Funny how one sometimes finds oneself grafted into a sort of history.
Several times in my reading about music, I’ve come across references to the “Apache” beat…without ever being quite sure what it referred to. Well, here’s an interesting blog post with the text of a paper delivered by Michaelangelo Matos on that very issue: the “Apache” beat, its origins and evolution, and its role in hip-hop in particular. (My favorite sentence from Matos’ paper is this: “In other words, a record written by a white Englishman imitating Native Americans as portrayed by white Americans and made famous by a Dane with a vaguely Hawaiian sound, arranged by a Canadian, became the biggest record in black New York.” And that, in turn, seems a conscious homage to a famous story Greil Marcus told of “Hound Dog”: written by two Jewish men (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller) heavily indebted to African-American musical tradition, sold to a darker-skinned white American of Greek descent (Johnny Otis, born John Veliotes) whom many people thought was black, performed in turn by an African-American Big Mama Thornton…and finally, made famous by a white American who claimed, at various times, Native American and Jewish descent, Elvis Presley.)
But in listening to the audio included at the Soul Sides blog (you really should do this, and in chronological order), I found that I’d inadvertently partaken in the evolution of this beat myself. First, listen to the version of “Apache” by Davie Allan & the Arrows. That track is clearly the direct ancestor of the main theme to the first part of Frank Zappa’s Lumpy Gravy, titled “Duodenum.” Zappa borrows the beat and elaborates on the melody. But as was typical with Zappa, he’s not done embellishing his sources yet: here’s the closing section of Lumpy Gravy, part 2 (better known as “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance“). Zappa’s emphasized the Afro-Latin aspects of the beat with the use of bongos in the percussion break.
And here’s where I come in: I had a beat in mind for my tribute to Stephin Merritt…and digging around my collection, that break was the beat I came up with. I tweaked it a bit, altered the tempo slightly…and used it as the backbone to my own “Stephin Merritt Writes Another Song About the Moon.”
So there ya go.
Frank Zappa “Duodenum” (Lumpy Gravy, 1967)
Frank Zappa “Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance” (Lumpy Gravy, 1967)
Update: I was curious and googled what comments were out there on Zappa’s borrowing of “Apache” in Lumpy Gravy…and to my astonishment, there appear to be none…except this very blog entry. Presumably such comments exist…but not online. But even that is surprising, given that Zappa fans are hardly skittish about being online (as in: there are loads of Zappa sites out there). But listen to those tracks back-to-back: no way “Apache” isn’t an influence…