A History of the "Apache" Breakbeat

The Incredible Bongo Band "Apache" (1973)

Album: Bongo Rock
Label: N/A
Producer: N/A

Davie Allan wasn't the only one on the "Apache" line who scored movies for American International Pictures. Michael Viner, an MGM Records staff producer and onetime Robert Kennedy campaign worker, was another. In 1972, MGM Records staff arranger-producer (and onetime) Michael Viner cut a silly version of a silly song ("Bongo Rock," a 1959 instrumental hit for Preston Epps) under the name the Incredible Bongo Band, for the grade-Z flick The Thing with Two Heads, starring Oscar winner Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend) and football player Rosey Grier. The song reached No. 42 on the Billboard R&B chart. Since Viner was boss, he decided to go ahead with a Bongo Band album featuring more covers.

"They told me, 'You have $15,000 and three days,'" Viner said in an unpublished 2006 interview. (He died three years later.) "These producers at AIP-I was very fond of them, but they were a very cheapy organization-said, 'You are invited to watch a film in San Francisco.' They bought an economy ticket and got me a Cadillac for the day. We were talking and meeting everyone, treated very nicely. Then we're watching the scene being filmed: a couple of motorcycle guys harassing an old couple in a car, and it's driven off the cliff. That was my rent-a-car."

Viner hired arranger Perry Botkin Jr., who called in drummer Jim Gordon-formerly of Derek & the Dominos, and the co-writer of "Layla"-and Bahamian percussionist King Errisson.

In 2006, Botkin described his arranging style in an unpublished interview: "There might be a percussion intro of some sort, then the horns would play the chorus, then Jimmy and King would improvise for a couple of minutes, then the band would come back in and play the last minute. That was basically the structure for both of the Bongo Band albums.

The reason it became such a sampling hit was that they had all these two- and three-minute drum and conga breaks in the middle all of the tunes. Michael is a good producer, but he's not a musician. I don't recall any instructions as far as structure. He just wanted a loooot of drums. He didn't say that, but that's what he wanted. We didn't sit down and have meetings. I was really busy during that time. It was just another gig. What has gone since then is quite amazing to me."

"What has gone on since then" begins in 1973, the year of Bongo Rock, the album. In the South Bronx, Clive Campbell-the DJ known as Kool Herc-began playing two copies of the record on different turntables. It was an "experiment," he told Terry Gross in 2005, that he named the Merry-Go-Round. "I was noticing people used to wait for the particular parts of the record, to dance to, just to do their special little moves." The track that worked best, he found, was Bongo Rock's "Apache." "They still can't beat that record until this day," he told Gross. "Everybody's still using Bongo Rock's 'Apache.'"

They sure are. The hard downbeat and floating bongos that begin the tune announce this "Apache" something very different than before-but not altogether different from the soundtrack funk that blanketed the post-Shaft soundscape. The widescreen arrangement-strident guitar, wild-ass organ, and, of course, all those objects being hit-could buoy even the most dead-end imaginary scenario (though probably not The Thing with Two Heads, because nothing could).

Every part of the arrangement, from the horn fanfare (that riff sounds good on anything) to the long, perfectly calibrated break at its climax. And when Herc went back-and-forth with his two copies, a lot more people began to move. As for the drummers: King Errisson has spent much of his career in Neil Diamond's touring band, while Jim Gordon would eventually be committed to a mental institution after killing his mother with an axe.

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