The Life and Times of a Second Call Studio Musician Part 43

The Life and Times of a Second Call Studio Musician Part 43

Dear blog readers, a disclaimer right off the bat!

I had planned on posting the final installment today. The “Epilogue”. As I was working on that, which will wrap up the blog, I thought I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the work I currently do at Berklee, and how the studio career helped so much in my teaching approach. Along with that I thought I would like to share with you some of the student bands I have had at school. To do this I have to travel back in the time machine for a bit.

When I was growing up in Los Angeles, trying to figure out how to do this music thing for a living, the best musicians I worked with in my career, the ones that moved people the most, all seemed to have one trait in common. It really became apparent to me as I was developing as a musician that the thing that separated the greats from the rest of the pack was one quality in particular.


Kind of simple when you think about it. There are only 12 notes, only so many chords to play, only so many styles to play in. There are only so many rhythmic “feels” that we all play. Why do some musicians just use those tools better than others? Regarding notes, chords and styles I can point to concrete evidence. This player has more “knowledge” and “understanding” of those elements than that player. That is about musical “information”. The idea of “feel” or groove is something else entirely, and it seems almost innate to each individual player.

Rhythm is the base element in music. It makes you move, clap, dance. Without a solid, infectious rhythmic feel none of that happens.

At The Berklee College of Music I mainly teach ensembles. Here is my gig. Students sign up for my ensembles and on day one I walk into a room where there will be a drummer, bassist, guitarists, a keyboardist and vocalists. After getting to know them a bit I say “let’s play!” (Nice gig right?) 🙂 I begin working with them and stress the time feel and groove. It really is amazing how many students have a wealth of knowledge and ability but have not developed a real good sense of groove. How what they play “feels”. If the feel is not right the listener has nothing to grab on to. Groove is paramount to being a successful musician.

There is one person that everyone that ever worked with attests to the fact that he was an absolute master in this dept. Here is a short bit of how one Jeff Porcaro described it, courtesy of The MI Vault.

Feel and Groove is not just the drummers territory. Years ago when I was just starting out another great groove drummer, David Smith, said this to me. “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. One musician who’s time and feel is not up to par with the rest of the band can throw the entire performance of the track. When Ron Savage first hired me back in 2003 I came to him with an idea for a class I had. “The LA Studio Ensemble”. This class was to try to emulate what it is like to have good studio skills of which #1 is your feel. Finally in 2008 there came a slot open for this class. We paired it with an engineering class taught by professor Mark Wessel and it’s still going strong. One of the things we do to close out the semester is a “sound alike” We take a sucessful recording and record a good new version of it. Over the years I have done videos of some of these. Here are a few if you care to dig. I think these bands all did the groove justice. I am still in touch with many of these students and I’m happy to report the groove is alive and well!

This was from 2009, one camera, so sorry about the lame video, this was my first one! The song is “The Letter” by Joe Cocker. One of the all time great groove pieces.

This next one has been pretty popular on my youtube channel. Steely Dan’s “My Old School”

And one more. Another Joe Cocker masterpiece. “Unchain My Heart”.

That’s all for today. Next week we get up to date on the Berklee experience, and get ready to close this project out.