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Now-Again record

Forgotten foreign freaks of funk

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Now-Again record

“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.”
–– Egon

Even 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.

Now-Again LP

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 thousand units."

Now-Again Records

Not 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.

"I 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?'"

Egon 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 the ground.

When 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."

One 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 label.

Now-Again Records

All 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 good thing.

"There's 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 takes years."

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 things together?

"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?

"I 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."