"I can't think of a lot better things to do with my hands than to cut
them up on the rim of a drum."
He acted as though he always needed to prove to
the world that he was the greatest drummer who ever lived, of which he boasted
often. Besides impelling him to prove that every time he performed, he also
naively expected the average guy on the street - even the hapless janitor
running the spotlight in a high school gym - to bow down and treat him special
because, Buddy believed, he was superior to all other human beings because of
his talent on the drums.
-Trombonist Ed Byrne
Beyond his flamboyant, volatile character,
beyond his hipster wardrobe and his status as a preferred guest on the Tonight
Show with Johnny Carson, Buddy Rich was a magnificent drummer. Don't
believe me? Then just ask him yourself. Oh but you can't.
And another thing - he was a prick. To
Born into a vaudevillian family, Rich was
performing onstage with his family act at age two. Rich started playing the
drums and tap dancing for the Broadway show Pinwheel. With little
time for a formal education, Buddy toured Australia at the age of six under the
stage name as "Baby Traps - the Drum Wonder" under the guidance of
his parents, who also doubled as his managers. In between gigs, Buddy was beaten
by his father (hey, I'm looking at you Joe Jackson).
By age eleven, Buddy was playing his first jazz
gig with Art Shapiro and Hot Lips Page. Two years later, Buddy was at the
forefront of the swing era playing with Bunny Berigan, Harry James, and Tommy
Dorsey. With Dorsey, stayed on nearly five years and often roomed with then teen
idol Frank Sinatra. Buddy hated Sinatra for all the attention he received in the
press. And despite playing on nearly 200 Dorsey hit recordings, Buddy really
hated Dorsey for choosing ballads over hard-swing to showcase Sinatra. Buddy
also hated Artie Shaw and Bunny Berigan. I sense a common theme building here.
For the complete Buddy Rick enemies list, get
In 1946, Frank Sinatra bankrolled the
first of many Buddy Rich Big Bands, but they all were critical and financial
failures that further dissolved Buddy and Frank's tenuous friendship. During
the late forties, Rich modernized his drum style to adapt to the bebop movement.
Touring with Norm Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic show, Buddy also cut sides
with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. By the end of the decade Rich managed
to appear in three movies: Symphony of Swing, Ship Ahoy, and How's
Throughout the fifties and most of the sixties,
Buddy teamed up with the former Mr. Betty Grable, Harry James, on many of his
performances and recordings. True story, Harry James was the first "name
band" to employ vocalist Frank Sinatra, in 1939. He wanted to change
Sinatra's name to 'Frankie Satin' but Sinatra refused. Anywho Rich's
showmanship, flashy drumming, and talent for self-promotion made him the group's
centerpiece. Aside from a two-year hiatus from a heart attack, Rich was now the
highest paid orchestral musician at $1,500 clams a week. Not bad for a musician
who never had a lesson or practiced outside of rehearsal.
Buddy left James for good in 1966 to re-form
his own group. Fronting a 16-piece big band, Rich emphasized raw power over
tone, color, or mood. Touring the world, Buddy performed for President Kennedy,
Queen Elizabeth, and King Hussein of Jordan. Much to the howl of jazz purist,
Buddy added Beatles and Paul Simon tunes to the lineup. Buddy dismissed the
critics with a wave of the hand and the F-bomb - after all they came to see
first-rate arrangements with flashy, technically brilliant drum solos. It didn't
matter to him in the least that blotted swing bands were out of favor.
Here is an example of Buddy's loveliness.
Language - not safe for work. Thanks, Buford.
Despite his abuse of musicians, promoters, and
stagehands Buddy Rich finally started to see the financial rewards of his great
talent. Well that and the fact he didn't pay his musicians. Just ask former
Rich sideman Ed Byrnes:
First, I talked to lead trombonist
Gerry Chamberlain, who I knew had just been on tour with Buddy. It seems
that while the band was on the road, Buddy had not paid the musicians
for over two weeks - which is like Napoleon not feeding his troops. In
his narcissistic arrogance, however, Buddy responded to mounting
complaints by buying a brand new Mercedes Benz sports car and having Leo
drive him to the next concert - in Houston, Texas - in front of the bus
for everyone to see.
Another infamous Buddy Rich story involves the
great Gene Krupa (drum legend formerly with Benny Goodman). Sammy Davis, Jr.
played host to the mighty two on a 1966 broadcast of his ABC television program.
Sadly, Gene was clearly not well that night suffering from leukemia that would
take his life shortly. Buddy Rich showed no mercy and took that opportunity to
wipe the floor with him. Niiiice.
Now a bonafide jazz legend, Buddy was
acknowledged by his peers through numerous awards and honors including Modern
Drummer Hall of Fame and the Downbeat Magazine Hall of Fame.
Buddy lived for the most part in a home in Palm
Springs. Thank you to Findadeath friend Jeff Stork for snapping.
active schedule came to a sudden halt when he was diagnosed with brain cancer in
summer of 1986. Prior to being wheeled into surgery at UCLA
Medical Center for the malignant brain
the nurse asked the legend if he was allergic to anything. Buddy Rich
responded, "Only two things - country and western."
Best. Line. Ever.
Buddy returned to his Bel Air
home to recuperate and shortly upon returning home he suffered "an
unexpected respiratory and cardiac failure." He was taken by
ambulance back to UCLA where he died at 2:27 p.m. on April, 2 1987. He was 69
The day after Buddy died, the phone rings at
his home. Lady answers. Gentleman asks - "Is Buddy there?" Lady says
"No, I'm sorry - Buddy died." Gentlemen says, "Thank you," and
hangs up. Next day, phone rings again. Same question: "Is Buddy
there?" Same answer. This goes on for a week. Finally the lady says, "I know you, you played in Buddy's band. You've called
everyday asking for Buddy. Don't you understand? Buddy is dead!" The gentlemen says: "Oh I understand. I
just never get tired of hearing it"
Who says death isn't funny?
Guests at the funeral included Johnny Carson
and Jerry Lewis. Carson said that Buddy "was not afraid of dying, he
was afraid of living without his drums." After a lengthy eulogy from the Chairman of the
Board Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich was interred at the Westwood Memorial Park in
Los Angeles, California within spitting distance of Marilyn Monroe. As you enter
the cemetery, take an immediate left and look for the Sanctuary of Tranquility
on your left.
Walk into the alcove and look down to your right for Buddy�s crypt. It�s not
unusual to find drum sticks in place of flowers in the urn. Rich shares this
permanent residence with neighbors such as Frank Zappa, Roy Orbison, good friend
Mel Torme, Minnie Riperton, Carl Wilson, Peggy Lee, and Dean Martin.
Got time for one more Buddy Rich story? Buddy
was notorious for neglecting to introduce the members of his band - having them
each stand for a moment of recognition. It was while he was speaking during his
break a person in the front row yelled, "Hey Buddy, how about introducing
the band members." Without missing a beat Buddy fired back, "That's
not necessary. They all know each other by now."