The Godfathers of Groove 2011

“The ‘Purdie Shuffle’ has now infected the world, so I’ll be around for umpteen years to come, because it WORKS! They have found out, they know it works and every drummer in the WORLD in order to be on the professional level and work with the different groups around the world MUST learn the ‘Purdie Shuffle.
Bernard Purdie

The word legend is oftentimes over used and used out of context. For example, ‘He or she is a legend!’ we exclaim having witnessed a gig by the latest in-vogue act. However, when Bernard Purdie (drums), Reuben Wilson (Hammond B3 organ) and Grant Green Jr aka The Godfathers of Groove rolled into town at London’s world renowned Jazz Cafe, those in attendance knew they were in presence of three ‘true’ legends of their generation. And in the case of Bernard Purdie and Reuben Wilson of two generations!

UK Vibe’s Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards was in the right place at the right time to garner the thoughts of the three Godfathers prior to the first of their scheduled two nights at the esteemed venue. The obvious lead question was in relation to how and why these living legends formed this super group.

The Dood: How and why did you guys get together? Who made the call?

Grant Green Jr: Actually how myself and Reuben got together, we got together on a recording session.

Grant Green Jr. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Reuben Wilson: Yeah!

Grant Green: I was doing a record on the Venus record label…The funniest thing about the session is that I didn’t know it was my session!

Reuben Wilson: Yeah, he didn’t know it was his! (Big laughs all round)

Grant Green Jr: The producer called and asked if I wanted to do this session. So I was figuring that was gonna go out and play on the record. So when I got down there I was asking Todd, Todd Barking is his name…I was asking, ‘So where is the Todd Barking session?’ Everyone was like, ‘We don’t know!’So I enquired, ‘So whose session is this?’ They replied, ‘Oh we got the Grant Green Jr session!!!’ (Raucous laughter from Grant and Reuben) So that’s how we met.

The Dood: So when did Bernard come into the picture?

Grant Green Jr: Bernard came in when Preston Powell put together the first record that we did in relation to a James Bond theme tune. It was Bernard, Reuben and myself, Torres Martine, Leon Gandomen, the Brazilian saxophone player?

Reuben Wilson: Bad! Bad! Bad! Saxophonist!

Grant Green Jr: Anyway, we did the session and this is funny too, because when we did the session, he gave us a copy of these tunes on cassette tape…So we were listening to these tunes and I was saying to myself, ‘Man this guy is crazy!’ He had tunes like ‘Three Blind Mice’ etc! So we just did them are own way.

Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards & Reuben Wilson Photo courtesy of Warren Dyer:

Reuben Wilson: We humoured him.

Grant Green Jr: We were like this is crazy! And the record turned out to be a hit and that’s how it all started.

The Dood: So this was the mid nineties?

Grant Green Jr: This was like ’98 or ’99 when we did that record.

The Dood: And what was the title of the first album you guys did?

Grant Green: The first album was ‘The Masters of Groove meets Dr No.’ Like I said we were so frantic because we thought this record ain’t gonna do nothing!

The Dood: But you guys had fun?

Grant Green Jr: It was to do, because we had never all worked together before…I mean Reuben and Purdie had worked together but that was the first time all of us had worked together as a unit. After I listened to it I thought, ‘Hey! It is kinda grooving!’

Reuben Wilson: It turned out okay.

Grant Green Jr: It did, it really did.

The Dood:Personally, who were the main influences on your guitar style?

Grant Green Jr: Well obviously my Dad was a big influence on me. But I listened to everybody growing up. I listened from Rock cats to all the cats man! There was cat named (Howard) Buzzy Keaton. I used to love (Howard) ‘Buzzy’ Keaton because he was SO tasty, you know what I mean. He played on that, (Grant sings) ‘#Mary wants to be a superwoman…,’ That Stevie Wonder record. I thought that was the prettiest and greatest guitar work that I had ever heard at that time.

The Dood: Any other influences like Stevie (Wonder)?

Grant Green Jr: Stevie, well his parents were my next door neighbours. So I grew up with him.

The Dood: And Marvin Gaye lived around the way?

Grant Green Jr: Exactly! Marvin lived there…Hey! How do know about Marvin?

The Dood: I’ve done my research. I can’t step to you and not do my homework!

Grant Green Jr: Oh! Okay! (He bellows deeply). Yeah, Marvin Gaye, he lived about four blocks down the way on Arvid Drive.

The Dood: So this area was steeped in musical talent?

Grant Green Jr: All those guys lived in that neighbourhood. Like guys from The Four Tops lived there, Smokey’s family lived there…At that time Detroit that whole Motown scene was still happening there and impacted on me as a youngster.

The Dood: So at what age did you first pick up the axe?

Grant Green Jr. Photo courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

Grant Green Jr: When I first picked up the guitar I was young, I was maybe eight or nine years old but as a kid you lose interest and I wanted to be a drummer.

Reuben Wilson: Every kid wants to play drums!

Grant Green Jr: Exactly! So I wanted to be a drummer. Then I realised that I couldn’t really write anything! Because I always wanted to write songs…So I went back to the guitar at about thirteen and I stayed with it from that point on. But I really relish that time that I spent in Detroit because that was before Motown moved to Los Angeles.

The Dood: What was the first group you recorded with?

Grant Green Jr: The first group I recorded with was a Bahamian singer named Azuma…I recorded with him back in the late ‘70s…I remember actually we also went on tour with Peter Tosh once.

The Dood: Getting back to your first album, you were called The Masters of Groove. Why the change?

Grant Green Jr: That’s right, we where The Masters of Groove but had to change to the Godfathers of the Groove because the record company….

The Dood: There was a similar named group out there or something?

Grant Green Jr: …Well no, it was that we decided to leave the label and he snuck off and copyrighted the name! (Grant laughs incredulously)

The Dood: Ahhh!

Grant Green Jr: He went and copyrighted the name so we couldn’t use the name…So we said keep the name and we’ll go with ‘Godfathers of the Groove.’

The Dood: Well we’re blessed to have you here. To have one of you is great in and of itself, but to have all three of you hear is a blessing.

Reuben Wilson, Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards & Grant Green Jr

The Dood: So Reuben, did you start off playing the B3 Hammond organ or was it an instrument you graduated to via the piano?

Reuben Wilson: When I was young, a little boy I had some knowledge of the piano because I could hear what people were playing. I was playing Boogie-woogie back in those days and that really developed my left hand. You see the Boogie-woogie thing was not about playing chords. You had to play rhythms with your left hand – not knowing that I was developing it for the organ, but that’s what it amounted to.

The Dood: So how old were you around this time?

Reuben Wilson: Well, I guess I was close to around nine or ten or something like that. Everybody in the house could play something on the piano.

The Dood: Was it a big family you came from?

Reuben Wilson: Well, there were five kids and we could all play something…But as I was saying I didn’t realise that that was developing me for the organ by playing those kinds of rhythms with the left hand it. It worked out fine.

Reuben Wilson @ Jazz Cafe 7-1-11 Photo courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

The Dood: So your first initiation on the organ was when?

Reuben Wilson: This guy was looking for an organ player and he just approached me about doing it. He said he had an organ if I wanted to try and learn how to play it. I said okay that might be fun. Because at that time Jimmy Smith was very hot so you know. So I started playing that, it was a Spinet, not the regular size Hammond. So I started playing Spinet organ and it was relatively easy for me to relate to it from piano.

The Dood: Could you express yourself the same way as on the piano?

Reuben Wilson: Well, from my background I guess I could express that Funk feeling that came with the Boogie-woogie thing. So I developed that, not knowing what it would amount to. So that worked out very well. And then I heard Richard ‘Groove’ Holmes!

The Dood: And that lit up the electric sparks in your brain?

Reuben Wilson: ‘WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING KID? THAT’S THE WAY IT’S DONE!!!’ (Reuben mimics ‘Groove’ Holmes in a deep voice and everyone laughs loudly)

The Dood: From out of the darkness and into the light right?

Reuben Wilson: Yeah! And the good part about that was that I had already started playing organ by the time I met him but not dynamically. Then he came down to my gig one night and caught me playing. You know I used to go and sit at Budgerigars. And he said, ‘Aha! I caught you!’ (Big laughs again)
But the funny thing about that was he said he would show me anything I wanted to know on the organ or about it. And he said I was the only guy out there in California who played the instrument that didn’t come and try and show off in front of him. And he appreciated that.

Reuben Wilson @ Jazz Cafe 7-1-11 Photo courtesy of Warren Dyer

The Dood: So he came and saw you by accident, you didn’t approach him, he saw you?

Reuben Wilson: Yeah. If I had a gig and needed an organ, he would bring it and throw it in the back of the hearse man.

The Dood: Rehearsal van, I thought you said hearse?

Reuben Wilson: No, it wasn’t a rehearsal van! It was a hearse!

The Dood: It WAS a hearse?!!

Reuben Wilson: That’s the way he moved his organ.

Grant Green Jr: That was my first real gig, it was with him.

Reuben Wilson: With him, The Groove?

Reuben Wilson signing photos before gig @ London’s Jazz Cafe 7-1-11

Grant Green Jr: Yeah! With ‘Groove’ Holmes, but I was too young to take it in. And he was such a nice guy.

The Dood: What year did this encounter take place?

Reuben Wilson: Maybe early seventies. He was very important to me, we became very close friends.

The Dood: Did you ever join his band?

Reuben Wilson: No, but we once did a concert together. Matter of fact it was Richard “Groove” Holmes, Jimmy McGriff and myself.

The Dood: Wow! That sounds like tag team organ playing! You’re turn! Are there recordings of that concert anywhere?

Reuben Wilson: There probably are, but I don’t know where you would find them. I’m sure he got it recorded.

The Dood: That would be something else! Tell me about the seminal track ‘Got to Get Your Own?’

Reuben Wilson: The thing about that was the record company were interested in me doing something with a live band, orchestration and all that. So that’s how that came about. It was flattering that they would let me play with an orchestra you know. Strings, the whole trip you know. So we did that and it allowed me some freedom. And the record came out real big!

The Dood: That tune was massive here in the UK especially on the Northern Soul scene and here in Camden Town at the Electric Ballroom. And you weren’t aware of that?

Reuben Wilson: No I wasn’t

The Dood: So on behalf of the masses that got down and still get down to ‘Got to Get Your Own,’ I’d like to know about its inception?

Reuben Wilson: I sat down one day and it just sort of came to me…I just started playing it. You don’t plan it, you just play! And it was quick and easy to do. That was also the first album that (Bernard) Purdie was on with me. He was the drummer on that one.

The Dood: Keeping the rhythm tight. Okay, now I want to ask you about each other. What does Grant Green Jr bring to the table?

Reuben Wilson: Well – good playing! Very good playing!

Grant Green Jr: And he’s not drunk!! (Laughs)

Reuben Wilson: And he’s not drunk!! (Full on laughter) He has the kind of style that is good for me – yeah.

Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards & Reuben Wilson Photo courtesy of Warren Dyer:

The Dood: You work off each other well. And Grant, what does Mr. Reuben Wilson bring to the party?

Grant Green Jr: Reuben taught me a lot because he played with my Dad and all those different guys. So you learn these tunes and stuff coming up but when you play with the real cats they know how a tune is supposed to be played. And he would tell me, “This is how the tune is played, you play it like this!” So that was the thing. I even learned how to play a lot of the standards right just through playing with him…because he knew what they were.

You can look in a book and a (song) book would have something written there and you’ll go to play it and you say, “This don’t sound like that!” Instead of it being like an E7 sharp, it would be like an E9 and you wondering why it doesn’t sound the same! But Reuben and all those guys, they were around and they knew the right changes and stuff to play. And I learned a lot from playing with them.

The Dood: And what does Mr Purdie bring to the mix?

Grant Green Jr: Well, Purdie IS the Godfather of Groove, you know what I mean. There are so many samples of him and both of these guys…The Hip Hop guys just make their records off of these guys. What of my favourite grooves as a kid was Rock Steady (Aretha Franklin).That just blew me away when I heard that! He started a whole wave in the way cats play. So many cats try to play like him, he started that whole thing. I mean when you heard Purdie you knew that was Purdie…That whole groove and that ‘Purdie Shuffle’ that he played on that Steely Dan tune ‘Aja’. What can you say? I think the guy is a great!

The Dood: Yeah I know all about the sixteenth note and how you couldn’t keep your hands still. I’ve done my homework on you sir!

Bernard Purdie: Okay! I got nice hands!!

The Dood: So Mr Purdie, as I mentioned in your absence to have all three of you here representing is an honour and a privilege. Glad you could take the time out to educate us in the art of ‘Groove’ and ‘Funk’ and ‘Soul.’

Bernard Purdie: Thank you very much. I don’t know if he (Grant Green Jr) mentioned it or not but I used to play with his father – The both of us!

Grant Green Jr: That’s the funny thing that all these years later here I am playing with the same guys that played with my Dad. It’s pretty cool!

Bernard Purdie: And I want you to know he’s (Reuben) older! (Huge laughs all around)

Reuben Wilson: The only time I’ll feel insulted is when you say he’s dead!! (More big laughs)

The Dood: What can we expect from tonight’s show?

Bernard Purdie: Oh I’m gonna be funkier than a funky rat can be! I just gonna groove. My biggest thrill is to be able to get in both their butts at the same time!

The Dood: Okay!!

Bernard Purdie: And that’s my job

The Dood: So you’re the A1 butt kicker?

Bernard Purdie: I’m the A1 butt kicker! So as long as I’m doing that, I’m in GOOD shape! Because then I can…SETTLE DOWN and have fun. It’s all about having fun!

The Dood: Who were you main influences on playing the skins?

Bernard Purdie: Well I only look at it as…I’m a time keeper. That’s what I do. But what I have found out is that YES that has now influenced everybody around the world. Time is money! Also, the feel of what I do is the LOVE of the music. The ‘Purdie Shuffle’ has now infected the world, so I’ll be around for umpteen years to come because it WORKS! They have found out, they know it works and every drummer in the WORLD in order to be on the professional level and work with the different groups around the world MUST learn the ‘Purdie Shuffle!’

So I will go down in the history books as having my beat baby! And it’s just wonderful, because my teacher told me this sixty years ago…OUCH! Let’s say a few years ago.

Grant Green Jr: He was an infant when he learned all this!

Bernard Purdie: Yeah! That’s right! That was the gift that God gave me and I know that my teacher was the one who showed me how to keep the gift alive.

Bernard Purdie @ Jazz Cafe Photo courtesy of Siobhan Bradshaw

The Dood: Would that be Leonard Heyward?

Bernard Purdie: Leonard Heyward, yes. But I am just thrilled to death that the rest of the world has now come into what it’s about. Hey! I can’t ask for anything anymore, because now it’s down in the history books and they can also write it – That’s the point! ‘Cause I had to learn how to write it myself! And I found out that it is NOT one bar, it is a two bar phrase! That’s what makes it work!!

The Dood: And the air in between the cymbals?!

Bernard Purdie: And the air in between…Ha-ha!! (Bernard extends a palm skin to The Dood) Yeah! You DID do your homework!!

The Dood: You were Aretha Franklin’s Musical Director for a period. How was she to work with?

Bernard Purdie: The biggest thing with Aretha was you learn how to play with someone but you also got to learn how to respect. So the biggest thing I can tell musicians all over the world is, “It’s wonderful to play for the stars, but when you’ve done your job, leave them ALONE!” Stop trying to hang out with the stars if you want to keep your job!!! Because the first time you mess up, your job is GONE!!

The Dood: So when your sixth sense tells you it’s time to move on, then go?

Bernard Purdie: That’s it! They’ve (The Stars) got to do what they got to do, you (Claps his hands) go the opposite way! Get away from them. Let’em do their thing.

The Dood: What about with King Curtis?

Bernard Purdie: Same thing!! Exact same thing! And the thing with King Curtis, not only was I the drummer, I was also the Book-keeper!! Yes! So I knew what everybody was getting paid, because I was the one that he would give the information to to make sure that when it was payday time that nobody got more than they were supposed to! He’d give an advance in a minute, ‘cause he had plenty money. He’d turn around say, “Hey! Cornell (Dupree) got two! I got to remember to write it down, he doesn’t have to! That was my job.

Bernard Purdie & Reuben Wilson break it down to Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards

The Dood: So it was akin to how James Brown used to fine his band during a performance with hand gestures of $5, $10, $15 etc relating to the amount to be deducted from their wages?

Bernard Purdie: Yes! And he fined me $25!! The man fined me $25 for something I didn’t do!! That’s when I had to leave!! I gave him my two week notice.

The Dood: I interviewed the great Fred Wesley in this very room a few months back. I asked him are you ever going to stop touring. He said that as long as I’ve got breath in my lungs I’m gonna keep blowing my trombone. And I saw an interview with yourself and you said as God gives me the strength to keep picking up the sticks I’ll be on the road.

Bernard Purdie: That’s it! It’s just that simple!

Grant Green Jr: You know what? If we couldn’t do what we do, if we couldn’t play an instrument, I think we will probably die! Most of us have been doing all our lives. Prior to when my Dad died, he had had a stroke and he couldn’t play or go out anymore, a lot of people couldn’t understand when I said, “You know what, by him not being able to play, he was gonna die anyway, because he had done this all of his life. You live, you breathe this stuff. I lay down sometimes at night and I have stuff playing in my head, I can’t get to sleep until I pick up my instrument and see what it is. You live and you breathe this stuff and if you cannot do it, basically it’s time to go!

Bernard Purdie: Yeah! You gotta hang it up! And like I said I consider myself very very fortunate that I’m able just to continue. And it’s about LIFE! It’s about LOVE! It’s about what you Want to do! What you HAVE to do! What you NEED to do to PLAY! Listen if I won the Lotto – Hey! I would still be doing what I’m doing. Only difference is that I would be going first class all the way around the world!! (Uncontrolled laughter from everyone)

I ain’t going coach anymore! I’ll see you there! And the ticket receipts from the gig? That money goes to the guys for their fight tickets, because I can afford to pay for my own. That’s me! That’s just me. But the thing is, is that I love, I live, eat and breathe music! That’s why I’m still producing, that’s why I’m still writing. That’s why I made sure that the publishing situation is right, so I’ll have monies later, ‘cause that’s what keeps me abreast. I’m okay!! Life is good!! Life IS good!! And I’m not hung up on where my next meal is coming from…I’ve got a little bit of money coming in EVERY month!

Reuben Wilson, Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards & Grant Green Jr react to a Purdie joke

Grant Green Jr: Hey man, loan me some money man?!!

Bernard Purdie: Huh! What?! Speak up!! (More laughter)

Reuben Wilson: He has a hearing problem!

Bernard Purdie: What? I heard something! But I’m very very pleased man.

The Dood: Of today’s crop of drummers, who are feeling good vibes from right now?

Bernard Purdie: Well, one of them is the bass player’s son, Nathan Lavorio. He also plays bass but he plays drums. He plays the hell outta the drums! Wonderful! And there’s a guy from Memphis, who I just saw last week in Vegas. Oh gosh! I can’t remember his name…he’s now working in the B B King Club in Vegas. He’s ME! That man was playing ME! Whoa! Yesssss! I was hollerin’ and screamin’. It was embarrassing! I was looking at ME!! The man is playing me…Every lick that he was doing – Umm! Yeah! He’s there!

The Dood: Mirror image?

Bernard Purdie: Mirror image. But the beauty of it was he was doing it naturally.

The Dood: And Reuben, anyone you can recommend on your instrument?

Reuben Wilson: Well I find it interesting to listen to all of them. Everybody got something to say. So that’s the way I was, is still am that way, I still listen to other guys.

The Dood: You’re always learning?

Reuben Wilson: Yeah!

The Dood: And Grant who shines for you on guitar?

Grant Green Jr: You know ALL the guys I considered young and coming up are now there and established (laughs). There all established…There were guys like Mark Whitfield etc. They were younger than me. They were the young lions, Mark and Peter Bernstein and…Ronny Jordan, you know what mean…There’s a kid called Kurt Rosenwinkel, and I like his playing.

Michael ‘The Dood’ Edwards & Grant Green Jr Photo courtesy of Warren Dyer:

The Dood: Are there any words of wisdom you would like to leave with the young musicians starting out on a music career path?

Reuben Wilson: Well, study hard. Put your heart into what you’re doing. Listen to other people but be sure to listen to yourself.

The Dood: Very succinct. And Grant, do you concur or have anything to add?

Grant Green Jr: I think with most young musicians, everybody is gonna have somebody that they idolize, because that’s how you learn, you learn from your idols. But you can’t be that person you eventually have to get your own voice. And THAT’s the key – finding your own voice, because when people hear you they can say, “Oh, I know who that is, that’s so and so!” when they hear you play. That’s what’s important!

The Dood: Have your own voice on your instrument?

Grant Green Jr: Have your own voice, because you can always be influenced by somebody.

The Dood: Excellent. Thank You. Enjoy the gig!

Michael J Edwards

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