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.
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 Many of these have been archived on compilations like the Light in the Attic series West Indies Funk, but to my knowledge, this one has never appeared anywhere else.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).
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.