Keith Carlock is one busy drummer — not in the sense that he plays a lot of notes, though he surely can. We’re talking about his schedule. He works a lot, with a lot of great musicians, and if you wonder why he happens to be so popular it’s the very same reason that all great drummers get to work — the secret is his groove.
His impressive drumming can be found at The 55 Bar in New York City, where he and boundary-stretching guitarist Wayne Krantz often push the improvisational envelope. Or you might run into him across town holding court behind guitarist Oz Noy. Carlock also gets the “big” road gigs with names like Sting, Steely Dan, Grover Washington Jr., and Donald Fagan, just to name a few.
Plenty of recorded evidence exists of Carlock’s deep pocket. Besides sessions with both aforementioned NYC guitarists, Carlock has also become a familiar face on the Nashville session scene and recently recorded with Faith Hill. Perhaps his biggest claim is to be one of a select few drummers who can say that they’ve recorded with Steely Dan. And it’s a lofty list, indeed, including Jeff Porcaro, Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, and Bernard Purdie. That relationship must be working since he is also on Donald Fagan’s last solo album, Morph The Cat.
But it takes more than a solid groove to score prized gigs and earn the envy of drummers around the world. It’s also a matter of a drummer finding a particular voice on the instrument. Nobody ever made it into the history books for being generic, and Carlock has established a strong personal drumming identity that shines through no matter what musical environment he works within. We hear a style that fits in well with contemporary music combined with a solid pocket and phrasing that pays homage to Carlock’s southern Mississippi roots.
It’s all good stuff. So we tracked him down at Oakland’s Paramount Theatre to pick his brain during Fagan’s Morph The Cat Tour. Squeezed in between sound check and a nap on the bus, Carlock gladly shared ideas about technique, licks, grooves, and soloing concepts. Here are some of his insights.