Doug Wamble / Charlie Hunter / Bernard Purdie at The Iridium, July 2010
Doug Wamble / Charlie Hunter / Bernard Purdie
New York City, USA
Iridium in summer. It's 10:00PM and simmering outside. A Broadway building announced the temperature as being 82 degrees. But inside the club it was about to get bluesy... and funky. The featured performer was guitarist and singer Doug Wamble, who was appearing in an all-star trio with seven-string guitarist Charlie Hunter (combining bass and lead capabilities, frets aimed in opposite directions at each end of the neck), and legendary "funky drummer," Bernard "Pretty" Purdie.
The funk was, of course, mainly from Purdiefamous for his drive and groove. He began in the early sixties as a very young session musician, pepping up demos that were clearly potential hits, such as Tommy Tucker's "High Heel Sneakers" and the classic rock song "Hang On Sloopy." In time, Purdie was so well-known that he began placing signs on either side of his kit saying "You done did it" and "You hired Bernard Purdie."
On the stand at Iridium, his cymbals were the shiniest gold you will ever see.
Wamble, by contrast, is a kind of Muddy Waters meets Johnny Cash} his slide guitar accompanying his voice, which may be even more expressive than his guitar playing. He gave real life to the words of Jimi Hendrix's "Manic Depression," revealing the quality of the lyrics that in the original version were hidden behind the fuzz and distortion of Hendrix's guitaror, rather, simply the song's excellent music. Wamble also delivered a soulfully communicative version of Donny Hathaway's "Someday We'll All Be Free," showing him to be a great story teller. Wamble has now released three solo albums, and his signature musical stamp ranges from soul to Americana.
Wamble's albums comprise both original tunes and covers, his song titles interesting, such as "Antoine's Pillow Rock," "No More Shrubs in Casablanca," and the "The Homewrecker Hump," all from his second album, Bluestate (Marsalis Music, 2005) . The first two titles are not obvious in indicating the lyric's subject matter; but the third appears, at least on second look, self-explanatory. His latest album, Doug Wamble (E1, 2010), is a more focused look at life issues, and nothing could be more indicative of this than the title of the opener, "Think About It All."
The first song of the set was a tune by Hunter entitled "Astronaut Love Triangle," from Baboon Strength (Spire Artists, 2008), and featured Wamble's slide during the course of its the long but interesting "wamble."
Before the next tune, Wamble asked "Who's heard of the Purdie shuffle?" If anyone had not heard of it, they soon heard it. Later, the trio was joined for a couple of numbers by New Orleans piano legend Henry Butler, introduced by Wamble as, ..."a national treasure..." It was a treat to hear the four musicians play Stevie Wonder's "Have A Talk With God" and "St Louis Blues," where Wamble and Hunter were a double act, swapping rhythm and solo roles, with Hunter delivering an especially lyrical solo. Butler's New Orleans-style piano added a strong and distinctive flavor.
Purdie, of course, soon asserted himself. He was impossible to ignore, and even appeared to be playing when walking about the stage after the gig, just as some people, or even cars, can appear to be moving when they are standing still. Purdie struck the cymbals frequently, a real live action version of the phrase "make some noise." A familiar move was consecutive strikes on first the right cymbal, then the left. Occasionally, his right arm would pause mid-air, preparing the cymbal punch on the left disc of gold, shimmering like the sound it produced.
Hunter commanded attention by dividing his time between the four upper (guitar pitch) strings and the three lower (bass pitch) strings on his seven-string instrument. A funky bass line would follow languid or fleet lead guitar lines, or he would play rhythm guitar behind Wamble, depending on the number. Hunter released his first independent solo album in 1993, and followed it with Bing, Bing, Bing! (Blue Note, 1995), which included a version of Kurt Cobain's "Come As You Are"an early pickup of a Nirvana number by a jazz artist.
Following another tour de force of drum mastery from Purdie, Wamble announced the inevitable words: "I done did it, didn't I?" Yes, he done hired Bernard Purdie.
Given the slogan, it became obvious that Purdie is also a great self-promoter. A famous controversy surrounding his work is the suggestion that he touched up early records by The Beatles for US release, presumably in 1964, after the group had its first US number one hits. It is more likely that Purdie was hired to add luster to the Pete Best-drummed records that The Beatles made when they were gigging in Hamburg, Germany in their very early days. Following the success of the group in America, the owners of those earlier records released some of them in the US, attempting to "Capitol-ize" on the Beatlemania craze that was earning so much money for the Capitol label. After his Iridium set, Purdie said, "Everybody tries to get me to talk about it, but I am not saying anything." He did say, however, that he played on 21 tracks, and that a guitarist followed him in the studio that day to work on those same tracks.
The set closed with Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain," famously covered by The Rolling Stones. It was easy to feel the singer walking to the station, with the "suitcase in his hand," as Wamble's voice painted a clear picture. It was a song that wrapped up this soul/rock/jazz/blues gig with strong communicative power.