As I type this entry the sad news is spreading around the world of the death of Aretha Franklin. Far too often we miss the impact someone has had on the world around them until they are gone. Aretha’s impact on music is overwhelming.
We can look to those that knew her intimately to get a feel for what it was like to create music with the Queen of Soul. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (right) served as Franklin’s live drummer and music director from 1970 to 1975. Of his time with Franklin he once commented that “backing her was like floating in seventh heaven.”
Purdie is also the studio drummer behind dozens of Franklin’s hits to include “Rock Steady.”
In an interview for Leigh Valley Music Purdie recalled the night he was lifted off his feet when Aretha and her band were recording their 1971 live album at the Fillmore West in San Francisco.
“I never witnessed anything like that because, I’m telling you, we literally rose off of the floor. When we made that record, we were on another planet. The people could drown you out … There was nothing but pure love in that room and that house, those three nights, there was nothing like it. I don’t think I’ll ever see it again but I’ll never forget it.”
Purdie’s own claim to fame is the triplet rhythm referred to all as the “Purdie Shuffle.” He recalled for NPR how that came about during a recording session with Franklin.
“We were actually recording ‘Rock Steady.’ She’s at the piano. Chuck Rainey on the bass. Cornell Dupree. Hugh McCracken, he was there, too. But the thing that happened is that her music fell off the piano. The red light was on — the red light means you always are recording. Tape was very, very expensive. We kept the music going, and I captured the eight bars that has taken me around the world. Everybody thought it was the most phenomenal drum break in my life — and all I was doing was keeping my time. I just smile, because 98 percent of the people of the world didn’t know my drum break was an accident. I love it.”