Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


PURDIE, Bernard 'Pretty'

(b 11 June 1939, Elkton MD) Session drummer, composer. He must be the most recorded drummer and maybe the most recorded musician in history. He moved to New York City in 1960 and never looked back. He toured with king Curtis and Aretha Franklin in 1970, played with Franklin for 25 years and was her music director for five of them. Purdie and Cornell Dupree on guitar and Chuck Rainey on bass helped to define the sound of the soul era. With sidekick Rob Paparozzi (New Jersey-based singer, harmonica player and bandleader) he made his own album, Soul Drums, in 1968; it was a hit, but called back to the studio to make another album, he said, Clive Davis stopped the session to make room for Barbra Streisand, and the second album never happened.
      Soul Drums was reissued in 2009 with bonus tracks from the second, aborted session; his only other project as a leader was Pretty Purdie '72 for Flying Dutchman, an album which soon disappeared, but his place in music history is assured: he worked with hundreds of artists from folkies to some of the biggest jazz stars of the era (often working with producer Bob Porter). He was heard on hundreds of albums at Atlantic alone, where King Curtis was often the contractor. He did get fired from one session, he said, when Jerry Wexler told him to play like Steve Gadd, and he told Wexler to go get Gadd.
      Purdie still plays with Paparozzi's Hudson River Rats, because, as he put it, from the beginning with Dupree and Rainey, '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.'
      Purdie toured with Hair for two years before that show finally got to Broadway, and then turned the job over to Idris Muhammad; Purdie has played in twelve Broadway productions and ten movies, including Cotton Comes To Harlem. One reason he has been so successful, apart from being able to play anything, is that he could read music and write it. He learned that lesson early on: the cats that could read and write got the most work and made the most money, though session work was not that lucrative: the real money, he said, was in TV, where bassist Bob Cranshaw will get residuals for many years of working on Sesame Street. But when Dizzy Gillespie and his Percussion Ensemble played Carnegie Hall in 1979 there were six drummers, and Purdie says he had written out most of the parts at Dizzy's house for the likes of Art Blakey and Roy Haynes: with six drummers, the obvious problem was to keep it all under control. Yet he was so in awe of the big stars that he asked Gillespie not to say anything.
      In 1993 Purdie caused a sensation by claiming that it was his drumming on some of the Beatles' records, subbing or dubbed for Ringo Starr. He said that proof would be forthcoming, but the story died away. He was either funning with us, or reminding us who he was. He has played on over 4,000 albums; go to the Allmusic site for seven long pages listing a great many of them.
      Among his favorite musical experiences, he named Aretha Franklin, Steely Dan, Tim Rose ('Hey Joe'), Cat Stevens ('Foreigner Suite', recorded in Jamaica), Bob Marley's first two albums, and among saxophone players, he would have a hard time choosing among King Curtis, Hank Crawford, and Stan 'The Man' Taylor. He even had something to do with 'Hang On Sloopy'. There will be a discography in a forthcoming book, tentatively called A Joyful Noise, which will no doubt answer many questions.