Russell Kunkel (born September 27, 1948) is an American drummer and producer who has worked as a session musician with many popular artists, including Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Jimmy Buffett, Dan Fogelberg, Stephen Stills, Harry Chapin, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Joe Walsh, Neil Diamond, Glenn Frey, and Carly Simon.

Russ Kunkel
Birth nameRussell Kunkel
Born (1948-09-27) September 27, 1948 (age 71)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
GenresRock, pop, country, electronica
Occupation(s)Drummer, session musician, producer
InstrumentsDrums, percussion
Years active1960s–present
Associated actsThe Section
James Taylor
Jackson Browne
Lyle Lovett
Carly Simon

Early life and educationEdit

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 his band the Kingston Trio.[2]


Early careerEdit

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]

His first single was a demo with Joel Sill for the Trousdale Music, which he made with Joe Osborn and Larry Knechtel.[3] In late 1960s he worked for Bob Dylan and together they released a soundtrack to the movie Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and in 1970 he had helped Bob Dylan and drummer Billy Mundi to release a new album called New Morning. During the same years, he was a part of B.B. King's group where he played with the pianist Carole King, met Bill Szymczyk, Leon Russell and Joe Walsh, and 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] In 1971 Kunkel worked with Gerry Goffin, Gary Hart, and Carole King on the Tapestry album, which later became a classic. From 1971 to 1972 Kunkel worked with Joni Mitchell on her albums Blue and For the Roses. From 1972 to 1973 he played in an 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's song "Waterfall" and played a part in the 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]

Kunkel had a cameo as doomed drummer Eric "Stumpy Joe" Childs in the 1984 film This Is Spinal Tap.[9] Before the cameo appearance, he practiced it with Judith Owen and her husband Harry Shearer in Hollywood Hills. In the movie, he is playing on a modern version of Yamaha Drums called Yamaha PHX which is a combination of bass drum, hi-hats, floor tom, and toms.[10]


In 1991, after his appearance in the 1984 rockumentary, Kunkel joined Spinal Tap.[11] The same year, he appeared in Bob Seger's The Fire Inside where he played with former E Streeter Roy Bittan.[12]

He also known for his works with Reba McEntire, Wynonna Judd, Lyle Lovett, Jimmy Buffett,[1] Christopher Guest, Waddy Wachtel, Nigel Tufnel, Eric Clapton, John Sebastian,[3] Steve Winwood, Kenny Rogers, Simon & Garfunkel,[4] Norbert Putnam, Emory Gordy, Abraham Laboriel, Stewart Copeland, Phil Collins, Jimmy Iovine, and Stevie Nicks, among others.[2] In 1990 Kunkel married singer Nicolette Larson (1952-1997) with whom he has a daughter Elsie Mae Larson-Kunkel.


In 2010 Kunkel joined the Troubadour Reunion Tour supporting James Taylor and Carole King.[13]

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]

Recently,[when?] he started his own company called Chateau Beach Entertainment on which he recorded an album called Rivage.[4]

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.[14]

In 2019, Kunkel played in Linda Ronstadt's band, 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. Together they created a live album Live in Hollywood, which was produced by Peter Asher and was released in CD and vinyl formats by Rhino Entertainment.[15]


Kunkel is a self taught drummer and has a studio at his home,[16] 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.[17]

Partial discographyEdit






  1. ^ a b c d "Biography". Paiste. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Russ Kunkel". Modern Drummer. November 1984.
  3. ^ a b c d e Chris Burke (July 5, 2016). "Russ Kunkel: Laurel Canyon session legend". PressReader. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c "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. ^ John Beck (July 16, 2014). "Lovett and Large Band are Texas Big". The Press Democrat. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  10. ^ "Russ Kunkel Judith Owen". Rhythm. PressReader. May 10, 2016. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  11. ^ "Spectrasonic". Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  12. ^ Jim Beviglia (October 23, 2017). "Bob Seger And The Silver Bullet Band, "The Fire Inside"". American Songwriter.
  13. ^ "Carole King, James Taylor: Together, 40 Years Later". NPR. July 7, 2010. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  14. ^ Ryan Reed (January 17, 2018). "Spinal Tap Bassist Returns With David Crosby, Peter Frampton on Solo LP". Rolling Stone. Retrieved February 10, 2019.
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ Susan Alexander. "Russ Kunkel: On Call". Modern Drummer.
  17. ^ Russ Kunkel at AllMusic. Retrieved February 10, 2019.

External linksEdit