Bernard Purdie
" BluesWax Sittin' In With Bernard Purdie
By Bob Putignano

The most recorded musician of all time!
Part One

The "Pretty One" Bernard Purdie is a classic soul, R&B, funk, Blues, jazz, and pop drummer. Originally from Maryland, Bernard moved to New York City in 1960 and never looked back. He's recorded with B.B. King, James Brown, King Curtis, Aretha Franklin and a long list of Atlantic and CTI albums. Purdie toured with King Curtis and Aretha Franklin in 1970, and was Aretha's music director until 1975. Along with Chuck Rainey and Cornell Dupree this rhythm section was one of the fattest sounding units of their day. They were the cornerstone for so many outstanding albums and had that immediately identifiable signature sound with vibrant imagination and effortless cohesion.

Always adept and diverse, Bernard also recorded with jazz greats; Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, Grover Washington Jr., Larry Coryell, and for producer Bob Porter, Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford. Purdie can be heard on countless albums, is this most recorded drummer in history, and arguably the most recorded musician of all time, for additional reference go to: where there are seven pages of Purdie album credits.

Robert Putignano for BluesWax: Bernard "Pretty" Purdie, nice to have you back at WFDU, it's been a long time.

Bernard Purdie: Yeah, too long, way too long.

BW: And you brought along your sidekick. Who is that?

BP: Rob Paparozzi

BW: You guys have a long history playing together.

BP: Yes we do with the Hudson River Rats.

BW: And you just released "Soul Drums" for the first time on CD.

BP: With a bunch of bonus tracks too.

BW: Somewhere in my house I have this LP, but not this new disc.

BP: Well, you'll have the CD now.

BW: Thanks, Bernard.

BP: You know the vinyl version of "Soul Drums" still sells very well.

BW: Interesting, but vinyl has had somewhat of a renaissance these days.

BP: Now folks can have it either way, analog or digital.

BW: We are here to talk with a living legend, no doubt.

BP: Thanks, Bob, the nicest part about "Soul Drums" on CD are the eight bonus tracks.

BW: These bonus tracks, where did they come from?

BP: We did them right after we recorded "Soul Drums" which was number one in twelve markets. So with the success of "Soul Drums" they called me back into the studio to start recording another LP. And then Clive Davis stopped everything and said we're going with Barbara Streisand. Hey, the rest was history. They sold one hundred million records with Streisand.

BW: Not that I'm a fan; I guess it was a good call.

BP: Oh, it was a great call. Also pulled were Mongo Santamaria's next record, Peaches & Herb, and others. Rob Papparozzi: That's when Bernard released "The Way We Weren't."

BW: I don't recall that one, Rob (laughs.) Seriously speaking, looking back, your sessions were often my all time favorites, especially the ones with Chuck Rainey, Jerry Jemmott, Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee, etc. For me these units were the pocket rhythm session of all time.

BP: Don't forget Eric Gale too.

BW: Speaking of Gale and some of those guys, how did you miss being in the band Stuff?

BP: You know what's funny, most people don't know, Stuff was my band.

BW: Who hijacked it?

BP: Gordon Edwards.

BW: Was Gordon the bass player in your Stuff band?

BP: Yes, plus Richard Tee, Cornell, Eric Gale, we were called the P.P. Mavens.

BW: I get it, the Pretty Purdie Mavens.

BP: Correct. I didn't know anything was going on behind my back, and it just happened. Gordon's band at the time was the Encyclopedia of Soul, and they went into the studio for Warner Brothers. They called me to do some fixes on their first record, but I told them go do what you got to do, bye-bye.

BW: Stuff did have a nice little run.

BP: Sure, but what was missing was the energy. It's great to have a solid rhythm section, but where's the rhythm's that goes with it, and the melodies?

BW: That was Steve Gadd on drums, and I've always liked Gadd's playing, but it's a whole different thing with your playing.

BP: The beauty for me is that I've always looked at projects as a job, so you have to give what you have to give to make it work. In the end I was really happy for Stuff, I really was.

BW: Plus in those days you were really busy all the time.

BP: Absolutely, we were the quintessential recording studio band, recording fifteen to twenty sessions per week, and that went on for quite some time.

BW: I've heard from both Rainey and Cornell that it was a crazy time for you all, running all over New York City to make records, and than you'd go out at night and play!

BP: You had to go out and play at night because when you are in the studio, for the most part you're confined, and most of us had all this energy bottled up, so we needed to get out and play in the clubs to let it out.

BW: I saw you, Chuck, Cornell, and Tee play at a small club in Manhattan. It was so funky and good, I stayed for three sets on a Friday night and brought a bunch of friends the next night for three more sets of utter delight. Any Youtube or audio from those club dates?

BP: It always amazes me what's out there; I'll take you back to Carnegie Hall with Dizzy Gillespie. Dizzy had six drummers in the band, three percussionists, and Dizzy.

BW: That's it? What a concept; was that ever recorded?

BP: It wasn't supposed to be recorded, but it leaked out, and it's out on YouTube. Check it out. It's amazing, from 1979.

BW: Who were the other drummers?

BP: Roy Haynes, JC Heard, Art Blakey, Grady Tate, and yours truly, but I forget the other drummer's name, plus three percussionists from Cuba. There was supposed to be a keyboard player, and Dizzy said no at the last minute. Dizzy also played congas. We had the time of our lives. I was the one to give the other drummers their parts as I wrote the tunes with Dizzy. I was over Gillespie's house where we started to write. Next thing I know, Dizzy's on the phone with George Wein telling him he wants a date at Carnegie Hall, and we got it.

BW: I am sure that wasn't hard to get the gig. What was the crowd reaction?

BP: Standing ovations. It was wonderful mainly because no one expected what we were going to do. Six drummers!

BW: How was the date billed?

BP: Dizzy Gillespie and the percussion ensemble. We worked on this for two to three months till we got it right. We had only two rehearsals, the day before the gig, and the day of. Most of it was new material, too. Dizzy was in seventh heaven. Of course we did several of his songs which made it easy as everyone in the band knew his tunes.The key was not to allow anyone to overplay. One thing I asked Dizzy was please don't tell the other drummers that I wrote their parts. You see I was still a young squirt, long story short, there were too many masters in the band, so I figured it was best unsaid.

BW: I have to check this out. Okay, tell me how many albums you've played on, what's the latest count?

BP: Right now there are over four thousand albums that I'm on.

BW: Wow! Is that the top number of sessions that any one artist has appeared on?

BP: That's what they tell me. Actually, I don't think about it anymore. Everyone thinks that we all made a lot of pension money from this, but it isn't so. Television is where you make good pension money. For instance bassist Bob Cranshaw has been with Sesame Street for twenty-five years, and ten years with the Tonight show.

BW: I know of Cranshaw's sideman work especially with Sonny Rollins, but I did not know about his TV work.

BP: Yeah, so that's thirty-five years of pension, besides the recordings where you only get paid for the session. Cranshaw's got one of the best music pensions going.

BW: Good for him. He's a great bass player, and I'm happy to hear that some of you guys get what's deserved. You know when I first got inside this music business I always presumed a lot of the session guys and touring artists were financially comfortable, but that's not so.

BP: We all have to work for a living. Some of us were lucky enough to have a little bit more than others, but you've got to put away for those rainy days.

BW: And when you are young that's not easy to do.

BP: No, few of us thought to save. But the one thing that I've found out is that ten dollars from every session that was being put aside could have been matched by the artist. I did not know that. We didn't think about tomorrow or many years down the line when you hit fifty and sixty years old, it's almost too late. I was lucky because of the older guys around me stayed on my case to put some dollars away, which was definitely good for me.

BW: Alright! Bernard, what is your web site?


BW: You left out the Pretty.

BP: Everyone knows I'm pretty [laughs.] I just want everyone to know that when they see me, just call me Pretty.

BW: Speaking of busy, you've been very active with the play "Hair."

BP: Yeah, can you believe that forty-five years ago I was there with "Hair." it took us two years before we finally got to Broadway, and after the first month on Broadway I turned my job over to Idris Muhammad. All in all, there has been twelve Broadway productions and ten movies. "Cotton Comes to Harlem" was one of our biggest ones.

BW: And you are doing it all over again, you are off to the matinee today and than some.

BP: Yes sir, we've got a new cast, too, that's very high energy.

BW: Very good. Of those four thousand albums you were on, how many were on Atlantic?

BP: I would say three to five hundred.

BW: And at Atlantic, who was the producer who called for you most often?

BP: I would say Arif Mardin, Jerry Wexler, and pretty much even amongst the whole gang at Atlantic. But it was King Curtis who kept us all together. He was one of the main contractors for Atlantic Records. For fifteen years Curtis was the contractor or band leader at Atlantic.

BW: Joel Dorn told me great stories about King Curtis, and I'd asked him why King Curtis was chosen as the band leader for Aretha at the Fillmore West, and he told me because everyone looked up to Curtis.

BP: That's right. Curtis was our daddy. He gave us the ability to do our thing. Curtis allowed us to create, and it didn't matter whose session it was because we all had a reputation for ourselves, and we got our chance to speak musically. Back in those days I had a really big mouth. Man, I was bad. But I was always right!

BW: Which must have ticked everyone off.

BP: Yes. What can I tell you? I was always right, and it always got me in a lot of trouble.

BW: But you're mellow now?

BP: Yes, but I'm still right. [laughs] Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: web site:

To be continued
Go to Part 2

Bob Putignano: