As our previous special issues focusing on the years 1967 and 1969 revealed, the contributions of the greatest drummers of the era both mirrored and drove the rapidly evolving sounds of popular music. By the start of the ’70s, new trends—jazz-fusion, singer-songwriter, funk-rock, heavy metal, blues-rock—began to form and capture listeners’ imaginations.
In England, what would come to be known as classic rock was feeling its creative oats in ever more sophisticated recording studios, like the one owned by drummer Barry Morgan, which housed England’s first 24-track Ampex tape machine. In 1970 alone, the London studio was the laboratory for groundbreaking albums and songs like the Kinks’ Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One (“Lola,” Mick Avory), Rod Stewart’s Gasoline Alley (“It’s All Over Now,” Micky Waller), Donovan’s Open Road (“Riki Tiki Tavi,” John Carr), Jethro Tull’s Benefit (“Teacher,” Clive Bunker), and Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman (“Wild World,” Harvey Burns).
Meanwhile, across town at Regent Sounds Studio on Denmark Street, Black Sabbath was essentially inventing heavy metal with their self-titled debut (recorded in late ’69 and released in February ’70) and its follow-up, Paranoid, which came out that September. We begin this month’s special issue speaking with the band’s founding drummer, Bill Ward, who takes us back in time to those musically daring days, when he and his buddies, like Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham, were blazing the path that so many would follow.
What was happening in the States in 1970 was no less revolutionary. George Clinton, who’d spent the previous decade finding his musical voice, introduced the nation to the word “Funkadelic,” which tells you all you need to know about what was on his mind at the time: equally grooving and mind-expanding music that appealed to R&B and rock fans in equal measure. And if somehow you still missed the message, the title to the band’s second album, Free Your Mind…And Your Ass Will Follow, also released in 1970, drove the point home. Both records, recorded in the famously funky city of Detroit, Michigan, featured the drumming of the late, great Tiki Fulwood. Here we explore Tiki’s amazing work via the recollections and analysis of two men who know of what they speak: Fishbone’s Philip “Fish” Fisher and longtime Funkadelic kit man Benzel Baltimore.
Back East, at New York’s Columbia Studio B, Miles Davis continued challenging…well…everybody with his unclassifiable double album Bitches Brew, which featured his new drummer, Jack DeJohnette, in the right channel, and future fusion star Lenny White—on his first recording—in the left. (Percussionist Don Alias sat at the kit for the track “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” while two more legendary drummers, Billy Cobham and Airto Moreira, join in on “Feio.”) White would fill the rest of his calendar in 1970 with more classic recordings, including Woody Shaw’s Blackstone Legacy, Joe Henderson’s If You’re Not Part of the Solution, You’re Part of the Problem, and Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay. Lenny recalls the staggering events of the year this month as well.
On the west coast, as the counterculture was feeling the strain of its own ambitions in the late ’60s, a new, mellower school of rock was emerging around the Laurel Canyon scene, represented by singer-songwriters like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell (both Canadian expats), Stephen Stills (Young’s bandmate in the Buffalo Springfield), and former Byrd David Crosby. When Young joined Stills, Crosby, and British singer Graham Nash (ex-Hollies band member) for the iconic Déjà Vu album, they enlisted Johny Barbata to do their historic 1970 tour. Barbata, who’d previously established himself as a formidable drummer with the Turtles (“Happy Together,” “You Showed Me”), went on to drum on Stills and Nash’s solo debuts, both of which are considered high points of the period. He tells us all about it this month.
Finally, we discuss the astonishing work of Jim Gordon with the equally legendary drummer Jim Keltner, a friend and peer who knew him well before his career came to a horrific end due to the effects of mental illness. For many drummers even today, Gordon is considered one of the greatest players to ever walk the earth, and if you were to only look at his 1970 output, as we do this month, it would be difficult to disagree. From Derek & the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs to Dave Mason’s Alone Together to Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen and beyond, it’s clear that the most important rock artists of the day understood that Gordon was the man, and our chat with Keltner goes far to help us understand the genius behind his historic recordings.
We hope you enjoy and take away something important from each of these pieces; it was a profound time indeed, and it still feeds our imaginations and inspires our music-making.