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Banbarra Unmasked

shack-up

Back in 1975 a single appeared on the United Artists label in the US by a new band called Banbarra, entitled ‘Shack Up’. It addressed one of the burning issues of the day, something that had been highlighted during the sexual revolution of the ’60s – co-habiting with a partner outside of wedlock, or what was more commonly referred to as ‘living in sin’.

With the institution of marriage breaking down, the wisdom of committing yourself to another person, without having first spent a period of time living together, to find out if you’re compatible before tying the knot, was now seriously in question. A moral debate ensued between the younger generation, who had become increasingly in favour of shacking up first and marrying later, and the ‘traditional values’ of their parents, many of whom still believed that sex outside of marriage was shameful.

This all sounds pretty tame by today’s standards, but it’s not the subject matter that’s kept this record fresh for over 30 years (over 40 now), it’s the seriously funky groove that marks it out as a classic of the genre. ‘Shack Up’ is indeed one of the great Funk singles, with Banbarra set for big things following this outstanding release.

But then…absolutely nothing.

How can a band release such a brilliant track, but never follow it up? This is a question that I always found puzzling. I’d probably have never had an answer, but over recent years I’ve seen ‘Shack Up’ discussed on various DJ / music forums I post on, with people asking what else they recorded. One of these was DJ History, the website set up by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, the authors of the book ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’, with Bill starting a thread asking if anyone knew what happened to Banbarra. One of the replies was posted by DJ Duckcomb from New York, who said that he’d been speaking to Martin Moscrop of the cult Manchester band A Certain Ratio, while they were both deejaying in NYC. Martin had mentioned that he had a contact with regards to Banbarra – ACR’s best-known single, of course, being a cover of ‘Shack Up’. Duckcomb’s post ended ‘if nothing else, somebody should interview them, I’m sure it’s a fascinating story’.

Singer Wesley Aydlett-photo courtesy of Kemp Massengil

I decided to follow up this lead. I know Martin Moscrop from way back, when he used to come to my nights at Legend in Manchester during the early ’80s with some of the other guys from ACR. We’d recently made contact again, following my return to deejaying, so I emailed him about Banbarra and he was able to put me in touch with Bill Tate from Avalanche Music, who published the record.

I never heard back from Bill directly, but, instead, received an email from Kemp Massengill (aka Cotter Wells), his partner at Avalanche, who, I was thrilled to discover, was the lead producer of the record, working alongside Bill (credited on the label under their company name, Mantis Recs) and another co-producer, Lance Quinn, at Track Recorders in Washington, D.C.

Over a series of emails, the story began to unravel. Kemp recalled “I had the privilege of working on this song back in 1975. It was a fun session, with the arrangement done by a very talented person, Moe Daniels (credited as Daniel), who wrote the track with Joe ‘Bunny’ Carter, and also played keyboard. We then licensed it to United Artists, which was purchased by EMI. No follow-up records were recorded, because the ‘intermediary’ who did the deal with U.A. took all but the basic minimum of the front money. We were given just enough to pay the musicians, which I recall was $135 each. The remainder was actually quite a bit, enough to buy a house (maybe not a mansion, but, nevertheless, a house!), leaving us with nothing to continue forward”.

However, despite this, Kemp is philosophical about the situation. The music business is, of course, rife with tales of, as he puts it “the parasites feeding off the creatives”, and, with this in mind, he feels that naming the intermediary, who is no longer alive, would serve no purpose; “It’s water under the bridge at this stage – all that was 31 years ago, which is 2 generations in 90% of the world”. Instead he prefers to concentrate on the positive aspects of the story, celebrating, rather than lamenting, a wonderful record.

Opened in 1970 by Kemp, Bill and Jim Sennott, Track Recorders was also the setting for another bona fide Funk classic recorded a few years earlier, in 1972, with Kemp (under his Cotter Wells moniker) once again the lead producer on the session, working with Bill Tate and engineer, Cory Pearson. This was ‘(I Got) So Much Trouble In My Mind’ by Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul, which, in Kemp’s words “captures the ‘angst’ of the ghetto at that time”. Quarterman, from Washington, D.C., wrote, arranged and co-produced the track, which resulted in an album for the small GFS label. Following this, he signed to Mercury records, releasing a couple more singles for the company before dropping out of the music business altogether, to return to college, where he’d gain a degree in architecture. Nowadays, although an architect by day, he still performs regularly at night, with Kemp describing him as “just as outstanding in all ways – as a musician and as a person”. The track has reached a new audience during recent times, as part of the Grand Theft Auto San Andreas soundtrack.

Producer Kemp Massengil-photo courtesy of Kemp Massengil

Kemp and Bill would sell Track Recorders in 1978, with the studio eventually closing in 1990. Other artists who recorded there included The Ramones, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Billy Preston, but it’s the Banbarra and Sir Joe sessions that Kemp looks back on with the most satisfaction, although not without a tinge of regret. Reflecting on the lasting impact of these 2 crucial Funk sides, he admits that opportunities may have been missed; “We should have recorded nothing but great feeling funky music, but Bill Tate and I were very confused dudes; we were absolutely clueless about just about everything! And you can quote me on that, Greg. We would run around the country, recording in New York and LA, which was idiotic, because, between Joe Quarterman and Moe Daniels, the talent was right here!”

‘Shack Up’ actually started out as an instrumental piece that Moe had written called ‘Boogie On The Other Side Of Town’. His friend, Joe ‘Bunny’ Carter then wrote the words to ‘Shack Up’, suggesting they’d work with Moe’s backing track, but Moe was unsure of whether or not the subject matter might be a bit too suggestive for the time. Bunny and Moe bounced the idea off Bill and Kemp, who thought it was a winning combination, so Moe put aside any doubts and went for it wholeheartedly; “I told Bunny that it was the kind of lyrics that was ahead of it’s time, and that it would really play big about 10 years after we recorded it. Bill and Kemp took a chance on it and the rest is history. Classic tunes are not written; they’re born”.

Kemp split his time between the studio and his daytime occupation, working as a medical doctor for the OEO (Office of Economic Opportunity) at the West Baltimore Health Centre. This is how he’d come to meet Bunny, via one of the people there who was related to him. Kemp takes up the story; “I went over to Bunny’s house and he sang ‘Shack Up’ a cappella and I really liked the feel that he put into the song. Bunny said that he had a friend who was a good musician and arranger. That friend was Moe. I never heard ‘Boogie On the Other Side of Town’. I had no concept whatsoever about what Moe could do. All I heard was Bunny singing the song, and I took Bunny’s word for it that Moe was good”.

Kemp remembers the studio session, which took place sometime in the early months of 1975; “’Shack Up’ was recorded at Track one Saturday through a Neve 1073 console (the 3rd Neve console in America) onto a 3M 16-track machine, using primarily Neuman U-87 mikes. When we got the 16 track, we had Dolby A on every channel. We recorded ‘Shack Up’, I think, at 30 ips, with Dolby A. Many people hated Dolby. By the way, just yesterday I drove past the Dolby Building in Burbank – smart guy!”

-photo courtesy of Kemp Massengil

The whole thing was cut in one day, except for the lead vocal and some incidentals. On the following Tuesday, Bunny came into Track to record the vocal. Kemp was blown away; “Bill and I were the only other ones in the studio. It was absolutely fantastic! I told Bill, this is it, Bill. This is a hit record!”

However, there was a problem. Kemp and Bill felt that this could become a long-term project, but had serious reservations when it came to Bunny as a front man. In summing up Bunny at this time, Kemp explained; “He was a live wire, to say the least, and not ready to be serious”. He was also planning a move to Chicago, which didn’t tie-in with what Kemp and Bill had in mind. They felt the project would be better served by someone more reliable, who would be close at hand, so they made the extremely tricky decision of bringing in a different vocalist to record ‘Shack Up’; “Bunny’s vocal was absolutely original – but Bunny was not someone you could build a career for – not until after he went to Chicago would this have been possible. He was absolutely a wild man. When he was singing, he was literally bouncing around, and his voice was bouncing around.  It was truly unique!  We recorded a lot of people, and I have never seen such bouncing around.  Maybe that is why they called him Bunny!”

The following week, Wesley Adylett turned up at the studio. Wesley was a friend of Kemp’s who, like Bunny, he’d met via his day job in Baltimore. As far as Kemp is aware, Wesley and Bunny never met. Kemp recalls; “I first heard Wesley sing when another friend of mine said there was this really good blues singer whom he wanted me to hear.  So, we went to Wesley’s house, and it was a real experience.  Again, what amazed me is how good Wes sounded and how well he played the piano, especially with so many keys missing. I play piano, but I could hardly play this one because of the missing non-functional keys.  This did not bother Wes at all”.

It wasn’t a keyboard player that was needed for ‘Shack Up’, Moe Daniels expertly filled this role, but a vocalist who could turn in a performance that was on a par with Bunny’s. Wesley was up to the challenge. He learned the song in the studio and put the vocal to tape in just a couple of takes, capturing the spontaneity Kemp and Bill were after. Kemp explained the differences between the two vocalists; “Bunny’s singing was ‘jumpy’ and Wes’s singing was smooth – just different styles. Bunny sounded exactly like his name – like he was hopping around with his voice. It was very, very unusual, and very hip.  Wes’s is hip, but in a smoother way”.

The fact that Wesley’s vocal appeared on the final version didn’t go down well with Bunny. Moe Daniels remembers; “Joe wanted to sing ‘Shack Up’ but Wes’s voice was a better model for the tune and I think Joe didn’t like that at all”. Unfortunately, there were no rough mixes run off of the track with Bunny’s vocal, which was recorded over to make room for Wesley’s takes.

“The record was made by all black musicians, except Lance Quinn, and the recording engineering and the mix were done by white guys. This harmony is sometimes lost in today’s music scene, unfortunately”, Kemp relates. However there was little harmony when it came to how loud the kick drum should be in the mix. The staff at Track felt it was too loud, but Kemp disagreed; “I did the mix in about 2 hours on a Friday morning, and the kick was left at a loud volume. There was a lot of complaining about this”. Arguing that it was “relentlessly driving the song”, Kemp finally got his own way; “This is why this record was such a big club hit. The kick is just as solid as you will ever hear anywhere, as it is exactly in time with the bass. It will tear apart a pair of speakers if you’re not careful!”

Sir Joe Quarterman and Free Soul -photo courtesy of Joe Quarterman

The United Artists agreement was then negotiated via the un-named ‘intermediary’ (who’d previously had dealings with Sir Joe Quarterman) and ‘Shack Up’ was eventually issued as a single in the US towards the end of 1975. The name Banbarra was adapted by Kemp, who had an African mask collection, with several banbara (or to use the precise word, bambara) masks from Mali.

‘Shack Up’ opens with Lance Quinn’s memorable guitar riff. Kemp and Bill had met Quinn when he was in Track, working on the controversial Jimi Hendrix tapes, which would result in 2 posthumous albums, ‘Crash Landing’ and ‘Midnight Lightening’ (Lance added some additional guitar). Quinn was already building a name for himself as a session musician of some repute in the fast-growing field of Disco music, having appeared on Gloria Gaynor’s seminal album, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and Carol Douglas’s hit, ‘Doctor’s Orders’. He’d later record for the likes of Grace Jones, Jimmy McGriff, Marlena Shaw, Dave Matthews, Bionic Boogie and Meco. However, he’d become best known as a producer, working alongside Tony Bongiovi, of Power Station fame, who was an early client at Track and had co-produced the Hendrix sessions there. Their credits include the debut album by Talking Heads, ‘Talking Heads ‘77’, which featured the band’s cult classic breakthrough single ‘Psycho Killer’. They’d later work extensively with Bon Jovi (Jon Bon Jovi being Tony Bongiovi’s cousin). In contrast, Quinn would also produce TK artists, Joe Thomas and Lonnie Smith, whilst co-arranging the B. Baker Chocolate Co album, as well as going on to co-produce and arrange with Meco. Amongst other recordings, Meco Monardo had produced the aforementioned Gloria Gaynor album (along with Tony Bongiovi and Jay Ellis), as well as the Carol Douglas sessions that Quinn played on, but would later become forever associated with his Disco arrangements of movie soundtracks, especially the best-selling ‘Star Wars And Other Galactic Funk’).

Later down the line, Quinn is said to have become very disenchanted with the dishonesty of the music business, feeling that he was not being paid by various parties on projects he’d worked on. Kemp told me that he now lives in Florida, travelling regularly to Spain, where he studies flamenco guitar in Seville. In the aftermath of ‘Shack Up’, Lance’s relationship with Kemp and Bill was unfortunately soured, “Lance felt that we never split any of the production royalties, but we never got any production royalties”.

Whilst Lance Quinn would forge a highly successful career as musician / arranger / producer, Banbarra’s bassist, Steve Moody, and drummer, John Cannon, friends of Moe’s who he knew from playing in bands on the local scene in Baltimore, would never gain a foothold in the music business. Moe told me “John was a family man and worked for a power company. Steve moved to California and pursued a career in computers. I don’t know what either of them are doing now”.

Had someone not walked away with the money, who knows what this one-off kick-ass rhythm section of Cannon, Moody and Quinn might have achieved on subsequent recordings together. Cannon’s instantly recognisable drum solo has been exhaustively sampled over the years, but, alas, we can only imagine what these guys might have been capable of had things turned out differently.

Public Enemy - Del La Soul - Stetsasonic

The-Breaks.com website lists a number of Hip Hop acts who’ve sampled these beats, including Public Enemy, De La Soul, Stetsasonic, DJ Quik, GangStarr, Chubb Rock and 3rd Bass. In 2003, Virgin’s ‘The Best Of Sampled’ compilation, included ‘Shack Up’, listing ‘Gett Off’ by Prince, as the track on which it features.

Neither Kemp or Moe can remember the names of people who played trumpet and saxophone, or the sassy Baltimore girls whose distinctive ‘haaaah’ provides an integral part of the track’s vibe. However, the whistle that announces the drum break was blown by Kemp, in homage to Kool & The Gang’s ‘Funky Stuff’.

Although ‘Shack Up’ would eventually be acknowledged as a Funk standard, its US release passed without much fanfare – the record, incredibly, failed to even make the Top 100 of Billboard’s R&B chart. With the Disco era gaining momentum, Funk was no longer the force it had been in previous years and, although a club hit in Los Angeles, the more influential New York DJs failed to pick up on it. Along the East Coast in Washington, Kemp can’t remember much about it coming out; “We were kept in the dark about the release, so I had no reaction. The first that I knew about it was that it was on TV showing a nightclub in the Montreal Olympics of 1976, and there was ‘Shack Up’ in the background, with all these people just dancing away. I was amazed!” But that was pretty much the extent of any buzz Kemp would experience; “If a release comes out and we are not told but are kept in mushroom mode, there is no way (logically) to enjoy that release, since we know nothing about it in the first place. I mean – how can anyone enjoy something they know nothing about!  If you won a lottery and no one ever told you, and you were completely oblivious – how could you be other than “enjoyment-neutral.” Also, I had begun my Ophthalmology residency, and I was really busy in medicine – no time at all.”

Given the general indifference to its release in the US, ‘Shack Up’ would probably never have been issued in the UK without the support of the specialist Funk DJs up and down the country, who’d picked up on import copies of the single. In June ’76 it appeared on United Artists, gaining a five star review in Blues & Soul magazine, then the most influential publication in the country for black music enthusiasts. The review read;

Though not an American success story, this hard-hitting and repetitive hunk of funk had been one of British discoland’s most played and sought after items of the past few months. Solid rhythm is non-stop and whilst there is no real melody, the chant style vocal is extremely effective. Brassy accompaniment is ideally suited to British disco taste and this could be another R&B record that sells well enough to sneak into the pop listings. Definitely recommended to bring any wake to life.

Although it never quite made it onto the British chart, it became a big club track, not only on the specialist scene, but also with some of the more adventurous mainstream DJs, who’d play it alongside classic records by the most popular Funk artists, like Kool & The Gang, the Ohio Players, the Fatback Band and, of course, James Brown. Within no time it was right up there as a Funk essential and, consequently, has continued to be played by DJs in the UK ever since.

18 years on, in a letter to Avalanche, the Managing Director of Sony Music in Britain would wax lyrical about its legacy as ‘highly revered’ and ‘one of the classic songs which was at the centre of the early UK club scene’.

However, just as many, if not more people, both in the UK and the US, would have first heard the version of ‘Shack Up’ by A Certain Ratio, whose early ’80s cover of the track brought it to the attention of a new audience.

A Certain Ratio-photo courtesy of A Certain Ratio

In 1979, ACR’s Simon Topping forked out 20p for a copy of the Banbarra single from Yanks records in Manchester city centre, which specialised in US ‘cutouts’ (surplus stock of old titles, which had been imported into the UK at bargain basement prices). The fledgling band, who were previously drummerless, had only just added Donald Johnson to their line-up. Johnson helped transform ACR, giving them a funkier edge, and ‘Shack Up’, as Martin Moscrop explained, seemed an ideal track for the band to cover; “When we heard ‘Shack Up’ we thought that we could play that, because it was so simple and we were not really musicians yet. The guitar and bass were really straightforward and the vocal didn’t sound odd coming from a white boy. It also had a 2 note brass riff, and me and Simon had just started playing trumpet in the band. It just seemed to fit like a glove”.

In May 1980, they recorded it onto 4-track at Graveyard Studios in nearby Prestwich, for the total cost of just £50. This would be released as a single on Factory Benelux in August. The following month they travelled to the US to support New Order on their first US tour, taking time out to record their debut album in East Orange, New Jersey, with legendary British producer, Martin Hannett (this album, ‘To Each…’, didn’t include ‘Shack Up’, which would eventually appear on their second album, ‘Sextet’, in 1981).

ACR fitted perfectly into the Punk-Funk vibe that was big on the New York underground at the time and, in February 1981, ‘Shack Up’ entered the Billboard dance chart, eventually peaking at number 46, which was quite a feat considering the single was only available on import. They’d subsequently appear at a number of the top NY club venues of the era, including a memorable night at Danceteria, where they were supported by Madonna, who was making her live debut.

Banbarra - Shack Up

Re-released in the UK on A&M in 1990 and Creation in 1994, with remixes by Norman Cook (pre Fatboy Slim) and Electronic (Bernard Sumner of New Order and Johnny Marr, formerly of The Smiths), ACR’s ‘Shack Up’ is regarded as one of the quintessential Manchester singles. Although Factory Records folded many years ago, it’s legacy lives on, and the continuing fascination with this seminal British ‘indie’ label, and all things Manchester, has helped bring the song to the attention of a another generation. It was only following the Creation release that Kemp and Bill became aware of A Certain Ratio’s version, enabling Avalanche to pursue some of the outstanding publishing royalties, to which they were entitled.

In 2002, the Soul Jazz ACR retrospective, ‘Early’, including ‘Shack Up’, was released, whilst it also featured as the opening track on another Soul Jazz compilation that year, ‘In The Beginning There Was Rhythm’, which focused on Punk influenced British bands who’d embraced dance music. The sleevenotes to this album wrongly assumed that ‘Shack Up’ was a track that had become known in this country via the Northern Soul scene, which was where you’d hear retrospective ’60s Soul rarities, as opposed to contemporary Funk releases, back in the ’70s.

As with the musicians and producers of the original version, A Certain Ratio didn’t reap any financial rewards. “We were shafted as well with ‘Shack Up’” Moscrop points out, “we never saw a penny at the time, although we have licensed it to a lot of compilations in the last few years, so we did eventually get something back from our recording”.

Various Breaks & Beats

Back in the US, during the ’80s, Banbarra’s ‘Shack Up’ was featured on a number of unofficial ‘breaks’ compilations, most notably on Volume 5 of the hugely influential ‘Ultimate Breaks And Beats’ series, which included the instrumental ‘Shack Up Part II’ (featuring Lance Quinn’s guitar solo). These albums were regarded as essential by Hip Hop DJs, with a vast amount of people being first exposed to ‘Shack Up’ via these bootlegs.

Moe Daniels is unsurprised at the tracks staying power; “I feel the way I felt then about it – I knew that if it would be heard it would be loved”. Moe’s own impressive career has shown a similar level of endurance. Over the years he’s recorded or performed with a veritable who’s who of Soul and Jazz artists, including Isaac Hayes, George Duke, Roy Ayers, Anita Baker, Billy Paul, Lonnie Smith, Lonnie Liston Smith, Norman Connors, Michael Henderson, Cherrelle, Ray Parker, The Emotions, The Spinners and Jean Carne.

During recent times Moe has set up Swing City Records in Baltimore, releasing the Moe Daniels True Hearts Project album, ‘Dedication’ in 2002. The following year he wrote or co-wrote three of the songs on Najee’s ‘Embrace’ album. He continues to work with Najee, as well as other musicians, and is currently recording new material.

Keyboardist Moe Daniels-photo courtesy of Moe Daniels

There might even be another ‘Shack Up’ hidden away somewhere in the vaults. Moe revealed; “I wrote other songs with Bunny, but haven’t recorded them professionally. I may record them in the future. Bunny wrote a lot of tunes about social issues and how people deal with new challenges”.

Joe ‘Bunny’ Carter died on January 2nd 2003, aged just 51, leaving a wife and two children. Remarkably, he was commended by the Legislature of the State of Georgia following his death, under his full name, Joseph Anthony Carter. Kemp explains; “That commendation is really something!  What is going on is that the first Bunny Carter was the one living in Baltimore, who really was a product of the ‘ghetto’ in its deepest core. This Bunny was irrepressible and not what you might call very reliable – there is no telling how he would have ended up. Then, for some reason, Bunny went to Chicago to work with Rev. Jesse Jackson for Operation Push / The Rainbow Coalition, and other change-producing organizations, and it was like a Saul/Paul conversation, as if he had been struck by lightning. Bunny Carter metamorphosized himself into Joseph Anthony Carter, an extremely hard-working, religious, and exceptionally responsible human being and agent of change for the Black community, where he became a true leader and loving family man who was loved and respected by all. That is what happened. I must say that it is absolutely amazing, especially if you knew the first Bunny Carter. I cannot imagine the later incarnation, namely, Joseph Anthony Carter, writing ‘Shack Up’, but, for Bunny Carter, in the earlier incarnation, it was a snap”. Avalanche now pay his royalties to his mother, who still lives in Baltimore.

Kemp, who nowadays runs a medical device company, and continues to record part-time, last spoke to Bunny on the telephone shortly before his death, to inform him that Avalanche had collected some royalties on his behalf; “We spoke for about 30 minutes. He was in Atlanta. He said that no one had called him Bunny in over 20 years. He was still overflowing in energy, and even began singing over the phone!”

Whilst we can finally answer the question of ‘whatever happened to Banbarra’, the whereabouts of Wesley Aydlett remain unknown. Kemp has been trying to track him down for a number of years, but to no avail. Avalanche have been holding royalties for him for a long time; “It’s not a great deal of money, but we do want him to have it”.

Having been something of a mystery for so long, maybe it’s fitting that ‘Shack Up’ still retains a few of its secrets.

Wax Poetics - James Brown
First published in Wax Poetics 2006:
http://www.waxpoetics.com/

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One Response to Banbarra Unmasked

  1. Sibel Lagerdahl December 26, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

    Very interesting article Greg. Thanks for sharing.

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