Not So Modern Drummer celebrates the legendary Buddy Rich on the 100th anniversary of his birth. Providing personal commentary on Buddy are Mike Clark, Peter Erskine, and Gregg Potter
In the mid to late 1960s I played Las Vegas quite a bit and would hear Buddy play often. We were in the lounge band so he would let us stand behind the curtain to watch him play. Once he played the Tropicana in Sacramento, CA which was owned by a friend of mine… He called me and said come down to the club. This was at one in the afternoon so I wasn't sure what was up.
I walked in and Buddy's drums were set up with all of the band’s equipment. He locked the club and said do you want to check it out. I played his drums for about a half hour and then I split as I was afraid to get caught – hahahaha!
I heard ‘Not so Quiet Please’ when I was 8 years old and played that and ‘Skindeep’ over and over wearing out several copies. I was a working child drummer who played kind of like Gene Krupa, so I sped my stuff up after hearing Buddy. My Dad took me to hear him several times with Harry James, I was in awe for sure.
Ed Shaughnessy came to my gig and told me he played Actual Proof for Buddy and Louie Bellson. He said they loved it. Buddy listened to it several times in a row.
Ed said all three of them were trying to understand the beats. Later a bass player friend of mine who was also acquainted with Buddy asked him if he knew anything about how David Garibaldi and I did the funky thing. Needless to say, I was one happy cat to hear that.
I know Louie and had met Barrett Deems, and I also knew Dave Black very well. Dave told me tons of stories about Buddy, Louie and him shedding together in Ellis Tobin's place in Philadelphia. Dave had pictures of the three of them going at it. Louie told me Buddy got nervous when Dave came around in the 1950's as Dave could keep up with him.
I never copied Buddy like some drummers. By my late teens I was digging Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, and had been following Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Philly Joe Jones since I was 10. My dad was a drummer and turned me onto those cats. The tap dancing style would not fit the kind of jazz I ended up playing. But I learned to get around the kit with all kinds of sticking from Buddy, and could do a lot of it my own way. I was friends with Bobby Morris and Paul Ferrara who played with Louie Prima…They were also friends with Buddy and could see that he had influenced how my hands moved. They `shared some additional tips on Buddy’s moves with me.
My friend Pat Huston played trumpet with Buddy. I drove him to Reno NV for his first night on the band. At the rehearsal Buddy threw a tantrum and kicked his cymbals over and his chauffeur was like..."Yeah Buddy, tell em’ Buddy!" Pat played the first night and quit. When asked why in Downbeat Magazine Pat said, "If I wanted to work for a drum major - I would have joined the army!" I died laughing.
I went to a clinic Buddy did… He got out of the bus and without warming up picked up his sticks and played a single stroke roll on the table at an insane speed. I was in the dressing room and saw this.
Once I sat about one foot from Buddy's hi-hat as there was no bandstand, Woody Herman's band was in the house so he really put it all out there, I was shocked at how deep he could go and saw how natural he was. Most of his stuff except for the left hand being able to match the right and the blazing single stroke roll from quiet to triple FF is not that hard to play and he said that to me once. I guess he figured I was a drummer as I studied his every move and put a cigarette out in the ashtray at my table and said, " My stuff is pretty simple but I can bring up the speed and volume". I didn't even answer him as I was in shock, then he looked at me and my friend and said SHIIIIIIIIIT!!!!!
A close friend of mine was Buddy's roadie and they really liked each other. On his first night as a roadie he drove two nails through the hoop and nailed the bass drum to the floor. Buddy went nuts!!
Buddy Rich. His name conjures images and memories of drumming wizardry, musical mastery, and excellence that went beyond mortal bounds with an arrogance that defied the gods of Talent. He cemented his place as part of that pillar of immortal greats who only come along every so often and define a generation, an epoch, an era. His drumming was so good and overpoweringly definitive that it almost ruined big band drumming for the rest of us mere mortals.
I first became acquainted with Buddy Rich by way of
the LP “Rich Versus Roach,” with an album cover that featured Buddy (on a Ludwig kit) literally facing off against Max Roach (on his Gretsch kit). The first cut, “Sing Sing Sing,” is a tour de force performance by both masters, each solo reflecting the zeitgeist of their musical eras and styles. It is accurate and safe to say that Buddy’s drumming was snare drum-centric … with plenty of firepower in his bass drum foot as well. While Max’s solo heralds the melodic things to come on the drum, Buddy takes what Gene Krupa had wrought and builds his solo — phrase upon phrase — on the snare drum until there’s not much else to say. This was recorded in the 1950s … he continued to do this every time he played the snare drum until his final days. And it never got boring or old to listen to: his drumming was a masterclass in perfection every time he played. Every time. I never heard Buddy give less than everything he could to the drum … and that was a lot, believe me.
Nowadays, thanks to the internet, we can follow Buddy’s career from the recordings he made in the 50s through the time he spent on the road with the Harry James band (not counting his earlier years with the Tommy Dorsey band or in the movies, with Charlie Parker, et al) — I especially enjoy watching and listening to some of the Harry James LP’s on YouTube. But it was with the advent of his own big band in 1966 that the musical world caught on fire. “Swingin’ New Big Band.” Boy, I’ll say. Never heard anything like it before or since. The kinetic energy and power of Buddy and that band … wow …like countless other drummers, it was a huge part of what made me want to be a drummer for the rest of my life.
Imagine the thrill of me getting to play the Bill Holman arrangement of “Norwegian Wood” (that Buddy recorded) as a freshman with my high school big band (Interlochen Arts Academy in 1969). Using my Dynasonic snare drum, I might add. It was the most fun way to feel all grown-up… better than a false mustache or a fake ID.
I finally got to meet him in 1972 as the eighteen-year-old drummer with Stan Kenton’s Orchestra. Buddy sat in for Stan at the last moment at the Monterey Jazz Festival as a favor to Stan. Stan had fallen ill near the end of a Disneyland gig at the end of the summer of 1972. Buddy came out after we played a few numbers on our own and he sat down at my drumset with single-headed toms and cymbals as big as gongs and he made it all sound like him, as if those were his drums. Witnessing this was one of the great drum and music lessons of my life.
Re: the photo above… Buddy had just played one of his all-time impossible drum solos, like he did every night, this evening in the ballroom at Idora Park in Youngstown, Ohio. Double bill with Maynard’s band. Buddy was seated, so I wasn’t going to make the man look up to me. Since there was no chair there, I went down on bended knee; it was simply a sign of respect. He liked that, I think, and he was very gracious. In my experience, Buddy Rich was always polite, and always insanely great.
Re: those Buddy tapes … the older I get, the more I “get” Buddy, and I sometimes find myself speaking the same way to musicians who are not paying attention or giving their all to the music. Well … almost the same way! In any event: I feel fortunate and blessed to have lived in part of the same era as Buddy Rich. The world will never see or hear his likes again.
Final word: as great as his drumstick mastery was, he played the brushes better than anyone, in my opinion. The last time I saw and heard Buddy was at an outdoor concert at Lincoln Center in the mid-1980s, and the highlight of that set was a tune he played on brushes in trio with pianist Bill Cunliffe and bassist Dave Carpenter. I’m glad I got to tell him how much I enjoyed it after the show. He smiled. He knew it was good.
Gregg Potter gets his Big Swing Face
Editor's note (Gregg currently holds down the drum chair in the Buddy Rich Band and is doing a great job of it).
Buddy Rich, the drummer’s drummer, the greatest drummer ever, one of a kind, the master, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I grew up, my whole drumming life, after seeing and hearing Buddy Rich for the first time, knowing that that was “my” bar, that I would base my drumming on.
I was only ten years old when my Dad took me to Mister Kelly’s, the world famous Jazz club in downtown Chicago late on a hot summer night to experience the drumming icon. I didn’t realize what it was that I was going to see…and hear. I had seen Buddy late at night on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, but never had seen him live. Going to a night club at ten years old is odd enough. We arrived at the club, we walked up to the door, my Dad must have paid some kind of cover charge and we were in. I remember the door man telling my Dad that he would have to stand upstairs, not on the main floor, and of course, no drinking. Seemed fair. I was able to see the stage clearly.
Buddy’s drums were sitting right on the lip of the stage. The set up looked way too big for the small room. The place was packed. It seemed like the band would spill out on the tables in front. As I thought of all of these things sitting there, the stage lights came up and he was there behind the drums. Opening with some kind of drum intro, it was the most incredible sensory overload I ever had experienced at that time. He played, and then the band came in. It was like a jet plane flew through the room. I can’t recall a set list, there is no video footage to review, I just try to hold on to every memory I can get out of that one performance. I will never forget the power and control Buddy had over that band, the music, his drums, and the audience, that evening.
As we were leaving the club, we stopped in the rest room, it was there that I met Buddy for the first time. As my father introduced me to Buddy, Buddy cut him off before he could finish the introduction- “Yea I know, he’s a drummer, since he was this tall.” And at that time, he put his hand on my head. If he only knew whose head he tapped.
It was ten years later, that I was able to meet Buddy again. This time with a real introduction, and a handshake. That was caught on camera. Unfortunately, at the time, Buddy was a bit agitated that he could not find any new snare drum heads on a Sunday afternoon.
By the time I got to the door of his bus, he was ready to move on. At that meeting, after a bit of small talk, I got the infamous “Nice hair, kid” line from his lips. I thought of a hundred things to say or ask when I got up there, it wasn’t to be. The picture lives forever. I will never forget the presence that man had, behind the drums or standing in a room.
Photo Credit: Rudy Arias or his brother….one of them took this picture. Thanks, you two!