Author Archives: Terry Simpkins


Being an ex-drummer myself, I love reading about unsung heroes of the drum throne, and two were recently featured in the NYTimes (if you can call an obituary a “feature,” in one case). The obit was for Uriel Jones, a member of the Motown session band The Funk Brothers (check out the DVD). The other feature article was about the one and only Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, veteran of some 4000 recording sessions and currently holding down one serious rhythm section (with Wilbur Bascomb on bass) as house drummer in the revival of Hair.

Purdie — like other session pros such as Benny Benjamin, Jim Keltner, or Russ Kunkel, just to pick 3 at random — is one of those guys everyone has heard but most have never heard of. Library cataloging doesn’t do justice to this type of musician. A search of MIDCAT reveals that the Music Library has 7 CDs with Purdie, ranging from discs by the Fugs (!) to discs by Branford Marsalis, Larry Coryell, and Miles Davis. But I’d venture to guess we have at least a two dozen more with Purdie. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the way these things are described and cataloged, these will never show up in a search for Purdie because his name is not recorded in the catalog records. Such is the life of the session musician.

For example, Purdie plays on Aretha Franklin’s Young, Gifted And Black and Steely Dan’s Aja but you wouldn’t know it from the catalog records. To figure it out, you’d have to go to an online discography such as or a print discography such as The Great Rock Discography. So, what began as a simple homage to 2 great drummers winds up as a little lesson in searching for information in the music library!

Musical mash-ups

Librarians and IT professionals spend a lot of time reading various email lists devoted to their particular specialties, and music librarians are no exception. In my experience, most this information is routine and somewhat mundane — how do other libraries handle issue X, Y, or Z; can someone help me find this obscure piece of music; does anyone want these periodicals we’re getting rid of. But now and then someone passes along some truly disturbing item that makes me seriously wonder if I’m witnessing one of the four signs of the apocalypse.

One such recent tidbit on the Music Library Association list had to do with this offering from Microsoft’s research division: Microsoft Songsmith. It’s an app that let’s you sing into your computer, twiddle a few preferences (“lively!” “salsa!”), and — presto! — instant song. The song itself sounds like some mutant offspring from the mating of a circus carousel with a Casio, as you can see from this unbelievable video demonstration.

Of course, human beings are relentlessly inventive creatures, and the best use of MS Songsmith I’ve seen is this “musical mash-up” using David Lee Roth’s vocal from “Runnin’ with the Devil.” (And, speaking of mash-ups, take a look at the computer being used in the Microsoft demo link in the paragraph above: isn’t that a… MacBook?! Ouch.)

Truly, we are living in the end times.

Salve, Barry!

OK, if you skip over the unpleasant first paragraph of this article from today’s NY Times about President-elect Obama’s inauguration, things improve substantially in the 2nd paragraph. The first lady of soul, Aretha Franklin, is going to be a featured performer, and Itzhak Perlman (violin), Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Gabriela Montero (piano), and Anthony McGill (clarinet) will perform a new quartet by John “What? No trumpets?” Williams of Star Wars fame.

Black Grooves

There are probably, oh, 800 billion CD review sites out there, but one that I particularly like is Black Grooves, a monthly site hosted by the Archives of African American Music & Culture (AAAMC) at Indiana University. They focus, as the title might suggest, on “gospel, blues, jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop — as well as classical music composed or performed by black artists.”

The December issue includes the usual assortment of funky Christmas tunes (although, to be honest, I can’t for the life of me figure out how Bela Fleck and Spyro Gyra made the list). At any rate, Black Grooves covers good music and usually includes some in-depth commentary on the important historical releases of the month.

Chess Blues

My co-worker Jess noted that I’d written my previous two posts on music genres that I “wasn’t the biggest fan of,” and suggested politely that perhaps I write about something I was a fan of.  Well.  It does seem to be a radical idea, but I’ll bite…

I am a big fan of blues, electric blues in particular.  And the greatest of all electric blues record labels has got to be, no, not Alligator, but Chess.  As it turns out, there is a new movie, Cadillac Blues, based on the history of Chess and some of it’s most famous artists — Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Etta James, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry, and so on.  I can’t wait to see it, actually (the NY Times praised Beyoncé’s performance as Etta James very highly), but until then I’ll probably get reacquainted with some of this incredible music.  You might want to, too….

Click here for a sampling of Chess CDs in the Music Library

Welcome to our new blog!

The Music Library is pleased to announce our new blog. We plan on using this to keep musicians and music lovers apprised of what’s going on in the library, new CDs and scores that we acquire, tips for using the library effectively, feedback on services, and anything else we can think of.

Please let us know what you think!