Bernard Purdie

Born: June 11, 1939 in Elkton, Maryland

Bernard Lee “Pretty” Purdie was raised in Elkton, Maryland. As a youngster, he was reared on the march-like feel of the New Orleans second line and the swing of the big bands. Purdie also received a rigorous music education, and by the time he was a preteen, he was already working with many of the top dance bands in the area.

Blessed with an outsized personality, a strong sense of confidence, and an unbounded enthusiasm for his craft, Purdie hit the ground running upon his arrival in New York in 1960. His earliest recordings reflect the shuffles and quasi straight-eighth pockets of early rock. Within a few short years, however, Purdie developed a distinctive style that was characterized by a broad integration of sixteenth notes, a busier bass-drum foot, and most especially, a greater involvement of the hi-hat in the groove.

These were the hallmarks of a new style called funk, and on the hundreds of hits that Purdie played on over the next several decades, he would become one of funk’s most important innovators. Listen to the impassioned simplicity of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” the dramatic 12/8 feel of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” the loose “fatback” beat of King Curtis’s “Memphis Soul Stew,” and the out-and-out assault of Aretha Franklin’s “Rock Steady”—all bear the sophisticated and soulful touch of Bernard Purdie.

During the ’60s and ’70s he gained the nickname “the Hitmaker,” scoring with a dizzying array of artists including Otis Redding, Dizzy Gillespie, Larry Coryell, Hubert Laws, Cat Stevens, Hall and Oates, Joe Cocker, Robert Flack, Jeff Beck, and Steely Dan. Like many studio players of the period, he also went uncredited on scores of other hits, receiving little compensation for what was an outsized contribution.

Nevertheless, any drummer coming up during that era was sure to incorporate Purdie’s famous off-beat hi-hat punches into his or her vocabulary. And the funky half-time groove that bears his name—the “Purdie shuffle”—has become the stuff of legend.