Talented, creative, and one of the true gentlemen in the music business. These are the words most often used to describe Russ Kunkel by the many musical artists who have worked with him over the past three decades. Although the renowned drummer says his big break was a matter of being in the right place at the right time, it has been Kunkel's combined talents and skills as performer, producer and songwriter that have kept him in demand by the top names in rock 'n roll. In Kunkel's career, he has either toured, done session work, produced and/or written hit songs with the likes of Steve Winwood, Linda Ronstadt, Dan Fogelberg, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Joe Walsh, James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Stevie Nicks, Simon & Garfunkel, Aaron Neville, The Bee Gees, Reba McIntyre, Kenny Rogers, Wynonna, Lyle Lovett and Jimmy Buffett, among others.
First known for his expressive, lyrical drumming style, Kunkel also has earned a reputation for musical creativity and artistic sensitivity as a producer, helping both established and new artists find their "voice" for musical expression. It is why he continues to be sought out by today's leading singer/songwriters; and it has allowed Kunkel to continue building and expanding a diverse musical career that has been going strong since the 1970s.
Born in Pittsburgh in 1948, Kunkel moved to Southern California at the start of the '60s. He grew up in Long Beach and drummed in a series of groups before forming the Things to Come, which landed a 19-week stint as the house band at the legendary Whisky-A-Go-Go. There, he opened for some of the top names of the era, including Cream, Traffic and The Byrds, and his talent caught the ear of Joel Sill at Trousdale Music, who invited Kunkel to play on various publishing demos. His work came to the attention of The Beatles' Apple Records head, Peter Asher, who was recruiting players for an album by a new artist, James Taylor. Asher hired Kunkel to play on Taylor's Apple debut (which also included Carole King, Danny Kortchmar and other notables).
The session proved to be the drummer's big break and it wasn't long before Kunkel found himself playing with George Harrison, Bob Dylan and others in a spontaneous, unrehearsed all-night recording session in New York City. The moment proved to be magical, with some of the songs ending up on Harrison and Dylan albums. For Kunkel, it led to even more opportunities.
Building on a strong foundation of touring and session work, Kunkel began to explore a range of creative areas. In the early '70s, he wrote, performed and recorded as a member of the L.A.-based jazz-rock group, The Section. In the studio, Kunkel co-produced albums for Fogelberg, Buffett, Clannad, Jane Weidlin and Carly Simon. As a songwriter, he collaborated on hits with Aaron Neville, Jimmy Buffett, Clannad, Joe Cocker and others. And, branching out into motion pictures, Kunkel created/co-produced film scores for Mike Nichols' "Heartburn," Joyce Chopra's "Smooth Talk" and "Certain Fury" for New World Films.
Although best known as a performer, Kunkel has established a solid commercial track record as a producer. He has a complete recording studio in his home and is always coming up with new grooves and songs. For example, the title song he co-produced for Carly Simon's "Coming Around Again" LP was not only a hit for the singer, but also was the musical centerpiece for the movie, "Heartburn." Clannad's "Something to Believe In" and Fogelberg's "Lonely In Love" both did well on the AC charts. And, by co-producing Jimmy Buffett's "Hot Water" album, Kunkel was able to contribute as a songwriter, collaborating with Buffett and Mike Utley on several tunes.