Breaking Down The Breaks: Simon Allen (of The New Mastersounds)

There are many hundreds of Simon Allens around the world. This particular Simon Allen is the drummer of UK funk quartet The New Mastersounds (established in 1999), and has run their label One Note Records since 2003. His drum break record Simon Plays was released last Friday on King Underground. A good moment to break down the six best drum breaks according to him. 

“Drum breaks are not drum solos”, says Simon. “I think of them as pockets of groove that are exposed when other instruments drop out for a few bars. A break could be pure drum kit—making it especially ripe for sampling and chopping up—or held together by a tambourine or another regular percussive sound like wah-wah guitar, or punctuated with regular hits from the rest of the band.”

“Here are a few of my favourites. I didn’t discover most of these tunes until I was first getting into drumming in my mid-20s, but they all happen to have been recorded just before I was born, in October 1972.”

1. Ziggy Modeliste – “Oh Calcutta!” by The Meters (1969)

“Oh Calcutta!” is a strangely un-groovy cover of a rather lame song which appears on The Meters’ Look Ka Py Py album. I find it almost unlistenable, and yet if you can tolerate the first one minute and 45 seconds, you are rewarded with what might be the most unexpectedly funky four bars of music ever devised (at the end of which you are dumped unceremoniously back into a world of twee meanderings…). The genius of producer Rich Harrison in spotting that break, and the way he looped and processed it to create the basis of Amerie’s 2005 R&B hit “1 Thing“, cannot be understated.

A few years ago whilst touring in the States with The New Mastersounds I had the pleasure of meeting Zig in person – he’s a really charming guy and still as funky as ever. I had to tell him the story of the day some time in the mid-90s when our guitarist Eddie (Roberts) showed up at my house with an unlabelled cassette of tunes by The Meters that a local DJ had compiled for him.

We listened avidly, with no clue as to who these musicians were, where they were from, or whether they were even still alive, but we fell immediately in love with their scratchy, funky, quirky, improvisational approach to the groove, and decided to start a band. So much of how we play to this day is a direct legacy of the contents of that very cassette.

2. James Gadson – “Kissing My Love” by Bill Withers (1972)

The first eight bars are just deliciously dry drums: kick, snare, hi-hat. Gadson’s hi-hat 16ths reside at a really nice spot somewhere between straight and swung. Enter wah-wah guitar for another eight bars before piano and bass join the party.

Here’s a live video, with an abbreviated intro, from a gig recorded the same year so you can check out his crazy stick technique and his infectious grin:

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