Keith Carlock: Mr. In-Demand
by Fred W. Gretsch
It’s almost easier to talk about what Keith Carlock hasn’t done than what he has. Since graduating from the prestigious music program of the University Of North Texas in 1992, the Greenville, Mississippi native’s career has been one exciting gig after another—and often more than one at a time. Along the way his unique blend of technical ability, southern-infused looseness, unshakeable groove, and intense musicality has established him as one of today’s most in-demand drummers.
Photo: Tom Schwarz
That demand has come from a veritable “who’s who” of the musical world. It started in 1998 when Keith took over the drum chair for the original Blues Brothers Band (from the great Steve Jordan) and also began a long association with fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz. In 2000 Keith gained international attention for his playing on Steely Dan’s Grammy-winning album Two Against Nature. Working again with Steely Dan on their 2002 record Everything Must Go, Keith played drums on every track—no small feat, considering that the Dan’s Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are legendary for using multiple drummers on their records.
In fall of 2003 Keith was invited to join Sting’s touring band in support of the Sacred Love tour, which kept Keith on the road into 2005. In the ten years since then he’s recorded and/or toured with John Mayer, Steely Dan, James Taylor, Diana Ross, Faith Hill, Leni Stern, David Johansen & The Harry Smiths, Richard Bona, Chris Botti, Wayne Krantz, Harry Belafonte, Oz Noy, Clay Aiken, Rascal Flatts, Paula Abdul, and Grover Washington, Jr.
As the latest testament to his status as “the guy to call,” in January of 2014 Keith replaced the legendary Simon Phillips in the drum chair for Toto. He helped record the band’s Toto XIV album and has been wowing audiences on their recent tour dates.
In explaining what makes Keith Carlock so valuable as a drummer, guitarist Wayne Krantz says, “Keith is as advanced technically as anyone I’ve ever played with, but his technique always serves the music. When he plays he’s not mathematical. He’s very spiritual.” Avant-jazz guitarist Oz Noy puts it even more succinctly: “Within one bar of the groove, I can tell it’s Keith. There’s nobody out there who sounds like him.”
Keith has also made a name as an educator. In 2005 he embarked on his first clinic tour of eight US cities, performed at the Modern Drummer Festival and Montreal Drum Fest, and appeared at various other events around the world. Since that time he’s somehow managed to maintain a busy clinic calendar in addition to his staggeringly busy touring and recording schedule.
Perhaps Keith’s most impressive educational effort is his 2011 DVD titled The Big Picture: Phrasing, Improvisation, Style & Technique. In it he explains and demonstrates creative and technical concepts, illuminated by specific exercises, many of which are transcribed in an accompanying printable PDF eBook. Keith also plays to tracks from Oz Noy and from his own group, Rudder, dissecting his drum parts and relating each of his performances to the educational themes of the DVD.
When it comes to his Gretsch drums, Keith himself says, “I’m playing the Brooklyn Series, which are great-sounding drums. They’re similar to USA Customs, with a few little differences. They have their own round badge, and the shells are combined maple/poplar woods that produce a very distinctive, low-end open tone. The rims aren’t die-cast; they’re thinner and lighter. I think this helps the heads breathe a little more so I get a lot of sustain. I play a 20″ or a 22″ kick, depending on the music, and 10″, 12″, 14″, and 16″ toms. My snare varies with the situation, but I’m particularly fond of Gretsch’s chrome-over-brass model.”
Photo: Tom Schwarz
Carlock Performance Clips
Keith’s playing with TOTO (live, including a stunning solo) is showcased.
A great funky groove track with Oz Noy, Will Lee, and John Medeski.
A clip taken from a 2012 clinic in Korea focuses on Keith’s imaginative and technically awesome soloing abilities.
And for all you Gretsch drum fans, here’s a clip of Keith demo-ing a new Brooklyn Series kit. Just Keith and a great-sounding drumkit!
Many more tracks are available on YouTube, and are well worth your time to research. And don’t forget to visit Keith’s website.