On the ground covered: funk, soul, fat-back New Orleans grooves—even smooth jazz.
The guys that supported me have played different genres in the various bands they’ve been in. Each one of them is proficient at hip-hop, crossover, funk, soul, etc. They’ve done a lot of the songs with other artists, but not with me. I liked the idea of emphasizing the crossover aspect, but I needed it to be very soulful, funky, and with melodies.
On being considered the originator of the famous Purdie shuffle.
I absolutely love it! I’ve worked on it for so many years. Not to make light of it, but I still want everybody to know that I still carry all of the feels and attitudes of the genres I play.
On what he considers the greatest era of popular music.
I think the best era turned out to be the ’70s, because it gave everybody the opportunity to play funk, soul, R&B, pop, rock…all of it. In the early ’80s they spread out: Disco came in, and near the end of the ’80s you had rap—and what did they do? They took from the ’70s.
On his favorite recording studios.
In the past I liked A&R Studios and the Record Plant. Currently I love Steve Jankowski’s Jankland studio in New Jersey. He’s not only an engineer but a trumpet player, arranger, writer, and producer. And, naturally, Vibromonk Studios in Brooklyn, where we recorded Cool Down.
On how his roles as Aretha Franklin’s musical director (1970–75) and the drummer in the 2009 revival of Broadway’s Hair came about.
Aretha came about via my affiliation with [Franklin’s bandleader] King Curtis. And I was the original drummer in Hair. Two years before it hit Broadway it was my band that did the demos, which I gave to [famed Atlantic Records producer] Arif Mardin. The 2009 Hair revival was fine, and I’ve done three of those since.
On what one artist he would drop everything for.
At one time it would have been Aretha Franklin, hands down. For at least twenty years the various producers I worked for gave me the benefit of the doubt; in other words, when she called I could go and at the same time still keep my recording jobs. Because it was specifically her, they were glad to let me do it.
On three songs that define him as a drummer.
Aretha Franklin’s “Until You Come Back to Me,” Steely Dan’s “Home at Last,” and Tim Rose’s “Hey Joe,” with a special mention of Aretha’s “Rock Steady.”
On whether the stories are true that he’d bring a large sign to recording sessions that read, “You’ve done hired the hit maker, Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie!”
Absolutely! [laughs] Guilty as charged. I actually had three signs, two of which would be put up at every session I was on. I even used to alternate them!
On thinking back on all the historic recordings he’s made in his career.
It took me twenty-five years to learn what I was doing—and another twenty-five to start enjoying it! I was just doing my job, and that’s why I feel very good about what I’m still doing, and I do appreciate that my work will live on. It’s a good feeling.
Bernard Purdie uses DW drums and Remo heads.