The Music Machine Does Its Thing
Black Water Gold
African Music Machine, Soul Power 111, 1972
For a few years in the early 1970’s, the African Music Machine recorded four singles at Sound City Studio in Shreveport for the Soul Power label, distributed by Stan Lewis’ Jewell Records, which included the in-house Jewell, Paula and Ronn imprints. The eight-piece AMM was headed by bassist Louis Villery, who played regularly on Sound City sessions backing local and outside artists,
Jerry Strickland, who ran Sound City, started Soul Power with Lewis’ to issue records on artists being recorded at the studio. The AMM singles released were: “Black Water Gold (Pearl)” b/w “Making Nassau Fruit Drink” (#109), “A Girl In France” b/w “Tropical”, “The Dapp” b/w “Never Name A Baby (Before It’s Born)” (#115), and “Camel Time” b/w “Mr. Brown” (#117). While the records made hardly a ripple at the time, over the years collectors have developed a liking for their funk and rarity. Around 2001, Soul Power/Jewel released the LP, Black Water Gold, (pictured), which conveniently and cheaply compiles all the singles.
For this feature, I’ve chosen one of the more syncopated band grooves, “Tropical”, from their second single. Drummer Louis “Abdul” Acorn and percussionist Osman make this track a standout for me; and, as in most all the band’s work, Louis Villery’s bass is prominent and jammin’. The horn charts are pretty tasty, too. Villery wrote or co-wrote all the songs, arranging and producing the records, as well. Hearing the sides on the LP collection, it strikes me that they don’t have the unique spark of originality. Instead, these are hip, well-played, yet derivative, grooves that don’t hide their influences: James Brown (of course, that’s “Mr. Brown”), the JB’s, Hugh Masekela, War, and even a little Santana. While there’s nothing truly memorable here, this is a band still worth hearing. My picks besides “Tropical” would be its’ flip, “A Girl In France”, along with “Black Water Gold” and “Never Name A Baby”.
The LP contains some minimal notes on the band by David Nathan, and the African nicknames of the band members, only a half of which are identified with their given names. The other main artists on Soul Power were George Perkins from Baton Rouge and the amazing Tommie Young. The label folded around 1974 (except for this LP compilation almost 30 years later); and I don’t know much about the group after that, other than Villery went on to play in B. B. King’s band for a time. I look forward to getting to some more of these sides at a later date.
[Update: My friend Art Edmaiston, hot sax honker with the Gamble Brothers Band [now Mofro, as of 2014], left this message in the comments: Dan, Louis Villery is from Tunisia. He was on the road in the late 50's early 60's with blues legend Bobby "Blue" Bland playing upright bass. Louis rejoined the 'Boss of the Blues' in early 2000 and has been back on the bus ever since. - Hey, Art ought to know, he was on that bus touring with Bobby Bland for a while himself. Wow. Now the African motif makes sense. And that makes Villery the one not from Shreveport. Great tidbit, Art. I owe ya. By the way, readers, you can catch the GBB on the road soon in Colorado, opening for Frequinox.]
The African Music Machine was
Alias Rasheed (Louis Villery) - bass, vocals
Abdul (Louis Acorn) - drums
Yuseef (Tyrone Dotson) - tenor sax
Osman - percussion
Amal - trumpet
Ete-Ete - tenor sax and flute
Jumbo - guitar
Obitu - piano and organ
[Update #2: See Da Clinic's comments below for more on Villery.]