Parts 1 and 2 of this months Artist Spotlight series on Maurice White focused on his drumming with the band Earth, Wind & Fire (see “Can’t Hide Love” and “Sing A Song”). In this third instalment I will look at his playing from earlier in his career as session drummer for Chess records. Here he played on many hit soul records, but perhaps the biggest was “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass.
Chess Records in Chicago was founded in 1950 and became an important label in the development of R&B music, producing many early blues and rock ‘n’ roll records. White was working for them throughout the 1960s and this recoding is from the middle of that period. “Rescue Me” was recorded 10 years before Earth, Wind & Fire’s album Gratitude and you will immediately notice the difference in the way the drums are tuned, recorded, and indeed played.
One of the first things to note is that White is playing with a softer touch and his drums are tuned more like a jazz drum set, with a higher pitched bass drum with less muffling. The bass drum is much less audible in the mix with the congas and bass guitar taking up a similar frequency. Also, the addition of rhythm guitar and tambourine further mask the drum sound. However, as with the Motown sound of the same period, the aim here is for the whole rhythm section to sound “as one” with each part blending into the other. One of the most distinguishing parts of this song is Louis Satterfield’s bass line, and it’s no surprise that Satterfield was another of the founding members of Earth, Wind & Fire, playing trombone with the Phenix Horns.
My favourite feature of White’s drumming on this song is one of his trademarks of landing fills on the open hi-hats on beat 1. You will hear this a lot in both Maurice and Fred White’s drumming, and is a way of accenting a new section whilst “getting out of the way” by quickly closing the hats on beat 2, rather than have a cymbal ring on. Listen to Fred White doing the same on The Emotions “Best of My Love”. Another feature to note is how he plays the ensemble figures with the trombone; here he plays the short notes on closed hi-hat and snare, and the long notes on open hi-hats and bass drum. This is a common way jazz drummers phrase long and short notes with a band.
I have provided a full transcription to accompany the drum chart so you can study the different variations of the fills throughout the song, and an Essential Fills sheet with a few exercises to help practice the fill.
The final part of this series on Maurice White will look at his drumming with the popular jazz group the Ramsey Lewis Trio on the hit “Wade In The Water”, see you then.