Philip Paul, Drummer on ‘Fever’ and ‘The Twist,’ Dead at 96

Philip Paul, the drummer who played on such classic tracks as “The Twist” and “Fever,” died Jan. 30 at the age of 96.

Born and raised in New York, Paul came from a musical family. His father and uncles played together in an Afro-Caribbean jazz band, giving the youngster some of his earliest exposure to live music. Paul quickly showed a proclivity towards drumming.

“My father was a musician too. We’d go to the music store to get something he might need, and I’d have spoons, knives, forks and pick up anything that I could bang on the tables and play,” the drummer explained decades later.

By the age of 13, he was playing with his father’s band. By his early twenties, the musician had played with such famed artists as Arthur Prysock, Bud Powell and Dizzy Gillespie.

In 1951, Paul would move to Cincinnati where he made a name for himself as the city’s go-to session drummer.

From 1952 to 1965, he served as the studio drummer for King Records, playing on more than 350 recordings. During this time, Paul worked with a wide range of jazz, blues, country and R&B artists, including Hank Ballard, Milt Buckner, Freddie King, Grandpa Jones, Cowboy Copas and Bonnie Lou.

Ballard released the first recording of “The Twist,” a track later made famous by Chubby Checker. It was Paul who gave the original version its backbeat.

“‘The Twist’ really changed the way people danced in this country,” the drummer later recalled. “Up until then, people danced together. They held each other, danced together. But when I came up with the beat to ‘The Twist,’ people started dancing apart.”

The drummer also played on Little Willie John’s “Fever” and Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home for Christmas,” among many other titles.

Outside of the studio, Paul backed many famous artists on the road. John Lee Hooker, Albert King and Smokey Smothers are among the acts he performed with.

In 2009, he was honored at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of their series “From Songwriters to Soundmen: The People Behind the Hits.” In 2016, the celebrated drummer was inducted into the Cincinnati Jazz Hall of Fame.

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