(NOTE: This past weekend, ?uestlove was posting album covers of some of his favorite bands in his Instagram and Facebook, highlighting their logos and talking about how they identified artists in a way that let people knew who they were and what they played. One of the bands he highlighted is one that brought back a memory of a certain album, which is what lead me to choose this week’s edition of Book’s Jook.
Wahiawa, Oahu, Hawai’i, circa 1976. When I discovered this album at my Omama’s (grandma’s) house, I questioned it, or at least questioned it in a 6-year old capacity. Why would my Omama, who seemed to only like soft pop and classical music, have a record by Brass Construction? She didn’t have any of the music enjoyed by me, and definitely not any records loved by her kids? I knew she was an old(er) lady but her musical tastes were different from my grandpa. In fact, my grandpa had records and a phonograph, my Omama’s stereo equipment was pretty much non-existent, despite the fact she had a few classical records and an album by Vikki Carr. My grandpa had loads of Hawaiian records along with a few pop records, but music seemed a bit distant with my Omama, partly because I was distant to classical music, it wasn’t my thing. Yet here she was with a Brass Construction album, specifically the Brass Construction II album where the members were in their uniforms/band costumes and standing in front of their logo, with one member jumping in the air. I pulled the record out, as was my habit as a kid, and I noticed they were on the same label War were on. War were one of my parent’s favorite bands and we had All Day Music, The World Is A Ghetto, Why Can’t We Be Friends and the almighty Deliver The Words, which had constant airplay. United Artists, before I knew any better, was a fairly funky label. I looked at the band members and they looked funky too. I played the record, and I’m not sure if I located my Omama’s phonograph or if I asked to borrow it. I do remember bringing it home and I really liked what I heard. I noticed all of the songs on the album had subtitles placed in parentheses, didn’t know what they meant nor cared at the time, I was only 6. However, the two songs I really liked were on Side 1, and I played them a lot as I borrowed my Omama’s album. I eventually had to return it, but when I got older I made sure to purchase my own copy. As I began collecting records for myself, I found other Brass Construction albums but none held up as well as Brass Construction II, despite most of the music being quite good.
“Ha Cha Cha (Funkshun)” began with a countdown from the entire band where someone said “one, two”, repeated by the band saying “ha cha cha”. it was followed by “two, two”, then “ha cha cha”, leading to “three, two”, then “ha cha cha” before wrapping up with “four, two”, heading towards the massive horn section, or at least it sounded big and bold to me. The groove of the song reminded me of another album we had at home, B.T. Express’ Do It (‘Til You’re Satisfied), but then again soul music utilizing the power of the horns were plentiful, or at least they were enjoyed by my mom and dad. Disco was the music of the day, although it was before anyone heard of Saturday Night Fever and to be honest, I’m sure I didn’t use a word called disco to describe it. It was just the music of the day, what I heard at home and on the radio.
The other song on the album I loved, and maybe more than “Ha Cha Cha”, was song #3, “Sambo (Progression)”. While “Ha Cha Cha” was, with the exception of the countdown, instrumental, there were lyrics in this song but what a sambo and progression referred to, I didn’t know, I just loved the groove of the music, the funk of the guitar, the coolness of the bass, and the drums just getting down. One didn’t want to stop dancing, or at least it felt energetic. I’m sure I didn’t dance, I just played the song over and over and listened to it intently, enjoying what I was hearing and never wanting it to stop.
I do remember when I looked at Side 2 of the album, one of the co-writers of the song with primary songwriter Randy Muller was someone named Joe Wong. Seeing that I was a part Wong, I wondered if this Joe guy was related to my uncles. I’d like to think that I did ask one of them and most likely they said no, but maybe I had wanted to ask and was too much into the music to question them. It’s been almost 40 years.
It seemed my Omama lived in a place where some of her friends were guys who had just come from the military, as Schofield Barracks was in Wahiawa. Part of the neighborhood was where there was army personnel and there was a great record store near my Omama’s house that had records I had never seen at department stores near where I lived. I had liked Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, and War but this store had artists I had never seen, and yet I walked in and felt like this was a home away from home. This record store catered to some of the military personnel, most of whom were black, and thus I’d consider this “the black record store”, full of soul and funk and its share of comedy records. In fact, this is why my Omama also had records by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx and again, while I knew who these actors were from watching Sanford & Son and other children-friendly shows, hearing them say bad words was new to me, especially when the Pryor album my Omama had was called Bicentennial Nigger. I thought “that’s a bad word, she listens to this stuff?” It opened my world to not only the type of comedy I was unfamiliar with, but to a side of my Omama I had never known. It was a part of growing up, and while I never had a personal talk to ask about her musical and comedy interests, along with perhaps suggestive interests, I’d learn about “things” from my mom and my aunties about my grandmother whom I only knew up until that point for making great Austrian foods. I knew she loved to smoke cigarettes, but that was it.
I never found out if my Omama danced to Brass Construction records, but considering who some of her friends were at the time, I’m certain that she did. The 45 edit of “Ha Cha Cha” removes two minutes from the album version while “Sambo” is the full length version, and it would definitely fit perfectly within my dream jukebox.