Dave Irving, drummer with Sad Cafe, who earned a reputation as being one of THE live bands of the late ’70’s and early ’80’s – and who has already been featured here on my blog, writes candidly about his touring experiences in America and of course, his encounters with the inimitable Jeff Porcaro.
My experiences touring the US and working with Jeff Porcaro
Drummer, Sad Cafe
I first met Jeff when the band I was in at the time, Sad Cafe, where on an extensive 3 month tour of the US backing up a top 20 Billboard single over there which was called “Run Home Girl”. Jeff’s band Toto were also charting with their first hit “Hold The Line”
First some history about the beginning of that tour.
We had done a month on the road supporting Santana from west to east coasts, and then a month doing our own gigs again right across west to east. After two months more or less constant gigging we were, dare I say, pretty honed. Santana gigs were difficult as he put lots of obstacles in our way during the first month. I think it stemmed from one of our opening gigs with his band in Anaheim, California.
Sad Cafe Circa 1980
Dave Irving – third from left
This is a huge gig next to Disneyland and it was at the time (’79) prob like a hometown gig to him where lots of local hispanics and others crossing the border San Diego/ Mexico to catch the gig. We went on in front of this huge crowd figuring we’d get short shrift in our 45min slot, but as usual the band stepped up and we left the stage with the massive crowd holding up their lighters and cheering wildly. I don’t think Mr Carlos Devadip wanted us to get such a favourable reaction, and from then on he made it difficult – e.g. Large white carpet on stage we were not allowed to setup on sometimes we had to play all around it stuck at far reaches of the stage. No beer and fags near the stage. We still did ok as we were all seasoned pros who wouldn’t fold under the slightest pressure, and these gigs were important to us. He stopped us playing some iconic gigs as well like Madison Square Gardens NY, and The Aladdin Theatre Las Vegas, and I can’t forgive him for that.
At most of the gigs we would have travelled extensively day and night and there was always a buffet provided dressing room wise as there would never be anytime to eat out etc. Playing a huge gig in Philadelphia called The Spectrum (bout the size of a large basketball stadium) I got a bit ‘cheesed with the spread and made a food face on the chalkboard with the usual slices of ham, some cucumber, mayo, and carrot. Mr Devadip saw me and started ranting and raving about having me thrown off the tour and calling me an animal (Hey RocknRoll baby). I told him to f**k off as his management had all ready been upfronted to have us on and they sure as hell wouldn’t be giving it back
So not much love lost between Carlos and the Caffs. I can remember Ashley our lead playing approaching him at the end of the tour and thanking him and saying how much of an influence he had been on his playing. Carlos blanked him which was unforgivable. So much for his spirituality.
As a consequence of this I swore to take revenge. On the last gig we were introduced to the stage and I went on with a beer in me hand and a ciggie much to the complaints of the surrounding crew I warned em off. At the end of the set I launched the beer onto the carpet and stubbed me ciggie out on it. Some of the US crew pissed themselves and some weren’t so enthusiastic. I waited for reprisals but none came.
Doing our own headliners were a lot better fun. Memorable ones were the Roxy LA, and the Bottom Line New York, both iconic gigs for me as I had albums of some of my faves playing these rooms e.g. Frank Zappa live at the Roxy is still one of my all time favourites. Every band we played with on the tour had a name drummer with e.g. Greg Lear with Santana, UK with Terry Bozzio etc etc I jokingly said it would be nice to play alongside a group over there with a sh*t drummer to everyones amusement.
On we went to a month on the road with Toto and the lovely Jeff Porcaro.
The Great Man in Reflective Mode
Unlike some of the previous ‘undesirables’, we hit it off straight away with the Toto ensemble. I think they recognised some of their traits in us and vice versa. The gigs with Toto were almost all east coast US so the schedule wasn’t as gruelling.
After the first few nights of gigs Jeff jumped on me and introduced himself. Absolutely no stuffiness to the guy at all and really a very nice, talented bloke. He said he loved the sound and tuning on my kit, and we talked at length on our tuning styles. I was playing a blue Tama Imperial Star with concert toms fitted with blue Evans Hydraulics, Jeff was playing a red Slingerland.
*Ed – must talk to you about your tuning style at some point Dave!
After a week he got his drum tech to change his skins to what I was using which amused us all but not the drum tech!!. Jeff would stand in the wings and watch our set every night when we didn’t have to bother with local radio tv station interviews (big pain).
I made him laugh one night when in between numbers I turned around and told him to f**k off as his eyeballs were weighing heavy on my sticks. He said in his gruff voice “No man, great playing”.
That part of the tour was brilliant. Everyone was back and forth between dressing rooms laughing and joking, and on nights off we hit local venues for a pissup and maybe sit in with local bands. If there was a record company do they would always insist we attend and yuk it up and vice versa. We were always on their tourbus and vice versa. Steve Lukather was also great fun and a cheeky chappy.
Steve Lukather ‘Back in the Day’
One night off we went to a local hotel bar were a local band was playing. Their faces I will never forget as they saw two US charting bands walk in the place. We spent the night drinking ‘reverse’ margueritas (back of your head on the bar, mouth brim full of drink, sit up and swallow at the same time… BOOM!) Even a few years back (2013) Lukather was playing with his band in Manc and invited us over still talking bout the stuff we did back in the day.
I wandered into a hotel restaurant in Rochester NY to get some food and Jeff was eating with his father Joe (a famous percussionist) and he invited me over to sit with them. The contrast between people you meet in the industry is sometimes very surprising.
Mr Porcaro, Senior
I think that in this business sometimes people give too much of themselves and Jeff was one of those people if that makes any sense.
At the end of the tour Jeff came to the dressing room and we said goodbye. He offered the opinion that I was one of the best players he’d seen and I of course paid him the same compliment. Again maybe he saw stuff in both of us that overlapped. After all we all borrow from other drummers styles which is what makes us who we are.
As the great Steve Gadd once put it – “We’re all in this together”
Months after returning to UK I got a call from a guy called Alistair Gordon who I had sessioned for in the past. He was a singer songwriter with a reasonable deal from a big label. He was sourcing players for his new album and he had rung Jeff up to ask if he would do it.
Jeff said “Why do you want me when you have Dave Irving on your doorstep?”
So I hope some of the above serves to prove what a great musician and human being Mr Porcaro was. His stature was great even then being the youngest ever drummer to initially tour with the Dan and of course his increasing session status.
You never know but in his rise to be the important groove giant and session player he was he might have pinched one of my licks. I certainly pinched some of his!!
God Bless you Jeff.
Thanks to Dave Irving for his memories. I can’t think of a higher accolade than Jeff Porcaro recommending you for a job! Nice one, fella!
Read more about Jeff in this awesome blog.
All views expressed here are those of the contributors, not Cymskin.