Reliving 70s 'Eastside Bands' and Popular Culture

The 70s 'Eastside Bands' to be precise, popped up in the post-civil war when music ensembles in Eastern Nigeria gathered at various spots of the region performing at college and community school classrooms which were in most cases converted to ballrooms for its respective shows reminiscing the pop culture of the 60s which eventually dragged on to the 70s when Motown's Norman Whitfield's-Sly Stone inspired psychedelic funk and a series of rock imports invaded the record shops. Harry Mosco Agada, Jake Solo and Sonny Akpan had succeeded in forming The Funkees and the hit single 'Akula Owu Onyeara' had exploded and was all over the airwaves becoming an anthem at the market square, the streets of Aba and wherever the 'Akula...' stuff was played.

Interestingly, 'Akula Owu Onyeara' has been scheduled for release in a compilation put together by Brighton, England-based Soundway Records in collaboration with Ekostar Records founded by Kayode Samuel, entitled "Various: Nigeria Special: Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigeria Blues, 1970-1976."

Coincidentally, as the airwaves spinned Funkees mega hit, the imports popped in and the jams got concocted blending the psychedelic flavor of Motown and the rock classics derived from Motown's only rock group Rare Earth. "Get Ready" released in late 1969 joined the forces followed by Rare Earth's "One World" hit "Any Man Can Be A Fool." The jam vibrated in all college dorms and social gatherings with many of the hippies not knowing Rare Earth was a rock import with its origin from what Berry Gordy had assembled in the Motor City and it was called Motown. Motown was everywhere and had become a model. Songwriter, composer, arranger and producer Whitfield and Barrett Strong went to work writing songs and producing artists in the likes of Temptations, Undisputed Truth, Edwin Starr, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips and several other performers that popped up in the recording studio including Whitfields debut label, Whitfield Records which catapulted the group Rose Royce to the top with that amazing soundtrack, "Car Wash" which featured comedians Richard Pryor and Franklin Ajaye in the movie.

Meanwhile, I have spoken at length with Mike Egi of Naija Records whose "Flashback III" should be out before the Summer and had compiled "Flashback II" following the first compilation, Egi had dedicated "Flashback II" to the memory of Spud Nathan. I think Nathan (Jonathan Udensi) was the best male vocalist of that era especially when one looks back to his powerful lyrics in that hit single 'If You Don't Love Me Girl' which echoed in every ballroom back in the day. Actually, the rock imports and psychedelic funk invented by Sly Stone cojoined in establishing how the Eastside bands performed at night clubs and university campus squares. Nathan's vibes was absolutely rock and now we know why most hippies of that era love rock music. Rare Earth started it all, even though the band crossed over when in 1973 Whitfield composed, arranged and produced the "MA" album for the group.

And then there was Bob Miga and the Strangers who came out with a different kind of rock, blending it with the kind of vibe that changed the rock scene in UK during the 70s. The Strangers had released the hit singles 'Survival' and I'm So Lonely' which blasted everywhere including the spots at Lagos. The organ session of Miga was awesome in both tracks. But The Strangers life was shortlived when Ani Hoffner and his colleagues parted ways with Bob Miga and formed the group "One World." Then came Black Children, another offshoot of Strangers and One World. The irony of the Eastside bands was that they couldn't stay together perhaps because of the pattern of pay and contracts. Hoffner's One World had exploded and had begun to play gigs at Lido Night Club and Restaurant in Warri. They were sensational outperforming most resident bands including the Benin-based Black Souls whose origin was then unknown. The single 'Look At The World' obviously moved the hippies and Hoffner had become an icon among the youths.

But then, UK imports made some impacts too. There was a band that erupted from Scotland made up of Sally Carr, the hairdresser; Ken Andrew, film cameraman; Eric McCredie, a sales representative and his brother Ian McCredie, chatered surveyor--all professionals in their own rights. Middle Of The Road was the name of the band. Their hit singles had invaded the record stores and one can feel the presence of 'Love Rock' which grooved and was the kind of music to which the young demographic of the time listened to. No one growing up then could resist what they had to offer. Hearing "Sacramento (A Wonderful Town)" it was hard to figure where exactly the genre of music could be placed. It was rock and the Eastside bands had its own blend too. Middle Of The Road's hit had everyone singing wherever it popped up. They had brilliant singles--'Sacramento,' 'Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum,' 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep,' 'Samson and Delilah,' 'The Talk of the USA, and 'Soley Soley'--and the one I loved most was this one right here.

On one windy day, I had breezed in to U. B. "Hollywood" Umoren's Entertainment World Studios in Gardena, California and he took me round his studio showing me some stuff he'd been putting together regarding the jams of the time when Apostles invaded Aba. He had brought out "The Acts Of The Apostles" album and was working on its compilation with various artists. His studio manager, a white folk, who knows sound engineering, remixing and producing beats quite well was on deck directing, digitizing and waxing on how the compilations could emerge. Sadly, he complained about how these artist are living in penury even though some of these hits are still being produced without giving credits and paying royalties to the finest musicians that erupted during the 70s and had made us proud with the kind of music they produced. Most notable bands without trace in any archive--The Strangers, Semi Colon, Doves, Aktion, Jerry Boyfriend and Herald 7, Stoneface Iwuagwu, Black Children, Heads Funk, and the rest underground performers of the time--could be attributed to time factor and not taking seriously the importance of keeping records. "We are not embarking on research projects," Umoren would tell me. Of course, we are not, and that is why most of the works done by the 70s Eastside performers went down the drain, if not entirely vanished.

When one band was disbanding after another, others popped up with the same cast and the same flavor of music. I remember the place where Emma "China" Chinaka, Arinze Okpalla and co. use to hang out in Port Harcourt some few years after the death of Spud Nathan. They did have jam sessions but couldn't produce any other hit during the course of Original Wings struggling days overtaken by newer recording artists who began to look Westward. Though the Original Wings played gigs at Orupolo Night Club in Port Harcourt, their jam sessions didn't last that long as the band collapsed. Chinaka later married Eunice Okeihu Ihekwoaba who as a neigbor where I dwelled on at 21 Item Street, D-Line, Port Harcourt was the finest lady on the block and the entire complex that was popular for its routine beer parlor talks.

Sweet Breeze had done well with its debut album and that success took Daniel Anyanwu and his colleagues to play gigs in London pubs, an idea originally started by The Funkees. Sweet Breeze reminds one of the Commodores with its unique academia kind of stuff blending it with show-business. They had jammed every pub on the East-side before departing for UK and later "metamorphosing" to Esbee Family when the funk was getting heavy, heavy and heavier.

The mid-70s was too hyped up when disco and psychedelic funk took over. Imo Broadcasting Service (IBS), for instance, where the late Teddy "Oscar" Uju and Onyema O. djayed, the funk was all that mattered as Uju had become an overnight celebrity, killing instantly the appetite of East-side band fans who had begun to adopt the vibrations of TK Records' T. Connection that invaded the Miami area when they arrived from their native Bahamas. Brothers Theophilus and Kirkwood Coakley in collaboration with David Mackey and Anthony Flowers got the funk and it was blasting all over as long as Uju called the shots. There was also Teddy Pendergrass who had left Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes on pay terms going solo, waxing strong with that hit single "When Somebody Loves You Back." It was Uju's favorite and he had spinned that at a jam session in then College of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt. The crowd went amok when Uju had accidentally broken the pin of the turntable which abruptly stopped the music. The music was back on after the needle was replaced and the cheering and fun continued.

By this time, many of the Eastside bands had disappeared, some now as session men while disco-funk completely took over and rap music initiated by Wonder Mike, Big Bank Hank and Master Gee had began to emerge when Sugarhill Gang released "Rappers Delight." TK Records sales clerk Harry Wayne "KC" Cassey and Richard Finch had joined together to form KC & The Sunshine Band and hits upon hits were made; multi-talented Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards had joined together for a classic Chic band which produced the hit singles "Le Freak Ce'st Shit" and "Good Times"; Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff's The Sound of Philadelphia Records (TSOP)had produced a whole lot of cast in urban Philadelphia catapulting O'Jays, McFadden & White Head, Sharon Paige and Pendergrass to the top, while Dick Griffey's Sound of Los Angeles Records (SOLAR) founded in 1977 juiced the The Whispers, Shalamar, Dynasty, Lakeside and the rest crew at SOLAR, which ultimately changed everything with pop culture looking elsewhere.

Producer Leon F. Sylver's increasingly progressive soul-funk production at SOLAR, Gamble and Huff teamwork projects at TSOP, Whitfield and Strong's compositions and songwriting at Motown and, later, Whitfield's own independent label, Whitfield Records, the studio rat Quincy Jones was at Epic Records cooking Michael Jackson's debut album "Off The Wall," and the era would swiftly move to more commercially successful music which chased away the local ensembles.

A whole lot has really changed with an evolving musical genre in present day show business. But the 70s, we must bear in mind was the origin and model toward the commercial success enjoyed today by present day musicians who predominantly left the East for better contracts and gigs in Lagos and Abuja.

Egi's "Flashback II" Tracklisting:

1. 'If You Don't Love Me Girl' -- The Wings
2. 'Ballard Of A Late Hero' -- Original Wings
3. 'Help' -- Sonny Okosun
4. 'Satisfaction' -- Black Children
5. 'Groove The Funk' -- Aktion
6. 'Music In Me' -- Apostles
7. 'Beautiful Woman' -- Cloud 7
8. 'I Need Someone' -- Kris Okotie
9. 'Chasing After Rainbow' -- Sweet Breeze
10.'Look At The World' -- One World
11.'Ife' -- Christy Essien
12.'Juliana' -- Rex Williams
13.'Mr & Mrs Fool' -- Sweet Breeze
14.'Joromi' -- Victor Uwaifo
15.'Item Eka Mi' -- Nichorlas Mbarga
16.'She's My Love' -- Tony Grey
17.'Sugar Daddy' -- Aktion
18.'Mmere Gi Ni' -- Apostles
19.'Carolina' -- Kris Okotie

Let's stop the bootlegging and support our struggling musicians.

Labels: 70s Eastside Bands, Popular Culture, Imports


Anonymous said…
I wonder if there ever was live session recordings during the 70s when these bands played in the East. That was good sending one back to memory lane.
Anonymous said…
Boy u got me swinging right now and flushing everything out taking a quick look in the dayz revealing there was nothing worth pursuing for. Miga was my hero and his style totally different.
Anonymous said…
Is there a way to find out where these people are? Just curious.
Ambrose Ehirim said…
Big Dee,

Thanks for your contribution. Unlike Fela, the fact of the matter is nothing like that existed in the heydays of the 'Eastside Bands' which I believe resulted from many complicated reasons. First, the proprietors who ran the recording studios did not care about recorded in-studio live sessions and things of that nature relating to showbusiness.

Secondly, the performers did not have a contract on the terms of the subject-matter, which is why probably even if there was a live studio recording, rights to the master tape was not in agreement in terms t5o the contract. It is a sad reality, but hey, we are now digging out the stories and with whatever copies in our possession right now, we can make things happen and bring back to life what had been abandoned.
Anonymous said…
I am quite sure there are stored tapes for every recording session. Shouldn't that be available for curios-minded studio executives to use when necessary?
Ambrose Ehirim said…
Big Dee,

Most of the record labels in that era went out of business and typical of Nigerian enterprise everything goes along with it when the business collapses.

On the other hand, I'm yet to see any live recording sessions from that era.


If Bob Miga was based in the States, his talent would have taken him places.


Most of the guys mentioned in the piece are either struggling to overcome the overwhelming hostile environment or somewhere abroad doing the best they can out of a bad situation. I do not have any data on them and googling is not helful, either.
Anonymous said…
I like this. Excellent.
Anonymous said…
This is the coolest stuff and Happy New Year.
Comb & Razor said…
nice post... i didn't realize you had another blog!

as always, i truly value the insights and recollections of people like you, who were there!

i'm probably going to be posting Aktion's Groove the Funk album tomorrow; i hop eyou can stop by to drop some comments about them, because they're a band i actually know little about!
Ambrose Ehirim said…

Glad you stopped by at my hood to check what's happening. You know I'm always at your neck of the wood and I think you are a hell of a guy. You are doing a wonderful job and I adore you. Keep it slamming, bro.
Ambrose Ehirim said…
Nick and Ardis,

Thanks guys for stopping by.
Anonymous said…
I just stumbled into your blog and I doff my hat for you.
Ambrose Ehirim said…

Though belated, thanks for the kind words.
Anonymous said…
Ambrose, na wa O! You just dey tantalize our appetite sha. You're doing great men BUT you need NOT stop at preaching against bootlegging as you also need to graciously give us tips on where to purchase legit copies of these timeless tracks. Please help.

Anonymous said…
Is there a way to listen to the songs by The Strangers that you posted?

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