In yesterdays post I discussed Buddy Rich’s musical analphabeta (i.e. he couldn’t read music). Today, thanks to some algorithm that I don’t really want to know about, the above video was waiting for me cheerfully in my Youtube queue. It’s a very funny five or so minutes from a 1974 Tonight Show with Buddy Rich as guest in which Johnny actually puts him on the spot and reveals that the great Buddy doesn’t read music. Johnny ‘innocently’ asks Rich how he learns his parts–did Johnny know that Buddy used a ‘ghost drummer’ to play the arrangements for him and teach him the drum part? Rich doesn’t want to give that answer. In fact he doesn’t really want to give any answer. But Doc Severinsen clearly knows the answer and feels–in a musical/brotherly kind of way–compelled to dig Buddy out from the hole that Johnny has pushed him into. Doc begins to blather about Buddy’s natural drumming abilities but Buddy, clearly uncomfortable with where things are going, turns it into a comedy routine of sorts. Chaos and hijinks ensue. Tommy Newsom winds up on stage as does Don Ashworth, a woodwinds player who appears to be doing a Buddy Hackett impression. It’s one of Rich’s lightest appearances on Carson but it’s rooted in a moment of extreme discomfort for Rich and it begs a never-to-be-answered question: Did Johnny know the answer to his question and was he intentionally seeking to make Rich uncomfortable? I hope so. I feel the same way about Buddy Rich as I do about Jerry Lewis. My love and admiration for them both co-exist with my disgust for their lousy behavior and grating personalities. Johnny, no sweetie-pie himself, has my full support for this sadistically amusing little incident, if that was what it truly was.


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