Drummer Jeff Porcaro (1954-1992) has piqued our interest of late. The Toto founder and session musician extraordinaire was a top talent.
The naturally gifted musician created some legendary beats, fusing different styles to turn him into a legend. Here’s his story.
Jeff Porcaro—Story of the Drummer
Porcaro was one of those drummers who could make it all sound effortless. Deceptively simple. But his technique is complex and difficult to master.
And we’re focussing particularly on the Rosanna shuffle here (a half-time shuffle groove). It’s legendary in drumming circles—one of those beats everyone tries to get under their belt.
Porcaro said he adapted it from the Purdie Shuffle. That’s the famous beat from Bernard Purdie, the R&B drummer.
But he also took inspiration from John Bonham on Fool in the Rain, which you can hear Mr. Bonham smashing out here.
If you’re wondering what all this lingo is about, Modern Drummer magazine has a nifty explanation about The Shuffle.
The below is from a February 1986 issue:
“One might be hard pressed to find anything more musically exciting than a good drummer setting fire to a band by laying down a strong, straight-ahead shuffle beat. The shuffle is a very dynamic rhythmic feel. It has been used in a host of diverse musical idioms, ranging from the earliest of the simplistic rhythm & blues drummers to the complex, hard-driving shuffles … Though the shuffle is basic in nature, there are a number of ways to play a good shuffle. For the uninitiated, let’s first point out that the shuffle is nothing more than the following rhythmic feel.”
To put that into context, we’re drummers. And it’s bloody difficult to do. Getting your body working in tandem with all the timing is hard work.
But for Jeff Porcaro, who experimented around with all sorts of rhythms, it was all part of his catalogue of capabilities.
And here he is to explain it and the importance of time keeping.
There was much more to the man’s abilities than the Rosanna shuffle, of course, but it’s his most famous rhythm.
Famously, he didn’t really go in for drum solos. Probably as they took away from the intricate nature of his drumming style.
In the ’70s he was the most in-use session drummer in the business. He played for an enormous amount of top talent during that time.
Which is what led him to form Toto. The band’s most famous song, Africa, is where he was at his most subtle.
And the key thing to note here is the amount of drummers still studying his work.
The Africa beat may appear simple, but the backbeat and fills are all perfectly timed. Enough to get Drumeo to dedicate an entire video to one of his fills.
We often watch drummers in music videos. If it’s The Doors, for example, most folks are looking at Jim Morrison dancing about like a shaman.
Well, we spend a lot of time looking at the band’s jazz-infused drummer—John Densmore. Why? Because he was amazing. Sharp, focussed, and thrilling.
The same goes for Reni of The Stone Roses. His use of the sticks, loose and naturalistic, shows he’s a natural genius.
And what made us big fans of Porcaro is a brief little moment in Toto’s official Africa video.
During the first chorus at the 1:05 mark, Porcaro is bopping away. The way he holds the sticks shows the guy just had it.
Loose and agile, the natural fluidity in full flow. Then he flips his sticks across to smack into each other.
It’s a subtle little moment a lot of people might miss.
But it’s intricacies like that—they mark out the truly great drummers who leave a lasting impression.
Jeff Porcaro’s Legacy
Of course, it was with great sadness for the music world that Porcaro suddenly died in 1992. He was 38. And by all accounts a lovely bloke.
And yet it’s with great delight we see people from around the world attempting to replicate his beats.
Everyone’s favourite Japanese drummer, Yoyoka Soma, has the Rosanna shuffle nailed down pretty thoroughly.
So, to Mr. Porcaro, we say it’s a shame we’ll never get to meet you.
But we’re always thankful to come across another genuine master of the drumming world.
And one who absolutely dedicated himself to thoughtful intricacies the world is digging up decades after an untimely passing.