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The fantastic rhythm method and legacy of drummer Bernard “Pretty” Purdie

Photo courtesy of the artist
Photo courtesy of the artist

Over the course of a career that’s lasted more than five decades (and counting), Bernard “Pretty” Purdie has anchored countless hits spanning virtually every musical genre. Touted as “the world’s most recorded drummer,” Purdie boasts of having played on more than 500 number one hits and with over 2,200 different artists. He’s also, more controversially, claimed to have overdubbed Ringo Starr’s drum parts on early Beatles records.

Even with some allowance made for exaggeration and hyperbole, Purdie is the man behind the kit on countless songs that have provided the soundtrack of American life for the last fifty years. That’s Purdie on Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady” and the Queen of Soul’s Live at the Fillmore West; check the liner notes for James Brown’s Cold Sweat and Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud or Steely Dan’s The Royal Scam and Aja; there he is again on Hall and Oates’ “She’s Gone.” His resume goes on to include Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Gil Scott-Heron, Joe Cocker, Todd Rundgren, B.B. King, The Last Poets, N.W.A, Herbie Mann, The Chemical Brothers, Cornell Dupree, and enough other names to fill the remainder of this article.

Given the stunning range of styles and approaches represented by that list, how does Purdie define his own personal sound? “I have a signature,” he says. “My signature is to make sure that the song feels good, no matter what. But I also add to it. I want you to dance. I need you to move your body. I don’t care if you’re sitting in a wheelchair, you can still move your body. Whether you get into it, close your eyes, sway, whatever, you’ve got to let the music move you, let the music groove you.”

Philly audiences will have a chance to experience that signature first-hand this weekend as Purdie takes a rare turn as a leader with four sets at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz on Friday and Saturday nights, with a drum clinic for musicians earlier on Saturday. The drummer will lead a five-piece band through a set drawing on his vast repertoire as one of the world’s most in-demand session players. “We’ll do some dance music, some listening music, some happy music, some jazz, R&B, pop – I may even touch a little country,” Purdie says. “We’re really going to cover the gamut.” Continue reading →