The last few weeks have bought sad news of the passing of more people from the jazz world. Of course all the major websites and even traditional news outlets covered the death of legendary jazz elder, George Wein. Many also covered the loss of George Mraz, double bass, and occasional sax player. I’ll have my personal favorite pieces on both George’s in another post.

I would like though to mark the passing of Leonard “Doc” Gibbs.

My heartfelt condolences go all Doc’s family and friends, while I never met Doc, I felt like I knew him. We talked earlier this year, and much to my surprise we shared many of the same views on the music that Creed Taylor produced, and were also much closer in age than many, if not all the other artists Creed worked with.

Leonard William “Doc” Gibbs Jr., died in Salem, Oregon Wednesday after a long struggle with prostate cancer. He was 73. Doc was born 8th, November 1948, he attended West Philadelphia High School before studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. As Doc discussed with me, once he started to visit New York and start to sit in with different groups the trajectory of his life changed. When I talked with Doc, he never mentioned his cancer.

This isn’t an obituary, it’s a slice of the life force that was Doc Gibbs, I hope it’s useful.

Leonard “Doc” Gibbs

picture of Leonard Doc Gibbs with percussion instruments
Doc pictured in 2020

Earlier this year I was working on the research for what became my CTI All-Stars post[1]The Story of the CTI All-Stars Live – Creed Taylor Produced (ctproduced.com). Leonard “Doc” Gibbs was one of the people I reached out to, try try to confirm some of the dates, musicians and organizational aspects of the summer 1975/76 CTI All-Star concerts.

We messaged back and forward on Instagram[2]Doc Gibbs (@drdrum4ever) • Instagram photos and videos; Gibbs was generous to offer a Sunday afternoon time to talk. And so it was on May 2nd, 2021, at 12pm I called Doc Gibbs.

I’m not an interviewer or a journalist, and didn’t plan to podcast or publish any of the discussions I have with musicians, producers, arrangers, they were really discussions to confirm facts, or get information. That said, Doc Gibbs was great to talk to. We ended the discussion by me saying I’d like to arrange a second call to discuss his background specifically, with a view to rewriting/updating his wikipedia page[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Gibbs. Only last week I thought about contacting Doc to arrange that date. Sadly, not nearly soon enough.

In our telephone call, we covered a lot of the questions I had. Many are not included either in this post, or in the podcast recording. The purpose of the call was to discuss my questions rather than his career. I, of course, regret that now. I have included many other researched topics and we didn’t discuss.

I asked, Doc what was your involvement with Creed, and how did you get started? We went on to discuss a fairly rare Doc Gibbs vinyl-45 I have, and an album I know about. We also discussed some specific topics I’ll write about later in a more general context.

Forgive the wildly varying sound levels, and the poor quality recording. Podcast One

On CTI And Creed – It’s All Business

Doc was magnanimous about his experiences with Creed and CTI, as well as his opinion about smooth jazz. Doc said he’d only worked in the studio with Creed a few times. He recalled the first time het met Creed, a recording session for a Bob James, with Grover Washington Jr., Eric Gale, Harvey Mason, maybe Gray King on bass, Ralph McDonald percussion.

Usually if you go to a session back then you were a guest of someone, and you sat in the control room over in the corner and you didn’t bother nobody and you didn’t have anything to say, you just listened.

With Creed, and Rudy [Van Gelder], Rudy was kind of special too, he didn’t want you to touch nothing, it’s not like you’d be touching the microphones or anything; everything he handled [Rudy], he wore this little white gloves; Rudy was eccentric too, a lot of jazz musicians recorded at his studio, Blue Note, Impulse, a lot of the labels recorded in his space; he had a way of recording, and it worked, because everybody kept going back there.

I didn’t get the impression that the two of them, either Creed or Rudy wanted me sitting in the control room with them. Even after a track was cut, Creed had a thing about musicians coming in the studio to listen back; this was probably one of the first sessions I’d been to with all the main guys, including Creed and Rudy, and what saved me on that session was Ralph McDonald. He said, why don’t you come and hang out in my booth, I’ll get you some headphones. Cool, I couldn’t sit in the studio itself, if I didn’t have any headphones, I couldn’t hear anything, so Ralph really saved me that day.

Doc Gibbs – Personal Call with Mark Cathcart, May 2nd, 2021

[This would likely have been a first-call recording sessions for Bob James “Two”. Recorded at Van Gelder Studio in December 1974 and January 1975. The sessions would have included the now legendary sampling track, “Take Me To The Mardi Gras”]

Sitting-In

My experience, and love for the music came from interreacting, and meeting, and sometimes playing with musicians that I used to listen to. I was not only a musician getting my talents together, but I was also a fan.

Doc Gibbs – Personal Call with Mark Cathcart, May 2nd, 2021

Gibbs adventures in “sitting in”, started when he went to a concert night at the Apollo Theater in New York with the intention of meeting Freddie Hubbard. Hubbard offered Doc the chance to sit in at the Bijou Café in Philly. After one night, Gibbs was invited back for the rest of the week. They did a few other gigs in NY and Connecticut, but that was it. Gibbs had a similar experience with George Benson, and got the chance to sit-in, but nothing longer term.

Thad Jones and Mel Lewis – Getting started

The first recorded album that Doc contributed to was Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, “Suite for Pops[4]Thad Jones & Mel Lewis – Suite For Pops (1975, Uni-pak, Vinyl) – Discogs that was recorded in 1974. Doc had recorded two tracks which appeared on different Jones albums. He travelled to New York every Monday to sit-in with them at the Village Vanguard. Doc recalled he was paid $20 per night, he reckoned he lost money on the gigs after gas and tolls from Philly. He remembered there were 15-16 guys in the band. The orchestra had by then been playing there for many years, Doc reckoned 20-years. He joked that given the size of the Village Vanguard, he figured half the people there were the band. He was offered the opportunity to tour Europe with Thad and Mel, but declined because given the size of the big band, didn’t think he’d make much money, given the size of the band.

How Gibbs Met Grover?

Having sat-in with Hubbard and Benson, Doc says he was introduced to Grover Washington Jr. after performing with George Benson at Carnegie Hall. Presumably this was the January 1975 concert, what’s interesting is that Gibbs doesn’t have a credit for Benson’s “Live At Carnegie Hall” album.

Grover was playing at a club in Philly called “Just Jazz”, Gibbs sat-in with Grover on a Tuesday, and afterwards Grover said that Gibbs should come back this weekend to play with him, Gibbs was offered $50 bucks a night. This was around the same time Gibbs had been offered the European tour with Thad and Mel. Washington promised to call Gibbs for further gigs, Gibbs was though, understandably skeptical, he’d been there before with Hubbard and Benson.

We talked about the “Live At The Bijou” sets that gave us the KUDU album, Doc confirmed there was no film made of the concert. Doc became a member of Locksmith which was Washington’s core backing band from the mid-’70s onwards.

The 1975/76 CTI All-Star Gig

Doc said that Airto was supposed to be part of the ’75 CTI Summer All-Stars tour, but he couldn’t make it(likely because Airto had moved to Arista by then), and that was how Doc got his invite. Gibbs would tell Al Hunter Jr. of the Philadelphia Daily News in 2001, that Airto was his inspiration to take up percussion.

Here is the 1976 CTI All-Stars picture we discussed. As Doc said, this was before “Doc” tag had become the norm’, and yes, Doc does have the biggest grin of everyone because he was getting to perform with some of his idols.

picture of the members of the CTI All-Stars holding wooden signs with their names.
Back Row, Left: Hank Crawford, Ron Carter, Leonard Gibbs, Didier Deutsch(CTI Publicity Director), Grover Washington Jr., Bob James, Peter Paul(CTI Talent Director)
Front Row, Left: Joe Farrell, Harvey Mason, Johnny Hammond, Grant Green
Pictured in August 1976, Greek Theater, Berkley, CA

“Two Doctors in Philly”

We briefly discussed the nickname, it’s perhaps the most well known detail of Doc’s life. It was documented on Doc’s own website that was launched to promote his album “Servin’ It Up! Hot!” –

“While recording Grover’s Live at the Bijou album in 1976, Grover acknowledged Doc for prescribing an herbal remedy for a nasty cold that Grover was suffering from the night before taping. Over night, Leonard Gibbs became Doc when Grover announced to his audience, “There are two doctors in Philly · Dr.J (of the 76ers) and Doctor Gibbs”.  A nickname that appropriately describes a musician who truly performs with the precision of a surgeon.” [5]About Doc Gibbs (archive.org)

On the “Live From The Bijou” album, these words can indeed be heard, during the final few bars of Washington’s famous “Mr Magic” track.

Locksmith

Doc says that Locksmith did a showcase for Warner/Electra Asylum and Arista for a recording contract, as well as obviously CTI/KUDU. Locksmith signed with Arista and produced their 1980 “Unlock The Funk” album[6]Locksmith – Unlock The Funk (1980, Vinyl) – Discogs, at the same time Arista also had four other Philly-based bands, including Breakwater. Breakwater[7]Breakwater | Discography | Discogs had a great album, and that Arista hadn’t invested in marketing them, and it never happened for Locksmith.

As well as his recording in their post CTI periods with both Grover Washington Jr. and Bob James, studio and live; Gibbs recorded with the Grover Washington Jr. produced Pieces of A Dream albums. We also briefly touched on his recordings playing with fellow Philly native son, Charles Fambrough[8]SOUND INSIGHTS: Charles Fambrough – R.I.P. (dougpayne.blogspot.com).

Not That Doc Gibbs

I asked Doc about the Dovera 45/single by a Doc Gibbs, I’ve subsequently seen an album listed on ebay that includes the the tracks from the 45. The album is on the Platinum City label. The album has a 1981 date, the Dovera single has an address of Longview TX 75601. Doc was categoric that these were not his recordings, and frankly, looking the album cover and lineup, it’s pretty obvious it’s a different Doc Gibbs. Small world.

Future Plans and Sound Therapy

I asked about future plans, recording projects etc. Doc had moved to the west coast in 2015, but it hadn’t really worked the way he’d hoped. He turned his attention to Sound Therapy, and re-invented himself as Baba Doc and was a member of the in the Yoruba/Orisa community. Gibbs was a priest of Obatala[9]Obatala » Santeria Church of the Orishas for more than 35 years and was a leader, and a revered sacred bata drummers[10]Batá drum – Wikipedia.

Although we didn’t discuss it, the name Baba, was almost certainly adopted by Gibbs as an homage to Philly hand drummer Robert Crowder, also known as Baba Ibekunle Bey. Crowder played with Art Blakey, Marian McPartland, and Montego Joe in New York in the sixties and later became a mentor to Gibbs.

With the arrival of COVID-19, Baba switched the classes to virtual and was gaining traction which was rewarding, even if not financially. On recording music, he said if it did happen he would prefer getting together the more traditional way, musicians laying down tracks in a studio, as he felt that created more energy. He dismissed any kind of touring plans, unless they came with a big pay check.

Sound therapy uses a variety of percussion instruments, each with a unique voice and energy attempting to create an experience that promotes relaxation, stress relief, healing, breathing, and balance. In a live session, using the soothing energy of gongs, cymbals, and meditation bells, Baba Doc uses instruments to create the sounds of the universe: the ocean, the wind and the rain and  provides additional colors and feelings to the experience. He plays his ocean drum, rain stick, kamale ngoni, the hand pan, among other instruments, to promote healing and mindfulness. His work was primarily focused on in yoga studios, meditation centers, schools, senior citizen facilities, artists lofts, corporate and not-for-profit settings, private settings, and to Alzheimer patients, folks undergoing drug rehabilitation, and for special needs communities.

Things We Didn’t Discuss

I wanted to include some details on the things that Doc and I didn’t get to discuss. I guess had I been more organized, I’d have spoken to Doc again before his passing and we’d have covered all these in some degree of detail.

EMERIL LIVE!

From 1997, until well into the 2000’s, Doc Gibbs was probably best known as the musical director of the cable TV Food Network’s Emeril Live show. The TV Listings page included the show as simply:

7pm EMERIL LIVE Doc Gibbs and Cliff.

The show went out twice per night at 7pm and 10pm. Gibbs got the gig when Darlene Hayes, the shows Executive Producer, and friend of Gibbs wife, Pamela Hooks, a one time producer for WPVI-TV, though it would be a good idea to have musical accompaniment for Emeril[11]Philadelphia Daily News (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)10 Jul 2001, Tue – Page 33.

The show wasn’t at all like other cooking shows before or since. The host and star, Emeril Lagasse didn’t demonstrate how to cook a dish by talking into the camera and explaining the steps. No, it was more like a game show with a live audience. After the intro’ Lagasse would announce the recipe, with has signature BAM! and a shout out to Doc Gibbs and the Emeril Live Bad. It was in essence a media entertainment show as much as a cooking show, with Lagasse running around the set, high fiving, pumped up by the bongos and bass pumped from the band and whipping the studio audience into a frenzy. The opening made the Stephen Colbert and John Baptiste of today look tame.

Recording was brutal, often taping 11-shows per week. After a while the Food Network tried to change up the show over the years, bringing in new producers and new floor managers etc. As reported in Allen Salkin’s 2013 book, “From scratch : inside the Food Network“, amid the chaos and changes at the program

On the show, the backstage kitchen staff was constantly running out to buy ingredients at the last minute. Delays were regular. Emeril was not given advance time to hone his recipes. Bills were not being paid. At one point, Leonard “Doc” Gibbs, the percussionist in the band, called a production assistant saying he was owed money. The assistant began sending Gibbs’s calls to voicemail. The messages turned increasingly angry. “This ain’t how we roll in Philly!” Doc barked on one message. “I am gonna come up there and we’re gonna get it on!” Emeril knew that if the show were a restaurant, this kind of carelessness would put it out of business.

Doc, “live” on the show in the late ’90’s. Picture courtesy of Emeril Lagasse – Emeril’s Late Dinners – Published 1998 by William Morrow

If you have not seen the craziness, this might help and includes numerous flashes of Doc.

The Emeril Live show was eventually cancelled in 2007, by which time the program had undergone massive format and management changes, and the network sold, resold. At it’s peak the show had reached 90 million homes [12]From scratch : inside the Food Network – Salkin, Allen – ISBN 9780399159329 . Long after departing the show, Gibbs was still billed as “from the Emeril Live show”, and even attended Food Shows signing autographs[13]The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey) – 26 Sep 2003 Fri – Page 133.

As A Leader

Doc recorded only one album as a leader[14]Leonard ‘Doc’ Gibbs, Jr. | Discography | Discogs, the 2002 Doc Gibbs & Picante “Servin’ It Up! Hot!!!“, off the back of his popularity on the Emeril Live show. Doc and the house band Picante, produced a more contemporary jazz CD rather than following a trusty path of smooth jazz. The album features a strong, danceable title track, as well as expertly played R&B, with a Latin tilt. Band included keyboardist Cliff Starkey, bassist Bennie Simms, saxophonist Louis Taylor, drummer Ted Thomas Jr. Joining them are Philly brothers singer Jon Lucien, bassist Gerald Veasley, violinist John Blake, and trumpeter Terrell Stafford.

The album is available both new, and used from the usual online websites. The good news is it is also available for streaming. Here is the Spotify album playlist.

As if to confirm his status a food icon, The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a two page “spread” on Doc and his family to coincide with the release of the CD. It featured Doc, wife Pam Hooks and children.

As A Sideman

In addition to his work with CTI/KUDU’s Grover Washington Jr. Locksmith, Bob James and Charles Fambrough. Doc was always in demand for live and recording and completed work with Bob James, Spyro Gyra, Sonny Fortune, David Sanborn, Nancy Wilson, Anita Baker, Al Jarreau, Rickie Lee Jones, George Howard, Diane Reeves and in the in the studio with Wyclef Jean, Erykah Badu, Eric Benet. The last album I can find that Gibbs recorded on was Alphonso Johnson’s 2017 album, “Metaphors[15]Alphonso Johnson – Metaphors (2017, CD).

As An Educator

Gibbs has long been involved in educational give-back. We touched on this in our discussion, but at the time I hadn’t done sufficient research on this part of his life and we mixed up questions about Union membership, his role in as an elected member of the Board of Governors of N.A.R.A.S. (National Association of Recording Artists and Sciences), Philadelphia chapter. 

For 25-years though, Gibbs had been teaching the arts of hand-drumming and percussion. In Philadelphia, he worked with two organizations presenting music in schools, Musicopia and Artreach, and performs drum workshops for children with Young Audiences of Eastern Pennsylvania and the Strings for Schools Organizations.

As A Youngster

As a youngster, Gibbs contracted Polio. It was still a big deal even in Philadelphia between 1948 and the mid/late 1950’s. Several operations and arthritis left Gibbs with a slight limp. He was initially interested in painting and drawing, which lead to his enrollment at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. His family would attend the annual Elks parade, Doc is quoted in a 2001 Interview by Al Hunter Jr of the Philadelphia Daily News:

“Man, I would hear those drums coming blocks away.” says Gibbs, who lived near 56th and Arch streets “It would be soft, barely audible. Then it would get louder and louder and louder until [the parade] was passing right in front of my house. We would get so excited.” Gibbs would follow the parade a short distance until his parents called him back. But he had heard the power of the instrument and had seen the magical effect it had on the marchers, the steppers and the crowd.

“As much as I wanted to play the [drum] set, I never got to that,” he says, instead he bought himself a conga. And became inspired after seeing one of the world’s premiere percussionists in concert. “I saw Airto[with Miles Davis, probably at the Fillmore East, New York City June 17 through June 20, 1970],” he recalls of the Brazilian drummer “That’s what got me into the whole percussion thing.”

Philadelphia Daily News (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) -10 Jul 2001, Tue – Page 31/32.

On Film

When I asked Doc about filming in the CTI years, Doc gave me some leads to track down. One he remembered fondly was the performance on the Mike Douglas Show with Grover Washington Jr and Locksmith. I already had that on the ctproduced youtube channel[16]ctproduced – YouTube.

Mike Douglas Show with Grover Washington Jr.
Bob James at the Queen James Jazz Festival, 1985 – also available on DVD
For The Record – Japan, Bob James, Laserdisc – (C) 1991 Tappan Zee Records

Recorded in 2018, the “discussion in percussion” podcast also interviewed Doc Gibbs. They cover some of the same details with Doc. You can listen here via Spotify.

“a beautiful friend “James “Sid” Simmons about Doc Gibbs

“Bring me my drums, I want to play them until I’m outta here” – Doc Gibbs

Rest In Peace Leonard “Doc” Gibbs.

Updates:

28th Sept. 2021 12pm – general proof read/edits.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.