When I put out a call for loop requests the other week, I received an outpouring of emails asking for every type of genre and beat you could imagine. Everything from tangos, odd meter math rock, slow bossa novas, death metal (I don’t own a double bass pedal and my trenchcoat is at the dry cleaner) and merrengue. Quite a spectrum. And while I’ve kept all of these responses on file for future sessions, it was one particular request that immediately caught my ear and sent me running to the studio.
A message was sent in with a link to the following Bill Withers track, telling me to check out the drum groove (played by the great James Gadson) in the intro:
OMG. How tasty is that shit? How have I never heard this song before?? Gah!!! I’m definitely aware of a vast majority of Bill Withers’ collection, but somehow this deep cut from his 1972 release, “Still Bill”, managed to slip through the cracks and never made it into my library.
This opening drum groove is so funky, I almost didn’t even want to go there. It’s sort of like covering a Beatles song. Some things are sacred and should just be left alone. But the more I listened to it, the more I knew recording something approximating it would be a great learning experience, both musically and sonically.
On the music side of things, it’s the FEEL of this groove that makes it so special. The way Gadson plays the 16h notes on the hi hat with his right hand, spacing the notes in that magical place that lives in between straight subdivisions and triplets. This is the kind of groove that a quantizer would instantly suck the life out of.
Sonically, it has the classic, warm, round but crisp, Motownesque sound. This is a sound that’s become sort of a lost art, now that we’re all armed with a wide array of DAWs, fancy mics, plug-ins and digital processers. It’s an art that I plan on focusing on for years to come.
So here it is, my ode to James Gadson and his magical right hand. At eight measures, it’s longer than one of my typical loops, but I wanted to include some phrases that pay tribute (but definitely aren’t carbon copies) to the original track.
On the production side of things, I only used two mics: one overhead (panned in the mix soft right), and one in front of the kick to capture just a bit of low end. I deadened a double headed 18″ bass drum (no hole) with blankets touching both of the heads from the outside and placed a few sheets of paper on top of the snare to keep everything dry.
I took all of the toms and cymbals off of the kit to keep any sympathetic resonance from making its way into the track (kids, you can’t use gates when there’s only one mic above the kit). To top things off, I used an old, squeaky kick drum pedal, just like James.
It’s the details that count.
Get the .wav file here.
Get the .rx2 file here.
Get the .aiff file here.