Bernard Purdie to co-star at Spring Harp Fest

Bernard Purdie to co-star at Spring Harp Fest
Drum legend on tap at free Saturday blues harmonica fete in La Mesa

Published in the San Diego Union Tribune - go to original article here.

It might sound paradoxical to state that an all-star blues harmonica festival will attract a record number of drummers, but I feel safe making exactly that prediction about Saturday’s 13th annual Spring Harp Fest in La Mesa. That’s because Rob Paparozzi, one of the featured harmonica players at this free, all-ages festival in Harry Griffen Park, will perform with the legendary Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, with San Diego music mainstays The Bayou Brothers offering spirited support to the mighty duo.

Purdie bills himself as “America’s most recorded drummer,” a claim that might be challenged by the now-retired Hal Blaine or by such late greats as Earl Palmer and Panama Francis. Regardless, Purdie is a legend, and deservedly so, thanks to his classic recordings with Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Steely Dan , B.B. King , James Brown, Louis Armstrong, Paul Simon and many more. (He also insists that he drummed -- uncredited -- as a phantom studio musician on 21 recordings by The Beatles in the 1960s, adding drum parts to the Fab Four's classics in a New York studio at the covert request of then-Beatles' manager Brian Epstein. It's a claim that seems easier to question than accept, but Purdie remains adamant.)

What can be easily substantiated is that his myriad credits also include stand-out drum work with everyone from Nina Simone, Percy Sledge, Joe Cocker and Todd Rundgren to Roberta Flack, King Curtis, Gato Barbieri and Hall & Oates. One of the most sampled drummers ever, he has a flawless sense of time, impeccable taste and exceptional feel — three qualities that enable him to shine in any setting. His infectious grooves and ingenious rhythmic accents are a treat for drummers and non-drummers alike.

I first saw Purdie live, circa 1978, at SDSU's now sadly defunct Back Door club when he was drumming in Hummingbird, a band that teamed him with several former members of the Jeff Beck Group. At the time, I was the overly enthusiastic and not very polished drummer in Focal Point, a mostly teen-aged San Diego jazz-rock group. I still recall how one of band mates and I stood in the Back Door, watching with slack-jawed awe and admiration as Purdie's stellar drumming transformed Hummingbird from a very good ensemble into -- at least for that night -- a great one.

He was perhaps even more impressive when I caught him at the 1980 Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, where -- with no rehearsal -- he spent a memorable afternoon drumming up a storm behind a combustible gospel-music group from Louisiana, then took to the stage that night in a very unconventional jazz, blues and funk trio with jazz trumpet icon Dizzy Gillespie and harmonica player/guitarist Toots Thielemans. With no bass or keyboards, and only some very spare rhythm guitar work from Thielemans, Purdie had to rely almost entirely on his sense of time and musical form to both anchor and drive this very loosely knit trio, and he did so with masterful aplomb.

Leave a comment

Add comment