Idris Muhammad, an American soul and jazz drummer whose prolific work spans from early rock’n’roll to classic hip-hop sample material, has died at age 74. His close friend Dan Williams confirmed his passing to the New Orleans Times-Picayune (via FACT). Though a cause of death wasn’t yet clear, other friends reportedly observed that Muhammad had been receiving dialysis treatment.
Born in New Orleans, Muhammad was just 16 when he played on Fats Domino’s 1956 hit “Blueberry Hill,” and he was also teenager when he played with Arthur Neville’s band the Hawkettes, who’d had a 1954 hit with “Mardi Gras Mambo.” He eventually moved to New York and for a time Europe, changing his name from Leo Morris in the ’60s upon converting to Islam with his wife, Dolores “LaLa” Brooks of the Crystals. He returned to New Orleans after retiring in 2011.
During an eclectic career, Muhammad played with Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield (including on the Impressions’ “People Get Ready” and “Keep on Pushin’”), Roberta Flack, Pharoah Sanders, George Benson, Grover Washington Jr. and more. That’s in addition to a number of solo albums, including 1974′s Power of Soul and 1971′s Peace and Rhythm. He was the drummer for the musical Hair for several years, including its Broadway opening. He played on the Dixie Cups’ 1964 hit “Chapel of Love.” He spent much of the past 20 years playing with jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal.
Muhammad’s influence can be seen profoundly in the use of his drumming as hip-hop sample material. The Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique, which turned 25 years old last week, begins with “To All the Girls,” a track that basically consists of the rappers talking over Muhammad’s “Loran’s Dance.” He played on Bob James’ “Nautilus,” which has been sampled by Run-DMC, Eric B. and Rakim, Slick Rick, Ice-T, A Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah, Ultramagnetic MCs and more.
In 2012, Muhammad published an e-book memoir, Inside the Music. “My drum playing came from dancing in New Orleans in the street bands underneath the bass drum player,” he told OffBeat in 2011. “I can remember thinking as a kid, ‘I don’t know why, but I like that bass drum.’”