Interview by Scott Preston
The sound of Poogie Bell’s drums is what you hear on many of the world’s finest jazz, neo-soul, R&B and hip-hop records. Performer, record producer, composer, and arranger, you’ve heard his work with artists including Chaka Khan, Marcus Miller, Stanley Clarke, Roberta Flack, Erykah Badu, David Bowie, John Scofield, David Sanborn, Angelique Kidjo, Joe Sample, Al Jarreau, Vanessa Williams, Stanley Turrentine, Victor Wooten, and Randy Crawford.
Native of New York and a second generation musician he has been immersed in music since he was born. Taking cues from his father, a jazz musician and professor of music, Poogie has always had an inherent connection to music. As hard as it may be to believe, he started playing at the age of ten months old and made his concert debut when he was two and half at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall with his father. By the ripe old age of five he’d already appeared on The Mike Douglas Show with Pearl Bailey.
Poogie’s first “real” gig was with Tom brown, Weldon Irvine and Hugh Masakela. Then came a tour with one of the creators of what we know as hip-hop, Afrika Bambaata and the Soulsonic Force and then with the Force MD’s, a Temptations-style vocal group who were the first to incorporate R&B and hip-hop. “Touch and Go”, a song written by Poogie for the Force MD’s, won him the ASCAP Writer’s Award for Top 10 Singles in 1988. From his hard work, Poogie was able to break into the traditional R&B world touring and recording with artists Freddie Jackson, Phyllis Hyman and Chaka Khan. He came into the New Jack Swing era working with Keith Sweat, Teddy Riley, SWV and New Edition. He continues to tour and record with Marcus Miller,Victor Bailey,Bill Evans Soul Bop and Erykah Badu, among others. now Poogie is doing his own project with The Poogie Bell Band!
Cincy Groove: What are you working on right now?
Poogie Bell: Well, right now I’m working on what you could say is the 3rd Poogie Bell Band record. I also put out a cd not too long ago called “Poogie On Shuffle”. It was a compilation of tracks from individual artists including Roberta Flack, David Sanborn, Kenny Garrett, Wallace Roney, Gerald Albright, Ron Cater, Marcus Miller, Maceo Parker plus a lot more covering all different genres of music.
Cincy Groove: Are you going to have any special guests on the new Poogie Bell record?
Poogie Bell: I had DJ Logic do some stuff for me, Naughty By Nature is working on 2 tracks. I did a cover of Stanley Clarke’s “Quiet Afternoon” which was on the School Days record. I’m hoping to get Stanley to play on the track.
Cincy Groove: What was it like growing up having a father as a jazz musician?
Poogie Bell: It was without a doubt a very unique experience. Imagine having your father come wake you up at 2:45 in the morning because he got into an argument with Mary Lou Williams about playing in 5-4 (laughing).
Cincy Groove: What made you choose drums over say the guitar or bass?
Poogie Bell: The story goes that my father was having a rehearsal at the house and I was sitting in my high chair with a wet diaper without complaining the whole time. All the while I was staring at the drummer and at the end the drummer gave me his drumsticks. My mother woke up at 5 in the morning to the sound of drums being played. She first thought it was Alan, my fathers drummer at the time. Somehow I managed to get up on the drum stool and I was playing the ting, ting, ting rhythm on the cymbals. So for as long as I can remember I have been playing the drums. I honestly don’t have a memory of not being able to play the drums. I actually have never really thought about that until right now. Kind of blows my mind a little (laughing).
Cincy Groove: Is there anybody you would like to play with that you haven’t had a chance to yet?
Poogie Bell: I would like to work with Willie Nelson, Prince, Dave Matthews Band even though my man Carter is holding it down pretty tight. Maybe work with someone who I normally wouldn’t work with such as Bjork. I just have been very fortunate to be able to work in many different genres. One situation I consider to be very lucky to be a part of was a NBC Christmas special with Vanessa Williams, Luther Vandross, Shania Twain, Babyface. I just feel to be very fortunate and lucky to have done the things I have done so far in my career.
Cincy Groove: Are there any moments in your career that stand out as some of your favorites?
Poogie Bell: Oh sure, thats easy. I’m a big Luther Vandross fan and Marcus has produced a lot of his records, so I have been lucky enough to hear a lot of Luther’s stuff before it ever came out. I was set up on stage during one of Luthers dress rehearsals. The stage was setup on on risers with staircases. Luther started at the top of the staircase and when he got down to the second landing where the drums were set up I could almost touch him with the drumstick. The conductor was waving his arms at me, because I was supposed to be playing, but I was blown away by being so close to Luther. Another great moment was getting to play with Herbie Hancock on stage. I just remember all those great jazz and funk records he made and now there he is right in front of me. It’s just really amazing to be able to work with musicians who I have grown up admiring.
I remember being on tour in Europe with Marcus, and I remember walking down the stairs to the dining room in the hotel we were staying in. The only person sitting in the dining room was Joe Zawinul. I’m thinking this is a great chance for me to talk to him myself. It was amazing to sit there and ask him what it was like to play with Dinah Washington and not be able to speak English.
It’s really hard to just name a few, but another was playing in the Hollywood Bowl with Chaka Khan and watching Stevie Wonder walk out on stage. What was even crazier was after I was done playing and walking off the stage and seeing Patti LaBelle sitting there and she was watching the whole time.
Cincy Groove: What else would you like to tell all your fans?
Poogie Bell: Well, I have a set up a social networking site for drummers at http://www.thedrumnetwork.ning.com. There are already a lot of famous drummers on there. It’s a great place for up and coming drummers to reach out and ask questions to the more experienced musicians.
Upcoming Poogie Bell tour dates:
Aug 7 2009 Penn’s Landing w/Alex Bugnon Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Aug 22 2009 Green Jazz Festival w/Alex Bugnon Riverside, California
Sep 13 2009 Church of Universal Love and Music w/ The Poogie Bell Band Acme, Pennsylvania
Sep 16 2009 The Redmoor w/ The Poogie Bell Band Cincinnati, Ohio
Oct 9 2009 The Docksider w/ The Poogie Bell Band Erie, PA, Pennsylvania
Oct 17 2009 Hyatt Regency Ballroom w/Alex Bugnon Columbus, Ohio
Oct 28 2009 Blues Alley/w/Alex Bugnon Washington, Washington DC
Oct 29 2009 Blues Alley/w/Alex Bugnon Washington, Washington DC
Nov 27 2009 Blues Alley/w/Alex Bugnon Washington, Washington DC