On August 5, 1992 I was working on the half time shuffle section of my Complete Modern Drum Set book at my home in Burbank, CA. A friend called to tell me the news. I had spent the previous day listening and transcribing Jeff and Bernard Purdie performances featuring their signature groove. I was thinking about him a lot and the news hit me hard.
I met Jeff in January 1989 at Winter NAMM in Anaheim, CA. I was performing at the Noble & Cooley booth and he was performing at the Paiste cymbals booth, which happened to be right next to each other that year.
Noble & Cooley had just introduced a full drum set, and for some odd reason asked me to demo them at NAMM with their designer Bob Gatzen. I had lived in Los Angeles about 6 months. I had already played on a few albums for people, was working part time, and going on auditions. Bob and I decided to perform some drum set duets, and he asked that I arrange them for us. We were rehearsing one of them at 7:30 AM the first show day. When we finished our run through we heard someone clapping outside the booth.
I looked out the window to see who was clapping, it was Jeff. Blew my mind. I walked out to meet him for the first time with my hand extended, and he gives me a big bear hug instead. Ha! Then he says “Who the f**k are you?” in his deep baritone voice. “Do I know you? Should I know you?” “Man, I wish I could play like that” at which point I just laughed out loud, and said “I listen to you.” he says “If you listen to me you’re listening to all the wrong cats”
So yeah, that really happened. If that wasn’t enough Jeff brought people to see us play every show. We would go watch him and he would come watch us. There was Chad Wackerman, Dave Weckl, Jeff, Steve Smith, David Garibaldi and a few other big names 6 feet in front of us some shows, with Jeff cheering us on. Mind boggling. At one point Bob and I got Jeff and Steve Smith on our drums, they started playing together and all of a sudden Jeff stands up, hands me the sticks, and says “Frank, you play” and left the booth. I did, and ended up playing double drums with Steve Smith, (so surreal) who BTW showed me no mercy.
Jeff also invited me to the Baked Potato to sit in with the band he was playing with, either Karizma or Los Lobotomys, can’t remember which. We met at the club where there was already a long line waiting to get in. Jeff invited me in for the soundcheck, just him, a Regal Tip rep, and me. After he was done checking his drums we sat and talked in the empty club. At one point he says “I really like your groove” Haha! I might have asked for that in writing as a joke, but he did say it. He also asked what I was doing. When I told him I was working at Guitar Center in Hollywood he said “Get out of that music store man” I did, that month, and never worked a job like that again. I landed a major tour a few months later, and for the next 5 years was in and out of town. I didn’t sit in that night because the leader didn’t want anyone but Jeff to play drums, which is understandable. Jeff always remembered my name whenever I ran into him, which was rare after that show.
Here’s the thing. None of what he said I believed for even a moment. The real lesson here I think is.. get over yourself and encourage others.
Jeff, hands down, was the coolest music superstar I ever met. A couple thousand people attended his funeral, and it seemed everyone I talked to, and all the eulogies given, had a story similar to mine.
RIP Jeff Porcaro.
I wish I could play like that.