Born in Monroe, Louisiana in 1955, Drake later moved with his family to Evanston, Illinois just north of Chicago. There, he started out playing drums in rock and R&B bands before meeting noted saxophonist Fred Anderson. It was during this period that he made his recorded debut with Anderson, appearing on albums like 1978's Another Place and 1979's Dark Day. It was also via his connection to Anderson and participation in the saxophonist's workshops that he met George Lewis and other members of the influential AACM. He began branching out, and by the late '70s, he was also a member of Foday Muso Suso's Mandingo Griot Society, and he'd toured Europe with trumpeter Don Cherry and fellow percussionist Adam Rudolph.
Over the next decade, Drake began branching out, working with Herbie Hancock, Jim Pepper, Pierre Dørge, and others. He also played with the Latin jazz band Night on Earth, the Georg Graewe Quartet, the DKV Trio, and Liof Munimula, the latter of which is one of the oldest free improvising ensemble in Chicago. He also formed a lasting relationship with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, appearing on albums like 1992's Hyperion, 1993's Die Like a Dog: Fragments of Music, Life Death of Albert Ayler, and 1998's Dried Rat Dog. Along with continued work with Anderson, there were also sessions with percussionist Michael Zerang (with whom he has performed a solstice celebration semi-annually since 1991), Bill Laswell, Mats Gustafsson, Marilyn Crispell, Pharoah Sanders, and more.
Drake continued to appear on numerous albums throughout the 2000s, appearing as a leader or a co-leader for a number of labels including Chicago's Okka Disc and Thrill Jockey, France's Rogue Art, Eremite, Nero's Neptune, and ESP-Disk. In 2000, he collaborated with saxophonist Joe McPhee on Emancipation Proclamation: A Real Statement of Freedom, and then rejoined Brotzmann and Parker for 2003's Never Too Late But Always Too Early. A year later, he issued Back Together Again with Anderson, and then joined David Murray for he saxophonist's 2004 Gwotet album. He also recorded several live trio dates with Parker and saxophonist Albert Berger, released in 2006 as Evolving Silence, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. There were also notable sessions with Hugh Ragin, Kidd Jordan, and Archie Shepp, among others.
The 2016 release Live at Okuden: Jungle (recorded in 2012) was the final recording curated by ESP-Disk's founder Bernard Stollman. Drake also appeared in a trio setting led by saxophonist/clarinetist and flutist Mat Walerian, along with pianist Matthew Shipp. In July 2016, Otoroku issued Song Sentimentale by the trio of Peter Brötzmann, William Parker and Drake -- their first recording together since 2003's Never Too Late But Always Too Early. The album, compiled from three nights of concerts at Cafe Oto, was issued in two volumes in different formats, each entertaining a unique track listing. He then paired with clarinetist and saxophonist Sylvain Kassap for 2017's Heads or Tails, followed a year later by the trio effort, Karuna, with saxophonist Ralph Jones and percussionist Adam Rudolph. The drummer also recorded In Between The Tumbling A Stillness with Parker and Tashar, and Keep Going in duo with Joe McPhee.
A year earlier the drummer began playing shows with Chicago-based avant psych rockers Mako Sica. In 2018, during the intense period of recording that netted the aforementioned albums, the band and Drake entered the studio and emerged with the acclaimed Ronda on Astral Spirits. In 2019, Drake, Parker, and saxophonist Frode Gerstad released the digital outing In Memory of Lester Bowie, and with bassist's group In Order to Survive (that included saxophonist Rob Brown, and pianist Cooper-Moore) released Live / Shapeshifter on Aum Fidelity. Drake also played drums on English saxophonist Paul Dunmal's Soultime.
Though 2020 was a year of pandemic and qurantine due to the COVID-19 virus, Drake saw the release of several previously recorded outings bearing his name released. Among them were The Catch Of A Ghost from a 2019 concert with Brötzmann and North African guimbri player Maâlem Mokhtar Gania, Every Dog Has Its Day But It Doesn't Matter Because Fat Cat Is Getting Fatter with Walerian, Shipp, and Parker, Imaginary Archipelago with Karuna Trio, and Balancing Tear with Mako Sica. In May 2021, Intakt released Celebration, an improvised duo outing with pianist Irene Schweizer that had been recorded in Europe two years earlier. ~ Matt Collar, Thom Jurek, Rovi
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