Jim Keltner

Born: April 27, 1942 in Tulsa, Oklahoma

“An absence of style” is the way that Jim Keltner describes one of his primary motivations as a musician. Such a goal seems somewhat odd, considering that Keltner’s “style” behind the kit has made him perhaps the most sought-after rock’n’roll drummer of the last four and a half decades. It gets odder still when you consider the fact that as a young man Keltner disliked rock altogether, and had to be convinced to switch over from his true love, jazz.

That said, it turns out that Jim Keltner’s avoidance of a particular style comes out of a very jazz-like desire to explore the boundaries of the rock idiom. While playing it “down the middle” as rock needs to be played, he also applies a tremendous amount of nuance and subtlety within those confines. And by never sticking with one setup or technical approach for too long, he remains “unrecognizable,” seamlessly blending into whatever music he happens to be playing on any given day. This plan of attack may render him relatively anonymous to the casual listener, but it makes artists and producers very happy, and has successfully kept the phone ringing for decades.

In talking with Jim Keltner, you get the sense that his sophisticated approach to a “basic” style of music comes from having paid very careful attention over the years; not only to issues of technique and musicality, but to the lessons of his predecessors and the records they made. Having moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1950s from his birthplace of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Keltner was in a unique position to learn those lessons firsthand.

Over the following pages, Jim Keltner shares his reflections on many of the pioneers who created the sound of rock, both in its formative and later years. His great sensitivity and deep knowledge of history offer a wonderful perspective on an era that was wide open when it came to defining rock’n’roll as an art form all its own.