Bernard Purdie: Steely Dan – Babylon Sisters (Full Drum Transcription)

With a career spanning over six decades, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie is widely renowned as the most recorded drummer of all time and the creator of the half-time shuffle groove. He has played on countless hit records (totaling over 5,000 records) of some of the biggest names in music, including Aretha Franklin, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, B. B. King, James Brown, and Steely Dan, to name a few. His incredible feel inspired John Bonham on “Fool in the Rain” and the late Jeff Porcaro created a compromise between John Bonham and Bernard Purdie’s groove with the legendary Rosanna Shuffle. In this article, we will examine Purdie’s drumming on “Babylon Sisters” by Steely Dan, analyzing his playing and presenting the complete drum transcription.

Half-Time Shuffle

Before we dive into the details of Purdie’s drumming on “Babylon Sisters,” let’s take a quick look at the half-time shuffle.

  • The groove is based on triplets, and the difference from a regular shuffle is that the backbeat or snare is on beat 3, instead of beats 2 and 4, resulting in a relaxed and groovy feel.
  • The essential element that drives the groove is the hi-hat, playing a basic shuffle triplet rhythm. That involves playing the first and the third 8th note for each beat of the measure, accenting the first 8th, and playing the last with the tip of the stick (using the rebound at fast tempos).
  • The key element that adds touch and flavor to the groove are ghost notes, played in the space between the hi-hat. Ghost notes should be played quietly and subtly, serving to enrich the groove rather than overpowering it. Just to clarify, even if some drum grooves are played without ghost notes (such as “Mornin'” by Al Jarreau), they are still considered half-time shuffle rhythms.

Purdie Shuffle

The trademark Purdie’s half-time shuffle was played on “Home At Last” from the classic album Aja (1977) by Steely Dan.
“Babylon Sisters” from the album Gaucho (1980) reprises the same ideas, and Purdie’s performance on the song is masterful, a must-know for every drummer. The song opens with a simple drum pattern played on the hi-hat and snare cross stick. Purdie uses his trademark shuffle rhythm to create a smooth, flowing feel that sets the stage for the rest of the song. In the verse, he plays his famous groove.

bernard purdie babylon sisters drum transcription

One of the most impressive aspects of Purdie drumming on “Babylon Sisters” is his use of ghost notes. These are soft, subtle notes played on the snare drum in the space between the hi-hat notes, adding a layer of complexity to the groove and helping to give the rhythm a sense of swing and momentum. Purdie’s use of rolls is stunning, playing five stroke roll and three stroke ruff to “prepare” the fills.

Babylon Sisters (Full Drum Transcription)

To help drummers learn and understand in depth Purdie’s drumming, the complete drum transcription for “Babylon Sisters” is now available for purchase, including a notation key. This transcription is intended as a guide and should be used along with the song to ensure accuracy and timing. May the shuffle be with you!

steely dan babylon sisters drum sheet music

More about Bernard Purdie:
Check out this article for a collection of some half-time shuffle grooves.


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