Billy Cobham, fusion drummer, is 79 years old today
Billy Cobham, Berkeley, CA, 1972 with the Mahavishnu Orchestra
Photo by Veryl Oakland
Billy Cobham, fusion drummer, is 79 years old today.
A Panamanian-American jazz drummer, composer and bandleader, Cobham permanently relocated to Switzerland during the late 1970s. He came to prominence in the late 1960s and early 1970s with trumpeter Miles Davis and then with Mahavishnu Orchestra. He has performed on countless CTI releases.
Cobham has an influential style that combines explosive power and exacting precision. He was inducted into the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 1987.
Born in Panama, Cobham moved with his family to New York City during his early childhood. A drummer from his youth, Cobham attended New York's High School of Music and Art, graduating in 1962.
He played in a U.S. Army Band from 1965 to 1968. Following his discharge, Cobham joined an ensemble led by pianist Horace Silver for about a year, also playing or recording with saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, organist Shirley Scott and guitarist George Benson.
Cobham branched out to jazz fusion, which blended elements of jazz, rock and funk, playing and recording with the Brecker Brothers (notably in their 1970-founded group Dreams), and guitarist John Abercrombie, before recording and touring extensively with trumpeter Miles Davis. His work with Davis appears on A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971), among other recordings.
Cobham is one of the first drummers to play open-handed lead. Meaning, he’s a drummer that plays on a right-handed set but leads with his left hand on the hi-hat instead of crossing over with his right (and also has his ride cymbal on the left side, instead of the traditional right). He typically plays with multiple toms and double bass drums and was well known in the 1970s for his large drum kits.
In 1970, Cobham worked on guitarist John McLaughlin's album, My Goal's Beyond. McLaughlin and Cobham co-founded Mahavishnu Orchestra, a definitive jazz fusion ensemble.
Cobham toured extensively from 1971 to 1973 with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, who released two studio albums, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) and Birds of Fire (1973), and one live album, Between Nothingness and Eternity (1973).
In May, 1973, while still with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Cobham recorded his first solo album, Spectrum, with keyboardist Jan Hammer, from the Mahavishnu Orchestra, guitarist Tommy Bolin, who later played with hard rock band Deep Purple, and bassist Lee Sklar.
On October 30, 1980, Cobham joined up with the Grateful Dead during the band's concert at Radio City Music Hall. He performed a long drum solo session with the band's two percussionists, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, also known as the Rhythm Devils. In August, 2011, the album, Rock the Tabla, was released. It featured Cobham, A.R. Rahman, Hossam Ramzy, Omar Faruk Tekbilek and Manu Katché.
Here, Cobham performs a 35 minute set at the Royal Theatre in London, 1974