REMEMBERING CONRAD ISIDORE – DOMINICAN DRUM MASTER

REMEMBERING CONRAD ISIDORE – DOMINICAN DRUM MASTER
By Dee Dee McNeil/jazz journalist

October 23, 2019

I met Conrad Isidore in the mid-seventies, three or four years after I first arrived in Los Angeles. He was a good friend of Fritz DeJean, my percussionist at that time. Like Fritz, Conrad too was a drummer and in late 1969, before he came to America, he was popular with a crew of London-based musicians. They recorded at Trident Studios, that was located in the heart of Soho in London, England. Conrad joined guitarist Alan Marshall on lead vocals and Bobby Sass on keyboards, Brent Forbes on bass, Kevin Fogerty on lead guitar and Norman Leppard on reeds. The resulting album featured hit songs like, “Stop Pulling and Pushing Me” and “Nearer the Bone.” It was released on the Fontana Record label. The group referred to themselves as “One.” As I said, the bassist in the Trident recording session was Brent Forbes and during an interview, Forbes had good things to say about percussionist, Conrad Isidore.

“Conrad was a fantastic influence for me. Great feel! He sat down one day and said to me, Brent, the notes are all right but it’s the feel … in other words, he made me think about that and I managed to maintain it and got a reputation for it over the years,” Brent praised Conrad Isidore for helping him find the ‘groove’ in his bass licks and encouraging him to express his feelings through his instrument.

This journalist remembers Conrad as very sincere, caring and a persuasive person. When Conrad spoke to you, you listened and you paid attention. He had a warm, genuine smile and was Mr. personality plus.

Conrad Isidore was a Dominican born drummer and percussionist who, in the late 1960s, had been playing around town with Joe E. Young &The Toniks, a London-based R&B group. Before that, he had played with a group called “The Links” and later with “The Grendades.” While he was with The Toniks, their bassist was Calvin ‘Fuzzy’ Samuels who ended up being featured with Bob Marley as a prominent sideman. He was called ‘Fuzzy’ because he was using a fuzz box on his bass at that time. Isidore and Samuels formed a group called, The Sundae Times, with a lead singer and guitarist named, Wendell Richardson. Calvin Samuels and Conrad Isidore were close friends, busy musicians and gained good reputations for their excellence on bass and drums. Conrad could feel the groove and transmit it through his drums.

The day that Stephen Stills heard Conrad and bass man, Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels perform, he was so impressed, Stills quickly recruited both musicians to participate in his solo LP session. That iconic recording was released in May of 1970. This was the Stephen Stills, American singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist whom you may recall from his work with Crosby, Stills & Nash. He’s the Stephen Stills whose work has garnered a combined sale of over 35 million albums. Today, you can hear Conrad Isidore’s drums on “The Best of Stephen Stills” album, initially released in 1976, and still available. It features the drums of Conrad Isidore propelling Still’s band from that 1970’s session that introduced Stephen Stills to the world on Atlantic Records.

Once Conrad relocated to the United States, he got busy acquainting himself to the U.S. music scene. It didn’t take long for people to notice Isidore’s percussion talent and he started playing sessions with folks like soulful singer, Joe Coker, vocalist Linda Lewis, Terry Reid, Vinegar Joe, (a group that evolved out of a 12-piece, Stax-influenced, fusion band), and Eddy Grant. Conrad played drums and sang on Eddy Grant’s record. He became part of Junior Marvin’s band for a while (Junior Marvin of the Wailers) and also worked with a group called Hummingbird. Isidore wrote many of the songs on the initial Hummingbird album and he sang on these recordings. They released three albums on the A&M Record label. This group featured drummer/songwriter, Conrad Isidore, with Bobby Tench, guitar and vocals; Max Middleton on keyboards, Clive Chaman on bass, Jeff Beck on guitar, Robert Ahwai & Bernie Holland (also guitarists) and after their first 1974 recording, Bernard Purdie joined them as their drummer.

Fritz DeJean recalled when his friend, Conrad Isidore was living in Inglewood, California.

“Conrad was kind of like me, hard-headed and independent. He wanted to do things his own way. Conrad was a multi-instrumentalist. He could sing and he could play bass and guitar. He helped me cut my first song in a home studio. He played guitar for me. He played bass, as well as piano. He could play all of it. He’s one of the very few guys on drums who I enjoyed playing with besides Munyungo (Jackson) and Lou Wilson from the Mandrill group. Conrad knew rhythm inside out. He loved Reggae and his heart was into African drums. He loved Marley and all those cats. He played with some huge, recording people, but he never made a big deal about it. Conrad was a humble man. We talked about the African roots all the time; the Nigerian rhythms. He admired the guys that played with Traffic, a group that blends African rhythms, funk and jazz. He was a wealth of information. His brother Gus is still alive. Gus Isidore is another rock musician, a guitarist.”

Always in demand, Conrad also recorded with Jimi Hendrix and Memphis Slim. On BadCat Records he recorded with Willie Bobo backing up vocalist and guitarist, Terry Reid. See the musiciansolympus.blogspot.com for a complete discography.

More recently, Conrad Isidore had relocated to Finland. He had his own band and is seen in this video on congas with Niklas Mansner on guitar; Rob Dominis on keyboards; Janne Rajala, bassist; Jori Lindell on saxophone and Leo Kylatasku on trumpet. The trap drummer is Thomas Tornroos. This video was filmed at the Bar Soho in Porvoo, Finland. Conrad also sang lead with this group.

Conrad Isidore made his transition on October 20, 2019. He left a legacy of his recorded music, featuring his brilliant and nurturing drums that covered jazz, blues, R&B and rock music. He was an inspirational, world-class musician, with a heart as big as the universe itself.

References: http://musiciansolympus.blogspot.com/2011/02/conradisidore-drums.html
https://garagehangover.com/tag/conrad-isidore
Interview with Fritz DeJean

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