Jim Keltner

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Jim Keltner
Keltner performing at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971
Keltner performing at The Concert for Bangladesh in 1971
Background information
Birth nameJames Lee Keltner
Born (1942-04-27) April 27, 1942 (age 80)
Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
GenresRock, R&B, jazz
  • Drums
  • percussion
Years active1965–present
Formerly of

James Lee Keltner (born April 27, 1942) is an American drummer and percussionist known primarily for his session work. He was characterized by Bob Dylan biographer Howard Sounes as "the leading session drummer in America".[1]


Keltner was inspired to start playing because of an interest in jazz, but the popularity of jazz was declining during the late 1950s and early 1960s, and it was the explosion of pop/rock in the mid-1960s that enabled him to break into recording work in Los Angeles. His first gig as a session musician was recording "She's Just My Style" for the pop group Gary Lewis and the Playboys.[2][3]

Keltner's music career was hardly paying a living, and for several years at the outset he was supported by his wife. Toward the end of the 1960s, he finally began getting regular session work and eventually became one of the busiest drummers in Los Angeles. His earliest credited performances on record were with Gabor Szabo on the 1968 album Bacchanal.[2]

In 1968, Keltner was also working in a music shop in Pasadena just down the street from the old Ice House coffeehouse when he was recruited to play drums in a "psychedelic" vocal group named "MC Squared" along with Michael Crowley, Michael Clough, Linda Carey, (all from the folk group The Back Porch Majority) and session guitarist/bassist Randy Cierley Sterling.[4] They were signed by Mo Ostin and recorded an album for Warner/Reprise originally titled "MC Squared" which has later been re-mastered and re-released in 2012 with the album title "Tantalizing Colors."[5] They appeared live that same year on the Hugh Hefner / Playboy Magazine television show Playboy After Dark playing two songs: an original by MC Squared members Michael Clough and Michael Crowley titled "I Know You" and a version of the Fred Neil song Everybody's Talkin'. Both Playboy After Dark performances with Keltner playing drums can currently be viewed on YouTube.

It was his work with Leon Russell playing on Delaney & Bonnie's Accept No Substitute that attracted the attention of Joe Cocker, who recruited Russell and everyone else he could out of the Delaney & Bonnie band for his Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour. Playing with Joe Cocker led to work in 1970 and 1971, on records by Carly Simon (No Secrets), Barbra Streisand (Barbra Joan Streisand), Booker T. Jones (Booker T. & Priscilla), George Harrison (The Concert for Bangladesh) and John Lennon (Imagine).[2]

Former Beatles[edit]

Keltner is well known for his session work on solo recordings by three members of the Beatles, working with George Harrison, John Lennon (including Lennon solo albums, as well as albums released both by the Plastic Ono Band and Yoko Ono), and Ringo Starr.[3]

Keltner played on many key former Beatle solo releases, including Harrison's 1973 album Living in the Material World and Lennon's 1974 album Walls and Bridges. When Ringo Starr recorded his first full-fledged pop album, Ringo, Keltner was featured on several tracks. Following this, Keltner joined George Harrison on his 1974 tour of the United States.[2]

In 1974 Keltner played on the Lennon-produced Harry Nilsson album Pussy Cats alongside Ringo (and Keith Moon) on "Rock Around the Clock". Keltner was featured on the Nilsson albums Son of Schmilsson with Harrison, Starr and Beatles associate Klaus Voormann as well as Duit on Mon Dei with Starr and Voormann.

Keltner's relationship with the former Beatles was such that his name was used to parody Paul McCartney on albums released by Harrison and Starr in 1973. Early that year, McCartney, the only Beatle not to have worked with Keltner, included a note on the back cover of his Red Rose Speedway album, encouraging fans to join the "Wings Fun Club" by sending a "stamped addressed envelope" to an address in London. Later that year, both Harrison's Living in the Material World and Starr's Ringo contained a similar note encouraging fans to join the "Jim Keltner Fan Club" by sending a "stamped undressed elephant" to an address in Hollywood.[6][7]

Keltner played the role of the judge in the music video for George Harrison's 1976 Top 30 hit, "This Song".

In 1989, Keltner toured with Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band.[8]


Keltner is an endorser of DW drums, hardware and pedals, Ahead drumsticks/gloves/griptape, Paiste Cymbals, Remo drumheads and world percussion and Roland electronics.

Little Village[edit]

In 1987, Keltner, along with guitarist Ry Cooder and bassist Nick Lowe, played on John Hiatt's Bring the Family. Four years later the four musicians reunited as the band Little Village, recording an eponymous album.[3]

Traveling Wilburys[edit]

Keltner played drums on both albums released by the 1980s supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, playing under the pseudonym "Buster Sidebury".[3]

Ry Cooder[edit]

Keltner became Ry Cooder's go-to drummer, recording with him on many of his albums for over 40 years, including the following, as well as playing with him in Little Village.

List of artists[edit]

Keltner, as a freelance drummer, has worked with a long list of artists.


Jim Keltner recorded two albums with his band Attitudes for George Harrison's Dark Horse label. The band also included Danny Kortchmar, David Foster and Paul Stallworth, and recorded Attitudes in 1975 and Good News in 1977.

He is featured on Carly Simon's 1971 album, Anticipation.

He played on various tracks on Randy Newman's albums Sail Away and Little Criminals, including "You Can Leave Your Hat On", "Short People", and "Jolly Coppers On Parade".

He also played drums on the Bee Gees 1973 album Life in a Tin Can.

He played on 5 songs on Jackson Browne’s “For Everyman” album recorded in 1973 including the song “These Days.”

In 1973, he was the session drummer on Bob Dylan's Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, which includes the hit "Knockin' on Heaven's Door". He described that session as "a monumental session for me because it was such a touching song, it was the first time I actually cried when I was playing".[3][9]

In 1974, he played on most tracks on the Jack Bruce album Out of the Storm.

Other demonstrations of his style and range can be found in "Jealous Guy" on John Lennon's Imagine, the hit single "Dream Weaver" by Gary Wright, and "Watching the River Flow" by Bob Dylan.[3]

Keltner is the drummer on the Steely Dan tune "Josie" (released in 1977). In the DVD "Steely Dan - Classic Albums: Aja", Donald Fagen states that in the bridge of the tune, Keltner overdubbed a 16th note based pattern played on a metal trash can lid.

Keltner is credited as the drummer on the 1979 album by Roy Clark and Gatemouth Brown, Makin' Music.[10]

Keltner appears on Marc Jordan's 1979 album "Blue Desert" on tracks "Twilight" and "Lost in The Hurrah".


Keltner specialized in R&B, and developed a deceptively simple drumming style that melds a casual, loose feel with extraordinary precision.[3] He is said to have influenced Jeff Porcaro and Danny Seraphine of Chicago.

Keltner played on the Saved and Shot of Love albums by Bob Dylan.

Keltner performed on many classic recordings by J. J. Cale and often worked with bassist Tim Drummond.[3]

He played on most of the tracks on Roy Orbison's swansong Mystery Girl.

He played on four Richard Thompson albums: Daring Adventures (1986), Amnesia (1988), Rumor and Sigh (1991) and you? me? us? (1996).

Keltner played drums on the song "Now We're Getting Somewhere" from the hit album Crowded House (1986).

Also, he was a session drummer for the reunited Pink Floyd on the album A Momentary Lapse of Reason.


In the mid-1990s, Keltner joined the London Metropolitan Orchestra on its recording of "An American Symphony" on the movie soundtrack for Mr Holland's Opus.

In 1992, he played (together with Booker T. & the M.G.'s) at Bob Dylan's The 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration.

In 1993, he toured with Neil Young and Booker T. & the M.G.'s.

He played on Brian Wilson's 1995 album, I Just Wasn't Made for These Times.[11]

He guested on Sheryl Crow's 1996 self-titled album, on the track "The Book".

He played on Gillian Welch's album Revival, on the track "The Only One and Only".

Keltner played on the 1997 Bill Frisell album Gone, Just Like a Train with Viktor Krauss and toured as a member of the trio in support of the album. He also played on the 1999 Frisell album Good Dog, Happy Man and is pictured in the CD leaflet and back cover (Nonesuch 79536-2).


In 2000, Keltner toured with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on their "Tour of America".

In 2000 he was the drummer on Neil Young's album Silver & Gold.

In 2000, Keltner collaborated with Charlie Watts, drummer of the Rolling Stones, on an instrumental album entitled The Charlie Watts–Jim Keltner Project. [12] Watts played drums for each track, while Keltner contributed sequenced sounds and percussion. Tracks were named after famous drummers.

In 2002, he briefly joined Bob Dylan's band during the European gigs while its main drummer, George Receli, recuperated from a hand injury. Later in the year, Keltner played in Concert For George, a tribute to George Harrison a year following his death. Wearing a sweatshirt with a Bob Dylan logo, he reprised his role as the Wilburys' drummer, joining Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne for "Handle with Care." During that project and performance, he worked with Paul McCartney along with other percussionists, including Ringo Starr.

In 2003, he toured with Simon & Garfunkel in their Old Friends tour.

In 2004, he was one of the "Hot Licks" on Dan Hicks' Selected Shorts CD.[13]

In 2006, he toured with T-Bone Burnett in The True False Identity tour and was featured on Jerry Lee Lewis's album Last Man Standing. He played on Mavis Staples's album We'll Never Turn Back, produced by Ry Cooder.

He also lent his drumming skills to the tracks on Richard Shapero's full-length album entitled Wild Animus: The Ram, recorded the same year.

In 2007, he appeared with Lucinda Williams on West. The album was listed No. 18 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 50 Albums of 2007. He also played on Phish keyboardist's self titled debut album Page McConnell, released in 2007.

In 2008, Keltner appeared on Break up the Concrete by The Pretenders, on One Kind Favor by B. B. King and on Oasis's "The Boy with the Blues", a non-album-track from Dig Out Your Soul.

Also in 2008, Keltner participated in the production of the album Psalngs,[14] the debut release of Canadian musician John Lefebvre.

In 2009, Keltner played drums on singer/songwriter Todd Snider's Don Was-produced album, The Excitement Plan.


In 2010, Keltner produced Jerry Lee Lewis's Mean Old Man duets CD. He played drums on Fistful of Mercy's debut album, As I Call You Down, which one of the band's members, Dhani Harrison, described in an interview as the first project of his that he felt worthy to bring to Keltner, who was an old family friend (Dhani is the son of George Harrison). Keltner also played on The Union by Leon Russell and Elton John, produced by T-Bone Burnett and released on October 10, 2010. He also appeared on the eponymous Eric Clapton album, on 8 of the 14 tracks.

Joseph Arthur's 2011 album, The Graduation Ceremony, features Keltner on drums, reprising a partnership that began with the Fistful of Mercy project.

He has recorded twice with the indie band She & Him, on 2011's A Very She & Him Christmas and 2014's Classics.

He played drums on Michael Buble’s 2011 “Christmas” album. The tracks are “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and “Blue Christmas.”

For the 2012 release, Chimes of Freedom: The Songs of Bob Dylan Honoring 50 Years of Amnesty International, Keltner sat in a studio with Outernational covering Dylan's "When the Ship Comes In".

In 2012, he also played drums on John Mayer's "Something Like Olivia", the fifth track of the album Born and Raised.[15]

That same year, he recorded with Italian instrumental band Sacri Cuori on their second record, Rosario.

In 2013, Keltner appears on the track "If I Were Me" from Sound City: Real to Reel with Dave Grohl, Jessy Greene and Rami Jaffee. Also, on "Our Love Is Here To Stay", a classic Gershwin jazz standard recorded by Eric Clapton for his album, Old Sock.

In 2014, Keltner played on Peter Himmelman's album The Boat That Carries Us.

In 2016, Keltner recorded drums for Neil Young's thirty-seventh studio album, Peace Trail. In 2016, Keltner also appeared on the Rolling Stones' CD "Blue & Lonesome", playing percussion on "Hoo Doo Blues."

In 2017, Keltner played drums and percussion as well as co-producing Conor Oberst's Salutations album. Oberst described Keltner's production as "flawless".[16]

In 2018, he played drums and percussion on Boz Scaggs' 19th album, Out of the Blues, and Eric Clapton's Happy Xmas.

In 2019, Keltner played drums along with bassist Mike Watt for guitarist Mike Baggetta's Wall of Flowers album released in March.[17] Keltner played drums on the original soundtrack for the movie "The Irishman". The music was written by Robbie Robertson.

Keltner plays drums on the song "Kanashiki LA Tengoku" (悲しきLA天国) included on Mike Viola's 2020 album The Best of Mike Viola.[18] Manga artist Naoki Urasawa, who wrote the original song,[18] also performs on it and drew a short manga of the experience for his "Musica Nostra" series that features Keltner.


With Cal Tjader

  • Cal Tjader Sounds Out Burt Bacharach (Skye Records, 1968)

With John Lennon

With Mick Jagger

With Nerina Pallot

  • Fires (Idaho Records, 2005)

With Dion DiMucci

With Patti Scialfa

With Debby Boone

With Livingston Taylor

With Bruce Cockburn

With J. D. Souther

With Keb' Mo'

With Rob Thomas

  • Cradlesong (Atlantic Records, 2009)
  • Someday (Atlantic Records, 2010)

With Indigo Girls

With Robbie Robertson

With Jessie Baylin

  • Little Spark (Blonde Rat, 2012)

With Kim Carnes

With Bob Bennett

With Neil Young

With Judy Collins

With Bee Gees

With Diana Krall

With Delbert McClinton

  • One of the Fortunate Few (Rising Tide, 1997)

With Delaney & Bonnie

With Ted Gärdestad

With Michel Polnareff

  • Michel Polnareff (Atlantic Records, 1975)

With Gillian Welch

With Steely Dan

  • Aja (ABC Records, 1977)

With Lesley Gore

  • Love Me By Name (A&M Records, 1976)

With Melissa Etheridge

With Wayne Watson

  • Field of Souls (Warner Alliance, 1995)

With Shannon McNally

With Donovan

With Richie Furay

  • Seasons of Change (Myrrh Records, 1982)

With Dave Mason

With Arlo Guthrie

With Jenny Lewis

With Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks

With Céline Dion

With Eye to Eye

  • Eye to Eye (Warner Bros. Records, 1982)

With Jill Sobule

With Willis Alan Ramsey

With Carlene Carter

With Melody Gardot

With Frank Black

With Joseph Arthur

With Smokey Robinson

With John Lee Hooker

With Delaney Bramlett

  • Sounds From Home (Zane, 1998)

With Johnny Rivers

  • Home Grown (United Artists Records, 1970)
  • Outside Help (Big Tree Records, 1977)
  • Not a Through Street (CBS, 1983)

With Joe Henry

With Lonnie Mack

  • Second Sight (Alligator Records, 1986)

With Mavis Staples

With Tanita Tikaram

With Beth Nielsen Chapman

With Phoebe Bridgers

With Rosie Vela

  • Zazu (A&M Records, 1986)

With Rhett Miller

With Marshall Crenshaw

With Kiki Dee

  • Stay With Me (Rocket, 1978)

With Diana DeGarmo

With George Harrison

With The Pretenders

With Karen Alexander

  • Voyager (Elektra Records, 1978)

With A. J. Croce

With Bonnie Raitt

With Cracker

With John Mayer

With Chris Isaak

With Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown

  • Long Way Home (Verve Records, 1995)

With Melissa Manchester

With Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

With Keith Carradine

  • Lost & Found (Asylum Records, 1979)

With Beth Orton

With Matthew Sweet

With Denny Doherty

  • Waiting for a Song (Ember Records, 1974)

With Peter Allen

With Joe Cocker

With Albert King

With Shawn Colvin

With Ringo Starr

With Alison Krauss

With Linda Ronstadt

With Michelle Branch

With Rickie Lee Jones

With Richard Thompson

With B.B. King

With Dan Fogelberg

With Brian Wilson

With Don Henley

With Warren Zevon

With Marc Cohn

With Elton John and Leon Russell

With Yoko Ono

With Curtis Stigers

  • Brighter Days (Columbia Records, 1999)

With Jackson Browne

With Aaron Neville

With Maria Muldaur

With Bill Withers

With Colin James

With Roy Orbison

With Van Dyke Parks

With Christine Lakeland

  • Reckoning (Virgin Records, 1993)

With Michael Penn

With Adam Cohen

  • Adam Cohen (Columbia Records, 1998)

With Boz Scaggs

With Bob Dylan

With Jann Arden

With Bill Wyman

With Tim Easton

  • Break Your Mother's Heart (New West Records, 2003)

With Tom Petty

With Pops Staples

  • Peace to the Neighborhood (Pointblack Records, 1992)
  • Father Father (Pointblack Records, 1994)

With Sam Phillips

With Fiona Apple

With Susanna Hoffs

With Neil Finn

With Carly Simon

With Ryan Adams

  • Gold (Lost Highway Records, 2001)

With Vonda Shepard

  • The Radical Light (Reprise Records, 1992)

With Ron Davies

  • Silent Song Through the Land (A&M Records, 1970)

With Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt

With William Lee Golden

  • American Vagabond (MCA Records, 1986)

With Rufus Wainwright

With Pink Floyd

With Matraca Berg

  • The Speed of Grace (MCA Records, 1994)

With Crowded House

With Aimee Mann

With Neil Diamond

With Pat McLaughlin

  • Pat McLaughlin (Capitol Records, 1988)

With Loudon Wainwright III

With Randy Newman

With Jimmy Cliff

  • Follow My Mind (Reprise Records, 1975)
  • Give Thankx (Warner Bros. Records, 1978)

With Perfume Genius

With Joni Mitchell

With José Feliciano

  • And the Feeling's Good (RCA Victor, 1974)
  • For My Love... Mother Music (RCA Victor, 1974)

With Eric Clapton

With Ted Hawkins

With Janice Robinson

  • The Color Within Me (Columbia Records, 1999)

With Tonio K.

  • Note from the Lost Civilization (A&M Records, 1988)

With Sara Bareilles

With David Pomeranz

  • It's in Every One of Us (Arista Records, 1975)

With Claudia Lennear

  • Phew! (Warner Bros. Records, 1973)

With Hanne Boel

  • Dark Passion (Medley Records, 1990)

With Michael Des Barres

  • Somebody Up There Likes Me (MCA Records, 1986)

With Jude Cole

With Toto

With Ry Cooder

With Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers

With Don Felder

With Hoyt Axton

  • Life Machine (A&M Records, 1974)
  • Fearless (A&M Records, 1976)
  • Free Sailin' (MCA Records, 1978)

With Murray Attaway

With Cher

  • Stars (Warner Bros. Records, 1975)

With Leon Russell

With Leonard Cohen

With Ivan Neville

With Toni Childs

With Martha Reeves

  • Martha Reeves (MCA Records, 1974)

With Nick Lowe

With Tom Pacheco

  • The Outsider (RCA Victor, 1976)

With Sheryl Crow

With Frankie Valli

  • Closeup (Private Stock Records, 1975)

With David Crosby

With Bette Midler

With Maria McKee

With Tom Johnston

  • Everything You've Heard Is True (Warner Bros. Records, 1979)

With Rod Stewart

With Rita Coolidge

With Willie Nelson

With Thelma Houston

With Harry Nilsson

With Syd Straw

  • Surprise (Virgin Records, 1989)

With Michael Bublé

With Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

With Roberta Flack

With Rodney Crowell

With Barbra Streisand

With Irene Cara

With Ronnie Wood

With Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack

With Art Garfunkel

With Elvis Costello

With J. J. Cale

With James Taylor

With Terry Evans

  • Blues for Thought (Point Blank Records, 1994)
  • Puttin' In Down (AudioQuest Music, 1995)
  • Walk That Walk (Telark Records, 2000)

With Yvonne Elliman

  • Night Flight (RSO Records, 1978)
  • Yvonne (RSO Records, 1979)

With Les Dudek

With Dolly Parton

With Carole Bayer Sager


  1. ^ Howard Sounes. Down the Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan Doubleday. 2001 p329. ISBN 0-552-99929-6
  2. ^ a b c d Bruce Eder. "Jim Keltner – artist biography". AllMusic.com. Retrieved January 12, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "Jim Keltner". Drummerworld. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  4. ^ Christy. "MC Squared (MC2) - Psychedelicized".
  5. ^ "Tantalizing Colours: The Reprise Recordings - MC Squared - Credits". AllMusic.
  6. ^ "The Beatles The Jim Keltner Fan Club UK Promo memorabilia". eil.com. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "The Jim Keltner Fan Club". Blogcritics. August 29, 2010. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  8. ^ "All Starr Band 1989". victorbaissait.fr.
  9. ^ "Jim Keltner on Knockin' on Heaven's Door". Archived from the original on December 29, 2012. Retrieved December 7, 2009.
  10. ^ Makin' Music (MCAD-22125 ed.). Universal City, CA: MCA Records, Inc. 1979.
  11. ^ Brian Wilson I Just Wasn't Made For These Times, MCA Records, Inc., Universal City, CA, 1995
  12. ^ Jazz, All About. "Charlie Watts Jim Keltner Project: Charlie Watts Jim Keltner Project album review @ All About Jazz". All About Jazz. Retrieved February 12, 2022.
  13. ^ "Selected Shorts". Archived from the original on May 7, 2017. Retrieved September 27, 2017.
  14. ^ "Psalngs.com". Press.Psalngs.com. Retrieved January 14, 2014.
  15. ^ "John Mayer, 'Born and Raised': Track-By-Track Review". Billboard. May 22, 2012. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
  16. ^ Hargreaves, Keith (April 27, 2017). "Conor Oberst "Salutations" (Nonesuch Records, 2017)".
  17. ^ Maiuri, Ken (March 3, 2019). "Ken Maiuri's Clubland: Guitarist Mike Baggetta records and debuts a new album". Daily Hampshire Gazette. Retrieved March 18, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "浦沢直樹が"天才POP職人"マイク・ヴァイオラのベスト盤にミュージシャンとして参加" (in Japanese). Natalie. January 22, 2020. Retrieved November 29, 2020.

External links[edit]