HomeLifestyleLegend Jim Keltner On The Wrecking Crew, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, More

Legend Jim Keltner On The Wrecking Crew, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, More

In Part 1 of our exclusive interview series with Jim Keltner, we discussed the legendary drummer’s impressions of two famous musicians he has done session work for, Eric Clapton and John Lennon. In Part 2 here, we ask Keltner how he feels being a behind-the-scenes studio guy, some of the more memorable records he’s played on, The Wrecking Crew and Def Leppard’s Rick Allen. Following are edited excerpts from a longer phone conversation.

Jim Clash: You’re a known commodity in the music community. But, as a behind-the-scenes studio guy, not many average rock fans know your name. Does that ever bother you?

Jim Keltner: I’m one who never wanted the spotlight. I’ve been around so many of what I call “geniuses.” Not all of those guys lived to be famous, either. Most want to use their musical gifts to satisfy their souls and to enlighten the world. The Randy Newmans, the Bob Dylans. I know Bob very well. Like John [Lennon], he’s been in the limelight all of his life. He was just a kid when it started. Now I don’t think Bob is uncomfortable in the spotlight, but it’s not something he ever wanted. It just came to him. When it comes like that, how you handle it is key. The cool ones use it wisely. The sad stories are the ones you see all the time, the ones who can’t handle it. For me personally, I’ve been blessed. I’m grateful for the gifts I have, and just to be a part of this whole [musical] thing. You come into this world, live your life and then you’re gone. I’m a strong believer in God. My mama made sure of that. I spend my time on Earth preparing for what’s next. So I don’t want my life to be about how rich I get, or how famous. Those things are fleeting. But there’s nothing wrong with that, either. I don’t resent people’s wealth and fame. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to use my own gifts [laughs]. 

Clash: I just interviewed Def Leppard’s Rick Allen, who’s involved like you in the “12 Drummers Drumming” charity effort to benefit PTSD victims. As you probably know, Rick lost an arm in a car accident, but has relearned how to drum on a pro level with just three limbs. 

Keltner: That’s the heroic part. He’s laid it out there for anybody to follow. God forbid, if you ever find yourself in a similar predicament, read that man’s story. Find out how he got through it. It’s awesome that he’s that guy, and that he’s also giving back with this wonderful charity event.

Clash: You’ve been on so many albums with so many big names. Name one or two you are particularly proud of.

Keltner: That’s one of those questions that’s hard for me to answer. The body of work is just so tremendous. If I mention one, it’s not fair to the others. That said, one of my favorites was back a few years with Mavis Staples, and Ry Cooder producing. We knocked it out of the park. Then there was Randy Newman, who I always loved playing with. He was funny, smart and musically amazing. I won’t go into the names of the songs. Neil Young was another. Eric Clapton, too. Not everybody loves Eric’s blues album, “From The Cradle,” as much as I do. I always felt that it was a really good start to a blues series, and have been hoping that there would be another opportunity to do a blues record with Eric, one where we would still capture the real thing, but even more so. There’s a record I did with Lucinda Williams, I think it was called “Essence,” one of my favorites to play in the studio and then to listen to later.

Clash: The Wrecking Crew, a bunch of studio guys, were famous in the sixties and seventies for redoing parts of songs for known artists, but incognito. Have you played with and/or do you know any of them?

Keltner: Yes, but they were already big-time dudes when I was a kid just starting. Hal Blaine, God bless his soul, was one of my main heroes, as was Earl Palmer. Every chance I got to see or meet them was a huge thrill for me. Hal actually threw me into the deep end for a session early on, and I made it through. That was the beginning for me, knowing that I could handle those kinds of things. Then, when I got calls to play with them – various combinations of the Crew over different periods – I would find myself on different sessions, especially when Phil Spector was producing. So yeah, I pretty much got to know all of The Wrecking Crew. They knew that I didn’t play like Hal – that I could never rise to him, or to Earl Palmer – but they liked what I did, what I brought to the table.

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