Although drummer Jeff Porcaro is best known for his drumming work with Toto, he was already a member of Sonny and Cher’s band as a teenager. Porcaro continued to work as a first-call sideman even after he topped the charts and won a Grammy with his band.
An incredible number of superstars sought out Porcaro for his sense of feel and metronomic timing, which combined to create a base that matched perfectly with any song handed to him. Toto’s 1982 hit “Rosanna”, featuring his classic Porcaro halftime shuffle, might be the drummer’s best five minutes. But his signature grooves have propelled an array of records into genres and contexts far beyond rock.
Before dying of a heart attack on August 5, 1992, at age 38, Porcaro had also set the tone on pop songs (Barbra Streisand, Bee Gees, Olivia Newton-John), R&B songs (Aretha Franklin, Lionel Richie, Earth, Wind & Fire), jazz songs (Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock, Stanley Turrentine) and country songs (Dolly Parton, jimmy webbthe Gatlin Brothers). Elsewhere, Porcaro had a particular affinity for working on solo projects, including the LPs of Jon Anderson of Yes, Peter Cetera of Chicago, Burton Cummings of Guess Who and Roger Hodgson of Supertramp, among others.
With such a deep and broad resume, we chose to delve into Jeff Porcaro’s Top 10 Rock Songs without Toto. Even then, reducing everything was not an easy task.
10. “Human Touch” (Bruce Springsteen, 1992)
It’s certainly not a famous era in Bruce Springsteen’s long discography, but Porcaro shines nonetheless. Partnered with occasional Journey bassist Randy Jackson, Porcaro employs a slick cross-stick approach with the extreme precision of a digital sample. Yet he still swings with an ease that brings to life a brilliant production that is otherwise very much in keeping with its time. He then switches to toms for the chorus, deepening the groove. “Human Touch” ended up being one of the last sessions Porcaro worked on before his death, prompting a touring Springsteen to dedicate the song in his honor a day later: “His spirit and his game were unique,” Springsteen told the crowd in East Rutherford, NJ “He blessed my work and he blessed the work of many, many other people. “
9. “The Suitor” (Jackson Browne, 1976)
Porcaro begins as the gently beating heart of the narrator, before gently nudging it forward. The rest is a marvel of detailed musicality as Porcaro cleverly navigates the song’s stops and starts and then its soaring daydreams. Jackson Browne wrote “The Pretender” while on the road, scribbling notes in a Los Angeles storefront and a seedy Hawaiian motel, and it retains that episodic feel. The art of Porcaro’s work here is to never lose the thread as this twisted story of dotted dreams unfolds.
8. “IGY (What a beautiful world)” (Donald Fagen, 1982)
At this point, Porcaro was a known quantity of Steely Dan (see #2 in our list of the 10 best rock songs by Jeff Porcaro without Toto), but the sessions for Donald Fagen’s solo debut were different. This is mainly because of its vintage. The nocturnal fly arrived at a time of booming technology, and a sense of sleek modernity pervades everything. One thing remained, however: Fagen’s propensity to nitpick a drum track. He ended up using two guys on that album-opening Top 30 hit, bringing in Jeff Porcaro solely for his signature tom fill-ins, according to Brian Sweet. Steely Dan: Reelin’ in the Years.
7. “Night in the Yard” (Warren Zevon, 1978)
It will never be confused with the best-constructed plots of Warren Zevon. There are, after all, only 62 words – and that includes “doot dat, doot dat, doot duh dot.” (Greil Marcus memorably joked that “Zevon in disguise [“Nighttime in the Switching Yard”] like a real song by putting it on one side first.”) Is it about intravenous drug use? Bisexuality? Just, you know, real train? Who knows? But there’s a reason why it’s the only piece of Zevon Excited boy with Jeff Porcaro. He turned a single session into a veritable funk clinic.
6. “Call Elvis” (Dire Straits, 1991)
Porcaro’s performance begins as a whisper, matching Mark Knopfler’s whispered vocals and riffs heard from afar. Soon “Calling Elvis” is rolling faster and faster, with Porcaro as the piston engine. The song keeps ebbing and then flowing that way but never misses a gear thanks to its often underrated beat keeper. (Perhaps this understated presence explains why his marionette-style puppet from the accompanying video – inspired by Gerry Anderson’s Thunderbirds — looks so little like Jeff Porcaro.) It turns out Porcaro was just making it easy, though. Chris Whitten took over the drums for the Dire Straits tour in support of the In every street album and said he was so exhausted at the end that he briefly retired.
5. “Dirty Laundry” (Don Henley, 1982)
Don Henley had two goals when he launched himself as a solo artist after the demise of the Eagles at the turn of the 80s: to broaden his musical palette and widen his musical circle. In continuity, his solo debut I can’t stand still dabbled in the electronics of the day, as new lead collaborator Danny Kortchmar introduced Henley to the latest synth and drum machine gadgets. They’ve also brought in a small army of sidemen, including – perhaps inevitably – world traveler Jeff Porcaro. Few others could so skillfully transform the subtle swing from that track’s opening sequence to such a catchy conclusion – not even Eagles, who then performed “Dirty Laundry” after reuniting.
4. “Beat It” (Michael Jackson, 1982)
Despite all the attention to Eddie Van Halen’s glued role in this song, “Beat It” was essentially a Michael Jackson duet with Toto. Steve Lukather plays second guitar and bass, Steve Porcaro plays synthesizer, future Toto member Greg Phillinganes is on Rhodes, and Jeff Porcaro is on drums. The presence of these savvy studio veterans turned out to be a fluke. Van Halen actually received a simplified early version of “Beat It” with Jackson’s lead vocals, leaving Lukather and Jeff Porcaro to build a full musical bed around the solo. Porcaro meticulously joined the demo’s existing beat, which Jackson originally created by tapping on a drum box.
3. “Mother” (Pink Floyd, 1979)
Poor Nick Mason has faced the impossible with ever-changing time signatures – waltz time, 5/4 and 9/8? – on Pink Floyd’s “Mother” The wall. Roger Waters later said Mason simply replied, “i can’t play this.” Porcaro’s phone was perhaps inevitably the next to ring. ” The timing follows the words: “Mom-do-you-think-they-are-going-to-drop-the-bomb“How many beats is that? Nine,” said David Gilmour Musician in 1992. “It was very, very hard to make it work. You can’t [mimes a standard 4/4]; there is no rhythm that continues like this. You have to find a way to float through it, which Jeff Porcaro did immediately.”
2. “Bad Sneakers” (Steely Dan, 1975)
At only 20 years old, Porcaro already displayed an astonishing musical maturity on “Bad Sneakers”. Katy lied was the drummer’s second album with Steely Dan, having contributed a few tracks on 1974 pretzel logic. This time, his famous picky bosses allowed Porcaro to stay on the drum stool for all but one track when he gave in to legend Hal Blaine. “Bad Sneakers” spends less than 3h30 showing why: Porcaro is in turn a cross-stick marvel, a snare drum genius and a fill magician. Then he brilliantly downshifts at halftime for an extremely rare Walter Becker guitar solo.
1. “Lowdown” (Boz Scaggs, 1976)
“Lowdown” will always be Porcaro’s most sophisticated and tight performance. In some cases it’s what he plays that matters most, but in others it’s what he doesn’t. Porcaro pauses between beats with such effect that you could disco dance through parts of the verse, then just roars into the instrumental sections. “He was an accomplished musician,” Boz Scaggs later said Drumming magazine. “He had impeccable taste to go with his ability.” Yet you have to wonder how even a master like Porcaro could possibly create two different hi-hat patterns in two different channels – and on his own fills. Turns out, as undeniably great as Porcaro was, “Lowdown” was topped off with a little overdub.
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