Richard Bailey at 61: The Off-Beat Genius who Became an Athlete After All
Richard Bailey played his ass off every time the British Jazz-Funk group Incognito hit the stage during the gigs and tours I joined, as their regional booker. And not just that. He treated his snare, toms, hi-hat and other cymbals as if they were part of him. It gets better: They actually are. And he is part of them.
Richard was born 61 years ago today, in Guyana, and moved to Trinidad & Tobago with his family early on, before arriving in London, some years later. His father was a runner, who even got an Olympic medal for England. Richard was actually going to become an athlete too. He did. But in a different way.
Sonor, the drum manufacturer which endorses him, quotes Richard Bailey saying this: “My older brother, Robert, had a band in Trinidad, and the equipment was always lying around. So I used to play percussion and bass guitar. At that time, I was hearing Motown on American radio, and also the Caribbean and Latin music from the various islands, so I could play many rhythms, like Bossa Nova, Jazz Waltz, and Funk.” Damn right.
In London, as a teenager, he got his first notable gig with Johnny Nash, the Reggae and Soul hero. His drumming abilities improved more and more. In 1979, he was all over British Jazz-Funk, on the Fusion Harvest label. That stuff can be regarded as classic nowadays. It included Morrissey Mullen’s “Cape Wrath” album and “Another Sleeper” by Robert Ahwai and Max Middleton (check out Youtube audio below). And no, those recordings were not going to be his last Jazz-Funk studio sessions.
A few years later, he found himself playing with Incognito. And, judging from the genre, he fit them a lot better than Steve Winwood. Doing “Gimmie Some Loving” with Steve must be nice, and his fellow band members are probably the kindest people ever. But playing Jazz-Funk and Fusion tracks is a much better opportunity to show drumming skills, for a genius drummer like Richard Bailey. He did. Over and over again.
His Latin solo project, Jeff Beck, Billy Ocean and vocalist Basia are some of the acts Richard played with as well. But, to me, nothing could have been more fascinating than watching Richard Bailey play those killer off-beats, deliver the Funk and rule the fucking stage with his breathtaking solos. Sofia, Amsterdam, Aschaffenburg, Leverkusen. On the way to Cologne, the Incognito tour bus gave up, on a frequented highway, while tour manager was drunk and could hardly be woken up. That guy, with Bacardi in his blood, then shouted at me for talking to the police in my native language. A dangerous situation. But, during those tours, Richard’s genius drumming was even more dangerous, in a different way.
For a musician who has not had a single drumming lesson, he gave quite a lot of them, to young drumming enthusiasts, who would fly in once a week, for that purpose. For a self-taught musician, who does not read sheet music, just like his former band leader Bluey, he has come a long way, because he is simply brilliant. Along with Bill Cobham and others, he is actually one of the best drummers I know. And one of the nicest guys as well.
Yes, he did play with Bob Marley too. Reggae, Jazz, Latin and the most funky Funk on Earth is what Richard Bailey is best at. He plays Pop, Folk and Rock in his sleep. And he is 61 today. A happy and funky birthday to Mr. Off-Beats, the master himself, Richard Bailey!
By Imanuel Marcus