself—for fans of the artists they played with, it was always a fun exercise scouring the credits of the inside sleeve and seeing who played on each song. It begs the question, however: Why? “People thought it was because different guys played different styles,” Marotta says today. “But most of the time when they shuffled drummers it’s because some albums weren’t all done in two to five tracking sessions in a row. And then guys would be gone on the road. On certain records—James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon, Jackson Brown, J.D. Souther—we went in and lived in the studio, which I liked at the time.”
Tools of the Time
“In New York you used what they had at the studio,” Marotta says. “I’d bring my own trap case, snare, and cymbals. I would use the toms and bass drum that were at the studio. For all the L.A. sessions, on certain records it was all my own drums—mostly Yamaha with Zildjian cymbals—especially when we were set up and staying at one studio to record until we were done. And we had cartage in L.A.; in New York it was much harder. We’d also have up to four sessions in one day in New York. In L.A., if we had two sessions in one day, someone was there to break down your kit and bring it over by truck to the next session and set it up. Or you had two sets that you always used.”
Marotta still plays Yamaha drums and Zildjian cymbals, and he uses Remo heads, Regal Tip/Calato sticks, and Zoom electronics.