Bernard Purdie: The Session Legend
DRUM!: How did those Beatles sessions come about?
I’m going to bypass on most of that. I
will tell you this much, there’s 21 tracks [that I played on]. And
I have to kind of slide away from that until I’m ready to really
do it. The other thing I can say is Ringo is not on anything.
I’m not the only one, but I think I’ll probably be the first
one, basically, coming out with the autobiography.
DRUM!: I read you recorded two albums with Bob Marley
Off-hand, I can’t give you the
titles, but the producer was Johnny Nash. It may be three, because we
did so much work, but I know it was two. We did them in Jamaica.
DRUM!: Those sessions were quite a point of departure
No, I’ve recorded a lot of
reggae. I’ve recorded a lot of jazz; I’ve recorded a lot of
calypso; I’ve done Latin. I’ve been one of the most
versatile drummers of the world as well as the most recorded. Whether it
was rock and roll, rhythm & Blues, jazz, pop. I teach all the different
rhythms and all the different facts of the music. So it was practice
what I preach.
DRUM!: What would you say is the high point in your
I still think the high point was being
out with Aretha Franklin. Another super high was being out there with
Jeff Beck. We [Aretha’s band] were on the road from ’70
through ’75. Then I went back in ’78 and ’79. But in
between that, ’75 & ’76, I had Jeff Beck. That’s when
I was a superstar. That was heaven. We had a good time, and I
didn’t have to do anything but play. I made good money, lots of
money! Travelling all over the world first class, hotels, limos. I
didn’t get a super big head–I already had a big head!
DRUM!: What is the key to your longevity?
I think the key is, I try to be pretty. I play
pretty and I always try to stay with the groove. Now I joke a lot about
this, that, and the other, but that’s how I feel beautiful.
Feeling beautiful inside is what affects the music. I get into the music
no matter who or what it is. I enjoy playing, so I learn what each
artist I play with likes, and go from there. I play the part, then I
turn around and play for me. And consequently, it works for the people
because I’m into what I’m doing.
DRUM!: When someone hires Purdie for a session, you
bring to it…
…Joy. I bring to it experience. I
bring to it happiness. I bring wanting to do the job. No matter what
happens, nothing exists for me except that job at that time. I’m
not going to be on the job talking about this, that, and the other. One
hundred percent. The one time I wasn’t 100%, I was very upset with
myself. It turned out to be one of the biggest hit records of the world.
It was a little old record, “Hang On Sloopy.” I made the
error of thinking I was messing up the song because the man asked me to
go back and play like a beginner, and I was terribly upset. But
that’s caused me a lot of pain because I really tried to mess it
up and the thing came out perfect. Twenty-five years later, it’s
DRUM!: Over the years, how have things changed in the
Most of it has changed for the worst.
Most people don’t know how to be creative. Most people do not know
about sensitivity. They’ve been using machines for so long, the
machines dictate what they do. Then you have the set of folks who never
use live or acoustic drums, and half of them haven’t used acoustic
percussion. They’re so used to the computers. It’s bad news
because it took a long time for a lot of the young producers to think in
terms of possibly using acoustics, especially acoustic drums. And not
that they’ve found that they can do both, it’s working out
to my favor. I’m now replacing the machines. So there is now some
life, there is a feel you can only capture when you’re human. The
machine will do everything perfect, but it’s not going to give you
that human feel. I don’t do the rap, I try to avoid it because
I’m not into it. And they’ve been sampling my stuff for so
long, I’d feel kind of funny going in and playing to myself.
DRUM!: Do you have as much freedom in the studio now?
No, but I have learned discipline over the
years. I get paid for following orders. They need me to do a certain
thing, and once I’ve done that, I try not to go overboard. At one
time, I used to try and force everything I did. But I
don’t do that anymore. I give them what they ask for, then I go
just a touch beyond it so I can have my signature on it. See, the hard
part is I don’t have complete control over the drums because of so
many tracks over the drums they use in the
studio. I play a set of drums as one instrument. I decide what is going
to be the dominate factor of this beat, and I’m going to
incorporate everything else in the set so that it fits right in.
That’s the hard part because they’re not going to mix what I
mix. What I try to do naturally, they try to do with the machines. So, I
do have some problems with the engineers. What I try to do is let an
engineer know what I’m shooting for. I’m always trying to
have the locomotion.