John JR Robinson and the stories behind the songs.

John JR Robinson in the studioJohn JR Robinson is a studio legend. There can be no doubt about that.

But what about all the famous songs that John played on? Where were they recorded? How did he get the gigs, and what actually happened at those recording sessions?

As provider of SlapKlatz drum dampeners for JR, often used in a recording setting, we thought it would make perfect sense to dig a little more into the stories behind the tracks. Therefore, we have taken 10 of the biggest hits that John ever played on, and asked him about all the tracks.

Well ladies and gentlemen… Kick back, relax … grab a cup of coffee and continue reading, as you are about to hear some of the real “behind the scenes” stories from studio legend John JR Robinson himself.

And here they are – in random order – enjoy!

 

Ain’t nobody (Chaka Khan)

Ain't Nobody - Chaka Khan - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
Amigo studios, n. Hollywood

How did you get the gig?
It was my band, Rufus and Chaka Khan – Hawk wrote the song, and I went into the studio and laid down the groove.

What do you remember about this session?
Amigo is a very small studio located in north Hollywood. It was just me recording, as Hawk already had his parts on tape. Hawk’s demo had a drum machine part and a synth bass. I came in and replaced Hawk’s machine drums with my own concept. We all chose to lay the kick and snare down in one pass. This concept was being used a lot during the early 80’s, as to keep the hihat out of the snare mic. I then added the hihat and the fills.

Listen to the song
You can listen to Ain’t nobody here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

I’m So Exited (Pointer Sisters)

Pointer Sisters - I'm so excited - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
This was recorded at Studio 55, owned by Richard Perry and located on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the studio no longer exists, but it’s ghosts sit right in the middle of Paramount.

How did you get the gig?
I received a call from Richard Perry, asking me to come down to the studio a record for the Pointer Sisters.

What do you remember about this session?
This was a great band with Nate Watts on bass, Tim May, Paul Jackson and Ira Newborn on guitars, and with John Barnes on keys. I remember hearing the demo and thinking that “…this is funky!” However, after playing the song with the cats, it all made sense.

I first saw the Pointer Sisters in 1972 when they opened up for Chicago at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Des Moines, Iowa. They played Cloudburst and Yes we can. I always wanted to play with them. I got the chance with I’m so excited and Slow hand.

Listen to the song
You can listen to I’m so exited right here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

We are the world (USA for Africa)

We are the world - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
This was recorded at Kenny Rodgers studio, Lionshare in studio A. It’s located in Los Angeles. This was the original ABC/Dunhill records building. When I first joined Rufus we were on ABC/Dunhill. So when Kenny bought the building, I was very familiar with the location. The very famous vocals were recorded one week later at A&M studios.

How did you get the gig?
Quincy Jones called me for this gig. We had been recording over 10+ records at that time, and this one was very special. We are the world still holds the record for most sales.

What do you remember about this session?
It was a great but small rhythm section with Greg Phillinganes on keys and the late Louis Johnson on bass. This was the main rhythm section for Quincy. So we cut with a trio – piano, bass and drums. Everything else was layered from the bottom up.

There were so many media types in the studio with us, that it was very chaotic. After we had learned the song around the piano with Lionel and Michael, the media kept swarming. Quincy looked at me and said: “JR, let’s get this going!” I basically said: “Everyone, get the fuck out, let us record first and then you all can come back in!”. They all fled out and we cut a number one record.

Listen to the song
You can listen to We are the world right here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

Change the world (Eric Clapton)

Eric Clapton - Change the world - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
This was recorded in 1997 at Record Plant, in the back room in Hollywood.

How did you get the gig?
I had been working for Babyface (Kenny Edmunds), and he called me for this session.

What do you remember about this session?
I was sick that day, but I got there early and got the drums tweaked with my tech. I noticed that there weren’t any other musicians on the session, except Dean Parks. So I worked in the control room with Babyface and Dean, running the click while Babyface taught Dean the acoustic guitar part. We went back and forth to try and find the correct click for the correct feel of this great song. Once Dean was ready, we layed down the click and dean only. I then went out to the drum room and recorded the drums. Nathan East, Michael Thompson, Greg Phillinganes and Luis Conte all came in later and overdubbed.

How did you come up with the drum part of this song?
After listening to Babyface (producer) play the song 30 times ,I had formulated my drum track and knew exactly how it was going to go down. Remember, your ears are equal tools of the trade.

Listen to the song
You can listen to Change the world here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

All night long (Lionel Richard)

All night long (all night) - Lionel Richie - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
I believe this was recorded in 1982 at Ocean Way Studio A, which is now United A.

How did you get the gig?
Lionel Richie called me with his producer James Carmichael. I had known Lionel through the Rufus days, and had already played on “You Are”.

What do you remember about this session?
This was very special because Lionel was playing a Yamaha CS80 and we had Abraham Laboriel SR. playing bass. The 3 of us cut the song. We cut it with the space and grace that the song needed.

How did you record the drums and what about all the percussion?
The drums were not recorded with the percussion. Once the trio was recorded, everything was layered on top.

Listen to the song
You can listen to All night long (all night) here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

Lose yourself to dance (Daft Punk)

Lose yourself to dance - Daft Punk - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
This was recorded at Conway Studio C in 2014 by genuis Mick Guzauski.

How did you get the gig?
I got a call from keyboard arranger Chris Caswell.

What do you remember about this session?
Nathan East, Chris and myself were set up in Conway C. Mick got his usual unbelievable organic drum sounds. We really didn’t have a complete song, just ideas. I found myself playing different grooves to certain tempos. This left Daft Punk the option of piecing our grooves into their dimension.

So I basically played what I wanted to on this song. The groove that Nathan and I got into on “Lose yourself to dance” is so deep and funky, that it couldn’t be denied!

Listen to the song
You can listen to Lose yourself to dance here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

Don’t stop till you get enough (Michael Jackson)

Don't stop till you get enough - Michael Jackson - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
We recorded this at Allen Zentz in late 1979 or early 1980.

How did you get the gig?
Again, Quincy Jones was producing Rufus and Chaka Khan with “Masterjam” before “Off the wall”. He asked me if I did outside sessions. I – off course – said yes, so he had me come down on a Thursday. I overdubbed drums on “Girlfriend” and “It’s the falling in love”. Some time went by, and he pushed the talkback down and asked: “What are you doing monday?” I said “nothing” and he said: “Would you like to come down and record the rest of the record?” I rejoiced!

What do you remember about this session?
This is the first time I met Greg Phillinganes. We cut this song as a trio. When we finished the song, Greg was standing on his piano bench! We also knew that we had just recorded a number 1 record.

To what extend did Michael involve himself in the recording process?
Michael was very involved in the entire Off the wall record, and it’s to this day my favorite of all MJ’s records.

Listen to the song
You can listen to Don’t stop till you get enough here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

Express Yourself (Madonna)

Madonna - Express Yourself - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
This was recorded at Pat Leonard’s studio Johnny Yuma in North Hollywood.

How did you get the gig?
Pat called me directly. He felt that I would enhance this song.

What do you remember about this session?
This is when I first met Madonna. I got to the session early and got the drums set and John Good was my drum tech. We got everything ready to record, but Madonna hadn’t showed up, so I went ahead and recorded a pass. She showed up and we were properly introduced. I told her that the song was smokin’ and she would dig my drum track. Pat told me that she usually likes to watch the drummer record. She sat in front of the console listening intently and when the song was done she turned to me and said: “It’s fucking great!

What kind of drums did you use for this type of drum sound?
I used custom Yamaha Recording Custom drums. John Good was my tech for the Madonna sessions, and also for the Peter Cetera sessions. I have now been with DW for over 10 years, and my friendship with John is second to none.

Listen to the song
You can listen to Express yourself here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

Rock with you (Michael Jackson)

Michael Jackson - Rock With You - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
We recorded this track in early 1980 at Westlake Studio B.

How did you get the gig?
Again, I had been the mainstay for the entire “Off the wall” record. Quincy wanted me to be the pillar amidst the different other rhythm section players that were interjected.

What do you remember about this session?
This was Quincy’s brilliant casting of Bobby Watson and Hawk Wolinski from my band, Rufus. Rod Temperton had created gold with this song, and all the pieces came together. This is my favorite MJ song.

Can you tell a little bit about how this song came to life, and how you came up with the famous pick up fill?
Rod had a good demo that had an intro fill. We were at least 3 takes into the recording and very becoming stagnant. Quincy and Rod both came out of the control room and stood right behind me. Quincy asked: “JR, can you come up with an intro fill the whole world will forever identify with?” I said “yes” and the next take was the take!

Listen to the song
You can listen to Rock with you here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music

 

Higher Love (Steve Winwood)

Steve Winwood - Higher love - John JR RobinsonWhere did you record this track?
Chris and Tom Lord Alge recorded this in New York City at Unique Studios.

How did you get the gig?
I was already in NYC recording for George Benson, and had a day off. I then got a phone call from producer Russ Titelman, and he asked if I could come over to the studio and listen to some new songs from Steve. So I went and listened and immediately raised my hand and asked if I could play on these. Russ said: “Why do you think you’re here?” Duh… Anyway, Higher Love was the key!

What do you remember about this session?
Since I already had my drums in NYC, we got them to Unique Studios and got amazing sound. I started with kick, snare and hat on the first pass. I then put toms and then cymbals on it. After that I was just messing around with a snare’s off timbale-like groove on my snare. I must have had the vibe because the talkback went down and they asked me to put that part on. After that, the rest is history!

Listen to the song
You can listen to Higher love here: Play with Deezer Play with Spotify Play with Apple Music


John JR Robinson biography

We hope that you enjoyed reading these stories from drummer John JR Robinson.
If you want to read about him, check out our biography on John right here.