With numerically-titled albums for CTI Records in the mid-70s, Bob James released four early and iconic jazz-funk records. The albums melted funky grooves with jazz, light pop-worthy hooks and melodies, and arrangements inspired by classical styles. As Jermaine Dupri nicely puts it in Pitchfork 2016’s Two Turntables And A Saxophone feature: “The Bob James album [One] sounds like a rap album without the raps.” True indeed: One heavily leans on the funk-led rhythm section and grooves. From the intricate album opener “Valley of the Shadows” to B-side ending “Nautilus”—one of the most sampled cuts ever in music by Slick Rick, Eric B. & Rakim, Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, and, well, insert any hip-hop artist here, really…
In the video below, Bob James himself shares a couple of sample stories and memories about some of his originals. Including the story behind his hit "Angela," and Biz Markie's claim of owning a rare 12" record of "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" without the cowbells...
Ironically, “Nautilus” was somewhat of a last-minute filler to One. In a conversation with Daniel Isenberg for his own website, Bob James admits that he was "noodling around with a sketch at home," before taking it to the studio for a last-minute recording to flesh out the B-side, at the request of CTI Records. The rest is history: the sketch turned into a sampling classic.
"I think 'Nautilus' has been sampled so much because of its groove,” Bob James tells Tracklib in the video above. “Yes, there's a little hook *imitates melody* But the groove... That's the magic. I recorded this little vamp thing because I was always looking for a cool bassline to play for Gary King. That’s what we turned into a groove, with later the weird atmospheric sound from the Arp synthesizer I was experimenting with added as an intro. My producer Creed Taylor thought that sounded like a submarine, so we called the track ‘Nautilus.’”
“Flippin’ Bob James’ ‘Nautilus’ is a rite of passage for a producer. Even if you don’t play it for anybody.”
After his run of four albums on Creed Taylor’s CTI Records—which was preceded by two releases as the Bob James Trio—Bob James started his own label: Tappan Zee Records, with the Touchdown LP as its first release. That was Bob James’ breakthrough (and platinum-certified) album. Including “Angela,” the monster hit off the album made famous through the television sitcom show Taxi.
On top of that already rich catalog, collaborations ended up being key to Bob James. That makes a solitary release like Alone, Kaleidoscope by Solo Piano a rare occasion. “For my entire career, I strive on collaboration,” he tells Tracklib. “That’s what almost turned me on the most: getting the feedback, inspiration from someone I’m collaborating with.” Think of collaborations with drummer Idris Muhammad (who also played drums on One & Touchdown), guitarist Earl Klugh, saxophonist David Sanborn, cult hero Gábor Szabó, and setting up Fourplay: a contemporary jazz quartet consisting of Harvey Mason (drums), Lee Ritenour (guitar), and Nathan East (bass), and Bob James himself on keys.
Watch to see what Bob James thinks of "Daytona 500" by Ghostface Killah ("Should I call him Ghost, or Mr. Killah?"), Warren G's "Regulate," Run DMC's "Peter Piper" & more:
“To this day, it’s still a shock to me that so many people want to sample my music.”
Early sampling of Bob James music includes Gary King’s ‘Nautilus’ bassline on 'Bait' by Ultramagnetic MC's (1986), and the ‘submarine sonar synth’ on Run DMC's 'Beats To The Rhyme' (1988)—not counting earlier interpolations by Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, beatboxing by Greg Nice (of Nice & Smooth), and Rockmaster Scott And The Dynamic Three. From there, Bob James' catalog became a monumental building block for hip-hop. With other much-sampled tracks, in particular also the drums and cowbell of ‘Take Me To The Mardi Gras’ off Two (De La Soul, NWA, Run DMC, and hundreds if not thousands of others).
Bob James’ continuous praise and respect for hip-hop and its *“architectural aspect of production”*only expands now that, for the first time ever, his music is officially available for cleared sampling. “I think it’s fantastic. It’s going to lead to many new creative things for the future,” Bob James says. “Whether you’re looking for a boogie-woogie piano part or a crazy electronic hip-hop sound or whatever… You’re going to find it [at Tracklib].”
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