When it comes to studio drummers perhaps no one on the planet is as accomplished as famed LA session drummer Russ Kunkel. His discography is one of the most extensive in popular music. Rock steady, his beat has enhanced a musical who's who of 70s and 80s recording, from Dylan to Streisand and, it seems, almost everyone in between. For many years it seemed every other major album featured Kunkel and his partner in rhythm, Lee Sklar on bass.
A partial listing of artists he has drummed with or produced gives a flavor of his versatility and includes Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffett, J.J. Cale, Tracy Chapman, Crosby Stills & Nash, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, Don Henley, Elton John, B.B. King, Lyle Lovett, Joni Mitchell, Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Seals & Crofts, Bob Segart, Steppenwolf, Derek Trucks Band, Uncle Kracker, Steve Winwood, Neil Young and Warren Zevon.
The Kunkel sound was a signature of early James Taylor recordings, his subdued but funky bass drum work and artful tom tom fills adding a surprising but welcome hipness to the soft acoustic Taylor sound. He has produced numerous other artists's recordings and is an accomplished song writer as well. Kunkel's standing in the music community is perhaps best summarized by this recent tribute from Carly Simon:
"I love Russ Kunkel. He is every singer's favorite drummer and I just was told as a matter of fact that he's Levon Helm's favorite drummer. He is brilliant as a person as well. I don't know what he's doing these days. I hope it's something that's worthy of the talent he always brings to whatever project he's doing. I believe he did more for my career as a writer, arranger and producer than anyone. He kept pushing me in the best possible way when I was writing the music for "Heartburn" and the ensuing album "Coming Around Again", to write the bass parts, guitar and strings myself and play them on synthesizers. For the final recording we of course got reasonable people to play those parts. (I mean, don't kid yourself, that's not me being Billy Paine!!!) You only have to get me started on what a magaical person he is. Generous and brilliant. Love Carly"