Vinnie Colaiuta interview in Berlin about Jeff Porcaro
AW When did you first come into contact with Jeff ?
Vinnie My first recollection of meeting Jeff was at a recording studio, Tom Scott was recording a record with amongst others, Neil Stubenhouse and Carlos Rios, I can’t remember the title of the record, all I can remember is that it was a funk samba and it sounded just great, then Jeff walked over to me, I was sitting in a chair and he was complaining to himself saying “I just can’t play today”, meanwhile I’m listening to the whole thing and I’m thinking this is really just amazing, and so I met Jeff and we talked for a while, he was great, really really friendly, down to earth, I mean I was just this young kid who came to L.A. just looking for someone to throw me a bone, and on retrospect I may have even mentioned that to Jeff, I said “You know I’ve just arrived in town and I’m kind of trying to meet new people”, he was just so welcoming about that, he really like transcended all that sort of strange unnecessary competitiveness. He didn’t have a problem with who he was, you know how music is made and people interact with one another and the whole humanity behind it, Jeff did so much for me and you know he didn’t have to.
AW You have stated many times in the past that when you first moved to L.A, Jeff opened many doors for you one in particular was on a demo with the band Pages, do you recall this ?
Vinnie Well you see, I can’t remember how I got hooked up with the guys from Pages but what happened was, we were cutting a record and Jeff let me borrow his drums for the session. I had his stamp of approval, and so we were cutting the record and I’ll never forget it ,the producer, he basically fired me from the band after a couple of tracks. He called Jeff up and wanted Jeff to replace me on the couple of tracks I had recorded, but Jeff came into the studio and said to the producer “ You must be crazy, give this guy a chance he’s very talented and these tracks sound great, how can you complain that they don’t “ Jeff went to bat for me, I remember he would just do things like that, anyway it turned out I ended up on a couple of tracks on the record, in fact the record in question had four different drummers on it, so the whole thing became, well it was no longer a band, that was dissipated, but Jeff defended me, and he really meant it, in other words, he believed in me,
He came into the Baked Potato one night, when I was playing with Landua, in fact I think it was this same band, I’m not sure if Neil was playing bass, but I remember Mike and David were there, and David will probably collaborated all this, anyway I had some big drum set, we were playing really loud, and you know you sometimes when you play, you get sweat running in your eyes, well salt got into mine, I had them closed, so I kept playing and my hi-hat broke, something like the centre rod snapped, so it wasn’t opening and closing, anyway I opened my eyes again, there was a little sort of pass through window where the drums were set up on the stage, then there were tables, Jeff was sitting there right next to me while I was playing, so I shut my eyes again, what I didn’t know was that while my eyes were closed Jeff must have jumped over to the stage, I opened my eyes and looked down and here he was on the floor fixing the hi-hat, he was on his back looking up at me laughing, laughing like it was a big gag, he saw me and cracked up, I couldn’t believe it, I lost it, I thought what are you doing here, I had to laugh, Jeff laughed so hard he got to me as well, I had to stop playing, I mean I couldn’t believe it.
Well I went home and I was thinking about Jeff, I was in awe of the guy, you can imagine what that did to my mind, the fact that he actually was kind enough to do that for me, even though it was a kind of a joke to him, I think I was dumbstruck, I drove home that night thinking about what had happened, did he really do that. Jeff would just do stuff like that, it just boggled my mind, the guy had a heart as big as the Eiffel Tower, I mean he had a heart of pure gold.
AW. What did you most admire about Jeff’s playing, its said that whether playing on a track or a demo, he played with such enthusiasm and energy, in other words he gave it his all ?
Vinnie. He made the music sound better, he maximised the music and he was in total control, he was confident, he also had the best feel in time - to me, and he was there lifting everybody up, I wouldn’t have had to have been in the band, as an observer I could witness it happening, I could hear it, I could see it. People could question and dispute it but my answer to that is, you either get it or you don’t. I could see that he maximised it and it sounded better. People loved to play with him because his time felt great, he was musical, his touch, his choice of fills, his overall concept
( Ashley ) In other words he was the consummate musician. ( Vinnie ). Absolutely ! he was one of those guys that just played one note in the right place, what can you say about that, I mean I sit there and play a million notes, be like an auctioneer, and this guy would play one profound thing – mind you he had great chops, but I’m talking about the impact, he played the truth.
AW. Can you recall the time you double drummed with Jeff at the Baked Potato with Los Lobotomys and what it felt like to play with him ?
Vinnie. Yeah ! It’s really hard for me to describe in words what it felt like, to me it was like a dream come true, it was the most heart warming experience I ever had playing with another drummer, which is very rare, and it just felt really natural, again, you know referring back to my last comment to him about lifting people up, well I felt like that – he did the same thing for me. It was at a place called The Complex, and I just walked in and was just kind of standing there and then I went up and played, it was just so easy to play with him, it was so easy it was effortless, no tension, no kind of manipulative controlling, just giving, like love, lifting me up and being supportive. He was like an example for people, not just as a musician, he had a very strong personality but it was a very loving one. I think once again he was a great example for people, a great one.
AW. Can you recall where you were when you first heard the news of Jeff’s passing ?
Vinnie. Yeah, I remember where I was, I was in my house, it was at night, I was married at the time, the phone rang and someone was talking on the answering machine, and my ex wife said “There’s a phone call for you and it doesn’t sound too good,” I went over to the phone and it was Lenny ( Castro ) talking and he said “ Vin I don’t know how to tell you this, its Lenny I really need to talk to you “ I picked up the phone and said, what’s going on Lenny, and he said “It’s Jeff, he’s passed away,” my immediate reaction was I thought he was kidding, I said you have got to be joking, Lenny said, “ I’m sorry, really sorry to give you the bad news,” I just said “Okay,” hung up and went outside, I sat down on a swing, I was out there for a couple of hours, I just cried and cried, you know my ex wife poor thing she didn’t know what to do to console me, there just wasn’t anything I could kind of do, because I really loved him, I’m sure everybody did.
The thing that hit me the most about Jeff’s death was that I was scheduled to go to England to begin recording ‘Ten Summers Tales’ with Sting, I’d called Jeff and spoke to him a couple of days before he passed on, I believe it was on a Wednesday, there was this guy from Italy who wanted me to contact him to do a bunch of clinics and a bunch of record dates, so I said to Jeff, “I can vouch for this guy, he’s a friend,” Jeff said, “Screw the record dates man I’ll do some clinics because the kids need it, because the kids need it,” I think it had something to do with schools and that kind of thing, I don’t think it was necessary in store kind of ‘circus monkey’, stuff, he had to do it for the kids, that meant more to him and I can understand that, because I feel the same way too.
So I said to Jeff, “ In a week or so I’m going to England to record,” and he said, “Your kidding, we’re doing a European tour about that time,” I said, “That’s fantastic, we’ll try and hook up, I’ll call you on Friday man and we’ll swap itineraries,” he said, “Got it,” next thing I know it never happened, that was the last I talked to him and so it was pretty shocking because I had just spoken to him and he was as normal as can be, the same strong Jeff, not a hint there could be anything wrong, you know he just went like that ( snaps his finger )
AW What made you choose the track ‘Long Time No Groove’ on the tribute to Jeff CD ?
Vinnie I didn’t, when David and I were discussing Jeff’s funeral I was going to be one of the snare drummers for the funeral but unfortunately I missed it as I was working out of town, I was really really depressed because I was unable to be there and do it for Jeff I really wanted to do it for him. The record was David’s idea, he chose the track and oversaw the whole thing, by the time I came into the project it was like finding a place for me, but that record was David’s idea.
AW What are some of your favourite recordings of Jeff’s playing ?
Vinnie ‘Gimme The Goods’ – Boz Scaggs the hi-hat stuff in it is insane, ‘I Keep Forgetting’ - Michael McDonald I like that a lot, the list is endless, the Toto material is just great.
AW We hear so much about how it was great fun to hang out with Jeff, do you have any funny moments ?
Vinnie Once in a while he would call me and ask me to ‘sub’ for him, I saw him doing a live CD with Pops Powell, I was star struck when I saw that, anyway we went out for dinner one night and ended up at Jeff’s house and these guys came over with a bunch of stuff Jeff had played on, I was listening and I felt just like a kid in a candy store, so many great tracks. Another time I remember was halloween and this friend of mine Mike ( his family knows Jeff’s family really well, he’s a drummer too – Mike Corral is his name ) one time we took these two snare drums it was Halloween and we hid behind a tree you know in this quiet little residential neighbourhood, so we had these two snare drums and we said “Ready” and we started playing this really slow loud street beat groove, stopped then started again playing and laughing our heads off then all of a sudden Jeff appears at the door looking around, we popped out from behind the tree Jeff shouts –“ What are you guys doing out here man, what are you clowns doing “ we just cracked up then we went inside still playing the street beat on the drums just like a couple of kids.
AW. On first hearing one of the interviews I have of Jeff I was surprised at the depth of Jeff’s voice, a lot of drummers maybe not be aware of how deep his tone was.
Vinnie. Oh yeah Jeff had a real deep voice.
AW. A lot of drummers associate Jeff with his playing in Toto I think they were not aware that Jeff also had great fusion chops ?
Vinnie. Yeah I agree, you see the thing to me is, Jeff’s playing was seamless, he would downplay that stuff a lot, he was so humble, again he was seamless, he would do it and it was right, not like, I’m going to show off, that whole underlying thing for me never suffered, he wasn’t about drawing attention to himself doing some lick to just make people look at him, he wasn’t like that, I never saw Jeff be inappropriate, he had too much taste.
AW. Did Jeff ever conduct any clinics as it’s a well known fact that drum clinics were not high on Jeff’s agenda ?
Vinnie. I think I recall he did do one in L.A. I personally have not seen Jeff do a clinic although I kind of share that opinion with him, to me clinics are like what ideally was started as a educational need, now it turns out to be entertainment, trying to raise this bar of being a ‘circus monkey’. It’s a strange thing you work hard to get a name and when you get there people expect a certain amount of money, you can do this thing and that thing, meanwhile its all about wowing them, then they talk about what you do, so the kids go home and practice 60 hours a day, its like why do you have to go to extremes like that, you either touch somebody or you don’t, your constantly trying to raise the bar your never good enough, so to get back to your question I didn’t see Jeff do a clinic although he made a video.
AW. Did you enjoy the video Jeff made ?
Vinnie. Oh yeah ! very much, it is really amazing because its so solid when you watch it, truly you watch how his time is so solid and its interesting to note the sticking that he use’s like playing a shuffle and he plays a fill and comes out with the sticking, its just so right. He was just amazing on that video and I totally enjoyed it.
AW. Well Vinnie may I say many thanks for your time before we close is there anything you would like to add about Jeff ?
Vinnie. All I would like to say is I miss him its so hard to believe he’s gone, he lives in our hearts so much he’s there , he’s just there – I miss him.
Dave Hassell - One of the UK's finest: Drummer/Latin Percussionist and Educator
AW – How and when did you first enter the music business, did you always aspire to become a drummer?
I was a late starter coming to drumming; leaving school at 15 years of age I got a job working for Manchester City Cleansing Department doing wages! Just by chance walking to work I past Barrett's Music shop on Oxford road, seeing a drum kit in the window (an Olympic) I decided that it might be fun playing drums! Returning home I informed my mother that I was going to buy a drum kit, to which she replied, ‘You can buy what you want as long as you pay for it!’ I didn’t come from a family that had money! That was the beginning! Up to that stage of my life the only thing that I had a passion for was football. It wasn’t long before I started taking drum lessons with Geoff Riley at Mamilok's Music Shop, Geoff was incredibly helpful and supportive, encouraging me to check out live music, Manchester at that time had a wonderful nightlife with musicians playing in many of the venues, within just under 3 years I had turned professional! Just before my 18th birthday (1965) and have never been out of work since, 53 years ago, I must have been doing something right.
AW – As well as many other drum teachers you had lessons with Max Abrams, what did you learn from Max also the late great Jim Blackley author of Syncopated Rolls what important lessons did you acquire from Jim?
Yes I did have several lessons with Max because I believed he was the ‘go to teacher’ how wrong can you be on reflection! Quite an intimidating person incredibly opinionated ‘but aren’t we all!’ fortunately that sort of stuff doesn’t bother me! The eureka moment for me was being introduced to Jim Blackley in New York he was everything that Max wasn’t! Inspiring, warm and inviting with amazing both playing and teaching skills, he became not only my mentor but a life-long friend, he even dedicated one of his books to me. What did I take from him? Musicality – Sound – Control, wonderful understanding of the hands, how to approach creativity and develop your own identity on the instrument but above all Humility and Patience. I should also say what great direction and teaching I received from Geoff Riley, he was the one that got me out gigging at the very beginning.
AW – Looking at the impressive list of artistes you have worked with, at what stage in your career did you decide to enter education, teaching and becoming an author of four very successful books? Talking of books how did the concept evolve and were you surprised by the enormous reaction from the drumming community?
I always had an interest in education/ teaching from the very beginning, returning from my studies with Jim Blackley I was asked to give lessons by quite a few drummers, it seemed the natural thing to do, I was also encouraged by a super piano player ‘Dennis Kelly’ he thought I had a natural leaning towards education; I worked with Dennis with many artist, he was a deep thinking person and I respected anything he said!
With regard to the writing of the books, I was approached by the associated aboard to present some material for their new grade system, Kevin Hathway had formed a new publishing company and he was prepared to finance the project, the rest is history, Graded Course For Drum Kit went on to sell tens of thousands of copes world wide and it’s still out there! I didn’t try to write a technique book I just wanted to put some everyday practical material out there focused around many different musical styles, written in such a way it represented the sort of parts I was coming in contact with on a daily bases, at the time I was also incredibly busy working in the studios recording every day. Strangely enough it was never taken up by the Associated Board, we couldn’t agree on how they were going to examine the material (long story) however, it was picked up by the Guildhall and inserted into their examinations, also Trinity started using some of the pieces, what we must realize at the time there were very few practical play along packages out there and the books were appreciated by many teachers and professionals. Latin Grooves was written a couple of years later, this also proved to be very successful, it was even used at Berkeley Music College Boston! (Coals to Newcastle)
I have always enjoyed committing my musical thoughts to paper and still have notes dating back to the mid-sixties! The last publication I produced was ‘Thoughts- Concepts – routines- Exercise’ which is a collection of many of my personal teaching notes, there are no page numbers, so you can just open it up anywhere and get involved, it’s not a book that you ever complete! I still have many more notes and exercises on the shelves ‘it’s a lifetime pursuit’
Answering the last part of your question ,’was I surprised by the enormous reaction from the drumming community?’
I try to teach in a practical useful way, offering simplistic answers, transparency and clarity, everything based around the needs of the individual and the music, rather than being sucked into the parallel world of just hitting drums with no regard to the music and the complexity that many people present in drum magazines and clinics
‘it’s all based on sound and communication’
AW – In your teachings do you specialize in any particular genre, do you mention the importance of notation and rudiments?
Teaching! What we must realize is that we need some degree of ‘playing skilsl’ we must be able express our thoughts and have the necessary facility to perform them ‘ artistry is not built on chance!’ acquiring these skills take a lifetime! With regard to style/genre this is something we acquire through the experiences of performance -style is not something we practice it something that acquire if we mix with the right people! Repertoire ‘song and rhythmic’ is something that is missed by many drummers, they generally don’t give it enough thought!
Notation, I think you mean; should we be able to read, my answer to that is an emphatic yes in this day and age if you want to be employable, however I think it’s more important to be able to interpret
the charts rather than just reading it exactly as written, but remember it’s more important to bring focused swinging time the proceedings, musicians will forgive reading errors, however, they will be less forgiving of bad time!
Rudiments! Dangerous subject, I could upset a lot of people! Yes, they are part of what we do, but it’s not just about playing them it’s how and where we play them!
‘Just a thought’ The African, Indian and Latin American continents don’t use ‘the standard 40 rudiments in their music’ yet they are arguably far rhythmically superior!
They are incredibly important if you are in a drum corps but if it’s kit you are playing we could say that coordination/ independence are the kit rudiments! 90% of drummers time issues are in the feet.
AW – It seems you are quite a legend in the teaching profession how do you think this came about, what do you think makes your teachings different from other teachers?
Never thought of myself as a legend! Ha Ha
I’ve had amazing success of the years, the list of former students, professionals and teacher is long!
All I have tried to do is get them to take responsibility for their own destiny! And play in a sensitive manner always supporting the music and not letting their ego get in the way of the performance.
You have to be serious about what you are doing, having said that I have students who have no desire to be a professional player and get an amazing amount of satisfaction from the lessons.
It’s been well documented in the past that I don’t tolerate fools lightly, if you are going to study with me it doesn’t matter whether you have amazing playing skills or whether you struggle with the certain things I just ask for commitment and you go away and work on your playing (Don’t come back and practice what you should have been working on during the week in your next lesson!!!!)
I’m very honest with the students we have to be able to address the good with the bad, ‘I’ll call it as I see and hear it’
Also we must be able to laugh at our-self and have a sense of humour ‘it’s only drumming’
AW – Whilst lecturing at college it seems a lot of emphasis is based around grades be it Rockschool, LCM etc; what are your thoughts on this?
Don’t use them and will never use them! They are for the establishment, in all my years as a teacher I have never taught the grades, been asked to assess too many students with GRADE 8 and they still don’t know why they are sat behind the instrument!!!!!!! Yes I think they are all flawed ‘ that should ruffle a few feathers!
Some people point to me that my books have been used in the ‘Grade’ system’ I never asked them to use them! That was their choice.
AW – As well as one of the UK’s top teacher’s you are also known for your teaching and playing of Latin, how did you first become interested in this genre?
A passion for the music, it’s as simple as that! It was never about learning Latin American drum beats! I find it a real problem among the drumming community, so many students just collect beats as if they are collecting ‘Top Trumps cards’ They know very little about how and where to use them within the music or even from where the originated from! You must listen and identify with the music!
AW – Who are some of the name drummers you have had the pleasure to teach?
Too many to name, without the fear of leaving some out! Lets just say they are all out there in the Film and Recording world, Touring network, West End, Commercial world, World music, Jazz and Teaching
I’ve had students coming from far and wide not just the UK – Europe, North America, Canada, Mexico South America Far East to name a few.
AW – At the Royal Northern College of Music you designed a course as part of the Popular Music Practice (Session Musician) Foundation Degree, how did this come about?
I didn’t design the course, other people were responsible for that in-particular Andy Stott I was just invited to teach on it, as I have been in the past and also presently at the Royal Academy Music London, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I have also been associated with all the establishments with ‘Royal’ in their title plus numerous Universities.
AW – Who were the drummer’s and teachers you draw inspiration from any particular favourites?
There are so many:
Jazz Players: Jo Jone, Gene Krupa, Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis, Elvin Jones, Tony Williams,
Paul Motion, Roy Haynes, Jake Hanna - Brian Blade it’s endless
Rock - Groove – Funk
Sandy Nelson – Hal Blaine - Earl Palmer – Levon Helm – Herlin Riley – Idris Muhammad
Jim Black - Fred Below - Steve Gadd
Airto – Tito Puente – Manola Badrena – Chanquito – Paulinho Da Costa –
Tony Allen – Brice Wassey – Paco Sery
Billy Gladestone – Buster Bailey - Murray Spivak – Sanford Moeller
Geoff Riley – Jim Blackley – Tony Oxley - Manikrao Popatkar
AW – Finally what words of wisdom would you wish to pass on to the next generation of drummers?
Passion - Spirit – Dedication
Pursue your dreams, respect other human beings, commitment without expectation!
Engage in the musical community, get out and listen as much as possible.
Jo Jones quote ‘if you learn to listen you’ll have the best seat in the house’
Finally just to conclude, many people think I just teach, I would like to make it clear to them that I’m still very active on the playing/performance scene I’m out several time a week gigging and recording, working in many diverse musical situations such as Stevie Williams and the Most Wanted Band, Tom Dib, Lauren Housley and Mark Lewis, Andy Scott Duo, Munch Manship Quartet, Apitos, Hydra, DH Brazilian Project , dh Latin Project, Nick Svarc, Bob Gill Quartet plus many more. I believe my teaching benefits greatly from performance and being involved with much younger musicians than myself, I work with some fine players, too many to start naming, I’m also currently teaching at the RNCM, RAM and RCS and privately ‘I have a superb studio built by Chris Wharton at my home”
I love what I do and hope to continue with the energy, spirit and passion that was given to me for many more years to come.
‘Anything is possible you just have to have the will, trust and passion and be optimistic about the future and try to fulfil your dreams.’