Born April 27 1942 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Keltner made his name primarily as a session drummer in the 1970s. His initial interest as a drummer lay in jazz. But because of the declining popularity of jazz at the time, and the pop/rock explosion in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Keltner jumped on the rock ‘n’ roll bandwagon and broke into the Los Angeles music scene.
Keltner’s early experience as a session drummer was a struggle as he just tried to make ends meet. But toward the end of the ’60s, regular gigs came his way and he became one of the busiest drummers in L.A.
His earliest recorded work was with Gabor Szabo on the album Bacchanal. Later, his association with Leon Russel brought him to the attention of British crooner Joe Cocker, and Keltner’s career took off. It opened the floodgates to gigs with musicians such as Carly Simon, Barbara Streisand, George Harrison, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and Derek And The Dominos.
Playing on Lennon’s legendary record Imagine was a monumental boon to Ketlner’s career as it came right off the heels of The Beatle’s break-up, and media hype abounded. He was called to play George Harrison’s Concert For Bangladesh and was then recruited by Ringo Starr to perform on his first post-Beatles project.
From that platform Keltner went on to work with some of the biggest names in music, ranging from Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Arlo Guthrie, to B.B. King and Bob Dylan. He played on a countless number of records, which affirmed his reputation as one of the most experienced and studio-hardened session drummers of his time.
His drumming approach was idiosyncratic, loose, and soulful, and helped elevate the studio musician’s role from that of a generic hired hand to an individual who colors the music with personality and style. He is known not only for his great feel and sensitivity, but also for bringing a fresh approach to the potentially tedious world of pop music.