Brother Lee’s records can take shape rapidly, often on a vintage Tascam 244, recorded with a Radio Shack mic and his wife's guitar and piano. Bathed in the magical light of Southern France where he currently lives, these collections of songs feel like they are hewn from the better, less well trodden towpaths of rocknroll. The songs are singular, familiar and unso, studied, knowing and often lyrically devastating. Two LPs are being readied for release before the end of the year. What a thrill then to publish a new essay from Lee, espousing the inherent merits of the humble bongo. A favorite thing for him. Number One in a new Outsideleft series of favorite things, how much Lee loves bongos.
Bongos were and are still my #1 instrument. Started playing when I was six years old, jamming along to pop hits on the little transistor radio in my bedroom, then playing along to Latin records later on. I learned other instruments afterwards but the bongos always have been my main deal.
Most percussionists focus on Latin, Brazilian or African music, which I love. But I also loved Moby Grape and “Forever Changes” and Spacemen 3 or “Piper At The Gates Of Dawn” or Silver Apples, or Can... which most percussionists I knew thought was shite. Psychedelic percussion players tended to be thin on the ground, I found.
Anyhows. Here’s the cheapie no-name bongos I used on the Inner Space Quartet records “Medicine Bag”, “Paranoia Party” and “Hashish Scene”. Probably dozens of other sessions too.
I’d done the old Latin players trick of sandpapering down the heads a little, this makes them a little less durable but 100% more resonant and lively sounding. They used to record great, microphones loved them, but they were never going to last forever. Especially with me playing them like a gorilla on a sugar rush or whatever. Sometimes I get carried away y’know...
I couldn’t find a replacement head so I got a replacement set of bongos with Remo synthetic heads. They sound good and will probably outlive me but these original cheapie ones were really special.