Saturday, December 26, 2009


I've started to write a post about great drummer Steve Jordan in the past, but have always run out of steam as soon as I get started, but today while doing some post Christmas book shopping I saw him on the cover of DRUM! magazine. I used to subscribe to DRUM!, but I outgrew their demographic. Actually, several years ago their demographic changed from something that could appeal to older drummers (over 30) to something that primarily appeals to the under 30 demographic. I knew I was in trouble when my teen daughter started snagging my DRUM! magazines because they had interviews and articles about drummers in her favorite bands.

But it's a good magazine, it's just that I had little interest in reading about drummers born in the 80's who are stars now. The other stalwart longtime drum magazine, MODERN DRUMMER, has sort of gone the same way, just not as much. It features some stories, as does DRUM!, about drummers I'm interested in, who are primarily drummers born BEFORE 1980.

CLASSIC DRUMMER is the magazine I read now, but it only comes out either bi-monthly or quarterly. I used to read a special drum magazine called TRAPS that was started by DRUM! and is just the kind of magazine I was looking for, but it bit the dust last year with the economy. TRAPS was probably the best drum and drumming magazine that ever existed.

But I bought DRUM! anyway, just to read the interview with Steve Jordan, which although it was very brief, was somewhat informative on what he was currently up to.

How this all ties in is this: In drumming, and in other endeavors both musical and non-musical, I and many others have found that less is more. By that, I mean that playing less can be far more meaningful than trying to show off every rudiment and drum lick you know when you play.

Drummers mostly call this "being busy", unless you are a member of certain genres of music that actually pride themselves on "busy" hyper-technical playing. For example, in the guitar world, rock artists like Steve Vai and others who play what I call "Wheddley-Wee" music, you know, the guitarists who literally set their guitar fretboards on fire with their fast moving fingers. And not just on solo's, but all the way through the songs.

One thing about being a "busy" musician be it a drummer, bassist, keyboardist, horn player, guitarist or what have you is that YOU BETTER HAVE THE SOLID CHOPS to back up that kind of playing. I have nothing against musicians who play busy, in fact, artists like Van Halen and lots of the 70's jazz fusion artists like Billy Cobham, Mahavishnu Orchestra and others played hyper technical "genius" level music with great aplomb, and my record collection is replete with some of the finest examples of these genres. I even have Steve Vai's solo album Flex-able.

But it took me about 15 years of drumming to learn that being busy wasn't impressing anyone but myself. Once I realized this, my drumset shed drums, down to a basic 4 pc drum kit with fewer cymbals, where I've more or less remained for the last 20 years. Back in the day, in the mid-eighties, I had been drumming slightly less than 15 years and had a HUGE drum kit. I shudder to think of the time and energy I wasted all of those years loading all of my gear in and out of my house and at gigs.

One major reason I shrank the size of my drum kit was a drummer named Steve Jordan. Back then, in the early 80's, I first became aware of him as the first drummer in the David Letterman show band. He played a 4 pc. Yamaha kit, with two crash cymbals, one ride, a tamborine and cowbell and a hi-hat. That's it. And he rocked. As I've mentioned before in other posts, lots of my musician friends would watch or tape Letterman back then just to catch the songs the band was doing at the breaks and the beginning and end of the show, so talented were it's musicians.

Ultimately, Jordan left the Letterman band and was replaced by Anton Fig, who is still in Letterman's band today. During the 80's, I found out a little of Jordan's drumming history. His first big gig was with the Saturday Night Live band, a gig he scored while still in his teens. From that, he did some of the recordings (but not the movie) with the Blues Brothers band and has gone on to play with a zillion artists since then.

Most recently, in addition to producing many high profile artists, he has been doing tours and albums with stellar folks like John Maher and Eric Clapton. Steve's drumming rocks and he has achieved great fame and fortune based largely upon one secret he discovered in his drumming years before I did: LESS IS MORE.

I have several albums of Jordan's that were done in a somewhat busier fashion than much of his playing. The names of the bands escape me now, but they were early 80's NYC bands that Jordan played in. The dude has got some really serious chops. He can play hypertechnical drumming stuff with what seems the greatest of ease. But mostly, he chooses to do groove drumming, where the space BETWEEN the notes you play IS AS IMPORTANT as the notes YOU DO play.

This topic has been expounded on by many over the years, it's not like I discovered something, but Steve Jordan was one of the folks that helped me discover that LESS IS MORE. Through his playing on Letterman, and the re-runs I saw from old SNL episodes when he was in the band, I heard Jordan playing versions of cover songs that I was playing in bands, and his versions were much simpler. And sounded better.

Since those early days of watching Jordan on TV in the 80's, I've had a chance to watch on video/dvd, see live or listen to on CD numerous performances of his great yet restrained drumming. Groove drumming at it's finest in every instance.

After joining Stevie Wonder's band as a teen, Jordan went on to do the aforementioned gigs on Saturday Night Live and Letterman. After leaving Letterman, he's played/recorded/toured and/or produced with many superstars. Dylan. Clapton. Maher. Don Henley. Cheryl Crow. Stevie Nicks. Neil Young. John Mellencamp. Sonny Rollins. B.B. King. The list goes on and on since the late 70's.

Also recording the Rolling Stones album Dirty Work in the mid-eighties (subbing along with his sucessor from the Letterman show Anton Fig, for ill and allegedly addicted Charlie Watts), which led to a long association producing and drumming for Keith Richards. Richards used Jordan in a tribute to Chuck Berry (which included Chuck Berry) and then in Richard's late 80's and early 90's solo band X-pensive Winos. Here's a wiki blurb from Jordan's wiki page that tells a little of the tale:

Jordan, along with fellow Shaffer alumnus Anton Fig, appeared on the Rolling Stones' 1986 release Dirty Work when Charlie Watts' participation was stilled due to his substance abuse problems in the mid-80's. In the wake of this work, Keith Richards hired Jordan to play on Aretha Franklin's cover of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" for a film of the same name.
According to Richards, Jordan pressed Richards on the plane ride home from Aretha's recording session in
Detroit to be included in the upcoming documentary by Taylor Hackford Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll, a tribute to Chuck Berry. Richards had been hoping to include Charlie Watts in the project, but when this proved unfeasible, Jordan was hired and he appeared in many scenes with Berry and Richards [4].
The success of this project led to Jordan's membership in
Keith Richards and the X-pensive Winos, a band that toured and recorded with Richards in 1988 and 1992 for Talk is Cheap and Main Offender.

If I had to recommend a place to start listening to Steve Jordan, for non-drummers OR for lovers of the blues played by some of the best modern bluesmen, I'd say the Blues Brothers CD from 1978 – Briefcase Full of Blues (Atlantic) is the place to start. I think he recorded all of the original Blues Brothers albums. I know for sure he recorded the first three albums they released and toured extensively with the Blues Brothers. Unfortunately, he was not in the movie but that was due to schedule conflicts and nothing else.

If you're more into blues rock and roll and more modern sounding rock, then either of the above-mentioned Keith Richards' solo albums from 1988 and 1992 with the X-pensive Wino band (not billed as such in the title). There's also a live dvd of the band that I have that rocks and there is a live cd from the same gig as the dvd.

Jordan is married to singer Meegan Voss, and together they have a band called The Verbs. Jordan says in the DRUM! interview that this band is his best ever.

The thing I've always admired about Jordan is that he's kept a low profile. He's not famous for partying, although he may very well do his share of that, or he may not at all. I do know he is famous for working. He is always working, and from everything I've read, he's been working hard since before he was 18 when he got some breaks and got to actually apparently make some money AND play music and produce full time.

I've always admired a self-made man, and in my mind, Jordan is a living example of a guy who worked hard for his own breaks and now has something very few seem to have these days: A gig he loves.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic article! I would like to mention a quote from Keith Richards in "The Groove is Here" DVD..." One thing I've never liked are busy drummers, I've always had lazy ones and I'm spoiled" ..I love that quote from Keith and so true. Thanks for the great write up on Steve!

    Nova Scotia Canada.