I’ve been doing a lot of traveling recently and somebody asked me;
“Man, you played with everybody! And you knew everyone else! May I ask… who do you miss the most?”
I had to think about it for a moment. Most of the guys I knew who have left us, left so much behind that I never really got a chance to miss them. They are “still” here.
Almost 40 some-odd years later, I’m not thinking about “stats” or even walls lined with gold records. I’m thinking about guys who were SO important, so foundational that they left a mark on us that never faded.
When you think of it THAT way, I miss a lot of guys, Gary (Moore), George (Harrison), Ravi (Shankar) and even guys I never got to meet, like Hendrix and Jim Morrison whom I got to know by their music – which became such an instrumental part of my own music foundations…
I remember meeting Otis Redding as a kid. I met Jim Croce (we had mutual friends) a few times before he passed. I talked with Muddy Waters several times. I met Stevie Ray Vaughan several times. I knew Danny Gatton (one of the world’s best Tele players, hands down). I have photographs someplace of Frank Zappa holding me as a kid, like I was some kind of alien lifeform. Billy Preston. What can you say about Billy Preston?
But in this moment in time, I have to say that I miss Jeff Porcaro the most. I almost felt like it was fate to be asked this, a week after the anniversary of Jeff’s death. 22 years later, he’s still larger than life.
I remember Jeff Porcaro from North Hollywood as a kid. I lived in OC and we drove into LA to play. I probably looked like a demented moron, riding my Harley or my Norton up PCH into LA with a guitar jammed into saddlebags on each side of the bike.
Walking into a room that Jeff Porcaro was in was like coming home. He made you feel like you belonged there. It was like a big fraternity – without the hazing and the beer bongs.
The weirdest thing is that Jeff wasn’t a “good friend”. I just “knew” him. I spent time around him. I liked and admired him. He was already “old school” in a “new” school, the original School of Rock. You looked up to him. You wanted to be like him. He “had” it, whatever “it” was. Those guys that he hung out with (guys like David Paich and Steve Lukather) were “Kings”. We were more like the adoring court…
Jeff came from one of those families. Mike, Joe, Steve, Jeff, they had more music in their fingers, in their souls… than most of the rest of the rock world combined.
It was a “small world”. Everyone knew everyone else. In the circus that was SoCal, the Porcaro’s OWNED Hollywood.
Jeff Porcaro was a legend. He was magic. He had more soul than James Brown, Little Richard and BB King combined. When he walked into the studio the room just crackled. He made everyone better. He was intense, funny, wicked. If he looked over his glasses at you, you were usually in trouble. He knew that you were screwing up.
He was the heart and soul of rock. Lots of musicians revolved around the music. Not Jeff. Music revolved around HIM. You really can’t “fix” a drum track. Drums are visceral. Jeff was the King of the “one take” killer tracks.
He was every musician’s big brother. He helped a LOT of musicians coming up. In fact, most of them never knew that he’d gone to bat for them. It’s a long list – a lot of guys that everyone now knows as legendary – that owe Jeff a solid for the jumpstart he gave their careers. I know. I’m one of them.
His work was legendary. Sonny and Cher, Steely Dan, Boz Scaggs, hundreds of studio sessions. He was always “dead nuts” on.
He listened to Miles Davis, Hendrix, the “old schoolers”, Blues, Jazz, the classics.
I was just plodding through college when Toto formed. Jeff wasn’t the “leader” of Toto. He was Toto’s “shepherd”. He helped guide some of the most talented sessions guys on the planet (they played on like… 5000 albums between them) into becoming a worldwide global sensation on stage.
Here’s a piece of Toto trivia: A lot of people don’t know that the guys from Toto “made” Michael Jackson’s album, “Thriller”. People actually hated them for that. The album was tanking in production and Quincy Jones reached out to Jeff to see if he could save it. Combined with contributions from cats like Steve Lukather, they turned Michael’s album into one of the most important Rock and Roll albums of all time. It was just unfathomable that a bunch of white kids could bail out Quincy Jones and help make “Thriller” so magical, so important.
Rolling Stones actually tried to crucify them for that. They implied that Quincy actually “made them settle down and play with some taste”. Toto is one of the only bands in the history of Rolling Stone to tell them to “fuck off and take their magazine cover with them”. It was Jeff who called them and told them to get bent.
Jeff had a heart condition. He wasn’t a “hard-core druggie”. He snorted a little coke. A lot of people did, but he wasn’t a slave to it. He was the “sheepdog” for most of the rest of us. He had uncles that died of heart disease and heart failure. His arms hurt all the time.
People thought; “He’s a drummer. Duh!”
It wasn’t his arms, it was his heart. They said it was carpal tunnel. It wasn’t. The blood wasn’t getting to his hands. His arteries were hardening. Then, after doing some yardwork, he had a seizure and he passed away.
Nobody saw it coming. He said he was going to the doctor. He wasn’t. He didn’t want to worry anyone. I remember how shocked we all were. There were a lot of guys that we figured would check out before we did. Jeff wasn’t one of them.
He died at his home on August 5th, 1992. Wow, it seems like so long ago that I attended his funeral.
And now he’s probably up there, playing with Hendrix and “Trane” – John Coltrane.
The rest of us, those guys who wear headphones 10 hours a day working… will never ever hear anyone like him again.