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Bottom & Beat: Top 10 Rhythm Sections

Good morn’ or evening, friends. It’s time for another Well-Dressed Headphone Addict Top 1o list! Today, we focus on the backbone of some of the best music ever recorded.  Saxophonist once said that one of the  most important musical inception of the 20th century is the rhythm section.  For the purposes of this piece, the rhythm section is defined as the bass and drum combination in a band, both on stage and in the studio.  Without these instruments, there would be no modern jazz, and therefore, popular music as we know wouldn’t exist.  Duos like The Who’s Keith Moon and John Edwhistle ruled rock and roll, while Return to Forever’s Lenny White and Stanley Clarke pushed jazz, rock and funk into a boiling pot of euphoria. Over the past 20 plus years, electronic music has taken hold, and the physical rhythm section is all but obsolete.  However, in the 21st century, the rhythm section has found its way back, thanks to Bosco Mann and Homer Steinweiss of Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, or The Robert Glasper Experiment’s Derrick Hodge and Chris “Daddy” Dave.  And so, here is our ALL TIME top 10 list of the greatest rhythm sections in music history:

10. Bernard “Pretty” Purdie & Chuck Rainey – Aretha Franklin’s studio & road band
Both men were each heavily requested session players in their own rights; Purdie played on records with Nina Simone, Steely Dan and B.B. King.  Rainey lent his bass talents to the likes of Donny Hathaway, Lonnie Smith and Quincy Jones.  However, each met their match when they played behind the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.  They were the backbone to many of Franklin’s biggest hits on Atlantic records, like “Rock Steady,” “Day Dreaming” and “Until You Come Back to Me.”

9. Geezer Butler & Bill Ward – Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath has the distinction of inventing Heavy Metal music.  The brooding foursome from Birhmingham England set out to frighten the masses with their anthems of doom, revenge and alienation.  Sabbath’s best known for the voice of Ozzy Osborne and the riffs of Tommi Iommi, but what made it all work was the dense rhythm section of Geezy Butler on bass and Bill Ward on drums.  Butler’s lines were a rapid and fierce compliment to Ward heavy stomps.  Underneath it all, the duo were incredibly musical and memorable, as event in songs like “Iron Man,” “War Pigs” and “Paranoid.”

8. Larry Graham & Greg Errico – Sly & the Family Stone
Perhaps no group in pop and soul history is more cited as inspiring other artists as is Sly and the Family Stone.  Miles Davis, Average White Band, The Jackson 5 and Herbie Hancock are among the many legendary that have listed the Oakland band is muses for them in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  While Sly Stone was the front man and main songwriter, bassist Larry Graham and drummer Greg Errico allowed those songs to penetrate the spirit of millions of fans for nearly 50 years.  Larry’s plucking technique was revolutionary at the time , meanwhile Errico’s versatile beats caused a stir on dance floors and radios with “(I Want to Take You) Higher,” “Sing a Simple Song” and “Thank You.”

7. Paul Jackson & Mike Clark – The Head Hunters
In 1973, keyboardist Herbie Hancock dropped a bomb on jazz with his funk opus Head Hunters.  The first platinum selling jazz album featured a quintet of jazz masters, including bassist Paul Jackson and drummer Harvey Mason.  However, when Mason declined to go on the road with Hancock and Co., Jackson recruited his roommate and drummer extraordinaire Mike Clark.  His chemistry with Jackson was so strong that he played on Hancock’s follow-ups, Thrust and Man-Child.  In 1975, Jackson and Clark led the Head Hunters as a separate band sans Hancock, and they continued to blaze a funky trail through jazz thanks to “Chameleon,” “Actual Proof,” and “God Made Me Funky.”

6. Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison – John Coltrane Quartet
Legendary saxophonist John Coltrane played alongside fellow legends like Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Duke Ellington.  His albums with Blue Note and Atlantic Records featured A-list sidemen like Jimmy Cobb and Paul Chambers.  But it was until his days at Impulse Records when finally had a band of his own, anchored by drummer Elvin Jones and bassist Jimmy Garrison.  With Coltrane – and pianist McCoy Tyner – Jones and Garrison played on some of jazz’s greatest LPs, like Johh Coltrane & Johnny Hartman, Ascension, and their crowning achievement, A Love Supreme.

5. Jack Bruce & Ginger Baker – Cream
Listed as one of Rock and Roll’s first “super groups,” English trio Cream set the industry on fire with their amped up vision of American blues.  Jack Bruce was the principle vocalist, with guitarist Eric Clapton singing here and there, but his best contribution was on electric bass, in which he was able to combine jazz idioms to his bruising lines.  Drummer Ginger Baker, one of the few using a kit with two kicks, became one of the most unique skinsmen of his time.  Together they made songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room” and “I Feel Free” into classics.

4. TIE: William “Bootsy” Collins & Clyde Stubblefield – The J.B.’s/Robert “Kool” Bell & George Brown – Kool and the Gang
Well-Dressed Headphone Addict HATES ties, but we had to make an exception just this once.  Pre-Earth, Wind and Fire, James Brown’s backing band, The J.B.’s, were heralded as the premier black band in the whole world.  The Godfather of Soul had a revolving door of musicians, but it was the 1969-1970 line-up, including William “Bootsy” Collins on bass and Clyde Stubblefield on drums, that is the most revered, and most sampled in Hip Hop history.  From “Super Bad” to “Sex Machine,” Bootsy and Clyde are copied to this day.  However, WDHA has always held the unpopular opinion that, as great as the J.B.’s were, Kool and the Gang were as tight, funky and more melodic.  Robert “Kool” Bell’s bass melded miraculously with George Bell’s drumming, fueling masterpieces like “Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swinging,” and “Summer Madness.”

3. Ron Carter & Tony Williams – Miles Davis Second Great Quintet
Trumpeter Miles Davis led two formidable groups in the 1950s with incredible rhythm sections: one a quintet with drummer Philly Joe Jones and bassist Paul Chambers, the other a sextet with Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb.  Many thought it would be hard to surpass the talents of those bands, but in 1965, Davis defied the odds with a second quintet of young lions like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.  The rhythm section was equally prodigious with drummer Tony Williams and bassist Ron Carter.  Not only did they play on Miles’ soon-to-be standards like “Orbits,” and “Footprints,” but they also contributed to Hancock’s Blue Note classics like “Cantaloupe Island” and “Maiden Voyage.”

2. John Paul Jones & John Bonham – Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin was one of the most successful bands of the 1970s, and remains a severely copied quartet.  While most bands whole were greater than the sum of their parts, each member of Zeppelin were virtuosos at their respective instruments.  As much as Jimmy Page is worshiped for his guitar prowess, John Bohman was equally proficient as a drummer, maybe the best drummer of his time.  On the flipside of the coin was bassist John Paul Jones, who’s often the forgotten piece of Zeppelin, but his bottom grooves and arrangement abilities held the band together like glue.  Without the contributions of Bonham and Jones, songs like “Dazed and Confused,” “Kashmir,” and “Black Dog” would’ve never made it off the ground.

1. James Jamerson & Benny Benjamin – The Funk Brothers
At last, we’ve reached our number one spot; the greatest rhythm section in music history, bassist James Jamerson and drummer Benny Benjamin.  Aside from the being the best rhythm section, they are also both the most prolific and overlooked rhythm section in history.  These are the backbone to Motown Records in house band, responsible for playing on smashes like “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “My Girl,” “Bernadette” and hundreds more.  With Jamerson’s one finger pluck and Benjamin’s signature into fills, these late great musicians are forever carved into the collective memories of five generations of people on this Earth.

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