When someone mentions the great music of the ’60s and ’70s do you think of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Who? Some of the greatest songs recorded during those important decades didn’t originate from across the pond, but instead can be found in the R&B and soul music that came from Memphis, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia. These soulful songs haven’t grown old and can make today’s music seem sterile and formulaic by comparison. We’re going to take a look at some of the grooves that helped make these songs unforgettable and timeless.

DRUM! Notation Guide

“Try A Little Tenderness” By Otis Redding

Otis Redding’s perfect interpretation of this song could make a dead man dance. The incomparable Al Jackson Jr.’s drums enter with a double-time rim-click feel propelling the groove accompanied by nearly inaudible eighth-notes played on the hi-hat. Later, there’s a surprising drum fill played on the snare and a driving Motown groove with quarter-notes played on the snare and a funky bass drum pattern underneath that builds the intensity throughout the song. At eight-bar intervals, the bass drum part simplifies to a single quarter-note played on count 1 that very subtly emphasizes the word “Tenderness.” The end of the transcription shows the drum break down: sixteenth-notes played over 2 and 4 on the bass drum and a simple fill that leads into the fade out. If you haven’t heard this song and Redding’s incredible vocal performance lately, do yourself a favor and listen to it. Every second is a pleasure.


“Shotgun” By Jr. Walker & The Allstars

The musicians on these tracks weren’t credited, and I’ve found two different credits for the drumming on this song. Either Motown studio drummer Benny Benjamin or Richard “Pistol” Allen provided the instantly recognizable intro fill to “Shotgun,” which is a good example of how a drum fill can become a song hook. Play the song without that fill or change it and you’re simply playing it wrong. Notice the constant eighth-note bass drum pattern used to drive the song. Reportedly, Jr. Walker performed the vocals on this classic track only because his singer never showed up.


“Respect” By Aretha Franklin

“Give it to me when you get home!” This song’s overt sexuality used the word “respect” as a euphemism for sex and was clearly a feminist anthem about women’s sexual equality. Or maybe it was just about being randy. Surprisingly, it was written by Otis Redding, who made a fortune on its royalties. The Muscle Shoals rhythm section on this track features Gene Chrisman on drums.


“Hip Hug Her” By Booker T. & The MG’s

The musicians in this group were the house band for Stax records and created a number of well-known songs of their own like “Green Onions,” “Time Is Tight,” and this track. Here, economical drummer Al Jackson Jr. plays a simple funky groove for the song along with some sixteenth-note fills at the break.


“Use Me” By Bill Withers

This incredibly funky groove from drummer James Gadson proves a great drummer doesn’t need to play even a single fill to make a song memorable. His percolating rim-click and bass drum rhythms with open hi-hat barks helped make this a drumming classic.


“Ain’t No Sunshine” By Bill Withers

Okay, I’m a little partial to the talents of James Gadson and Bill Withers. This great melancholy song also uses a sixteenth-note hi-hat pattern, but this time with a rim-click on 2 and 4 and another funky yet simpler bass drum pattern that fits the song perfectly. In the “I know” section, the bass drum starts on the busy side and then gradually simplifies during the nine bars of the transcription, ending by repeating that offbeat e ahbass drum syncopated figure that we first hear in the verse.


“Theme From Shaft” By Isaac Hayes

Both the movie soundtrack and theme song won Oscars, a first for an African-American composer, yet Isaac Hayes was already vastly successful as one of the most influential soul songwriters of his era. This catchy theme has a well-known drum part that’s absolutely integral to the song. Most of the tune uses accented sixteenths on the hi-hat with occasional hi-hat barks for spice. A bass drum part is added later to emphasize the horn parts. The last measure is the basic groove of the vocal section. Drummer Willie Hall deserves the credit for this classic track. He’s a bad mother … can ya dig it?


“Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” By The Temptations

Every drummer should know the fill that introduces this song. Using a six-stroke roll (RllrrL) for the sextuplet naturally lends itself to the following attack and quick crescendo that create the dynamic shape of the fill. Some drummers play an eighth-note on the tom followed by a single triplet, but there are two ghosted snare notes immediately following the first tom hit that are felt more than heard. The Funk Brothers were the rhythm section on this track, featuring the talents of drummers Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, and Richard “Pistol” Allen during this period.


“Midnight Hour” By Wilson Pickett

In the years before click tracks, the concept of time was a little loose, as the intro to Wilson Pickett’s R&B classic “Midnight Hour” illustrates. The last tom fill is rushed, though the band follows the drummer closely, making it come together at the verse. If I wrote this out exactly as it was recorded, the last measure of the top line would be in 15/16. I recently had to play the song, so this is a “corrected” version showing what I believe was intended and what a drummer covering the song should try to play.


“Let’s Stay Together” By Al Green

This hit song features an unusual twist on a common beat. Drummer Al Jackson Jr. played counts 2 and 4 on a tom instead of the snare drum. This little variation gives the song a unique sound that’s stood the test of time.


“What’d I Say” By Ray Charles

The movie Ray reveals how this great song was created: It was improvised in front of an audience to fill out a set. Ray’s great left-hand bass line inspired Milt Turner’s remarkable mambo groove that’s become a pattern every drummer must learn. For the fill shown in the second line, the sticking is R RR L R L R L L.


“I Heard It Through The Grapevine” By Marvin Gaye

This song was recorded with Benny Benjamin, Pete “Pistol” Allen, and Uriel Jones playing together and dividing the drum and percussion parts between them. We can see a pared-down hi-hat and kick groove, a tom on 2 and 4, and a tambourine roll that lasts through the intro that transitions to a muted bongo part. A couple of minutes into the song, a full drum set part kicks in for four bars.