Gadd is a native of Irondequoit, a suburb of Rochester, NY. When he was seven years old, his uncle, who was a drummer in the US army, encouraged him to take drum lessons. By the age of eleven he had sat in with Dizzy Gillespie.
After graduating from Irondequoit’s Eastridge High School, he attended the Manhattan School of Music for two years before transferring to the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, playing in wind ensembles and concert bands. After Gadd finished college in the late 1960s, he played regularly with Chuck Mangione and his brother Gap Mangione. His first recording was on Gap Mangione’s debut solo album, Diana in the Autumn Wind (1968).
Steve was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent three years as a drummer in the Army Music Program, most of which was spent with the Jazz Ambassadors of the U.S. Army Field Band in Ft. Meade, MD. Following his military service, Gadd played and worked with a band in Rochester. In 1972, Gadd formed a trio with Tony Levin and Mike Holmes, traveling to New York with them. The trio eventually broke up, but Gadd began to work mainly as a studio musician. Gadd also played with Corea’s Return to Forever but left the group.
In the 1970s and 1980s, he toured internationally, and recorded with Paul Simon and also with Al Di Meola’s Electric Rendezvous Band. In response to confusion over another drummer by the same name, Gadd, while on his We’re on a Mission from Gadd tour in 2005, told fans that was not him. Gadd said, “I’ve never met the other Steve Gadd. We happened to stay in the same hotel once, though. I kept getting his messages and apparently he was getting mine.”
In 1976, Gadd and other session musicians in New York City, including Richard Tee, Eric Gale and Cornell Dupree, formed the group Stuff. Their work included appearances on NBC’s Saturday Night Live, both performing on their own and backing Joe Cocker.
By the end of the 1970s, Steve Gadd was an accomplished drummer, with transcriptions of his drum solos on sale in Japan. Chick Corea once commented, “Every drummer wants to play like Gadd because he plays perfect . . . He has brought orchestral and compositional thinking to the drum kit while at the same time having a great imagination and a great ability to swing.”
Gadd showed some of these strengths in his work on the title track of Steely Dan’s Aja album — highlighted by Gadd’s drum punctuation in the coda of the title cut. Corea’s straight-ahead jazz albums Friends and Three Quartets, as well as Jim Hall’s 1975 album Concierto are some more examples of Gadd’s jazz playing.
In 2009, Gadd is set to return to Eric Clapton’s band to play 11 nights at the Royal Albert Hall. He will become part of Clapton’s touring band throughout May 2009. Steve previously played and toured with Clapton in 1994/1995 and again from 1998 to 2004.
Steve Gadd uses Yamaha drums, which he has played since 1976. He has recently changed his gear to a setup consisting of “Birch Custom Absolute” toms and a maple bass drum. He also uses a chrome over brass Ludwig Supraphonic snare drum.
He has been asked to contribute his ideas to develop his own signature series Zildjian K Custom Session cymbals.
Gadd also has Vic Firth sticks with his signature on them. The drumsticks are a very light, thin kind, black in color, and normal “wood color” on the tips. There is also an identical model with nylon tips. The stick is also slightly shorter than the American Classic 5A, and features a barrel tip for improved recording sound. It is 15 3/4″ (40 cm) long and the diameter is .550″ (1.4 cm). Along with having his own signature stick, he also has his own signature brushes. These brushes are intended to solve the problem of wire brushes snagging on new coated drumheads by slightly angling the wires in the top 3/4″ (1.9 cm) of the playing end. The wires glide across the head, allowing a smoother sweep and a velvet swish sound.
Gadd uses a variety of Remo heads: a coated Powerstroke 3 on the batter sides of the snare, coated Pinstripes on the batter sides of toms, and clear Ambassadors for the resonant sides. He uses a Pinstripe on the bass drum.