Originally from New York, the Lafayette Afro-Rock band started life in the early 70s as The Bobby Boyd Congress, a homage to Bobby Boyd, their original singer. Relocating to Paris, this funk rock act ended up shacked up in the Barbes district, where they incorporated North African musical architecture into their soundworld.
Following a name change to Ice, they caught the ear of Parisound Studios producer Pierre Jaubert. Serving as the studio house band, Jaubert directed the act through a series of recordings which would see them yield a series of classic breakbeat oriented funk numbers like ‘Hihache’, ‘Darkest Night’, ‘Conga’ and numerous others. Back in New York, as Hip-Hop arrived, in the hands of DJ’s like Afrika Bambaataa, they became secret, highly classified weapons for dancefloor destruction. Meanwhile, in the studio, their infectious grooves gave life to the backing beds for songs by Public Enemy, Janet Jackson, Jay-Z, De La Soul, Black Moon and countless others.
Several years ago, thanks to Marty Jones (formerly of Border Music Distribution) I had the opportunity to chop it up with Pierre Jaubert. Strut Records had just re-released a compilation of classic Lafayette Afro-Rock Band material called Darkest Light. Jaubert, now in his eighties, was in full reflection mode and blessed me with the full backstory. A backstory which turns every Lafayette Afro-Rock Band biography I’ve ever read completely on it’s head. After much thought, I’ve decided to set Jaubert’s story loose. You all deserve a chance to read this. The document is long, but well worth reading.
How did you originally find The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band?
How did I find them? Well, first of all to do something like this, someone has to have the training.
Without the training, if you find someone, you can’t do nothing. So I couldn’t have found The Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band] if I hadn’t been in the nightclubs playing harmonica. I used to [play harmonica], I played for about ten years in the [United] States. I was playing harmonica in the clubs from about 1950 to 1960. If I hadn’t done that, I couldn’t have done anything with Lafayette. You know? That’s how it starts; you have to have the ear for it!
Wow. What happened next?
The second thing was, to do something like [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band] also takes some money. Without money there was no way I could have recorded anybody, especially in those years, the 1970s. You know? It was hard times. So, the way I could do it when I found it is was I had a friend in Paris who had a small label. He was looking for artists from the states. So I went to San Francisco. You know Fantasy Records from Berkeley [in California]? Heard of them? I went there cause I knew they had a pretty good catalogue and I wanted to find music for my friend in Paris to release. You know?
Little Johnny Taylor
Fantasy, they did Creedence Clearwater Revival right?
Yes. Funny that you should mention them! They had an artist called Little Johnny Taylor, who had a record I liked very much called ‘Part Time Lover’. Do you have this record in your collection? When I went to Fantasy in Berkeley, there was a young guy working there packing records. He told me, oh I have a group. His name was John Fogerty. I heard his tape. It was very good. so when I spoke to Saul [Zaentz, the owner], I said, “Hey, the guy who is working for you, you should record him, I heard his group, it sounds very good. “So that is how Creedence Clearwater Revival ended up on Fantasy records.
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Saul was [originally] the accountant [at Fantasy, but he bought the business in 1967]. He knew nothing about music. He was an accountant, but he was also a movie lover. He dreamed that one day if he had money he would make movies. Music he knew nothing, so he said, “Yeah, this guy’s okay,” but he knew nothing. Every time I would propose [a musician or band] to him, he would say he knew nothing. It was because of that that I could arrange it so that Creedence [Clearwater Revival] would be released by my friend in Paris. He had a little company called America Records and of course it sold.
Those days are over now, we would sell records by the truckload and the trainload. It was incredible. These days are over. They will never come back again. So, this means that with the basic training, and the very high amount of money that was circulating because of Creedence [Clearwater Revival], which came out in 1967, the first single was ‘Susie Q’, do you remember Susie Q’? I was the guy behind pushing it. In Paris it exploded, they were huge in France, and I was the guy behind that.
After that, anything that I start to record, I had access to money, because my friend was making such a huge amount of money that he couldn’t care less if I would record something or release something. He didn’t care, because of these records he was already a Millionaire, you know? So when you say how do you find [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band], if you don’t have that part of the story; you have nothing!
In fact I did not start recording with [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band]. I began to record with my friend and I did about fifteen albums before them. I would record with Charlie Mingus, Charlie Parker, all those people. I did a couple albums each, you know? And I did some albums from my own account too. I mean, I had money, I didn’t record everything, but when I liked something, I recorded it.
There was a guy called Willie Mabon. Willie was a bluesman. He died ten years ago, but he was living in Paris. Willie Mabon, he knew a few guys, and one was from Australia, a guitar player, blues, a white guy, and he asked if maybe I could record them. The group had no name, I did one [record], recorded one album to be nice to them. The drummer [Wells Kelly], he had some demos he wanted to play me on tape. I have a very good ear. You know? One of them, he said was from his brother [Sherman Kelly], and so I listened to it. I heard one song, and I said, “Look, I don’t mind recording you. I know you need equipment. I know you need money. I can record that song.” The guys in the band said, “We don’t record tracks like that! It’s the brother of the drummer! It’s stupid! We don’t like the song! We don’t want to record a stupid song like that. That song was called “Dancing In The Moonlight’.
By King Harvest?
Yes! So I said, “fine.” Then a couple of weeks later they called me and said, “We absolutely must find ten thousand dollars! We’re going on the road. We have gigs and we need equipment. We will record anything you want. I thought, now you guys are talking. Okay, tomorrow morning we will work on ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’. They didn’t say nothing. You know?
In other words, to make hits, never listen to the musicians or the composers. They don’t know anything. I only listen to one person and it’s me. Then it became ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’. In fact today I had to again record ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ in the afternoon, because someone wanted it for an advert. I said, “No. Not again. Send me another track. Forget it.” It’s been like that for thirty years with ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’. It’s ridiculous. What’s funny is nobody ever told me thank you. Never a thank you, and the record was lousy and he could have done better. Never any thank you and I made him more than a million dollars. I am in a strange business my dear friend.
Amen to that Pierre, amen to that!
I started making jazz. I did Alan Silva, all those guys. You know? You ask me how did I find [The Lafayette Afro-Rock Band]. I had a studio where I didn’t record too much, and I had another studio in Paris in. So I did some recordings there of course, everyone would go there. My friend who had a studio, he had a studio on the other side of Paris, but he didn’t do jazz. He called me once and he said, “Look, I have these guys from New York. He wanted me to record them. He said, “Please take these guys. I don’t want to see them again. They want money for their music, please take care of that; bye bye.
So, here came Frankie [Abel] and Donny [Donable] and the rest of [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band. I told the guys, “Okay, we can try something, and of course I recorded a few records with them. First I recorded with them as a group named Ice. It all started with Bobby Boyd as The Bobby Boyd Congress, and when Bobby Boyd went back to the [United] States, they made their own group named Ice.
I made two or three albums with Ice, but nobody could sell it. You know? I liked the music fine, but commercially you could not put it out there. I was speaking with a friend, Manu Dibango. He was at my place and we were kicking and he said, “You should do more with Ice. Get them singing and get a hit song. No covers.” So, okay, I did that. I did the next album, and then I needed a new name. You know? I could not call it Ice, because first legally you cannot register the name Ice. There are many names like this that you cannot record under or register commercially. That is why you have so many variations. Ice Cube, Ice T, everybody is using ice. I thought, I’ll make a name that is easy to register to record under. In France we use complicated names, so The Lafayette Afro-Rock band, that name was kind of complicated. So I invented that and registered the name immediately. It was a group that did not exist. So when you ask me how you found [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band]? There was no such group as [The] Lafayette Afro-Rock Band. I had to invent them.”
Dozens of people, musicians, would play, you know? Manu Dibango! Willie Mabon. [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band] was a garbage can. Everybody would come there and play with Frank Abel. Of course Frank would be there. So [The] Lafayette [Afro-Rock Band] was made up of guest people, guest musicians, and I owned the name. so [The] Lafayette [Afro Rock Band], that’s my group. I didn’t have any stupid people to deal with. That is the story my dear friend. It was very practical.
I don’t really know what to say, this is amazing.
The reason I was able to think like that was a little bit earlier in 1962, I met Berry Gordy in Detroit. I met all those people there. Berry asked me to teach French to three young guys that were starting there. One of them was Stevie Wonder. So I taught French to Stevie, and would sing with him in French. He wasn’t too good at it. Anyway, so Berry was very nice. He would have liked me to have handled the international side of Motown. But I can’t spend time in an office, and I always turn down jobs anyway. The word job I have never used in my life. It comes from the fact that I was playing in the club for so many years. I cannot have anybody tell me what to do, that’s the story.
Berry Gordy Jr.
What I noticed is, well, what I learned from Berry Gordy, there in the Hitsville U.S.A building on the West Grand Boulevard is simple. I think it was in the lobby. The grand lobby with the piano there. Everybody would come and hang out and I became friends with [one of their producers] Mickey Stevenson. I made quite a few talks with Mickey, but the great guy at that time was Norman Whitfield. Have you heard of Norman Whitfield, the producer at Motown? Great guy, an unbelievable talent. You know? Talented he was, at the piano, and he was producing a couple of girl groups there.
I was there when Diana Ross was coming along, and Mary Wells. I really like Mary Wells, because Mary was the only one who worked more in jazz, and I am more jazz oriented. You know? So I learned what I learned, which is the way they were working there. When I think back, what was funny, what was funny with Motown was nobody was paying any attention to the name of musicians. When you buy a Motown record, you never see the name of one musician. The Four Tops? What do you see on The Four Tops? You see The Four Tops, and that was it. There was nobody else. No credits to the composer/producer. No mention of who played the horns. No mention of who played the keyboard, who played the guitar, who played the bass. Never was anybody was mentioned. Never was anybody put down. So, I was a bit like that with [The] Lafayette Afro-Rock Band. You know?
On all the recordings, there was so many dozens of people working on them. So I didn’t care much for putting names down. I got that from Berry Gordy. He is why I kept doing this. Things change though. Now you could not do things like that, but you catch the point.
Fascinating. What do you think of hip-hop producers sampling your productions?
Well, it’s natural for it to be done. Why wouldn’t they? I’ve [always] had people sampling my music. Hundreds and hundreds of people. There’s not much you can do. They don’t sample now, they steal. You know? It’s still the same thing, but now we don’t make any money. At least when they were sampling we could always call the lawyer and make a few dollars, but now this is over.
Any other thoughts?
The big problem that has changed things since the sixties is the state of now. I have good tracks which I would like to put out if I had good singers. The lucky guy was Berry [Gordy]. When I was at Motown, Berry [Gordy], all he had to do was go out on the streets to the corners and he would come back with these fine female singers. When I recorded [The] Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, there was no such thing as a singer. There was no female singer, no male singer, no singer, nothing, nobody. I didn’t have a dozen or even a couple dozen female singers like Mary Wells. There was no singer.
I have been auditioning for the last ten years, I have been auditioning in the [United] States and South Africa. I audition about fifteen hundred people a year in the states and the talent has gone. There are no more singers. When they sing they scream. I despise that kind of singing. The only place now that I am working on is South Africa. They have singers. We are going there in about three weeks. I have advertisements in the paper there. I have started to audition. They have singers. Why? Because they are still in the jungle. No modern life. No phones. No portable computer. They are still living in the jungle. That’s what I like. Africa is taking over.
By Martyn Pepperell