Cultural Percussionist

Bernard Purdie Day

Bernard Lee “Pretty” Purdie (born June 11, 1939 ) is an American drummer, considered an influential R&B, soul, funk musician. He is known for his precise musical time keeping and his signature use of triplets against a half-time backbeat: the “Purdie Shuffle.” He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2013.

Purdie recorded Soul Drums (1968) as a band leader and although he went on to record Alexander’s Ragtime Band, the album remained unreleased until Soul Drums was reissued on CD in 2009 with the Alexander’s Ragtime Band sessions. Other solo albums include Purdie Good (1971), Soul Is … Pretty Purdie (1972) and the soundtrack for the blaxploitation film Lialeh (1973).

In the mid-1990s he was a member of The 3B’s, with Bross Townsend and Bob Cunningham. Purdie was born on June 11, 1939 in Elkton, Maryland, US, the eleventh of fifteen children. At an early age he began hitting cans with sticks and learned the elements of drumming techniques from overhearing lessons being given by Leonard Heywood. He later took lessons from Heywood and played in Heywood’s big band. Purdie’s other influences at that time were Papa Jo Jones, Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Joe Marshall, Art Blakey, as well as Cozy Cole, Sticks Evans, Panama Francis, Louis Bellson, and Herbie Lovelle.

In 1961 he moved from his home town of Elkton, Maryland, to New York City. There he played sessions with Mickey and Sylvia and regularly visited the Turf Club on 50th and Broadway, where musicians, agents, and promoters met and touted for business. It was during this period that he played for the saxophonist Buddy Lucas, who nicknamed him ‘Mississippi Bigfoot’. Eventually Barney Richmond contracted him to play session work. In a 1978 interview, Purdie claimed to have added drum overdubs to “several [tracks] of the Beatles’ Hamburg recording” with Tony Sheridan, including “Ain’t She Sweet”, “Take Out Some Insurance On Me Baby” and “Sweet Georgia Brown”, to give them a punchier sound for the US market.

Purdie was contracted by arranger Sammy Lowe to play a session with James Brown in 1965 and recording session records also show that Purdie played on “Ain’t That A Groove” at the same session. Purdie is credited on the James Brown’s albums Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud(1969) and Get on the Good Foot (1972).

Purdie started working with Aretha Franklin as musical director in 1970 and held that position for five years, as well as drumming for Franklin’s opening act, King Curtis and The King Pins. 5–7 March 1971 he performed with both bands at the Fillmore West; the resulting live recordings were released as Aretha Live At The Fillmore West (19 May 1971) and King Curtis’s Live At Fillmore West (1971). His best known track with Franklin was “Rock Steady”, on which he played what he described as “a funky and low down beat”. Of his time with Franklin he once commented that “backing her was like floating in seventh heaven”

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