Something Else! Interview: Legendary drummer Steve Gadd

Steve Gadd had established himself as one of the most versatile drummers working in music today long before the advent of the Gaddabouts. He used all of that experience in constructing this new band.

Gadd, in fact, first heard something he liked by Edie Brickell back in 2000, and smartly coaxed the retired singer-songwriter into the studio. It then took almost 10 years, between other projects and family, to finally complete what became the Gaddabouts’ initial recording. Thankfully, there wouldn’t be another decade between albums for this deeply familial, groove-focused all-star group, which Gadd completed by inviting along guitarist Andy Fairweather Low and bassist Pino Palladino.

[ONE TRACK MIND: Legendary drummer Steve Gadd takes us inside sessions for Steely Dan's 'Aja,' Paul Simon's '50 Ways,' plus memorable dates with Eric Clapton, Chick Corea and Paul McCartney.]

The Gaddabouts have returned with a two-disc set of songs called Look Out Now!, and Gadd — in the latest SER Sitdown — says he hopes to go right back in January to record still more tracks. Elsewhere, Gadd talks more about this tour-de-force new project, issued Tuesday via Racecarelotta Records, and also what drives his interest in such a vast array of musical styles …

NICK DERISO: The new album begins, I think very appropriately, with a jam-based recording – something that sets the tone for the rest of what happens.

STEVE GADD: I thought it was a good idea to put it up front, because it sort of lets you know the band’s personality.

NICK DERISO: From the first album through to this follow up, the Gaddabouts appear to have grown a lot more close musically. There’s a real sense of camaraderie. Was it easier the second time around?

STEVE GADD: The band’s played once live. We did a thing at Carnegie Hall, before we went into the studio to start the second album. And, it really helped us. Everybody got to know each other a little bit more. We had a ball playing in the studio, and then we played this live gig. So when we went into the studio for the second album, it was a step up. Hopefully, it will continue like that. We’re going to go in and do another one this January — that’s the plan.

NICK DERISO: You’re the rare rock drummer who is just as at home in a jazz context, having worked with Eric Clapton and Chet Baker, with Rickie Lee Jones and Weather Report, with Paul Simon and Stanley Clarke. Why has it seemingly been so easy for you to make the transition?

STEVE GADD: I started out playing jazz, and I love that. When I got out of the Army, and when I got out of college, I went to New York and heard some really good players that had a deep pocket — and a really strong groove. I was challenged, because it was a simpler way of playing that I had been used to. It wasn’t something that I was really comfortable with. I had to go home and really start practicing. The fact that I was challenged by their simplicity helped me learn how to play time more solidly, and then maybe start applying some of those jazz fills over a different kind of groove. The guy I heard was Rick Marotta; he’s got a great groove. I had to go home and practice — not playing a lot of licks, but just playing some simple time. It made me think differently — and I’m glad a did.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Tony Levin goes in-depth on his trio project with David Torn and Alan White, discusses performing on John Lennon's final sessions and contemplates the future for King Crimson.]

NICK DERISO: It seems to me that the magic of your style is your malleability, the way you can adapt to any setting. I always said the same thing about your old school- and bandmate Tony Levin, too. Both of you seem to relish the challenge of a new situation. Why is that?

STEVE GADD: We both went to the Eastman School of Music (in Rochester, New York), and played in the wind ensemble and orchestra. They had a great percussion section in the wind emsemble, and the stuff we played was high level and it was really enjoyable. It had nothing to do with any kind of groove. It was just playing good music with good, young musicians. You just sort of take that and extend that to different things. I loved playing in drum corps. When guys were serious about it, and we had a good drum section, guys tried to play together. When it was good, it was really good. From that, to playing in a jazz group, when you feel it get to a certain level, when the musicality gets really high, it’s great. It’s something to strive for. I was lucky to feel the groove in a bunch of different ways, and I like that. I like the variety.

NICK DERISO: Edie Brickell, of course, had her shooting-star moment of fame with the wah wah-driven “What I Am” in the late 1980s, but had largely retreated from the business to start a family. What told you she would complete the puzzle?

STEVE GADD: I met her when I was out with Paul Simon, before they got married. Then, after they got married, and she had put her career sort of on hold for a while, she had some songs and wasn’t sure what to do with them. So, we went back in the studio, just her and I. We played the songs together, and that’s how it started. I love the way she sings. I think her writing is really unique. That’s the way it began. It took a while, but now she wants to do this. She likes the idea of a band, where people all share, where everyone steps up to the plate and it’s not all on her. She comes in with all of these great ideas, though, and it just sort of falls into place. That’s pretty natural, because what she brings is so good in the beginning.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: The Gaddabouts are more than the sum of their parts, maybe because 'Look Out Now!' is not so much about meeting some expectation, but rather about a shared sense of fun.]

NICK DERISO: On the other hand, the rest of the Gaddabouts are made up of industry vets like yourself.

STEVE GADD: These guys, Andy Fairweather Low and Pino, are guys that I have known for years. And when I heard Edie’s music, I just wanted to pick guys that I respect and love and share it with them. That was the idea at the beginning, and it sort of grew from there. But we are good friends. We do really love and respect each other. And Edie’s a fantastic person to work with.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has also explored music for publications like USA Today, Gannett News Service, All About Jazz and Popdose for nearly 30 years. Honored as newspaper columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section that was named Top 10 in the nation by the AP in 2006. Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.