Nov 13, 2022
Back in the early 70’s, drummer Mike Clark and bassist Paul Jackson were best friends, living in East Oakland, playing flatbed gigs at Black Panther rallies and generally raising hell. Cooking was not their forte, so the barbecue joint next door became a hangout. Mrs. Jones (of Everett and Jones) asked them to write a song to promote the spot, and they came up with the first version of ‘God Made Me Funky.’ Bill Summers worked with Jackson at the local record store, and he jumped at an opportunity to open a show for Herbie Hancock in the Bay Area. He got the call to audition for Herbie’s band, joining Herbie for the album Headhunters. The result was the first platinum selling Jazz album in history. The lineup on that first album: Bennie Maupin, Paul Jackson, Harvey Mason, and Bill Summers. Mike Clark replaced Mason afterwards, and the lineup continued on several hugely influential Herbie Hancock releases such as Thrust and Flood.
"God Made Me Funky" and it's sampled drum loop helped define early hip-hop, and cemented the reputation of the two percussionists forever. Mike Clark and Bill Summers are two of a kind - they share a love for music that never dies. The pair kept The Headhunters alive, releasing two albums in Survival of the Fittest in 1975 and Straight From The Gate in 1977 with Herbie as featured guest. The chemistry between them is undeniable: They have persevered for over 40 years through industry setbacks, the death of band members, and more, to stay true to their mission with the same energy and zeal that the music demands.
11 years after their last release, The Headhunters are set to release Speakers In The House, a new full length album featuring Summers, Clark, NEA Jazz master Donald Harrison, Stephen Gordon, bassist Reggie Washington, and organist Jerry Z. The album also features Scott Roberts and Fode Sissoko on kora. The Headhunters spirit is alive and well on the album, which fuses the band’s African and New Orleans influences with their ever-present technical jazz-funk, rooted in music history and growing in the present moment.
It was a real treat to get both Clark and Summers together on a Zoom call a month back, and let the two do in conversation what they do in musical conversation onstage - exchange ideas, riffs and thoughts in lightning speed, keeping a great rhythm going at all times. It was a blast.
And you can hear it on Podcast 942, where they talk about the new album, how they have stayed together for forty plus years, and their recent solo projects, Summers' Forward Back and Clark's Blues on Top with Leon Lee Dorsey and Mike LeDonne. You'll get a chance to hear the re-arranged and performed "Actual Proof" as the two remember the late, great Paul Jackson.