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I hate to be the one to tell you, but you have not lived until you have heard Bongo Joe.  Allow me to give you birth.  He’s a street musician and I wonder where he’s gone.  In 1969, some loony brain let him put out an inimitable album on Arhoolie Records.  He played in various Gulf Coast cities in Texas, most recently, as of the time of this record, in front of the Alamo in San Antonio.

His real name is George Coleman and he plays, as the album liner notes say, “a 55 gallon oil drum shaped with a hand ax in a curious series of dents, bulges, cuts and wrinkles.”  His drum sticks are fabricated from hammer handles, small cans rattling with stones and B-B shot, and rubber chair leg caps.  This is not a tuneful ringing calypso steel drum.  The furious complex unremitting rhythms he hammers and clatters out resonate deep in the metal hull of his instrument.

His stories are bitter, whimsical, mocking, sermonic.  “You’d better cool it, and do it right,” he admonishes.  “If you don’t do it right, you’ll end up in a fight.”  He shares a knowing kinship with the lonely stray dogs in his fables.  They squeak, “Arsh, arsh, arsh.”  Listen to the first song on the record.  “I Wish I Could Sing” he intones, he chants, he whines, he hums, he squawks, he grumbles, he squeals, he barks, he shouts, he yawps, he whistles, he warbles, ah!  He sings!

George Coleman, “Cool It,” Tradition Music Co., (BMI) (1968); “Innocent Little Doggy,” Tradition Music Co., (BMI) (1968).  From:  George Coleman, Bongo Joe, Arhoolie Records, #1040 (1969).  Album Design – Wayne Pope; Photography – Chris Strachwitz.

Thanks to Jump Jump Records in Portland for having this album just when I needed it!