Friday, May 02, 2008

Kid Creole, all grown up

There are a bunch of great labels out there which have sprung up recently (last 5 years or so) that do an incredible job of digging through the crates to find music that’s accumulated dust and otherwise been lost to present day ears. Probably my favorite is Numero Group, the Chicago based label that is responsible for, among other equally worthwhile projects, the Eccentric Soul series that I can’t get enough of. Another name which has recently resurfaced that I’ve only been turned onto recently but is quickly attracting my attention is Strut Records.

UK label Strut Records formed back in 1999, but then closed shop in 2003. Just this year the label has been reincarnated, and is back at it, digging up now obscure dance tracks, including funk, underground disco, original breaks, Nigerian Afrobeat, and old school hip-hop (speaking of which, keep your eyes open for a Grandmaster Flash album they'll be dropping soon). Since opening shop once more, they've put out Disco Not Disco and Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story 1980-1986.

Their latest dusty gem dug up to be examined and enjoyed: August Darnell, A.K.A. Kid Creole. I would love to tell you all about August, but the pages and pages of thorough and thoroughly enjoyable liner notes included with Going Places: The August Darnell Years 1974-1983 do a more than comprehensive job of telling his story. Let me cover the basics for you here though.

Darnell’s initial foray into the world of big league music was in 1974, when with older half-brother Stony Browder, he formed Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. The band was a big band / disco / tropical music mix and had a few dance floor hits in the late 70’s, and their song Sunshower (listen to it below), from their debut album has been sampled by a handful of more recent artists including A Tribe Called Quest, M.I.A., Ghostface Killah, De La Soul, and Doug E. Fresh.

Sibling difficulties, aspirations, and the desire for creative freedom eventually caused Darnell, then going by the name Kid Creole (adapted from the Elvis Presley movie of the same name), to leave the band and form one of his own: Kid Creole & the Coconuts, the Coconuts being a trio of lovely back-up singers who figured prominently in the group’s music with their interplay with the Kid in his songs. There’s a whole story here about this back-up cast and their involvement with the Kid (platonic and otherwise) which would make a fine USA made-for-TV movie, but as a teaser I’ll leave it at that and suggest you read the liner notes once you get the album.

Besides recording under his band’s name, Darnell also worked with several other musicians, including the Aural Exciters (a sort of house band that Kid created in spare time at the studio), Don Armando's Second Avenue Rhumba Band (try I’m An Indian, Too below), production work with Machine, and perhaps most uniquely, Christina. Christina was a Harvard student taking some time off who happened to be dating Michael Zilkha, founder of ZE Records, one of the numerous labels that Kid worked with.

Regardless of whom he was working with, or what he was called, Kid Creole fronted a Cab Calloway-esque image and played Latin tinged disco that was, and still is, a refreshing break from the Saturday Night Feverish music that preceded it at the end of the 70’s. Long before the swing revival in the early 90’s, Darnell was creating fresh big band music to dance to.

If you’re completely befuddled at this point, I’m not surprised. The liner notes, written by Vivien Goldman (British journalist, writer and musician who used to work with Island Records, whose founder Chris Blackwell helped get ZE Records off the ground, and who coincidentally, has a song that appears on Disco Not Disco - the first release when Strut reopened) do a much better job of laying out the ins and outs of Darnell’s creative loop-de-loops. While you’re trying to piece together my muddled mess, enjoy the following tracks!

And here's one you can take with you from Kid's first album with the Coconuts:

Visit his website, the comp's label Strut Records, and become his friend on MySpace.

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