Top-5 Rhythm Sections Essential to Jazz, Funk, Soul and Rock

Divide & Conquer: Optimizing The Kick Drum-Bass Guitar ...

The rhythm section. Often overlooked, or all together forgotten, but none the less essential to the Jazz, Funk, Soul and Rock genres. Yes, it’s true, that without bass and drums, music would be nothing more than an endless void of overly flamboyant lead singers and noodling guitar players. Bass players and drummers hold down the groove of the song, and in some instances these players are so talented and charismatic in their own right, they themselves function as the literal engine of the band. For the sake of keeping this article rhythmically sound, I’ve chosen to specifically focus on the Jazz, Rock, Funk and R&B genres. I’ve also chosen to exclude groups, who for example feature an incredible drummer, but a mediocre bassist, and vice versa. When it comes to music, balance is incredibly important, and so in an article pondering the merits of various musician’s ability to ‘groove’ balance is also key. The idea is to spotlight duos who truly inspired not only one another, but furthermore, inspired truly artistic and seminal art. With that said, let’s get started:

5) Bill Ward & Geezer Butler

Geezer Butler and Bill WaRD - Rock And Roll Garage

In the late 1960’s the world was just coming out of the Flower Power era. A time laden with Sunshine Pop, long drawn out Psych-Rock and a lot of filler. As the Vietnam War raged on, a certain darkness began to creep across the land, and eventually that darkness took the name of Black Sabbath. Deep dark grooves, chugging riffs, primal drums, and menacing and at times deranged sounding vocals, the likes of which no one had ever heard before, set sail an entirely new genre we have come to know as Heavy Metal. Sure, Tommy Iommi had the riffs, and Ozzy Osbourne was the voice, but Black Sabbath was always a groove centered band, with Geezer Butler and Bill Ward front and center. Geezer Butler’s unmistakable low end provided a breeding ground for Tommy Iommi’s riffs, and Bill Wards thunderous and primal Jazz beats, provided the overdriven punch that was and still is Black Sabbath’s music, the likes of which Ozzy Osbourne could spew his gothic lyrics over. Early Sabbath was as much about a vibe as it was the music. Geezer Butler and Bill Ward were that vibe.

4) Keith Moon & John Entwistle

All stars pay tribute to John Entwistle & Keith Moon | The Music ...

In life Keith Moon was entirely unpredictable, and thus, his drumming was as well. Immensely talented, and also completely drug addled and deranged, often times Keith Moon was more concerned with how hard he was hitting the drums, rather than how well he was playing them, and there in lied the magic. John Entwistle was a true virtuoso of his instrument. He played the bass as if it were a rhythm guitar, which was perfect considering The Who had only one actual true guitarist in Pete Townsend. John Entwistle’s ability to simultaneously act as a rhythm guitarist, hold down the groove, and manage the eccentric time signatures Keith Moon would come up with on the literal spot, was nothing short of a miracle. His ability to follow along with Moon’s powerfully-overwhelming and fill-heavy style, while teetering on the edge of a train wreck, was exactly what made The Who great. Their signature sound was chaos, and they dealt in excitement. Though they would soldier on without Moon, and later Entwistle, they were never able to harness that same energy again.

3) Tiki Fulwood & Billy Nelson


Here is where I take a left turn. Many of you won’t know these two, but you should. Those of you who are hardcore crate diggers, Hip-Hop heads into sampling, or fans of down and dirty Funk probably do. These two held down the early incarnation of the seminal George Clinton lead Funk band, Funkadelic. While it’s true that Parliment-Funkadelic have had many members (fifteen of which have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to date), there were never a better rhythm section than Tiki and Billy. Tiki, known for his loud, hard hitting, and raw drum style combined perfectly with Billy, who had mastered the ability to lay down the funkiest and dirtiest of bass grooves. Without these two relatively unknown giants of the genre, Funk music would never have been the same. In the vast array of P-Funk’s eclectic and downright massive catalogue, it’s easy to overlook these two, especially considering they both quit the band around 1971, due to royalty disputes (George Clinton is a greedy bastard), just after they finished their part in recording the genre defining ‘Maggot Brain.’ Alas, one can only think on what could have been. George Clinton, and the various incarnations of both Parliament and Funkadelic alike were always downright awesome, but in my opinion, they were never better than those first three albums, culminating in ‘Maggot Brain’, and that is in no small part due to both Tiki Fulwood, and Bill “Bass” Nelson’s contributions.

2. John Jabo & Bootsy Collins

John Jabo Starks - DRUMMERWORLD

These two only played together for a moment, but their influence is nothing short of legendary. Are you looking for some down right, groove laden, gritty R&B? Look no further than the “Original” J.B.’s. Who were the J.B.’s you ask? The J.B.’s were formed as James Brown’s backing band in early 1970, after the members of Brown’s previous band walked out on him due to a pay dispute (James Brown was also a greedy bastard). The initial “Original” band, featured the legendary John “Jabo” Starks on drums, and the well-traveled, groove master, none other than William “Bootsy” Collins. This particular incarnation of the J.B.’s were only together for a short year or so, but during that time they churned out some of James Brown’s most intense Funk recordings, including “Get Up (I feel like being a) Sex Machine”“Super Bad”, and “Soul Power.” Not bad right? Furthermore, together they recorded two instrumental singles, “The Grunt” and “These Are the J.B.’s”, both of which would go on to become two of the most sampled songs in Hi-Hop history. Jabo and Bootsy were the literal drive shaft of the band, and the sound that they created together has been mimicked by countless Soul, Funk and live instrumental Hi-Hop outfits. While they were only together as a rhythm section for a short time, the thunder they created is still reverberating to this day.

1) Elvin Jones & Jimmy Garrison

Franck Biyong on Twitter: "Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison, Art Davis… "

In 1962 what would become known as the John Coltrane’s “Classic Quartet” was formed. They would go on to become a group which would both redefine and reshape Jazz forever. John Coltrane was a master composer, and his stature as an artist and Jazz legend does not need to be reviewed or proven, that is to say – it’s already a known fact. That being said, when you combine his prowess as a composer, and add in the thunderous drums of Elvin Jones, and deep, upright double bass plucking’s of Jimmy Garrison, you simple come away with something special. This group of men, along with the accomplished Jazz pianist, McCoy Tyner would go on to record some of the most seminal albums in music history, all the while kicking off the Free Jazz movement that would ensue in the mid to late 1960’s. Albums such as ‘Impressions’, ‘A Love Supreme’ and the live album, ‘Live at Birdland’ demonstrated Jones and Garrison’s ability to create a deep, tight and booming pocket for Coltrane and Tyner to improvise and solo over. The duo created space and atmosphere not seen before in Jazz music. For the most part, Jones and Garrison would stick with Coltrane until his death in 1967, both as the “Classic Quartet” and as large ensemble groups Coltrane put together as his interest in both Free Jazz and Psychedelic drugs increased (check out Ascension for a deep dive into that). The influence of these two on Coltrane and his music was palatable. The effect and shock waves they sent through the genre are still ringing in the ears of both Jazz fans, and the Hi-Hop producers who sample them alike. Jones and Garrison were truly special. What they accomplished can never be recreated, and I don’t believe I am alone in thinking that I prefer it that way. Theirs is a legacy truly unto themselves, and of their own.

So, that wraps up my Top-5 list of legendary rhythm sections. I hope you enjoyed reading (and hopefully learning from) it, as much as I enjoyed writing it. I find it interesting that the drummers (sometimes) and bassists (especially) are so often overlooked in all genres. As fans of vinyl, I like to think we take the time to pay special attention to the music we are listening to. Large artwork, and the physical act of putting on a record require time and attention, and today I ask that next time you put on your favorite record, take the extra time to sit back, and pay special attention to the rhythm section. Dig into the bassline, and allow to pulse through your veins. Allow the punch of the drums to kick you in the gut. Come up for air, and then take in some more. A good rhythm section holds the song together, and so don’t forget to give your favorite drummer or bassist their due. Cheers!

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Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, USA, Andrew has always loved writing, music, drumming and collecting music on CD, tape and vinyl. After losing his life-long vinyl collection in 2014, Andrew began his vinyl collection from scratch again when he met his future wife Angela in 2015. Andrew’s love of music only further blossomed as his collection spanned all genres possible. After amassing over 3,000 albums in under two years, he knew it was time to finally follow his dream of being a music journalist, and thus, Vinyl Writer was born.

Andrew’s not only the go-to friend for music trivia, but his intricate knowledge of the ins and outs of the music industry allows him to develop engaging questions that really tap into each artist and individual to deliver insightful and enjoyable interviews. He’s proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict, for fellow music addicts.

Andrew lives on Long Island, NY, with his wife Angela and their four cats, Oliver, Patrick, Charlie and Kevin. Andrew’s collection of over 4,700 vinyl albums, plus several hundred tapes and CDs, tells the story of his passion for all that is music. Andrew works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer website by night. Andrew is also the admin of several Facebook groups dedicated to music.

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