RALPH MACDONALD: UNIVERSAL RHYTHMS (RIP)

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Ralph MacDonald just passed away. He wasn’t always as well known as a solo artist since the most prolific part of his career came as a percussionist for hire, but in that regard, he was world-class and one of the most important percussionists for countless 1970s and early ’80s jazz and R&B artists. He was also a highly undersung songwriter, having penned several absolutely classics alongside his writing partner William Salter.

I wanted to whip together a personal list of favorites that MacDonald helped craft. If you’re like me, you might very well be surprised at how many of those songs – identified with their performer – came originally from MacDonald and Salter:

Bill Withers: Just the Two of Us
From Winelight (Elektra, 1980)

Co-written and produced by MacDonald, this was one of his biggest hits and arguably the smoothest song Withers ever put out? (You know that this song is unfadeable when there can even be a terrible Will Smith cover and it doesn’t ruin the tune’s reputation.) Plus, the song gets extra points for helping make this remix possible.

Donny Hathaway: What a Woman Really Means
From Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers (Atlantic, 2006)

A Soul Sides classic from back in the day! Roberta Flack’s version is better known but I think Donny absolutely kills his version (which has a very different arrangement – done by Donny himself).

Ralph MacDonald: Jam on the Groove
From Sound of a Drum (Marlin, 1976)

One of the best known of MacDonald’s solo songs, this song’s stature is no doubt due in part to its inclusion as one of the Ultimate Beats and Breaks.

George Washington Jr.: Mister Magic
From Mister Magic (Kudu, 1974)

A huge classic of the Kudu soul-jazz catalog. Sampled countless times and covered by everyone from Kellee Patterson to John Heartsman and the Circles.

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