What We Learn from Positive People, and the Unlikely Doors They Open

I’m on stage playing percussion.  Members of the rock band Toto (Steve Lukather, Steve Porcaro, and David Paich) are all turned toward me as we’re playing, and Paich is making big eyes and nodding as if to communicate, ‘Here comes the change. … 2, 3, 4…”

Not a dream.  Actually, I’m on a business trip.

My parents taught me to make friends with people whom you strive to be like, and they encouraged me to study leaders you can learn from.  This makes you a better person, and, more than likely, good things will come from these positive relationships. That’s what happened tonight.

Positivity has always been something I seek in others.  And when I find a friend, co-worker, or a leader in the world who exhibits positivity, I follow and learn.

Best in the Business

My recent business trip introduced me to such a person.  I was planning a trip across California for multiple meetings with prospects for my company.  Since one stop would be Los Angeles, I called my brother who lives there to make sure he would be home so we could visit.  “That weekend is perfect,” he said. “Not only is the whole family here, but you can join me at an event Saturday night at the music school where I teach.”

Joe Porcaro performs (behind kit, centre rear)
Joe Porcaro, Percussion Co-Chair at LACM, performs (behind the kit) at his Lifetime Achievement ceremony.

This event was the awarding of a Lifetime Achievement Award for the Co-chair of the Los Angeles College of Music Drum Department, where my brother is the Department Head of Composing for Visual Media.  LACM’s honoured faculty member, Joe Porcaro, has been a go-to studio percussionist on too many recordings to count with artists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Luciano Pavarotti to Madonna.  All the while, he taught percussion lessons, and in his later years he found a home for teaching at LACM.

I knew his name another way.  When I was a young drummer in the 1980s, I was mesmerised with the musicianship of Jeff Porcaro, Joe’s son and also a founding member of Toto as well as a regular with Steely Dan.  That shuffle beat on Rosanna; that’s Jeff.  And it remains an iconic challenge for any drummer today.  Joe’s other sons, Steve and Mike, are also founding members of Toto and, in addition, have been responsible for more hit songwriting and iconic licks than you can imagine (composing for Michael Jackson, Don Henley, and more).  So, to attend this event was truly an honour, and to do it justice, I’d need to do a little more research on Joe.

Brighter than the stars he worked with, Joe’s personality and personal methodology was clearly one of optimism and positivity.  In his video drum lessons online, Joe delivers with warmth and nurturing.  Rather than teach flashy drum fills, Joe delivers approaches to drumming, mechanics, good habits, and road-proven fundamentals.   I was instantly a fan, and now I’m even more excited for the opportunity to witness this man’s night of honour.

Early Role Model in Positivity

Another unspoken honour played out this night: my brother, Mark.  He has been a musician and recording engineer in the music industry since he graduated from music school in the ‘80s.  He survived years of long sessions with pro and semi-pro musicians, composers, producers, and posers, all with the understanding that successfully working this gig might earn him his next gig.  All the while, stair-stepping his way up the list of peers as well as the class of projects. Even more impressive, was his decision to leave this ascending climb so he could teach others. Now he spends more time teaching because it directs those young people with a dream, just like others had done for him.  Now he’s the positive leader in others’ lives.

Mark and I walked in to LACM’s private event and people around us immediately recognized my brother.  They waved, nodded, and came over to say ‘hi’. He’s the guy who’s rubbed shoulders with big names and then chose his own path to teach others and spend more time with his family, and today he is respected for his work and his way.  I felt this night was a great moment for Mark, too.

We got about 20 feet into the venue when another face lit up upon seeing Mark – it was Joe.  And true to Mark’s way, the first thing he did was congratulate Joe and introduce him to me, his brother, also a drummer.  Joe’s eyes lit up, “Oh really!”. He was delighted and we were instantly connected. “What type of music do you play?” he asked.  Notice, Joe didn’t ask “who do you play with?” or “are you on tour?” Joe’s was a question about me.

Shared Passions in Percussion

I told him I play for fun with a band that rehearses one night a week.  We jam out covers, we create originals on the spot, and sometimes we play at bars or an occasional event.  As I spoke, Joe’s face warmed up even more. “Isn’t it great to have that music to play as a part of your life?”   

“I love having drumming and music as a hobby,” I told him. “It’s the greatest release to play.”

“I know!” Joe agreed.  He went on to ask about my work and family.  He then returned to Mark to catch up, tell a story, and share a laugh.  A warm, wonderful man.

The event proceeded with many musicians taking the stage, playing a little, and speaking at length about Joe’s selfless approach to teaching and his work-horse nature of practising at home, even after an extra-hours studio session that day.  The final group to take the stage was Toto.

They didn’t play their hits.  It wasn’t that kind of a night.  Instead, they played deep cuts and unreleased songs they wrote that reminded them of the early days of the group, when Joe was their father figure.  After each song, a different member of the band shared a story about the old days, some even before they had a hit, when “Papa” or his wife, “Mama P”, treated them with love and respect and encouraged them with positivity … and fed them on Sundays.

It all made sense, I thought. This family succeeded because they worked hard, they were close, and they supported each other with love, respect, and encouragement.

Then, David Paich made an announcement; “We want to invite all drummers up on stage with us. This is a night for drummers, so come on up, let’s finish this the right way.”

Mark looked at me. “Go!” he nodded toward the stage.

“But I don’t…” And before I could say ‘work here’ Mark said, “All drummers – and you’re a drummer.  Go!”

It was my conversation with Joe that made it feel right. He was so genuinely interested in my playing and in what I gained from it.  In the 10 minutes we talked, I went from feeling like a visitor to feeling like I belonged here. So, I joined the 6 or so other percussionists on stage (I thought there were more drummers and drum faculty at this event, I swear!).
I grabbed a tambourine, and David said to the audience “This is Africa.” Then to us,  “Ready?”

Click here to watch our first moments on stage.  (I’m far left, behind some guys, wearing glasses and playing my tambourine on the off-beat :).

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