steve Gadd

The groove leg­end talks ses­sions, solo projects and the in­fi­nite pur­suit of sound

Rhythm - - FRONT PAGE - Words: David West photos: Adam Gas­son

Plus! 7 es­sen­tial Gadd lessons.

There are a lot of ways to de­scribe Dr Steve Gadd. He’s a drum­mer’s drum­mer, some­one ad­mired by his con­tem­po­raries from across the mu­si­cal spec­trum. But then he’s also a song­writer’s drum­mer, with a match­less list of cred­its for the likes of Paul McCart­ney, James Tay­lor, Paul Simon and Jim Croce. In ad­di­tion to his dis­tinc­tive feel on the drums, one of Gadd’s most im­pres­sive at­tributes is his ver­sa­til­ity. He’s played on jazz ses­sions for leg­endary record­ing en­gi­neer Rudy Van Gelder in New York in the 1970s, but he was equally at home work­ing with fu­sion heavy­weights such as Chick Corea and Al Di Me­ola. He’s recorded with Frank Si­na­tra, opera star Lu­ciano Pavarotti, played the blues with Eric Clap­ton, and laid down R&B/disco grooves for Diana Ross. In the 1970s and ’80s, he never seemed to be out of a record­ing stu­dio, and he helped Yamaha de­velop the Record­ing Cus­tom Series. There came a point where it seemed like every drum­mer in the world wanted to repli­cate Gadd’s sound and

style, and every pro­ducer out there wanted him on their ses­sions. Now in his sev­en­ties, Gadd still main­tains a tire­less play­ing and tour­ing sched­ule. When Rhythm catches up with him, he’s in Lon­don ahead of a per­for­mance in Hyde Park with James Tay­lor as part of the Bri­tish Sum­mer Time con­cert series. But he’s jug­gling his high-pro­file side­man gigs with Tay­lor and Eric Clap­ton with jazz club tours where he leads his own Steve Gadd Band. While the chang­ing na­ture of the record­ing in­dus­try has cooled down the once thriv­ing ses­sion in­dus­try, Gadd con­tin­ues to record new ma­te­rial, and 2018 has al­ready seen the re­lease of Chi­nese But­ter­fly from the Corea Gadd Band and Omara from Blicher Hem­mer Gadd. De­spite all his ac­com­plish­ments, in per­son Gadd has no airs or graces – he is re­laxed and ap­proach­able while still pas­sion­ate about the art form of which he re­mains both a mas­ter and an in­sa­tiably cu­ri­ous ex­plorer.

In re­cent years you seem to be spend­ing more time as a band­leader with the Steve Gadd Band. Is this part of your chang­ing role as a mu­si­cian? Do you en­joy be­ing the leader?

“I en­joy that. If I have my own projects, first of all I can get to choose the mu­sic that I want to play, but it also helps me have a lit­tle more con­trol of my own sched­ule too. I do a lot of work on the road, not as much stu­dio stuff, and you’re con­stantly putting the puzzle to­gether to try to make the sched­ule work, but hav­ing my own thing helps me have a lit­tle bit more say in the big pic­ture.”

Af­ter so many years play­ing ses­sions, you must have a huge net­work of play­ers you can call upon when you want to record.

“I don’t re­ally think about it that way. This thing hap­pened pretty nat­u­rally – this band. I’ve been play­ing with James Tay­lor on and off for 15, 20 years, and this band – Michael Lan­dau, Jimmy John­son, Walt Fowler… Be­fore, it was Larry Gold­ings in the band, now Kevin Hays is do­ing it – it’s James’ band and we had been play­ing to­gether so much our wives thought it would prob­a­bly be a good idea to do our

own thing be­cause we en­joyed hang­ing out to­gether and be­cause we en­joy play­ing mu­sic to­gether. So that was how that evolved. It’s not like I sit around think­ing about putting dif­fer­ent bands to­gether, this thing sort of hap­pened and it felt re­ally good, so that’s how it came about.”

Is the song-writ­ing process very col­lab­o­ra­tive for the Steve Gadd Band?

“We pull in ideas from ev­ery­body no mat­ter who wrote the thing. We do some things as a band in the stu­dio, but for the most part guys write songs and bring them in, they play them for me, I lis­ten and see which ones I feel are go­ing to work and which ones aren’t go­ing to work. On this last al­bum, I col­lab­o­rated on a song with Walt Fowler and Larry Gold­ings. We had the time to go over to Larry’s house and start work­ing on some things to­gether. I haven’t re­ally been writ­ing on my own so that doesn’t hap­pen of­ten. Also my son Duke wrote a song and col­lab­o­rated with Mike Lan­dau and Kevin Hays, so in

“I’m just al­ways on the look­out for some things that feel com­fort­able. Not only how they sound, but how they feel is im­por­tant”

four CDs that’s the first time that’s hap­pened. It’s good; the evo­lu­tion of the band is good.”

For the 70Strong al­bum you went through Pledge­mu­sic. Has that helped you con­nect di­rectly with your fans?

“That’s a ques­tion for my wife and Michelle, the per­son who man­ages the band and works for the record com­pany. The two of them han­dle that part of it and they would have more in­for­ma­tion about the ef­fect of the whole thing. That Pledge thing def­i­nitely helps pay for the pro­ject. I know in that re­spect it’s very help­ful and I’m very ap­pre­cia­tive of it, but in terms of how it af­fects the fan­base and sales, I re­ally don’t know.”

You’ve been with Yamaha drums for such a long time. Does your set-up ever change?

“I change heads, I go through phases where I’ll use Clear Am­bas­sadors on the bot­tom of the toms, or Coated Am­bas­sadors on the bot­tom of the toms, I go through things like that. I’ve gone through us­ing Clear Pin­stripe heads on the toms and now I’m us­ing Coated Am­bas­sadors, but it’s not like I change them Rhythm - 2 8 5 for each thing. I might tune them dif­fer­ently for each thing but now I’m go­ing through this phase where it feels good with the Coated heads and I’ve been do­ing Ex 1 it for a while. I don’t know when that’ll change. Every once in a while you’ve got to do some spring clean­ing and change it up a lit­tle bit, but what I do for the gigs is tune the drums a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. That’s the way it works for me.”

Has Yamaha’s sup­port been im­por­tant to your ca­reer? Did they help with things like the Mis­sion

FromGadd clinic tours?

“It’s not like they were in­volved in that tour. That was a Zild­jian tour. They help by mak­ing great in­stru­ments and giv­ing me a lot of sup­port, in that I have gear pretty much wher­ever I am, so I can get close to what I nor­mally play, so that’s a big help. And they’re con­stantly want­ing to cre­ate new and bet­ter things. They ask me ques­tions and my opin­ion, so that’s good. But that kind of sup­port for

Mis­sionFromGadd, Zild­jian put that to­gether and then I might do some clin­ics for Yamaha. Yamaha might have had some small part in that, stores might have got­ten some dona­tions from dif­fer­ent com­pa­nies, I don’t re­ally know about that, but it was ba­si­cally a Zild­jian thing.”

Do you spring clean your cym­bal set-up from time to time, or are you stick­ing with the K Cus­toms you’re us­ing?

“I’ve been us­ing these cym­bals for a while. A lot of my gear is in New York and I live in Ari­zona, so it’s not like I have a lot of time to go through ev­ery­thing that I have. I just haven’t had that lux­ury. I’ve found some cym­bals that work for a lot of dif­fer­ent things and I might change a ride or some­thing or a crash, but for the most part I use the same ones. And I’m al­ways look­ing for new hi-hats.”

Why the hi-hats in par­tic­u­lar?

“You get a pair that work for a while. I had a pair that I used for a year and the cen­tre hole on the top cym­bal got big­ger and I couldn’t cen­tre it, so I couldn’t con­trol the ‘chick’ when I was play­ing it with my foot. I’ve got some dif­fer­ent ones that I’ve found, not a pair, they’re dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions that work, but one of the cym­bals is thick and one is thin­ner, and a lot of times the thin­ner cym­bals will fa­tigue out. They’ll lose their vi­brancy and that af­fects how it feels es­pe­cially when you use it with the foot, so I’m just al­ways on the look­out for some things that feel com­fort­able. Not only how they sound, but how they feel is im­por­tant.”

In the hey­day of play­ing ses­sions in the ’70s, when peo­ple called you in, did they want you to bring your own sound or to be a chameleon and match your­self to that ses­sion?

“I think it was the lat­ter: just come in and give them what they’re look­ing for. A lot of the stu­dios in the ’70s had their own bass drum and toms al­ready set up in the room. You’d just bring a trap case and cym­bals. Peo­ple didn’t start re­ally mov­ing their own gear or hav­ing it moved un­til the ’80s.”

Was there a mo­ment when you re­alised your ca­reer had taken off? Did your suc­cess have a big im­pact on your life?

“Not think­ing about it like that, I got busy and I loved what I was do­ing. There was so much go­ing on back then that I didn’t re­ally take the time or have the time to think about the im­pact. I never thought about what the im­pact was go­ing to be or how it’s im­pact­ing my life. I was happy to be work­ing and mak­ing a liv­ing play­ing mu­sic, that was all I ever wanted to do, but now look­ing back I can see how lucky I was and how for­tu­nate I still am. The im­pact of what I’ve done, how it has af­fected peo­ple, I get to see that be­cause I run into peo­ple and they tell me. But it isn’t any­thing that I planned on.”

Given the sheer vol­ume of mu­sic you recorded, do you ever hear a song on the ra­dio and think, ‘Is that me?’

“Yeah it does hap­pen. Some things I know it was me and then there are cer­tain things I have to ask my wife, ‘Who was play­ing on that?’ It could have been some­body else – I def­i­nitely don’t re­mem­ber ev­ery­thing that I did.”

Was there a sense of ca­ma­raderie – or even ri­valry – be­tween the top ses­sion guys, like your­self, Jeff Por­caro and Jim Kelt­ner?

“Only a ca­ma­raderie. For me, there was a deep re­spect and love for their mu­si­cian­ship and grate­ful­ness for what I’ve learned from them. I go in the stu­dio and I hear the mu­sic and it makes me think im­me­di­ately, ‘How would Elvin play this? How would Kelt­ner play this?’ Those things are in­spi­ra­tions to come up with parts for what­ever you’re do­ing, so it’s a ca­ma­raderie.”


Did you ever get to meet your he­roes, such as Elvin Jones andMax Roach? “I did. My par­ents and my grand­par­ents and my un­cle used to take me to hear all those guys when I was a kid. Art Blakey, Max Roach, Gene Krupa. I got to see Krupa as close as I am to you. I brought a lit­tle kit in and he let me play with his band – he played my lit­tle drums. They would come through town every six months. The way the cir­cuit was back in those days, there weren’t a lot of big con­cert halls for jazz, it was more of a club thing. The clubs were nice and some of them seated quite a few peo­ple but it wasn’t the­atres in those days, so you could sit up close and get to meet these guys. They’d come through a few times a year, so they’d re­mem­ber you when you came back to see them. Dizzy Gille­spie, Kai Wind­ing, Car­men McRae, Ray Bryant, Tommy Bryant, Slam Ste­wart. I had the op­por­tu­nity to see those guys and sit in with them when I was kid and then later on, af­ter I had been record­ing and sort of mak­ing a name for my­self, I’d run into Elvin or peo­ple I had met when I was a kid and it was nice to see them later and they’d re­mem­ber me and be happy for me. So yeah, our paths did cross.”

You did a lot in the ’70s with the guys from Re­turn To For­ever – Chick Corea, Stan­ley Clarke and Al Di Me­ola. At that point, were you aware that the mu­sic had changed, that this wasn’t be­bop or hard bop any­more?

“I was just play­ing mu­sic. I grew up lov­ing the drums with a sup­port­ive fam­ily that en­cour­aged me to do what­ever they thought I was in­ter­ested in mu­si­cally as long as they thought it wasn’t bad for me. Drum corps, tak­ing lessons, play­ing in the school band, play­ing in the jazz band, they’d take me to hear all the dif­fer­ent groups when they came into town. When I got a lit­tle older there was a club that used to bring in or­gan groups and my dad would take me there, and in all these places I’d sit in. I loved it all. I love mu­sic. How­ever it was evolv­ing, what­ever I had lis­tened to grow­ing up and all the dif­fer­ent styles that I loved and prac­tised grow­ing up, I was able to ap­ply that to what young guys were com­pos­ing. It just sort of hap­pened. I wasn’t re­ally con­scious of how it was evolv­ing other than it went from straight-ahead to more of a back­beat. But then the back­beat thing got into fu­sion, so it was more back­beat with jazz. That’s how I ap­proached it. Not the evo­lu­tion of it, just en­joy­ing the mu­sic.”

You took dance lessons as a young­ster – there’s a small but elite group of guys who could tap dance and play drums – Buddy Rich,Sammy Davis Jr…

“Yeah, my brother and I used to tap dance. Sammy Davis was a great tap dancer. That’s a whole other art in it­self.”

Did that feed into your play­ing?

“I think that any­thing you do rhyth­mi­cally and mu­si­cally, no mat­ter if it’s on a dif­fer­ent in­stru­ment, it will have an af­fect on what your main thing is. Tap danc­ing is a great art form and I’ve seen some guys that were so in­no­va­tive, just like guys are in­no­va­tive on the drums, these guys came up with their own thing. There was a lot of ca­ma­raderie there, dancers watch­ing other dancers, shar­ing ideas or copy­ing what the other guys were do­ing. I never got into it as much as I would have liked to, but when I see the masters do it, I’m still re­ally in­spired by that stuff. I’d still love to be able to do it.”

You’re renowned for tak­ing dif­fer­ent group­ings and mov­ing them around the bar and split­ting

them up be­tween your limbs. Where did that come from?

“I think the ori­gin of that came from spend­ing a lot of time at the in­stru­ment and con­stantly try­ing to evolve. I’m still learn­ing. You could take one sim­ple rudi­ment, like a flam para­did­dle with a tap, you could take that same thing and when you dis­place it to dif­fer­ent parts of the bar, even though it’s the same thing tech­ni­cally, you have to make an ad­just­ment be­cause the ‘1’ that started on the right foot, when you dis­place it it’s not on the right foot any­more. It’s like another kind of in­de­pen­dence. And what’s nice about that is you can take one thing and then it be­comes dif­fer­ent things, so you’re not try­ing to do too many things at the same time. I try to think of things like that, work on bass drum tech­nique, and I think when I prac­tise I try to play in phrases. If I’m do­ing rudi­men­tal things I try to keep it in two bar phrases. If I’m try­ing to play more mu­si­cal things, I’ll think in four or eight bar phrases. I’ll try to do things like solo for four bars, then try to re­peat the same thing for four bars. There are dif­fer­ent ways of re­peat­ing your­self while work­ing on dif­fer­ent things. That’s the way I prac­tise now. That’s what I’ve learned to do over the years.”

Is prac­tice still im­por­tant?

Rhythm - 2 8 5 “Yeah. The fact that I’m play­ing a lot, I don’t feel like I need to prac­tise to stay in shape, but if I’m not work­ing I need to do some­thing to stay con­nected to the in­stru­ment and then also it’s nice when you have some time to sit there and try some dif­fer­ent things over and over again, re­ally work on the things I was talk­ing to you about. These are ideas that I have and I try them when I’m warm­ing up for a gig or some­thing, but they turn into other things when you can sit be­hind the drum and try them on dif­fer­ent in­stru­ments. So yeah, I think prac­tice is im­por­tant. And ex­er­cise is im­por­tant for play­ing drums. If I can keep my­self phys­i­cally fit, I might be play­ing a gig where it doesn’t re­ally re­quire a lot of stamina, but there could be another gig com­ing up that does re­quire a lot of stamina and the only way to keep your­self in shape for that is you’ve got to keep warm­ing up every day so your mus­cles don’t get tight, but you’ve got to stay on a cer­tain level phys­i­cally and with car­dio. Es­pe­cially when you get older. When you’re younger you can get away with stuff, but when you get a lit­tle bit older, you can feel the ef­fect of time.”

Do you still en­joy the rigours of tour­ing?

“The rigours of tour­ing, no one en­joys that, but I en­joy and re­ally try not to take for granted the guys

“There are dif­fer­ent ways of re­peat­ing your­self but work­ing on dif­fer­ent things. That’s the way I prac­tise now. That’s what I’ve learned to do over the years”

that I’m play­ing with and the mu­sic that we play and the love that we share, the re­spect we share with each other and I’m grate­ful for the fact that I play. I re­ally play for a liv­ing. We have fun out there but trav­el­ling and get­ting from one place to the other, we fly over here and then we do it by bus, it’s the best that it can be, but it takes its toll af­ter a while. It’s hard but it’s worth it be­cause all of the good stuff makes you for­get about all the other things.” You first recorded with Chick Corea in 1975 and you re­leased an al­bum to­gether, Chi­nese But­ter­fly, this year. With these long-term mu­si­cal re­la­tion­ships, you can’t be the same peo­ple or the

same play­ers now that you both were in the ’70s?

“You know what, I run into peo­ple that I’ve worked with over the years and it’s like we just pick up right where we left off. That’s the way it’s been for me. You be­come part of each other and you re­mem­ber cer­tain things that are im­por­tant about in­di­vid­u­als and you just go back and start there again and see how it evolves. But the con­nec­tion is al­ways easy.”

You recorded with Chet Baker in the ’70s. What was he like to work with?

“Those were al­bums for Creed Tay­lor and all those al­bums were done at Rudy Van Gelder’s stu­dio, so it wasn’t like a mu­si­cal hang like you’d think of that hap­pens in other stu­dios. This was a unique thing. Rudy was a real ec­cen­tric en­gi­neer and had rules, and Creed was a dif­fer­ent kind of pro­ducer, and was very busi­ness-like. Creed was the pro­ducer, Rudy was the en­gi­neer. Then Creed would hire a mu­si­cian like Bob James or Don Sebesky to be the ar­ranger and they would be the one to go in and talk to Creed and re­lay things to the mu­si­cians. That was the style of the thing. Rudy’s stu­dio was a big room, and there were three or four other sep­a­rate lit­tle rooms off it. Drums were in one room, am­pli­fied in­stru­ments would be in other rooms. Chet Baker was in another room, up­right bass would be out in the big room and the acous­tic pi­ano would be out in the big room. Some­times the horn play­ers would be in the big room, but it was all very busi­ness-like and it was very on time. You started at 10am, you broke for lunch at 1pm. Rudy left the stu­dio at lunch, and he locked the door. If you got back at quar­ter to two, you couldn’t get back in the stu­dio un­til he came back at 2pm. There was no other place like that and that’s how all of those al­bums were done. If you hadn’t met the mu­si­cians be­fore that ses­sion, you’d be in­tro­duced but there was no lounge to hang out in – you were there ei­ther play­ing or lis­ten­ing, tak­ing direc­tions, or go­ing to lunch. You didn’t re­ally get an op­por­tu­nity to get to know some­body. If the same peo­ple in the rhythm sec­tion showed up on the date again, then you’d get to know them that way, or if you got called back to do another al­bum for the same artist, you’d get to know them that way. Some­times the artist would ask you to play some live shows with them, so you’d get to know them out­side the stu­dio. Those were unique ses­sions, but it was great mu­sic and I played with Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Ron Carter, Cedar Wal­ton, Jim Hall… so many great mu­si­cians. It was re­ally some­thing.”

It doesn’t sound like an en­vi­ron­ment where you could sit around wait­ing to feel in­spired!

“Yeah. Creed had a good ar­ranger there, so they had done their home­work, they picked out the songs and they had some form they’d thought of. But then they were smart enough to al­low the mu­si­cians to be a part of it. That can help the whole thing to feel more com­fort­able and that’s what you’re go­ing for.”

For Rid­ingWithTheKing, the al­bum you did with BB King and Eric Clap­ton, or any­thing blues­based, do they just want some­one who can lay down a groove and keep it sim­ple??

“I don’t know. I’m con­stantly try­ing to fig­ure that out. That’s what you’ve got to fig­ure out – what should I do? A lot of the blues things were things that had al­ready been done, and Eric loves and is re­ally

“I’d like peo­ple to re­mem­ber, that I was a good guy. If I could help some­one I would, if I could show some­body some­thing, I’d show them.”

in­spired by those old blues records. You can’t re­ally make those bet­ter, you’ve just got to try to pay re­spect to what hap­pened be­fore. And then the thing that brings it up a level, or you hope it does, are the ad­vances that they’ve made au­dio-wise, sound-wise. To re­pro­duce it, to pay trib­ute to it in a way where you’re not try­ing to change it, you’re just try­ing to make it as good as it can be, at the same time be­ing re­spect­ful to not make it some­thing dif­fer­ent. At the end of the day, what de­ter­mines it is the mu­sic, what’s needed. You ask ques­tions too some­times. You ask the pro­ducer and the artist if it’s feel­ing all right, if they’re look­ing for any­thing else. A lot of times they’ll tell you too. And then it’s about lock­ing in with the bass player and so on. But I’m con­stantly try­ing to fig­ure out what to play.” You’ve worked with so many great bassists. Has any­one’s feel or sense of time sur­prised you? Or has any­one in­stantly clicked with you? “All of the above. With mu­sic, you’re al­ways play­ing with dif­fer­ent peo­ple so you’re con­stantly mak­ing ad­just­ments. It’s not like you go in say­ing, ‘This is me, you’ve got to ad­just to that.’ We’ve all got to ad­just to each other and that’s what makes it chal­leng­ing and in­ter­est­ing and re­ward­ing in a way where you can share things with peo­ple that are will­ing to give in, com­pro­mise, they’re will­ing to try and un­der­stand. Some of them you just lock in with. The other thing that hap­pens is you’re con­stantly deal­ing with sound if you’re not in the stu­dio. If you’re in an au­di­to­rium with a PA, you’ve got to have the mon­i­tor right to be able to lock in with the guy. Hav­ing good sound is im­por­tant to how ev­ery­thing feels to­gether too. There are so many vari­ables. You get to know peo­ple by not only how well they play but how well they can adapt to dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions, be­cause if they say, ‘Fuck it, I can’t do this any­more,’ that poi­sons the well for try­ing to get where you want to get to mu­si­cally.” You men­tioned the or­gan trios of the 1960s. You’ve ex­plored that for­mat re­cently with Joey De Francesco and the Blicher Hem­mer Gadd trio. Of­ten there’s no bassist in an or­gan trio! “The or­gan cov­ers the bass, so that’s a whole other ad­just­ment. I think you re­ally have to love what you’re go­ing for to hang in there and do what you have to do to make all those ad­just­ments. You know what’s in your heart that what ev­ery­one is try­ing to get to is worth it, so you keep work­ing at it and you keep on try­ing to do what you have to do so you can hear the bass the way you need to hear it – not that he’s got to change it so it feels good, but so I can hear it so I can play with it. That’s the at­ti­tude; that’s a whole other ballgame. But for shuf­fles and that kind of stuff, it re­ally feels great. Joey De Francesco is fun to play with, man, re­ally fun to play with.”

So many drum­mers cite you as an in­spi­ra­tion: do you ever feel like you’re un­der a mi­cro­scope?

“I al­ways try to play the best that I can for the mu­sic that I’m play­ing and I love play­ing, so I try to keep my­self fit and ready to play. The other thing is just try to be a nice per­son, be­cause that’s what you want, that’s what I’d like peo­ple to re­mem­ber. If I could help some­one I would, if I could show some­body some­thing, I’d show them. If I had some­thing, I’d give it. Just try­ing to be as good as I could as a per­son as I try to be as a drum­mer. I think that’s im­por­tant. I might not be do­ing in­no­va­tive things to­day like I did be­fore, but if some­one asks me about some­thing, I can be in­no­va­tive in the way I take the time to talk to them and share with them. It isn’t just about one thing. It’s about ev­ery­thing.”

Clas­sic ’70s Gadd: from Paul Simon to Carly Simon, Steve was a drum­mer in de­mand

The Gadd Gang, New York. From left: Cor­nell Dupree, Steve Gadd, Ed­die Gomez and Richard Tee

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