Billy Cobham (born May 16, 1944) is a Panamanian-American jazz-rock drummer who played in the bands Dreams, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Atmospheres during the early 1970s.
Starting with his 1973 solo debut Spectrum, Cobham released eight albums on Atlantic and four on Columbia through 1979, including a live release in partnership with George Duke. He has played on more than 450 albums by artists in the worlds of jazz, funk, soul, rock, and pop.
He was born William Emanuel Cobham Jr. on May 16, 1944, in Colón, Panama. When he was three, his family moved to Brooklyn, NY, where his statistician father played piano on weekends. Cobham took up drums at age four and joined his father’s weekend act at age eight. On the strength of his drumming, he was accepted into NYC’s High School of Music & Art at age 14.
At age 21, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he played for three years in the military band. After his discharge, he joined the Horace Silver quintet, appearing on the 1968/69 Blue Note titles Serenade to a Soul Sister (featuring Stanley Turrentine) and You Gotta Take a Little Love. Concurrently, he played on albums by George Benson (Giblet Gravy, 1968), Kwame Nkrumah (The Ninth Son), Kenny Burrell (Night Song), and Hubert Laws (Crying Song), all from 1969.
In 1970, Cobham formed the brass-rock band Dreams with John Abercrombie and the Brecker Brothers. Their self-titled debut album appeared on CBS/Columbia that year. Also in 1970, Cobham played on albums by Les McCann (Comment), Jimmy Owens (No Escaping It), William S. Fischer (Circles), Leon Thomas (The Leon Thomas Album), Miroslav Vitous (Purple), Larry Coryell (Spaces), and Ron Carter (Uptown Conversation).
Cobham toured with the Miles Davis band during winter/spring 1970 along with Dave Holland and future members of Weather Report and Return to Forever. His drumming appears in the left channel of the 1/28/70 recording of the Wayne Shorter piece “Feio,” included as a bonus track on CD issues of Bitches Brew. Cobham also appears — along with Steve Grossman, Herbie Hancock, Michael Henderson, and English guitarist John McLaughlin — on the 4/7/70 session for A Tribute to Jack Johnson.
During 1971, Cobham appeared on more than a dozen albums, including titles by Johnny Hammond (Breakout), Lonnie Smith (Mama Wailer), Steve Kuhn (ST), Burrell (God Bless the Child), Turrentine (Salt Song), and McLaughlin (My Goal’s Beyond), in addition to the second Dreams release Imagine My Surprise.
McLaughlin recruited Cobham for the Mahavishnu Orchestra, a multi-national supergroup that also featured Czech keyboardist Jan Hammer, American violinist Jerry Goodman, and Irish bassist Rick Laird. They toured extensively and released the popular albums The Inner Mounting Flame (1971), Birds of Fire, and the live release Beyond Nothingness and Eternity (both 1973), the last of those featuring elongated jams of material from a vaulted third studio album, later released as The Lost Trident Sessions.
Cobham’s name appears on more than 20 releases from 1972, nine of them released on the Motown-distributed jazz label CTI, including albums by Randy Weston (Blue Moses), Turrentine (Cherry, with Milt Jackson), Laws (Morning Star), Benson (White Rabbit), and the all-star live double-album California Concert – The Hollywood Palladium, where roster talent jam on compositions by Freddie Hubbard (“Red Clay“) and Eumir Deodato (“Blues West”).
Also in 1972, Cobham played on albums by the Paul Winter Consort (Icarus), Charles Earland (Intensity), Grover Washington, Jr. (All the King’s Horses), Roy Ayers Ubiquity (He’s Coming), Michel Sardaby (In New York), Hammond (Wild Horses Rock Steady), and Hubbard (Sky Dive). He also spread his chops in the worlds of pop (Free Design), vocal jazz (Astrud Gilberto, Jackie & Roy), and soul (Gerri Granger, Esther Phillips, Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway).
- Spectrum (1973)
- Crosswinds (1974)
- Total Eclipse (1974)
- A Funky Thide of Sings (1975)
- Life & Times (1976)
- Magic (1977)
- Inner Conflicts (1978)
- Simplicity of Expression, Depth of Thought (1978)
- B.C. (1979)
- Stratus (1981)
- Cargo (1982 • Juraj Galan, Billy Cobham & Norbert Dömling)
- Observations & Reflections (1982 • Billy Cobham’s Glass Menagerie)
- Warning (1985)
- Power Play (1986)
- Picture This (1987)
- Incoming (1989)
- By Design (1992)
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