In most everyone’s life, there are certain people who are influential in our understanding of things…parents, friends, teachers, brothers & sisters. Folks we often look up to, speak highly of and remember for our entire lives for the effect they had on our growth. Personally, I can name quite a few who’ve left a lasting impression on me. Dad, Mom, Jim & Barbara Hardin, their son Joseph (my closest friend), Lulah Hedgeman (my high school music teacher)…many more and of course, there are tons of artists & musicians.
Then there are also people who completely changed your life forever and helped you find direction when you needed it most. Today, I learned of the passing of one such individual and it’s hit me to the core.
His given name was Leo Morris but most folks knew him as Idris Muhammad, his name after he converted to Islam, and he was one of the greatest jazz & funky soul drummers who ever graced our planet. His sound was immediately recognizable. A tight, definite and purposeful swinging groove that made you want to get up and throw down a funky boogaloo two-step the minute you heard it.
I first became aware of him when an old acquaintance told me I needed to listen to Lou Donaldson if I wanted to know what boogaloo sounded like. So, I went out and bought Alligator Bogaloo on Blue Note, which features Lou on alto sax, George Benson on guitar, Melvin Lastie on trumpet, Lonnie Smith on Hammond organ and a drummer named Leo Morris.
This recording completely changed my life, forever.
A hair over 35 mins in length, containing only six tracks, the album feels like it’s over before it even starts but I can tell y’all that the second I heard his badass confident drumming, all the questions I had in my mind up to that moment (who was I, where was my sound, how could I incorporate everything I’ve learned into one thing) all were answered and I knew what I wanted to do.
Right away, I put a group together and began my journey playing this style of music, which lead me to the doorstep of many musicians whom I now call friends. Robert Walter, Cochemea Gastelum, Chris Stillwell, Dan Prothero, Mike Andrews, Charlie Hunter, Joe Restivo, Al Gamble, Fred Wesley, Melvin Sparks…
…this list goes on.
It was almost exactly twenty years ago that I first heard that recording and I’ve been studying him ever since. Today I mourn his passing but rejoice in all I’ve learned and am still learning from this great man.
Swing on, brother Idris. Swing on!
Idris Muhammad November 13, 1939 – July 29, 2014