Idris Muhammad, Drummer Whose Beat Still Echoes, Dies at 74
Idris Muhammad, a drummer whose deep groove propelled both a broad career in jazz and an array of hits spanning rhythm and blues, funk and soul, died on July 29 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 74.
His death was confirmed by Dan Williams, a friend affiliated with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation. The cause was not specified.
Mr. Muhammad was a proud product of New Orleans, whose strutting parade rhythms always lurked just beneath the surface of his style. A busy sideman as early as his teenage years, he later backed Curtis Mayfield, Sam Cooke, Roberta Flack and the jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and as a key member of the house band laid the rhythmic foundation for the original Broadway production of “Hair.”
But the heart of his work was at the intersection of jazz, R&B and funk, especially as they converged in the 1970s. He made a string of albums now prized by connoisseurs of funk, including “Power of Soul” (1974), “House of the Rising Sun” (1976) and “Turn This Mutha Out” (1977) with a supporting cast including players like the trumpeter Randy Brecker and the keyboardist Bob James.
Mr. Muhammad’s in-the-pocket backbeat also bolstered crossover efforts by the guitarists Grant Green and George Benson and the saxophonists Lou Donaldson and Grover Washington Jr. Within the last 20 years he had worked more in an acoustic mode, most prominently with the pianist Ahmad Jamal. Among the others he worked with were the guitarist John Scofield and the saxophonist Joe Lovano, who once honored him with a tune titled “Idris.”
He was born Leo Morris on Nov. 13, 1939, in New Orleans. His father played banjo, and four of his siblings were drummers. Naturally drawn to the sound of Mardi Gras parade bands, he found his calling with no formal training. He was 15 when he played on Art Neville and the Hawketts’ enduring 1954 recording of “Mardi Gras Mambo,” and not much older when he appeared on Fats Domino’s hit version of “Blueberry Hill.”
In 1966 he married Delores Brooks, lead singer for the Crystals, a girl group with a string of pop hits, including “Da Doo Ron Ron.” The couple converted to Islam, changing their names to Idris and Sakinah Muhammad, and lived in London and Vienna before their marriage ended in divorce in 1999. They had two sons and two daughters; he also had a daughter from a previous marriage, to the former Gracie Lee Edwards.
Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Mr. Muhammad was widely sampled by hip-hop artists, including Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and Drake. The Beastie Boys album “Paul’s Boutique” opens with a lengthy sample of “Loran’s Dance,” from “The Power of Soul.” Asked in an interview how he felt about other people using his music, he told Wax Poetics magazine, “It don’t really belong to me, man,” adding: “The gift the Creator has given me, I can’t be selfish with. If I keep it in my pocket, it’s not going to go anyplace.”
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