The Winstons – Amen, Brother

16th November 2021 · 1960s, 1969, Funk, Music, Soul

The Amen Break is the much-sampled drum loop that spawned a thousand tunes and kick-started drum & bass. Here’s the song that started it.

I’ve just been getting a music lesson from my daughter Lily’s boyfriend Andy. Normally we inhabit different musical universes, as his area of expertise is musical theatre and mine… isn’t.

Today he told me about the Amen Break.

I didn’t know what he’s talking about. But I do now; if you do, feel free to scroll on. If not, well this 1969 song by The Winstons – specifically the six-second drum break at 1:26 – spawned entire genres of music.

It’s instantly familiar, if not from its original source, which was merely an obscure B-side to a million-selling song called Color Him Father that was the group’s only hit.

It crops up in hip hop a lot, ever since it was used by NWA on their 1988 debut Straight Outta Compton and Mantronix in the same year’s King Of The Beats, and forms the basis for pretty much all drum & bass and jungle music.

So who were The Winstons? Based in Washington D.C., they were a funk and soul group led by vocalist and tenor sax player Richard Spencer.

They included two former members of Otis Redding’s band in guitarist Quincy Mattison and drummer Gregory C. Coleman, alongside Ray Maritano (alto sax), Sonny Pekerol (bass) and Phil Tolotta (organ).

It is Coleman who performs the famous – nay, legendary – drum break halfway through, making it probably the most widely sampled clip of all time.

You can hear it in literally thousands of tracks across genres including hip hop, drum & bass, big beat, industrial and various electronica/EDM sub-genres.

It features heavily in a 35-minute lecture on YouTube, deconstructing the evolving role of breakbeats in electronic music, by an eminent university professor, Dr Jason Homan.