Filed under: Interviews | Tags: Bill Curtis, Fatback, Fatback Band, King Tim, The Guardian, Timothy Washington
“My aim is to be a kingpin with words, kids will jock my personality like King Tim the Third…” – Edan [Beauty and the Beat, 2005 LP]
I recently spoke with Bill “Fatback” Curtis, longtime leader behind one of the most understated funk groups ever, The Fatback Band. Besides being astoundingly prolific, they’re also known for releasing rap’s first commercially recorded song, 1979’s “King Tim III (Personality Jock)”. My piece with Bill recently ran for The Guardian and I was only allotted roughly 1000 or so words. For those who are into Fatback, below is the extended transcript of our my talk with Bill on their ascent and lasting impact. – DM
Bill’s beginning and love of drums:
“I started in high school, probably sometime around the 10th grade, playing professional. I mostly was playing blues, most cats were only playing blues then. I got the gig because I was the only one in town with a set of drums. But I didn’t know how to play the drums then. And my mother wouldn’t let no body borrow the drums. And the drummer the group I wanted to play with didn’t have drums. But I wasn’t letting no one borrow my drum set so they’d take me along and I eventually got good and played around town.”
On growing up around jazz greats:
“Bedford, North Carolina. It was like a mecca where all these bands would come through and I’d see them all. Butter Johnson and his band would come through. Duke Ellington would also come by. I saw Louis Jordan and all those acts. But I would only just watch the drummers.”
The making of rap’s first commercially released recording:
“That came about because I made a track and basically we were doing an album and I didn’t hear a single. I told my partner Jerry Thomas that we needed a hit to help the album. Otherwise, ain’t no one was gonna hear the album. So I said, ‘Jerry, what if we do a rap song?’ Jerry said ‘We ain’t got no one in the band who does rap, you crazy?’”
“I kept telling him I would love to make a rap track as our single and one of our members at the time was like, ‘I have a friend that lives in the projects and he’s a rapper.’ So I told him to bring his friend to the studio tomorrow and we’ll make it happen. I asked him what the rapper’s name was and he said ‘Timothy Washington.’”
On Fatback’s artistic pivots:
“From the time that Perception started, every one of our records was different from the last. We didn’t stay in any type of genre and whatever was going on, I was a part of it. So Disco was all big then, so I decided to just do it. Then as the band grew, my sound got more sophisticated, my sound got more polished. Then we played ballads eventually. I always wanted to include songs on the album where people would not recognize was us. I still do that to this day. I still put out 1 album a year since 2001.”
Filed under: Random | Tags: Blood Orange, Morris Day, Prince, Questlove, wax poetics
I never really wrote about Prince (or for that matter, Bowie) when he recently passed. I mean, what can be said that hasn’t already been? And in any case, words seem inadequate in describing their immense work and influence.
Wax Poetics is however re-releasing a special version of their epic Prince issue containing some serious coverage that any Prince– or music– fan could devour. I covered Blood Orange in the issue whose work is a terrific reminder of Prince’s sonic progeny. Honored to be a part of the issue which you can grab HERE (before it’s gone forever!).
Humblebrag: I’m always honored anytime anyone cares about my writing. Read a recent interview aimed at aspiring writers where I discuss my career and music journalism’s rapidly changing landscape. Peep it HERE.