In parts one and two of this exclusive interview series with studio drummer Jim Keltner, we covered a lot of ground, including his work with John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, some favorite records he has played on, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen, what it’s like being a session guy versus a conventional rock name and more.. Here, we focus on Keltner’s early influences, Ginger Baker and his African style and more. Following are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation.
Jim Clash: You had mentioned Ginger Baker earlier. I love how he plays that inverse beat on the Cream classic, “Sunshine Of Your Love.”
Jim Keltner: Ginger was a jazz guy. That’s one of the reasons he didn’t play terribly conventional rock stuff, and that’s what drew me to him. As far as playing on all fours on “Sunshine” – by the way, he didn’t just do that on one song, he did it a lot – it’s African. They don’t necessarily clap on two and four like we do here in the U.S. and in other parts of the western world. Africa is a wonderful source, and Ginger grabbed onto as much of it as he could. “Sunshine” is a perfect example. But it was not only the way he played around the drums, but the way he tuned them, too. Everything about Ginger Baker was really frickin’ cool. It was Afro and jazz, not your normal rock thing. I once talked to Eric [Clapton] about Ginger. He loved him, too.
Clash: Let’s go back to your youth. Who were your biggest influences?
Keltner: My first influence, like a lot of people, was Gene Krupa. Then I discovered Buddy Rich, and went nuts. I didn’t think what he did was possible. Buddy was kind of inhuman, whereas Gene was soulful swing, a beautiful sound. Buddy always pointed that out about Gene. There was no competition. There couldn’t be anyway, because nobody could compete with Buddy, not even today. Later on, I would listen to records not having a clue as to who the drummers were. Eventually, I made a point of finding out. That’s when I discovered that Hal Blaine, who we discussed earlier as part of The Wrecking Crew, had played on a bunch of those records – and Earl Palmer, too. The drums were the key to many of those. When I fell in love with jazz, I learned about Philly Joe Jones, and the records he played on with Miles [Davis], and then Elvin [Jones] with [John] Coltrane. If I had to pick who was most influential to me, I would say Elvin. His playing was a blueprint for all jazz players, which was key to my life. He played so wide. It all comes at you at the same time. You find yourself studying it, playing like it. His [cymbal] ride pattern was completely different from anyone else’s. Again, like Ginger, very African.
Clash: Is there a question I didn’t ask that you want to answer?
Keltner: That’s a good one, but it’s surprised me. My wife has left the room now, so I can say this. She sometimes listens to my interviews and tells me later, “You don’t have to say everything that’s on your mind.” And I know what she means. I do tend to go on. That’s not really a question, but it’s an observation [laughs].