Bernard Purdie: The Session Legend

DRUM!: Can you elaborate on the term “locomotion?”
Purdie: Locomotion is always moving forward. Never standing still. See, I’m not a drum machine–I breathe. Some notes are harder than others. I try my best for them not to put my snare and my bass drum through the [noise] gates, because every time you hit it, it’s only going to be one way. I like for it to breathe. I like colors. I paint a picture all the time. This is why it’s so hard to control. The engineers today put you on a gate because they’re used to having the same sound throughout. So I say, “Why do you call me? You could’ve used your machine.”

DRUM!: Has your playing changed over the years?
Purdie: Sure. I’ve had to play what the people wanted. I’ve tried to keep up with the beats and the rhythms. The one thing I haven’t changed is that I’m a timekeeper. No matter what I play, I groove. I like to keep the time and tempo constant, so I’m known as the groove maker. I’m known as the timekeeper. I am the Swiss watch.

DRUM!: Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
Purdie: I would’ve asked some of the people I helped make millionaires, for some points on production, for writing, anything I could. Mainly those two things, because I got paid good money. I got paid double scale, at least, for 25 years. But I never got credit on a lot of the material. All I tried to do was to make things work. I didn’t realize how much I was creating and putting into it, either as a writer or a co-producer. People didn’t remember things. If they don’t see your name on it, then you’re not responsible for it. That’s what I’ve been doing for over 40 years. SO now, I do prefer asking for points. I also do ask for either co-writer or publishing on some of the material I do.

DRUM!: What would you advise someone who is serious and starting out?
Purdie: Be as humble as possible. You can’t afford to be a smart ass because it will defeat you every time. It’s okay to tell people, “Yes. I’m goofy and I’d like to show you.” But to go bragging doesn’t really work because you end up alienating yourself. The industry is so different today. See, most people today don’t realize what paying dues it, and the young people today really don’t know. Anybody can be taken off the streets and become a superstar. It only takes money.

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