Idris Muhammad: Coming to Grips with His Greatness
But I made a lot of records with organ. The organ trend came on the scene and I was makin' all these records with Charles Earland and Dr. Lonnie Smith. We have a great history of all of these records that we have out. Now they call it Acid Jazz. But that was the beginning of something that was a trend that was happening. And during this period, a lot of drummers in town was just listenin' at what I was doin' and copying what I was doin'. So it was like a new trend. I had no idea that this was happening, until "Hair." I'm the original drummer from the musical "Hair."
We were on Broadway four years and a half on that play. And the drum rhythms from "Hair" belongs to me. It's mine. I created it. A guy gave me 43 pages of chord changes, with just titles on it. And I made up all these rhythms. I played the show for about a year and a half and I got really sick. And they had to send in a sub, and there was no music. So the play was in an uproar for about five days until I got well and came back. They had me get the drum book written. A drummer friend of mine who was good at that, Warren Smith, he wrote the drum book for "Hair." Then I would have different drummers coming by to hear me play "Hair." Bernard Purdie, Alphonse Mouzon, Billy Cobham, all of these guys were coming by checking out what I was doing with the drums, so they could be a sub. But they couldn't play the show. But they took pieces of me with them from that. They took pieces of rhythm. Because it was a new trend that was happenin'. So they developed what they heard, the way they wanted it. But it all came from me.
I was recording a lot. Playin' the music in "Hair." You know, "Hair" had many plays going on around the country, and overseas. So I would go to Chicago and show the drummer how to play, go to Los Angeles, show the drummer how to play. I'd go around at every "Hair" opening to show guys how to play the show. That opened up a whole new avenue for me, being on Broadway. So my exposure in New York City was – today they say, "You da man, you da man." [laughter]
But I still didn't know this. At that time I had four kids. So my whole thing was trying to take care of these kids. I bought a house in New Jersey. So I was busy trying to work and take care of responsibilities. Not trying to be so famous. I would hear people say things, and it was nice to hear and nice to have nice write-ups and things like that. Still today, I like to hear nice words when I talk to people and they write about me. Because I'm getting older now and getting kind of sentimental and saying kind of, "Did I really do that? Did I pass that much time?"
I remember when we recorded with Roberta Flack. She asked me to join her band. And I said I'm with "Hair." And she said, "Whenever you quit 'Hair' I want you in my band." After a while I decided to quit "Hair" and as soon as I did I went with Roberta Flack. We had Eric Gale, Ralph MacDonald, Richard Tee, Chuck Rainey and myself. We were recording all of these records.
AAJ: You must have recorded hundreds of records.
IM: There's a studio called Rudy Van Gelder's in New Jersey. One guy in Las Vegas was doing a story on his life and he called me for some comment. Rudy and I were good friends. As a matter of fact, it was Rudy who opened up my drum sound, so you could hear it on the radio and knew it was me. Rudy's studio was like a pyramid inside.
So this guy was asking me about Rudy and I told him and he said, "I have all of the records that you recorded at Rudy Van Gelder's. If you like I can send you a catalog of everything you ever recorded." He sent it to me and much to my surprise there was like 136 albums that I did at Rudy's alone.
AAJ: Over the years in jazz, you've played with so many guys.
IM: Many guys. Many guys. I haven't clocked the other stuff that I did. There are other studios in New York, you know, and Chicago.
I would like to stop traveling and just go fishin' and smoke my Cuban cigars and drink Diet Coke. I would like to enjoy a little bit of my life, come off of the road and not die here on the road. I'm playin' a lot. I've done a lot of great things in my lifetime. And I know I can play. Some guys never reach their goal of what they're trying to achieve in life, you know? My life has been quite fruitful. There's not many things that I'd like to do that I still haven't done. Now, since my kids are all grown up and they're livin' a good life and eveybody's happy, I'd like to just try to enjoy a little life, by livin' in a warm climate, fishin' and smoking Cuban cigars.
I'll play, but I won't travel as much as I do today. Travelin' today is kind of hectic with the [September 11] crisis and being in the airport. It's good. I like it, and I like to be safe. But I'm 62 now and I've traveled for 47 years, I've been on the road 47 years and I'm thinkin' that I don't really want die out here.
AAJ: When you stop, you'll still do studio work?