Tuesday, October 6, 2009

George Coleman-Bongo Joe (1969)

"There can only be one Bongo Joe, and that is the incredible George Coleman, in his own way as much an American original as Johnny Cash or Bo Diddley. Beloved favorite for many years at the New Orleans Jazz And Heritage Festival (where he once jammed with Dizzy Gillespie) Bongo Joe is perhaps the world's only virtuoso player of the empty oil drum (we're not kidding, folks), a man so ingenious that he could even turn petroleum refuse into something musical and sublime.

Born in Haines, Florida, in 1923, like many others he gravitated to Houston, Texas (known as `Baghdad On The Bayou' because of its booming oil business) as a young man. Somewhere in the late '40s, Coleman volunteered to fill the drummer's chair in a local band, improvising around his lack of a trap set by building his own kit out of empty oil drums and tin cans. Having to lug a 55-gallon Texaco Firechief barrel from gig to gig hindered his musical progress through normal professional channels, but he quickly turned to free-lancing on the streets, playing on popular tourist piers and heavily trafficked places like Seawall Boulevard in Galveston, working his way up to legendary gigs at the San Antonio World's Fair and later the New Orleans Jazz Fest.

The approach is primal, but not primitive: Bongo Joe drums on his oil cans with a thunderous, tympani-like effect, while discoursing rambling, insightful and hilariously funny lyrics that are often times more stories than songs. As Joe himself put it, `I rapbut not that bullshit they're putting down now. I play fundamental beat music.' And that it is`Almost 50 Minutes Of WORLD BEAT' the sleeve agreeably crows, and it's no mere idle copy. Whether draping his drums with an American flag or washing them in swirls of psychedelic green and red paint, there's something beyond the typical street-corner busker in Bongo Joe's persona festive, unbridled quality that isn't just musical, but draws on a tradition of pure entertainment, with elements from sideshows, comedy and even the circus. One of the true treasures of the bountiful Arhoolie catalog, Bongo Joe is the kind of record that will immediately break up a typically drab radio day, lighting up the phone lines and waking listeners out of the lull of typical programming. Try `Science Fiction,' `Innocent Little Doggie' (if you think Joe was just a novelty act, listen closely to the poignant insightfulness of the lyrics), `Transistor Radio' (more wry commentary) and `Dog Eat Dog.'”

I'm a rhythm nut and this record is perfect if you're into that good ole primal BEAT. Those beats are thick and in your face and Coleman is beyond entertaining in his "raps." But his drumming, pounding, beating. That's what you want this record for. Great record to groove out to.



Mary said...

He was a wonderful memory of my childhood in San Antonio, it was nice to see that he was remembered on the internet after all these years.

Gone but never forgotten

Anonymous said...

thank u so much.
this is one unique and amazing album!