Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is known as being one of the most recorded sideman in the history of music. Perhaps his biggest contribution to the world of drumming is his renowned drum pattern the Purdie Half-Time Shuffle. This is a shuffle variation with a slick bass drum part and the addition of syncopated ghost notes on the snare drum. Variations on this shuffle can be heard on songs such as Led Zeppelin’s “Fool in the Rain”, the Police’s “Walking on the Moon”, and Toto’s “Rosanna.” Purdie uses the pattern on Steely Dan‘s “Home At Last” and “Babylon Sisters.”
According to Purdie the shuffle’s origin goes all the way back to his childhood. In an interview with NPR he recalled, “It all came about from the locomotion of the railroad tracks because I lived next door to the trains that were going to Washington, to Baltimore, chickeda-chickeda-chickeda.”
The first time Purdie broke out his signature beat, he was in the studio recording with Steely Dan. According to Purdie they didn’t want a shuffle but they were looking for something in half-time. “I’ll give you the Purdie shuffle.” He said. They said, ‘what’s that’? And I said, well, I’ll show you. It’s half-time, funky, laid back, without thinking it’s a shuffle.”
“The way Bernard played stuff he always had some unique stylistic thing that you could never imagine in advance and nobody else could do,” said Steely Dan’s Walter Becker. And the Purdie Half-Time Shuffle was born. The technical explanation is this: The backbeat (2 and 4 in a regular shuffle) happens half as often, only on beat 3, whilst maintaining the triplet subdivision. The Purdie shuffle has polyrhythmic layers to it, which can bring out different elements of the groove in a composition.
Purdie has said he is flattered by the versions he has heard by other bands. “You know it when you hear it,” he said, “because when you do, you have to move your feet.”