Of all the breaks in hip-hop history to get you on the dance floor, few are more thrilling to this very day than "Apache," as recorded by Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band. A cover of a Jerry Lordan instrumental made famous by The Shadows in the U.K. and Jørgen Ingman and His Guitar in the U.S. in the early 1960s, the bongo-heavy version of "Apache" never charted but became a major influence on early hip-hop. The song's spaghetti western-esque riff was sampled by the likes of The Beastie Boys, Nas, Grandmaster Flash, Sir Mix-a-Lot and, most famously, The Sugar Hill Gang, whose rap version of the track just missed the Top 40 in 1982 but gained immortality among a new generation when it scored an uproarious moment on rapper Will Smith's sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. (The enduring popularity of the scene is such that Smith and surprise guests reprised it on BBC's Graham Norton Show last summer.)
Some 40 years after its original release, the entire first album by The Incredible Bongo Band is now available on 180-gram heavyweight vinyl. What's the real deal behind this project? Who were The Incredible Bongo Band? And what might a Beatle have to do with the whole ordeal? Keep reading after the jump!
The Incredible Bongo Band was the brainchild of one Michael Viner, a Harvard-educated manager at MGM Records with some decent political connections (a young Viner split his time between the mailroom at 20th Century-Fox and on Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign). By 1972, Viner had earned some notoriety working on two truly astounding novelty records: The Best of Marcel Marceau, an actual recorded performance of the acclaimed mime that consisted of 19 minutes of general silence and a minute of resultant applause, and Sammy Davis, Jr.'s chart-topping 1972 cover of "The Candy Man."
Another one of Viner's assignments at the time was to assemble music for a bizarre B-movie, The Thing with Two Heads, starring Rosey Grier. Viner hastily assembled a rotating cast of session musicians to fill out the lineup, including pianist Mike Melvoin, guitarist Dean Parks, bassists Winton Felder and Jerry Scheff and drummer Jim Gordon of Derek and The Dominos fame. (King Errison was the uncredited bongo player, and rumors persisted that Ringo Starr even made his way onto the sessions.) A debut single, a cover of Preston Epps' 1959 hit "Bongo Rock," was a minor hit in North America, but nothing else charted. The resultant album Bongo Rock also featured covers of notable instrumentals and pop songs including Sandy Nelson's "Let There Be Drums," Bill Justis' "Raunchy" and Iron Butterfly's "In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida."
A follow-up album, Return of The Incredible Bongo Band, was released in 1974. Afterward, Viner's down-time sessions would be discouraged by upper management, and he continued working for the label as a manager, famously signing Debby Boone. Later, Viner would co-found Dove Books on Tape in 1985 with actress (and then-wife) Deborah Raffin. Viner died of cancer in 2009, leaving behind an astounding showbiz legacy.
For only the second time in 40 years, Bongo Rock has been reissued on vinyl in the U.K., recreating all the original packaging and original running order. You can pre-order it below!
Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band, Bongo Rock (originally released as Pride RD-0028, 1973 - reissued as Mr. Bongo MRBLP-118 (U.K.), 2014)
- Let There Be Drums
- Last Bongo in Belgium
- Dueling Bongos
- Raunchy '73
- Bongo Rock '73