Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marlon Brando, Preston Epps, and Other Bongo Beatin' Beatniks

The late 50s and early 60s were rife with bongo beaters--with all the bongo-rific riffery seeming to reach some sort peak around 1959. What follows is another scatter-shot round-up of some favorites.

First up, Marlon Brando, making the scene with Jack Costanzo in this 1953 television interview. So, okay, technically those aren't bongos they're playing, but rather congas. Still, check out the old, hep meaning of the phrase "losing his mind." And dig that set! Looks like the Corleone-to-be descends a staircase into some kind of swinger’s grotto.

Joe Hall and the Corvettes “Bongo Beatin’ Beatnik” (Global 751, 1959). This one plays on the beatnik’s reputedly sophistimacated preference for jazz over greasy kid stuff, with Hall chanting “I’m a bongo beatin’ beatnik and I just don’t dig RnR” over and over, ironically enough, to a groovy RnR beat. Can still be found on the Sin Alley volume 2 compilation.

Andre Williams and the 5 Dollars

Andre Williams “Mozelle” (Fortune 827, 1956). What’s left to be said at this point? This is possibly the greatest bongo song of all, while it also rates highly among the Greatest RnR Songs Ever.

Preston Epps' single “Bongo Rock” (Original Sounds, 1959) also appeared on the 1960 LP Bongo Bongo Bongo. After a couple of late 50s – early 60s trips to the top of the Billboard charts, Epps settled into a career as session player. He appears in the 1968 film Girl in Gold Boots, and the following title clip contains not a single Epps bongo beat, as far as I can hear, but I include it anyway for its obvious...uh, cultural/anthropological significance.

Finally, here's Henry Mancini’s title theme to Orson Wells’ classic from 1958 Touch of Evil. Factoid: for the set they didn’t use some Tijuana border town streets, but rather Venice Beach during its late 50s bohemian heyday. Lawrence Lipton gives a detailed account of the Venice Beach of that period in the oft-maligned The Holy Barbarians (J. Messner Books, 1959).

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