I am going to start back in 1938, so some of my dates could be off, and I hope I don't offend any drummer-friends that I may overlook. I will try to name as many drummers with whom I have come in contact with in my musical career.
I was six years old when I met my oldest and dearest friend, Joe Porcaro in September of 1938. I was just starting grammar school, and ran into Joe on the first day of school on the grammar school playground playing his drumsticks on the side walk. I pushed through the crowd of kids he attracted, and introduced myself. I told him that I played xylophone, and that we should get together and play. Well, we've been getting together to play ever since.
One of my earliest teachers at this period was Adolf Cardello, a drum and mallet teacher in my home town of Hartford Connecticut. When ever the big band drummers came through town, they would come up to visit my teacher at his studio. So in the late thirties, I got to meet and hear Gene Krupa, Cozy Cole, Gus Johnson, Don Lamond, and Lionel Hampton, who was as fine a drummer, as he was a great vibe player. I grew up on "Hamp" and his vibe playing. I would play on marimba along with his vibe solos. I grew up in a little Harlem neighborhood, and we had a big stage theater like the Apollo. When ever Hamp's band came to town, my mom would pack me a lunch, and I would go to the theater at 11 A M in the morning and catch 4 to 5 stage shows of Lional Hampton, and his band. I knew the guys in his band would hang out and eat in my neighborhood, so I would put on Hamp's records real loud, open the window, and play marimba along with his albums, hoping he would hear me play.
When Joe and I were between 8 and 10 years old, our local priest started a band at our church. We got to read stock arrangements for big band, with Joe on drums, me on xylophone, and some brass and reed playing kids who have gone on to become professional musicians in their life. One of our young friends in those kid bands was trombonist, Wayne Andre.
While still too young to play in clubs, I would lie about my age, to get to play with drummer Johnny Vines, who used to play with all the Dixie land players. I got to play with guest artists who came through town to play with our group on weekends. I got to play with musicians like Bobby Hacket, Jack Teagarten, Ralph Sutton, Joe Marsala, Wild Bill Davison, Vic Dickerson, and sometimes Buzzy Drutton would come in from New York to play drums with us.
When I was in tenth grade Alexander Lepak, recommended me for the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. Arthur Fiedler, from the Boston Pops was our guest conductor for that first season. Our section consisted of Joe Porcaro, Tele Lesbien, who has completed many seasons as timpanist with the Milwaukee Symphony, Al Lepak as timpanist, and principal, and me as mallet player with the orchestra. I stayed with the orchestra until completing two years of college, working under Maestros Moshe Paranoff, George Heck, and Fritz Mahler.
In 1953, after my second year of college, I got drafted. I spent my two year army hitch in the first cavalry army band, stationed in Japan. Curry Tjader, brother of Cal Tjader was the drummer in our band. Curry practiced longer and harder than any drummer I've ever known. He also studied mallets with me in that band, and a few years later he joined the Baja Marimba Band as their bass marimba player. I met and played with Toshiko Akiyoshi, and one of Japan's leading sax players, Sadao Watanabe. When ever I had extra time in Tokyo, I met and played with drummer J. C. Heard, who was living in Japan at that time.
In 1955, as soon as I got out of the army, I moved to New York, and met Ed Shaugnessy. We both studied with the same theory teacher. He decided to study mallets with me. He had a gig on week ends out on Long Island, and asked me to join his quartet, with Flip Phillips on tenor, and Charly Mingus on bass. I used to try to play so many notes on vibes, when taking fours with Ed on drums, that Mingus used to yell out,"breathe" during my solos. He taught me a valuable lesson in those days, on using space in my playing.
I also met a studio drummer in NY. by the name of Terry Snider, who liked my playing a lot, and helped me to get studio recordings on mallets with Perry Como, Mitch Aires, and the Ray Charles Singers. In the evenings I would go out to Jersey to play for Chris Conner. I know the bass player was Oscar Pettiford, on some of those gigs, but I can't remember the drummer.
I also met Ed Thigpen in New York at this time. He was just getting off the road, and decided to stay in town to be with his family, and to study some vibes with me. I got a call from George Shearing to join his quintet. Ed Thigpen called as I was getting my things ready to leave for the road. He said,"Ijust turned the drum chair down with Shearing so I could stay close to my family, and to study vibes with you." I said, "gee Ed, I just accepted the vibe chair with Shearing, and I'm leaving on the road." To this day Ed tells me he wishes we both could have been together on that gig. I know he would be playing vibes as well as he plays drums, and that would be awesome.
As it turned out Percy Brice was the drummer who joined Shearing's quintet the same time that I did. Armando Peraza was playing congas, and Al Mckibbon was the bass player with the band. Al knew a lot about Afro- Cuban music, and played good congas also, as he had been on the road with the first master of Afro Cuban Conga players to come to America, Chano Pozo. They were both with Dizzy Gilespie's Orchestra. This was to become the greatest learning experience of Afro Cuban music I was to have, for the rest of my life.
The Shearing band got to play together with many other bands on US. tours. One tour I'll never forget took place in the dead of winter. There was the Shearing group along with Miles Davis, who had John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly, Paul Chambers, Wynton Kelly, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. The other groups were Drummer Chico Hamilton and his group, and Jerry Mulligan's group with Donald Bailey on drums. There was a bad flu epidemic, and our drummer Percy Bryce was the first one to get sick. Chico Hamilton played with us for one night, then he got sick and drummer Donald Bailey, from Mulligan's band got the bug. Philly Joe played drums in all the groups for a couple of nights. We ended up doing a few nights with a few players from each band making up just one band. It was a killer flu that year but I was thrilled to get to play with some of the best jazz players on the scene at that time.
After a couple of years with Shearing, Ray Mosca joined the band on drums, and Jimmy Bond joined on bass. I stayed with the band for another year and a half, and Armondo Peraza introduced me to Mongo SantaMaria, and Willie Bobo, who were playing with Cal Tjader’s Band. I got to record a couple of albums with them.
When I first moved to LA. in 1959 the first musician I ran into was Jerry Stienholtz who introduced me to Francisco Aquablla, Carlos Vidol, and Louis Miranda, all great Afro Cuban musicians. Jerry and I have remained the best of friends. I had met Paul Horn on the road. He had been with Chico Hamilton, and was now also settled in LA. I joined his band the first night I moved to town. The drummer in that band was Billy Higgins. I had met Larry Bunker on the road also. He was playing drums with Maynard Ferguson's band. We met again in LA. in '59, and he was the drummer when I first joined Shorty Rogers big band. Some of the other drummers who played with that band at that time were Shelly Manne, Stan Levy, Gary Froman, and Mel Lewis. I played a lot with Paul Horn at the Renaissance Club on Sunset Strip. We played for Blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, Lennie Bruce, Lord Buckley, and Paul Masursky, who has become a great Producer-Director on the Hollywood Scene. Some of the fans that would come to hear our band were aspiring stars Dennis Hopper, Kim Novak, and James Coburn. Besides Billy Higgins, drummers Morice Miller and Milt Turner played with us at that club, and the years we played at Shelly's Manne Hole.
I started doing more and more studio work, and Milt Holland and Sammy Wiess were the first drummers I worked with. Milt had studied Tabla and Indian Rhythms with master tabla player Chatier Lahl, who was playing with Ravi Shankar at the time. Milt was the first one to turn me on to the Indian rhythm cycles. On my first studio call I played vibes and marimba, and Milt had to loan me a tambourine, triangle, and cabasa. Milt said,"Emil there 's a drum shop across the street from the musician's union, where you have to go to pick up your checks. Why don't you go to the drum shop when you get paid, and buy the percussion instruments you get asked to play on a studio call." I said,"Man are you kidding? I came to town with a vibe and marimba, that's all I'm going to play." Many years later Milt was on a session with me, where there were 12 percussionists playing on about 40 of my 650 instruments. He reminded me of what I had said years earlier. Well my collecting did get a little out of hand, I must say.
At the beginning of my studio days, each studio had sort of a staff drummer. I worked with John Williams on drums at Columbia Studios; father of composer John Williams. John senior had come to town with Jerry Calona, who was a trombone player before he got into comedy with Bob Hope. John Sr. had two more sons who are great percussionists in the studios; Jerry Williams, who played drums on a lot of the live T V shows, and Don Williams, who plays drums on all the stage shows that come to town, and is also one of the finest timpanist's in the film studios. There was also Frank Carlson at M.G.M., who was Woody Herman's first "Herd" drummer. I averaged about 3 days a week at M G M with Frank for years. There was Bernie Matheson at Paramount, Richey Cornell at Fox, Milt Holland at Universal, and Irv Cottler at Disney Studios, and Nick Fatool doing a lot of the record dates at Capital Records. I believe the only studio that didn't have a steady drummer was Warner Brothers, where Shelly Manne, Alvin Stoller, and Larry Bunker would play, when needed.
I worked with Alvin Stoller a lot on T V film from the early 60's. we worked on shows like McHale's Navy, The Andy Griffith Show, The I Love Lucy Show, The Gomer Pyle Show, The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, I Spy, And Mod Squad. Alvin could really play mallets, but would tell me not to let the leaders know, because he wanted to only play drums.
The first live T V show drummer I worked with in L A was Bill Richmond. We were doing Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra specials with Nelson Riddle as leader. Bill went on to become the screen writer, and later, producer of all the Jerry Lewis movies. When Bill left, Irv Cottler, (Mr Time) did all the shows. No matter what the tempo was, Irv would lay it down the same every time. I used to check his tempo with a metronome, and it was uncanny, how he could nail it the same every time.
The first road tour I did with Sinatra was in 1960. Sol Gubin was on drums. He's also a great time keeper. Not only is he a great show drummer, but he plays great piano and mallets as well. He was still living in N Y and came out to LA some years later.
Through Irv, I met Remo Belli, Buddy Rich, and Louie Bellson. Though some are gone, those of us left remain close friends.
In 1962 I traveled around the world with Sinatra, and a sextet, with Irv Cottler on drums. This was the beginning of my collecting of exotic percussion instruments. Irv remained Sinatra's drummer to the end of his life.
One of the great percussion writers in films is Jerry Goldsmith. He would use Shelly Manne and me on all his calls. We were working on a picture called Poltergeist. Shelly loved to play on my Paiste cymbals with mallets, and just before our lunch break, Jerry said," every one sit tight for just a couple of minuets, I need Shelly to give me 2 minutes of a long cymbal roll to a loud crescendo, and EMIL, hit a tam tam at the end of the crescendo, on cue." Well the red light went on, and all eyes were on Shelly, as he started the roll. All of a sudden he let his pants fall down, and the whole orchestra is trying to supress their laughs while the tape was rolling! Shelly showed me the sound of rice on a suspended bass drum. He was also the first one to bring the water phone to the studios. Ironically, Joe Porcaro and I and Shelly were working with Jerry Goldsmith at Disney studios on a film project the day Shelly passed away.
The first drummer to turn me on to the record date scene was Earl Palmer. He was the top drummer doing record dates at the time. I started to average about 18 record dates a week with Earl. I would play some vibes, and a lot of timps cymbals and tambourine. We played for Nat Cole, Rosie Cloony, Bing Crosby,and Ray Charles to name a few.
A short time after I started doing records, drummer Hal Blaine came on the scene. He was the first one to introduce multi toms with the drum set on records. We did all the recordings for the Beach boys, the Monkeys, The Everly Brothers and Jan and Dean to name a few. I also worked with drummers Frank Capp, Frank Devito, Norm Jeffries, Nick Cerole and Chiz Harris on sessions. A little later Paul Humphries, and Harvey Mason were as big as Earl and Hal on the record date scene.
I was still doing a lot of live T V shows in between the record dates like The Judy Garland shows, with Shelly Manne and Larry Bunker on drums; the Danny Kaye shows, with Irv Cottler on drums; and the Red Skelton shows with Frank Capp on drums.
I also worked with Frank Capp on the T V film shows, Bonanza, and Little House on The Prairie. I even got to be a contestant on the Gong show as a gag to make drummer Mark Stevens, and the rest of the guys in the band crack up.
A couple of the first T V film shows I did only had a budget for one percussion player. I never really played set drums, but there were more mallet parts than drum parts on some, so I got to play drums on all the Mr. Ed T V shows, and some drums on a few of the Adams family and Munster shows.
The mid 60's saw a lot happening in LA. I was studying tabla and Indian rhythms with Harihar Rao. Don Ellis was studying with him at the same time. Don and I formed the Hindustani Jazz sextet. The drummer was Steve Bohanin,and his buddy Tom Scott on sax. After a time Joe Porcaro became drummer with us in that band and we used to play at Shelly's Manne Hole with that group for years.
Through the Don Ellis days, Tom Scott brought John Guerin on the scene to play jazz drums in the clubs and in the studios. Dante's became the hot jazz club, and John became the hot drummer there, and on film calls. Steve Ettleson also worked Dante's at this time, and probably subbed for more drummers in more groups, than any other living drummer.
Larry Bunker needed a break from the studio scene, so he took a year off to go play with the Bill Evans trio. He later became the drummer with us, when Stan Kenton formed his Neo-Phonic Orchestra in L A.
Around this same time, Nat Cole decided to get a musical show ready for Broadway, with he and Barbara McNair being the principle stars. I went with the show from the beginning,and we had Lee Young, brother of Lester Young, on drums. I left the show after a few months, but Lee Young and I remained dear friends.
In the summer of '64, I took a month off to go to Lake Tahoe to a meditation retreat. I rented a house with Paul Horn, and guitar player Robby Kruger, and drummer John Densmore from the Doors. We used to have jam sessions after our meditations in the evenings, and John played great drums.
I met Frank Zappa early on in his recording career, and played on one of his first hit albums, Lumpy Gravy. I played on some of his other albums like Two Hundred Motels, and was a member of his Electric Symphony. I participated in Zappa projects when Terry Bozzio, Vinnie Colaiuto, and Chad Wakerman were with him. I got to work with Ralph Humphries, another Zappa alumni, on a lot of East Indian projects with L. Subramanium's Group.
Once, while working on a movie project with Vinnie Coliuto, and Steve Schaefer on drums, Vinnie would not stop noodling, and he was playing such great stuff that he had Joe Porcaro, Larry Bunker, Jerry Williams, and me flipping out over his chops. He was driving the leader crazy, as he was trying to correct some notes in the orchestra. He said," who keeps playing all the drums when I'm trying to talk?" and Larry Bunker was so in awe of Vinnie's chops, that he didn't mind taking the blame, or really the (credit), so Larry raises his hands and says,"it was me!"
In 1974 I did a ten week tour with George Harrison and Ravi Shankar. We had two great drummers with that band. Andy Newmark, and Jim Keltner, and the great Alla Raka on tablas. I used to sleep next to Alla Raka on the plane. He would get up in the middle of the night, and start reciting some complex rhythm cycles, and te-his, and I would write them all down on pieces of scrap paper. Between he and Ravi Shankar, I learned some great rhythm permutations. You don't usually think of violin players as rhythm players, but L. Subramanium, from Madras India, who played violin with us on that tour, taught me more about rhythm than any one else in life.
Jim Keltner and I have done other projects with George Harrison, and also with Ry Cooder. We remain close friends, as I do with every one mentioned in this remembrance.
Through an album I did with Louie Bellson, I met and played with Alex Acuna, Manolo, Walfredo Reas Sr. and Jr. Through the years Alex and I have done movie projects together with other great Latin drummers, as Paolinho Da Costa, Francisco Aquabella, Louis Conti, Carlos Vega, and Efrain Toro.
When the electronic drums came on the scene, they were first used extensively on jingles. Some of the first drummers I worked with on these projects were Steve Schaefer, Denny Siewell, and Harvey Mason.
Being that I grew up with Joe Porcaro, it was obvious that I would be God Father to his first born, Jeff Porcaro. Now Jeff was doing record and movie projects with Miles Davis, and he composed all the music for the movie, Dune, which his dad Joe and I worked on with him. All three of us also worked together on some of James Newton Howard's movie projects.
There are many wonderful drummers, and wonderful people that I have mentioned, that have left this plane for the next dimension. There's got to be one heck of a drum circle going on, some where out there
In the 90's, I played with the drummers who were still here on the west coast. We are all great friends, and musical brothers. Joe Porcaro and I are still co–leaders of a jazz group we call Calamari, and we are both sponsored, and supported by the Paiste cymbal and gong company. I am also sponsored by Yamaha, and Mike Balter Mallets. We are grateful to another fine drummer, Rich Mangicaro, who now also plays percussion with the Eagles and Glenn Fry, along with the Paiste family, and Jerry Stienholtz, and the Toca family and Vic Firth and his family and Remo Belli and his family, for their encouragement and support through the years.
After George Harrison's untimely passing in 2001, there was a one year remembrance called "A CONCERT FOR GEORGE" held in November of 2002 at Albert Hall in London. I got to play with the Ravi Shankar Indian Ensemble, and on the second half of the program with Drummers Ringo Star, Jim Keltner, Steve Ferroni, and percussionist, Ray Cooper.
it is now 2006 and I have done many Disney and 20th Century Fox cartoon sessions with drummers Peter Erskin, Ralph Humphries, Vinnie Colaiuto, and Bernie Dressel. I am still doing clinics with drummers Steve Houghton, Don Williams, and Joe Porcaro
I have done at least 25 Academy Awards shows with Harvey Mason playing drums. There is little drum set playing in the film industry these days, but when drums are called for it’s usually Steve Schaeffer or Harvey Mason who do the drumming.
I am thankful and most grateful to all the drummers I have been blessed to work with in my career, and apologize to the many fine drummers I didn't remember to mention.
To all drummers, I'd say, it's a joy to have,"RHYTHM BE OUR BUSINESS!!"