Mashistory Vol 1: Stairway to Gilligan

Gilligan’s Island (Stairway)” Mp3

I have been planning a series of shorter posts on the history of the Mashup (the musical craze that has been raging in the DJ world for several years now). If you want to check it out “live” head down to the now infamous Mash Ave party with residents DJ BC and Lenow. As someone who has been drifting back and forth between DJ and rock band worlds for some time now, I find it amusing that this musical form has been heralded as the new new thing. In fact, people have been at this for quite some time. What really changed is that digital technology has finally made it possible for everyone to mix and mash. (Note that this article makes the claim that “Mashups first appeared on the pop-culture radar screen earlier this year with the release of The Grey Album”). Others have suggested connections between mashups and the cut up record, plunderphonics, sample based music and even the audio collage work of John Cage. But really, these things are all very different.

Wayne does a super job juggling the nuances of mashup politics in his summer ’05 post Mashpolitik. I am going to take a slightly different approach by occasionally featuring tracks and ideas related to the history of the mashup. My first selection was inspired by a recent e-mail from Franc Graham. Her reference to Little Roger and the Goosebumps‘ 1978 song “Gilligan’s Island (Stairway)” reminded me that this was my first encounter with a “mashup”.

I won’t try to recreate the history of this song (which was penned by Little Roger’s late guitarist John Shield). Suffice it to say that the track features the music of Stairway to Heaven with the lyrics and melody of the Gilligan Island theme on top. Not only is it hillarious (methinks), the specific format (instrumentals of one song with vocals from another) make it a good candidate for an early Mashup. This form distinguishes it from related musical parody work of folks like Wierd Al who sing goofy lyrics over familiar tunes. Not only that, but Little Roger and the GB’s were even sued by Led Zep and forced to stop selling the single. This outlaw status strengthens its connection to more recent illegal art forms like the mashup. Luckily, it was finally re-released on a 2000 compilation called Laguna Tunes, which features the work of Kenny Laguna, who produced the band.

You have to give respect to Little Roger and the Goosebumps for doing it all on guitars and stuff. ‘Member those?

Finally, here is a nice little blurb about the band I found at a site on the Sacramento music scene.

“Little Roger & The Goosebumps – Their one single didn’t quite climb the charts nationally in 1978 because it was pre-empted by a lawsuit while the song was steadily gaining airplay around the country. The song was called “Stairway To Gilligan’s Island,” (ed note: the actual title appears to have been “Gilligan’s Island – Stairway” judging from the 45 below) which was a novelty featuring the lyrics of the Gilligan’s Island Theme set to the music of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven.” It was Led Zeppelin’s publishing company who kept the song from growing into a hit due to Little Roger’s failure to seek permission prior to releasing the record. The plaintiffs ordered the record to be taken off the market and all copies destroyed. The band was formed in the mid-seventies and became well-known in the Davis scene before spreading to Sacramento and ultimately gaining more popularity in the Bay Area. It was fronted by Roger Clark, who teamed up with San Francisco band Earthquake to record the instrumentation in London at Pete Townshend’s studio. Other members included the late guitarist John Shield, who came up with the idea of mixing the two songs together, and violinist Dick Bright, who became an accomplished orchestra leader in the Bay Area and backed artists like Santana and Bonnie Raitt. After the smoke had cleared, the recording later appeared on a Blackheart/Mercury Records compilation called Laguna Tunes, compiled by producer Kenny Laguna.”

And a picture of the orignal 45 (reposted here from the nice folks at

And the funkiest year ever was…

Warning. This post has a terribly high geek quotient. If plotting the frequencies of data about hip hop offends you in any way, please do not read on. OK. I warned you. Now I will tell you what the funkiest year ever was. (If you want to guess first, it might be more fun. Post your guess at the Riddim Method)

I recently returned to the data I culled from the The Sample FAQ to answer a question I have long pondered: “What was the funkiest year ever?” Because the Sample FAQ lists the year of the original songs that have been sampled by hip hop producers, we can construct a simple frequency count of the number of samples that used material from a given year. All I did was add up the number of times that people sampled songs in each year and plotted the frequencies in Excel so that the categories are years and the values for each category are the number of times songs from that year were sampled. If none of this makes any sense to you, just think of this as “freq.-ing the funk”.

The resulting distribution will not surprise people familiar with hip hop, sampling or the explosion of amazingly funky music in the early 1970’s. As you can see, the most heavily sampled period (represented by the peak in the distribution) occurred between 1970 and 1975. But the actual peak occurs with 872 different songs that sampled material released in 1973. So that’s it. According to this source at least, 1973 was THE FUNKIEST YEAR EVER! (If you accept a few conditions and caveats – see below).

As I looked at this distribution, I noticed a few things. While the historgram has the shape of a normal distribution, it is probably not when viewed properly (See comment below). While normal distributions are characteristic of random occurrences, hip hop producers’ choices of samples are anything but. It is not as if people randomly selected old songs to sample. Just the opposite; they sampled a very small subset of the very funkiest old songs (particularly those with open drum breaks). As a result, this distribution is perhaps better thought of as a series of votes. In this election of sorts, the underlying dimension being voted on is something abstract like “songs that have funky breaks” or “funky ass songs”.

Thinking of the distribution this way makes sense to me. Its like each time someone wants to sample something, they go wading into the records looking for a break, stab, slice or some other crazy sound to use in their own music. Each time they sample something, that thing gets a vote. Over time, some things tend to get more votes than others.

Note that if we think of it this way, it seems likely that the distribution has a long tail. James Brown gets the lion’s share of votes (along with a few other bands like Parliament), but most get only one or two. (Phew, glad to see that long tail back).

But that is not quite right either, because what determines what people are looking for to begin with? Other people. If it were just funky breaks that people were looking for, the curve above would be a line going straight up to the right. There are plenty of breaks in hip hop. If you are looking for the funkiest stuff, why not just sample the samples, and so on? That would give you an increasing pool of stuff to sample and thus the line going up and right. Well, there are rules against that you see. Cultural rules. This might be of interest to my ethno pals who are sometimes asked to defend methods that start by asking people what rules they use.

Methodological musings aside, as I looked more closely at the distribution, I noticed something really strange: The peak in 1986. “Why,” I asked, “were there so many samples of songs released in 1986 when clearly the ‘best’ sample source material was released in the early 1970’s?” And then it dawned on me, “The funky drummer” break.

Although the most heavily sampled drum break of all time was actually released in 1970 on a King 45 (6290), it was re-issued (along with a lot of other classic JB material on the now infamous In the Jungle Groove LP. Guess when. Yup. 1986.
Of course, it was a heavily sampled and played record.
Now this is pretty interesting on its own (the fact that a single re-release can make such an impact on a cultural practice). I also wondered if it might reflect some error in the data. Since the sample FAQ includes tracks made by some of the biggest collectors and beat junkies in the world, I figured a bunch of them would have sampled the original 45 and went to check that this was reflected in the data. When I looked back, I realized the sample FAQ listed every instance of the Funky Drummer (and a few other tracks from the comp) as 1986. Acording to this, not one person sampled the original 45. It seems unlikely that in a list that includes all best producers in the history of hip hop not one would have sampled the original. Being a good riddim methodist (I thought B.C. was a Jesuit school), I decided to correct the data.

Making the conservative guess that half these producers would have used the original, I went back and adjusted the frequencies by allocating half of each track that was on the 1986 “In the Jungle Groove” comp to its original year. That gives us a very slightly more normal distribution.

In addition to being a hell of a lot of fun, I hope this little post points out the value of having ethnographic knowledge about your data. If all we know is the distribution of something in a population, we can do lots of cool things (like finding out what else it is correlated with). Without some ethnographic knowledge too, its harder to make claims about why.

This also points out that the data at the sample FAQ contains some potential gaps and omissions (raising concerns about others who may want to use it for academic research). On that point, let me offer another caveat. This distribution was based on the data on Funk and Soul at the Sample FAQ and might look somewhat different if it included the Jazz and Rock data. Feel free to use this data and my graphs freely in your work. If you do, just cite me. Something like this would be nice.

Foster, P. (2005) Hip hop samples by source year. Data published at

Or cite the Sample Faq. They are the ones to thank anyway.

Here’s the data in Excel format

Last week a DJ saved my dissertation

Last week on an early morning walk through Central Sq., who should I run into but MAGNUS! (As some of you may remember from earlier posts, Magnus is the former WZBC/WMBR DJ and Boston musical Svengali who has served as an inspiration for me and so many others over the years.) Now on any morning, running into Magnus would be a rare treat (given that he currently resides in ME and rarely appears in the Bean). But on this morning, our meeting seemed to overflow with signs and portents. I had gotten up early filled with the kind of self doubt that only a week of academic job searching and dissertation wordsmithing can create. Through a series of short holdups (like lack of cash in my wallet), I was on my way back from the bank to pick up my coffee (which sat cooling on the counter at the 1369 coffee shop). As I considered my need for a complete attitude adjustment, I practically walked into Magnus.

As it happens, he had run into a similar set of small holdups and was on his way to South Station to catch a bus back to ME. As I pondered the odds of our meeting and when chance occurrences begin to seem like fate, he explained that he had had come to town to do a yearly DJ battle for the WMBR fund drive. As we stood chatting, my eyes kept drifting to the vaguely square canvas backpacks that hung heavily off his shoulders. “What you got in there, records?” I asked (only half believing that he would drag two huge sacks of records on a 5 hour bus ride from ME to play a college radio show from 2-6 AM). His elfin eyes lit up and his face broke out in a wicked smile. “Dude, dude, dude” he kept saying as he dropped his burden on a bench. “You are not gonna believe this.”

Of course, it was some of the most incredible music I had never heard. As it turns out he had assembled a pile of his most precious “skinhead ska” records for the show. It was not long before we sat at my house a few blocks away listening to one of his most precious records. Thankfully, I was able to get the pro tools rig running and ripped it as we listened. I have been listening to it obsessively since then.

Jerry Jones at the Kingston Hotel is a rare 1971 Studio One release that documents the permeable boundary between American and Jamaican music in the late 1960’s. The PK / Blood And Fire compilation Darker Than Blue: Soul from Jamdown (1973-1980) picks up the story slightly later, focusing on Jamaican versions of American funk songs and taking us up to the beginning of hip hop with the inclusion of Welton Irie’s Hotter Reggae Music.

Jerry Jones at the Kingston Hotel reflects a slightly older connection between late 1960’s Soul music and Jamaican Ska. However, the inclusion of such tracks like the classic Les McCann penned “Compared to What?” suggests the strength of the musical tributaries linking hip hop, jazz funk, soul and Jamaican music of all kinds.

Frustratingly, there is relatively little information out there about this gem of a record. While it has apparently never been re-released, some of the tracks have appeared on compilations like Studio One Soul (Soul Jazz) and Feel Like Jumping: The Best of Studio One Women (Rounder).

There is also some confusing information out there as well. For example, says that Jerry Jones at the Kingston Hotel was the alternate title of “Compared to what?” (pictured above) which they list as Studio 1 LP #SOLP 9019. They list the catalog number for Jerry Jones at the Kingston Hotel (the record I saw) as Bamboo LP #BDLPS213 1971. But this information does not match the title and catalog number of the record Magnus showed me which was Jerry Jones at the Kingston Hotel, Studio 1 LP #SOLP 9019 and had a picture of Jerry at the said hotel (as described below).

The best information I was able to find about the record appears in the liner notes of Feel Like Jumping (reposted here c/o

Jerry Jones was an American singer who had come to Jamaica to perform at a show produced by Alty East at the Regal Theater. Mr. Dodd was one of the audience members. Jerry originally hailed from Birmingham, Alabama and moved to Canton, Ohio where she performed at amateur talent shows. She started performing throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York State and as far north as Toronto and Montreal, appearing with top Motown and soul stars. In the mid sixties she moved to Miami where one of her bookings brought her to Jamaica. After Mr. Dodd saw her at the Regal, he invited her to record for Studio One, releasing a number of singles and the Jerry Jones at the Hotel Kingston album. The Hotel Kingston was located on Half Way Tree Road across from the Jamaica Telephone Company and now houses some government offices. Mr. Dodd and Alty East produced a series of shows for Jerry that were held at the hotel and which led to the title of the album, but the songs were all recorded at the studio on Brentford Road. “Compared to What” (1970) was a cover of the Les McCann and Eddie Harris collaboration that was a hit off the 1969 Swiss Movement album done for Atlantic. Jerry Jones had other Studio One releases like “Still Waters” (1970) and “Honey Come Back” (1971) that were also quite popular when released.

Other than this plurb, there is relatively little information out there on this record or on Jerry Jones herself. She appears to have been a member of the Philly soul group Brenda and the Tabulations but other than that, it is hard to find any other information about Jerry Jones on the web. Any info about her and or this record would be greatly appreciated.

I post this MP3 of Jerry Jones Side A hoping that it may encourage a rerelease of the record and generate more recognition for Jerry Jones.

Jerry Jones at the Kingston Hotel:
Side A Track List
*Common People
*There’s A Chance For Me
*Honey Come Back
*Compared To What
*Oh Me Oh My
*Let It Be

In addition to the amazing “Compared to What?”, check out the soulful skank of the next track “Oh Me Oh My” (the first one Magnus played for me). I never did pick up that coffee, but I am well on the way toward having a full first draft of the dissertation, so I guess that attitude adjustment worked after all.

Here’s the Side B Track list
*Freedom Train
*All In The Game
*Trying Times
*Hold On
*I Found That Someone
*If I Only Had Time

Thanks again Magnus.

Love is…

…mix (36 meg mp3!!!)

After a long hiatus, I am finally back on line with a revised template (thanks Becca) a flickr feed (so cool), some new online collaboration over at the Riddim Method and a new/old mix from the vault.

I had to take some time off to do a few things (like getting engaged to this gal) and getting some work done on my back (which finally caved in after years of lugging junk around)! Sorry for the long silence.

More recently, I have been planning the wedding and doing a lot of thinking about the meaning of LOVE. One of my best ruminations on the topic has to be a mix I did for Carey’s birthday just after we met. It documents the circumstances of our meeting and courtship. Its a mix about the interconnected web of dance, rhythm and LOVE that joined us. Once called the Blue Moon Tango (the “title” of an early date we had), I recently changed the name to “Love is..” when I realized that I had been trying to answer the question posed by the strange male voice in the Deee-Lite track, “What is love?” (B side from the “Groove is in the Heart” single pictured above).

The mix begins with a selection from an amazing Folkways Release called The Rhythms of the World narrated by Langston Hughes. (Some of this later appeared on a Smithsonian CD compilation called “The Voice of Langston Hughes”). Throughout the mix, I include lots of other strange spoken word (and sung) elements that ruminate on the endless connections between music, rhythm, dance and imagination. It took a fair bit of pre-production work to get all the elements together (figuring out keys and tempos and spoken word pieces) but then I basically just did it live in a couple of chunks. (As usual, I have included all the wacky blends and cuts that naturally occur when you are winging it.)

The mix itself is pretty ecclectic (including Thomas Dolby, Deee Lite, Mr. Scruff, Cheech and Chong, among others). If there is interest, I could try to recreate the track list (which somehow never got recorded). When I was working on it (Aug ’04) I was certainly thinking of the abstract side of the “experimental party” vibe made famous by my beat research colleagues and other members of the Toneburst diaspora.

I hope you like listening to it as much as I liked making it.