No player in history could so confidently—and inarguably—wear the title of “the world’s greatest drummer.” Buddy Rich
was simply a phenomenon, astounding vaudeville audiences in the late 1910s and early ’20s, well before most children began their conventional schooling.
Indeed, there was nothing conventional about Buddy Rich. On the drums, he simply went places that no one else could go. For sure, he knew the value of dazzling an audience. But Buddy also understood the value of hard work, and he was notorious for the demands he put on himself and on the players in his bands.
Ultimately, it was his loyalty to the music and to the concept of greatness that drove him. Even though he was paid historically well early in his career, later he risked his savings, his friendships, and even his health taking the music—his music—to the people. What he left us with was a treasure trove of recordings featuring the most exciting drumming of all time, a lifetime’s worth of staggering performances, and the notion that magic, in the form of drumming wizardry, is a very real thing indeed.
Here we celebrate the century that has passed since the greatest drummer of all time was born.
On September 30, Bernard “Buddy” Rich is born in the Sheepshead Bay section of Brooklyn to Robert and Bess Rich.
At four years old, Rich becomes known as “Traps, the Drum Wonder.”
Buddy, now the second-highest-paid child star in the world, tours Australia at age six.
Rich joins his first major jazz group, led by clarinetist Joe Marsala.
Rich joins the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, beginning a long personal, artistic, and business relationship with singer Frank Sinatra.
Buddy joins the big band led by Artie Shaw, one of the most popular acts of the swing era.
Rich enlists in the Marine Corps in the midst of World War II. He and drum instructor Henry Adler coauthor the popular method book Buddy Rich’s Modern Interpretation of Snare Drum Rudiments.
Buddy, following a discharge from the Marines for medical reasons, rejoins Tommy Dorsey.
Frank Sinatra provides financial backing for Rich to start his own band.
Rich appears on most of Bird and Diz, a studio album by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Max Roach plays on two tracks.
Rich begins a twelve-year, on-again-off-again stint with trumpet player Harry James. Buddy marries Marie Allison on April 21.
Rich reportedly earns $1,500 a week with the Harry James Orchestra, making him the highest-paid sideman in the world. In April, Buddy’s only child, Cathy, is born.
Rich and Gene Krupa, the two most popular drummers in the world at the time, team up for the album Krupa and Rich. They appear on only one cut together, “Bernie’s Tune,” which features a six-minute drum battle between the two heavyweights.
Rich suffers his first heart attack.
Rich begins his longtime friendship with TV stars Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin. He will appear on the variety shows hosted by both men throughout his career. Buddy’s 1970s appearances on Carson’s Tonight Show in particular influence an entire generation of drummers.
Rich performs a big band arrangement of a medley from Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story, and records it as the “West Side Story Suite” for the album Swingin’ New Big Band.
One of Rich’s most popular performances, a live recording from Caesars Palace of “Channel One Suite,” is featured on the album Mercy, Mercy
PBS TV broadcasts Buddy’s performance at the Top of the Plaza in Rochester, New York. It’s the first widely seen full-length concert by the Rich band, and subsequently becomes a touchstone for thousands of nascent jazz drummers.
Rich opens his own New York club, Buddy’s Place.
Buddy appears on the cover of the debut issue of the world’s first major drum magazine, Modern Drummer.
Rich is inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame.
Buddy appears in an episode of The Muppet Show that features a drum battle with the Muppet character Animal, whose drumming is provided by English musician Ronnie Verrell.
After playing Rogers, Slingerland, and Ludwig drums at different points in his career, Buddy tours with a custom kit built for him by Drum Workshop.
Rich’s grandson, Nick, is born on September 9.
Mr. Drums: Live on King Street hits the shelves. It’s the last of Buddy’s albums released during his lifetime.
On April 2, at age sixty-nine, Rich dies of heart failure, following surgery for a malignant brain tumor.
Longtime friend and confidant Mel Tormé’s Buddy Rich biography, Traps, The Drum Wonder, is released.
Burning for Buddy: A Tribute to the Music of Buddy Rich is released. Produced by Rush’s Neil Peart, the album features performances by Joe Morello, Steve Gadd, Max Roach, Billy Cobham, Dave Weckl, Simon Phillips, Steve Smith, Kenny Aronoff, and Peart himself, accompanied by the Buddy Rich Big Band. A second volume is issued in 1997.
Genesis drummer and solo star Phil Collins performs at a tribute concert organized by Cathy Rich, A Salute to Buddy Rich, which is later released on DVD. The event also features Steve Smith and Dennis Chambers.
Rich appears on the cover of the April issue of Modern Drummer, his fifth time.
Rich is voted the greatest drummer of all time by Modern Drummer readers.
The popular film Whiplash is released, featuring music recorded by Rich.
Cathy Rich, along with Gregg Potter and the Buddy Rich big band, celebrates the hundredth anniversary of Buddy’s birth with shows in Los Angeles, New York City, Texas, Chicago, Italy, and the U.K.
Check out our video interview with Buddy Rich writer/arranger, John LaBarbera!
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