Mojo (UK)

Noblesse Funk

This month’s scorching rediscover­y: a forgotten Detroit gem from the R&B cut-out bins. The Fabulous Counts Jan Jan COTILLION, 1969

- Charles Waring

“It drove the audience nuts… we just played like maniacs.” LEROY EMMANUEL

IN JANUARY 1969, young Detroit six-piece The Fabulous Counts gawped in disbelief when their maddeningl­y funky debut 45 Jan Jan crashed into the US R&B Top 50.

“It just took off like a rocket,” laughs the band’s former guitarist Leroy Emmanuel, now 76, recalling how the hypnotic instrument­al, with its stabbing horns, blues guitar licks and jazzy organ, opened their account for producer Ollie McLaughlin’s indie label Moira. Sounding like Booker T & The M.G.’s cranked up on steroids, Jan Jan enjoyed a chart run that caught both group and label by surprise. It also attracted the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed the band to its Cotillion subsidiary and sent them back to the studio to record an album post-haste.

The group began in 1965 as The Counts, founded by organist Mose Davis with saxophonis­ts James White (tenor) and Demetrius ‘Demo’ Cates (alto), drummer Andrew Gibson and percussion­ist (and occasional sax player) Raoul Keith Mangrum. The group didn’t have a bassist and relied, like the organled jazz combos of the late ’50s and early ’60s, on foot-pedalled bass notes from Davis’s Hammond B3.

Emmanuel joined the group after he discovered them jamming in a Detroit music store. Though just 18, the guitarist was already a seasoned R&B veteran. “I played the Apollo when I was 17, back in ’64,” he reveals. “I was still in high school at the time and backed up Dionne War wick!”

After impressing the group with his fretwork, Emmanuel was invited to join them; not long after, Davis relinquish­ed control of the band to the guitarist, who recalls: “Because I had so much experience – putting together sets and shows – he called a meeting with the others and said, ‘He knows a lot more about doing this than I do.’”

Melding jazz with blues and funk into an earthy R&B recipe of their own, The Counts rapidly became an attraction on Detroit’s club circuit. The group’s popularity brought them to the attention of local promoter Fred McClure, who became their manager and persuaded McLaughlin to record them. They played him Jan Jan, and McLaughlin, whose previous discoverie­s included Del Shannon, was sufficient­ly impressed to release the track as a single. By then, at the urging of their manager, The Counts had become The Fabulous Counts.

After Jan Jan hit the charts, Detroit singer-songwriter/ producer Richard ‘Popcorn’

Wylie took the helm for the band’s debut LP. “He was a smart guy,” recalls Emmanuel. “He could play piano, had a great ear for music. It helped a lot.”

The band supplement­ed five pulsating, horn-heavy originals with covers of recent pop and R&B hits; front-loading the LP with gutsy versions of James Brown’s It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, Sly Stone’s Simple Song and The Beatles’ Hey Jude, all humming with the kind of tight-butloose funkiness neo-soul acts worldwide would sell their grandmothe­rs for. “We did all these songs just tr ying to make up the numbers,” says Emmanuel, self-effacingly. “We recorded the album in a day, and mixed it the next.”

Their own material included driving horns work-out Dirty Red, the quizzical Scrambled Eggs and cyclical groover The Other Thing. Another band original, The Bite, stands out for Emmanuel. “All I played was one note through the whole song,” he laughs. “When we did it live, we just stretched it out no end – we were the type of band that would play a song for 15 minutes, ’cos everybody would solo – and it drove the audience nuts. As soon as I started hitting that note, people would pack the dancefloor. We just played like maniacs.”

Jan Jan came in an eye-catching cover, depicting the sharp-suited group standing in a field still smoking from crop burning. “In Detroit for a while, they were calling us ‘The Black Beatles’ because we wore these Nehrutype suits,” says Emmanuel. “We went out and bought these green suits and had black felt collars put on them.”

Though their debut single sold an estimated 80,000 copies, the parent album didn’t make the charts. Next single Get Down People – their first to feature vocals – just dented the US Hot 100 (in 1990 it was sampled by Brit-hoppers Outlaw Posse, whose Bello B rapped on The KLF’s hit What Time Is Love). Reverting to The Counts, the group joined Funkadelic at Armen Boladian’s Westbound label in 1971 and recorded the LP What’s Up

Front That – Counts. After that, they cut Love Sign and Funk Pump for Atlanta’s Aware label before splitting in 1976. Emmanuel then played in disco king Hamilton Bohannon’s band, worked for Motown and, in 1996, played on JayZ’s Reasonable Doubt. Between 1992 and 2007 he also led an Ontario-based band called LMT Connection, and, in 2009, briefly revived The Counts with original members Mose Davis and Demo Cates.

Reflecting on Jan Jan, Emmanuel admits it was hastily assembled – “It was a r ush job because the single was selling like wildfire” – but nonetheles­s is proud of what the group achieved. “We never became big stars,” he says, “but people remember us and are still talking about The Counts. I’m really happy about that.”

 ?? ?? Top ranking: The Fabulous Counts (clockwise from top left) Jim White, Mose Davis, Demetrius Cates, Raoul Keith Mangrum, Leroy Emmanuel, Andrew Gibson.
Top ranking: The Fabulous Counts (clockwise from top left) Jim White, Mose Davis, Demetrius Cates, Raoul Keith Mangrum, Leroy Emmanuel, Andrew Gibson.
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