MP3 Monday: July 31, 2006

This week’s MP3 Monday combines two of the most potent forces in nature: teenagers and funk music. And it contains a rare Must Buy Alert. For those unfamiliar, such an alert mandates that you head to your local music establishment and buy yourself the record I require.
Penalties for not making the purchase include hair loss, loss of sexual function, and instant death. As always, songs will stay on the server for one week’s time.
All Praises/Zero Point (Reprise)” (live) by the Kashmere Stage Band. From the album Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974 (2006).
Man, I’ve been waiting for this record for a couple years now. You see, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, band directors at a small number of black high schools decided to embrace the funk and soul music their students were listening to. They started creating stage bands that merged the propulsion of a good marching band, the big-band sound a large ensemble could generate, and the aforementioned black popular music.
There were a number of these stage bands, but far and away the best was the Kashmere Stage Band, at Kashmere High School in north Houston. The director, a genius named Conrad O. Johnson, was an old jazzman himself and decided that a bunch of untrained teenagers could, with work, become the tightest funk band in the world.
The Kashmere Stage Band became a dominant force in the world of band competitions. Between 1969 and 1977, the band took first place in 42 of the 46 contests it entered — despite often being the only black band competing. They toured Europe and Japan multiple times.
They also recorded eight albums, albeit in quantities small enough that the main audience didn’t extend far beyond the friends and families of band members. But enough of those LPs made their way into the used record stores of America that, in the early ’90s, the Kashmere Stage Band became a favorite of cratedigging DJs looking for funk breaks. Kashmere records were going for hundreds of dollars on eBay. (DJs know greatness when they hear it.)
Eventually, commerce and taste intersected, and the excellent folks at Now Again Records (the reissue side project of Stones Throw) have assembled Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974, a two-CD set of Kashmere Stage Band recordings. And oh my lord is it amazing.
Take a listen to the track above, “All Praises” followed by a reprise of their signature track “Zero Point,” recorded live on February 26, 1972 at the Brownswood Stage Band Festival. With no disrespect intended to Soul Brother No. 1, I doubt The JB’s were this tight in 1972. That rhythm section! (Gerald Calhoun on bass, Gerald Curvey on drums.)
Ain’t No Sunshine” (live) by the Kashmere Stage Band. From the album Texas Thunder Soul 1968-1974 (2006).
And here, have some more. I linked to Bill Withers’ live version of his song a couple months ago, but imagine your high school band being capable of this. (Recorded live at Sam Houston State University in 1972.)
It’s hard to say just how good the Kashmere Stage Band was, or how amazing its story is. Kashmere High is in a very poor part of Houston; the Houston school district nearly shut it down last year because its performance on state tests was so poor. Luckily, the liner notes of the reissue (by Egon) do an excellent job of shedding light on things. Anyway, you’ll see when you buy it, as you Must.
FYI, Conrad O. Johnson has a foundation to promote jazz in the Houston area and apparently still plays out at age 90.
The Newborn Hippopotamus/Jazz Rock Machine” (live) by the One O’Clock Lab Band. From the album Schoolhouse Funk (2000).
This track is from the album that started my love of the stage band sound. Schoolhouse Funk was assembled by the great DJ Shadow (as was its sequel), and it compiles all sorts of great tracks from (mostly black) high school and college bands.
They’re not all great — a number of tracks are pleasingly amateurish — but a good number of them cook. (There’s a Kashmere track on there, too.) This one’s by the legendary One O’Clock Lab Band, the top jazz band at the University of North Texas in Denton. (For those who don’t know, UNT has one of largest music schools in the nation and one of the top jazz programs. Which is why so many of the rock bands out of Denton are so deliriously weird.)
Longtime readers (and attendees of SXSW Interactive in 2003) may remember this track as the backing music to 20×2 movie that year. (More about that here.)