Straight out of high school, Bubba Norwood was hired to play drums with Ike and Tina Turner. In the six decades since, he has continued to play with many of the R&B greats.
Six Decades of R&B Drumming
When James “Bubba” Norwood graduated from Lincoln High School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1961, he was already a drummer, but he didn’t think he was much of one. Ike Turner thought differently and hired him to play drums for both the Ike & Tina Turner Revue and Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Bubba Norwood turned 18 when he was on the road and recording albums with one of the most popular R&B bands in America.
During Norwood’s eight-years with the Turners’ band, he frequently picked up additional gigs backing other major R&B and soul stars. By the time he left Turner in 1969, Norwood had played behind the likes of Little Richard, Marvin Gaye, Archie Bell & the Drells, Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions, and Major Lance, and drummed on legendary stages at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, and the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.
After their stint with Ike Turner, the Rhythm Kings band members stayed in L.A. and stuck together, forming an outfit called Sam & the Goodtimers. “We put on a show,” Norwood says. “We became a show. Plus, we were the best backup band for any top artists that came out to L.A.” The group played with Little Richard and even did a national tour with the Monkees in 1969.
In the 1980s, Norwood moved to St. Louis and joined guitarist Herb Sadler, another former member of the Turner band, in his R&B revue act, and later became blues musician Albert King’s drummer through two tours.
Then, in 1986, Norwood came back to North Carolina for good. Back in his home state, he played with several local outfits and wound up being a regular performer at the late Peter Kramer’s “music barn.” And since 2009, Norwood has often served as the house drummer at Music Maker performances in the Chapel Hill area. “That took me back, playing with Music Makers,” Norwood says. “I was playing so much with them, it reminded me of when I was on the road. It was a blessing, because I missed being out there in the professional field, and I got a chance to play. I’m just so happy to be with them, because I really was doing what I did back in the past.”
Bubba Norwood was born James Norwood on June 20, 1942.
Top photo by Tim Duffy.