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Legendary drummer who played with some of the top names in rock music set to perform on South Coast

the immediate family.jpeg
Lobero Theater
The band The Immediate Family is made up Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel and Steve Postell

Russ Kunkel played with everyone from James Taylor to Linda Ronstadt. He will perform as part of the band The Immediate Family is Santa Barbara on Sunday.

You might not know his name. But, you’ll recognize many of the songs Russ Kunkel performed. For more than 50 years, the drummer has recorded and played live with some of the biggest names in rock and pop music.

"Linda Ronstadt could be one of the best female singers of all time...Stevie Nicks is the same thing...I got to play with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young," said Kunkel. He says getting to perform on James Taylor's Sweet Baby James album and Joni Mitchell's Blue in one year was enough for an entire career.

Kunkel was born in Pennsylvania, but as a child his family moved to Southern California. He credits his brother with spiking his interest in drumming. "My brother, Gilbert Kunkel, he was a drummer, and I grew up listening to his band rehearse in our home," said Kunkel. "He put sticks in my hand."

He took up music in public school, playing in bands. But it was the 60’s, and he loved rock and roll. He joined a band called Things To Come, and was soon playing on the iconic Sunset Strip.

But, the band failed to make it big. That’s when a combination of his skills with a drum set, and good luck combined for a major break.

Playing demo songs led to him performing with folk music singer and songwriter John Stewart. Producer and manager Peter Asher heard him, and brought him in as the drummer for James Taylor's band.

He toured with James Taylor for years. Kunkel’s skills made him a go-to drummer for everyone from Jimmy Buffett and Neil Diamond, to BB King and Carly Simon.

He’s still recording with various artists, but is focused on a new band with some friends, called The Immediate Family. It’s a who’s who of studio and touring musicians who literally helped create the music for an entire generation. The band’s made up of Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, Kunkel, Leland Sklar, and Steve Postell. They’re performing in Santa Barbara this weekend.

Kunkel admits it's fun for five musicians who have always been the stars behind the stars to be the headliners.

"We're a band of 70-year-old men that are kind of in the position of an 18-year-old startup band," said Kunkel. "But, it's pure fun."

The Immediate Family will perform this Sunday at Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater. The 7 p.m. show is part of the non-profit theater’s Lobero Live”series.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.