Percussionist who started out drumming on the local club circuit until landing in George Shearing’s quintet as a vibraphonist. He eventually became a force to be reckoned with in the studios, appearing on a wide variety of albums for the better part of four decades.
One of his first recordings was Harry Belafonte’s “Mama Look a Bo Bo”, on which he played marimba. In 1960, he played drums on Oscar Brown, Jr.’s Sin & Soul… and Then Some, recorded Al Caiola’s Percussion and Guitars, helped Dizzy Gillespie paint A Portrait of Duke Ellington, and contributed percussion to Baldwin Organ and Bongos and Felicia Sanders Sings Songs of Kurt Weill. He was back on drums for Lew Davies’ Strange Interlude and Buddy Greco’s I Like it Swinging in 1961.
In 1962, he performed on Manny Albam’s Jazz Goes to the Movies, Doug Duke at the Organ, Quincy Jones Plays Hip Hits, Herbie Mann’s Right Now, and Perez Prado’s Exotic Suite of the Americas. This was followed by recording dates with The Coasters, and Jimmy Smith’s Any Number Can Win and Stan Getz’s Reflections in 1963. In 1964, he was in the studio with Ruth Brown, Maynard Ferguson, and Carmen McRae, and appeared on Herbie Mann’s Latin Fever and Jimmy Smith’s Christmas Cookin’. He reunited with Jimmy in 1965 on Vibrations and was the percussionist in Jim Henson’s experimental film, Time Piece.
In 1966, he performed Live at Memory Lane with Nat Adderley and was back in the studio with The Coasters and Wes Montgomery, singing background vocals and playing vibes on the jazz guitarist’s Tequila. He multi-tasked on harpsichord, piano and vibraphone on Astrud Gilberto’s Beach Samba and played percussion on Janis Ian’s For All the Seasons of Your Mind and Nina Simone Sings the Blues and Silk and Soul in 1967.
In 1968, he appeared on the following albums: Have You Met Miss Jones? by Artie Butler; King Solomon by Solomon Burke; More Hits from Tin Can Alley by Eric Andersen; and, Soul Machine by Richard Barbary. Another handful of albums bearing George’s name hit the shelves in 1969, including Fat Albert Rotunda by Herbie Hancock, Soul & Salvation by Dizzy Gillespie, and Traces by the Brooks Arthur Ensemble.
The turn of the decade found him collaborating with Tony Bennett on Something, Faith, Hope & Charity on their eponymous debut, Dizzy Gillespie on Souled Out, Al Kooper on Easy Does It, and Johnny Pate on Outrageous. In 1971, he recorded The Final Comedown with Grant Green, Flute-In with Bobbi Humphrey and Smackwater Jack with Quincy Jones, and appeared on Mark Radice’s self-titled album and Sam Signaoff’s Blue Duck Fly to North Country.
You could find him all over the record shelves in 1972, on The Coasters on Broadway, Jobim by Antonio Carlos Jobin, A Little Lovin’ by Mel Dancy, Softly by Ruth Brown, and Two-Headed Freap by Ronnie Foster. In 1973, he performed on Cross Country, Home to Myself by Melissa Manchester, I Got a Name by Jim Croce, T.B. Sheets by Van Morrison, Tony! by Tony Bennett, and Wildflower by Hank Crawford. No less busy was 1974, with turns on the Bobbi Humphrey Group’s cover of “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Bill Evans’ Symbiosis, Steve Grossman’s Caravan Tonight, and Janis Ian’s Stars, and Melanie’s Madrugada.
In 1975, he offered up his talents on Anything Goes and Low Ride by Ron Carter, Between the Lines by Janis Ian, Circle of Love by Sister Sledge, Disco Baby and From Disco to Love by Van McCoy, For All We Know by Esther Phillips, and The Rape of El Morro by Don Sebesky. America’s bicentennial year found him bounding freely from studio to studio on Henry Gross’s Release, Van McCoy’s Rhythms of the World, Idris Muhammad’s House of the Rising Sun, and The Tymes’ Tymes Up; Fire Sign by Cory, Melba by Melba Moore, and Ringo’s Rotogravure by Ringo Starr; and, the self-titled albums, Phil Cody, Frannie Golde, and Vicki Sue Robinson.
He played a variety of percussive instruments on Two Days Away by Elkie Brooks, My Mother’s Eyes by Etta Jones, The Mysterious Flying Orchestra, Harmony by Houston Person and A Song by Neil Sedaka in 1977. In 1978, he appeared on the soundtrack of Animal House, Fonda Feingold, In the Center by Rodney Franklin, Got a Feeling by Patrick Juvet, Pronto Monto by Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Moment of Truth, Make Every Day Count by The New York Community Choir, and Sesame Street Fever. He also appeared on the sequel, Sesame Disco!, Hair – Disco Spectacular, La Diva by Aretha Franklin and Lonely Dancer by Van McCoy in 1979.
In 1980, he rejoined Aretha Franklin for Aretha and Kate & Anna McGarrigle for French Record, and helped out Grace Slick on her solo album, Dreams. The rest of the 1980s were dotted by appearances on Fine and Mellow by Etta Jones, Good and Plenty by Jon Faddis, and Seventh Wave by Melanie.
The CD era is teeming with opportunities to hear George in all of his digitized, re-mastered glory, on anthologies and re-packagings such as Birth of the Groove, Bossa Nova for Lovers, and Droppin’ Science: Greatest Samples from the Blue Note Lab.
Van McCoy recordings
The Shuffle (Van McCoy)
That’s the Joint (Van McCoy)
He plays percussion here with Jon Faddis on “Promenade” from Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition…