August 5, 2009

The Jeff Porcaro Influence

Today is the death anniversary of Jeff Porcaro, one of my favorite drummers. Seventeen years ago, he succumbed to a heart attack, shocking the entire drumming and music community. He was only 39 when he passed away.

I would occasionally imagine how drumming and music would be right now if Jeff is still alive up to this day. I'm sure there would be plenty more incredible drumming performances from the master. And how I wish he's still around, because today's kids can learn so much from him. His groove, his great feel, his sense of emotion, his impeccable taste, his genuine musicality... Jeff made the modern music world a much better place. Though he may be gone, his spirit is still very much alive.

I consider Jeff Porcaro as one of my major drumming and musical influences. I learned to love grooving and how to make the song more heartfelt. In fact, when we were recording Pangako, I was thinking of Jeff a lot. He was my drumming inspiration for that song. When I was figuring out my drum parts for that song, I was often thinking, "If I were Jeff, how would I approach this tune?" If I didn't have that spirit of Jeff in me, I wouldn't have played Pangako like how you hear it right now.

Jeff's influence on me is so strong that some of his principles have already been instilled in me. Nowadays, I prefer to simply groove, play for the song, and make it feel good. I aim to make the music beautiful and more meaningful. Unlike before, I was finding ways to highlight my technique and chops. I guess most of us musicians have gone through that phase, where in we are trying to prove something and impress our audience. I may have already matured as an artist (though I'm still growing). Now, I'm not looking for a solo spot or any kind of drumming highlight reel. I'm no longer playing to impress people in a technical sense. It's no longer about how much chops I can do. I'm now trying to make a connection; I want listeners to feel the music. That's the magic of Jeff. His heart and soul are infused within the songs he played on. That's the most significant thing I've picked up from Jeff.

Toto members have stories about how Jeff was burning behind the drumkit on certain rehearsals and studio sessions. They would tell him that he should have a solo spot during their shows, but Jeff was like, "No. That's not me! I just want to groove." Jeff actually had the chops and the technique to stretch out. But he was quite vocal in how he hates doing drum solos. Seeing and hearing Jeff perform a drum solo may be a thrilling thought. But to listen to his drumming on numerous recordings is such a musical bliss! He may have had the tools to solo, but for me, he doesn't need to. His drumming speaks for itself. Jeff had so much personality and class.

I discovered Jeff back in college, when I was with the DLSU Pops Orchestra. Thanks to my friend, the great drummer Junjun Regalado, I became more familiar with Jeff's works. Like most drummers, it was with Toto where I first heard Jeff. We all know the obvious - Africa, Hold The Line, 99, I'll Be Over You... But like most drummers too, it was Rosanna which made its very huge mark. That signature rolling shuffle, inspired by Bernard Purdie & John Bonham... Oh it feels so good, no matter how many times you listen to it over and over. And oh how I felt the agony when I was still learning how to play it! Thanks to Junjun, he taught me Jeff's Rosanna shuffle groove, and encouraged me a lot. From that moment on, shuffles weren't the same again for me. Shuffle grooves are now amongst my favorite things to play on the drumkit.

Another thing I dig so much about Jeff's playing is his way of interpreting love songs. Through careful listening, we can really feel the expression on Jeff's drumming, which complements the song with so much sincerity. As far as I'm concerned, Jeff Porcaro is the best drummer for love songs. I can recall love songs which not only made me cry because of its message or what it's expressing, but also because of how Jeff interpreted it. It proved to me how powerful drums can be in expressing emotions.

For me, as a drummer, playing and understanding love songs are essential. It is key to a more convincing sense of feel. It unleashes emotions. It makes one a more sensitive human being. No matter how cheesy some love songs can be, try playing along to it. It's no joke. Get into your Jeff Porcaro mode. That must be the secret; well, at least for me.

I was recently doing some Jeff Porcaro research on the web, and I found this site which lists and updates Jeff's discography (see links below). Check it out. You'll be surprised with some of the songs Jeff played drums on. It's unbelievable.

Here is a list of selected Jeff Porcaro recordings, and some of my thoughts about it.

With Toto:

Child's Anthem (from Toto I, 1978) - I remember playing this song with the DLSU Pops Orchestra. It's one of the first pieces I ever played with Pops. The rock shuffle is gorgeous.

I'll Supply The Love (from Toto I, 1978) - This is a fine example of a groovy rock song, which best represts Jeff's style and personality. Quarter notes on the snare, disco-esque grooves on the verses and instrumental section, tasteful fill-ins, perfectly-placed crash cymbal accents, and the exciting drumming on the outro for the win!

Hold The Line (from Toto I, 1978) - Tight, tight, TIGHT! We can't play this tune in any other way. A rock-solid 12/8 groove, and it feels so SO good!

Mama (from Hydra, 1979) - This is another fine example of Jeff's mastery of the shuffle groove and feel.

White Sister (from Hydra, 1979) - Check out what Jeff did at the fade-out ending of this song, beginning at the 5:20 mark... Bonham's influence on Jeff is strong.

Goodbye Elenore (from Turn Back, 1981) - Look for this track's music video on YouTube. Jeff is ripping here!

Rosanna (from Toto IV, 1982) - Jeff's signature song, featuring his signature shuffle groove. Only Jeff!

Lion (from Isolation, 1984) - The opening track of the album. This rocks hard and grooves so tight!

Till The End, Without Your Love, I'll Be Over You, and Somewhere Tonight (from Fahrenheit, 1986) - Fahrenheit is a fine album, and these 4 tracks feature incredible drumming performances from Jeff.

Anna (from The Seventh One, 1988) - One of my favorite Toto ballads. Jeff hit the spot.
Stop Loving You (from The Seventh One, 1988) - I used to play this song with my bandmates from the DLSU Pops Orchestra. One of my favorite Toto songs to play drums on.

Jake To The Bone (from Kingdom Of Desire, 1992) - Kingdom Of Desire is probably my favorite Toto album, and the heaviest during the Porcaro era. Jeff was able to finish recording this album before he died. The band's music in this album seems to be heading towards a heavier and more progressive musical direction. The instrumental track Jake To The Bone may be Jeff's best drumming performance in the album, with its amazing chops and odd-time signature grooves. Could this be the new musical direction where Jeff was headed? Could this be Jeff taking his already-established drumming prowess to greater heights? Only God knows what might have been...

With other artists:

Take This Love (Sergio Mendez) - Those fill-ins! I'm sold.

When A Man Loves A Woman (Michael Bolton) - Jeff's drumming on this love song is PERFECT. The big-fill in on the song's climax? What a beauty.

Is There Something (Christopher Cross) - That big fill at the end of the last chorus is a signature Porcaro fill, and I love how it complemented the "'coz part of me will always be with you" line. I cry to this song.

Arthur's Theme (Christopher Cross) - Yes, Jeff played on this...

Only Love (Stephen Bishop) - ...and this...

We're All Alone, Look What You've Done To Me (Boz Scaggs) - ...and these...

Love Is All That Matters (Eric Carmen) - ...and this! We all thought some love songs are cheesy... Until we found out who played in it.

I Keep Forgetting (Michael McDonald) - Grooooovy!! Warren G. used this groove on his rap hit Regulate.

Light and Shade (Fra Lippo Lippi) - I thought Jeff had some Steve Gadd vibe in this track. Elegant.

The Girl Is Mine, Beat It, Human Nature, The Lady In My Life, and Heal The World (Michael Jackson) - These are the MJ tracks Jeff played drums on. The Girl Is Mine and The Lady In My Life are tight!

Jeff Porcaro on the web:

An online reproduction of Modern Drummer's tribute to Jeff Porcaro, December 1992
Jeff Porcaro's Discography - Toto's Website
Jeff Porcaro Session Tracks list
MySpace tribute sites - jeffporcarotribute, jeffporcarototo

Plus, I highly recommend that you look for Jeff Porcaro's instructional video.

Note: I may update or add items to this list when necessary.

Jeff Porcaro photos from