Steve turned 70 last year, and there is no sign of any intention to slow down or retire. He continues to tour extensively with James Taylor and is still first call for Eric Clapton and Paul Simon when available. More recently Steve has been writing and touring with his own band. Featuring the familiar talents of Kevin Hays, Michael Landau, Jimmy Johnson and Walt Fowler, The Steve Gadd Band has enjoyed great success, both recording and touring their own material as well as just allowing audiences the opportunity to see one of the best line–ups you will ever witness live in concert! The recent release of Way Back Home: Live from Rochester, New York, affords fans the chance to own a collectable double DVD + CD set that celebrates the band and Steve’s 70th birthday. In front of an audience in Steve’s hometown, another piece of history is made in an unforgettable live concert.
Soon Steve and The Steve Gadd Band will be in Australia, performing a series of live shows. It’s a rare chance to see Steve up close and personal and playing at the top of his game after seven decades of performing.
I caught up with Steve recently to talk about his return to Australian shores, and started by asking him about his incredible band and its members who read like musical royalty… “I’ve done a lot of recording with Michael Landau over the years and then we’ve toured a lot with James Taylor together. I first met him doing recording sessions in LA and then we’ve been touring together with James for quite a few years. Jimmy Johnson is the same, I met him when I was playing with James and we’ve been touring together doing that gig for about 15 years now. Walt Fowler is a great trumpet player and arranger and comes from a very musical family – I met him on James’ gig also – plus Larry Goldings did the recordings, but is not on this tour to Australia, Kevin Hays is going to take his place. We’re all looking forward to playing with Kevin. We don’t have a history together, but I’ve heard his stuff and we’re going to make a new friend and I’m really excited about it.”
You’ve had successful tours in Europe and Asia so far – how have audiences been receiving you to date?
“It’s been very well received. That’s why we’re able to continue doing this and get down to Australia. We’re very happy with the audiences we’ve had and we want to keep touring this band and visiting the fans wherever we can.”
Can you talk about the song writing process? With this being your band, Steve, how does the material come together for the albums and the tours?
“Pretty much everybody in the band writes, so when we put together an album, we all bring in songs. I take them away and listen to them and pick the material that I think is most conducive for the group. Along the way we’ve chosen some cover songs and various songs we wrote in the studio as band compositions. That’s really how it works – everybody’s original contributions – a few cover songs and some material that we all put our heads together on in the studio.”
There’s a new CD and double DVD package you’ve currently released with the band. Can you talk about when the DVD was filmed and the story behind this package release?
“The live DVD was filmed in my hometown, Rochester New York, at the Eastman Theatre for the Rochester Jazz Festival. It was also a celebration of my 70th birthday. It was exciting and emotional for me to go home and play the Eastman Theatre, where I’ve played a lot before. I went to school at Eastman and did a lot of concerts there during College and other shows with Chuck and Gap Mangione, so it was nice to go back there and take my own band in – I felt a lot of love. It was fantastic. I think the DVD captures that well and I’m happy we did it. It started out with the idea to take some footage as a concept for an advertisement for Vic Firth and we thought if it came out well, we would release it – and it did!”
Are you looking forward to coming to Australia this year? How many times will this be now for you making the trip down under?
“I think it’s 4 or 5 times now but it’s not nearly enough – I love Australia! It’s going to be great to be back and I’ve been wanting to make this trip for a long time. I don’t get down there enough. I hope it will be the start of a continuing relationship and the first of many trips for the future to Australia.”
At 70 years of age you’re playing as great as ever. On one of your DVD’s you said you really didn’t start physically training your body for tours until you were in your early 40’s. Touring is still very rigorous, so is it still an important part of your ability to play as well as you do today?
“Absolutely. I still exercise every day although it can be hard on the road when you’re travelling. I jog and always try to eat well – I do some push ups and just keep focusing on using and exercising my muscles daily. If you stop using them, they stop responding. It’s important, depending on your age, to find a way to exercise regularly that doesn’t tire you out but actually invigorates you. Because I’m doing so much playing, I don’t spend a lot of time just behind the kit practising or experimenting. If I’m home and I’ve got time off, I will always go and sit behind the kit and work on things. I will always continue to exercise and spend time behind the drums just to keep my muscles moving and keep the blood circulating – that’s how you stay ready for the next gig. Some gigs take more stamina than others, so for me it’s important to keep my playing and general fitness at a level that if the gig requires more, then I’m equal to the task.”
The obvious question, Steve, is when you play these days, do you still have to think hard about time and groove? Or has it become just so inherent in your playing from decades of performing?
“No. It’s something that I still have to think about it. Every night you perform, the hall or venue is different and sounds different – or you may be playing with different musicians every night. The groove isn’t any one particular thing! It’s an agreement between the musicians you’re playing with and when it really happens you’re locked into that agreement and committed to the music. That’s what we constantly strive for.”
Do you get much opportunity to see and hear the new generation of players coming through the drumming community these days?
“I hear some of them and I know there are a lot of great players out there. I don’t get as much of an opportunity to go and see them perform as I would like, but I check them out on YouTube and talk to some of them in my travels. I talk to Gerald Hayward – he’s a great guy and I love the way guys like Gerald and Aaron Spears play. Guys like Chris Dave and Mark Guiliana are just fantastic and I’m sure there are guys coming up that I don’t even know about, but there are so many young and talented musicians coming through the ranks these days.”
BY RAY DEEGAN
The Steve Gadd Band will be touring Australia next month. For more details, head to drumtek.com.au