Happy Father's Day, Winstons. Love, drum-n-bass
Watch Can I Get an Amen?, an absolutely awesome 2004 video installation/documentary short by Nate Harrison, which comes to my attention via fimoculous via youtube, and has apparently been making the blog rounds since appearing at last year's EMP Conference. Harrison makes a pretty damning case against the British company Zero-G, and its Jungle Warfare CDs, for appropriating and copyrighting a breakbeat created by somebody else, one that had essentially existed in the public domain for three decades: the "Amen break" from a 1969 gospel funk track by the Winstons, "Amen, Brother," an instrumental cover of 1968's "We're a Winner" by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions and b-side to the Winstons hit "Color Him Father" (hear both songs on myspace, read the "Amen break" wiki, and this ILM thread).
I won't add much to this except to say that most of the above sources appear unaware that the Winstons still exist in Washington, D.C.--here's their official site:
Today I phoned Joe Phillips, owner of the Winstons trademark (listen to this interview with him), who re-launched the group in 1996. Since the death of guitarist and musical director Quincy Mattison, he says, and the retirement of lead singer/tenor saxophonist Richard Lewis Spencer (who published a novel in 2003 on Lulu Press, The Molasses Tree: A Southern Love Story), no original members have been involved, though the band continues to record new Winstons gospel albums. Spencer lives at an unpublished number in North Carolina, while organ player Phil Tolotta plays regularly at JD's Restaurant and Lounge in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. (I'll phone him tomorrow night.) Otherwise, I'm still looking for alto saxophonist Ray Maritano and bassist Sonny Peckrol.
My hope is to find drummer G.C. Coleman, who created the "Amen, Brother" beat, and who seems to have fallen off the face of the earth. He was reportedly another veteran of Otis Redding's band, but unlike Richard Spencer or, say, "Funky Drummer" Clyde Stubblefield--the other most sampled drummer in history, still giggling regularly in Madison, Wisconsin--Coleman has yet to come forward and take credit for his influence. Phillips said he might be able to track Coleman down, and if so, I'll let you know.
[Update 6/14: Brian Poust of Georgiasoul says that Mattison might have told him Coleman still lived in the Atlanta area (mentioned here, too), and here's a Coleman album credit from The Spirit of Atlanta's 1973 LP The Burning Of Atlanta (Buddah), a project put together by Tommy Stewart.]
I wonder if Coleman is even aware that he essentially birthed a genre of music--drum-n-bass (dnb, jungle), or that his drum part appears on literally thousands of releases. On May 17, 2003, Phillips responded to an email from somebody on this message board thread, saying, incredibly, that he hadn't known anything at all about the legacy of the Winstons "Amen" break:
Thanks Andrew, I was not aware of the huge following from the drum break of Amen. I am looking into right now. Thanks for making me aware of that. Joe Phillips(The Winstons)
So in anticipation of Father's Day, and in honor of my own father's loving role as a stepfather, and my own stepfather's love, here's an excerpt from an article about Richard Spencer and "Color Him Father," a sweet ode to a fictional stepfather who marries a woman with seven kids, and raises them as his own. May drum-n-bass track down its dad, too.
The lyrics are not Dylanesque or even Smokeyesque, and Spencer himself admits, "It's not a great piece of music." But the song struck a chord in 1970 America. It was a staple of AM radio stations and won Spencer a Grammy award for R&B songwriter, and versions of it hit No. 1 on the country, R&B and easy listening charts.
The idea and most of the words for the song came to Spencer after a painfully embarrassing incident when he was a child.
"When I was 13, we had something at school, and I had to wear a tie," he told me earlier this week. "My mother tried to tie it, but she didn't know how. It looked really bad. I went to school, and the other kids laughed at me. That's when I created an imaginary guy who would do all the things a real father was supposed to do, like teach me to tie a tie."
He had to create an imaginary dad, he said, because his own father was often missing in action. "He wasn't much of a father, but I loved him very much. I don't know why."
Spencer never repeated the success he had with that one song--the band broke up a year later, and he drove a bus in Washington, D.C., while going to college, but he has no regrets about being a one-hit wonder. "That song was one of the important things in my life, and I'm glad I did it."
(See "Oh, my; Papa strikes back," News and Observer, Raleigh, NC, June 17, 2001.)
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