Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Solid Wig Flippers: The Records That Changed My Life # 1

Jimmy Smith - Root Down (Verve, 1972)

Jeez. Thinking 'bout how many years have passed since I bought this album has really put the spook on me. I'm 28 now. I musta got my mitts on this back in '98. Ten years, man. A lifetime ago. Well, not a lifetime. Maybe like a cat's lifetime. Whatever - it's a long-ass time, and one half of my brain is telling me it seems like a hundred years longer, and the other half is telling me it's gone in the blink of a lamb's tail. (Aside from a telescoped-perception of time, that side of my brain also has a problem with mixing its metaphors.)

I ordered this album from Track Records in Doncaster; they didn't have it in stock but the dude said they could try getting it in.Looking back, I don't even know why I'd got it into my head that this was an album I had to hear - the regular reason a young kid would set about digging in the crates for Root Down would be that they'd heard The Beastie Boys sampled it, but I didn't get into The Beastie Boys for years after I bought this. In my whole life I've only ever ordered one record from a shop, this album, so there musta been some reason why I broke with tradition here...but I don't recall what. Whatever the reason, I'm super glad I did.

Jimmy Smith's Root Down was probably the very first 'proper funk' record I ever bought, and it's a hell of a place to start. Before this I'd bought compilations - including the incredible 4 CD 'Big Payback' box on Sound & Media, which I'll cover later - and bits and bobs elsewhere, cheap Funkadelic best-ofs and the like - but this album was just on another level entirely. This was a proper, relatively obscure LP, a live album from 1972, on a jazz label I knew next to nothing about, and the (sort-of) title track was an absolute monster of an instrumental Hammond workout, over 10 minutes long, a ton of wah-wah, bongos, drums...The Real Deal. I've played 'Root Down (And Get It)' so many times I couldn't even begin to count 'em, and it's never once failed to fill me with anything less than complete, funky, head-nodding joy.

As a DJ I have found 'Root Down (And Get It)' indispensable. It's a slow-burner. If you're dealing with a hip-hop crowd, or a funk crowd, they know the score from the opening, tentative bass figure, and the reaction, the dancefloor action, is instantaneous. That's cool. But play it to Root Down virgins and it's a whole other story, and I love it - at first, there's a tentativeness - like, this is kinda groovy, but I dunno about dancing to it...Root Down always wins 'em around. It's relentless, just keeps on going and going, this hypnotic groove, ebbing and flowing, 'til the whole room is a mass of smiling faces and liquid limbs. That's the power of Root Down.

I spent alot of my teen years deep in existential introspection and self-involved heavy navel-gazing; I guess that's par for the C. Joy Division played their part, and I sort of resent them now because of it. Albums like Root Down flipped the script on me, made me realise something vitally important: dark and doomy music makes Jack a dark and doomy boy. Joy Division weren't good for me. And like bad food, fags or any other toxin, if you wanna get better, you gotta get rid. Get rid, and replace 'em with something that's good and will do you good. The fact that I can't even fathom why I decided that I needed this out-of-left-field album in my life speaks to why I love it, it's like, on some genetic level, I just knew I needed it...or maybe Root Down sensed I needed it, and found me.

Bought: Christmas 1998 /CD /Track Records, Doncaster.

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