“Actual Proof” Drum Transcription — Mike Clark with Herbie Hancock

Posted on October 8, 2023

 Actual Proof

Today we’re taking a look at Mike Clark’s drumming with Herbie Hancock on the tune “Actual Proof”, released on the 1974 album Thrust.

Thrust is considered to be part of Herbie’s Headhunters era, and Harvey Mason was the original Headhunters drummer, but why he isn’t on this album (only the second one) is a bit of a mystery. The liner notes of a later release (reprinted on Herbie’s website) say that Harvey had some sort of a prior commitment.

I need to talk about Herbie Hancock before this gets away from me. Last year, I often used the concerts I went to as motivation to write about different bands and drummers. Well, I not only went to a Herbie Hancock show recently, but I actually worked it:

The big story of the night was moving Herbie’s grand piano:

We busted a ramp during the load–in, so some improvising was needed after the show:

All in all, not even close to the worst gig I worked this summer. That’s a story for another time perhaps…

Anyway, the show was great, and as far as drums go, the highlight was “Actual Proof”, which had a little drum feature. 

Live versions of “Actual Proof” tend to have drum solos (such as this famous Vinnie Colaiuta performance), but the studio cut does not. Still, it seemed like something worth picking apart — I just had to find a segment of the track to transcribe, which was easier said than done, since the original recording is over 9 ½ minutes long!

I ended up looking at a later chunk of the tune when the band is really soloing, from around 6:00 to 8:00. A healthy two minutes of drums broken down. It might interest you to know that someone else transcribed the first ~50 seconds of “Actual Proof” — here’s my backup PDF.

To start, let’s get familiar with the tune. Here’s part of a lead sheet I tracked down (which I believe is from Chuck Sher’s The New Real Book 3), showing the head:

The part that likely gets your attention is the final line, which has bars of 5/4, 4/4, and then 3/4; in essence, an extra beat, a normal bar, and then a missing beat. As such, you could count the whole thing in 4/4, but the downbeats will come in some odd places. (I guess you could use one giant measure of 12/4, since that’s in vogue for some reason).

The interesting thing about this chart is the first bar of the third line, which has a dotted 8th figure starting on the B7 sus chord. I would have written that figure in a measure of 3/4 and changed the measure beforehand to 5/4. Again, you could count the whole thing 4, but that figure is conspicuous enough to sound like a downbeat to me.

So with my interpretation, this would be the rhythmic structure of the head and solo sections:

Mike Clark’s drumming on this “Actual Proof” is very busy... just like everyone else’s on the recording. We have a lot of dense funk drumming, reminiscent of David Garibaldi, and it’s filled to the brim with ghost notes and syncopation. 

There are actually a lot of unison hits between the cymbal and the snare, especially during the 5/4 bars:

Triple strokes abound on the ride and snare, played as triple beat and gallop rhythms. 

Note that the structure of the jam changes throughout — sometimes the 4/4 bar at the end of the head is omitted, leaving just 5/4 and 3/4. The length of the head also changes; the lead sheet has it at 15 bars, but during the recording, it’s anywhere from 15, 10, and even 5 bars long.

Fills are kept to a bit of a minimum, but there’s a big triplet thing heard at 6:33 — notice how the accents follow a three–beat pattern:

The hi–hat pedal shows up for an interesting linear effect. Outside of hi–hat barks, I’ve been ignoring the hi–hat pedal as of late, but see how Mike uses the left foot here at 6:42:

I close the transcription out with a little bit of Mike Clark’s grooving on the hi–hat. There’s a video of Mike explaining the “drum groove” for the track, but I can’t really say there’s one single timekeeping pattern that I can identify with “Actual Proof”. The whole number uses a lot of improv, and the groove Mike demonstrates doesn’t resemble much of what I’ve gotten down. 

As a fun piece of trivia, “Actual Proof” was actually written for a movie soundtrack Herbie scored: the obscure The Spook Who Sat by the Door from 1973. There’s a soundtrack album out there, that has two versions of the tune: the first is just a truncated version of the “Actual Proof” recording from Thrust, but I have no clue where the second one comes from. Neither track sounds like what you actually hear in the film during the opening credits.

The film soundtrack was apparently rereleased in the early 2000s, which makes me something funny is going on with the newer one. If the original soundtrack album from the 70s is out there somewhere, I haven’t been able to find it. For every version of the album I’ve found, both recordings of “Actual Proof” stick out like a sore thumb in terms of production. 

One last thing I have to say: making the ghost notes look pretty was a real headache for this one. I was actually tempted to ditch the brackets and just use smaller noteheads. Slow funk really is my worst enemy when it comes to making the sheet music look good, and the 5/4 bars here felt stuffed to the brim.

I can’t decide if using both brackets and smaller noteheads is redundant, or if a smaller notehead isn’t visually distinct enough. With the smaller brackets MuseScore is now using (for smaller notes), I’ve been able to push them closer to the noteheads than ever before, helping me save space. 

Adding in all the brackets is nonetheless a tedious process, even when I rely on copy–pasting. MuseScore doesn’t have any sort of built–in ghost note support, so I’ve got to do it all manually.

I think I need to revisit my rules for grouping multiple ghost notes within the same brackets — it’s another gimmick I use to save space. To that end, I don’t know if built–in ghost notes would actually be helpful, since what I do is a little nonstandard, and I doubt MuseScore would be able to figure out what’s going on. 

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