In 1992, I got the opportunity to see Johnny Vidacovich and Zigaboo Modeliste give a joint clinic at the PASIC convention the one time it was hosted in New Orleans. I remember Zig talking about how Stanley Ratcliff was possibly the first guy in New Orleans to play RLRL alternating sixteenth-notes on the hi-hat, and how he took that groove home and developed it into “Cissy Strut.”

I later came to realize that the Ratcliff beat is also the foundation of several other beats that Zig plays with The Meters. Ex. 1 is the basic Ratcliff beat. In Ex. 2, Zig adds the bass drum on the 2 and 4 for the beat to “Groovy Lady.”

We can morph the Ratcliff beat into “Hey Pocky Way” by taking away the 2 and 4 backbeat, slowing it down little, adding a bit of swing, and moving the hands from the hi-hat to the snare (Ex. 3).

Once you get comfortable with being able to phrase this RLRL beat in between straight and swing, you should be able to easily apply this foundation to other beats, like “Fire On The Bayou” (Ex. 4).

The beat to “Jungle Man” (Ex. 5) has a different bass drum pattern, but can you feel how it’s related to the Ratcliff beat?

“Cissy Strut” (Ex. 6) was misunderstood for years. Many people thought it was played with all right hand on the hi-hat. Zig actually plays this beat with two hands on the hi-hat, as the foundation of it is the Ratcliff beat. Once you get comfortable with the Ratcliff and how to phrase it, this beat should make a lot more sense to play.

It’s important to play all of these with a feel that is in-between the cracks of straight and swing. Listen to The Meters’ albums and check out the DVD Zigaboo Modeliste: The Originator Of New Orleans Funky Drumming (Alfred/Drum Channel), and try to match your phrasing to his.