Last updated 09:20 05/10/2009

Are there musicians out there that are so good - to your ears - that you will listen to any album they play on? You will go and watch them playing with any artist?

The first name that springs to mind for me is Vinnie Colaiuta. (And click here for his official site).

I first met him (in a musical sense) with the Sting album Ten Summoner's Tales. I couldn't believe what I was hearing - the sharp cymbal sound, the crisp snare; the fact that Colaiuta had his head around 5/4 and 7/4 time signatures - playing in 7/8 here on St Augustine In Hell. I think Ten Summoner's TaleVinnie Colaiutas is probably Sting's best album - it's the only one I can listen to right through these days - and I think a huge part of it is Vinnie.

Around the time that I first heard Vinnie's playing (when the Sting album was released in 1993) I remember chatting with a drummer who said he had seen Vinnie play with Joni Mitchell in the 1980s. He had also bought a record by Barbra Streisand because Vinnie was playing on it!

I remember thinking that I would not want to listen to something like a Barbra Streisand album just because of one player.

But that was then.

Obsessed with Colaiuta's playing on the Sting album I was then introduced to the crazy world of Frank Zappa and my favourite Zappa album (still) is Joe's Garage. The first I heard. And it features a young Vinnie throwing subverted reggae rhythms, touches of jazz and plenty of funk and rock in to Zappa's song-cycle. He's one of the stars of the album.

From there another Sting album was released. And I got my first glimpses at Vinnie when watching the MTV Unplugged video that features a few songs from The Police years as well as Sting material from The Soul Cages. Tasteful playing.

So it was Zappa and Sting that I listened to when I wanted to get my fill (of Vinnie's fills!)

And then I started to discover the work with Joni Mitchell and watched Vinnie at the Buddy Rich tribute shows.

He played on Steely Dan's "comeback" album, Two Against Nature. By this point I was such a Vinnie-nerd I spotted his name in the credits to the Mike Figgis film Time Code. I was collecting mentions of Colaiuta, banking them - checking out his playing in all these different contexts.

I saw Vinnie live a couple of years ago when Herbie Hancock played. Overall I was disappointed with the gig - Herbie is great of course but the cheese-aspects (a version of I Just Called To Say I Love You?) got in the way a bit too often. But I got to see Vinnie play! And this is when I understood the comment about checking out Barbra Streisand just to hear Colaiuta's contribution.

It's the reason I check out YouTube clips like this one (a Nik Kershaw song; stick with it. The groove is trademark and three minutes and fifteen seconds into the song you will hear a crazy-sick drum fill. It might make you giggle. It's absurd. It's astonishing. It's something only one player would think of and very few can do. It's Vinnie being Vinnie).Vinnie Colaiuta Drums
It's the reason I have Don Henley's greatest hits collection (Actual Miles) on my iPod. For one song: The Garden Of Allah (specifically for the four-second drum-fill that takes place 25 seconds in to the track - click on that link and hear it; maybe stay for the monster groove that rolls the song along).

My best discovery about Mr Colaiuta (I realise I'm probably losing readers by the paragraph) is that he played on the opening theme to the TV show Alf. You can check it out here. It's him. You can hear it in the hi-hat; the way he half-splays, the way he plays...the moments that take place between his fingers and the stick, between the stick and the cymbal, between his foot and the pedal and the relationship between all of them.

There are so many great YouTube clips of this amazing player.

And a scan of his recorded discography lists, among hundreds, names as diverse as: Leonard Cohen, Backstreet Boys, Travis Tritt, Faith Hill, Bob James, Robben Ford, Michelle Branch, Mike Stern, the soundtrack to Queen of The Damned, Stevie Nicks, George Benson, Jill Scott, Destiny's Child, Glen Campbell, Andrea Bocelli, Celine Dion, Juice Newton and Megadeth.

I'm still finding records in my collection that he played on - most recently Jennifer Warnes' Famous Blue Raincoat.

Now, I am not saying I plan to go through and listen to all of those artists because he played with them; but I am sure I could spot his playing and it would give me something to appreciate about the song/s - even by artists I do not like.

What I am saying is Vinnie Colaiuta's playing would turn me on to a record. Definitely.
Vinnie Colaiuta Solo Album
And the funny thing in all this? The only album featuring his playing that I haven't enjoyed? His own. I bought his self-titled solo album. And, sure, songs like I'm Tweaked feature some amazing time-signature changes and some sharp playing. But it doesn't carry the groove and soul of his sound. That's so often the way with studio players - given the freedom to follow their muse they release a load of rubbish.

Most recently you can see/hear Vinnie on the great Jeff Beck live album/DVD - which I have already mentioned several times on this blog. But here's one clip of Vinnie getting to do his thing from that tour.

And it was choosing to listen to Sting's Mercury Falling yesterday afternoon - for the first time in years - that got me to thinking about Vinnie's great playing.

So, what players inspire the same feeling for you? Who would you travel to see playing behind an artist that is not necessarily your favourite? Do you own albums because of one of the players involved rather than the songs/overall sound?

Who is your (version of) Vinnie?

Post a comment
Tim Jones   #1   10:22 am Oct 05 2009

My "Vinnie" has always been Robert Fripp - not just his work with King Crimson, but with Bowie, Eno, Peter Gabriel, the Roches etc. But I'm not a fan of King Crimson's recent work, so I'm in a slightly post-Bob Fripp world now. Maybe Vinnie's fellow player on the Jeff Beck at Ronnie Scott's DVD, Tal Wilkenfeld (whom, credit where credit is due, I first heard of from this blog) will be the "new Fripp" for me.

Shane   #2   10:36 am Oct 05 2009

Not surprisingly you start with a stickman Simon but funnily enough I was the same years ago listening to anything that had Manu Katche playing on it.

He also played on diverse recordings ranging from Sting and Peter Gabriel through to Afro Celt Sound System and with a jazz background was very fluid.

And there are probably one or two albums in the collection, especially on vinyl, that were bought because he was playing but I'm not sure I should own up to them.

Stella   #3   11:31 am Oct 05 2009

One word: Slash.

Darryl   #4   11:57 am Oct 05 2009

For drummers I'd have to go with Steve Gadd (obvious choice I know). I also like studio ensembles like The Wrecking Crew, Funk Brothers and Booker T. & the M.G.'s

CoucH   #5   12:11 pm Oct 05 2009

Yeah, well great drummer he may be, but why is he a session musician for such crap artists? The man has an obvious talent , but taste I don't think so.

Stella   #6   01:20 pm Oct 05 2009

@ CoucH #5

Have to agree with you there. I mean sure, variety is good, but the Backstreet Boys (cue dirty snigger and joke about how appropriate their name is)? Destiny's Child? Really?

Grant McDougall   #7   01:45 pm Oct 05 2009

I couldn't agree more with #5 and 6 above. Vin's that very worst kind of musician: technically astonishing but utterly devoid of anything resembling feel, soul and excitement.

Don 1   #8   01:48 pm Oct 05 2009

T-Bone Burnett, Danny Kortchmar, Daniel Lanois or maybe Jack Nitzche for me. Burnett I've loved as a solo artist, with Dylan, as a producer and background musician.

Simon Sweetman   #9   01:53 pm Oct 05 2009

@ CoucH and Stella - he also played on the first Lindsay Lohan album too :)

Terrible stuff, sure, but look at the names of legends he's worked with too - Zappa, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Jeff Beck, The Buddy Rich Big Band, Joni Mitchell etc...

Simon Sweetman   #10   02:00 pm Oct 05 2009

@ Gran McDougall, you're going to disagree with me - as is your right and will - but seriously some of Vinnie's playing with Sting, Joni and Jeff Beck in particularl is all about feel, soul and constantly exciting. I agree with you in some areas - as I said his solo album is the very worst kind of self-indulgence. But his playing in so many other areas is great (technically amazing, but that's second to the feel that he offers for me). Anyway, I'm sure you've no interest in listening to Sting's Ten Summoner's Tales or parts of Mercury Falling but you'd hear some wonderful grooves and an understated approach to many of the songs.

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