Here's some birthday recognition to one the most prolific and unsung musicians on the groovy music landscape, master percussionist Ralph MacDonald! Harlem-raised, his father was a musician from Trinidad & Tobago and the calypso and steelpan have always been with him. He played with Harry Belafonte from 17 until his mid 20s (including being the major artistic force behind Belafonte's 1971 Calypso Carnival album). That year he started his own publishing company and hit the big-time the next year with his composition "Where Is The Love" (recorded by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, with Ralph on percussion).
It was non-stop from there and Ralph was first call for so many pop artists where he would contribute steelpan, congas, bongos, talking drum, balafon, shekere and many other instruments, although usually relegated to a simple "percussion" credit, even on albums he was the best part of. Indeed, often times his percussion was the highlight of some of these songs, in my opinion. (We're looking at you Jimmy Buffett, Billy Joel, Hall & Oates, Lionel Richie, etc!).
In his distinguished career he also recorded with Stevie Wonder, Carole King, Paul Simon, David Bowie (Young Americans), Aretha Franklin, Max Roach, Diana Ross, Steely Dan, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Herbie Mann, Joe Henderson, Amy Winehouse, and so many CTI and Atlantic sides. You can hear him on music ranging from soul, funk, jazz and folk, to disco, calypso and pop. He even plays on a '60's protest-folk album for ESP-Disk (the Jerry Moore album)!
He wrote "Just The Two Of Us" and "Mister Magic" and was a featured artist on the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. Billed under his own name he actually recorded some of the best disco cuts of the era (his "Jam On The Groove" is a funky breaks classic). It seems that so many times when I heard some nasty percussion breaks in popular disco and funk records, sure enough it was Ralph MacDonald!
Check out this clip from 1981 with Ralph and kit drummer Steve Gadd accompanying each other in a duo:
"Jam on the Groove"!:
Ralph was co-composer on "Where Is The Love", which was a big hit for Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway in '72. This brought Ralph considerable royalties and respect. In '76 Ralph recorded this fantastic version: