Gaylord Birch

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!
If you like what I do, feel free to randomly Venmo monies to @hardproof with “insulin is expensive” as the description, so I know it’s for me…or find me on Patreon while I figure out how that works.

Hello + Willie Hall

This is my website. This is my blog, as apparently, I have decided to join you all in 2003.

 

Thanks Brendan Bond for building this site for me, it is beyond overdue, I owe you many sessions.

 

Like every other drummer post COVID, I am available to record your drum tracks at my house. I am available to teach via Skype or Facetime or Zoom or whatever your preference of conferencing app. I am totally game to write copy for your magazine or website or edit your chapbook.

 

Without further ado, here’s some exciting original content that perhaps tens of people will read.

 

Playlists may be the only currently redeeming feature of Spotify*. I still have one from my son’s birth, the full setlists of several wedding and country bands that hire me on occasion, and if I want to find a playlist dedicated to the work of one particular studio musician, some enlightened user has probably made one. As someone who absorbs music by osmosis, this can be a great learning tool. I spent a few days last month biking around at night with a Jim Keltner playlist, and then a Steve Jordan one, and I was delighted by David Garibaldi’s signature sound in a smooth jazz context, but then I wondered about some not-quite-household-name players. For starters, Willie Hall. He didn’t have a playlist yet, so I decided to fix that.

Who is Willie Hall? He was the second drummer in the Bar-Kays (replacing Carl Cunningham after the 1967 plane crash that took Otis Redding and most of the band) and thereby one prolific session player on the Stax Records output of the 60s-70s. He also followed Al Jackson Jr. in Booker T. and the MGs after his 1975 murder. That’s him on the theme from Shaft, and he was the drummer in the Blues Brothers movie. Apparently, when they were casting the band for said film and Steve Cropper was trying to locate him, Willie was driving a popsicle truck as Stax had folded and Isaac Hayes had closed his studio.

 

Of particular importance to me is his flawless showing on Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul LP…there’s a playbook he’s operating from on there that is worth studying, definitely go get it in your ear if not familiar. He seems to have a slightly heavier touch, especially in the kick drum when he wants to and has a real skill at making longer tracks just simmer for 10+ minutes without forcing them in any particular direction.

 

I’ll be adding to this, but here are some highlights of what I found:

 

  • playing a fatback under “Jailhouse Rock” with Albert King, not a stock Memphis move to my ear, pretty dope.
  • that whole Black Rock/Gotta Groove record by the Bar-Kays goes hard, spot the Liquid Swords sample on “In The Hole”.
  • the original “Funky Chicken”…and the “Funky Penguin”?! I wonder if Rufus Thomas wore his stage outfits to the studio?
  • if you think I’m leaving off an MGs track called “Space Nuts”, we haven’t hung out yet.
  • I’m leaving off his appearances on two Levon Helm solo records until I can determine whether he, Roger Hawkins, or Levon drum on them.

 

TL;DR here’s a dope playlist of tracks with Willie Hall playing drums. If I’m wrong on any of these, or you have one I need to add, feel free to email me.

*Spotify’s streaming rates are atrocious and their indifference to artists is appalling. Buy music directly from artists whenever possible.

 

If you like what I do, feel free to randomly Venmo monies to @hardproof with “insulin is expensive” as the description, so I know it’s for me…or find me on Patreon while I figure out how that works.