In 1970 a musical phenomenon would begin to form that would change music history forever. The Polydor years are Mandrill's formative years. Carlos, Lou and Ric Wilson, Claude Coffee Cave, Omar Mesa, Bundie Cenac, Charlie Padro, Fudgie Kae, Neftali Santiago and Doug Rodrigues.
The Mandrill sound took all ten members to create. Much props have to be given to the Wilson brothers for not wanting to be "The Wilson Brothers Band" but actually be a part of a band. A band that voted on group decisions. One that shared equally. One that would be it's own family, "The Every Growing Mandrill Family".
The Mandrill sound evolved very quickly with each Polydor album. There was a clear focus to keep evolving musically into a band sound that would be our own. One that would captivate the world. Any music after the Polydor Years failed to produce the success Mandrill had on Polydor.
On the first three albums you hear the sound evolve. Charlie coming up with the "Mandrill" drum beat very cool! The band still opens every show with "Mandrill". Bundie was great for the first album. His bass on "Rolling On", "Peace and Love", "Chutney" was brilliant! Well, Off went Bundie after the first album, he didn't really believe the band was going to go very far.
"Mandrill Is" would have never sounded the same if Bundie was on bass. Fudgie didn't just bring great bass and creative song writing, he brought a signature bass style that should be studied and taught to up and coming bass players. "Mandrill Is" is a musical masterpiece. Charlie's drumming is excellent on the entire album!
The band was on a mission to incorporate more Funk to the multi genre mix and that's where I come in. "Composite Truth". The drummer, the heartbeat of the Mandrill sound, "Mr Moto", "Fat Rat", "The Foot". It had to be me on drums:) When the seven of us took to recording and as specially live performance no one on planet earth could touch us, Extremely unique and still hold the title of "The Kings of Multi Genre" fitting in with all artists on stage.
"Just Outside Of Town" was very interesting because it introduced a few firsts for the band. Omar Mesa decided to leave the band at the peak of our career. Omar gave a two month notice to Mandrill in order to not hang them up and for them to be able to start rehearsing with a new guitarist.
Omar: "What I found out was that the artwork for the album was done long before the album came out, so I was told that my photo was ALREADY on the cover and that I should play on the album. On prior records we all got to compose at least one song for the albums, so we agreed that I would add "Aspiration Flame to the record". All the great work he laid out with Mandrill on the first three albums would come to an end. Omar was following a spiritual path becoming a disciple of Sri Chinmoy. Omar agreed to tour with us thank God! Recording wise It showed the band what we could do without a lead guitar player. I wrote my first two songs both making the album. "Two Sisters Of Mystery" and "Never Die". Both songs featured me on lead vocal. I hated listening to myself out of tune, Wow! Two Sisters is about my two sisters Norge and Peppy and the Never Die about my girlfriend Marcelina. We just dug into who we were musically and hired a guitar player to fill in on solos. The album mainly featured Carlos Wilson on rhythm guitar.
We still needed to fill Omar's slot and we wanted to go deeper into the Funk when fate brought us Douglas Rodrigues. Once more Mandrillland would have been completely different if Omar was in the band. Both Omar and Dougie were excelent with Mandrill and thier guitar playing is
So there you have it. All ten members on the same journey with each playing his roll in the Mandrill sound.
Neftali met Jim Mc Carthy very close to completing his book about Latin Rock history. We developed a telephone bond and Jim felt Mandrill should be included. I went into my photo chest and pulled out some classic Mandrill shots for him. Jim's interview was the first to want to tell the complete Mandrill story. Neftali: "I am proud to call Jim my friend. This book should be in every music history class".
The Beast from the East
Mandrill’s Afrikus Retrospectus
“When the great Roy Ayers lived next door to me up at 150th and Broadway, he’d say, ‘Yo, Lou, you got too much stuff in one song! Could I just borrow the second movement?’ ” –Lou Wilson
Once upon a halcyon time, when bands branded by single-word names and controlled by uncontrolled substances besotted the pop music charts, there lurked a uniquely sonic beast. Distinguished by its uncanny shape-shifting abilities, the creature was a musical omnivore, dieting on the diverse crops planted by its West Indian, Central American, and African forbearers, all the while growing stronger tussling with its New World peers. Stamped with unmistakable colors and rippled with muscle, it was never afraid, leaving instead fear and wonder in its musical wake. And though other animals that it had once big-brothered along its creative journey would eventually surpass it in fortune and fame, no one could ever forget this remarkable beast from the East. Or could they?
“We knew there was nobody tighter. We were killers. It wasn’t arrogance—just something that comes from being prepared.” –Claude “Coffee” Cave
Mandrill was nothing if not bold. Formed by a trio of Panamanian-born, Brooklyn-bred transplants, the Brothers Wilson Lou, Ric, Carlos1 and their classically trained prodigy neighbor, Claude “Coffee” Cave, Mandrill was quintessential jam long before the term “jam band” became pejorative slander in certain circles and thick commercial in others. They were physically imposing and had, similar to their Parliamentary peers, honed their eclectic,
powerful chops in a beauty salon. Their original grooves (the band never recorded a cover) were no flavor of the month, and instead feasted on anything tasty. Rock, jazz, doo-wop, psychedelia, calypso, marching band, blues, Latin, classical, and funk wouldn’t just be heard at a Mandrill concert but often heard within each song. This meant you could put them on a bill with Deep Purple or Mott the Hoople, Miles Davis or Buddy Miles, Osibisa or Sha Na Na, Duke Ellington or James Brown. No matter the setting sweaty clubs like Fillmores East and West, concert halls like Philharmonic and Carnegie Hall, or stadium crowds six digits strong they’d, by all accounts, turn the motha out.
“There was a time when Earth, Wind and Fire played before us; they’d come on and rock the audience, and we’d have to follow that. Or War would rock the audience, and we’d have to follow, and we’d come with our thing. We were very fortunate to share the stage with Latin greats like Barretto, Puente, the Fania All-Stars, and rock the audience, then go to the Caribbean, South America, rock the audience. Go to Morocco with Randy Weston, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, Odetta, and rock the audience.” –Dr. Ric Wilson
Before Polydor acquired the King Records catalog and one Godfather of Soul, Mandrill was the newborn label’s first “Black acquisition,” though the band’s hippie aesthetic and Carnival approach were more Bill Graham than JB. Masters of at least twenty-two instruments, they could break beats for days, their “sound” buttressed with ubiquitous percussion and fortified with a slew of horns, guitar, organ, clavinet, vibes, and strings; all this iced with political, feel-good lyrics. In a sense, they were the embodiment of world music before “world music” came to be; they were fusion minus the noodling and mullets, sampling and mashing-up genres the way hip-hop heads would do years later. The band’s first two albums, Mandrill and Mandrill Is, were embraced by the experimental format of the nascent, White FM radio bandwidth and didn’t truly plaster the Black music charts until they had found a White Jewish bassist named Fudgie and an eighteen-year-old, pint-sized rhythmic powerhouse named Neftali Santiago.
Charlie Padro Drummer, writter "Mandrill" "Mandrill Is"
Bundie Cenac Bass player, writter "Mandrill".
Fudgie Kae Solomon joins Mandrill on Bass, vocals, writting, "Mandrill Is". "Composite Truth", Just Outside Of Town", MandrillLand".
Neftali takes his first photo with Mandrill It was late 1972 at Electric Lady Land studio. photo taken just before recording the first song for "Composite Truth". "Composite Truth", "Just Outside Of Town", "MandrillLand", "The Greatest", We Are One", "New Worlds", "Energize", "Mandrill Live In Montreux 2002".
By their third and fourth releases—Composite Truth in ’72 and Just Outside of Town in ’73—the band reached a creative and commercial peak. The funk congealed on future classics such as “Fencewalk,” “Mango Meat,” and “Hang Loose,” and got nuclear on the Nefti-penned “Two Sisters of Mystery,” a song destined to provide, nearly two decades later, the heaviest sample in the history of hip-hop—P.E.’s “By the Time I Get to Arizona.”
“I remember playing drums, and it used to make me uncomfortable [with] George Clinton and Maurice White sitting right in back of me, taking notes! Then all of a sudden, Earth, Wind and Fire gets a horn section, and Funkadelic starts adding percussion,
horns, and now they become Parliament, and it’s like, hmmm, that’s interesting.” –Neftali Santiago
By the end of 1975, their Polydor run came to an end and the band’s most successful lineup was completed with Doug Rodrigues on guitar and vocals. The line-up was done after Mandrill Land. The Wilsons and Coffee moved Mandrill to Los Angeles, signed with United Artists, then, later, Arista. Clearly wanting more disco-lypso than polyrhythmia, neither label, nor Los Angeles, it seemed, knew what to do with them. Mandrill (now joined by the fourth Wilson brother, Wilfredo aka “Wolf”) watched their success slowly wane as groups like EWF and Parliament blasted off. And though they got involved with movies (Ali’s The Greatest and The Warriors), Mandrill, still charting until 1980, finally burned out. They’d survived the ’70s, churned out ten charting albums, made some nice coin, and had done, by anyone’s standards, all right for themselves.
Carlos Coffee Fudgie Ric Doug
Fudgie Doug Nefty Coffee Ric
1975 Recording "Mandrill Land" at "Studio In The Country" in Louisiana.
CANAL TO CROOKLYN - Locks and Keys
“The combination of the percussive instruments and the funk was a Mandrill trademark,” says Lou Wilson emphatically.
“That’s where we coming from, the Caribbean, the Brooklyn, the funk; that’s what makes Mandrill, Mandrill, and separates us from whomever else is out there.” The Wilson brothers each separated from the preceding by two years reside on the West Coast, a decent clip from both the Bed-Stuy and Colón neighborhoods that gave birth to their “trademark.” So does Claude Cave, who unrelated by blood but eventually a key ingredient to the Mandrill family also grew up in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, around the same time, unbeknownst to the brothers. “Coffee” a nickname he’d be given by the Wilsons years later also had Caribbean roots and discovered he was, like his mother, blessed with “the Big Ear.”
Ric: We were born in Colón [Panama], on the Caribbean side. Very Rasta, but Spanish speaking. Our grandparents moved from the West Indies to Panama with the building of the Canal, as many folks did then. Panama is such a melting pot people from all over the Caribbean, Central and South America. Our grandparents were British West Indians, and our parents spoke English and Spanish in the home.
Lou: We lived in the Canal Zone the American side. Dad worked as a longshoreman, mom had a beauty parlor and sold comic books while frying hair: it was called Darcy’s Beauty Salon. Colón was a rough place; we’d have to rumble often. I remember the first punch I got in my eye bam! I ran to my momma’s beauty parlor: “If you don’t beat him, I’m gonna beat you!”
Ric: Our parents believed in self-defense. We learned to box. It came in quite handy later on when we moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant, ’cause at the time we were going to school [in Brooklyn], gangs were rampant: the Chapmans, the Stonekillers, the Rebops. We were fortunate we were four brothers, ’cause we got into fights. I’d see a crowd of people, and there’s my brother in the middle dukin’ it out. He never lost a fight, nor did I. Lou: Well, I had to set the pace; I’m the older brother. That was back in the days of honor. No guns, maybe a blade or two. No drive-by type thing. Mano a mano. Ric: Eventually word got around: “Don’t mess with the Wilson brothers.”
Coffee: My earliest memories are of my mother playing the piano and singing, and I’m in her lap. My father was a doctor played the violin and took care of a number of musicians; one of his patients was Otis Blackwell, who wrote a lot of Elvis Presley hits. Ric: My dad had eleven sisters. He was high school educated, brilliant, but his parents died when he was fourteen, so he had to help support a big family. Dad played guitar, sang in local group; mom sang in choir, but as we got older, the Canal took up dad’s life. Lou: Lot of their friends played calypso, pre-reggae Sparrow, Kitchener. My dad [also] played the tres and had a picture of Duke Ellington on his mirror on the bus he drove. He played jazz records, which we soaked up subconsciously in the crib. The Ink Spots, Fats Waller, the Mills Brothers a lot of jazz, man.
Ric: In Panama, there weren’t many outlets in terms of college education; he didn’t want us to hit the same dead end. Well, that’s what they told us, anyway. They probably wanted to come to New York and party. [laughs] When we got off the boat…
Lou: October ’53, ya heard? On the SS Honkon. Ric and myself came first. I was eleven, Ric nine. Then they brought the others. That cold was a shock!
Ric: We’re leaving paradise, and the streets here are funky and cold. We’re wondering, “What the hell are we doing here?” My uncle paved the way with his family, had a brownstone on Willoughby between Nostrand and Marcy Avenue. Beautiful area: rows of houses, mixture of workingclass folks, Black, Latino, Jewish, Irish. White flight hadn’t taken place yet completely.
Coffee: Initially, we were the only Black family on the block. I was one of three kids of color in grades one through eight, but gradually Bed-Stuy became primarily Black. There were all kinds of people from the West Indies, India, China, Jewish grandmothers who’d escaped from Germany who’d put beach chairs out on the street. So, culturally, you got exposed. If windows were open, you’d hear calypso, Latin, classical, jazz, big band, this cacophony of sound; you’d feed on it. I’d actually ring someone’s bell and ask, “What was that?”
Lou: Music was always in the air; some guys’d be playing stickball, some shooting dice, and some trying to get the latest song to harmony with their friends. Ahhh, the harmony groups. Funk and soul was just starting to be built off the backs of those folk. Ric: Mom expanded what she had in Panama. As kids, we used to sing together as the Wilson Brothers, and with mom being the beautician, she was in different clubs with women, and [when they’d] have programs, we’d be featured. We’d do a lot of pop gospel stuff like “Amazing Grace,” and it would go over nicely.
Coffee: I displayed an affinity for the piano and started writing my own music at six. They took me to the conservatory where there were two pianos in the room. The instructor would play a melody, then I’d play it back; and he said, “He’s ready.” Now, for my parents, this was a cultural thing I wasn’t gonna become a musician! I learned theory and harmony when I was nine, spent all my weekends and two nights a week at conservatory loved it, but I wasn’t learning how to read. My big ear was a gift and a nemesis.
Ric: We’d go see Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and others at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. A good friend of ours, Richard Harris, had a group called the Jive Five, so wewere [also] doo-woppin’ on the street corner. Back in the day, schools had orchestras and provided instruments for the students, so when I started in P.S. 54, I wanted to play sax. Lots of calypso would always have a sax solo, but they didn’t have sax, so I started on clarinet. Lou played trumpet from thebeginning, Carlos was able to play trombone, and later Wolf played clarinet. We could bring our instruments home, practice. [Later,] Carlos and Lou were part of the all-city band.
Lou: I used to mind the band room mess with the tuba, the oboe, but the influence of Louis Armstrong was strong and the trumpet mouthpiece fit real nice.
Coffee: When I got in my teens, I started to hear things in my head involving more than just piano, like orchestras, big bands. I got transcription books of guys like Oscar Peterson who were playing beyond the speed of light. You’d look at the transcriptions, and it looked like someone’d taken a black brush and squished it across the page. This was improvisation that was transcripted. Then I started getting the records and realized sometimes the transcriptions were not accurate, ’cause I could hear what was going on and could see what was written, and some of it was not on the money. Then all of a sudden, I made a connection and realized, “They’re breaking the rules.” Then I got into listening to blues players, especially keyboard players, during that time when organ music was coming to the fore, when Bill Doggett, Wild Bill Davis, were grooving on the radio. After a while, I saw that the blues was in the jazz. [Eventually,] I had an opportunity to play an organ. What really interested me was youcould instantly create the type of sound you wanted. It was the first synthesizer Robert Moog was probably still up at Columbia inventing the Moog. With the use of the Hammond drawbars, you instantly could create sounds that were or that aren’t. And the Leslie speaker just allured me.
Ric: Sports were also big: Lou ran track, played basketball, I was captain of the football team, Carlos ran track, Wolf played football. Boys High School offered a full meal. After high school, we all went separate ways. I went to Harvard, Lou stayed in Brooklyn, Carl was in the Navy, and Wilfredo was at Morgan Street. Everyone was doin’ their own thing.
Coffee: So I started forming bands, but at that time music was segmented. A jazz player didn’t play Latin, a Latin player didn’t play R&B, and an R&B cat didn’t play straightahead blues. Eventually, I realized it would be fun finding the players to mix and match those elements. The other thing, because of the Caribbean influence, I got exposed to a lot of percussion Latin bands, salsa bands, steel drums so I also wanted to play drums. Ron Carter, who was a friend of the family, helped me get in touch with Charlie Persip, and he gave me a deeper understanding of the rhythmic thing. I taught my brother Curtis the drums, and eventually we started jamming together. Our house became sort of a music mecca: we had a grand piano, Hammond B-3, and a set of drums in the living room, and all these musicians would come by like Billy Cobham, Jerry Jemmott and jam. All kinds of young kids we were, literally, kids.
HEART OF THE BEAST
RicWilson classpresident,captainoftheBoysHighfootballteam,andhonorstudent followedafullscholarship toHarvard.Wantingtobecomeacardiologist,hemajored inbiology andworked under thecutting-edgeorgantransplantspecialistFrancisMoore.Involvinghimselfinschool politicsandplayingfootballfortwoyearsfurtherreduced musictoanafterthought.“Ikeptmysaxundermybed,”Ric recalls.“Onceinawhile,I’dpulloutsomeColtraneand messaround,blow.”Carloshadgoneofftothenightmare unfoldingin Vietnam,patrollingupanddownthe Mekong Delta.Lou stayed inBrooklyn.Thebrotherswerereunited, however,whenmedicalschoolbroughtRicbacktoBrooklyn in’66.“WewerefortunatetobetogetherinBrooklynagain,” Ricsays.“Louhadbeenwritingsongs,Carlhadtaughthim- selfhowtoplaytheguitarreallywellwhileinVietnam hadWesMontgomerydownpat hadtaughthimselfhow toplayflute,andthenwentto MannesCollegeofMusicto get some classical training. So we’d mess around in clubs in the Villageandat home,discoveredthatcreativelywehada lotofthingsthat felt good.We’d gototheFillmoreEastat night,check outbandsliketheWho, JethroTull,andknew theinstrumentationwewanted.Weputtogetheraninitial groupcalledRemedy,influencedbythefactIwasinmedical school,andplayedgigsaroundBrooklyndoingcoverstuff.Afterthat,wegraduatedtoanotherlevel,calledourselves WillPower,hadsomeseriousmusicians,andwerebooked byNorby WaltersupanddowntheEastCoast.The problem wasIcouldn’tgetawayallthetimeandourdrummerand bassplayerendedupleaving.Subsequently,mybrothersand I putanadintheVillageVoice.This wasaround1968,’69.”
Lou:CarlosandIhadbeenroamingaround.Iusedto carrybongos on myshoulderinacase;Carlwouldhavehis flute.Sowehearthismusic,walkdownthesestairsinto thisfunky,funkyclub!There’saguitarplayer,bass,sax,and aguyplayingHammondB-3.Helookedbored oldfolks grindin’ out a shuffle.He was fallin’ asleep and shit.
coffee: Iwasplayingwithsomeguyswho’dplayed with the Ink Spots old-school guys. Smooth.
Coffee,“Youknow HerbieMann’s ‘Comin’ Home,Baby’?”
Coffeesparkedup.Carlosstarted,Coffeejumpedin,Itook outmybongos,andpeoplewerelike,“Ohshit!”Wetold himwehadputanadintheVillageVoice hadcatscoming from all over.
coffee:SothenCarlosstartedcallingme,but myplate was full.Onenight,I’mwaitingforJamesBrowntocome on TV whichdidn’thappenoften andthephonerings. “It’sthisguyCarlosWilson,andhewantstotalktoyou aboutcomingdowntotheirrehearsal!”AndI’mthinking, “What’swrongwiththisguy? Doesn’theknow JB is about to come on television?!” [laughs]
Lou:Wewouldhavepeoplecallandsay,“Whereyou located? Bed-Stuy? Never mind!”
Ric:Peoplewouldseetheaddressandnevergetoutof the car.Butitwas cool;itbrought thefolkswhowerereal, that had no fear.
coffee:Finally,Isayokay.Wentdownwithmybrother tothebeautyshop.Everythingissetupbetweenthedryers, inthestalls: amplifiers,drum kit lotsgoin’on.Theyrun throughsomestuff,someLatin,calypso,rock,jazz,andI’m thinking, “Hey,thisisit!”Theywereauditioningdrummers thatnight,anditsohappened the drummer thatwas selected was there, Charles Padro. So I joined the group.
Ric:CharliePadro,Puerto Ricanbrother,lookedCau- casian,buthewasdown.Ourfirstguitarist,OmarMesa, fromCuba,wasdown.Ourfirstbassist,BundieCenac, was from the Virgin Islands, and then Coffee.Thatwas the group for our firstalbum.
coffee: Omarwasawesome intorock,jazz,Latin. Hadthatheavy,moltenrockguitarsound.[His]jobwas computers,comingoverfromHobokenintheday.Padro wasintheBronx,Bundiewaslocal,sowejammedand jammed. Rehearsedreallyhard.Icamedownwithmy rentedB-3,putitinoneofthestalls,thenbroughtdown vibes,aRhodes,eventuallytheclavinet,whichIapproached likearhythmguitartobolsterthedrive.Smallshop;we barelyfit.When we rehearsed,there’dbeamoboutside. In thesummer,itwasbrutallyhot sevenbodiescrankin’. The heathadjustdissipatedfromthehairdryersallday, andnowwe’recrankin’uptheamps,andMarshallsgen- erateheat![laughs]TheWilsonsbroughtastrongsenseof solidarity,moresothanotherbands.Werealizedwehad somethingspecial,andeveryonewasabletomakeareally powerfulcommitment.Wedeterminedwewouldrehearse atleastfivenightsaweek,sixhoursanight.Weseriously woodshedded. Finally,weplayedsomelittlegigs,some pic- nics,thenweplayedaclubinBrooklynonFultonStreet calledtheBlueCoronet,famousinthejazzworld,onthe same circuit as Birdland.
Ric:Webuilta tremendousfollowing there,solditout, linesaroundtheblock.BeautifulthingabouttheBlue Coronet,people didn’t cometo dance; they cametolisten, becauseitwasajazzclub.Hadusinaconcertsettingata very early stage.
hesawthisanimalcalledamandrill.Assoonashesaid “man-drill,”ohman,itfeltright.Wedidsomeresearch, and we went to the zoo to see the mandrill.
Ric: WhosenamehappenedtobeRingo.Hisfacewas mature mandrill, striking, very colorful.
Lou: With alpha males, the nose becomes very red duringtheseasonfortheassault.Theymournthedead, verytightfamilystructure,won’tbeintimidated.Itwasjust sobefittingandincrediblehowmuchwelookedlikeman- drill, and it looked like us.
Ric: Thename just stuck.
The band’sfirstmajorgigwouldbeperformingwiththe late,greatOscarBrownJr.attheelegantBrooklynAcad- emyof Music,exposingthemnot onlytothousandsofnew listenersbutalsooneBeauRayFleming,amusicbizveteran who would getthe band someplay infrontof recordexecs. “Hesaid,‘Icangetyouademoshowcase,’”explainsCoffee.“SowewenttoColumbia’sstudioinManhattan ithad been a church where Miles had made Kind of Blue. It was likegoingtoMecca.Wewerereadytohit it. Itwasintense. We’dbeenknockingpeopleoutalloverNewYorkand wereonamission. So we dofivesongs,nooverdubs.It was ourlivesetwiththekinksworkedout,whichessentially becameourfirst album,Mandrill.We’dgofromaLatin feeltoagospelfeeltoarockfeelinthesamesong.Iused awah-wahpedalriggedupthroughtheorganandreverb; thesystemengineerswentcrazy.Theycutanacetate,and, forsomereason,Columbiasleptonit.SoBeauwentupto ChessRecords,goesintothebathroom,andaguyname EsmondEdwardscomes in,askshim aboutthe acetatehe’s gotunderhisarm,saystowait,don’twasteitonChess,that he’sleavingChesstobeA&Roveratanewlabel,Polydor, [and]tobringitoverthere.Now,Polydorwasownedby DeutscheGrammophon,whowereknownfortheirfidelity,forvirtuallynohissontheirclassicalmusicrecords.Jerry Schoenbaum,Polydor’spresident,hearstheacetate,takes it toFireIslandwithhisladyfortheweekend,Mondaycalls upBeau: ‘Iwanttosignthemnow!’Inthemeantime,Beau setsupashowcaseforusatSmall’sParadisepackedwith industrypeople,andwebloweveryoneaway,”Coffeesays. “Nowit’son!AhmetErtegunwantstogetus;Epic,CBS, Buddah.”
Ric: We sign a deal with Polydor, then hit Electric LadylandStudios,whichiswherewerecordourfirstthree albums.ElectricLadylandwasatripinitself,intheVil- lage.Youwentdownstairsintothebowelsoftheearth,and awhole newworldopenedup.Thewallswereelectric remindedmeofthecover BitchesBrew;youtotallygotlost. Andtoboot,we’dbecominginwhenStevieWonderor JimiHendrixwasleavingandviceversa.Weeventalked withJimiaboutcollaborating,buthewenttoEuropeon tour and never returned.
coffee:CliveDavis,whoworkedforCBS,wroteinBillboardthattwoof the great thingsin thefuturewereBruce SpringsteenandMandrill;this,eventhoughwe’dsigned toPolydor! Firstsongthatbrokewas “Mandrill.” Firstsong outtheboxyougottacomeouthard,soCharliesaid,“Man, I’mgettingagong.”Bandsdidn’thavegongs!Mandrillseta regionalrecordforsales:fiftythousandalbumsinamonth. TookFM radiobystorm.Playedonstationsthatplayed KingCrimson,Led Zep,PaulButterfield,Whiteacts.See, radiowasstillsegregated.OnAM,R&B,gospel,andLatin was on the right side of the dial. Sinatra to the left. Frankie Crocker,themaninNewYork,lovedourrecordandstarted to play it, and it became like the national anthem.
Ric:Mandrill blew up faster than most groups blow up. Wedidn’tpaythekindofdueslikealotofguysworkingthe chitlin circuit for ten years.Mandrill was a breakout album inNewYork, tothe point where Sony had Mandrill dothe firstquadraphonicradiobroadcastoutof theVillageGate. Andweweremoreinternationalthanwerealized,’cause DeutscheGrammophonwasthelargestlabelintheworld. Ourrecordsweregettingtoallpartsoftheglobe;[when] traveling to differentplaces, our reputation preceded us. Butsee,weweresignedbeforeIfinishedmedschoolin 1970.Anditwasduringmyinternshipin’71,wedidtheFillmore WestwithMiles.Icouldn’tgettimeofffromthehospital,hadtocommutetoSanFranciscoeverydayforoneweek. AlimowouldmeetmeafterImaderounds,gototheairport, a limowouldpickmeup in SanFrancisco,headtotheFill- more,playthegig,getbackinlimo,sleepontheplane,make rounds.[laughs]That’swhenIsaid,ifIcontinuelikethis,I’m gonna bedead.“Lemme take some timeoffanddoit right, earnmillionsof dollars,comeback,setupmyclinicand keep onrollin’.”[Isthatwhathappened?] No![laughs]
HeplayedaFenderSunburstandusedacousticbasscabinets.Bundiewasmoreofaspeedmerchant.Butit’snothow fastyouplay,butwhatyouplay,andas you mature,it’snot whatyouplay,butwhatyoudon’tplay.Now,I’mnotsure howFudgiegothisnickname,buthewasmonstrous.Ron Carterheardhimandwasimpressed.GeorgeClintonand Bootsyusedtostandandwatchus,asdidMauriceWhite;I could see the camera goin’ offin his mind. [laughs]
Nefti:Fudgie’ssounderrated.Heplayedaveryphysicalbass.Hishandswereextremelystrong,buthemadeit sound like butter. It was scary playing with Fudgie.
“Andthen Neftali,”saysCoffee,“playswithhisentirebody. Someguys,it’sallwristandarms,butNeftiplayswithbody andsoul.Thepocketisunbelievablewithhim.”True,before Neftali Santiago, Mandrill knew all about the pocket. Withhim,thepocketjustgotrealstanky.BorninSpanish Harlem,raisedoutsideofPhiladelphia,Santiagobrought youth,amean’fro,apoppin’snare,andsomeseriousgrease, whichwouldnotonlyhelppropelCompositeTruthupthe chartsbutalsoprovideastylisticblueprintforafuturePhilly
Ric:Itstartedtochange,’causeofradioplayandthe promotional direction of the record company. Polydor hadjustacquiredJamesBrown’scatalogandwasableto getMandrillpromotedonBlackstationsthroughoutthe country.Onlyproblemwastheyforgottokeeppromoting uson theWhiterockstations![laughs]Weweresellingout alotofcolleges,arenas,andthe[Funkadelics]weretouring withusonabus.Must’vedoneahundredshowswiththem. Lotsofjamming andcraziness! Lou alwaystraveledwitha bunchofpaint usedtopainthisfaceMandrillcolors.
Funkadelics didn’t necessarily have a
heavy wardrobe back in the day; a lot of the time, they’d
just take Holiday Inn sheets and towels and that would be
their attire. George would take the sheet, put a hole in it,
put Lou’s paint all over and come out onstage.
Coffee: With nothing on underneath, he’d
go to the foot of the stage and drop the sheet
over people’s heads. The Funks the Parliament-Funkadelics. Loved
them. They had an entourage, a cast of thousands
coming in from all over the country. They would just
converge on the gig.
Lou: There was a time when we were
smoking, ’72, ’73,[and] word was headliners didn’t want to
go out with us.We just did what we had in the box. The
variety was natural; this is what we know! Never did covers,
just originals. Coming from Mama Africa right out of
the box, created a Carnival atmosphere.
Nefti: Mandrill had no problem opening
for no one. Even James Brown at Madison Square
Garden. But we didn’t need to; we’d already been there
four times on our own, sold it out you’re talking
Mandrill town, New York City. You should have brought JB in by
himself! So we’re jamming, and James was getting really
mad. Next thing we know, we’re playing off of monitors.
Our road manager picks up the cord and shows us it’s
cut, and then James’s road manager gets a gun and cuts the
monitors, so we’re playing just instruments. But we kept getting
Ric: Another highlight was when we
played Philharmonic Hall in ’73 with the Symphony of the
New World with an eighty-piece orchestra and
200-voice chorus. Was recorded by the BBC and broadcast
behind the Iron Curtain via the Voice of America.
Coffee: So many fantastic dates. One
hundred fifty thousand people in Fairmont Park in
Philly people as far as the eye could see. Mandrill was huge
in DC. We were advertised as headliners at RFK
stadium: 80,000 people. Two babies were born during the
Ric: The Funks, War; Earth, Wind and
Fire it was beautiful to share a stage with all
these guys and hear one group after another. Tremendous to be
out in a sea of faces, peaceful, fun-loving. Occasionally,
there’d be a riot.
Nefti: Something about getting a bunch
of Black people together in the hot summertime: stuff
happens. And stuff did happen. One concert we did with Sly
at the Spectrum, I watched all these people dropping in
a circle, and then I saw a guy with a butcher knife stabbing
people. And then sometimes, promoters tried to cut
corners. Like at Randall’s Island, summer of ’73. Forty thousand
people, one way in, one way out. Mandrill was headlining.
We show up and find out there’s this itty-bitty sound
system, and nobody can hear anything. Didn’t have the
security for it either. Funkadelic went on for a half hour, the
crowd rushed the stage, stole their equipment, beat up
the vendors. Next up was Rare Earth. The stadium is oval
shaped, with the backstage in the middle, so you have to
drive to the stage. Rare Earth had a VW bus, didn’t even
make it to the stage; people just overturned it. They ran
back to the dressing rooms. Chaka Khan says, “I’m not going
out.” Buddy Miles says, “I’m not going out either.” By
that time, the chief of police says to us, “Look, if you guys
don’t go on, I don’t have enough police to cover this riot.”
Coffee: These people were goin’ nuts!
If we go on, and the sound’s not right, there’s gonna be
a riot, but if we don’t go on, there’s gonna be a riot! So we
got up to the stage, lights come up, and I realize
immediately there’s a mob of people behind me, around the Leslie,
the equipment, just standing. I go to start to play and can’t
step forward look around and this chick has her hand down
my pants on my ass! So I gently pull her hand out,
start to play, and the whole system, sound, lights,
everything, just dies. Could only hear a cowbell.
Nefti: Then somebody threw a bottle at
my face. I had a boom [mic] right in front of me a bottle
just splattered. I played barefoot, so I went to pick up
my platform shoes, and they’d already started taking
stuff. I look up, and there goes the band. They’d forgot me. And
now I’m in the hands of the fans.
Coffee: All of sudden, I see this mass
of humanity pouring out of stands, coming towards
us. Now it’s an all out run, a dead heat. I didn’t know where
anybody was, so I dove underneath this trailer, looking
at feet go by, then realize someone’s next to me. It’s this
guy who’d grown up across the street from me and now was a
policeman. He’d just come to see the show. I’m like, “Richard?
Is that you?” So we stayed there and caught up; it
was just surreal.
Nefti: Two girls tried to take my scarf
around my neck and were choking me. Others were
pulling out chunks of my hair. I’m all ripped up like the
Hulk, just humiliated. Cops are doin’ their tear gas thing. I
get to the dressing room, had no clothes. That night we fly
to California to do Soul Train the next day. So that’s why
I’m wearing Carlos’s clothes and shoes for that.
Coffee: The promoter tried to short us
on the deal, so I impounded the tickets, put these huge
bags of ticket stubs in my mother’s living room.
Nefti: Mandrill headlined most of those
funk festivals, but War; Earth, Wind and Fire these
bands had hits. Yet when it came to the box office,
Mandrill was the big-ticket draw, and promoters knew that. And it
was a problem. War, they’d pull a “Hey, our record’s number
one; we’re headlining.”But we’d say, “Well, the contract says
Mandrill’s the headliner.” The people would suffer, ’cause
an hour would go by, and no one’s onstage. Finally,
[we] took the stage and War never did that again, ’cause with
their energy, people would walk out on them. They slowed
their songs down,’cause they didn’t want to compete with
that Mandrill energy, and you can quote me on that!
Lou: Let me say this: every group we
played with was significantly influenced by us. I’m not trying to
blow any horns here, but go back to when we first
started, to the groups that were happening around 1970.
Santana: had percussion, guitar, Hammond, but no horns; Sly: had
horns, didn’t have percussion; Chicago: had horns, no
percussion; Earth,Wind and Fire: didn’t have horns and
had a paucity of percussion I mean, Maurice always had that timbale
but no wall of percussion like Mandrill from
the get-go. And the Funkadelics: maybe one conga and a
bell, no horns. After a number of these groups left playing alongside
Mandrill,the horns and percussion became significant parts of theirpresentation.
Even Motown, as big as Motown was, [if] you listen to Motown,
you didn’t hear a lot of percussion. R&B and percussion didn’t go
together! Today, it’s commonplace.
Midnight Special 1973
Mandrill on the tv show "Soul" 1972.
Mandrill on "Soul Train" (live) 1973
Mandrill "In Concert" 1973
Mandrill "Rock Concert" 1974
DISCO'S TAMING OF THE BEAST
By1974,Mandrillwasagainadifferent band.Mesa,adis- cipleofguruSriChinmoy,apparentlydisagreedwiththe abundanceofwomenanddrugsintheband’scircleand left.BettyDavis/Santana/VoicesofEastHarlemvetDoug RodriguestookhischairforthedoubleLP,Mandrilland,an eclectic release recorded intheswampsofLouisiana. Soon, NeftiSantiago,tiredoftheroad,drugs,andtheWilson’s tighteninggriponthe band,alsoleft,but wouldcomeand gooverthe years.“Mandrill wasa democracy inthe begin- ning,”Neftisays.“Weallhadasongoneachrecord.But thebrotherskindofdiduswrongonMandrilland.Went backinthestudio,didn’ttellus.TheWilsonbrothersare famousforthat, I hatetosayit.But,yousee,Ilovethe musicenoughtooverlookthatkindofstuff,’causeI’d ratherstillbeapartofthecultureandapartofthewhole legacy.Andthenthere wasthe road life, goingfrom city to city to city wakeup sometimesandnotevenknow where Iwas.Now,youcoulddoacoupleofdifferentthingstodeal withtheupsanddownsofthewholething.Fudgie’sdrug ofchoicewasheroin;hechosetodealthatway,andeventu- ally [it]tookhimout.2Others’wascocaine,THC,hallucinogens.All these excusesweremadeforSly,forMandrill,for whyyoudidn’tshowup.LasttimeweplayedtheSpectrum, weheadlinedoverSly abigdeal BobbyWomackwas opening.Well,Carlos andImissedtheplane,couldn’tget totheshowontime,andweneverplayedtheSpectrum again.That wasaround’75.That’swhenthingsstartedkind of folding.”
coffee: WarleftUnitedArtistsforLAXRecords,so UAneededsomeonetofilltheirspot.WemovedtoL.A., didBeastfromtheEastandSolid.Decentalbums,butUA wasslowlyimploding.Wecouldn’tgetoutoftherefast enough.Sowewerelookingforanotherlabel.Abidding warensuedwithmega-offers Iwasshockedatthenumbers including Philly International, Capitol, CBS, who said,“We’llletyouproduceSlyStone”(theycouldn’tget himin thestudio),andIsaid,“Uh,I’llPasadena, thanks.” WesignedasartistsandproducerswithCliveDavisand Arista, who had toldme, “WhenIdidn’t sign you before,I wentafterEarth,Windand Fireandsignedthem.IthinkI didallright!”[laughs]Soweputoutacoupleofalbumswith them,butIjustgotburntout.Focusedonscoringcommer- cials, movies, which I still do.
Nefti:Mandrillgotcaughtupin:“DowestayMandrill, ordowestart writing discosongs?”Thebandstarted writ- ingdiscosongs,movedtotheWestCoast.Wait,Beastfrom theEastmovesWest?Thewholerhythmsectionchanged Fudgie didn’tgo changedthesoundoftheband.Now you see what the Wilson brothers sound like on their own.
Ric: Wecouldseethechangescoming.Listeningto radio,youcouldhearthechanges.Wewereresistingthat. Whenweplayedlive,ourfolkslovedwhatwedid,sowe didn’tfeelweneededtogetcaughtupinthat,butthechal- lenge,asthechallengeistoday,wastogetthemusicthat you recorded heard on the radio. It’s never the people; once youexposethemtotheshit,theywillappreciateit.That’sthecruxofthematter, andtodaythat’swhatwe’redealing with.We’vecomefullcircleinaway,likewe’relivingin adiscoerawherethegoodshitisn’tbeingplayed.Havea consultantfromScarsdalecomingtoHarlemtotelltheDJ whatheshouldplay?C’mon.ThankGodtheInternethas openedupthesituationfornewartistsandoldthataren’t necessarily kowtowing, and that’s how it needs to be.
Lou:Itallowsthe people to enjoy variety,as inthe’70s. Everygroupthatcameoutroseabovethedin,hadsomething to say, man.