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Dollar World: Party Time is Anytime and Anytime is Party Time- The Fatback Band, "Raising Hell"

Updated: Nov 2, 2023

Graphic by Rob Lucchesi


Welcome me back, y'all! Your favorite self-proclaimed music junkie is finally back from an unfortunately prolonged hiatus with what will hopefully be the start of a brand spankin' new, Tonitruale exclusive series.


First, a little backstory...

Several years ago, I got my old man a record player and a copy of The Beatles' Rubber Soul on vinyl, arguably his favorite Beatles album. Since then, we've become regulars at the local depot, Repo Records. Thanks to Repo, the two of us have put together what may be one of the most eclectic record collections known to man, evolving and turning left at every shelf. And that's thanks to Repo's Dollar World, formerly known as the dollar bin.


Dollar World is home to the records even your grandad doesn't spin anymore, chronicling the careers of Buck Owens and Hank Williams all the way up to Pablo Cruise and Leo Sayer. But tucked away between the physically unplayable and the perpetually unsellable, Dollar World hosts tiny pockets of forgotten and under-appreciated music history, and a few of the most amazing records I've ever had the good fortune of turning my pockets out for. My hope for this series is to pass on to you, fledgling junkies, a few of of the gems on display at Dollar World.


-RL


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Unless you're a time traveling Victorian nobleman, you're probably somewhat familiar with Englewood, NJ's own Sugarhill Gang and the track that would then be known as the first rap song, cementing their chapter in music history. I'm of course talking about "Fergalicious"-- no, no, obviously it was their 1980 sensation "Rapper's Delight," the hibiddiest and hoppitiest boogity-beat to hit the street since Van McCoy's "The Hustle" took over Soul Train in 1975. But what I bet you didn't know was that The Sugarhill Gang were actually second on the podium. The real Originators were actually right across the river in Brooklyn.


The Fatback Band hit Brooklyn in 1970 and was the brainchild of veteran session drummer, Bill "Fatback" Curtis (center). Curtis wanted to bring the "fatback" New Orleans style jazz and twist it with East Coast funk, which would miraculously come together as the band's signature "street funk" style, and are credited as having released the first commercial rap song, "King Tim III (Personality Jock)", which shipped only a week before "Rapper's Delight".



Initially, Fatback was made up of Curtis on drums and vocals, guitarist Johnny King, bassist Johnny Flippin, trumpet player George Williams, saxophonist Earl Shelton, flautist George Adams, and keyboardist Gerry Thomas, with a collection of rotating members all the way through to present day. The band would unfortunately never completely catch its footing in the US. They would release first single "Street Dance" under Perception Records, and would reach the top 30 on the Billboard R&B charts, but never move over to the pop charts, following this pattern through their career.


So how did these forgotten legends end up on my turntable? What makes them so worthy of a seat at the table, in their rightful place on the council? What could they possibly be doing in Dollar World? Just a stroke of luck on my part I guess.


The Fatback Band's 1975 standard Raising Hell was snuck between an old Herb Alpert I accidentally bought two copies of and 50's Rock n' Roll Compilation album. The trick with buying dollar records is you have to judge the book by its cover. A washed-out brown album, with no sleeve protecting the vinyl itself, with a half-naked woman engulfed in flames? Not to mention, the back cover features headshots of the entire band on stage in matching vests and headbands, dripping with sweat. You'd be crazy not to give this a spin.



Raising Hell is a speedy, easy listen at face value. But under the lens, it's a celebration of the funk genre itself. At a surprising seven-jam track list and a 40 minute run time, and even featuring two of the bands most successful singles, "(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop" and "Spanish Hustle," the tape is anything but background music. "Do The Bus Stop" gets you dancing and snapping and moving, showcasing the bands' expertise and deep understanding of genre lines.



This intro , followed closely and seamlessly by "All Day" and "Put Your Love (In My Tender Care)" are the street funk tracks, the warm-up's of the album, to get you ready for the fun yet to come. Lead by flautist George Adams, "Groovy Kind of Day" hollers in the jazz-disco indicative of it's time, which would become Fatback's signature style during the next decade of recording. But the real star, the best on the album, in my opinion, is Raising Hell's final song, "Party Time".


"Party time is anytime/And anytime is party time"

Need I say more? "Party Time" is so damn fun! It erupts like nothing I've ever heard. The band is playing like men possessed, it sounds like there's ten different people playing each instrument at times. There is such a level proficiency and wistfulness present on this song that I'm not sure has ever been replicated, or can ever be replicated. How this album, how this band faded into obscurity, I'll never understand. They should be in the same breath as powerhouses like Tower of Power and Parliament.

And only piling on to the mythos, the album cover was also shot by the great activist and photographer Kwame Brathwaite, considered the "Keeper of the Images" for the Black Arts and Culture Movement. He famously photographed the funeral of his namesake, Kwame Nkrumah, former President of Ghana, the independence of Namibia along with the inauguration of his longtime friend President Sam Njoma, as well as the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. He would also photograph covers for some of the largest influences in the world, like James Brown and John Coltrane. His work was also featured in numerous publications, such as Allure, Cosmopolitan, Essence, Glamour, GQ, New York Magazine, and People, to name a few.


But all this just goes to show, Dollar World is full of surprises. Among all the junk meant for the refurbish pile, despite the embarrassing phases and misguided record purchases, for every 25 Loggins & Messina albums that get sold back and traded in, there's always a diamond waiting for the right open mind. The Fatback Band's Raising Hell is an absolute must have and a must try for the start of your eccentric journey into the eclectic Dollar World.



Rob Lucchesi



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