Arts, Culture & Media

The six-second drum solo that has been used a thousand times

The_Winstons copy.jpg

An image of The Winstons taken from a 1969 edition of Billboard magazine.

Credit:

Metromedia Records/Wikimedia Commons

You may not have heard of the The Winstons, but you have heard their music — at least six seconds of it.

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“Amen, Brother” was a little-known B-side released by the Washington, DC-based funk and soul group in 1969. 

The Winston's "Amen, Brother"
Credit:

Chris White/Flickr

It wasn’t a hit at the time, but its six-second drum solo has had a huge influence on modern music. Over the past three decades, over 1,500 artists have sampled a version of the drum solo from “Amen, Brother."

One of the first acts to do so was Salt N'Pepa, on their 1986 song "I Desire."

The sample bridged all sort of musical genres, too. It popped up on N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton," and then on the British dance/rave scene during the 1990s when producers started what became known as the "Amen break."

Here's the drum solos in Prodigy’s 1996 hit, “Firestarter."

And again at the beginning of David Bowie's 1997 song, “Little Wonder."

Brit pop-gods Oasis used it in the song “D'You Know What I Mean."

And it showed up later in Amy Winehouse's track, "You Know I'm No Good."

Even Jay-Z used the Amen break on "Can't Knock The Hustle."

But even as it became one of the most sampled drum beats of all time, The Winstons never received royalties from artists who used the six-second clip. Now two British DJs are using an online campaign to raise money for Richard Spencer, a surviving member of The Winstons and the copyright holder for "Amen, Brother."

“The Amen break is something I’ve been involved with directly and indirectly for the past 20 to 25 years through the hip hop scene and the UK rave scene," explains Steve Theobald, one of the two fundraisers. "That break has just been so influential in creating a genre, creating a unique sound."

Theobald and fellow DJ Martyn Webster have raised over $28,000 so far. He says they reached out to artists like Dr. Dre, who produced "Straight Outta Compton," about donating to the fund. But Theobald says that the donations have mostly come from the people who've danced to the Amen break.

“The clubbers and the ravers have felt the beat. They’ve been touched by the beat, if you know what I mean," he says.

And Spencer, the band member who holds the copyright, says he's just as touched by the fundraising campaign. "Fifty years on, some young white boys that I've never met, halfway across the world said, 'We're going to give you a gift.' It's probably one of the sweetest things that has happened to me in a long time," he told the BBC.

Theobald says the money will be transferred directly to Spencer, but he and Webster would like to travel the US to meet Spencer and personally thank him for his contribution to music.

As for why Theobald and Webster wanted to collect money for a man they didn't know? Theobald says it's simple: "It just seemed like the right thing to do."