© Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
I’ve shared this quotation from trumpeter, composer and bandleader Wynton Marsalis before, but it bears repeating in the context of this blog feature: “Change the rhythm and you change the music.”
Drummer Steve Gadd changed the rhythm and he changed Jazz.
The revolution that he brought to Jazz drumming is akin to what Gene Krupa did for swing music, Kenny Clarke and Max Roach did for bop, Philly Joe Jones did for hard bop and the polyrhythms that Tony Williams and Elvin Jones brought to Jazz in the 1960s.
Of course, many other drummers made their contributions to changing the “time feel” of Jazz and therefore changing the music over the years but, with the exception of Tony Williams, few other drummers bridged Jazz into Rock and Salsa to the extent that Steve Gadd did.
Earl Palmer, Jim Keltner and Hal Blaine made a fortune as “in the pocket” Hollywood studios drummers for Rock sessions and while are all very fine drummers, Steve Gadd brings many added dimensions to the backbeat drumming that predominates in today’s Jazz-Rock fusion.
He wraps the backbeat in a New Orleans marching band syncopation in the manner of drummer Idris Mohammed, simplifies the right-hand cymbal beat to a straight four-four, plays a cow bell as though it is a ride cymbal to create Latin Jazz inflections which he also heightens with the addition tom toms; tunes his drums to sound flat and tubby including a tight, cracking sounding snare drum and carefully crafts sustained grooves that give the music insistence and intensity.
Steve grooves, cooks and burns; his playing is never flashy but he always envelopes you in the rhythm he lays down.
His versatility is such that he sounds equally at home backing Rock vocalist James Taylor, or the late, pianist Michel Petrucciani or making classic Jazz recordings with Chet Baker, Paul Desmond and Jim Hall.
Yet, whatever the setting, you can tell immediately that it’s Steve Gadd.
At one time in Jazz parlance, to refer to a musician as a “bad” player meant just the opposite. A “Bad” player was one who had the epitome of skills, one who sometimes left you shaking your head in disbelief over what you had just heard.
“Badd” Steve Gadd is one such musician.
- The editorial staff at JazzProfiles
No, the blog is not becoming a destination for drummer-only features, although with this one about Steve Gadd following on the heels of the previous post about drummer Billy Cobham, I suppose one could draw that conclusion.
In a way, posting about Steve is a natural extension to the one on Billy for all the reasons outlined in the italicized explanation that opens this piece. [Incidentally, as a point in passing, they both come from drum corps and army band drumming experience and you can hear that rudimentary approach in both of their styles.]
The following interview is drawn from the expanded edition of Ben Sidran’s Talking Jazz: An Oral History [Da Capo 1995]. The book is still available in print and aural formats. The book is centered on a series of lengthy conversations a number of Jazz notables had with Ben Sidran on his National Public Radio series “Sidran on the Radio” from 1984-1990.
Aside from being a performing musician himself, Ben holds an advanced degree in American studies so his interviews are able to place the musicians’ within a broader socio-cultural context. In stimulating, personal, and informative discussions, the Jazz players actually participate less in interviews than in discussions with Ben that not only reveal their personalities, but also detail aspects of the performance, technique, business, history, and emotions of jazz.
"Sidran doesn't just ask his guests questions, he interacts with them much in the same way he would if he were accompanying them on a jazz gig, letting the soloist or the singer make a statement, followed by his response to the statement, adding to the overall vocabulary of the tune. This type of interviewing is a godsend to the jazz musicians who have had to put up with years of musically, and oftentimes racially insensitive questions, cliches, and half-truths.... Sidran's poise, intelligence, and ease of delivery puts the most guarded musicians at ease."
—Quarterly Black Review of Books
"Sidran knows a lot about these people and he's excited about their art, so he didn't find it hard to get them to talk. He gives us as much of the atmosphere as he can, preserving the verbal idiosyncrasies.... As you read, light bulbs switch on: that's what was going on when she recorded that; now I can see where he got that sound." —LA Weekly
The following interview took place in March 1989 and was prefaced with this statement from Ben:
“Because he's appeared on thousands of today's hit records, Steve Gadd is sometimes overlooked by jazz critics who fear that being the originator of so many popular dance grooves automatically disqualifies a player from being an artistic innovator. On the other hand, Steve almost always places at or near the top of readers' polls, and even after several years of self-imposed retirement due to his determination to get on top of a chemical dependency problem, he continued to lead the pack of modern drummers in fan appreciation. Steve Gadd is not only a musical innovator but a survivor, and his lasting success, as much as his rhythmic approach, has been an inspiration to several generations of younger drummers who have followed him in the jazz business.”
"Ben: Your contribution to contemporary music, from the mid-'70s to the mid-'80s, has been as significant as that of any composer or arranger, which for a drummer, I think, is extraordinary. Did you have any idea when you were a kid back in Rochester, New York, that you were headed for this kind of notoriety? Did you have any vision of changing the way the music was put together?
Steve: No, I had no idea. I really had no idea. It's amazing the way things just fall into place, you know? I guess I had a dream of playing professionally, and maybe gettin' in the studios, but back then I didn't know if it would ever come true.
Ben: I've heard stories about you performing as a young child, dancing.
Steve: My brother and I used to tap dance. I used to play the drums with a record, you know, my mother would hold a microphone near this little portable record player, and I'd play along with the "Stars and Stripes Forever" or "In The Mood." You know, Glenn Miller's "In The Mood." And then my brother and I would tap dance together, most of the time along with records. We'd go to different hospitals and play for the patients, or, like, youth weeks, where we'd perform at an outside bowl in Rochester. Yeah, I remember that. It was fun.
Ben: You were really young. Six, seven years old.
Steve: Yeah, eight, nine.
Ben: Tap dancing is something Max Roach has talked about as being the
basis for a drummer's style. How did it affect your style? Steve: Well, I don't know if it's the basis, but I mean, I think anything that you do rhythmically, you know, you can apply to the drums, 'cause the drums are a rhythm instrument. And it might have helped with the way I play the bass drum. I'm not saying that it definitely did, but I don't think it could hurt.
Ben: At what point did you get involved in drum corps music? Steve; I guess when I was about eleven or twelve I started playing in a drum corps. The first corps was sponsored by a volunteer fire department. And so we'd march in a lot of parades. And then there was a junior corps, and then a few years later, I got in the senior corps, which was more,. . they'd go and do competitions on weekends. There were some parades, but it was mostly like these competitions in different cities. And I got into writing drum parts and we had a really good drum section. We didn't, the drum section, didn't only play in the corps together, but we were friends outside too, you know, and we were thinking drums all the time. If we were hanging out watching TV, like, we always had a pair of sticks with us, and I'd be playing on my shoe, and if we had a basketball, we'd be playing on top of the basketball. It was just drums that went along with everything. You know what I mean? They were just a part of the 24-hour day.
Ben: What were you listening to musically when you were twelve or thirteen or fourteen?
Steve: My Uncle used to buy me jazz records, like Art Blakey, and Max Roach, Oscar Peterson. I listened to some Dixieland, the Dukes of Dixieland. I listened to Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich. And I was listening to ,.. I remember when Elvis Presley became popular. I listened to that. I remember the first time I heard "Don't Be Cruel." I loved it. It had such a nice feel to it. And then on the b-side was "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog," and then there was Fats Domino, you know, like "I'm Walkin' " and "Blueberry Hill." So a lot of the things that they were playing on the radio I listened to because, as kids, we used to play outside and we'd hook up a radio and plug it in outside, so the music was part of the, you know, it was happening along while we were playing. God, you know, you're taking me back now. It's hard to remember all the stuff I used to listen to. The Platters...
Ben; Just looking at your face recalling this, those must have been romantic times for you.
Steve: Oh yeah, well they were. Growing up and, you know, like, hanging out with the kids in the neighborhood and your girlfriend, stuff like that.
Ben: There's a story that Buddy Rich wanted you to travel with him when you were a young kid. Is that the case?
Steve: Ah, no. That wasn't true. I remember... Gene Krupa used to come to Rochester with his band, and I used to go sit in with him. And my brother and I used to go tap dance, you know, his band would play and we'd dance. And there was a rumor that when they did The Gene Krupa Story he wanted me to play the part of him as a child, but it never developed, it never happened.
Ben: You also studied tap dance at a dance school or something?
Steve: Yeah, my teacher's name was Curly Fisher. My grandmother used to take me for lessons. Take me for drum lessons and take my brother and I for dance lessons.
Ben: Did they want you to be a musician or a performer?
Steve: I don't know if they did. I think they got a lot of enjoyment while I was doin' it as a kid, but I don't know if they really wanted that for me when I got older. I know after I moved ... I moved out of Rochester when I went into the Army. Well, the first time I moved out was, I went two years to Manhattan School of Music my first two years of college. And then I transferred back to Eastman School of Music and went three years there, which was in Rochester, so I was back home again. But then I left in 1969 to go into the Army and that was really... Then I really wasn't back in Rochester for any length of time. From there, when I got out of the Army, I went back to Rochester for a short period, but then I went to New York. And that's where I stayed up until about a year and a half ago. But when I went home, my grandmother was always wishing that, you know, I was doing something in Rochester. They were sorry it sort of took me out of Rochester.
Ben: Did you play in the army also?
Steve: I played in the army field band at Fort Meade, Maryland. For three years. And my first year was in the concert band. And then they put like a studio band together. Which was like a band the size of Buddy's band. And I was in that for my last two years. And we were like the official touring band of the army. So we were on the road about six months out of the year, I think, five or six months, doing tours by bus. I remember, you know, not really liking it that much while I was in it, but looking back, it was good duty. They had good players in this band, they had good writers, and the arrangers were constantly coming up with new material. We had rehearsals every day, so you had to sight read different things. So, I mean, it was really good on a disciplinary level for reading and stuff like that. It really was helpful.
Ben: In '69 of course, a lot of guys were goin' in the army and not coming back. They were goin' to Vietnam.
Steve: Yeah, well, I had a choice of either getting drafted, and taking my chances going to 'Nam, and a lot of my friends went and didn't come back. And I figured, you know, I had a choice. I could either go in on that level or I could try to get in the band. Or I could move somewhere else and just evade the whole thing. And I guess the simplest thing was to just go in. And I was lucky, 'cause I got in a good band and met some nice people. And it wasn't the best experience while I was going through it, but I look back on it and it wasn't that bad, you know. I had some good times.
Ben: It's interesting to hear you say it was "the simplest thing." I think of your music as being based on that a lot. You know, the simplest thing that you can think of often is the most effective. When you play, what would seem very simple on the surface is often very moving.
Steve: Well, you know, that happened gradually. 'Cause before I came to New York, I was one of these people, when I played it was like the last time I played. You know, I wanted to get all my licks in. But you start getting in the studio and you get a chance to hear things back, and a lot of times what would have been exciting live, when it's just in the studio and you get a chance to hear that intensity back, it can be too confusing. You know, it can be too complicated, and when you lose the sense of sight, I think you have to sorta simplify things, and it makes the music sound stronger when you're just listening to it. You know, when you play live, and people can see you, maybe you can get away with that more, but I learned from hearing things back that lots of times less is more and more effective, and it became a challenge to try and play the minimum that you could play and make it sound full. And if you could, you know, start on that level, you could either stay there and the music would be good, or you could do very little and make it build. And it became a challenge to do that.
Ben: You might have been one of the first of the new breed of studio drummers to grasp that aspect of it. That you were not just playing live in the studio. That you were manufacturing records.
Steve: Well, it didn't come to me all by myself. I mean, I heard other people play who, you know, inspired me along those lines. Like, I remember when I got out of the service I heard Dobie Gray do "Drift Away," and the drummer on that, Kenny Malone was the player, and boy, he sounded so good, the feel was so nice, and everything he played was just perfect for the music, and had its own space. And then I heard, and I don't know if it's true, but I heard that he was in the service as a career, and started his recording career after he got out of the Navy band. And it was so clean, and the thing just fell right in the pocket. And so that was an inspiration to me. And also Rick Moratta, who's a good friend of mine. I heard him play, you know, when I came to New York, and he comes from a place where the groove and the feel was so nice, and with very little effort. It's like you take the simplest thing that you think anyone can do, but when I heard him do it, it was like, "Hold it," I mean, "that's the way to do it!" And so hearing that was also a big inspiration to me. To know that there was another side of playing other than just playing as much as I could do technically and as fast as I could get around the instrument and as intense as it could be. I mean, you can get another kind of intensity from playing a real simple kind of way, and really, you know, doing everything on purpose. You know, no matter how simple it is, like doing it real intentionally. And trying to play the time and make it feel as good as you can, so the other people playing with you feel good playing. So it's for them, not as much for yourself, but more for the other people that you're playing with. You know, it wasn't a constant solo. It was like there was a time where you played for other people and then if there was space for you to solo, then you had it. Then you had a chance to get it out of your system. But not continuously through the whole thing.
Ben: Well, in 1975, a piece of music came out and it was a big pop hit and musicians everywhere immediately noticed the drum part. This is Paul Simon's "Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover" The feel you contributed was kind of a little watershed event, to be honest, for a pop tune. A lot of musicians lit up when they heard your drum figure because of the way you put that floor torn beat on the four, and the way you broke up a simple kind of march rhythm and made it so funky. Were you aware that what you were doing on that date was really so different?
Steve; I don't know about that. I know that I was doing a lot of work in those days. I started to get real busy, and it was a challenge for me to try and not do the same thing on every album that I played on. And it was also inspiring to me to get called to play a variety of different styles of music. It wasn't just pop, but I was doing some jazz things on CTI, and ... but for "Fifty Ways," Paul was constantly looking for something new. It was like when you went in to do a session with Paul, if you had a set of drums, you had to sort of like do other things to try and come up with something... It was almost like it was drums and percussion, you know. On one track I remember taking this rubber pad that you use to warm up with so you don't make a lot of noise, and I turned the snares off and played with mallets on that. It got like a real percussive sound. And then, another time, it was late in the evening, playing with two sticks in each hand. I mean, I was constantly inspired to come up with new things, you know, and he pushed me to do it. It wasn't like I came in with all these ideas, but he was constantly, you know, looking for something different. And like I was playing a lot in the studio, and between takes I would practice, just, different things, just, like, using the left hand and the high hat.
And just, you know when you're behind the instrument that many hours a day, I just tried to think of new things to keep from going crazy, and I was lucky enough to be able to use some of the new things on people's records, and that just happened to be one of them. That was sort of like a little thing that I had been practicing, and I really had never used before, and it worked right for the tune. And we had tried the tune, like, a bunch of different ways, you know, like Paul wasn't really satisfied. I started doing that stuff, and Phil Ramone was the producer. I don't remember exactly how it went down, but it just sort of fell into place and it worked nice. I had no idea that it was going to be that big. And I remember that day that Bruce Springsteen was there too. This was before Bruce was really known. And Hugh McCracken had brought him in. I guess that they were hanging together, and he said: "This guy is gonna be a big star." And sure enough, sure enough, he's one of the biggest, you know. It's amazing.
Ben: It brings to mind that when you're living in the middle of history, it doesn't feel any different than every other day. History feels ordinary from the inside.
Steve: It felt like every day. I mean, I was into my own thing. I was into trying to play this drum thing, and I'm sure Huey introduced me to Bruce, but it was just like, you know, you meet so many people, you know what I mean? But I remember that McCracken said "This guy is going to be gigantic. This guy is tremendous." I'll never forget it.
Ben: At the same time that you were playing all these studio dates, you were playing with jazz groups and jazz musicians and playing everything. And the result of which I think was you were able to really push the boundaries of the pop sessions that you played on. One session that people always like to talk about is the Steely Dan "Aja" track, as being a moment when pop music got extended by virtue of the drums you played. It was with Wayne Shorter on tenor, Chuck Rainey on bass, Larry Carlton, guitar and Joe Sample on piano [Victor Feldman may have been the pianist on this track.]
That session, at the time, was kind of legendary. I mean, it was important because pop music suddenly took a turn left. Do you remember that recording session?
Steve: I remember... yeah, I do remember it. And it was amazing. The sessions went real smooth. I mean, it was a period in my life where I was doing a lot of different sessions. I think I did a Leo Sayers session that time too. Like, ''You Make Me Feel Like Dancing." You know, I was out in LA, and people would hear you were out there and they'd figure, well as long as you were there, let me see if I can get you on an album, get you to play a track. It was just like, everything was happening. You know what I mean? Like it was just great music, great tracks, and the thing about the Steely Dan thing was that, rumor had it that sometimes it wasn't easy to get tracks. They were very meticulous about what they accepted and what they didn't. And I'm not sure if they had been working on "Aja" with other musicians before, or if they'd been working on other tracks, or if they were talking about other albums, you know, like in just the way that it went down. But everyone had their head into like probably it was going to take a long time to get it, if we ever would get it. And that day, it just seemed to fall into place. We did the thing, it happened. And it was great. We got the track pretty quick, and it was just one of those magic moments, I guess.
Ben: In the midst of all this activity, you had a band called Stuff. Even today, musicians talk in terms of a Stuff groove. "Let's do it like Stuff would have done it." The work you did back then has become almost like a short hand for a kind of a feel.
Steve: Well, Stuff was a band. It didn't start out as Stuff. It became Stuff. It started out as The Encyclopedia of Soul. And it was Gordon Edwards who actually put the whole thing together. Gordon, who played bass, and Charlie Brown played saxophone, Cornell Dupree played guitar, and there were different keyboard players. I think Jimmy Smith played sometimes, and Richard Tee played. And the first time I did anything with them, we played like this wedding reception out in Brooklyn. And then the band started working at Mikells. And that was when Richard Tee started doing it. And when he couldn't do it, it was Jimmy Smith or sometimes Paul Griffin, and Christopher Parker was the drummer. And they were working, like maybe four nights a week. And I went up and heard them, and they sounded fantastic.
This was at a point in my life when I was living in Woodstock, and I was playing in a band up in Woodstock with Mike Mainieri and Warren Bernhardt and Tony Levin. That's why I had moved to Woodstock. The idea was to get this band off the ground and so I was spending four days in Woodstock, or three days in Woodstock, and four days in the City. One or the other. I'd come in and take as many sessions as I could get in three days. And then I'd go up to Woodstock and we'd rehearse for four days. And it was back and forth. And I went and heard the band at Mikells, and I told Christopher, I think they were working four nights there, four or five nights, I'm not sure. I said "Listen, if you ever can't do it every night, man, I'd be glad to alternate with you, you know." So Christopher said, "Yeah." Because he was busy in the studio, and sometimes it wasn't easy. You know, you worked until four in the morning, and then getting up to do a ten or a nine o'clock session.
And I was in town, so I started splitting up the nights with Christopher. He'd work two nights and I'd work two nights. And then, the band, as we played, the band got real tight. Plus the fact that there was something about the way they all played that I had never experienced, you know? Like the groove, and just the feel and stuff. I mean, I felt I had so much to learn from playing with someone like Tee and playing with Gordon. Because, just as I had approached music on another level, you know, like bebop on another level, these guys approached this music just as intensively, but from a simpler way, a simpler song form. But you know, to be able to make that simple song form get as intense as, like, some of the outer stuff I'd ever played, it was... you know, they did it. And it was done on a real simple level and a real groove level. And it was a challenge.
And then the band got real good, and we got a record deal. Warner Bros wanted us to record. Tommy LiPuma was going to produce the first album. And then Eric Gale got in the band too, so there were two guitar players. So there was Eric, Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee, Gordon Edwards, Chris Parker on some nights, and me on other nights. And when we got the album deal, Gordon wanted everyone to be involved in it, that had participated in getting it to that level. So we went with two drummers. And it worked out good. I had a lot of fun with that band.
Ben: You mentioned the influence of Tommy LiPuma on that record. It's through Tommy that you and I first met, right around late '79, I guess it was, when we made a record called The Cat in the Hat. And what I remember specifically about those sessions, I remember one tune that we did just one take of. It was called "Ask Me Now," it was a Monk tune that I had written some lyrics for, and it felt great after one take. And after the take, you jumped up from the drum kit and said: "Okay, that's it." And I said: "Well, I'd like to do it again, because I really could do it better from my point of view." And you looked at me and said: "Everybody knows you can get it right. But nobody cares. What counts is how it feels."
Steve: [Embarrassed laughter.]
Ben: It really stayed with me. I've found it to be good advice in the studio.
Steve; Nobody cares if you get it right.
Ben: Yeah. You looked me dead in the eye and told me in no uncertain terms that people care about the feel, not the correctness of what you're doing.
Steve: Well that's what I cared about, anyway. As I get older, I probably believe what I said then [laughs], but I know now, I know more now about how much I don't know. So I'm not sure if nobody cares if you get it right. I'm sure you cared if you got it right, but, you know, back in those days, I was in the studio a lot. And one thing you get to feel is when the thing is magic. And I really believed there were a lot of takes that were magic, and I mean magic on a real musical level, where everyone was listening, and it was sensitive, and it laid right, and no one got in anybody's way, and it was music. And I had been involved in a lot of situations where that magic was just thrown away for perfection. Maybe I was a little outspoken in those days, but I believe in the magic.
I just hated ... Sometimes you can go over it and go over it, and get one little thing perfect, but you can throw out a lot of magic, you know? Like for one little thing that wasn't right, you can throw away like a beautiful piece of music. And it will never be as beautiful again. It might be perfect, but it might not be as musical as far as I'm concerned. And I know for me, like, if I'm concentrating on only my performance, I can forget there's a whole other group of people that are making up this music with me, and I have to take them into consideration too. I mean, they're out there trying as hard as they can to make it happen, too, and so I think sometimes it's better to let something weird go by on a personal level, for the benefit of the group as a whole. And that's where the music comes from, from the group as a whole, not just from one person. It comes from everybody together. So that's probably what I meant by that.
Ben: It takes a lot of confidence to do that. That album we did came out on Horizon Records and, as we speak, is now something of a collector's item. Most of the songs on The Cat In the Hat were first takes, second takes. We really didn't, I don't think, ever get into a third take on the date. One thing that really worked was the arrangement of "Seven Steps to Heaven." We should probably mention that one because it's become so notorious among musicians, particularly drummers. First of all, we were recording bebop standards in a kind of new way, with lyrics and dance grooves. And also because your soloing on that track was phenomenal. It leads up to and through Joe Henderson's tenor solo, and the things you played on the fade sound like a whole Latin percussion session. But it was just you, live at the time, on your kit. I've had to convince drummers that that was a live drum part, Steve; that there were no overdubs, that that was not a percussion section.
That's an extraordinary drum track. Not just from my point of view, but from every drummer who's heard that. Really. And what's fascinating is, you know, I've gone to Japan to play, and I'll work with Japanese musicians sometimes. And the Japanese musicians are very focused on doing it just like on the record. This track drives them crazy. They're trying to do that.
Steve: Some of them can do it, man. They've got some good players over there.
Ben: They do indeed. What do you think when you hear that?
Steve: That particular track was just to try and do that song after Miles did it.. .with Tony [Williams]. I mean, there's no way to do it any better than that. But we came up with a way to do it different. Which I'm thankful for. Because to try and do it any better than the way they did it would have been impossible, you know. To be very honest, when you said we were going to do that song, I was just, I didn't know what to do, I wasn't sure where to go with it. I'm just glad we were able to put it into a style that worked for me. You know, like into a little groove kind of thing, a Latin thing. And the arrangement was real nice. I'm proud of it. That whole album, I like the whole album. I remember "Ballin' The Jack," we had a ball on that one. And I remember the one about the kids ... Ben: Yeah, "Give It To The Kids ..."
Steve: Yeah, that was one of the albums I used to play a real lot after it came out.
Ben: What's turned around a lot of musicians hearing that is your ability to move from a little funk groove, that little march groove on the front, through the Latin thing, through the bashing thing, back to the groove, into the Latin thing again, to shift all those gears, and to keep your identity in the midst of it. You sound like you're coming from one place, doing all those things.
Steve: Well, I love all those different styles. You know, I came from a place where all I played at one point was straight ahead, and I did it with people where they helped me grow doing it. Like I was able to play like ... one time we had a band with Chuck Mangione and Chick Corea, when they got off Art Blakey's band. And Joe Romano and Frank Pullaro, and we were playing six nights a week. And that was one of the first times I had a chance to play with Chick for any length of time, and it really... I learned something from it. You know, I learned how to get comfortable playing a certain style of music, and not just be trying to play it, but it became music, you know? And then, at another time in my life, I played with Chick in a Latin band, where I played with Mingo Lewis, who was playing percussion, and he taught me a lot about Latin stuff. And I love it. I mean, I was able to love Latin as much as I love straight ahead, and from hearing the guys playing groove stuff, I was able to love that ... as much as I loved anything else. And I was lucky enough to have an opportunity to get on that session, where all that kind of playing was called for. It's amazing the way the cards fall into place.
Ben: I remember during those sessions, a lot of the guys on the date were excited about the fact that we were going to play this classic jazz material in a new way. That was what was lighting us all up. We were going to play it, we didn't have to cut "hits." And I think at the time, this was 1979, you were doing so many studio dates, and so many sessions, and so many hit-type tracks, that that was unusual to be able to do these kinds of tunes.
Steve: Yeah, it was. I remember I was playing so many different styles and doing so many sessions that I never felt like I wished I was doing anything else other than what I was doing when I was doing it. Which was nice. Because I always, I had in the back of my mind, I knew that, you know, like if there was a style that I wanted to play that I wasn't playing at that particular moment, like there'd be an opportunity to do it soon, so I was able to stay in the moment. Which is important. I think I have a problem, more of a problem doing that today, you know what I mean? Just, with more time off, and, you know, it's something that I'd like to be able to do more, as a disciplinary thing. I just don't want to do it, because I'm working so much and I'm doing so many different things that that's what's determining me staying in the present. I think it's important to be able to think in the moment. Or else the moment's gone. You know what I mean? If you're worrying about the future or thinking about the past, then you're not living in the present. And the present goes real quick. Like, you know, that second is gone now forever, so it's nice to be in the now.
Ben: That's interesting that all that work you were doing, and you were doing three dates a day, part of the attraction was that it kept you in the moment.
Steve: But to have to stay in the moment by working that hard is pretty crazy.
Ben: We should talk a little bit, also, about the other result of working that hard. Which was substance abuse. And the fact that, after years of living in that particular dream, you have awakened. Why do you think you were able to be taken out by drugs?
Steve: Taken out?
Ben: Taken out. I remember one session, we were waiting for you to show up. You were about an hour late. And somebody said: "Yeah, Steve will show up two hours late, but he'll still be an hour ahead of everybody else." That even if you came in the door late, your reputation was that you were so fast at getting it together anyway, and such a creative force, that you wouldn't slow it down, even then. You were pushing the envelope, you were pushing the boundaries of what you could do, of what was acceptable in the sessions. I think maybe being high was part of that.
Steve: Yeah, I mean I allowed it to happen. I have to be responsible for what happened. No one forced me to do it. I'm still trying to come to grips with "why." You know, your head doesn't clear immediately. I'm sure it had a lot to do with pain I was running away from. Things that I didn't want to deal with. And the whole time that I was using, I see now, is pretty much like a non-growth period. I mean, it was like, a lot of it was like automatic pilot, you know? And so when you stop using, and all the things, whatever they are, they surface gradually. Whatever my fears were, whatever my pain was, it still is. You have to deal with them, sooner or later. I mean, you can only numb 'em for so long, and then you die, or you become a vegetable. I mean, they certainly kill you spiritually. And spirituality is a real important part of life. Knowing that there is a higher power other than yourself takes a tremendous amount of weight off... off me.
And so I have to learn how to live. I mean, I survived for a long time, but I'd like to learn how to live. Part of life is like, I mean, there's happiness and there's sadness, and there's pain. I think, knowing how to live, we're able to deal with pain and not just... Pain is a natural part of life, I think suffering is a decision we put on ourselves. So you either walk through it, face it and walk through it, and get to the other side, and then you've grown. Or you run away from it, but you can only run for so long. You either die running, or you stop and then all of those things have to be dealt with.
Ben: It's almost as if that at the time you were doing so much, and your phone was ringing so hard, that getting involved with drugs was a backdoor way to end it, to make it stop, to make the craziness stop for a while.
Steve: It might have been. You know, it works in funny ways. It might have been my way. It's like my best thinking got me to where I am today. You know what I mean? [Laughs.] And I'm lucky to be alive. I'm grateful to be alive. I'm not saying it's always easy. But I have a lot of hope. I have faith again. My feeling about playing is, I'm starting to feel like my old feelings towards music and stuff. I got pretty bitter for a while. And the reasons I thought I was bitter, you know, before, are now, I brought it on myself. Really, I've got so much to be thankful for, I really had nothing to be bitter about. I'm trying to come to grips with that.
Ben: Sometimes success is harder than failure, eh?
Steve: Yeah, and I don't have the answers. It's just one day at a time.”