Jeff Porcaro Biography

Jeff Porcaro
Name: Jeff Porcaro Drums: Pearl
Born: April 1, 1954 Cymbals: Paiste
Origin: Hartford, Connecticut Sticks: Regal Tip
Official Website

Who Is Jeff Porcaro?

Jeffrey Thomas “Jeff” Porcaro was the first-born to jazz drumming great Joe Porcaro, and the eldest brother to Toto’s bassist Mike Porcaro and pianist Steve Porcaro. Jeff Porcaro was born to a family with strong bounds to music and percussion. His grandfather was a snare drummer in an Italian symphonic band – a type of band that used to march in the street – and his uncle, Emil Richards, played with a local orchestra in Connecticut.

Jeff Porcaro began playing seriously with seven years of age, having Joe Porcaro as his teacher. In fact, his brothers were being taught how to play drums by Joe Porcaro at the exact same time as Jeff Porcaro. The three Porcaro boys went with Joe Porcaro to the drum shop he taught at on the weekends, to get their drum lessons. Joe Porcaro would give them drum lessons whenever he found some free time from his regular students. Joe Porcaro taught Jeff Porcaro how to play drums until he was eleven years old. Interestingly enough, Jeff Porcaro was not the best drummer among the Porcaros.

My brother Mike was much better on the drums than I was, who switched to bass and Steve took up piano prior to our move to California.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.

In the 1960s, Emil Richards lived and worked out in Los Angeles (L.A.), California. During a trip to Connecticut, Emil spoke to Joe Porcaro about the high demand for drummers in the L.A. studio scene. Seeing Joe Porcaro wanted to be where the action was – a trait of the most accomplished of professional musicians – he decided to move with his family to California in 1968.

Aside from Joe Porcaro, Jeff Porcaro studied for a time with instructors of the likes of Bob Zimmitti and Rich Lapore. Although Jeff Porcaro had access to private teaching, it was by playing along to records and with bands that he developed most of his traits as a musician. In junior-high, Jeff Porcaro used to practice every day after school. Jeff Porcaro enjoyed playing along to The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, and Fantastic Johnny C’s “Boogaloo Down Broadway”.

“(…) and that’s where I think I got a lot of the versatility as far as being able to play authentically one kind of music as opposed to the complete opposite. It’s copying what every other drummer did on records. If a drummer takes something Bernard Purdie played on and sits for two weeks with the ‘phones so he can still hear Bernard but he’s also playing along where he doesn’t hear himself flamming with him or rushing—just grooving with the tune— the next time he goes to play a tune that’s similar, he might start playing that feel.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.

Although his development was highly influenced by drummers like Ringo Starr and Mitch Mitchell, it was in Jimi Hendrix that Jeff Porcaro found his biggest musical and spiritual influence. Jeff Porcaro was inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s music, by what he put into it and by his feel.

It’s difficult to put into words the magic and majesty I feel in his playing. He remains a vital force, as influential on his instrument as was John Coltrane on sax. It’s funny, people have yet to really equal either man.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.

Jeff Porcaro got into his first rock band at the age of thirteen and recorded his first album right around the time of his seventeenth birthday. This record date grew out of a rehearsal band headed by Jack Daugherty that featured many top jazz players of the day. This band was special, in that it had two drummers: Jeff Porcaro and his idol Jim Keltner. Playing with Jim Keltner was a great learning experience. Jim Keltner really helped Jeff Porcaro further the development of his own voice on the drum set.

Sitting up there with Keltner was a dream come true. When I was fourteen I began listening to Keltner and drummer Jim Gordon on records. I used them both as models for my own playing.” – Interview to Hitmen Magazine, Volume 1, #1, 1982.

In 1972, an eighteen-year-old Jeff Porcaro was invited as baking musician for the summer replacement show The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. It all came together one night in 1971, when Jeff Porcaro met David Hungate (Toto’s bassist from 1977-1982) at Leon Russell’s house (a session musician and songwriter). About eight months later, Hungate, who was playing with Sonny & Cher, suggested they audition Jeff Porcaro for the vacated spot of drummer in their backing band. And so, in May, right before his high-school graduation and after a successful audition, Jeff Porcaro left Ulysses S. Grant High School to play for Sunny & Cher. It was during his stint in the show that Jeff Porcaro began building a successful career as a studio musician.

There’s a chain reaction that happens. I started to get calls to do record dates, and played on some things that became hits. Pretty soon I was getting more calls than I could handle.” – Interview to Hitmen Magazine, Volume 1, #1, 1982.

In 1973, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker walked into Dantes, a club Jeff Porcaro played at with Seals & Crofts, to get a drink. In that particular night, Jeff Porcaro was performing. After watching him play, Donald and Walker invited Jeff Porcaro to join Steely Dan in the studio to record the Extended Play (E.P.) Pretzel Logic (1974), and on the road as their drummer. Jeff Porcaro accepted their offer and left Sonny & Cher.

In 1977, Jeff Porcaro and keyboardist David Paich, with whom Jeff Porcaro formed the band Rural Still Life while in high-school, began talking about forming a band of their own. After putting the band together with friends and relatives who where actually great studio musicians as well, they began working on their debut album. At their first recording sessions, and in order to distinguish their tapes from those of the other bands’s in the studio, Jeff Porcaro wrote the word “Toto” on them. Since “Toto” means “all-encompassing” in Latin, and because the band members played on so many different records and many different musical genres, they adopted “Toto” as the bands’s name.

Career Highlights & Musical Projects

Jeff Porcaro recorded drums as a session musician for artists such as Paul McCartney, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, Rickie Lee Jones, Michael Jackson, Go West, Nik Kershaw, Love and Money, Paul Simon, Don Henley, Madonna, Al Jarreau, George Benson, Peter Frampton, the Bee Gees, Tom Scott, Joe Cocker, Stan Getz, Poco, Exile, the Four Tops, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Natalie Cole, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Pink Floyd, Paul Anka, Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, and Seals & Crofts. For a more in-depth look at Jeff Porcaro’s work as a session drummer, click on this link.

Jeff Porcaro’s drumming is featured on Toto’s first 8 studio albums, on a soundtrack album and in a bunch of compilation albums. The 1982 album Toto IV is their best selling album to this date, with over 3,5 million copies sold worldwide. The single “Rosanna” reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, while the album’s third single, “Africa”, reached #1. Toto IV earned multiple Grammy nominations. Toto IV ended up winning in six of the categories they were nominated to, including “Record of the Year” for “Rosanna”, “Album of the Year” and “Producer of the Year.” The album was launched four years after Toto’s breakthrough album Toto (1978), an album which was certified double platinum in the U.S. and Canada, and Gold in Germany.

Toto’s following releases weren’t as popular. Hydra (1979) was certified Gold in the U.S. and platinum in Canada, while and Turn Back (1981) was a commercial disappointment at the time, failing to produce any charting singles and selling approximately 900,000 copies worldwide. After Toto IV, Toto failed to captivate their fans with their releases: Isolation (1984), Fahrenheit (1986), The Seventh One (1988), and Jeff Porcaro’s last album with the band Kingdom Of Desire (1992). If you’d like to learn more about Toto’s discography, click on this link.

Kingdom of Desire was released after Jeff Porcaro’s untimely death of a heart attack on August 5, 1992. Jeff Porcaro’s funeral was attended by around 1500 people. Jeff Porcaro died on that day, but his grooves and music will live on forever.

In October of 2009, Toto’s founding members were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame.

What Can We Learn From Jeff Porcaro?

A couple of Jeff Porcaro’s drum grooves have become staples in the world of drum set playing. However, most of those grooves where actually riped off or highly inspired by what some of Jeff Porcaro’s favorite drummers did on recordings. Grooves like the ones Jeff played for Toto’s songs “Rosanna” and “Mushanga”, and for Boz Scaggs’s “Lido Shuffle” are great examples of that.

“Rosanna” was one of Toto’s most successful tunes. It was recorded for the highly acclaimed album Toto IV. Jeff Porcaro played a half-time shuffle groove for that song. The hand pattern used on the Rossana Shuffle was inspired by Bernard Purdie‘s half-time shuffle grooves on Steely Dan’s “Home At Last” and “Babylon Sisters”, and John Bonham‘s half-time shuffle groove on Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain”. The bass drum pattern was based on the tom-tom accent pattern played by Clifton James in the 1955 hit song “Bo Diddley”, which was based on the son-clave. You can learn how to play the Rosanna Shuffle by clicking on this link.

The song “Mushanga” was recorded for Toto’s The Seventh One and is a half-time tom-tom drum beat. The Mushanga drum beat was inspired by a Steve Gadd drum clinic and by the tom-tom pattern Floyd Sneed of Three Dog Night played on the song “King Solomon’s Mines”. Jeff Porcaro ended using two single paradiddle-diddles for the Mushanga drum beat, instead of an inverted single paradiddles like Steve Gadd did for his samba groove.

Steve Gadd had made a trip to PIT to give a clinic, and my father [Joe Porcaro] happened to be there. Then, later, my father showed me this fast samba that Steve played for the class. It had to do with an inverted paradiddle.” – Interview to DRUM! magazine, November/December 1991 Issue.

The drum beat for the song “Lido Shuffle” was ripped off of Jim Gordon’s work for Steely Dan’s song “Charlie Freak” on Pretzel Logic. The only difference between the two versions is the speed at what Jeff Porcaro plays his, which is at twice the tempo.

Jeff Porcaro let his influences inspire him. He learned through them, through the drum beats he enjoyed the most. It’s very important for you to study the drummers that came before you. Not only will it increase your overall technique, but also, get you inside the head of some of the greatest masters that have ever sit behind a drum set. Doing so will actually help you develop your own voice on the drum set. Don’t discard learning what others have played beforehand in fear it will hinder your own voice. It will just inspire you further and give you new concepts that you can use to make your approach that much unique, much like it did for Jeff Porcaro and many others.

A drummer’s own style comes from eventually being on his own, but I copied Gordon and Keltner and all these guys I dug. I remember realizing this, but after a while, the accumulation of all the guys you copy becomes your own thing, hopefully.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.

As one of the biggest names in the session drumming scene of the 1970s and 1980s, there’s a lot to learn from Jeff Porcaro. As a studio musician, you should have a real good sense of song structure and dynamics.

You want to give them your all and try to impress them, which usually ends up backfiring if you go in with that attitude. Your whole basic thing is just to keep time. I have fun helping with arrangements of tunes or suggesting song structures and knowing songs, instead of, like some guys I meet, no matter what instrument, still to this day have no idea about a song or tune structure.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.

Don’t worry about how you’ll be perceived in the studio by others. You should instead focus on the work at hand. Focus on keeping great time while playing as simple as possible, and of course, for the song. It’s also essential to keep a healthy relationship with the engineer and the other session musicians, and to ALWAYS be on time for the sessions.

A helpful hint for anybody who is doing sessions, really the number one rule is, don’t even be thinking about what you’re going to do, or how people in the studio are going to look over and dig that you’re doing a good job. Try to be completely aware of the song; try to hear the song as many times as possible and play for the song — not for yourself or for the contractor or for whomever else. Show up early, work with the engineer to tune your drums and, if you can, look at the stuff ahead of time in case it’s something that’s too hard for you to do so you can woodshed. Be polite and don’t stay on the phone too long.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.

As a professional studio musician you’ll work with a lot of different people along the way. You’ll have to put up with different personalities and bad temperaments, but you should never have to put up with abuse. Remember that you are a person, and as a person, you should be treated as one. The people that hire you and the musicians you’ll work with are just that, people. They are not more important than you, they just play a role in the grand scheme of the sessions you work on. To survive in the music business you’ve got to put everybody in perspective.

In closing, the best thing for drummers is to have fun. Even if you’re falling apart inside, you have a great outlet to express your emotions, whether you realize it or not.” – Interview to Modern Drummer Magazine, February 1983 Issue.


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  • David M. Hugaert says:

    …that’s “Toto”, not “Tito”, as I had mistakenly typed in my previous submission! Sorry!

  • david copus says:

    Drummer, 50-ish, and a huge Porcaro fan. Got the chance to meet him a few times. Once after a Toto show c. ’83. My friend was a local studio manager, so we got into a small meet-&-greet group after the show. I shook his hand and said, “Jeff, it’s an honor to meet you.” He looked me in the eye and said, “thanks man, thanks a lot.” Then I added, “you’re my idol, man.” He just shook his head and looked at his feet and said, “ah, man, come on.” I said, I’m sorry guy, but add me to the thousands of other guys who’ve said the exact same thing.” After his awe-shucks moment, he squeezed my hand a little tighter and reached up and squeezed my shoulder with his other hand, and looking me in the eye again said, “seriously, thanks a lot. Did you enjoy the show?” I said, “loved it.” “Right on, Right on, what’s your name?” “Dave,” “Well, thanks a lot Dave, hope to see you again man, take care.” Then the line moved me past my idol, out into the 1:a.m. air in back of the theater where a couple of cool looking tour busses, all interior lights off, idled in wait. Steve ‘Human Nature’ Porcaro, absent from the greet line was just then hopping onto one so I said, “Hey Steve,” and he turned, smiled and said, “hello,” then disappeared into the dark coolness of one of the band’s busses. Toto IV was out, as was ‘Thriller.’ These guy’s had paid dues and spent countless hours on busses. This was in Santa Barbara, last stop on the tour. So all that remained was a 2-hour ride home back to L.A. What a life, and what a career, and they were barely 30, if that. And Jeff had about 10 years to live…Damn!

    • David M. Hugaert says:

      Man, David, that’s one awesome story in regard to Jeff Porcaro & Toto! I’m so happy you got to meet your idol – up close & in person! I too, would have LOVED to have met Jeff! From what I’ve read, he was a down-to-earth guy! It got me right here after I read the above part where he was awe-struck by your comment about JP being your idol! It’s sad to think Jeff Porcaro would be dead just 10 years after your 1982 encounter…So sad! Did you get to meet the rest of the group at the time (besides Steve Porcaro)? I too, love Toto’s music & would have loved to have seen the original group in concert back in the 1970s & 1980s! Although Tito are back together under a somewhat different incarnation, it just isn’t the same – although I’m glad to hear the guys are making music again. Best wishes to you on your musical odyssey, David!

  • Alipio says:

    Joey plays his Pearl Joey Jordison surnatige snare. It sounds different because the head size is about an inch less(13 ) than what many would consider a normal sized snare drum(14 ). It has a powerful, deep sounding punch to it.

  • Felix WEBER says:

    Jeff, we still miss you, even after so many years. You are my absolute favourite and will remain forever…

    Jeff had the total groove and elegance. He could play the easiest thing on the drum and no one could stop from clapping his hands or his feet on hearing Jeff play. He was playing with attitude, determination and doing juste the right thing at the right moment in a tune.

    Jeff could make the most difficult chop sound easy and groovy… just relaxed and easy…

    • Steve O'Hollaren says:

      Regretably, Ive only known of Jeff Porcaro for a short time, but have been listening to his music for years…unknowingly.

      I’m self taught drummer (1965) and have admired many drummers over the years. This guy is the best…period.

      I’d put Jeff Porcaro against Bonham, Buddy Rich, Alex Van Halen…you name it.

      I wish I would have had any opportunity to meet him and his family.

      What a shame to take away such talent at such an early age…..

  • Gary says:

    I totally agree with you. Simon Phillips is an awesome drummer but Jeff Porcaro is also my favourite drummer of the 2. Only last night I was practicing to Toto’s self titled album. I really dig that album & I think “I’ll Supply The Love” is my favourite song on it.
    When a drummer from a great band passes on, I don’t know if you can replace them without changing the sound of a band. I couldn’t imagine anyone being able to take the place of John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, which is probably why the band never tried to do it either.

  • maturenewdrummer says:

    Jeff Pocaro was an awesome drummer Simon Philips is fantastic .But for me Jeff Pocaro was the better drummer for Toto