The Secret Origin of Prince’s Most Famous Drum Machine Beat

Prince (1985). Photo by Michael Ochs Archives / Stringer / Getty Images

It's somewhat surprising, if not outright ironic, that the most famous drum pattern on a Prince song is neither a Prince song, nor—according to legend—a pattern he programmed.

The tune is "777-9311" by The Time, and its Linn LM-1 drum machine pattern is one that has been tying drummers in knots since it appeared on the group's second album, 1982's What Time Is It?, produced by Time lead singer Morris Day and The Starr Company, an alias for Prince.

"777-9311" by The Time.

No one in the world has more experience playing this backbreaking beat than Time drummer Jellybean Johnson. He shakes his head as soon as the subject is brought up, adjusts his black bowler hat, and settles in for a story he's shared many times before.

"Prince did a lot of our songs on drum machine," he tells me. "So I had to learn all those crazy-ass drum machine beats. Some of that stuff is not humanly possible. But I had to learn it. Because live, I was the drum machine!"

There's no better example of a "not humanly possible" drum pattern than "777-9311," with its hiccuping hi-hat pattern and off-beat snare hits. And Johnson knows exactly where it originated: from one of the drumming heroes of Prince and the rest of their Minneapolis musical circle.

"That's David Garibaldi from Tower Of Power. Just listen to some of those iconic R&B beats he played," Johnson insists. "He put his personality into that program. And that beat is a prime example of David's personality."

This is an opinion shared among many of Johnson's former bandmates. During a 2016 Red Bull Music Academy lecture, former Time keyboardist Jimmy Jam said:

"When the LM-1 initially came out, there were drum beats that were put in by drummers. They actually had drummers put in beats. The '777-9311' beat was put in by a drummer named David Garibaldi, who is a drummer for Tower Of Power. If you ever have the opportunity or pleasure of hearing Morris Day play the drums, Morris Day plays exactly like David Garibaldi. David Garibaldi was Morris Day's hero playing the drums. And that's how that ended up becoming the beat for '777.'"

Even Susan Rogers, Prince's former engineer, has been told that the beat comes from Garibaldi. "Now as you know, David Garibaldi, I think, in the LM-1, put some presets in there," she says. "And the one preset that those guys all really loved was the one that Prince used on the song '777-9311.'"

There's just one problem with this story: David Garibaldi. He has no recollection of ever programming such a beat for Roger Linn, the pioneering creator of the LM-1.

Sitting at his drum kit in his Northern California studio, Garibaldi scratches his head.

"It's kind of confusing to me, even," he admits. "I know Morris and all those Prince guys. I know Prince was a huge Tower Of Power fan. It was Jellybean who told me about this first. And they all have the same story: 'It's your beat.' And Prince maybe spruced it up."

He acknowledges that the hi-hat rolls on "777-9311" are "exactly how I play" but is still puzzled as to why he continues to get the credit.

The mystery begins to unravel with Roger Linn himself. "I don't recall ever doing a session with Dave Garibaldi, something I would have remembered because I have great respect for him," Linn says. However, he adds: "I did release a demo recording on an Eva-Tone Soundsheet flexible disc consisting of the LM-1 playing a drum solo based on a drum intro that Dave Garibaldi had recorded."

You can listen to this program here. The demo disc is just two-and-a-half minutes long, but the first 30 seconds provide several clues about the origins of "777-9311." There's a snare fill at 22 seconds that sounds very much like the one on "777-9311." And at 30 seconds—it's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment—you can hear a familiar jittering hi-hat roll, which seems to unlock the secret.

But the programmer of this disc—and, therefore, the person who should get at least partial credit for "777-9311"—is actually Art Wood, the session drummer whose drum sounds are used on the LM-1.

Roger Linn's demo disc used for programming preset patterns on the LM-1.

After I sent him a link to the demo disc, Wood takes a listen. He starts grinning. "Oh crap. That's me!" He explains that his original inspiration was, in fact, David Garibaldi—specifically the introduction of Tower Of Power's 1974 funk classic "Squib Cakes." The song has frequently been sampled, and The Time would even duplicate the drum intro for "Release It" on the 1990 Graffiti Bridge soundtrack.

"I thought that was the coolest little drum solo," Wood says. "Then Roger asked me to make some beats up for the machine. And I said, 'If you can get it to approximate the subtleties of a real drummer, let me program this part that David played.' So that four-bar intro led off the whole thing."

Prince's contribution to the programmed beat remains unknown. "That's what I'd like to know, what Prince added to it," Garibaldi says. However, part of "777-9311" may also come from some of the other material Wood programmed on the flexidisc—including a favorite trick that Wood later showed drummer Stan Lynch of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers.

"You play a beat and you keep the hi-hat going, but you push every other part of the beat back a sixteenth note," Wood says. "It was just an independence exercise. But as you can hear, the disc goes into this offbeat thing. That's just me, pushing the beat back a sixteenth note." Laughing, he adds that he's not really sure why it ended up there. "It was just a thing I did to keep my hands and legs thinking separately."

On the Eva-Tone Soundsheet flexidisc, Roger Linn also programmed some beats. "The way Roger played was just like a guitar player playing drums," Wood says, smiling some more. "He just loved playing shuffles. And the shuffle feature was a big thing on this machine." Wood also remembers that the sequences he and Linn programmed were part of a programming tape that came with the LM-1. "You could load and offload sequences," he says.

"Squib Cakes" by Tower Of Power.

Meanwhile, the man who has had to suffer through "777-9311" on stage more than anyone else in history may not have known the true origins of this beat, but he has a vivid recollection of how he learned it.

"I'll never forget, we were in rehearsal for the 1999 tour," Jellybean Johnson recalls. "Me, Prince, and Morris Day sat down at the drums and figured out 'How is Bean gonna play this hard-ass beat, and have everyone on stage dancing?' So Prince took a round, then Morris tried it, and then I tried it. And between the three of us, we finally came up with something. Prince was a slavedriver in those days, you know?" He says the band would rehearse for eight hours a day. "We got it down. It wasn't the drum machine—but it was close enough."

Johnson gives a knowing smile. "I always say I R&B'd it. Even to this day, I R&B the hell out of it. I never tried to get it perfect. People say, 'Nobody can play it like Jellybean!' And I think, 'There's lots of world-class drummers who can get pretty close.'" He pauses, then laughs. "But I fooled you into thinking I did!"

About the Author: Dan LeRoy's latest book is Dancing To The Drum Machine: How Electronic Percussion Conquered The World (available at For more information visit

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