Bernard Purdie Part 2
" BluesWax Sittin' In With Bernard Purdie
By Bob Putignano
The most recorded musician of all time!
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: http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:j9fyxqtgldhe~T4 where there are seven pages of Purdie album credits.
In Part One of our interview Purdie and his "sidekick" Rob Paparozzi talked about their album Soul Drums. "(The album) 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."
Even with all the studio work, Purdie would often go out at night.
"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."
"King 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"
Robert Putignano for BluesWax: A few months before he passed I did get to speak to Jerry Wexler who told me great things about King Curtis, as well as Tom Dowd. No bad stories about Curtis or Dowd.
Bernard Purdie: That's true, but here's a bad story about Jerry Wexler. I actually got fired from a session. Wexler asked me to play like Steve Gadd, and I said, "No, I will call Gadd and tell him to take my place. So that was it. I was out of there. You know I never knew Wexler's position at Atlantic. In my mind I was hired to do a job and really didn't care who he was. So if Jerry wanted something that sounded like Gadd, go get him, that's not me.
Steve Gadd had learned from me what I was doing to become who he was. That's not a put down. We all learned from someone else and evolved our craft with our own sound.
BW: Chuck Rainey told me stories about when that gospel Aretha record was recorded and told me there was a lot of tension between the musicians and Wexler.
BP: All you have to look at is the fact that Atlantic Records had more hits than a barrel of monkeys, case closed. They had a knack for being successful, so for the most part you had to follow their lead. They knew how to build bands that could execute. That was their thing, and it worked extremely well.
BW: Like Bob Porter does.
BP: Same thing. Porter assembled great musicians for his records just like Atlantic did, and they'd both let the musicians do their thing. That's why people like this are successful.
BW: You know Porter calls you his favorite drummer?
BP: Yes, it's wonderful to know that I've pleased a lot of people with my playing. I appreciate whatever feedback people lay on me, and I still love what I'm doing.
BW: That's obvious. Now you are not just a drummer?
BP: I'm a musician, which means I do other things like writing. A lot people don't know that I read music which is one of the reasons I got hired on many sessions. I also write music which has long term benefits.
BW: Like royalties.
BP: You bet.
BW: How'd you get to call to work with James Brown?
BP: Actually that was an easy one.
BW: But JB wasn't easy.
BP: He was never easy to work for. He fined me once for something I didn't do. The thing with James is that you had to do exactly what he says. Don't deviate, which is why I left.
BW: Well you're a creative musician. I could not imagine you liking to be boxed in.
BP: I don't have a problem doing my job, but I could not stand be accused for something I did not do.
BW: But I have to say that having you in the James Brown band was the perfect choice.
BP: I agree with you one thousand percent, but it was his way or the highway. I also did the studio albums and the live gigs there because I could read music. I thought all musicians read, but I found out that's not always true.
BW: Ben Sidran told me a great story about employing Blue Mitchell for one of his first recordings, and how it took him a while to get what Ben wanted Blue to do. Then it dawned on him that Blue had to hear the music a few times before he got it which illuminated Ben's knowing that Blue could not read music and would just improvise.
BP: Snooky Young pulled my coat when I was playing in big bands. I knew about Blue Mitchell, and, man, he wrote a lot of great songs, but if it hadn't been for people like Snooky, I would not have had all of the experiences I had over the years, Snooky was also very diplomatic.
BW: One of my favorite DVDs is Steely Dan's making of Aja, with you, Rainey, Cornell, and Larry Carlton, those great loose jams, mesmerized me.
BP: It was a great experience, but the biggest part of that experience was Paul Griffin. People had no idea who he really was. Paul Griffin really wrote most of the songs for Steely Dan.
BW: Did he get credited?
BP: Not with all of them, but he got paid, including the royalties. You see Paul preferred to have the money, so he didn't care about the fame. He was a hard worker, seven days a week, which is what eventually killed him
BW: The word on Steely Dan was that they were control freaks?
BP: Yes [laughs]
BW: Larry Carlton told me they were, and they weren't. They'd let you play, and they would tell you they wanted it their way. Compromises were made, but they always got their way.
BW: I loved that part with you in the Dan DVD where you spoke about them wanting to do some drum parts a certain way, and you just said, "I'm going to do the Purdie Shuffle, and it will be fine."
BP: And it was fine. It worked. They said, "We don't want a shuffle." I said okay, but they got the Purdie Shuffle. So "Home at Last," "Deacon Blues" had the Purdie Shuffle, and in the end they were okay with it. Once they heard it they agreed with me.
BW: Well, it was cool that they left your comments on the DVD, which speaks volumes. You've got to give Steely Dan credit as they were like a mini-Atlantic team in that they, too, also knew how to build bands to create good music.
BP: A lot of credit goes to their producer Gary Katz.
BW: I love and hate to ask this question, but I have to. Who were/are some of your favorite recording moments?
BP: For me one of the hardest things to beat was working with Aretha Franklin, especially on "Till You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)." To me the ultimate of my playing career is right there with her playing piano, the two of us, the piano the voice and the drums. We were one. The interplay between us was so very special.
BW: And Aretha wasn't a great piano player, but she had a great feel.
BP: She was also a great arranger. Her arrangements were right at her fingers. She always knew where she wanted to go with her music.
BW: Do you think Aretha will ever make another roots-based recording?
BP: I don't know if the record company will let her. These days, more than ever, it's all about the money.
BW: Ain't that the truth. It's interesting as musicians like David Sanborn are starting to make roots recordings again. So I have this hope that people like Aretha and perhaps George Benson would go back and touch their humble and creative beginnings again, before it gets too late.
BP: I don't know if that will ever happen for Aretha. Think about Quincy Jones. It doesn't get any bigger and better than Quincy. Even he tried to stop some of this going back to the roots concept. Bottom line is, you have to respect the artist for wanting to do what they want to do, but it doesn't always work out that way. I've played with over twenty-five hundred different artists; you'll see it in my book that should come out later this year. My entire discography is collected now. Lots of research went into this, stuff I've forgotten about. I've had a lot of good years, and a lot of dinners, too. [laughs]
BW: I'm sure there was a lot good other things too.
BP: For me it was always good food. I didn't indulge in the other stuff.
BW: What's the book going to be called?
BP: Right now we're thinking it will be called A Joyful Noise. I'm ecstatic about this book because there's another book coming out this year about worldwide, world-class musicians, sixty-five musicians, and I am one of those sixty-five.
BW: You deserve it, Purdie!
BP: I got my letter about being in the book. So they can't take this away from me now.
BW: Other favorite sessions?
BP: Steely Dan has always left fond memories for me. Then I can turn around and talk about working with Tim Rose. You know "Hey Joe,." That was the first time that rock & roll drums and voice were equal, totally equal. It was that good. Cat Stevens, too, "Foreigner Suite." Whew, we did that in Kingston, Jamaica. It was exceptional.
BW: These are interesting selections.
BP: Then there was Bob Marley's first two albums.
BW: Your favorite Blues recording.
BP: Working with B.B. King. Can't beat working with B.B. It's been interesting as a lot of people ask me about my favorites, and it makes me go back and think. It's easy for me to play questions like this safe, but I don't. I spent twenty-five years with Aretha so that's an easy answer, but there were so many other great musical experiences.
Rob Paparozzi: "Hang on Sloopy?" Oh, I wasn't supposed to go there...
BP: He does this to me all the time. [laughs] Seriously, "Hang On Sloopy" was a big problem for me, because I tried to mess it up. I was not happy, I was mad. I started putting in fills in the beginning of phrases. I couldn't screw it up enough. That damn song has haunted me for forty-plus years, but Derringer and the McCoys loved it. Go figure.
BW: Favorite Bob Porter recording?
BP: Any of those Hank Crawford albums. I could never go wrong with Hank. At those sessions I'd have to remember that I'm here to play, not just listen. He had that sound. No one played like Hank. King Curtis was one of my all time favorite sax players, but if I had to choose which one I liked best, I'd be in trouble. Sam "The Man" Taylor too, and I had the opportunity to play with those guys, so it's hard to choose.
BW: Favorite bass player
BP: Chuck Rainey for sure, Wilbur Bascomb, too.
BW: What's Wilbur been doing?
BP: Bascomb is with me in "Hair."
BW: He does not get on too many albums anymore.
BP: But he's busy. In addition to "Hair," he records TV commercials every week. I cannot leave out Jerry Jemmott who knocked my socks off always! Freddie "Ready Freddie" Washington, too. For different reasons a lot of different bass players worked for me.
BW: For me it's always Rainey, especially with Cornell, Richard Tee, and Mr. Purdie on drums. That has always been heaven for me.
BP: I hear you, and I've enjoyed working with Chuck a lot, too.
BW: We've only have about a minute left. Any last thoughts?
BP: Thanks for having me. I've enjoyed sharing my time with you and your listeners.
BW: Anytime, Purdie. Come back here at a moment's notice. The door is always open for you!
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com