A story about the missing link to the beginning of the drum machine’s place in music history…
Today is a great day in the music world! The long-in-the-works book on the history of drum machines, Beat Box, has been released. It is the brainchild of Joe Mansfield, and elusive yet key figure in a lot of exciting things that have happened in hip hop history. Producer of classics like Ed O. G’s Be A Father to Your Child and I Got To Have It, Joe would go on to be a member of the Vinyl Reanimators, a production unit that maintains a cult following to this day, before founding Traffic Entertainment Group and the hottest label out there right now, Get On Down.
I met Joe when I was 19 years old and it’s a point of pride when I tell people that it was the likes of Mansfield and a few other excellent people that helped me hit my stride as a producer and arranger. I remember when he let me load up his old floppy disks into his MPC 3000 and voila, a classic beat that I was listening to on cassette in junior high would load up.
It was a couple years ago when he shared with me his plans to do a book on drum machines. I’m so happy it came out as incredible as it did. Makes part of me wish I was on the east coast right now, but alas, I’m on some “fortress of solitude” shit out in Colorado.
Since the release of the book has put drum machines on the mind of man, I figured I’d share a little story that dates back to the turn of the 60s into the 70s. In the countless press for Beat Box, I’ve seen Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On being referred to as one of if not the first commercial albums to use a drum machine, released in November 1971. A Maestro Rhythm King, at that.
But, there was … another. Take a look at this man.
Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys. Sure, he doesn’t embody hip hop, in fact he predates it. But there’s a style there, a confidence and machismo that comes through even just from a picture. Also, he’s a legendary drummer, attacking his kit a ferocity. When the band was formed, he didn’t know how to play an instrument so they stuck him on drums. In seemingly no time, you wound up with this -
Dennis was the wild man of the group, though, and some even maintain that he was accident prone. When he severely injured his hand on glass in 1970, it was a blow to the group’s sound when he was unable to play the drums for an extended period of time. It didn’t completely derail his ambitions of a solo album right away though, and it may have led to the earliest use of a drum machine on a commercial release.
December 1970. Almost a full year before Sly drops There’s a Riot Goin’ On. The Maestro Rhythm King makes it’s appearance on the Dennis Wilson & Rumbo 7″ single, Sound of Free b/w Lady, on the b-side-
Oh snap! And by the way, “Rumbo” is this guy -
The Captain from Captain & Tennille. So, did the Cap’n and his colleagues get a head start on setting the drum machine revolution off? Hmmm…
And also, check out the powerful ‘Til I Die, released on the Surf’s Up album in August ’71, still predating Sly’s release and also featuring the Maestro Rhythm King -
Anybody know of any earlier uses of a drum machine on a commercial release? While you’re chewing on that food for thought, head over to http://www.getondown.com/ to grab your copy of Beat Box: A Drum Machine Obsession!
Special thanks to Stephen W. Desper, a friend who was the engineer for The Beach Boys between ’67 and ’72. His friendships with both Dennis Wilson and The Captain (Daryl Dragon), along with his engineering notes from a lifetime ago, helped make this story possible.