Drummer’s-drummer ROBIN RUSSELL (NEW BIRTH/THE NITE-LITERS) sure takes it to the
stage—under protest, that is. He’d much rather do his thing where the drum was invented:
OUTSIDE. In fact, whenever he can, this Crenshaw native gets up at 3 am, loads up his gear,
and heads over to LA’s Griffith Park, where he sets up under his oak tree and plays through
sunrise—though a steady stream of gig offers prevents him from getting out there as much as
Indeed, it would seem that Russell hasn’t stopped drumming since he got his first kit in high
school, knee deep in the acid rock sounds of the ‘60s. After just a couple years, he had become
such a prodigy that he was scouted to gig with no less than Johnny “Guitar” Watson—(Robin’s
“musical godfather”)—then scooped up by Little Richard to play venues like Wembley Stadium.
Then came Russell’s indoctrination into the world of R&B, when drummer Mathew Watson
saw him perform with his power trio Magic Mushroom and demanded to know who he was.
Watson then recruited Russell on behalf of THE NITE-LITERS, the hit-making backing band for a
coed cadre of singers called NEW BIRTH.
After gigging with this musically complex yet deeply soulful collective for just three months,
Robin laid the tracks for what became two of the most amazing and influential funk albums of
all time: The Nite-Liters’ A-Nal-Y-Sis and New Birth’s Birth Day. New Birth continued to release
hit singles and albums throughout the 1970s, making Russell the drum hero he is
today—influencer of musical multitudes, from Dr. Dre to Dennis Chambers.
In this insightful interview, Robin raps about the virtuosity of Johnny “Guitar” Watson, being
devastated by the passing of Jimi Hendrix, the magic of working with New Birth bassist Leroy
Taylor, and why you’d better not sleep when playing for Little Richard. Robin also talks about
spirituality vs. egocentrism, the blessed nature of working with one’s idols, that time he saved
his kit (and himself!) from a recent California wildfire, and how he and Blackbyrd McKnight (P-
Funk/Herbie Hancock) recorded the most far out cassette tape you’ve never heard.