Friday, August 17, 2018

Forgotten?: Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band/ Kid Creole and the Coconuts

Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band: Cherchez La Femme/ Se Si Bon


Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Lili Marlene


Kid Creole and the Coconuts: Stool Pidgeon


I know, I know, Darius, what the heck is this? Even though we don’t have a “no disco” rule here, what am I doing? Well, first of all, give these songs an actual listen. Nobody hated disco more than me, and I hate it still, but this is not disco. Yes, Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band especially were marketed as disco, and it worked well enough to make Cherchez La Femme/ Se Si Bon a hit in 1977. But this is not disco. This is music that a major label thought for some reason that they could sell, but it is another thing entirely. Nowadays, we might call this electroswing, if anything, but that genre label would not exist for another thirty years. August Darnell, first with Dr Buzzard, and then with Kid Creole and the Coconuts, was there long before it was even mildly fashionable, and he made this fascinating music that defied the genre labels of the day, and still does. From song to song, you might hear traces of big band music, various Latin stylings, and anything else that caught Darnell’s ear. By the time we get to Stool Pidgeon in 1982, we are hearing one of the greatest bass lines in history, but the song is not exactly funk either.

The main difference between the two groups was emphasis. Dr Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band featured Cory Daye on lead vocals, while Kid Creole and the Coconuts would feature various singers until Darnell himself finally stepped up to the microphone. There were also some lineup changes, but the core group of August Darnell, Stony Browder, and Andy Hernandez remained a constant.

I discovered this music starting with Kid Creole and the Coconuts and the album Off the Coast of Me. The song Lili Marlene particularly caught my ear, even though I don’t understand the German lyrics at all. At the time of its release, I was learning about most of the new music I heard from our own J David and other DJs on WPRB, the Princeton University station. But this one came to my attention because of a write up by Robert Palmer in the New York Times. As I recall it, Palmer talked about how August Darnell lived in a neighborhood in New York City where he would hear music from many different ethnic groups, and he brought all of those influences into his music. Many other artists swam in this same musical ocean, but no one else that I have ever heard synthesized it like this. Beneath the shimmering surfaces of these songs lie great musical depths. Allow yourself to explore them, and you will wonder as I do why this music is not better known today.

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