I’ll get it started with Idris Muhammad.
Formerly known as Leo Morris, the 13th Ward native pounded out rhythms with James Brown, Pharaoh Sanders, George Benson, Fathead Newman, Curtis Mayfield, and a few dozen other legendary cats.
Along with Baby Dodds, Bob French, Zigaboo Modeliste and Earl Palmer; Muhammad was one of the architects of the New Orleans drumming sound. And we’re all grateful there are plenty 14 year olds beating skins on our Sunday second lines who will faithfully carry on this crucial work first laid down by their elders
I could list 20 other players born in New Orleans who could lay a legitimate claim to being on our city’s drummer- Mount Rushmore but let’s focus on Uptown native Mr Muhammad.
At just 15 years of age Leo Morris appeared on the Hawkett’s Mardi Gras Mambo 45, it’s one of the greatest Carnival songs ever committed to wax. You may have heard a song by Fats Domino titled Blueberry Hill? That’s young Leo on drums.
On April 27th, 1958, Sam Cooke was having lunch at Dookie Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans 6th Ward when Joe Jones (of “You Talk Too Much” fame) overheard Sam grousing about what a lousy drummer he was on tour with. Jones horned in on the conversation and told young Leo to introduce himself to Mr Cook. Sam asked the young’un if he knew any of his songs and Leo started tapping out some rhythms amongst the bowls of gumbo and platters of fried chicken right there on Cook’s eating table.
His first gig with the legend was that night.
In his own words:
I’m a funk player. I’m not a jazz musician. I don’t have much correspondence with jazz guys because I’m in another zone. I’m in the funk-drumming zone. I make money. I make money. I make money
In 1966 Morris met and fell in love with Delores Brooks of the Crystals. Readers of a certain age may recall a big hit by her band, Da Doo Ron Ron, that’s 16 year old Miss Delores singing.
Brooks was a tough customer at a young age, and had already made a name for herself by scrapping with Diana Ross when the two were on a package tour as young budding stars.
Dig on early Leo via his tight-ass ‘in the pocket’ drumming on Lou Donaldson’s Alligator Boogaloo. It marks the first straight up jazz album that Morris played on. It came out April 7th, 1967 on Blue Note.
Muhammad would go on to become the house drummer at Prestige Records from 70-72 and it was there he laid down what many claim to be his magnum opus, Peace and Rhythm. Oh, and that’s his bride Sakinah Muhammad nee Delores Brooks singing on Brother You Know You’re Doing Wrong and I’m A Believer. She’s a powerhouse.
My drum playing came from dancing in New Orleans in the street bands underneath the bass drum player…
Muhammad recorded dozens of albums and thousands of songs but for our debut edition of this new feature we’re going to recommend the Make It Count LP. It came out in 1980 on the Fantasy label.
Here’s my favorite cut off Make It Count. It’s called New Orleans
Don’t be sitting near a plate glass window when the bass comes in. You’ll be thrown clear out.
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Inside the Music: the Life of Idris Muhammad By Idris Muhammad
Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke By Peter Guralnick
For the those interested:
Backing Vocals – Clydene Jackson (tracks: A2, B1 to B3), Julia Waters Tillman (tracks: A2 to B3), Maxine Waters Willard (tracks: A2 to B3)
Bass – Nathaniel Phillips (tracks: A2, A3, B1 to B3)
Drums – Idris Muhammad (tracks: A2 to B3)
Guitar – Roland Bautista (tracks: A2 to B3)
Horns – Bill Reichenbach (2) (tracks: A2, B1, B2), Jerry Hey (tracks: A2, B1, B2), Larry Hall (tracks: A2, B1, B2)
Keyboards – Herb Jimmerson (tracks: A2, A3, B1, B2)
Lead Vocals – Claytoven (tracks: A2, B1, B2)
Synthesizer – Herb Jimmerson (tracks: B1 to B3)
Guitar – Tip Wirrick (A2)
Horns – Carlberg Jones (A2)
Backing Vocals – Pat Henderson (A3,A4)
Percussion – Herb Jimmerson (A3)
Backing Vocals,Lead Vocals, Synthesizer – Paul Smith (A4)
Bass – Keith Hatchel (A4)
Backing Vocals – Claytoven (B1,B2)
French Horn – Carlberg Jones (B1)
Percussion – David Frazier, Herb Jimmerson (B1)
Flute – David Stone (B2)
Lead Vocals, Drums [Log Drum], Percussion – Idris Muhammad (B3)