Emile Russell

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The name Emile Russell may sound like it belongs to a French chef, or perhaps to an early explorer who wandered upstream in New Brunswick. Neither is the case. In fact, Russell is the reason so many people…
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The name Emile Russell may sound like it belongs to a French chef, or perhaps to an early explorer who wandered upstream in New Brunswick. Neither is the case. In fact, Russell is the reason so many people are dancing, although not the only one. Day or night, somewhere on earth someone is dancing to a beat Russell created, or one that someone copied from him. He belongs to an elite cadre of drummers that came out of New Orleans and spread their influence throughout the music world by appearing on a variety of soul, R&B, and doo wop recording sessions. Like Charles "Honeyman" Otis, with whom he is often mentioned, Russell recorded with the fantastic singer Don Covay and drummed on some of the most famous records by the Coasters, just to name a few of the reasons for dancing.

In the second half of the '50s, Russell was the drummer in a group called the Upsetters, a rhythm section plus horns that became famous in a town already overloaded with famous groups. The group accompanied singers Little Richard and Dee Clark between 1957 and 1959, often appearing with both singers on package shows. Bassist Olsie Robinson helped lay down the groove in this group, and other members included the multi-instrumentalist and composer Wilbert Smith, who later changed his name to Lee Diamond and co-wrote tunes such as "Slippin' and a Slidin'" and "Tell It Like It Is." Some of Russell's mates in this group went to work for James Brown & His Famous Flames during the period when Little Richard decided to become a minister. Some of Russell's most exciting drumming can be heard on reissue collections of Little Willie John and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.