Jeffrey Thomas Porcaro was a drummer, songwriter and producer who rose to fame through his work for the iconic rock band toto. Besides that, he was also a talented session musician, being among the most recorded in music history. Throughout his musical career, Porcaro has worked on numerous albums and sessions. By the 1970s, the musician was an established session player, but he rose to prominence in the United States as the drummer for Steely Dan’s. “Katy Lied” album.
The members of Toto were already well known, contributing to many of the most popular records of the 1970s like session musicians. David Paich and Jeff Porcaro were childhood friends, and they decided to form their own band after recruiting Steve Lukather and Steve Porcaro. With the addition of Bobby Kimball, the newly formed band began work on their self-titled debut album. Since their debut album, “Toto”, they have climbed the ladder of fame with successful releases.
Rumor has it that Jeff Porcaro was the one who named the group Toto because he wrote “toto” on their demo tapes to distinguish them from other bands in the studio. After a career full of successes and memorable releases, Porcaro tragically died in 1992. Although Toto considered splitting up after losing their beloved friend, Porcaro’s family insisted they move on. Let’s take a look at the musical career of the talented drummer.
Details on the life and musical career of Jeff Porcaro
Born April 1, 1954 in Hartford, Connecticut, Jeff Porcaro was the eldest son of LA session percussionist Joe Porcaro and his wife, Eileen. The Porcaro family was interested in music; Jeff’s older brother Mike was a successful bassist who played with Toto, and his younger brother Steve was also in the band. Jeffrey started playing drums at age seven and received his first drum lessons from his father.
After learning the basics from Joe Porcaro, Jeff studied with Bob Zimmitti and Richie Lepore. At seventeen, he took the stage with Sonny & Cher’s touring band, which was the young drummer’s first professional gig. During his twenties, Porcaro played on many albums as a session musician, including several Steely Dan albums. He then began a tour with Boz Scaggs.
At the end of the tour, Jeff reunited with his brother Steve and his childhood friends Steve Lukather and David Paich. After discussing the possibility of forming their own group, they founded Toto with the participation of Steve Lukather and Bobby Kimball. Jeff Porcaro rose to prominence among drummers for the drum pattern he used on Toto’s hit ‘Rosanna.’
Apart from his successful work with Toto, Jeff was also a much sought after session musician by many big names in music, such as Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Don Henley. He has even worked with Michael Jackson on four tracks from the King of Pop’s “Thriller” album and the “Dangerous” hit “Heal The World”.
The tragic end of Jeff Porcaro’s life
Jeff Porcaro was married to Susan Norris and they had three songs named Christopher Joseph, Miles Edwin Crawford and Nico Hendrix. Nico was born a year before Porcaro’s death, so the drummer left behind a one-year-old child when he left the world in 1992. According to teammate Steve Lukather, Porcaro’s long-standing heart condition and smoking habit were among the contributing factors to his death.
On August 5, 1992, when he was just 38 years old, Jeff Porcaro died at Humana-West Hills Hospital. Before his death, he fell ill while spraying insecticide in the yard of his Hidden Hills home. After the tragic news, the coroner ruled out an accident and determined that the drummer’s cause of death was a heart attack related to his substance abuse. However, a spokesperson for the LA County coroner and the doctors who treated the musician believed his heart attack was caused by a allergic reaction to inhaled pesticide.
A year before his passing, Jeff Porcaro sat down with Drumm Magazine and revealed his advice to a drummer preparing for his first session. Porcaro said they had to stop overthinking and relax for fun play the drums. He went on to argue about having a good time, having some momentum, and listening to the lyrics of the song they were playing during a session. According to Porcaro, the producers or singers weren’t drummers since they focused on groove and time, not the techniques or tricks.
Here are Jeff Porcaro’s tips for new drummers preparing for their first session:
“Try don’t think too much because your game starts to look like a reflection. It’s funny; I’ve seen guys stop thinking too much about music. People should be more honest with themselves. people need relax and have fun. When you get your first call in the studio, you better not play any of the bullshit you’ve rehearsed or read in books. You better play time. Period! Great time. And make it tasty. And have momentum, listen to the lyrics of the song and be there as a timekeeper.
If someone asks you to pull a trick or two out of your hat, then cool. But fundamentally, this producer, this engineer, this arranger or this singer, they are not drummers. They don’t go, ‘Wow man, dig how cool that cat is playing.’ They say, ‘Dig how cool this groove is.’ They only know groove and time. They don’t know that you have a nice wrist or do nice things with your fingers and stuff like that.
Jeff Porcaro’s funeral was held on August 10 at Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery. After his death, the Jeff Porcaro Memorial Fund was established to benefit Grant High School’s music and art departments. A memorial concert for the drummer took place on December 14, 1992 at the Universal Amphitheater in Los Angeles, with a lineup that included music icons like George Harrison, Eddie Van Halen and his bandmates Toto. Jeff Porcaro’s headstone bore the lyrics to the song ‘Wings Of Time’: ‘Our love doesn’t stop there; he lives forever on the wings of time.’