It was not my first exposure to jazz. My dad was the jazz fan who enjoyed the music of Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess album. These guys were fairly tame compared to the album I was listening to at my uncle’s place: Miles Davis’ Live Evil. I liked it because it featured an illustrated album cover with a nude, pregnant woman. Surprisingly, my parents didn’t shield my eyes from this and perhaps because I had already been a child raised on Santana’s Abraxas, another cover with not one, but two beautiful nude women. Yes, these covers were considered naughty even though I wasn’t quite sure what made them bad, other than the fact that they showed drawings of a woman’s chichi’s. It was the music that brought me in, so getting into songs like “Sivad”, “Selim”, “Funky Tonk”, and “Inamorata and Narration by Conrad Roberts” was very cool, even this type of jazz was louder, noisier, and nothing like what my dad was into. It was weird, zany, and wacky, and I loved it.
As I got older and started looking at records as much more than the containers of sounds I enjoyed, I would read the back cover, go over the album credits, or look at the photos on the inner sleeves. If you bought an album on Columbia or Epic, it would come with record company sleeves advertising other albums the label wanted to suggest. One album that always seemed to come up was Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. The cover image was just a thumbnail so it was hard to figure out what was the face on it. I don’t remember searching for it before the age of ten, but after moving from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest, I found a great resource for music: the public library. I had already borrowed records and cassettes from the Honolulu library so doing this in a new place was not strange, I just had to see what kind of records were there. One of the albums I found was the album with the weird face, and I believe it was the first time I picked it up. I now realized it was some kind of robot mask, but why? I looked at the cover and saw that it had only four songs. This meant there were some long songs and as someone raised along a good share of rock and jazz, I felt these long songs were little mini-journeys someone could take with a record and stereo. By this time, Hancock’s music was only familiar to me through “Rockit”, “Automatic”, “Hardrock”, and “Karabali”. I didn’t yet make the connection between Hancock and Miles Davis, in fact I wasn’t listening to Davis’ music at all at the time. Yet Hancock seemed… no, it didn’t seem, it was available to me at the library and I could borrow it. I was probably 15 or 16 when I borrowed it along with John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (Atlantic), another artist I had heard of but not really explored. I borrowed them and had taken them home. I was blown away by both. Coltrane’s music and playing seemed very calming, while Hancock’s sound was funky and on the same level of Lewis’ Sun Goddess, but quite different. It was this visit to the library that truly opened the door to the vast world of jazz that I had brief hints of when I would visit record stores in Honolulu, but I had absolutely no idea how deep or lost one could get. I didn’t know if I was ready or not, but I wanted in the room.
Yet despite all of the excursions I would go on with jazz, I always found myself returning to Head Hunters as much as I had already returned to Sun Goddess, and it would become one of my default jazz albums. One can hear this album and imagine its influence on thousands of musicians. One can listen to a lot of hip-hop and hear what this album provided to everyone. One can play this and hear what a lot of artists today are missing and/or overlooking.
For me, when I started my one-man music project known as Crut, I drew four non-existent members of the non-existent group as a way to describe the aspects of me and the different things I listened to. The DJ of the group was Jeffrey Duduho, a/k/a DJ Tungmaduduho, and he was represented by the robot mask on Head Hunters. In many ways, it described the mentality I had with my music at the time: cover up with masks and maybe people will be more open to listening instead of looking. I just wanted to say “I like Hancock, and I can music this funky, in my own way.”
Was Head Hunters meant to be important music made specifically for the head? Mind expanding sounds? If so, were Paul Jackson, Victor Moscoso, Bill Summers, Harvey Mason, and Hancock the true rebel hunters of sound for the head? Unsure.
What I am certain of is. I had once inquired about an extended Legacy edition of Head Hunters, complete with any existing outtakes and/or alternate takes, and the answer I received was that there weren’t any, which could have easily meant that there wasn’t anything worth releasing from what may or may not exist. “Chameleon” does fade out, so why not release a mix of the song that comes to a proper (or improper) ending? Same for “Watermelon Man”. The quadraphonic mix of “Sly” features a few notes that aren’t in the stereo mix, how about any existing count-ins or studio dialogue. Then again, if you entered a recording studio were time is of the essence and money, maybe if there were any false takes, the tape reel was rewound to the beginning and everything that was put on tape was immediately erased with the next take. It is also very much possible that Hancock and friends did single takes of each song and perfection was made in 42 minutes. At least there are existing live recordings, for those who wish to hear how some of these songs were explored in a live setting.