Russ Kunkel

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Russ Kunkel
Birth nameRussell Kunkel
Born (1948-09-27) September 27, 1948 (age 74)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
GenresRock, pop, country, electronic
Occupation(s)Musician, session musician, record producer
Instrument(s)Drums, percussion
Years active1960s–present

Russell Kunkel (born September 27, 1948) is an American drummer who has worked as a session musician with many popular artists, including Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Buffett, Harry Chapin, Rita Coolidge, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelberg, Glenn Frey, Art Garfunkel, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Carole King, Lyle Lovett, Reba McEntire, Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Seger, Carly Simon, Stephen Stills, James Taylor, Joe Walsh, Steve Winwood, Neil Young, and Warren Zevon. He was the studio and touring drummer for Crosby & Nash in the 1970s, and has played on all four of their studio albums.

Early life and education[edit]

Kunkel was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania[1] but by the age of nine he moved to Southern California. There, he was part of an orchestra at the local elementary school. Prior to moving, he was influenced by his brother and the song "Wipe Out" to play drums. During his high school years he lived in Long Beach, California. He played for approximately six different bands, including the Barons, and appeared at many sock hops and high school dances, playing surf music and Beatles songs. In his last two years of high school he was a jazz drummer and later worked for John Stewart and the Kingston Trio.[2]


Early career[edit]

In 1966, Kunkel moved to Los Angeles. He joined the band Things to Come and performed in Hollywood. During the summer of 1968, they performed at the Whisky a Go Go, a club on Sunset Strip. In 1967, when Jimi Hendrix's album Are You Experienced came out, Kunkel was impressed by Hendrix's playing style and they became good friends. A year later, Kunkel started working for the Band when they released Music from Big Pink.[3]

Kunkel's first single was a demo with Joel Sill for Trousdale Music, which included musicians Joe Osborn and Larry Knechtel.[3] In the late 1960s Kunkel worked for Bob Dylan and together they released a soundtrack to the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. In 1970 Kunkel helped Bob Dylan and drummer Billy Mundi release an album titled New Morning. During this time, Kunkel was a part of B.B. King's group, playing with pianist Carole King, and meeting Bill Szymczyk, Leon Russell, and Joe Walsh. He recorded "Hummingbird" for King's album Indianola Mississippi Seeds.[2]


In early 1970s, while rehearsing for the upcoming tour, he met Chris Darrow, a former player of John Stewart's,[3] who was a friend of Peter Asher and together along with James Taylor and bassist Leland Sklar they had put out an album. Later on, guitarist Danny Kortchmar came to them from The Flying Machine along with keyboardist Craig Doerge and together, the four of them, had formed a band called The Section. The group existed between 1972 and 1977, during which time they had recorded three albums. A few years later however, the band got smaller because Sklar preferred to work in the studio, and Doerge had joined another band.[2]

In 1970 Kunkel helped James Taylor to record the Sweet Baby James album.[4] Kunkel played on Tony Kosinec's "Bad Girl Songs," which was produced by Peter Asher. In 1971 Kunkel worked with Gerry Goffin, Gary Hart, and Carole King on the Tapestry album, which became a classic. From 1971 to 1972 Kunkel worked with Joni Mitchell on her albums Blue and For the Roses. Along with his bandmates in the Section, he appeared on the first album by Crosby & Nash, and would continue working with the duo through the decade. From 1972 to 1973 he played in the attic of James Taylor's house at Martha's Vineyard where he recorded parts of the One Man Dog album. In 1972 Kunkel helped Willis Alan Ramsey to release the album, Willis Alan Ramsey, which was issued under Shelter Records label.[5]

Three years later, Kunkel participated in the Carly Simon song "Waterfall" and played a part in James Taylor's album Gorilla in a song "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)". In 1977 during the recording of Jackson Browne's Running on Empty album, Kunkel played on Pearl and North Drum sets,[2] and went on a tour to promote the album.[3] During the same year, Kunkel played hi-hat on the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album CSN. A year later, he worked with Warren Zevon on Excitable Boy as part of the Section.[6]


In 1980 during his tour with Jackson Browne to promote his album Hold Out, he played a tom, a floor tom, a bass drum, a snare drum, and two cymbals. During those years, he also was a drummer for the Lawyers In Love album where he played in a song "Say It Isn't True".[2] In 1980s album Mad Love by Linda Ronstadt, Kunkel along with Waddy Wachtel and Danny Kortchmar performed in the songs "How Do I Make You" and "Mad Love". In 1981, Kunkel joined Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac to create the Bella Donna album, playing on tracks After the Glitter Fades, and Edge of Seventeen. In 1981, Kunkel worked for Bee Gees and performed in three of their songs: "Wildflower", "Cryin' Every Day", and "Be Who You Are", for the album Living Eyes.[7] In 1982, Kunkel, along with Kenny Passarelli, worked with Dan Fogelberg on a song "Tell Me to My Face".[8] In 1983 he helped Jackson Browne and Danny Kortchmar to write a song called "Tender Is the Night" and during that time met with Alan White of Yes. In 1990s he was invited by Joe Walsh to perform the song "I Keep Forgettin'", where he overdubbed with Linn drums.[2]

In 1980, Kunkel played in Linda Ronstadt's band for a concert that was shown on HBO, along with the guitarists Kenny Edwards and Danny Kortchmar, bassist Bob Glaub, keyboardist Billy Payne, pedal steel guitarist Dan Dugmore, and backing vocalist Wendy Waldman. Thirty-nine years later, an album of the concert, Live in Hollywood, was produced by Peter Asher and released in CD and vinyl formats by Rhino Entertainment.[9]

Kunkel had a cameo as doomed drummer Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs in the 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap.[10] Before the cameo appearance, he practiced it with Judith Owen and her husband Harry Shearer in Hollywood Hills.[11]


In 1991, after his appearance in the 1984 rockumentary, Kunkel joined Spinal Tap.[12] The same year, he appeared in Bob Seger's The Fire Inside where he played with former E Streeter Roy Bittan.[13]

2000s and 2010s[edit]

In 2004, Kunkel reunited with Crosby & Nash for their eponymous album, acting as both drummer and co-producer. In 2010 Kunkel joined the Troubadour Reunion Tour supporting James Taylor and Carole King.[14]

In 2014, Judith Owen, along with her husband and musician Harry Shearer had issued an Ebb & Flow album where Kunkel, Sklar, and Wachtel performed on songs such as Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime", James Taylor's "Hey Mister", "I've Never Been To Texas", and "I Would Give Anything". Owen invited him to rehearse for the 2016 album of hers called Somebody's Child.[6]

In 2018 Kunkel played on "Small Change", a song written by Harry Shearer. The song featured the Hungarian Studio Orchestra, Judith Owen and Danny Kortchmar and was issued in an album called Smalls Change by Twanky Records/BMG on April 13.[15][when?] He started his own company called Chateau Beach Entertainment in 2019 on which he recorded an album called Rivage.[4]

Kunkel, Kortchmar, Sklar and Wachtel, along with guitarist Steve Postell, reunited to form a new band, The Immediate Family, which released its debut album Honey Don't Leave L.A. in May 2018 from Japanese Vivid Sound label.[16] A live CD Live In Japan 2018 followed in December of that year.[17] The band's U.S. debut single, "Cruel Twist," was released in June 2020.[18]


Kunkel is a self taught drummer and has a studio at his home,[19] where he plays all kinds of instruments including keyboard, guitar, snare drums, bass drums, various toms,[2] and Zildjian and Paiste cymbals.[1] He endorses DW drums, Evans, drumheads and Pro-Mark sticks.[2] He has previously used Gretsch, Sonor, Yamaha, Pearl and Premier drums, as well as Remo drumheads, prior to switching to Paiste in 1983.[1] Other than drumming, he is credited with playing tambourine, shaker, cabasa, congas, timbales, castanets, wood block, hi-hats, cardboard box, cowbell, marimba, bongos, bells, timpani, cajon and percussion.[20]

Personal life[edit]

In 1968, Kunkel married Leah Kunkel, née Leah Cohen, who was the younger sister of Cass Elliot of The Mamas & The Papas.[21] Their son Nathaniel, now a Grammy- and Emmy-winning recording engineer and producer, was born in 1970.[22] When Cass Elliot died in 1974, Russ and Leah Kunkel took in her daughter Owen and raised her.[23] In 1990, Kunkel married singer Nicolette Larson, and that same year their daughter Elsie May Larson-Kunkel was born.[24] Kunkel and Larson were married until her death in 1997.[25] In 2014 he married Shauna Drayson.[citation needed]

Partial discography[edit]






  1. ^ a b c "Biography". Paiste. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Russ Kunkel". Modern Drummer. November 1984.
  3. ^ a b c d Chris Burke (July 5, 2016). "Russ Kunkel: Laurel Canyon session legend". PressReader. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Russ Kunkel - Drumming for the Song". Yamaha Entertainment Group. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  5. ^ Jedd Beaudoin (July 13, 2018). "Willis Alan Ramsey Finds Comfort In Old, New Songs". KMUW. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  6. ^ a b "Russ Kunkel on Record Key Albums you must hear". Rhythm. PressRreader. July 5, 2016. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  7. ^ "Gibb Songs: 1981". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  8. ^ Gene Triplett (January 30, 1982). "Dan Fogelberg Strums Music From Another Era". The Oklahoman.
  9. ^ Stephen L. Betts (January 30, 2019). "See Linda Ronstadt's Commanding 'You're No Good' From New 'Live in Hollywood'". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  10. ^ John Beck (July 16, 2014). "Lovett and Large Band are Texas Big". The Press Democrat. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  11. ^ "Russ Kunkel Judith Owen". Rhythm. PressReader. May 10, 2016. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  12. ^ "Spectrasonic". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  13. ^ Jim Beviglia (October 23, 2017). "Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band, "The Fire Inside"". American Songwriter.
  14. ^ "Carole King, James Taylor: Together, 40 Years Later". NPR. July 7, 2010. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  15. ^ Ryan Reed (January 17, 2018). "Spinal Tap Bassist Returns With David Crosby, Peter Frampton on Solo LP". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  16. ^ Waddy Wachtel. "Waddy Wachtel Discography". Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  17. ^ CDJapan. "Live In Japan At Billboard Live Tokyo". Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  18. ^ Shawn Perry. "The Immediate Family: Enduring Hardship With Music And Old Friends". Retrieved July 5, 2020.
  19. ^ Susan Alexander. "Russ Kunkel: On Call". Modern Drummer.
  20. ^ Russ Kunkel at AllMusic. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  21. ^ "Leah Kunkel". AllMusic. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  22. ^ "Nathaniel Kunkel". IMDb. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  23. ^ Weller, Sheila (February 1, 2021). "Cass Elliot's Daughter Talks About the Star's Pain and Bravery". NextTribe. Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  24. ^ "Nicolette Larson". Retrieved July 21, 2021.
  25. ^ Cramer, Christina (December 18, 1997). "Music World Says Goodbye To Nicolette Larson". Rolling Stone. Retrieved July 21, 2021.

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