freaks of funk
“I don’t look at all this music as if I should be worrying about why, I just worry
about why I want to do it, and something hits me about it, something hits
me in my gut, and then I find a way to get it out. And somewhere along
the way I hope to find the audience that’s gonna find it; I hope to find
something I can use to hook ’em. But if I can’t, I’ll get it out anyway.”
given the natural nostalgic biases of different generations of music
lovers, most of us can agree that there's something almost mystical about
the creative era that spans 1968 to 1975, give or take a year or two.
Something happened: It was a time when musicians felt free to explore,
smear rules, freak out, often with the encouragement of the record labels
major and minor that they worked for –– labels which eventually were bought
up and strangled by corporate octopuses who demanded higher returns for
their CEOs, shareholders and sundry other moneygrubbing meatheads.
It's the sound of that era that has long fascinated Eothen Alapatt (better
known as Egon), who as a partner at the righteous L.A. hip-hop/beyond label
Stones Throw has been involved in the label's reissuing of
numerous obscure funk, soul, hip-hop and other delights over the years,
such as The Stark Reality Discovers Hoagy Carmichael's Music Shop and 1969 albums, and The Third
Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979-1983. A
few years ago, Alepatt started his own imprint called Now-Again, to get out
the word on his most far-reaching finds in the globe-spanning sphere of
FUNK...and related items.
It's those related things –– from Ethiopia, Indonesia,
Thailand, Zambia, Nigeria, Iran, America –– that move his brain, says
Alepatt, and he's on a roll lately, with a sterling new-old batch of stuff
out on Now-Again that, taken altogether, tell a quite unusual story about,
well, a kind of funk that glues together some of the most disparate musics
that '68-'75 era spewed out, to be quickly forgotten about but now,
resurrected, sounds weirdly fresh and relevant.
Part of the pique in this kind of story is the tale of the
search itself, and how the end-product has a way of influencing the
previously indifferent culture at large. In our case here that would be the
story of one man's obsession with all things not just funky but musically free, basically, and the
ingenious lengths to which he'd go to get them heard.
Alepatt has been doing Now-Again for about eight years now.
The imprint came about when he got some seed dough and blessings from
Stones Throw boss man Peanut Butter Wolf to get things kick-started.
"I'd just started at Stones Throw, and we had just put
out The Funky
16 Corners compilation, which had gotten a good amount of coverage –– NPR did a big
feature on it, and all the right magazines were reviewing it, and we were
actually selling really well for a funk compilation. We were licensing the
hell out of it for TV shows, and it was like the one thing in the Stones
Throw catalogue that people were licensing. Back then I didn't realize how
important that was, because we were still making money selling records, and
we all thought that if we had the right hip-hop record we'd sell a hundred
quite. But Egon did have a lot of old records he wanted to put out, so he
had a little talk with Stones Throw kingpin Peanut Butter Wolf.
said, ‘I have a bunch of records I want to reissue, and the shit that I
like you don't necessarily like. So what am I gonna do?'"
answered his own question by coming up with a plan with Wolf to start
Now-Again, which would be distributed through Stones Throw; since Egon
didn't have the money to fund the enterprise, Wolf gave him a little
startup dosh deriving from one of the licenses that Stones Throw had coming
in, and Egon agreed that if Now-Again ever went into the red, he'd cut
Stones Throw a check; all he needed was a little time to get the label off
Now-Again scored some license money off a placement in Sex and the City from a track by New Orleans
funk band Ernie & the Top Notes from The Funky 16 Corners, Wolf cut Egon in on the
Stones Throw side and told him to go start his thing; within a year Egon
had it going strong enough that he wasn't losing money, and within a couple
of years it was doing quite well. "I was not making money money," he says,
"but I was getting to the point where I was dealing with things like
the L.A. Carnival getting sampled by Janet Jackson."
might cogitate on exactly how Janet Jackson would have gotten hold of this
obscure track by the Midwest funk crew of the mid '70s, which appeared on
Now-Again's The L.A. Carnival Would Like To Pose a Question album.
"For the life of us, none of us could
figure it out," says Alepatt. "We had made only 2,000 copies of
that CD, less of the LP, and we had done the timeline, and they would've
had to buy the CD as soon as it came out, and sampled it and made a beat
and then turned it around. It was some third party that [Jackson's
producers] Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis were subbing out work to who actually
made the beat and then gave it to them, and they gave it to Janet."
The upshot was that Janet Jackson's people had not cleared
the sample, and Alepatt, with the aid of a sympathetic pro bono lawyer, was
able to negotiate a settlement after the fact, and it was real good one, enough for him to
pay down some bills he had for Now-Again and to get things rolling for the
right, that's some of the bare-bones biz background on the estimable
Now-Again label. The point of all the above industry stuff is that we all
can take big inspiration from this picture of a young man feverishly in
love with music, who not only likes the way it sounds but recognizes that
there's an interesting bit of archaeology that gets unearthed when you dig
it out in moldy crypts worldwide. Like the Kashmere Stage Band, for
example, a high-school group from Houston circa late '60s to mid-'70s whose
Texas Thunder Soul sold beaucoup
numbers for Now-Again. Sometimes Alepatt's had to go to extreme lengths to
convince the original musicians that a reissue of their music would be a
a moment with all these musicians," he says, "where they give up
or they move on to something else, or they otherwise shelve whatever it was
that they had put their heart and soul into. And it's not like I can call
up a guy or show up at his doorstep –– although I've done that many times,
too - and say, Hey, I love your music, let me reissue it. Sometimes it
Somewhere along the line, Egon got to feeling that that
there was some kind of link between the hip-hop, soul and classic funk
stuff of that magical ‘68-‘75 time with the obscure psychedelia of garage
bands and musicians from the same era. In the last couple of months, Now-Again
has come out with some amazing finds, including the multinational
psychedelia of Forge Your Own Chains: Heavy Psychedelic Ballads and
Dirges 1968-1974; Black Man's
Cry: The Inspiration of Fela Kuti; The Whitefield Brothers' extraordinary Earthology; and Ethiopium, Oh No's hip-hop tracks
inspired by rare '60s and '70s Ethiopian funk, jazz and psychedelic rock.
With each release Alepatt seems to be drawing closer to cracking the funk
code. It's a lifelong search, and he's only just begun.
"This last week," he says, "I had a license
go to a '70s psychedelic rock band in Zambia called Witch who did a song
called ‘We Intend To Cause Havoc’ in the early '70s; a license going to a
guy in Vegas; a license going to a guy in Texas; finalizing a deal with
Kourosh Yaghmaei in Iran; three or four licenses in Nigeria, and a couple
of things going on in Indonesia."
So what is he looking for? What is it that's tying all these
"I always had a focus on a certain era of music that I
liked, and that was this '68 through '75 or '76 thing, when funk first came
in. James Brown was of course the godfather of it all –– that shit just
spread like wildfire and it hit everybody, and everybody did their own take
on it. I just wanted to go in and figure out what happened when funk hit,
and when funk hit psychedelic rock, what happened when funk hit jazz, what
happened in Ethiopia?
wanted to find the answer to all that. And I wasn't just limiting myself to
the independent side of the spectrum; I was really interested in the
major-label side, too. Like David Axelrod's shit out here, for instance,
that to me is some of the pinnacle: a guy who loved funk, loved classical
music, loved Third Stream music, loved jazz, was tripping out on William
Blake and decided to do a couple of records based on his poetry! I mean,
masterpieces and iconic records, sprung in a lot of ways from funk music.
If you see the angle that I've always taken, it's always been on some funky-type shit."