‘Cake’ to Cash: 10 Great Steve Ferrone Tracks
Drummer Steve Ferrone's versatility, energy and accuracy behind the kit have made him one of the premier percussionists of his time – a real drummer's drummer, from his time as a first-call session musician to his lengthy tenure with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,
Whether laying down the funk for the Average White Band or Chaka Khan, shoring up classic tunes with George Harrison or Eric Clapton, or just playing rock 'n' roll with Petty for two-plus decades, Ferrone kept adding to his legacy as a quintessential timekeeper. And he continues on today: playing in the studio (mostly his home studio, as he told Rolling Stone last year), still a vital presence on recordings.
On the occasion of his 71st birthday, here are 10 of the best tracks to which Ferrone has contributed, from across his career.
Average White Band - "Cut the Cake"
From: Cut the Cake (1975)
Ferrone joined the Average White Band shortly after they released their chart-topping second album in 1974, following original drummer Robbie McIntosh's death from a heroin overdose. Ferrone stayed with the band for nine years, through the peak period of Top 10 albums and hit singles, until they split in 1983. “Cut the Cake” was indicative of AWB’s horn-driven funk, with Ferrone’s groove pushing the band from start to finish.
Paul Simon - "Think Too Much (a)"
From: Hearts and Bones (1983)
Paul Simon’s 1983 album Hearts and Bones is a little-discussed gem in his discography – a really wonderful singer-songwriter album that he released during a commercial downturn. (Had it come out, say, six years earlier, it would have been huge.) There, among the thousands upon thousands of session players on the record, is Steve Ferrone, laying down the foundation for Simon, not to mention guitarist Nile Rodgers and bassist Bernard Edwards. That’s right: Two-thirds of Chic's instrumental core and the drummer for the Average White Band are playing on this track – who says Paul Simon can’t bring the funk?
Christine McVie - "Got a Hold on Me"
From: Christine McVie (1984)
This Christine McVie song is a great example of musicians perfectly suiting a track, to the point where fans really doesn’t think about (or let’s be honest, care about) who’s playing what. Look at the credits, though – there’s Lindsey Buckingham on guitar, Steve Winwood on synthesizer, session great George Hawkins on bass and Steve Ferrone on drums. That’s practically an all-star lineup, sublimating their egos for the sake of the song.
Duran Duran - "I Don’t Want Your Love"
From: Big Thing (1988)
Back in the fall of 1988, this song was everywhere, and the former teeny-bopper idols in Duran Duran had an international hit with decidedly adult concerns, not to mention a huge chorus. It was also a club banger, thanks in no small part to Ferrone’s groove, which cracks in the mix just below the voluminous electronic percussion and an army of synthesizers bent on world invasion.
B-52s - "(Shake That) Cosmic Thing"
From: Cosmic Thing (1989)
How much fun was the B-52s’ Cosmic Thing album? It just goes from party track to party track for 45 minutes and never lets up (except on “Deadbeat Club,” but you can program around that). Since Keith Strickland moved from drums to guitar in the wake of guitarist Ricky Wilson’s death, the band needed a drummer, so they brought in four, including Ferrone, who played on the title track, also featured in the soundtrack to the film Earth Girls are Easy.
Eric Clapton - "Running on Faith"
From: Journeyman (1989)
This gospel-tinged track from one of Eric Clapton’s best-selling albums is polished without being too slick — just what the song requires. Ferrone does what he does best: holding the tempo steady and letting the star in front of him shine.
Tom Petty - "You Don’t Know How It Feels"
From: Wildflowers (1994)
The boom-boom-thwack Ferrone played here behind Tom Petty and company might have been repetitive and metronomic, but it’s certainly one of the song's most instantly recognizable elements.
Anita Baker - "Body and Soul"
From: Rhythm of Love (1994)
Anita Baker’s lush vocal on this track can give you goosebumps (particularly that long note coming out of the middle eight), as the music swells and recedes. Ferrone and bassist Nathan East hold everything together, even through (spoiler alert) the fake ending on the album cut. “Body and Soul” is a truly exquisite piece of mid-’90s R&B.
Johnny Cash - "Rusty Cage"
From: Unchained (1996)
Ferrone’s extensive work on Petty’s Wildflowers album made him seem almost destined to take over the drummer’s stool once Heartbreaker Stan Lynch left in 1994. His work with Petty and crew on Johnny Cash’s second American Recordings album likely sealed the deal. His touch is particularly expressive on Cash’s cover of Soundgarden’s “Rusty Cage,” going from just a steady bass drum to cannon-shot snare, from country time-keeping to heavy rock drumming to close the song.
Frank Black - "It's Just Not Your Moment"
From: Fast Man Raider Man (2006)
In the mid-2000s, the Pixies leader released a handful of records steeped in the Americana sound of bands like Son Volt and the Jayhawks, largely recorded in Nashville and Memphis with session players. One of these, 2006’s Fast Man Raider Man was a sprawling double album – 27 songs whose characters seemed overarchingly lonesome, desperate and heartbroken, just as it should be. It was all really good, though seriously unheralded, stuff. Black included some material from a set of sessions in Los Angeles, on which Ferrone drummed with the great bassist Carol Kaye in a formidable rhythm section.
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