On this day 47 years ago, Billy Preston scored the first of his two number one hits on Billboard’s Hot 100.
“Will It Go Round in Circles,” from his second album “Music Is My Life,” released in 1972, was written by Preston and Bruce Fisher. This was also Preston’s first chart topper as a solo artist. As a killer session keyboardist in the 60s, the Los Angeles native has played on No. 1 hits for the likes of Little Richard, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Rev. James Cleveland and the Beatles, where he played on “Let it Be” and became the only non-Beatle to ever be credited on a Beatles recording for his contribution to “Get Back,” which reached No. 1 in 1969. Preston was famously referred to as “The Fifth Beatle.”
On January 30, 1969, the Beatles, with keyboardist Preston, surprised a central London office district with an impromptu concert from the roof of Apple headquarters at 3 Savile Row. Listen to his keyboard work below:
Preston was briefly signed to the Fab Four’s Apple Records but didn’t find solo success until he switched to A&M Records. His first album there, “I Wrote A Simple Song,” yielded the Grammy Award-winning instrumental “Outa-Space.”
Preston’s second and final No. 1 single, “Nothing from Nothing,” would come with his third A&M album, “The Kids and Me,” released in 1974.
Preston had suffered kidney disease in his later years and received a kidney transplant in 2002, but his health continued to deteriorate. During a voluntarily stint in a drug rehab clinic in Malibu, he suffered pericarditis, leading to respiratory failure that left him in a coma from November 21, 2005. Preston died on June 6, 2006, in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Happy 47th Birthday to the Break Beat! [EUR Video Flashback]
*On August 11, 1973, in the Bronx, NY, a neighborhood DJ known for throwing house parties decided to try something different for the “Back to School Jam” he would hold that night in the rec room of his apartment complex.
DJ Kool Herc noticed that people on the dancefloor had more energy during the instrumental breaks of the songs he’d play. So the 18-year-old figured he’d spin only the intros and breaks of his vinyl stash and see what happened.
Welp, what happened was the birth of the break beat that, in turn, birthed hip hop. The instrumental breaks gave his friend, Coke La Rock, a music bed to shout out individuals among the 300 or so people who showed up to the party.
For parties in Cedar Park the following summer, Herc figured out a way to make those instrumental breaks continuous, providing an endless music bed for emcees to talk over.
This merry-go-round technique would be refined and expanded with scratches and such by other DJs like Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, but it was Clive Campbell, a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc, that started the break beat 47 years ago today in that rec room at 1520 Sedgewick Ave. in The Bronx.
The three songs that Herc used in his very first merry-go-round experiment deserve just as much credit for the birth of hip hop. Below are the tracks in their entirety, and more.
James Brown – Give It Up Or Turn It a Loose [at the 4:20 mark]
James Brown – Give It Up Or Turn It a Loose Live 1971 (Remastered)
Incredible Bongo Band – Bongo Rock
Incredible Bongo Band introduces themselves on “Action 73,” hosted by Dick Clark
Incredible Bongo Band reunited (Scene from “Sample This” 2012 documentary)
Babe Ruth – The Mexican
Babe Ruth – The Mexican – Live in Montreal 1975 (Remastered)
At the 3:06 mark below, Janita Haan and Alan Shocklock of Babe Ruth on finding out that their “progressive rock” song “The Mexican” was being used as a hip hop break beat | #SFLive Interview
RADIOSCOPE REWIND: Xscape Talks ‘Off the Hook’ CD in ’96, Two Years Before Everything Went Left (Listen)
*Xscape had set the bar high for their second album.
The Atlanta-based quartet made an immediate impact with their 1993 debut “Hummin’ Comin’ at ‘Cha” – a critical and commercial triumph that saw platinum sales of a million within a year – that the pressure was on for their second studio album “Off the Hook,” released in July of 1995.
Jermaine Dupri, who discovered and signed the quartet to his So So Def label, was back in the producer’s chair for the album’s 12 tracks, four of which became singles: “Feels So Good,” “Who Can I Run To,” and the songs “Do You Want To” and “Can’t Hang” released as a double A-side.
“Off the Hook” would eventually become their second album to go platinum, largely on sales of its most successful single, “Who Can I Run To,” which peaked at No. 8.
We sat down with future reality stars Kandi Burruss and Tameka “Tiny” Cottle, and siblings LaTocha and Tamika Scott to talk about the success of their first album, being driven hard by Dupri to duplicate the success of “Hummin'” remaining level headed in the game and much more.
Listen to the RadioScope segment on Xscape and their album “Off the Hook,” which originally aired the weekend of Jan 6, 1996.
No one could know that just two years after this RadioScope interview, LaTocha’s solo aspirations and Kandi’s affair with Dupri would lead to the group’s breakup, only to be followed in 2017 by a reunion that was almost as messy. Watch recaps below:
Xscape: Still Kickin’ It: Kandi Confronts LaTocha About Her Solo Project (Episode 2) | Bravo
Kandi talks about her tryst with Dupri on “Wendy Williams”
“Who Can I Run To” – 2018 Reunion Performance at ASCAP Urban Awards in Beverly Hills
Before the Braids: When Rick James Was 60s Rock Singer Ricky James Matthews [EUR Video Flashback]
*The death of Rick James 16 years ago today sent shock waves throughout the music industry.
The “King of Punk Funk,” who had pushed the envelope with such rawness as “Super Freak,” “Mary Jane” and “Give It To Me Baby,” had a drug habit that was pretty well known. He’d even poked fun at it on “Chappelle’s Show,” warning viewers that “cocaine is a hell of a drug,” months before being found unresponsive in his Los Angeles apartment on August 6, 2004.
An autopsy found the drug alprazolam, diazepam, bupropion, citalopram, hydrocodone, digoxin, chlorpheniramine, methamphetamine and cocaine in James’ system. But the coroner stated that “none of the drugs or drug combinations were found to be at levels that were life-threatening in and of themselves.” It was his heart that gave out, stressed with the additional burden of diabetes, a past stroke and a pace maker.
While no one can beat Charlie Murphy’s tales about the dynamic funk legend, here are some fun facts about his early days that might surprise the casual fan.
Before James Ambrose Johnson, Jr. became punk-funk originator Rick James with the 1978 release of first single “You & I,” he was known under the pseudonym Ricky James Matthews, lead singer of the Toronto-based rock band The Mynah Birds. The group, also featuring future folk legend Neil Young on guitar and future members of the rock bands Buffalo Springfield and Steppenwolf, was signed to Motown’s V.I.P. Label and set to release their lone recording “It’s My Time.” But the single was shelved and the band’s contract was nullified.
Motown owner Berry Gordy found out that military authorities were after Ricky James Matthews. He had adopted the fake name after going AWOL from the Navy and fleeing to Toronto in an attempt to avoid going to Vietnam. Not wanting any bad publicity at his clean-cut label, Gordy canceled the band’s contract and “It’s My Time” never came out. It wouldn’t see the light of day until 40 years later, when it was part of a “Motown Special” compilation released in 2006. Listen below, with lead vocals by Rick James.
It’s My Time – The Mynah Birds
After serving a year for desertion, Ricky James Matthews moved to California and rejoined Motown in 1968, but strictly as a staff songwriter. Under the pseudonym Ricky Matthews, he wrote material for The Miracles, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, and the song “Sunshine Train” for The Spinners. Listen below:
Sunshine Train – The Spinners
While writing songs for Motown, Ricky Matthews was also recording singles with various rock bands under one-off deals. He put out records as part of groups he either joined or formed, including Salt and Pepper, Great White Cane and Hot Lips.
In 1973, he signed with A&M Records and released “My Mama,” his first single under the name Rick James. (During his time at Motown with The Mynah Birds, his idol Stevie Wonder suggested he shorten the name to “Rick James,” believing “Ricky James Matthews” was too long.)
My Mama – Rick James
In 1976, James returned to his hometown of Buffalo, formed the Stone City Band and recorded his second release, “Get Up and Dance!“
Get Up And Dance – Rick James
James came full circle In 1977, signing with Motown imprint Gordy Records – this time as a recording artist. His debut album, “Come Get It!” dropped on April 20, 1978, with the funk-drenched “You & I” and “Mary Jane” cementing the groundwork for what would be his signature groove for years to come.
You & I and Mary Jane – Rick James and the Stone City Band (“Midnight Special,” Dec 1, 1978)
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