Different Drum- The Rochester Roots of Steve Gadd

Earlier this week, renowned percussionist Steve Gadd was inducted into the Rochester Music Hall of Fame. The incomparable and innovative musician has made an indelible mark on the drumming world and has toured the globe providing the backbeat for major artists such as James Taylor, Eric Clapton and Paul Simon, but the roots of his sound can be traced back to his time in Rochester.

Stephen Kendall Gadd was born in Irondequoit, NY on April 9, 1945. Three years later, he started playing the drums.

Though Steve’s parents weren’t musical–his father was a drug salesman for the Rochester Drug Company–his uncle, Eddie Gadd, was a drummer in the U.S. Army.

Eddie gave his young nephew a round piece of wood to play on and taught the toddler how to hold drumsticks.

It wasn’t long before the pair began entertaining the family by playing along to marching band records in the Gadd’s’ living room.

Steve took his show on the road when he was in still in grade school at St Ambrose’s.


An announcement for Gadd’s appearance at The Barn. Democrat & Chronicle, October 31, 1953.

He wowed his peers with performances at The Barn, a youth center in Henrietta, while he and his brother Eddie, a tap dancer, also made regular appearances with the Veterans Park Band during Independence Day celebrations at Ontario Beach Park.


Gadd, age 9, as featured in the Democrat & Chronicle, July 31, 1954.

Years later, Gadd informed the Democrat & Chronicle that his family was instrumental in his early development as a musician.

“They were always behind me, all the way. They never pushed or tried to get me to go any one way. They just let us know, me and my brother, that they were there, that they supported us,” he noted in 1977.

Significantly, the family supported young Stephen’s budding interest in jazz music, taking him to afternoon gigs at the Ridge Crest Inn.

There, Gadd was often afforded the ability to sit mere feet away from masters such as Gene Krupa. Gadd not only learned from these teachers, but also had the opportunity to play with some of them. He sat in with Dizzy Gillespie’s band in 1956 when he was only 11 years old.


11-year-old Gadd played with Gillespie’s band during their stint at the Ridge Crest Inn in 1956.

That same year, Gadd entered the Mickey Mouse National Talent Round Up contest (sponsored locally by Sibley’s). Gadd was one of the 16 local finalists of the competition, and eventually won, appearing on the Mickey Mouse Club with his trap set on January 4, 1957.


Gadd on the Mickey Mouse Club, 1957. Source: http://batterie.poumtchac.com/actus.html

Gadd further honed his skills at Eastridge High School, playing in the dance band, the drum corps and the wind ensemble.


Gadd (centre) and two fellow members of Eastridge High School’s Dance Band


In 1963, Steve’s senior class voted him “Most Talented” (presumably because “Most Likely to Revolutionize the World of Drumming,” wasn’t a category).

gadd-most talented

Eastridge High School’s most talented teens of 1962-63.


After a two year stint at the Manhattan School of Music, Gadd returned to Rochester’s Eastman School of Music to study under his longtime teacher and mentor, John Beck.

gadd-eastman drums

Gadd at Eastman, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Music in 1968

Gadd sharpened his technical skills during the day and filled in his evenings playing with musicians such as Joe Romano and the Mangione brothers at a variety of local venues including La Galerie and The Lounge.


As advertised in the Democrat & Chronicle, November 13, 1965.

Gadd’s Rochester residency was halted when he was drafted into the army during the Vietnam War. Because of his talents as a percussionist, Gadd played drums on the domestic front rather than engaging in battles abroad.

When he returned home, he began forging new musical territory with fellow Eastman alum Tony Levin and their jazz-rock fusion group, L’Image.

gadd-l'image may 23 1975.jpg

Advertisement for L’Image’s appearance at Red Creek (now MacGregor’s). May 23,  1975.

Thanks in part to Tony Levin’s recommendations, Gadd transitioned from club gigs to studio work in the 1970s, leading to his appearances on albums by a host of musical giants ranging from Chick Corea and Charles Mingus to James Brown and Steely Dan.

-Emily Morry

Published in: on April 26, 2018 at 5:18 pm  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Loved this review of Steve and being from Rochester myself, it brings fond memories of Rochester as it was back then. ~ John Guchone

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