Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra – Theme from S.W.A.T.

Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra - Theme from S.W.A.T.

Perhaps the most precious experience for a record junkie is finding a grail record that you never knew existed. That’s just what happened to me last week as I was preparing the MagnuSoul Mix Volume 1. Being a Boston native with a love of funk, breaks, Caribbean records, and groovy 60s and 70’s TV and movie themes like S.W.A.T. and Shaft, finding a local record that pulls all those things together was beyond even my wildest dreams.

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Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra – Theme from S.W.A.T.

This version of the S.W.A.T. theme (originally recorded by Rhythm Heritage and famously sampled by L.L. Cool J for “I’m Bad”) is clearly part of a tradition of steel band covers of popular soul, funk and R&B songs. Many of these have been archived on compilations like the Light in the Attic series West Indies Funk, but to my knowledge, this one has never appeared anywhere else.

Indeed, there is remarkably little on the web (or local print media) about The Boston Silver Stars Steel Orchestra. The record lists Kelvin Griffith as its Captain, which I assume means musical director (though I must say that mysterious nautical/aerospace phrasing only adds to the record’s appeal for me). The record was released in 1976 (during the height of the short lived S.W.A.T. show) on what seems like a local label (Roots Records 01), although no address is provided so its hard to be sure. These cats were clearly incredibly talented musicians and I love that they paired the fuzzy, funky, low brow kitsch of the oft-versioned S.W.A.T. theme with the ultimate highbrow of a Beethoven violin concerto. The levels of genre blending run deep on this one, but apparently, this was part of their act.

According to the folks over at Boston Carnival Village Kelvin Griffith was involved in the Boston Carnival from its second year in 1974. I was also able to find a small article about the group in, of all places, Mass Media, the student newspaper at my very own UMASS Boston! According to the very hard to read digital text, the band was made up of a dozen or so Trinidadians ranging in age from 12 to 32 playing “a little bit of everything – tunes by KC and the Sunshine Band, Mozart, Sousa, and Stevie Wonder, as well as some current West Indian hits”. The inclusion of the Beethoven B side is apparently not some kitschy recording trick as much as an accurate reflection of their diverse live sets.

The fact that the only printed information I can find on this group comes from my own college paper is just the kind of coincidence that makes even the most rabidly atheist among us believe in vinyl forces beyond our control. Indeed, it is rare to meet a real record junkie who does not practice some form of animism (whether publicly or privately).

Mass Media 4-24-79

My buddy Rob believes he used to hear this group in Harvard Sq. back in the 70’s and 80s but has no recent info about them. I would love to hear from anyone else who remembers them or knows where any of the members are now. More and more, I dream of a proper record label to re-release local gems like this! Maybe some day. But for now, I hope you enjoy my humble digital offerings here.

MagnuSoul 45s Vol. 1 – Hot Pants Monkey Dance (Mama Don’t Allow No)

MagnuSoul45s_Vol1

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MagnuSoul45s Vol.1

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of Magnus mixes. I’ll be saying more about all this as soon as I can get my head around it and talk more about the plans for his record (and other) collections. The short version is that on Memorial Day weekend 2013, Brian Coleman and I went on an epic mission to get the remainder of our dear friend’s record collection. That Sunday evening, a group of his friends (many of whom remain active in local college radio!) gathered to begin sorting, organizing, and marveling at his legendary taste.

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Close

This whole process reaffirmed my core idea that (certain? all?) record collections represent important cultural documents that are worthy of preservation as collections, and reminded me how quickly all these high falutin’ ideas turn into matters of boxes, brute force, and storage space. It also reminded me how records, and record collections, bring people together in a way that digital media just don’t (no, not talking about dance floors here, you know what I mean). As we all sat in the piles and sorted our friend’s records together, we shared (mostly musical) stories about him, marveled at the choices he seemed to have made, and in the process, discovered new connections and paths through places and times we shared with him. As we discussed how (and where) to preserve and continue to share his amazing spirit and musical collection, we agreed that a series of Magnus mixes would be the best way to get started. So that’s just what I have done.

MagnuSoul45s Vol.1 All

One of the greatest things about getting to know his record collection has been realizing how much he loved funk, soul and R&B (especially female fronted northern soul groups). Although this is not that surprising given everything else he liked, we literally never discussed this side of his tastes, spending most of our time on classic rap, world, reggae, jungle, trip hop, electronica, etc. It has been great to get to know this side of him and to continue learning amazing new tunes from him. It’s almost like he were here with me, and in a way, he is. A record collection like this is a great teacher even without a proper tour guide.

As I sorted 45s over the last few weeks, I seemed to keep digging up dance tracks about monkeys, hot pants, funky worms, and family. So I threw em all together in a summer soul 45 mix I call Hot Pants Monkey Dance (Mama Don’t Allow No). Like all my mixes, it’s a crazy quilt with many threads cross cutting it in various directions. But mostly, its just a funky ass soul/funk 45 mix fresh for Summer 2013 c/o our friend Magnus. I hope it heats up your barbecues, beach trips and rec rooms this summer.

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Funky Worm

TRACKLIST

Ohio Players – Funky Worm
Reparata and the Delrons – Mama Don’t Allow
Shirley Ellis – The Clapping Song (clap Pat Clap Slap)
Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata
Les Tres Femmes – Listen to Your Mama

MagnuSoul45s Vol1Listen to Your Mama

Norma and the Heartaches – Hot Pants
Ohio Players – Skin Tight
Calhoon – (Do You Wanna) Dance Dance Dance
Bettye Scott and the Del-Vetts – Down, Down, Down
Cameo – Just Be Yourself
Michael LeGrair – Hustle on Down (Pt. 2)

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Hustle on Down

Otis Redding – Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag
The T.S.U. Toronadoes – Getting the Corners
The Barkays – Son of Shaft
The Beginning of the End – Monkey Tamarind
Les Cooper andd the Soul Rockers – Let’s do the Boston Monkey

MagnuSoul45s Vol1 Let's Do The Boston Monkey

MagnuSoul45s Monkey Tamarind