We’re sad to report the passing of Philip Paul, legendary King Records studio drummer, as well as a friend and mentor to many.
Philip was born in 1925 in Harlem, New York, to a musical family. His father and uncles had a band performing Afro-Caribbean jazz. Philip, fascinated by the rhythm, received his first drum set at age 9. He was playing in his father’s band by age 13, and and backing up rhythm and blues and jazz bands at the Savoy Ballroom by his early 20s.
In 1951, bandleader Tiny Bradshaw invited him to join his band in Cincinnati. After meeting King Records owner, Syd Nathan, Philip became the studio drummer.
From 1952 to 1965, Philip played on over 350 records including “Fever”, “Please Come Home for Christmas”, “Train Kept a Rollin’”, “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, as well as Freddie King’s “Hideaway” and “Tore Down”. In addition, he created the beat for “The Twist” which inspired a 60s dance craze as well as powering numerous rock and roll songs.
Post-King Records, Philip played jazz with the Woody Evans Trio for 25 years, and then his own band, the Philip Paul Trio.
In 2007 Philip performed at the Cincy Blues Fest as part of the King Records Tribute stage. The city of Cincinnati issued a proclamation of Aug. 8, 2015 as Philip Paul Day which was presented to him at the 2015 Cincy Blues Fest. He performed again at the Cincy Blues Fest with Ben Levin in 2019.
In 2009, Philip and his wife, Juanita, were honored at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as part of the series “From Songwriters to Soundmen: The People Behind the Hits”.
Memories and Tributes
Farewell to drumming legend Mr. Philip Paul (August 11, 1925 – January 30, 2022) – he made his place in musical history through his history with Cincinnati, OH label King Records, playing on smash hits such as “Good Rockin’ Tonight” (Wynonie Harris); “Fever” (original version, performed by Little Willie John); “The Twist” (original version, performed by Hank Ballard & The Midnighters); “Hideaway” and “Tore Down” (Freddie King)…originally from Harlem, moving to Cincinnati (while he was with Tiny Bradshaw Orchestra) at the request of Syd Nathan (owner of King Records) to work as a sideman on COUNTLESS sessions coming out of King…
Philip was a man who did not rest on his laurels – he was always moving forward and embracing the moment…an appreciator of music across the board, and a genuine, down-to-earth person (and happy to say, an associate for many years)…to be on the bandstand until the age of 95, and getting love and respect up ’til the very end – we should all be so fortunate ! Sincere condolences to Philip’s widow, Roberta, and the Paul family…if heaven has a bandstand you can bet Philip Paul will be layin’ it down ! R.I.P. to a good friend and one of the GREATS !
I was fortunate to meet and work with Philip Paul in Columbus in 1996, through Steve Tracy, to ask him to perform at a King Records Tribute concert I was organizing at The Martin Luther King, Jr. Arts Complex in Columbus. Also on the bill were Christine Kittrell and H-Bomb Ferguson. Philip would perform with a collection of other studio musicians who had worked at King/Federal, led by B-3 Boss Hank Marr with guitarist Wilbert Longmire and saxophonist Gene Walker.
Philip was not in the habit of granting interviews but he was very generous with his time, sharing the story of relocating to Cincinnati from New York City and time on the road with Tiny Bradshaw and Ike Turner. Paul’s late wife Jaunita was still living back in the ‘90’s and she was also present for much of his musical career and had a sharp memory, reinforcing Philip’s own accurate and vivid recollections.
I was lucky to get to gig with Philip occasionally in Cincinnati at Jillian’s and although the gig was kind of a bummer, it was beautiful to have Philip Paul playing drums on my gig! Philip loved playing and loved being a part of the scene into his 90’s, gigging regularly and encouraging the careers of young artists like Ben Levin.
I was always a bit disappointed that Philip never made it onto the radars of any “big time” blues rockers who might’ve brought him greater recognition and more money, but Philip didn’t care about that, he was quite secure about his career and those musicians he chose to keep in his company.
I’m pressed to think of a more gracious and distinguished musician than Philip Paul and I’m so proud to say that he was my friend.
I was saddened to hear of the passing of a truly great jazz and blues drummer, Philip Paul. I first met Philip in the 1990s when I was asked to fill in on a Cincinnati gig for the Columbus blues guitarist Sean Carney. I had heard about some aspects of Philip’s life: New York jazz drummer, the King Records drummer on “The Twist”, Freddie King’s drummer, etc.
Having played with Pigmeat Jarrett for several years, I had some training, but I was not prepared for the experience of playing with Philip. In the first 3 minutes I learned a big lesson in “time”. Being a “recovering Norwegian” from Minnesota, this is not so surprising. But I can say that I was taken aback by his back-beat blues playing. He had a lovely way to sit back in the time but still be rock steady in keeping the tune on track. I had the feeling, after 20 years of playing, I really didn’t know much. So I listened and tried to sit back and lock into his rhythm. I have thought about my experience playing with Philip ever since those few gigs (I also played one gig with Philip and Big Joe Duskin, pure joy.).
Beyond the music I felt a strong affinity to Philip, and his lovely wife Juanita. At the time I was playing with Mary Ann Kindel, and I had Mary Ann and the Pauls over to my apartment for dinner. There we heard about how Cannonball Adderley got stuck in their bathtub, and how Duke Ellington came up to him at a gig to personally offer him a position in his band. Also, the story of what drew him to Cincinnati from the jazz high life in New York (Juanita, a dancer in Cincinnati, of course). Her story of why she was “dressed to kill” for all of Philip’s gigs was entertaining (“all those other women going after my man”). They had a beautiful partnership.
Since those days I saw Philip periodically at his Cincinnati jazz gigs, and I can say Philip was one of those magic figures in my life. He had a big influence just by his presence. Thank you Philip. And thank you for living a beautiful, creative life.
Mary Ann Kindel
I was sad to hear of the passing of Philip Paul, who was a great inspiration to me. At the suggestion of my friend and bass player, Tom Beck, we hired Philip to play drums with us for a show. I believe the gig was at Lucille’s in Latonia, KY in 1999. It was a great experience to meet Philip and his wife, Juanita. They were some of the most wonderful people you would ever want to meet, and a lovely couple.
We had dinner with them, and asked Philip about his days as the studio drummer at King Records, who he had played with (seemingly everybody who was anybody in the 40s, 50s, and 60s across many genres of music – blues, jazz, country, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll), and how he moved from New York City to Cincinnati (at the behest of bandleader Tiny Bradshaw) and how he met Juanita (she was a dancer at Cincinnati’s Cotton Club).
During our set we, of course, played some of the Freddie King songs that Philip had recorded, including “Hideaway” and “Tore Down”. Philip’s rock solid, slightly behind the beat timing was a joy to play with. It was an amazing experience all around, and something I’ll always remember.
Philip Paul was a great mentor to me and a dear friend. We spent many afternoons together sharing lunch in a booth at LaRosa’s with his wife Bobbie. I would ask him about all of the artists who I knew recorded at King and Philip would nod and smile as he repeated “I worked with them too”. I had the honor of joining him on the bandstand on a number of occasions but the most memorable was in 2018 at The Freedom Center.
I called up Philip to the stage and rather than walking towards the drums, he walked towards me and motioned to my mic. I stepped aside and he talked to the audience like they were old friends. He explained that he was from New York, but it was the love of the people in Cincinnati that kept him here since the early 50s. The crowd went nuts and he joked, “I have to say that now because you may not like the way I play drums, but I still love you”.
He sat behind the kit and laid down the heaviest groove I had ever had the privilege of being a part of. The crowd gave Philip a standing ovation as he headed backstage.
Mr. Paul, thank you for your music and all the great memories.