When musicians such as Eric Clapton, Anita Baker, Jeffrey Osborne, George Benson and Chaka Khan searched for the best drummer they could find, their searches led them to Steve Ferrone. Steve's tasteful musicality and powerful groove has made him one of the most popular drummers in music today. Steve first came to international prominence while playing with the Average White Band during the 1970s. Nowadays, he uses his talents as the drummer for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
GCSBinker: Steve, could you please begin by briefly telling us a bit about your style of drumming?
Steve Ferrone: Well, it's kind of a mish-mash of a lot of different things... I don't think it is any one particular style. My style seems to go through a number of different styles of music. I've listened to a lot of different drummers so I am a mix of a lot of those. Some of the drummers that I listen to, I really don't play their style at all. I guess I get a lot from the feeling that they give their style of music. I like music that just feels good - more heart music than brain music.
When and how did you first begin playing with Tom Petty?
Steve Ferrone: I just got a phone call from a person called a booker - a person whom a person can call up and ask about availability... for recording sessions, and I was asked what the following week was looking like. I told him that I was free and asked who I would be playing for. He told me that it was top secret! A couple of days later, they called me to go out to Los Angeles and I said once again, "WHO is it for?" He said, "It's Tom Petty." So I went! We played for a week which was the start of the Wildflowers album. That was about 8 years ago now.
Does being a part of such a high profile band help or hinder you in any way
Steve Ferrone: hmmm..hard question! I don't think it is a hindrance. A lot of people get to hear you play, but that happened before Tom Petty too as I played with high profile bands. I also played with Duran Duran, Average White Band (AWB), Eric Clapton so I've had a pretty high-profile career. So, to answer your question, I don't think it really makes that much difference either way - unless, of course, you have a hit record!
I believe I read that you opened for The Who at age 12. What can you tell us about that experience, and at that age, did you have a true sense of how enormous that was?
Steve Ferrone: Yes I did open for The Who at age 12. It was not that enormous at that time, but later on down the line, I could say it was a quite an experience. As a matter of fact, two weeks ago I ran into Roger Daltrey... in a studio and I asked him if he remembered playing in Uncle Bunnie's Chinese Jazz Club and he did...and I told him that I was the drummer who played in the opening local band. So we had a good chuckle about that. That was before My Generation came out. They were a pretty flambouyant band even then - the only band that I had ever seen who had their own lights in a tiny club. They were very popular with the mod crowd.
Who are the drummers that have most influenced you over the years, and were they cool enough to open for The Who at 12?
Steve Ferrone: I would say I'd like to start right off with Ringo Starr - the Beatles were a huge influence with me when I was growing up in England - Charlie Watts was another... Tony Meehan who played with a band called The Shadows... Later on, I found a guy called Bernard Purdy and that was when I started to work American bases in France. Then I started to play with an organ trio and we played some Jimmy Smith songs and the drummer on those records was a guy called Grady Tate. Then a saxophone player called Lloyd introduced me to Elvin Jones, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. Also John Bonham and Clyde Stubblefield... Al Jackson, Jr. was another influence. Can't forget Bobby Mason! And my favorite drummer Jack Dejohnette... There are so many!
Steve, what kind of adjustments do you have to make when you are playing Eric Clapton's blues-inspired music, as opposed to when you play Tom Petty's music, which draws on so many different influences?
Steve Ferrone: Well, none really... I'm more of a song guy. I don't think of the drums, I think of the songs. I started tap dancing when I was very young, three years old...and I used to tap dance to standards such as Georgia, Top Hat...just old standard songs and I got a good feeling for how a song is structured rhythmically from that. So when it comes to a song, I pretty much have the feel for what is coming next - what is after the next chord.
Some drummers have a pre-show ritual or warmup, which often includes stretching exercises. What kind of pre-show routine do you follow?
Steve Ferrone: I take a shower! ...and that's it!
GCSBinker: What are the biggest differences in drumming between the 21 year old Steve Ferrone and the Steve Ferrone of today?
Steve Ferrone: I would say that I am more seasoned. I know a lot more about recording techniques. I think that I have learned how to listen a lot more. I'm a little less involved with myself and a little more involved with the band. I have listened to some things that I have recorded when I was 22 or 23 years old and I sounded pretty good! I don't think that my enthusiasm for finding new things has diminished at all. I find that I can get things done a lot quicker now. I can get to where a song needs to be now a lot quicker...my concentration is higher or more intense.
GCSBinker: Steve, did you come from a musical family, and what led you to become a drummer?
Steve Ferrone: My grandmother played piano, my father was a dancer for the Sierra Leone folk dancing troupe, but my grandmother was really the one who encouraged me to do something in show business. She spotted my reaction to music early. She actually led me to start with the drums with girls. I saw some girls at a dance react to Manfred Mann's band and decided that rock music was for me! I had figured out how to play the drums from appearing in a summer show... in England and watching the pit drummer every night. I took to the drums like a duck to water.
GCSBinker: Unfortunately we are almost out of time. Do you have any final comments or insights for our audience before we wrap up?
Steve Ferrone: There is one thing that I feel very strongly about... I've played with many, many great and talented musicians. A lot of them are still here and some of them are not around anymore and I feel that we've lost far too many of them to drugs and alcohol. It's not for me to preach to anybody, but I can say please be careful. You only have one life and it can be MUCH better without drugs and alcohol in it.