Over nine years, Fred/Alan only made two* music videos**, but they were both doozies. First up, James Brown and Afrika Bambaata. I mean, wow, wouldn’t it too cool to work with The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk?
JB was half a decade away from his latest chart hit and hip-hop was beginning to explode, completely usurping The Godfather of Funk’s excitement. A pioneering Bronx DJ, Bam had hit it big in 1982 and was looking for his way back on the charts.
Fred/Alan had been around less than a year and exhilarated by all the possibilities in front of us. We called anywhere that seemed interesting and one of those places was Tommy Boy Records. Fred had read about their trailblazing Malcolm X & Keith LeBlanc mix “No Sellout,” the first sampled record, picked up the phone and started talking to label president Monica Lynch and founder Tom Silverman, figuring (correctly) they might be kindred spirits.
In 1984, Tom called and told us about an amazing session they’d just recorded. James’ contract with Polydor had expired a few years before, and Tom snagged him for just one single, a Bambaata duet, a perfect marriage of mentor and student. Indies didn’t know too much about this music video thing (they could just about afford the record), but they’d videotaped the vocal dubs in lovely (ahem) VHS. Could we somehow make it into a video? The average video in 1984 probably cost $40,000. Tommy Boy’s budget was $5000.
We had three things going for us: Fred had a vision of James Brown’s feet, producer/director Tom Pomposello, and producer/artist Marcy Brafman. Oh, and we were so psyched to be working with James (OK, at least were working on something of James’) Fred/Alan was willing to make zero dollars.
Tom had just started working with us, but he was an ace blues guitarist and didn’t really know much about television. But, he came in every day eager to do anything we had, and he was willing to try anything. When we asked him to produce this video, no matter how much time it took, he jumped at it.
Marcy was a producer (and painter) who’d been the senior producer that launched MTV in Fred’s promo department. She’d recently become the creative director at her friend Peter Caesar’s independent video production facility in Manhattan and Peter had one of the few digital painting devices in the world at his studio. Fred/Alan was willing to hand over the entire $5000 fee to Caesar Video.
We’d always loved James Brown (we weren’t dead), and for some reason Fred had always imagined the hardest working man in show business’s dancing feet generated electrical sparks.
Put the original VHS footage in a Blendtec, with all this stuff plus a dash of hip-hop graffiti, and a lot of long days and night. It made a pretty happening video. Low-fi? Sure. It was shot on a home video camera, for funk’s sake.
** Neither Alan or Fred was a director, and in the final analysis, video music is a director’s medium. Besides it was really hard to make a profit.0 comments Tagged: 1984, Tom Pomposello, Tommy Boy Records, music video, television, soul, R&B,.