Buddy Rich – Always There Until

Sitting behind Buddy Rich’s drumset.

SKF NOTE: One afternoon, in March 1987, my Oxford, MD apartment phone rang. Paul T. Riddle was calling from South Carolina. He and I remain friends after I interviewed him in 1980 for Modern Drummer magazine.

Paul loves jazz drumming. When I walked into his Sheraton Hotel room for Paul’s interview, I expected to talk about Paul’s work as a founding member of The Marshall Tucker Band. I expected to talk about Southern Rock.

I didn’t expect to hear jazz saxophonist Sadao Watanabe and the Great Jazz Trio with Tony Williams, playing on Paul’s road stereo. But there it was.

Over the years, to this day, Paul and I touch base. Inevitably, no matter what else we discuss, we talk jazz drummers.

That sunny March ’87 day in Oxford, Paul was calling to touch base and talk about a specific jazz drummer: Buddy Rich. My wife at the time was sitting on the couch next to me while I was on the phone.

“Hey, man,” said Paul , “did you hear about Buddy?” No need to use a last name. We both knew who “Buddy” was.

I don’t remember Paul’s exact next words. He said something about Buddy Rich in the hospital with brain cancer. That Buddy may not be able to play drums again.

That news was, for the moment, incomprehensible. Buddy Rich was a constant my whole life. Through all the twists and turns of striving to earn my living as a professional drummer-there was Buddy. On records, tv, in magazine interviews, and in concert. Always an inspiration.

When Paul told me Buddy was so sick – terminally, as it turned out – and may not be able to play again – I was just sobbing. Involuntary, uncontrollable weeping. Part of me felt like an idiot. Talking to Paul was impossible. I tried, but I was crying so hard I couldn’t catch my breath. Every time I tried saying something, I started choking up.

I couldn’t even utter “goodbye.” I simply hung up on Paul without saying anything.
After pulling myself together, I did call Jim Keltner and then Joe Morello to confirm – hopefully deny or have a more positive variation – what Paul said.

But no, both Morello and Keltner confirmed what Paul told me. They were more accepting of the news. Sad, but not devastated. Both men had, I suppose, a more realistic view of life. And death.

And I was able to return Paul Riddle’s call and finish our conversation.

Where did my strong emotions come from? I don’t know. I suspect the sad Buddy news reopened older sad drum-related news, such as the death, when I was 14-years old, of the family member who introduced me to drumming, my Uncle Bob.
But, I’m just speculating. I don’t know the source of the sadness that enveloped me that March ’87 day.

Maybe it was the enormity of life as I always knew it coming to an end. Buddy Rich was always there – until he wasn’t.


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