I love/hate the feeling of getting forced to reckon with and study a band or musician I’ve somehow overlooked. Pleasant surprises are nice and all, but that feeling of “WHY HAVE I NOT HEARD OF THIS UNTIL NOW.” kinda sucks. This COVID sojourn has been very rewarding with these kinds of gifts. One player in particular has turned out to be the missing brother in a holy fellowship of Oakland drummers. Funk comes from a lot of places, but you’re not really doing all your coursework if you ain’t dealt with Oakland. I have studied David Garibaldi and Mike Clark for years, and I owe Greg Errico’s work a deep dive I guess, but how in the world have I nearly miss Gaylord Birch? Here’s a playlist I started.
I was told, by Charlie Hunter (let me pick that name up off the floor), in the green room of Brooklyn Bowl sometime last year, that Birch played in an early version of The Pointer Sisters and was by some accounts the baddest of all the Oakland drummers of that era. It was a name I knew, but clearly I had some homework to do. There’s an easy starting point, you can find the first Pointer Sisters LP for $2 at most record stores with a good used section. I knew from watching old Soul Train performances that they were more than the ladies who brought you “Neutron Dance” and “Jump”. (I’m an 80s kid y’all). Seriously, go find that record, they could play standards, and show tunes, and probably hold down any manner of casino/hotel gigs…half the record is very-much-swinging vocal jazz with tight harmonies. Birch has a great straight-ahead jazz concept, but it’s the funky ones where you really catch what he had going on. He also lived in a time where you could play a really tasty drum solo over an Allen Toussaint song on live television.
Prior to this, or maybe simultaneously, Gaylord was in a band called Cold Blood. I don’t know how I missed this band, they funk way hard at times.
Does he not sound like the best moments of Harvey Mason and Mike Clark of this era? He did play with Herbie Hancock later on, but spent a lot of the 70s in Graham Central Station.
He played on quite a few solid blues albums, notably with John Lee Hooker and Charles Brown. He played straight ahead jazz with Eddie Harris, a handful of solid gospel sessions, and even briefly in an actually listenable Jerry Garcia collab.
If you’re some kind of fusion head, please check that Roger Glenn record in the playlist, I believe it features appearances from at least one of the Escovedo family. He may not dip into the linear funk concept as much as Mike Clark or David Garibaldi at the time, but he grooves just as hard if not more.
Birch also did some time in Santana’s band, both in the late 70s and the early 90s.
Sadly he lost a battle to cancer at age 50, but he left a pretty deep discography if you go digging. I went kind of funk-centric on the playlist above, but he had a mess of mean shuffles and some great samba ideas if you go down the rabbit hole.
As always if I missed some really dope record or misattributed any recordings, please email me!
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