By Tyler Fox (@TylerFox585)
I don’t normally do write ups for films, but this particular project crosses over into the realm of music and is something that I find very important to music history and film. A Purdie Good Life is a project of passion for filmmakers Helgi Piccinin and Marc-André Manseau, and you can tell that these two are pouring their hearts and souls into this project. A Purdie Good Life documents the life and work of the world’s most recorded drummer, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. While you might not know the name, you have probably heard his work. Purdie has recorded with many greats, including James Brown, Herbie Hancock, BB King, Steely Dan, and Aretha Franklin. Now, Piccinin and Manseau are bringing the man behind the kit to the foreground in A Purdie Good Life and need your help in doing so.
The filmmakers are currently running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign to help finance the film. Please check out their page to learn more about the project and see all the awesome perks you can receive for donating. Also, keep tabs on the project at their page. Documenting this extremely accomplished musician is an important project for music and something all music lovers should be able to get behind.
When did you get the idea to start this project and how did it all begin?
For me, music has always been the one common denominator that influenced so many aspects of my life. Music drives me, inspires me, and has been part of so many different moments and memories. When I launched my production company in 2011, I was looking to share the stories of musicians through music videos and documentary film with as many viewers as possible. Having spent the earlier years of my career in the music industry, it seemed logical for me to focus my work on music themed projects.
In the spring & summer of 2007, I was working with Afro-Kats Records in Montreal and had the privilege of collaborating on the recording session for Montreal jazz diva Michelle Sweeney’s EP, “That’s Life 101”. For this session, we reached out and gathered some of the most reputable musicians to join-in. At the time, Michelle Sweeney had been speaking with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, who had seen her perform and had compared her talents to those of Aretha Franklin and Nina Simone. Having performed with both of them, Sweeney’s voice brought back great memories for Purdie.
In all honesty, I had never heard his name before! As soon as my friends and label associates started naming just a few songs he’d performed on, I realized I’d been a fan of his drumming for years! Growing up on Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, BB King, and so much more of the music he’d played on. It wasn’t long before I wanted to know as much about him as I could!
How did you end up hooking up with Bernard to get him involved with this? Was he on board from the beginning?
The pace of this project came to life very naturally. After launching my video production company in 2011, I first had the idea to approach Bernard about this documentary but thought it was still a bit too early to get in touch with him, and decided to put it off for a while. The idea kept brewing, but it just wasn’t ready.
In the summer of 2011, I first met with co-director of the film Helgi Piccinin, and within a few months we were already collaborating on a variety of music related projects including music videos, artist EPKs, and documentaries. By mid-2012, we developed the first pitch and called up Bernard to set-up meetings. He was very happy to have two young independent filmmakers wanting to share his story. At the time, he was finalizing details on his book (Let The Drums Speak!), which he’s since then released in early 2014. The timing was perfect! The mood was right. Within a few months, we signed a Life Story Rights Agreement and went to work on the research and development. Now two years into our three-year agreement, we knew it was time to put our research & project development to use, and launch our production efforts.
Working with someone like Bernard Purdie is incredible, but it’s also very demanding professionally. We have the responsibility and the privilege to be the ones that will pay homage to one of the industry’s most reputable session players. Lots of eyes are on this project, and we aim to make it the best film possible!
What was it like meeting the legend for the first time? Was it intimidating following him and filming him?
The first time I met Bernard was while picking him up at the airport in 2006 prior to the recording sessions with Afro-Kats. My first impression was how warm his greeting was, and how friendly and welcoming he was in his approach to us. We were all young entrepreneurs in our mid-twenties, and Purdie immediately took a liking to our work ethics and overall vibe in the studio. It was like meeting up with an old friend we hadn’t seen in years, and immediately putting our focus towards the work at hand.
Of course it’s a bit intimidating when you think of all the people this one drummer has collaborated with. It’s incredible when you stop and think about it, but the excitement took over and we immediately felt at ease with him. He’s got a certain way of making everyone he works with comfortable.
When we started filming the documentary footage in 2014, we had already been talking with Bernard for years, and our friendship was already established. It was very comfortable and natural to follow him throughout the day and capture our footage. We were starting on a project that had been in the works for a long time. Up to now, we’ve only shot a short character demo and a have gathered a few live performances. We still have about 95% of the film to shoot! And our crowd funding campaign is exactly meant for this purpose…to fund as much of our film as possible independently and start our film immediately!
Bernard’s body of work is enormous and overwhelming. How did you guys approach doing the research for this project? Has it been hard to make sure you don’t miss something important from his catalog?
The film is about Bernard Purdie’s day-to-day activities as a session player, a teacher, producer and educator. Of course we’ll explore his past accomplishments, but the main focus of the film will be to explore his daily life through his eyes. I feel like every single one of his recordings are an important part of his catalog, and we’ve been collecting as much of it as we can put our hands on. The best part of the archive digging is yet to come; we’re planning on gathering a number of rare demo recordings from various labels he’s worked with over the years, as well as accumulating video from both archival and amateur sources for use in the film. We’re just starting to scratch the surface, and are already blown-away with results. There will be quite a few surprises for viewers!
This is obviously a project of passion for you all. How did Bernard effect your life before you started the project? How has he impacted you since you started the project?
The first time I worked with Bernard, I learned a lot about the drive and determination that all artists need if they want to succeed in the business. It’s all about giving it your 200%. The same goes for any art form, whether you’re a musician, a poet, a writer, or painter. You need to dedicate yourself to making it, and do whatever it takes to show others what you can accomplish with your skills. If you don’t believe you’ll be able to deliver, how can you convince others that they should trust you to do so?
As for Helgi, he’s a documentary Director who’s always looking for interesting stories driven by strong characters, and meeting with Bernard was a blessing for both of us. He’s not only a great drummer and musician; he has a unique personality, a distinct way of seeing the world. It’s the Purdie way. It’s the kind of thing we like about our film; people will go out and hear music differently after seeing it, and look at studio musicians with a better understanding of what it takes to make it in the business!
Bernard has also taught us that patience is a virtue, and that if we wish to accomplish the task at hand, each step of the way demands the right circumstances, talks and unified direction. There’s always a way to make everyone happy, and move forwards to positive results. It’s all about love in the end, and sharing this love with audiences.
You guys are calling for all music and film lovers to help support the project. Would you mind giving us a little more info about your Indiegogo campaign?
We’ve just started on the final two weeks of our Indiegogo crowd-funding campaign. We knew from the start that it would be challenging to get people on board. Most people don’t know who Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is, or his significant impact on pretty much every music genre! Our film is dedicated to bringing him, as well as all session musicians, out of the shadows.
We’re calling out to anyone and everyone that are music and/or film lovers to actively participate in the making of this film. As of today, we’re approaching 20% of our goal and will be able to use all of these funds to start filming as of this fall! We chose to take the flexible funding option, which allows us to keep whatever funds are raised. Of course, the more we raise the more we can achieve.
We’ve also been using the campaign as a means to spread the word about our upcoming film, and in turn have opened discussions with various partners Internationally from sponsors to distributors to investors about their active participation. This campaign was meant as a first step to a long-term project. Our main goal is to build an active community of contributors, partners, media supports and associates that believe in the project, and that will be involved throughout the production of the film.
We’re offering various perks in exchange for contributions ranging from downloads of the film, to T-shirts and hoodies, official drum skins, and autographed posters. There’s a bit of everything for any film buff or music lover! And we’ll be adding some rare artwork and other perks in the final days of the campaign.. so make sure to visit us often.
What can we expect in the coming months from this project?
In the coming months, we’ll be concentrating on finalizing all the work we’ve started with various partners throughout the campaign. We are trying to fund much more than the $50,000 we are hoping to raise on Indiegogo. We’re planning on filming as of late November and throughout the winter, with a few last scenes to be shot in the spring.
Depending on the final outcome of the crowd-funding, we might be looking at putting together a tour and drum clinics with Bernard for our film, and even looking to have some lucky students in a few recording schools benefit from a day of conferences and workshops with him. We’ve always planned on presenting an inter-generational aspect to our film to demonstrate Bernard’s ongoing work with the next generation of drummers.
We’d like to thank Marc-André Manseau for his time and the photos he shared with us. We hope you’ll consider making a donation to bring Bernard “Pretty”Purdie’s story to the big screen.