When I was a youngster first discovering the wide world of music the thing that most grabbed my attention was the drums, particularly the part in a song when it’s just the drums that I later discovered was called the drum break or the simply the break for short.
Now there are millions, probably billions or trillions, of drum breaks out there but there’s one very special one that anyone who has even a passing interest in rap, jungle, hip-hop, drum and bass. breakbeat, hardcore or acid will know and cherish and that’s the one they call the Amen break.
It takes its name from the track it appears in: Amen, Brother recorded by The Winstons in 1969 and was the B-side to Color Him Father (listen to the track below, the magic happens at 1:26).
The Winstons were a 1960s funk band consisting of six members, some white and some black which I imagine was pretty progressive for the time and I believe goes some way to explaining their demise because they couldn’t get gigs in predominantly white or black venues.
Their back-catalogue isn’t particularly remarkable and they came and went without too many tears being shed but what they did leave behind was a seven second drum solo, played by drummer Gregory Coleman, that when samplers arrived in the 1980s became one of the most sampled drum loops of all time – the website Who Sampled currently shows the Amen break appearing in no fewer than 1570 songs!
What’s interesting about this tale, and rather sad, is that The Winstons never saw a penny in royalties from any of the tracks that sampled and used their drum break and let’s face it, most that did do so in such a way that if you take the break away there’s not much left, for example would N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton be the same without it? Would We Are I E by Lennie De Ice be the same? Or imagine Renegade's (aka Ray Keith) Terrorist without the Amen.
To someone who loves each of those tracks it doesn’t bear thinking about so it’s a crying shame that The Winstons didn’t see any financial reward for what they’ve given to music, especially as their drumming didn't just help create a few good tracks, it created entire genres of music and musical subcultures.
Now this is where the story takes a turn for the better. After hearing a BBC Radio1Xtra piece on the Amen break and how The Winstons had never earned a penny from it music fan and all-round good guy Martyn Webster decided to start a Go Fund Me campaign: The Winstons Amen Breakbeat Gesture inspired by band leader Richard Spencer’s comment that it would be nice if people would “do the right thing” by giving something back by way of a small donation.
The initial target was to collect £1,000 that could be sent to the surviving members of The Winstons or relatives of those that have passed away as a thank you from musicians and music fans alike but that target was quickly surpassed as the campaign gathered momentum and as of today the current total sits at £22,847 or $33,722 US Dollars.
The success pretty much sums up everything I love about the generosity of strangers, the wonder that is music that makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up and the brilliance of the internet at mobilising people behind a fantastic and worthy cause. Amen to that!