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Steve Gadd: Consummate Drummer

R.J. DeLuke By

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"I like some of the stuff that Walt does that really reminds me of that time. I love it," notes Gadd. "We didn't plan on that or say that's what it's supposed to be. Those things just happen because of the background of the players and the love of the music that everybody's listened to and played.

The drummer did not write any tunes for the album. "There was one we all collaborated on, The other songs people brought in and I would insert the kind of ideas I would insert if I was writing it. Trying to make the form interesting. If someone comes in with a song and it feels good but needs to go someplace else for awhile, those are the things that I would bring to the table. Just to keep it interesting to the listener, so they don't get bored with it. So we don't get bored with it."

When he does decide to write music, "it can either start with a groove that I would try to sing a melody or bass line over, or it could start with a beautiful melody that I'm hearing in my head. With the little writing I've done, it's happened both ways. I haven't spent the time to write. It's something I'd like to do more of."

The band is going to Asia and Europe, followed by dates in the States after that. "We'll figure that around what James is going to do, because James has a new album coming out that we played on." Hopefully, he'll go out and do some playing to back that up," says Gadd.

The new record, Before This World, is due out June 16. on Concord. It's Taylor's first album of new material since October Road in 2002.

"It's great to be involved with that much good music and great people," Gadd says. As much demand as the drummer has been in for so many years, it might seem an exercise in insanity to get everything straight; to adjust to so many different kinds of musical situations. But, Gadd is the consummate pro and is unruffled. His approach is consistent and his experience and talent, of course, guide him through the process.

"If it's a tour, where they have music they want to play, I would ask them to send me the versions that they like," he explains. "I would listen to them and make notes. I'd start by trying to emulate that. Then, the more you learn the music, the evolution starts. But it can't start until you start playing. I would start out by trying to play what was already played and get to know the music from that point of view. And then as you get to know the players and the artists more, you start to realize where it can change or where the artist might want it to stretch a little differently. There's not any set way that it happens.

"With studio work, a lot of times you don't hear the music before you get in there. You go in and listen to what people are saying. I try to get them to play either the demo or get them to sit at the piano or the guitar and play the song before we start playing so that when people start using words, you know what they're referring to. If you've never heard the song, its just words. That's one rule I try to keep in place: to listen to what the song is before we do it in the studio. You either have the artist sing it or play it, or a lot of times they have a demo."

Gadd has many great memories from playing with such an impressive roster of musicians over the decades. But he doesn't sit and recount stories, as numerous as they probably are. "But I try to take something home from all those situations. I'm into music and enjoying what I'm doing. I learned a lot from Paul Simon in the way that he produces his music and puts a tour together. He never stops trying to make it better. He doesn't want to settle for anything less than it could be. That's the way he works.

"On the other hand, Eric Clapton goes in to do these shows and doesn't do a sound check. He doesn't like to disperse the energy before the show. That's a different way to approach it. They're both valid. It depends on what situation you're in and which you can apply. Which one needs to be applied... The way it works is I approach every situation and use whatever I've learned and try to apply it to what I'm doing. That doesn't mean I'm trying to apply everything I've ever learned. Certain things I've learned would apply and certain things wouldn't. And that's the choice I have to make," Gadd says with a calm demeanor that belies its importance.

"Paul has a thing that he wants to hear. He puts big bands together and he knows what everyone should be doing. He rehearses enough to where the part is the best it can be. Then you just have to try and perform it every night and not really go away from it unless he wants you to. Other engagements are approached differently. It's a little bit freer. But there are always some kind of boundaries. You have to know where the boundaries are."

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