Song of the Day: “Impeach The President” The Honey Drippers

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In January 1973, five men were convicted of conspiracy, burglary and violation of federal wiretapping laws for actions taken at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate Hotel.  Though the break-in had only taken place some six months prior, the investigation wouldn’t be complete until August 9th, 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned after facing almost certain impeachment.

Somewhere in a New York City basement that same January Roy C. Hammond, a journeyman soul artist, was working on forming a new band with some high school kids from Jamaica, Queens.  From the get go, Hammond was having the most trouble with the drummer, whose name hasn’t managed to make it through the years and Hammond’s memory. “the drummer was the weakest point,” Hammond recalled some years later, “.I remember drilling him over and over in that basement in Jamaica, Queens.”

The drilling worked, and Roy C. Hammond christened the band with the name The Honey Drippers, and produced two songs, “Roy C’s Theme” and “Impeach The President”. Characteristically, Hammond’s major label Mercury Records didn’t want anything to do with a song that controversial, so Hammond had to release the songs on his own record label Alaga Records.

In those days it was a lot harder to make it without the promotion of a major label, and without people to hear the record, the 45″ single became one of those obscure finds that would be tucked in the bargain bin.

Some seven years later, with Nixon safely away from the Oval Office, the hip hop movement was getting started, with many aspiring producers digging through record crates to find that one perfect sample that nobody had.  Aaron Fuchs was working with a New York DJ Africa Bambaataa who was gracious enough to let him scan through his record collection, with important details scratched out of course. Still, Fuchs caught his eye on the distinct yellow red label of Alaga.

Everybody seemed to know everybody, and Aaron Fuchs knew a young man who went by the name Marley Marl. He was yet to become a famous hip hop producer, and yet to be name checked in a Notorious B.I.G. song, but he already had the ear for a good hook.  How Marley Marl got the copy of “Impeach The President” from Aaron Fuchs is contested, but without it the sample that launched almost 700 songs would have never happened.

Great drum break aside, “Impeach The President” has one heck of a hook, and that band could sure play. The names may change but sometimes the message matters more.

 

Impeach The President – The Honey Drippers 

 

Song of the Day: “Hymn To Freedom” Oscar Peterson

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“Hymn To Freedom” Oscar Peterson Trio – Night Train (1963)

Oscar Peterson is one of a handful of jazz musicians whose accessibility belies his incredible ability.  Capable of some of the hardest swing that jazz ever produced from a set of ivory keys, Night Train is the entry point for many, with Peterson’s minimal trio at its peak.

This is a truly cohesive unit, with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums.  There’s not a note out of place, not that you would expect one on a jazz record, but the playing here is superb. “Moten Swing”, “Night Train”, and “Honey Dripper” are all easy favorites, but of particular note is the original album close, “Hymn To Freedom”.

Some will pick out the harmonic similarity between the main theme of this tune and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, but there’s no evidence that Simon consciously copied the melody.

When you get to the tremendous cascading rolls of piano that Peterson pulls off toward the end of the song, you’ve probably forgotten about that extraneous detail, and just reveled in the playing of these three great jazz musicians.  You can click the image above for a link to the album on Spotify, and check out “Hymn To Freedom” below.

Oscar Peterson Trio – Hymn To Freedom 

Song of the Day: Charles Mingus, “Oh Lord Don’t Let Them Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me”

Charles Mingus Oh Yeah
Charles Mingus, Oh Yeah, Atlantic (1961)

Charles Mingus was my first jazz obsession.  For a kid that grew up more focused on The Beatles, Jazz seemed aloof to me – at first.  My brother had taken up Miles Davis and John Coltrane rather quickly, and I therefore had to be opposed in my formative years, as siblings do.

There is something so exciting and human about Mingus, he’s a cataclysmic character–one of my favorite stories involved his interactions with the famous film director John Cassavetes:

“John Cassavetes, another raging iconoclast, despised “cuteness” from his performing actors. Though he pretended to know a lot more about jazz than he actually did, he had the good sense to approach Charles Mingus to score his first feature, Shadows. Mingus said he’d do the score on one condition: that Cassavetes and his cohorts came to his apartment and cleaned up all the cat shit that was littering his piled-up scores. He did so, then was notified by Mingus that it was too clean in there now, that he was unable to think, that he had to wait for some cat shit to accumulate again before any progress could be made. (The score ended up arriving about two years late.) From this anecdote we can derive one thing about Mingus’ psyche: it is perennially untidy.”

Larger than life in many respects, his personality burned brightest on record.  There’s very few Mingus records where you can’t hear Mingus exhorting his bandmates in the background, shouting and growling. Mingus had idolized Charlie Parker and how, “sometimes, he could make the whole room feel like he did”. If there could be any defining mission of Mingus– that is probably it.

He played bass, and played it exceptionally well, but his skill was most manifest as an arranger. Nobody charted horns like Mingus and it was no small thing that his bands included the likes of horn luminaries Eric Dolphy and Roland Kirk. His ability to make order out of disorder is the quality that makes him so exciting to listen to, and makes his works sound so human.

It’s particularly hard to note any record as out of the ordinary for Mingus, because there hardly seemed to be an ordinary,  but Oh Yeah stands apart from the ’59 triumvirate of Blues & Roots, Mingus Ah Um, and Mingus Dynasty as well as later works like Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady.  Mingus plays piano instead of bass, something he would revisit with Mingus Plays Piano and even sings on a couple tracks, “Oh Lord Don’t Drop That Atomic Bomb On Me” included.

Predating both the Cuban Missile Crisis and Doctor Strangelove, “Oh Lord” manages to foreshadow the humanism and absurdity of both, a ballad with wonderful piano flourishes and Mingus’s direct emotional appeals.

Further Information:

Sadly, the article from which that Cassavetes quote is sourced is no longer available online, but exists as an excerpt in a comment on a blog here. It was written for Stylus Magazine by Chris Smith.

The whole album is fantastic, though I find myself torn between “Oh Lord”, “Ecclusiastics”, and “Eat That Chicken”.

“Eat That Chicken” is probably Mingus at his most fun, it’s a touching tribute to Fats Waller, another great jazz musician who is responsible for one of my favorite songs ever

An Argument With Instruments: On Charles Mingus found in the October 7, 2013 issue of The Nation by Adam Shatz, is a great overview of Mingus’s character and relation to his jazz contemporaries.

Song of the Day: Natalie Prass – Short Court Style

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Natalie Prass switches gears on her first single from her upcoming LP, The Future and The Past

On an earlier edition of these pages I wrote about the incredible work that Matthew E. White had done with his debut record, Big Inner. Both his knack for rich analog production, and the wonderful house band at Spacebomb Records in Richmond, Virginia elevated the record into rarefied territory. The result was resplendent, with well-crafted songwriting polished by incredible detail.

It was no surprise then that White continued to do great work, taking a more pronounced role behind the boards  on the debut self-titled record from Natalie Prass, Natalie Prass. That record received a lot of high praise, with production that sounded like Randy Newman and Curtis Mayfield had produced Dusty in Memphis.

That was nearly three years ago, and its a testament to both Big Inner and Natalie Prass that they still hold up, with more details to unpack with every new listen. The Spacebomb Records crew continues to impress, especially on this latest cut from Natalie Prass’ upcoming record, “Short Court Style.”

This stylish 70s meets 90s rave-up is a different direction for Prass and the Spacebomb band, more reminiscent of Feist at her best in the early 00s and a good study in giving a song the time to develop into something beyond its initial framework. And yeah, that bass and guitar work is incredible.

Recommended If You Like:

Feist, The Bee Gees

Further Information:

Spacebomb Records

Song Exploder Episode on “Short Court Style”

The Future and The Past LP Preorder