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The Purdie Shuffle – that distinctive, much-imitated marvel of soulful syncopation, interpreted by giants like John Bonham and Jeff Porcaro, just to name a few. Turns out the inventor of the two-measure treasure wasn’t thinking drums at all when he came up with it – he was imagining a train.
"The way a locomotive kind of pushes and pulls, that's what I was feeling," says Bernard Purdie. "I played it for my music teacher, Mr Leonard Haywood, when I was a kid, and he tried to stop me. 'That's not the way to play a shuffle,' he said. But I heard what I heard - whoosh, whoosh, whoosh - so I kept it. Eventually, he said, ‘OK, you work on that. It that could be something… but not today.’ [laughs] That’s all right. I knew I’d get my chance.”
He wouldn't have to wait long. While other youngsters were dreaming of Little League glory, Purdie was well on his way to becoming a working musician. His first gig was at a local blues club near his hometown of Elkton, Maryland. "I was between nine and 10 years old," he says, "and that's what I got paid - between nine and 10 dollars. But in my mind, I was a professional. After that first gig, there was no stopping me."
While still a teenager, Purdie moved to Manhattan. In his first week in town, he recorded a remake of Mickey & Sylvia's Love Is Strange, for which he received $80 for four hours of work. "I was rich," he says. "That was huge money back then. It's still good money now." Since that monster payday, Purdie has played on over 4,000 recordings, working with artists such as Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Steely Dan, Cat Stevens, Quincy Jones - and the list goes on.
"Whenever these people hire me, they're looking for a human element," says Purdie. "There’s lots of drummers who can play a part, but only a few have their own style. The Purdie feel is like a heartbeat, and there’s ghost notes and rebounds in there. It’s loud, it’s soft, it moves - that's what I do. I give you a real pulse to our music."
On the following pages, Bernard Purdie, who bills himself as the 'world's most-recorded drummer,' reflects on his six career-defining tracks, although he is quick to point out that "the work that you do, it's the whole work - you have to look at everything." But with over 4,000 credits on his resume, even Purdie admits that an examination of the artist in full could be quite an undertaking. "It's a lot of music. I had fun making it, so I hope everybody still enjoys listening to it."