"An eclectic talent" Washington City Paper, 3/28/03
During his career which began in 1955, Eddie toured extensively performing in West Africa, North and South America, the Caribbean and Europe. In addition to Bo Diddley and Orquesta Novel, he worked as a freelance violinist (nightclub, studio, symphonic, television and theatre) with various groups and artists including:
Charanga America*, Paul Anka, Eddy Arnold, Pearl Bailey*, Ray Barretto*, Orquesta Broadway*, Tony Bennett, David Benoit, George Benson, Les Brown*, the Vi Burnside Quintet, Cab Calloway, Ray Charles, Los Chavales De Espana*, Don Costa*, Kid Creole & the Coconuts*, Celia Cruz*, Sammy Davis Jr., “Duke” Ellington, Jose Fajardo*, the Fania All Stars*, Aretha Franklin, Steve Lawrence & Edie Gorme*, Isaac Hayes, Englebert Humperdinck, Tipica Ideal*, La India*, the Jackson Five, Tom Jones, the Wynton Kelly Trio, the Kennedy Center Orchestra, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Patti La Belle, La Lupe*, Hector Lavoe*, Pupi Legarreta*, Israel “Cachao” Lopez*, Lorin Maazel*, Henry Mancini*, Johnny Mathis, John Mauceri*, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, Liza Minnelli, Melba Moore*, Luis “Perico” Ortiz*, the Osmond Brothers, Johnny Pacheco*, Lou Perez*, Ray Price, Charlie Pride*, Tito Puente*, Louie Ramirez*, Smokey Robinson*, the Richmond Symphony, Tito Rodriguez*, Diana Ross, Charanga 76*, Frank Sinatra, Frankie & the Spindles*, SOJA*, the Spinners, the Stylistics, the Supremes*, the Temptations, the Urban Philharmonic*, Ike & Tina Turner*, Dionne Warwick*, Barry White, Andy Williams*, Buster Williams*, Roger Williams, Nancy Wilson, Stevie Wonder …
*Denotes recordings or telecasts
Throughout the 1970s and early 80s he composed, arranged and produced hits (R&B, funk, disco, Latin jazz and salsa) for Marti, TR, Fania, Casablanca and Bullseye records, including LET’S DO THE LATIN HUSTLE (Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited), GET DOWN DO THE LATIN HUSTLE (Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited), DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO (Eddie Drennon & BBS Unlimited), LAST NIGHT CHANGED IT ALL (Esther Williams), which have been sampled by hip hop artists (such as Jamiroquai, Tupac Shakur, Biz Markie, Grandmaster Flash…). Orquesta Novel (previously known as Orquesta Tipica Novel), the legendary-iconic charanga and salsa ensemble, recorded several Eddie Drennon tunes including WITH A TOUCH OF BRASS, SALSA BOOGIE and DANCE, DANCE, DANCE. On numerous occasions Eddie collaborated with the great producers of salsa, Louie Ramirez, Luis “Perico” Ortiz and Barry Rogers.
As music director and composer for Everyday Theatre, Washington, DC, (1986-1997), Eddie participated in the creation of plays addressing youth issues. Messages were emphasized and sometimes completely delivered via rap, song and dance. One of these pieces, TORN FROM THE HEADLINES, was a 1997 Helen Hayes Award winning musical play. Eddie also scored a scene for the 1993 Clint Eastwood movie IN THE LINE OF FIRE.
At the dawn of the 21st century, Eddie Drennon compositions provided the foundation for:
Three versions of DISCO JAM, composed by Eddie during his Casablanca years (1976-79), are currently (2009) enjoying a revival.
Eddie is featured in Sam Bardfeld’s critically acclaimed book
“Eddie Drennon, supremo violinista y el genio detrás la legendaria Orq. Novel (the great violinist and genius behind the legendary Orquesta Novel)”
HIGHLIGHTS OF HIS EARLY YEARS: While attending Arts High School, Newark, NJ (1954-58), Eddie formed a blues band, played with the West Hudson Symphony Orchestra and was concertmaster of the Newark Show Shop orchestra. He attended Fairleigh Dickinson University, Rutherford, NJ (1958-59) and the Howard University School of Music, Washington, DC (1959-63).
WASHINGTON DC - FROM THE SPRING OF 1960 THROUGH 1962, Eddie gigged with the legendary jazz saxophonist Vi Burnside (formerly with The International Sweethearts of Rhythm). 19-year-old Eddie met Vi while strolling table to table playing violin at the Keys Lounge (7th & T, NW Wash DC). Baritone saxophonist Leo Parker visiting Keys in the summer of ‘60 gave Eddie tips on jazz improvisation exercises. In the mix of Keys clientele were artists appearing at the historic Howard Theater (6th & T, NW Wash DC) including pianist Barry Harris. Dr. Harris, a NEA jazz master, shared unique approaches to harmonic progression with Eddie. Jazz violinist Ray Nance and fellow Ellington bandsmen playing the Howard Theater Apr ‘62 dined at Keys.
ENTER R&B AND ROCK: In the early 60s, Eddie composed and recorded string overdubs for several R&B producers including Chester Simmons (formerly with Harvey & The Moonglows). Chester recorded at Bo Diddley’s NW Wash DC studio (Rittenhouse St). These sessions sparked an artistic union between Bo (who also played violin) and Eddie. He frequently jammed with the rock legend at his studio and performed locally with him.
ENTER LATIN MUSIC: In the fall of 1961, Wash DC bandleader Paul Hawkins in search of a violinist for his newly formed charanga, Orquesta Del Siglo Veinte, found Eddie practicing his violin at the Howard University School of Music.
From Apr 64-1968, Eddie toured with Bo Diddley; did Latin gigs with Hedrick Mitchell in Wash DC and Andre Breckenridge in Baltimore; gigged and recorded in NYC with Lou Perez, Orquesta Broadway, Pupi Legarreta, Ray Barretto et al…. It was Ray who encouraged Eddie to fuse blues elements into his Latin improvisations; he also recorded with Los Chavales de Espana.
Jul-Aug 1966: Eddie makes a memorable West Coast tour with Bo Diddley.
Sep 66: Eddie recorded the Latin-spiced funk-flavored OOH BABY with Bo Diddley at the Chess Recording Studio, 2120 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago. It was Bo’s last charting song; reaching #18 on Billboard’s “HOT R&B sides.”
“Like some incredible freight train on its perpetual journey from Mississippi to Chicago, Bo Diddley and his entourage …Eddie Drennon on amplified violin …drummer Clifton James and Chester Lindsay on bass, their sound is pure locomotion …Drennon plays a mean electric pizzicato …sometimes playing a kind of melodic Bo Diddley legato beat …a musically infectious sound.”
“Hey Bo Diddley! You are the sound of every Tom Wolfe metaphor, the sound of Uncle Sam’s underbelly …the subcult epitome of the ‘50s. True, he’s added an electric violin, which is often used cleverly as counterpoint to the guitar, and for its own violent effects…. unlike the Beatles, who took a giant step forward by taking a giant step backward to the cello for “Eleanor Rigby” …Bo with his electric violin has only embellished the essential Bo Diddley…. Bo Diddley and his group, Eddie Drennon on the violin, Clifton James on drums, Chester Lindsey on bass, Cookie Valtaze [Redmond] and Dorothy Holliday singing, are at Le Coq D’Or for two weeks.”
Feb 1967: Eddie tours Venezuela with Pupi Legarreta.
THE BEGINNING OF JAZZ FUSION: In the summer of 1968 while performing with Andre Breckenridge’s Latin jazz combo at Moe’s Lounge in Baltimore MD, Eddie is asked by Marty Cantine to arrange and produce an instrumental version of O. C. Smith’s recording of LITTLE GREEN APPLES. Marty (a mid Atlantic independent record promoter) believed O. C.’s record would reach the top of the charts. He felt an instrumental cover would do well. Eddie wrote an arrangement and proceeded to the studio with jazz saxophonist Mickey Fields, his quartet and background singer Carolyn Plummer. Marty names the group Mickey and His Mice. By mid Sep, O.C.’s record is #1 and Mickey’s #25 reaching #7 by Oct. It remained on regional charts through Jul 1969.
During the early 1970s Eddie arranged and recorded string overdubs for R&B producer R. Jose Williams (DC International Records Inc) whose artists included The Summits, Clifton Dyson, Skip Mahoney and the Casuals …He also collaborated with composer/arrangers James Purdie and Matthew Allen.
The spring of 1970: Eddie forms THE ELECTRIC STRING JAZZ ENSEMBLE
From the fall of 1968-84, Orquesta Novel was Eddie’s home base. During the 70s ORQUESTA NOVEL (a popular Afro-Cuban charanga) performed in NYC disco and dance clubs including the Copacabana.
ENTER DISCO FUSION: NOVEL had several salsa hits for TR (Tito Rodriguez) Records in the mid 70s (the disco era).
IT DON’T MEAN A THING assisted by Jimmy Young (drums), Leon Pendarvis (keyboards), Craig Snyder (guitar), Francisco Centeno, Bob Babbitt (elec. bass), Sheila Adams, Saundra Winfield (vocals), The String Reunion (Gayle Dixon, contractor) Mauricio Smith (flute, recorder), John Frosk, Joe Ferrante, Dick Perry, Bob Alexander, Sy Berger, Paul Faulise, Johnny Messner (brass), “Felo” Barrio, Mike Lewis, Nicky Marrero, George Maysonet, Tito Puente (Latin percussion) recorded in NYC, Pat Jaques (engineer); released on Casablanca Records 1978.
Eddie Drennon (born Edward Allen Drennen in Newark, NJ)
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