What is one of the most sampled bits of music in hip-hop history?
If you guessed virtually any tune by James Brown, you're close. Indeed, Browns' distinctive guitar riffs, drum breaks, and his signature phrases ("give the drummer some," "good gawd!" and "hit me," to name just a few) still pepper rap and hip hop songs. But one of the most frequently sampled drum breaks actually comes from a somewhat obscure gospel number, The Winstons' "Amen, Brother." Virtually impossible to find on CD, it remains an essential part of hip hop culture.
The story begins in 1968, when the Washington D.C.-originated group signed with the Cutnom label and recorded one single, "Need A Replacement." After the song failed to make a significant impression, The Winstons moved to the Metromedia label a year later. This change proved crucial to their career, in that they recorded the popular gospel tune "Color Him Father." Band members Richard Spencer (vocals, tenor sax), Ray Maritano (vocals, sax), Quincy Mattison (vocals, lead guitar), Phil Tolotta (guitar, organ), Sonny Peckrol (vocals, bass), and G.C. Coleman (drums) scored a top ten hit on the R&B and Billboard Singles charts, culminating in a Grammy for Best R&B Song. According to All Music, The Winstons then toured as the backup band for The Impressions, but never attained success again.
Amazingly, The Winstons are now best known not for their big hit song, but for the single's B-side: "Amen, Brother." Their uptempo, joyful version is an instrumental cover of Jester Hairston's "Amen," which he wrote for the film Lilies of the Field in 1963. A subsequent cover by The Impressions—and perhaps the most famous—became a hit the following year. The WInstons' version embodies a soul jam, although it never forgets its spiritual roots; think Booker T. and the MG's performing gospel. The speedy tempo weaves horns, organ, guitar, and bass to make the track surprisingly danceable. But it's primarily known for an almost six-minute section, now called the "Amen Break." In this part, the music briefly drops out to spotlight drummer Coleman, who pounds out a now-famous rhythm pattern. The video below plays just the drum solo in normal speed, sped up, and slowed down: