Back when I played a drumkit, it wasn't Tony Allen who was my biggest influence. Nor was it Keith Moon, Mitch Mitchell, Art Blakey or anyone else. It was Rashied Ali! Someone once asked if a recording that was being played had Rashied on drums, and I was thrilled to tell him that it was actually me! But never in a million years could I match Ali in chops but I certainly dug his polytonal expression and unique waves of sound on the kit.
Most famous for being John Coltrane's last drummer (and for the duo album they did together, Interstellar Space), Ali was born with the Christian name Robert Patterson (his brother, Raymond, became Muhammad Ali, another free jazz drummer of note) in a musical family in Philly. He played piano, trumpet and trombone before settling on drums and studying with Philly Joe Jones and gigging with Lee Morgan, Jimmy Smith and several R&B bands.
In '63 he moved to NYC and played with Bud Powell, Paul Bley, Sonny Rollins, Don Cherry and Bill Dixon before joining Trane's group as 2nd drummer, eventually knocking Elvin Jones out of the group. He played with Marion Brown, Archie Shepp and Burton Greene in the mid-'60s. After Trane's passing, he worked with Alice Coltrane but other than her and one-off records with Jackie McLean, Alan Shorter and Gary Bartz, his work was held down. Facing an blacklist (for his outspokenness and his Muslim faith), he was the only one of Coltrane's major collaborators who did not receive a record deal from Impulse! Records.
So Ali started his own Survival Records, which released most of his '70s output, including duos with Leroy Jenkins and Frank Lowe. He joined up, in similar independent fashion, with Frank Wright. His own groups included the likes of James "Blood" Ulmer and B.T. Express's Carlos Ward. Also in the '70s he opened his own club, Ali's Alley. But his business and musical career went on hiatus when the mafia broke his wrists for his refusal to sell alcohol at the venue. He battled wrist problems for the rest of his life.
After some healing, he resurfaced with the NYC no-wave punk improv band the Blue Humans, as well as gigging at said shows with his Freeboppers band. The early '80s saw him working with Ulmer's Phalanx, Saheb Sarbib, Afro-Algonquin, Arthur Rhames, Jaco Pastorious, Peter Kowald, Byard Lancaster and others, and later on with Prima Materia, David Murray, Sonny Fortune, Marilyn Crispell, Keiji Heino, Peter Brotzmann, Henry Grimes, Joe McPhee, Henry Rollins, Bill Laswell and the amazing trio with William Parker and Charles Gayle called By Any Means. Seeing that last group at The Cooler in NYC's Meatpacking District around '94 is a musical highlight for me. Much respect.