William “Doc” Gibbs Jr., considered one of the fathers of the Philadelphia percussive community and one of the most sought-after percussionists in the music industry, died in Salem, Oregon on Sept. 15, after a long struggle with prostate cancer. He was 73.
Gibbs appeared on more than 200 albums and toured the world playing across genres from jazz to R&B with such diverse musicians as Grover Washington Jr., Anita Baker, Whitney Houston, Bob James, George Benson, Nancy Wilson, Al Jarreau, Ricki Lee Jones, Wyclef Jean, Erykah Badu and Eric Benet. He was an elected member of the Philadelphia chapter board of governors of the National Association of Recording Artists and Sciences.
“We lost a major presence, Doc was a premiere African American percussionist who established a high standard in the music business,” said his friend and percussionist Neil Clarke.
From 1997 to 2007, he was the musical director for “Emeril Live” a Food Network cooking show that featured the outrageous host Emeril Lagasse with Gibb’s percussions in the background. In 2002, Gibbs recorded his only album as a leader “Servin’ It Up! Hot!”
The saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. gave Gibbs the nickname “Doc” after he suggested herbal remedies for his cold during “Grover’s Live at the Bijou” album in 1976. “There are two doctors in Philly, Dr. J. (of the Philadelphia 76ers) and Doctor Gibbs,” Grover shared with the Bijou Cafe audience. Gibbs became a core member of the group Locksmith, which was the backup band for Washington in the mid-’70s, touring the U.S. and Europe.
In the Yoruba/Orisa community and those in the know Gibbs was known as “Baba Doc” he was a priest of Obatala for more than 35 years and was one of the tradition’s highly respected and revered sacred batá drummers. Baba Doc co-founded the organization Drums for Peace, which seeks to invoke the power of percussion in support of global harmony.
In 2015, the native Philadelphian relocated to Los Angeles and recently to Salem, Oregon. While in Los Angeles he returned to teaching drum and percussion instruments. He also created Baba Doc’s Healing Sound therapy, a practice that uses percussion as a form of healing and reconnecting.
Leonard William “Doc” Gibbs Jr. was born Nov. 8, 1948, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended West Philadelphia High School while studying percussion instruments before attending the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in the early 1970s. He left the academy to pursue his music aspirations. His recording debut was with Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Big Band in 1974. He recorded two tracks which appeared on different albums. He traveled from Philly to New York City’s Village Vanguard every Monday to sit in with the Jones/Lewis Big Band. During an interview he recalled being paid $20 per night and says he actually lost money after paying for gas and tolls. When Jones asked the percussionist to go on tour to Europe, Gibbs declined. He later said, “With such a big band I didn’t think it was worth it from a financial perspective.”
“He took the idea of supporting Philadelphia musicians and helped elevate them to a much higher platform or level. People forget that we look at Lee Morgan and John Coltrane as the Golden Age of Philadelphia jazz music,” recalled longtime friend, Lovett Hines, music education director of The Philadelphia Clef Club. “Still, in later years, people like Doc Gibbs, John Blake, and Grover Washington Jr. kept the legacy going and moving forward. In fact, they were the incubators responsible for creating soft jazz that people listen to today and Doc Gibbs was a major part of that.”
Information on Gibbs funeral or memorial service were not available at time of this printing.