Cult Classic: Pretty Purdie-Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

During a career that’s lasted over sixty years, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie has played alongside the great and good of music. This includes Steely Dan, the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, Hall and Oates, James Brown, Isaac Hayes and Gil Scott Heron. These artists brought onboard one of the greatest drummers of his generation. No wonder.

Famed for his timing, and the “The Purdie Shuffle,” Pretty Purdie is remembered as one of the most innovative funk drummers. However, there’s much more to Pretty Purdie’s career than his time as a session musician. Pretty Purdie was also a bandleader and a solo artist. 

As a solo artist, Pretty Purdie released over twenty albums. His debut solo album was 1967s Soul Drums.For the next five years, Pretty Purdie juggled his work as a session musician with his career as a solo artist, Despite being in constant demand by some of the biggest names in music, Pretty Purdie wasn’t for putting his solo career on the back burner. Far from it. Instead, Pretty Purdie signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions, and in 1972, released Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. It was Pretty Purdie’s third album since his career began in 1958. He’d come a long way in fourteen years,when his career began.

The Pretty Purdie story begins back in Elkton, Maryland. Bernard Lee “Pretty” Purdie was born on June 11th 1939. Like many aspiring drummers,he began by hitting cans with sticks. Then  Pretty Purdie caught a break. He overheard drummer Leonard Heywood giving a pupil lessons. This allowed Pretty Purdie to learn the fundamentals of drumming. The remainder of Pretty Purdie’s musical education came through listening to the great drummers of that era. Buddy Rich, Art Blakey, Gene Krupa, Joe Marshall and Sticks Evans would all influence Pretty Purdue’s nascent career.

Pretty Purdie’s career began in earnest in 1961, when he moved from Elkton to New York. He claimed he twenty-two, old enough to qualify for a licence to perform, However, it later came to light, that Pretty Purdie was actually born in 1941. However, with his performance licence, Pretty Purdie went looking for work. His first gig was with Buddy Lucas, who christened Pretty Purdie “Mississippi Bigfoot,” More importantly, Buddy gave Pretty Purdie a break.

After this, Barney Richmond got in touch with Pretty Purdie. He was able to get Pretty Purdie work as a session musician. This included working with James Brown, for the first time in 1965. It was the start of a fruitful relationship between the two men. However, Pretty Purdie would play with many more artists.

In 1966, Pretty Purdie played on Jack McDuff’s A Change Is Gonna Come, Freddie McCoy’s Funk Drops and Gábor Szabó’s Jazz Raga. Word had spread that Pretty Purdie was one of the best session drummers of his generation. He’d never be short of work.

That was the case in 1967. He played on Benny Golson’s Tune In, Turn In, King Curtis’ Instant Soul and Phil Upchurch’s Feeling Blue. That wasn’t all. Pretty Purdie and James Brown hooked up on Cold Sweat. This wasn’t the last time they’d work together. Similarly, Cold Sweat wasn’t the last session Pretty Purdie worked on during 1967.

Word spread as far as Nina Simone, about Pretty Purdie. She brought him onboard for her 1967 album Nina Simone Sings the Blues. It was released to widespread critical acclaim. So was Pretty Purdie’s debut album, Soul Drums.

Soul Drums.

Nine years after he moved to New York, Pretty Purdie signed to Date Records. Later in 1967, Pretty Purdie set about recording his debut album Soul Drums. For Soul Drums, Pretty Purdie brought onboard the man who gave him his break,saxophonist Buddy Lucas. He was joined by guitarist Billy Butler,tenor saxophonist Sheldon Powell, pianist Richard Tee and basist Bob Bushell, Produced by David Kapralik and Ken Williams, Soul Drums was released late in 1967, on the Date label. 

Soul Drums was released to widespread critical acclaim.Pretty Purdie’s all-star band played with an unfettered freedom. Crucial to the success of Soul Drums was a masterclass from Pretty Purdie. It would set the bar high not just for his future albums, bit for future funk drummers.





For the next four years, Pretty Purdie concentrated on session work. He worked with some of the biggest names in music. This included James Brown, Yusef Lateef, Dizzy Gillespie, B.B. King, Al Kooper and Robert Palmer. That wasn’t all. Artists like Johnny “Hammond” Smith, Eddie Palmieri, Boogaloo Joe Jones and Charles Kynard all knew Pretty Purdie’s number. When they were looking for a drummer, they dialled Pretty Purdie. So did Aretha Franklin. Pretty Purdie played on her 1971 live album Aretha Live at Fillmore West. That wasn’t the end of Pretty Purdie’s relationship with the Filmore West. He also played on King Curtis’ 1971 album Live at Fillmore West. This was just one of twenty-nine albums Pretty Purdie played on. That’s  not counting Pretty Purdie’s solo albums.

Purdie Good.

Four years after the release of Soul Drums, Pretty Purdie signed to Prestige. By 1971, it was one of jazz’s premier labels. Pretty Purdie’s Prestige debut was Purdie Good. It was produced by Bob Porter.

When recording of Purdie Good began, Pretty Purdie had picked a mixture of originals and cover versions. Two of the cover versions were James Brown’s Cold Sweat and Fred Neil’s classic Everybody’s Talkin.’ These songs were played by a band that included bassist Gordon Edwards, guitarist Billy Nichols, pianist Harold Wheeler, trumpeter Tippy Larkin and tenor saxophonists Charlie Brown and Warren Daniels. They recorded the six songs on January 11th 1971, at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Purdie Good was finished, it was released later in 1971.

On Purdie Goods released on Prestige in 1971, it was well received. Critics commented on Pretty Purdie’s versatility. They marvelled at his ability to seamlessly play a variety of styles. This isn’t surprising.

Given how different the artists Pretty Purdie played with, over the past thirteen years, Pretty Purdie was Mr. Versatile. Jazz, funk, soul, rock, soul-jazz, A.O.R. artists,  Pretty Purdie had played with them. However, by 1971, he was part of Aretha Frankin’s band. 

Although part of Aretha’s all-star band, this didn’t mean Pretty Purdie’s solo career was on hold. Far from it. He was busier than ever, working as a session player and recording Shaft, his third album.






Shaft, Pretty Purdie’s third album, was made up entirely of cover versions. This included Isaac Hayes’ Shaft, Buddy Miles’ Changes, Wilton Felder’s Way Back Home and Neal Creque’s Africa. Along with Harold Ousley’s Summer Melody and Willie Bridges’ Butterfingers, these six tracks became Shaft.

Recording of Shaft took place on 11th October 1971, at Van Gelder Studios, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Two of the musicians that played on Purdie Good reconvened. This included bassist Gordon Edwards, guitarist Billy Nichols and tenor saxophonist Charlie Brown. They were joined by some new faces, including electric pianist Neal Creque, Norman Pride on congas and trumpeters Danny Moore, Gerry Thomas. They played their part in a genre-melting album.

Having recorded Shaft on 11th October 1971, it wasn’t released until 1973. It was released to favourable reviews. Elements of funk, jazz, Afrobeat  and soul-jazz melted into one. The music was mellow, soulful, funky and jazz-tinged. Other times there was an intensity as Pretty Purdie and his band kicked loose. Shaft was a compelling showcase for Pretty Purdie. However, by the time Shaft was released, he was signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Prodcutions.






Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

After the recording of Shaft, Pretty Purdie’s time at Prestige was over. He still had his work as a session player. However, he wasn’t without a label for long. He was approached by Bob Thiele, who asked him to join his Flying Dutchman Productions. That’s what Pretty Purdie did.

Having signed for Flying Dutchman Productions, Pretty Purdie he began work on what would become Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. It featured seven songs. A medley of What’s Goin’ On penned by Reynaldo Benson, Al Cleveland and Marvin Gaye, melted into Bill Withers’ Lovely Day. Pretty Purdie cowrote four tracks. He penned Good Livin’ (Good Lovin’) with Horace Off. They cowrote Don’t Go with Richard Tee. Bob Thiele joined Pretty Purdie, Horace and Richard to write Song For Aretha. Horace also Heavy Soul Slinger.  Other tracks included Aretha Franklin’s Day Dreaming and Joe Sample’s Put It Where You Want It. These tracks became Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

Recording of Soul Is…Pretty Purdie took place at two sessions. They took place in March and June 1972. At the two sessions, different lineups recorded the seven tracks. Some musicians played on every track. Others played a walk-on part. However, the band included a rhythm section of  bassist Paul Martinez, drummer Pretty Purdie and guitarists Billy Nichols, Cornell Dupree and Lloyd Davis. Organists Richard Tee and Paul Griffin, pianist Horace Ott and conga player Norman Pride joined tenor saxophonist Charlie Brown. He was part of a large horn and string section that featured on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. It was released later in 1972.

On the release of Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, it was released to critical acclaim. At last, Pretty Purdie had released an album that was up there with his debut album Soul Drums. You’ll realise that, when I tell you about Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.

A medley of What’s Goin’ On and Ain’t No Sunshine opens Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. A roll of drums is the signal for the rhythm section to enter. They’re joined by horns, before the keyboards take centre-stage stage. That’s where they stay until the sultriest of saxophone solo cuts loose on Ain’t No Sunshine. Then seamlessly, the band switch into What’s Goin’ On. Washes of reverb are briefly unleashed. Mostly, though, it’s just a tight, talented band jamming their way through two soul classics.

Wistful strings cascade on Don’t Go. They’re panned left and vibes are panned left. In the middle, Pretty Purdie’s drums mark time. Then his rasping, worldweary vocal enters. It’s needy and full of hurt and hope, as he pleads. All the time, strings sweep dramatically and harmonies coo. Horns rasp and bray, guitars chime and the rhythm provide the heartbeat. However, it’s Pretty Purdie’s desperate pleas that tug at your heartstrings, as he vamps his way through this tale of heartbreak.

Straight away, Pretty Purdie’s all-stars get funky on Good Livin’ (Good Lovin’). There’s a nod to Steely Dan. The rhythm section, wah-wah guitars and growling horns supply the funk. A probing bass, Pretty Purdie’s trademark beat and keyboards panned way left are part of this uber funky jam. Blistering riffing guitars make a brief appearance, as Pretty Purdie continues to showcase his considerable talents on this career defining album.

Washes of dramatic Hammond organ, stabs of keyboards and pounding drums grab your attention. After that, Day Dreaming literally floats along. Crucial to the arrangement is the tenor saxophone. It’s pulled forward in the mix. Flourishes of keyboards are panned left and guitars panned right. Not to be outdone, flamboyant flourishes of Hammond organ can be heard. It’s as if Pretty Purdie’s all-stars are determined to surpass everything that’s gone before. Melodic and joyous, you can’t help lose yourself in a band at the top of their game.

Song For Aretha sees the tempo drop and Pretty Purdie’s drums take centre-stage. His playing is slow, his timing impeccable. Everyone plays around him. Mellow keyboards, crystalline guitars and washes of Hammond organ join the rhythm section in providing the backdrop for Pretty Purdie’s homage to Aretha. His tender, emotive vocal grows in power. He’s accompanied all the way by cooing, gospel tinged backing vocalists. Scratchy strings add a contrast, as the goal drops out. This allows the rest of the band to stretch their legs, during this eight minute homage to the Queen Of Soul.

Mellow keyboards, a pounding rhythm section join a wah-wah guitar on Put It Where You Want It sees. It wah-wahs its way across the arrangement, before a braying horn joins the fun. They toy with each other, before dropping out. This becomes a recurring theme, during another uber funky jam. Pretty Purdie encourages his band to play with an unbridled freedom, that was missing in his two Prestige albums. Although they were good, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie sees Pretty Purdie reach new heights.

Heavy Soul Slinger closes Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. So it’s fitting Pretty Purdie enjoys a moment in the sun. That’s until gradually, the rest of the band join the fray. Crystalline guitars, keyboards and bass join Pretty Purdie’s drums and hissing hi-hats. Later, it’s just Pretty Purdie. He delivers a masterclass. Round his kit he goes, showcasing his skills. After that, it’s as if he’s thrown down a gauntlet. A blazing saxophone goes toe-to-toe with Pretty Purdie. Blowing as if his life depended upon it Charlie Brown, unleashes one of the best horn solos. It’s augmented by hypnotic keyboards, while constantly, Pretty Purdie vies for your attention, on his swan-song for Flying Dutchman Productions. What a way to bow out.

Although Pretty Purdie only released just one album on  Flying Dutchman Productions, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie was a hugely important album. It was the album that saw him reach the heights of his debut album Soul Drums. 

Purdie Good and Shaft were both good albums. They were nowhere near as good as Soul Drums. It was released to critical acclaim. However, the reviews of Purdie Good and Shaft weren’t as favourable. Both albums were well received. That was as good as it got. The problem, critics said, was the choice of material. The covers chosen for Purdie Good and Shaft weren’t adventurous enough. As a result, Pretty Purdie was treading water. Not any more.

Having signed to Bob Thiele’s Flying Dutchman Productions, Pretty Purdie cowrote four songs and covered three other tracks. The cover versions were ones that allowed Pretty Purdie to challenge himself. As for the new tracks, they allowed Pretty Purdie to flourish. He delivers a series of masterclasses on the drums. That’s not all. Pretty Purdie steps from behind the drum kit, and delivers two heartbreakingly, beautiful vocals on Don’t Go and Song For Aretha. By the end of Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, Pretty Purdie’s career is back on track.

For Pretty Purdie, his brief spell at Flying Dutchman Productions proved a turning point in his career. Bob Thiele, and an all-star band brought out the best in Pretty Purdie. They brought him out of his comfort zone on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, which is of one of the most important albums in Pretty Purdie’s back-catalogue.

Soul Is…Pretty Purdie sees Pretty Purdie showcase his considerable talent and versatility. Not only does he scale the heights of his debut album Soul Drums, he surpasses it on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie. Without doubt, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, which was released in 1972, was the highpoint of his fourteen years career. It’s an album that Pretty Purdie never surpassed.

Along with his 1967 debut album Soul Drums, Soul Is…Pretty Purdie is the perfect introduction to one of the greatest drummers of his generation. Pretty Purdie was famed for his timing, and the “The Purdie Shuffle.” That’s why he’s remembered s one of the most innovative funk drummers. That’s apparent when you listen to many of classic albums that Pretty Purdie played on. “The Purdie Shuffle” can also be heard on Soul Is…Pretty Purdie, which is Pretty Purdie’s finest hour.

Cult Classic: Pretty Purdie-Soul Is…Pretty Purdie.



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