5 Lessons I Learned From Joe Porcaro

Another teacher that had a massive impact on me and my drumming is Joe Porcaro.

I studied with him for a year while I was at the LA Music Academy and he gave me an incredible journey through the world of Jazz and drumming in general.

Joe has recorded with Stan Getz, Frank Sinatra, Freddie Hubbard, Sarah Vaughn, Luciano Pavaroti, and the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. He has played on a number of Hollywood film scores with many top composers such as James Newton Howard, John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, Danny Elfman, and Steve Porcaro. He is the co-director of one of the top music schools in california and has developed his own line of drum sticks and cases.

Here are the top five lessons that I learned during my time with Joe:

1) Practice
Joe was a mild mannered guy but if you turned up to class without having done the required practice and without being able to play what was asked of you he got pissed. I remember a few times when he had a good old rant at a classroom full of lazy students who hadn’t been putting the work in. All great players are the same, they know what it takes to become good but only a handful of students ever learn the discipline, dedication and relentless practice schedule that it takes to become great.

2) Swing Time
Joe has great control over his swing beat and always pushed me to experiment with the spacing between notes. Jazz was always a bit scary for me so I stuck rigidly to metronomic triplets but Joe quickly smacked that out of me by getting me to loosen up and move my ride pattern around a bit. Playing the skip beat closer or further away from the pulse. I needed to respond to the music and the other musicians to improve the feel of the music and develop a swing beat that sounded and felt great.

3) Passion
Joe approached drumming, teaching and life in general with great passion and vigor. He has music in his blood and he lights you up when he talks about it. After class I used to sit with some of the other students and listen to stories from his early days in New York. Being from a small town in Scotland it was amazing to hear the kind of things that Joe got up to. When Joe plays, he has the power and dexterity of someone in their twenties yet the musicality of someone that has been intrenched in music for decades.

4) Legacy
Not only has Joe created a legacy with his playing and recording but also as a teacher and as a father. Many of LA’s best session players have been taught buy Joe and now enjoy top-flight careers as a result of his teachings. His three sons were all musicians in the band Toto: keyboardist Steve Porcaro, bassist Mike Porcaro and late drummer Jeff Porcaro and wrote hit singles like “Hold The Line”, “Rosanna”, “Africa” and “Stranger In Town”.

5) Entrepreneurship
Like Ralph, Joe is another drummer/entrepreneur. He is the co-director of the LA Music Academy and has his own line of sticks and drum cases. He has taken what he does best and built a business around it to make a living for himself and his family. He is not shy of business and like all great entrepreneurs he know how to trade. One of my fondest memories of LA was watching Joe operate a little stick sale for the students out of the back of his car – a lot of laughs were had that day and a lot of students walked away with a great deal.

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Are there any Joe Porcaro tracks or performances that you really like? Have you had any teachers that had a profound impact on you? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.