REMEMBERING THE GREAT DRUMMER, BILL DOWDY (Aug 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017)

June 23 2017

I am saddened to hear that my friend, and the original drummer with the Three Sounds, Bill Dowdy, has made his transition. Pictured here, Bill Dowdy, pianist Claude Black, me and bassist, Elgin Vines when we recorded a “Live” concert in Battle Creek, Michigan, where Bill Dowdy lived. He was a wonderful, talented, gentleman and I am honored to have known him and to have recorded with him. R.I.P. Bill, after a life well-lived.

Bill Dowdy, August 15, 1932 – May 12, 2017

I have always been a huge fan of The Three Sounds. Nobody could play that blues-infused jazz and capture that down-home groove on vinyl like pianist, Gene Harris, drummer, Bill Dowdy and bassist, Andy Simpkins. Later in my professional life, while working at United Artists/Blue Note Records in publicity and under the direction of the company president, Mike Stewart, I got to meet both Andy Simpkins and Gene Harris. I even got to work with Andy Simpkins many times as a jazz vocalist. He was one of my favorite bass players. But it was not until the year 2000, that I got to meet the amazing Mr. Dowdy.

Bill had heard good things about me from various Michigan-based musicians and invited me to do a concert with him in Battle Creek. At the time, I was just healing from a bad accident I had in Detroit, Michigan on a visit to see my mom and family. That was December of 1999, and as a healthy entrepreneur and jazz vocalist, without any health insurance, running the beach daily in Southern California and never even considering that I would fall ill, the fall I took was on an ice-covered street in Detroit. For a minute, it stopped my life and my career. After surgery and three months on a walker, then three months on crutches, I was finally up and walking again. I got busy producing musical plays and working locally at jazz clubs.

When Bill Dowdy called me, I was absolutely honored to drive to Battle Creek and become part of Bill’s Concert experience. When I arrived, I discovered that our concert was going to be recorded. I asked Bill who owned the tapes? He said that he did. I suggested that if the tapes came out with a good mix, we should consider putting out a CD. Well, Bill was surprised by that suggestion. He said that he had never thought of distributing his own product. He confessed to me, he didn’t have a clue how to do it. So, I sat down with Bill and showed him, on paper, how it would work. He said that for years Blue Note had been selling his music and his talent and that he hadn’t gotten paid for albums that were still selling today, nearly half a century later. It was the same old story of how record companies rip-off great talent . They collect the majority of the funds for the sales of those records and those company executives don’t write a tune, don’t sing a note, and many don’t know a thing about music or the creative process. Unfortunately, the artists who make the records hardly make pennies on the sales. If they don’t get out there and do concert tours, they don’t make any money at all. When I showed Bill how much it would take to invest in ourselves and what he could make on the sales of pressing up our own project, he was in awe.

“Dee Dee, I wish I had understood this years ago,” he confided.

The result of our concert and our conversation was “Live! at the Discovery Theatre – The Bill Dowdy Jazz Trio plus Dee Dee McNeil.” I was full of gratitude to be headlinging with the dynamic Bill Dowdy and his famous trio.

Bill hired Claude Black, a master pianist who was living in Toledo Ohio at the time and boasted over five decades of music mastery. Like me, he was a native Detroiter and we had worked together a few times at the famed jazz club, “Baker’s Keyboard Lounge.” Claude had worked with such international talent as Dakota Staton, Aretha Franklin, Lorez Alexandria, Ernie Andrews, Johnny Harman, Austin Cramer, Earl Bostic, Eddie Jefferson, Sonny Stitt, Arnett Cobb and Kenny Burrell.

Elgin Vines was hired to play bass on our project. Elgin has been described as one of the most sought-after jazz bassists in Western Michigan, stroking the strings professionally for over forty years. He has been a mainstay in the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra Jazz Ensemble, played with the Aquinas College Evening Jazz Ensemble, the Ray Gill Orchestra and the Muskrat Ramblers. In more contemporary days, he recorded for Gamble & Huff and appeared on The Tonight Show, The Mike Douglas Show and even the famed and historic, Ed Sullivan Show. Elgin acted as backup musician for such popular acts as Leslie Uggums, Frank Sinatra Sr. and Jr., Phyllis Hyman, Eloise Laws, Ruth Brown, Connie Stevens, Bobby Darin, and Steve Allen. For years he has led his own group, “Elgin Vines & Company.”

But it was Bill Dowdy who impressed me the most. After all, I had fallen in love with his drum chops back in 1958, when I was still a young teen and just discovering jazz. That was the year Mr. Dowdy recorded with the legendary jazz trio he founded, “The Three Sounds.” Their music has transcended the years with unique stamina and undying popularity.

Bill started out as a session drummer for Chess Records. Later, he recorded and toured for years on the Blue Note and the Mercury record labels in support of “The Three Sounds.” He left the group in 1966, ten years after he founded the group. Bill Dowdy settled down in his senior years to become a percussion educator at the Community Music School sponsored by the Battle Creek Symphony Orchestra. He created a Substance-abuse Prevention Program that he titled, “Drumming for Life” and taught master classes at Kellogg Community College, Western Michigan and Michigan State Universities. His legacy performances include working with Art Farmer, John Hicks, Nancy Wilson, Nat Adderly, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins, Ernestine Anderson, Percy Mayfield and Johnny Griffin, as well as his undeniable recording legacy as one-third of The Three Sounds. I am humbled and thankful that I knew this great gentleman and had the unique opportunity of performing on-stage with him. He as a kind and generous soul who I will never forget.

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