My first encounter with Steve Gadd didn’t go well for me. It went like this… It was the fall of 1975, I was in the 10th grade playing in my rock band “Trigger” and disco was getting popular, so the guys in my band wanted to learn “Do The Hustle” by Van McCoy. Like any true rock fan, I was a staunch “disco hater” and against the idea, but was overruled and it was decided we would learn the song – it was a hit and our band got gigs because we played songs people liked. I’d heard it on the radio a bunch of times and dismissed it as another disco song with a simple, repetitious beat. However, when we practiced it as a band, I couldn’t get it to feel the way it did on the record. And I could never put my finger on why it didn’t sound right to me. It was a simple enough beat and the guys in the band were fine with how I played it – but when the breaks came, the drummer on the record, whoever he was, played them way hipper and cooler than me. And there was this “lift” in his playing that just made it feel so good. I thought, “How could a disco drummer be so good?” Of course, I would learn 20 or so years later, it was Steve Gadd. No wonder! I felt a sense of relief… now it all made sense. Of course it sounded and felt great!
I told Steve that story about 12 years ago over lunch, and he laughed and said, “That’s a good tune.” But it’s a great example of how Steve can make even the simplest beat feel hip and cool. By the time I realized who Steve Gadd was, after hearing Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, our relationship had improved dramatically, although we hadn’t even met! I remember seeing the movie “One Trick Pony” and being floored by him. I actually met Steve for the first time in 1982 when I was working at EU Wurlitzer, and he was doing a photo shoot for Zildjian right next door. Armand Zildjian, Lennie DiMuzio, Jerry Donegan and David Deranian, came into Wurlitzer to borrow some cymbals for the shoot, and Lennie suggested I deliver them so I could meet Steve. Steve doesn’t remember it, but I do. The photo shoot was for this famous Zildjian ad…
We met again a few years later at a NAMM show when I worked at DW, and when we met again a couple of years after that, in October 1989, at the Buddy Rich Memorial Concert in LA and I was working for Zildjian, he said, “You look familiar. Have we met?” After that, I was in! He does have an amazing memory. I worked closely with Steve when I produced the 2003 Zildjian Drummers Achievement Awards that honored him and Armand Zildjian (I could write entire blog about that!), and the six “Mission From Gadd” tours from 2005 until 2011, and there is no one more dedicated than he is. He’s a true perfectionist and it shows in his body of work. And I know this might piss off Rick Marotta, but Steve might be the funniest guy I know! Ok, he’s right up there with Rick. And speaking of Rick, if you ever get him and Steve together in a room, be sure to record it, because you’ll hear some of the funniest and wackiest stories you can ever imagine. I’ve been together with them a number of times and each time my stomach hurt the next morning from laughing so much.
A quick sidebar: Two years ago, April 2011, I met The Drum Brothers (Alessandro Lombardo and James Payne) in Milan, Italy during a Zildjian Artist Session. They showed me The Drum Brothers website and asked for my help in getting some artists involved and of course Steve Gadd was on their wish list. I said to the guys, “How about you make it funny and have Steve make a cameo appearance delivering a pizza while you guys are practicing” and they loved the idea. My initial idea was: Steve shows up at the door delivering a pizza and says, “Hey, are you guys drummers? I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the drums. Can you show me a few things?” Then it cuts to him playing “50 Ways”, saying “How am I doing?”. I knew Steve would be into doing it for a laugh, it was just the logistics of him being in Italy to do it. Well, a year later he was in Italy with James Taylor, and playing a show in Milan with a day off. This was our chance. I called him and reminded him of the idea and how funny it would be, and to cut a long story short, he met with Alessandro and James and they made one of the funniest videos ever! Steve improvised a bit, which I think made it better. It was an instant YouTube sensation!
We did our first US Mission From Gadd tour in April 2005. Steve hadn’t been on a clinic tour, or done many clinics in almost 20 years, so there was a lot of excitement. It did take some convincing, though. Being the humble guy he is, he wondered if people would really want to come out and see him. He came to the NAMM show that January of 2005 and I brought him to the reception for our top independent drum dealers and one-by-one, they all said, “Steve, we’d love to have you for a clinic.” He was finally convinced. Who’d have thought that 30 years after learning “Do The Hustle” I’d be traveling around the US on a tour bus with the guy who recorded that song. Or more to the point: who’d have thought that I’d be touring the US with Steve Gadd! We had some amazing times on those tours… In fact, it was Steve who got me back into running again. Our first date of the first “Mission From Gadd” tour in April 2005 was in San Antonio, TX and Steve had been telling me for months that I should take up running again. So we went to a sporting goods store and I bought some Nike running shoes and that’s when I started running – on the first Mission From Gadd tour, and I’ve been hooked ever since! The first thing Steve asks me when we talk is, “Have you been running much?” Some of the greatest memories and funniest moments in my 24 years with Zildjian were with Steve on those Mission From Gadd tours, or just hanging with Steve.
Here’s a video I shot moments before our first clinic in Tilburg, Holland on Mission From Gadd Europe, April 22, 2010.
I have a million funny stories about Steve. In 2005, after the first “Mission From Gadd Tour” we started talking about and planning the next one, which would be a West Coast tour in October of 2005. One day, we’re on the phone and he said, “I heard Dennis (Chambers) received an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music. That’s great. Tell him I said congratulations.” At the same time, I was in contact with PAS who was inducting him into the PAS Hall of Fame later that year at PASIC in Columbus, OH – it was a busy year! So I contacted Roger Browne, the President of Berklee College, and said wouldn’t it be great if Steve received an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee too. Roger, who’s a drummer himself and huge Steve Gadd fan, thought it was a great idea and put the wheels in motion and asked me to contact Steve just to let him know. So I called Steve and I’ll never forget his response; it was hilarious! It was something like this, “Berklee wants to give me an Honorary Doctorate? Wow, that’s great. I’m really honored. You know, John… I was in the army too… do you think they can make me an Honorary General?” And we both broke out in hysterical laughter! Another “you had to be there” moment, but for weeks and months after that, every time we spoke he’d say, “Hey John, how’s it going with making me a General?”
Steve is one of the best joke-tellers you’ll ever meet. Just like Hal Blaine… it’s their perfect timing. Another great story goes back five years ago, June of 2008, I was in London planning for the 2008 Zildjian Drummers Achievement Awards, which took place in December of that year and was originally going to honor Ginger Baker and Mitch Mitchell. Sadly, Mitch passed away a few weeks before the event. Anyway, I was having dinner with Mitch and Steve White, (who performed beautifully at the event), and Mitch was asking all these questions about Steve Gadd. All of a sudden my phone rings and it’s Steve! Steve White gave me a little smile thinking I’d planned it, but it was purely coincidental. I handed the phone to Mitch, and he Steve chatted away for 10 minutes, telling each other how much of a fan they were of each other. It was a beautiful moment and a great night.
The last official, full-blown “Mission From Gadd” tour we did was in Europe in 2010. It was actually two tours, due to the volcanic ash over Iceland and having to postpone the first five dates of the tour in April. When we rescheduled the five dates for September 2010, we added another 10 or so dates to the tour. The first tour in April was a bus tour like all the other “Mission From Gadd” tours and challenging at times due to some long hauls. The second tour in September was all fly dates, which was harder, but we made the best of it, and a big thanks to Steve’s drum tech, the legendary Yard Gavrilovic. On all the previous US Mission From Gadd tours, I was Tour Manager, Drum Tech, PR, you name it. Having Yard with us made it much more comfortable, but don’t tell him I said that – he’ll want to be paid more next time! When we finally made it to England for the rescheduled date in Reading, my good friend and boss at Simmons Electronic Drums, Glyn Thomas, was there and it was a thrill to introduce him to Steve. Glyn hired me in 1985 and gave me my start in the music industry. They hit it off like old friends. In fact, Glyn drove us from the store where we did the “meet & greet” to the venue and it was great to catch up with him. Both of the European tours were amazing, though exhausting when all was said and done. We got a lot of mileage out of the Mission From Gadd concept (no pun intended) and I consider all of those tours some of my best work, and proudest accomplishments.
There are lots more stories and lots more to say, and I promise to continue this some time in the future… For now, here are some more photos and thanks for reading…
Happy Birthday, Steve! Love, The Viper xo 🙂