2013 Documentary: Sample This
This was the official website for the 2013 documentary, Sample This.
The song that many say is responsible for the popularity of hip hop is the focus of Sample This. In the summer of 1973, the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” began making waves in the music industry and its percussive beats have since been sampled by many artists over the last few decades including Will Smith, Missy Elliot, Jay-Z and Amy Winehouse. The unrated documentary is playing in limited theaters for one hour and twenty-five minutes.
Content is from the site's 2013 archived pages as well as from other outside sources.
Sample This Official Trailer (2013)
RELEASE DATE:September 13, 2013
STARRING:Gene Simmons, Ahmir Khalib Thompson (aka Questlove), King Errisson, Jerry Butler, Freda Payne, Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, Roosevelt Grier, Afrika Bambaataa
"Sample This" is the true story of how unknown music producer Michael Viner brought together the greatest studio musicians of the 1970's to create an album that ultimately went nowhere… until the summer of 1973, when DJ Herc took the percussion breaks from that obscure album and extended them by playing them back to back. His beats became an anthem on the streets of the Bronx and ultimately the genre of Hip Hop, becoming one of the most sampled tracks in history and used by artists from Will Smith and Missy Elliott to Amy Winehouse and Jay-Z.
A documentary that reveals how a forgotten record by the Incredible Bongo Band helped cement the foundation of hip hop when DJ Herc extended its percussion by playing them back to back, creating an anthem on the streets of the Bronx.
Critics SCORE: 93% | AUDIENCE SCORE: 63%
Genre: Documentary, Musical & Performing Arts
Directed By: Dan Forrer
Written By: Dan Forrer
In Theaters: Sep 13, 2013 Limited
On Disc/Streaming: Dec 9, 2013
Runtime: 85 minutes
Studio: Go Digital
Note from the real world: NYC 2020. Here we are living through a pandemic. Who would have thought this even possible. Maybe scientists, but not us folks. When GOv. Cuomo issued the orders to shut down NYC and have everyone, except essential workers, shelter in place, I felt like I was in a surreal movie. Walking outside with everyone wearing face masks, the cheering and clapping at 7 PM every evening to salute the font line workers at the hospitals, the lines the snaked down the block and around the corner for another half a block outside of Trader Joe's grocery store here on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the streets mostly empty of cars and trucks in the early months....man it was weird and scary. The US government with Trump down playing the severity of Covid 19 was such a disconnect from what we were living here in NYC was just too much. Six months later, Trump and company still aren't doing jack sh23!!t, but NYC is emerging, slowly opening, some businesses coming back, folks eating at restaurants that have set up tables on the sidewalks and in parking places along avenues and side streets, cars and trucks crowding the roadways once again. But it's a new type of normal with 95% of folks here in the city wearing face masks, Black Lives Matter protests still going on, an election of the likes I have never seen let alone imagine taking place in less than a month. Life is crazy. But I did manage to treat myself to a sterling silver ring with a cubic zirconia setting that I've been eyeing for a while. Although I may be stuck here, I was able to get delivery for my affordable cz ring which makes it so convenient. And it's not just jewelry that's on my mind. I just made arrangements for my go to rug cleaning company, H&S Rug cleaning and Restoration, to come pick up some oriental rugs for their annual Spring cleaning. It's only six months late, but thank goodness they're still in business. Of all the rug cleaning companies I have used over the years, I think they are the best one here in the NYC area for restoring and cleaning antique rugs. One of the owners, Haim, is a music buff like me. Whenever he picks up my rugs, we spend some time chatting about music. He even bought my old Precision Fender bass guitar when I was breaking down my recording studio. This time when he drops by I want to ask him if he is familiar with Michael Viner and The Incredible Bongo Band or the documentary, Sample This. If not, I am going to recommend that he buy the DVD on Amazon.
Odie Henderson www.rogerebert.com
September 13, 2013
I brought a certain nostalgia to "Sample This," Dan Forrer's documentary on Michael Viner and the Incredible Bongo Band song that played a crucial role in hip-hop music. "Apache," the song in question, is instantly recognizable to any fortysomething 'hood denizen who grew up in the NYC area. If you ever went to a Party in the Park, DJ'ed a block party, spun on your back on a cardboard box, or owned a copy of "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel," this 1973 classic is practically etched in your DNA.
As the percussion break section of "Apache" filled the soundtrack during the opening credits, my brain flooded with memories of days long since gone. That break, and almost every other musical element in "Apache," has been used in countless rap songs over the past 40 years. In choosing to tell this origin story, Forrer guaranteed his film a built-in audience of people like me.
Even if you lack a wealth of rap knowledge, "Sample This" is still worth seeing. Like "20 Feet from Stardom" and "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," it focuses on the studio musicians whose contributions are well-known but whose identities are not. While not as good as those two features, "Sample This" does a competent job of meting out information from studio musicians and the hip hop culture icons their work influenced. A number of surprising people show up to chat, from Rosey Grier and Jerry Butler to Gene Simmons, whose appearance in the opening scene of "Sample This" is as unexpected as the exploding robot cockroaches he sent to kill Tom Selleck in "Runaway."
Simmons's tie to the material is explained later. As narrator, he provides an above-average take on the standard "Behind the Music"-style prose Forrer has written for him. The story of the Incredible Bongo Band plays out as a stranger than fiction game of Six Degrees of Separation; it ropes in Bobby Kennedy and Charles Manson as well as Berry Gordy, The Beatles and Phil Spector. "Sample This" begins in 1968, with its main subject Michael Viner working for Robert F. Kennedy, which connects him to former Los Angeles Ram (and cousin of Pam) Rosey Grier. Grier, who looks damned good for 81, recounts how his bodyguard duties put him in direct contact with Sirhan Sirhan the moment after Sirhan shot RFK.
Traumatized by RFK's death, both Grier and Viner left Washington D.C. Eventually, they became roommates in California. Viner went into the music business, despite having no musical talent whatsoever. "He had a guitar," his sister remembers, "and we begged him not to play it." He did have a great side hustle, and how Marcel Marceau fits into this equation is one of "Sample This'" most amusing anecdotes.
Viner's musical ties at MGM Records connected him with former Impressions singer Jerry Butler and arranger/songwriter Perry Botkin, Jr. Both appear in "Sample This," discussing Viner's schemes while pulling the movie business into the story. Butler and Viner had cameos in Grier's hilarious 1972 horror comedy "The Thing With Two Heads," and Botkin and his collaborator Barry DeVorzon composed the percussion-heavy origins of "Apache"'s sound for a climactic riot scene in Stanley Kramer's 1970 film, "R.P.M."
Viner's decision to do a soundtrack for "The Thing With Two Heads," and its lack of a full album's worth of material, led to a remake of a 60's song called "Bongo Rock." Having heard R.P.M's music, Viner called Botkin to arrange it. It was credited to The Incredible Bongo Band. Due to Viner's latest hustle, "Bongo Rock '72" became a hit in Canada, leading to a recorded-in-Canada album by the fictitious band and the song that launched a thousand samples.
Enter the studio musicians, or as Incredible Bongo Band guitarist Mike Deasy aptly states: "the people you always heard but never heard of."
"We needed a bongo player," Botkin tells us, "so I hired King Errisson." Errisson, like Bobby Hall at Motown, was a well-known studio percussionist. "He had the fastest hands I'd ever seen," one musician notes, which Errisson casually demonstrates for Forrer's camera. To accompany Errisson on drums, Botkin hired Jim Gordon, a genius session drummer who co-wrote "Layla" with Eric Clapton. The duo had worked together before, laying down the percussion break in Friends of Distinction's "Grazing in the Grass." Botkin arranged a similar break into "Apache," a song that had once been covered by the Beatles in their concerts.
Errisson and Gordon's break is the same musical contraption that Godfather of Hip Hop DJ Kool Herc noticed really got people excited on the dance floor. He searched the Bronx record store bins for albums that contained these moments. When he discovered The Incredible Bongo Band's LP (which he selected based on the album cover), Kool Herc took these sections from "Apache" and strung them together, repeating and mixing them into other records on his turntables. It caught on at parties in the Bronx, and eventually found its way into record after record. Hip hop culture was now forever connected to '60s bongo rock.
"Sample This" spends an equal amount of time with the studio musicians and the rappers who loved their work enough to infinitely use and deconstruct it. Pianist Michael Melvoin talks about 15-hour work days and playing the memorable organ section of Sinatra's "That's Life." Errisson discusses his tie to James Bond and Deasy tells a harrowing story about his time recording the music of the Manson Family. On the hip-hop side, Kool Herc, Grand Wizzard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa discuss the art of scratching and sampling, not to mention what makes a perfect breakdancing beat. (Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" answered that for me by sampling Kraftwerk.) Footage of old hip hop parties and current performances by the studio musicians flow nicely throughout "Sample This." Everyone looks happy to be both making and consuming the music.
For a documentary filled with such joyous, danceable beats, there's still a note of sadness playing through "Sample This." It's not surprising, given this is a film bookended by deaths. Despite how adept he was at running game, Viner could only outsmart cancer so many times. Amy Winehouse, who also sampled "Apache," gets enough screen time to remind us of her tragically short life. Michael Melvoin, to whom this film is dedicated, died after filming his interviews. And Jim Gordon's story is so horrifying and tragic that it blindsides "Sample This" to a point from which the film barely recovers.
To discuss how songs like "Apache" became as much a part of hip hop as James Brown's famous musical licks, "Sample This" turns to another famous drummer. "It was the age of irony," says ?uestlove, who is fast becoming a highly entertaining interview subject in documentaries. "Not everything cool came from Detroit or Muscle Shoals. This came from Vancouver, Canada." That alone makes "Apache" the best tie-in between the Bronx and Vancouver since Jackie Chan's "Rumble in the Bronx" relocated Grouse Mountain to the Cross Bronx Expressway.
Sample This: Film Review
9/13/2013 by Frank Scheck | www.hollywoodreporter.com/
This improbably fascinating documentary will be manna from heaven to pop culture devotees.
Dan Forrer's documentary delves into the history of the little-known instrumental song that became one of the most sampled tracks in pop music history.
For a film about a little-known song by a now forgotten band, Sample This manages to weave in a wealth of pop culture wanderings into its tapestry. The song, “Apache,” originally appeared on a 1973 album by Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band, a group of studio musicians assembled by Viner, a producer whose previous credits included the hit novelty album The Best of Marcel Marceau, which consisted of silence followed by the sound of audience clapping. While the song made little impact initially, it was later discovered by DJs and hip-hop artists and improbably went on to become one of the most sampled tracks in pop music history.
But that’s not even the most compelling element of Dan Forrer’s entertaining if disjointed documentary, which delves into the history of the track and its creators with a near obsessive attention to detail. Among the colorful elements featured in the film are the assassination of Robert Kennedy (a young Viner was one of his aides); the campy horror film The Thing With Two Heads; the Charles Manson murders; the possible participation of Ringo Starr on the album; and the notorious gangster Johnny Roselli and his possible role in the CIA’s plot to kill Fidel Castro and the subsequent JFK assassination.
“Apache,” which one onscreen commentator describes as “the national anthem of hip-hop,” was originally written by a British songwriter inspired by American westerns and recorded by the band The Shadows. The obscure instrumental was later covered by the Incredible Bongo Band, which had been created by Viner to contribute a couple of songs to the soundtrack of The Thing With Two Heads, which starred the improbable onscreen duo of Rosey Grier and Ray Milland.
The song languished in obscurity until it was rediscovered a few years later by DJ Kool Herc, who made it a staple of his Bronx dance parties. It was later covered by The Sugarhill Gang and eventually became a hip-hop staple, used by artists including Missy Elliot, Amy Winehouse, Nas, LL Cool J, The Roots and countless others.
While the film narrated by Gene Simmons largely eschews delving into exploring the cultural impact of sampling on pop music, it endlessly explores the fascinating characters involved in the song’s creation and evolution. Among the members of the Incredible Bongo Band were such musicians as guitarist Mike Deasy, who was once briefly had a connection with Manson; drummer Jim Gordon, who later suffered from severe emotional illness and went to prison for killing his mother; and bongo player King Errisson, who was befriended in Jamaica by Sean Connery during the filming of Thunderball.
It’s a fascinatingly eccentric, if digressive, tale, recounted through a combination of archival footage and interviews with such figures as Afrika Bambaataa, Questlove, Freda Payne, Melle Mel and Jerry Butler, among many others. A joyous coda features the band’s surviving members reuniting to jam on the Hawaii Five-0 theme song.
Movies ‘Sample This’ tells the story of ‘the national anthem of hip-hop’
King Errisson, a bongo player and longtime touring and session musician, was the percussionist behind the Bongo Band’s “Apache,” the centerpiece of “Sample This.” (Rob Ducharme)
*** By Mark Jenkins | https://www.washingtonpost.com/
September 12, 2013
Soon after DJ Kool Herc found the record that “Sample This” calls “the national anthem of hip-hop,” he realized he had a treasure. Seeing the wild audience reaction to one drum solo, the teenage Bronx DJ ripped the labels off the disc so competitors wouldn’t know what it was.
Of course, word got around anyway. As writer-director Don Forrer’s discursive yet fascinating documentary reveals, the track is the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.” In the movie, such hip-hop luminaries as Questlove and Afrika Bambaataa hail the tune as the most important in the genre’s history.
Herc started playing the Bongo Band’s “Apache” drum break around 1975, two years after it was released. But the movie’s chronology begins three decades earlier, with the childhood of its main character, Michael Viner. A politically-connected District native, Viner was among the few white kids who frequented such African American music venues as the Howard Theatre during the 1950s.
Viner worked on Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, but left politics after the candidate was assassinated. He shifted to producing movies, music and eventually books-on-tape. One of his projects was a “band” with no permanent membership and an emphasis on percussion. The Incredible Bongo Band would be a fictional group — like the Monkees or the Partridge Family, but funkier.
Viner, who died in 2009, produced two albums for the Bongo Band. For the first, he decided to do a remake of “Apache,” a twangy British instrumental that had been a 1960 British hit for the Shadows. Known more for marketing skills than musical savvy, Viner left the sound of the Bongo Band’s albums mostly to arranger Perry Botkin Jr. and a crew of top-flight session musicians.
All these players have stories, and “Sample This” tells some of them, notably the ones involving madness and murder. In-demand studio drummer Jim Gordon may or may not have played on “Apache,” but he did perform on most of the album. Ten years later, probably in the grip of schizophrenic delusions, he killed his mother.
Guitarist Mike Deasy survived a brush with an ax-wielding Charles Manson, who tried to break into the L.A. rock biz in the 1960s. Bongo ace King Errisson has a less dramatic bio, although it does involve a boost from Sean Connery, who decided that “Thunderball” needed the percussionist’s Caribbean rhythms.
With all this material — and there’s more — “Sample This” doesn’t allot much time for hip-hop’s embrace of “Apache,” and barely discusses the “crate-raiding” culture that gives new life to forgotten LPs. Forrer, a first-time director, also shows little flair for pacing and structuring the tale (which is narrated by Kiss’s Gene Simmons, a Viner pal).
Yet the movie provides a vivid sense of the period, as well as an intriguing backstage look at the making of improbable pop classics. Like so many songs to rock and roll off the assembly line, the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” is random, absurd and sublime.
*** by Jen Chaney | http://thedissolve.com/
SEPTEMBER 12, 2013
ample This is a documentary about one of the most widely borrowed songs in popular music history, a percussive explosion that partially formed the foundation of hip-hop. Sample This is also an often-compelling illustration of the interconnected nature of American culture. What it isn’t, however—though it could have been—is a deeper exploration of how sampling eventually transformed the way we consume music and media in general.
The history behind the version of “Apache” done by Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band—which serves as the film’s focus—is complicated and rich. The song links to a mind-boggling array of significant moments, well-known personalities, and pop touchstones via its producers and performers. Those links include the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the Manson family, Eric Clapton, the Billy Graham Crusade, the racial-horror schlockfest The Man With Two Heads, and the James Bond movie Thunderball, just for starters.
First-time director Dan Forrer carefully, energetically explains exactly how all these things overlap. That’s Sample This’ great core strength: its ability to trace the independently compelling personal narratives that intertwined when Viner, a former aide to Robert Kennedy and a savvy record producer and marketer, assembled a group of talented studio musicians to record the 1973 album Bongo Rock, the second track of which was “Apache.” The song initially barely registered in the U.S. pop-music consciousness, but its bongo-infused drum break later captured the attention of DJ Kool Herc, who modified and extended that break to rally crowds at block parties in the Bronx. Soon, Grandmaster Flash was playing it. Another DJ, Grand Wizzard Theodore, was inventing scratching with it. And not long after, as Sample This narrator Gene Simmons only semi-hyperbolically puts it, that Bongo Band blip began to change the course of music history, becoming the so-called national anthem of hip-hop, which came to dominate American pop music.
Why is Gene Simmons, who flashed his tongue like a 1970s-era demon-snake in the rock band Kiss, narrating a documentary about hip-hop? Sample This eventually explains why, noting that Simmons and Viner were close friends. (Simmons wrote a few books that were released by Viner’s publishing company, Phoenix Books.) If Simmons’ voice had been used in a low-key way, that might have worked, but his face also appears on-camera multiple times, including before his reasons for participation are explained. It’s a distraction that makes him appear to be trespassing on rap property. In a film about the rise of hip-hop voices, it seems wrong not to hear one of those voices—say, that of pioneering rapper Grandmaster Caz, who is interviewed here—telling the story.
Visually, Forrer relies largely on archival photos, generic news footage, and the many talking heads that center each frame. Fortunately for him, those heads belong to some truly intelligent, fascinating characters, from the nation’s pre-eminent source on all things hip-hop, Questlove, to Mike Deasy, a veteran guitarist who contributed to Bongo Band recordings and also had a life-alteringly frightening encounter with Charles Manson, recounted in the film. Jim Gordon, another lauded studio musician who played drums with the Bongo Band, also adds a dark element to the Sample This story; in the 1980s, an undiagnosed acute mental illness led him to kill his mother. He’s still in jail.
“We’re the people you always heard but you never heard of,” Deasy tells the camera at one point, echoing the theme of another recent musical documentary about unsung backing musicians, 20 Feet From Stardom. All these under-the-radar talents have fascinating stories to tell. The great pleasure of Sample This comes from getting to hear them.
What the movie is missing is a deeper exploration into “Apache’s” continuing influence in hip-hop and other forms of media. The film notes that the track has appeared on enough singles to max out the storage capacity on multiple iPods, including releases by Missy Elliott, Amy Winehouse, and The Sugarhill Gang, whose 1981 riff on “Apache” may be the best-known version of the song. But Forrer never addresses the ramifications of all that breakbeat borrowing, from a cultural or legal standpoint. (A 2006 New York Times piece alludes to the complications that arose when Viner, who died in 2009, tried to track down illegal uses of the song, the hip-hop equivalent of chasing needles in haystacks.)
At one time, purists thought sampling was pop-music plagiarism. Now it’s so commonplace that it only elicits a blink on rare occasions, like this summer’s uproar over Robin Thicke’s alleged Marvin Gaye thievery on “Blurred Lines.” The whole notion of manipulating existing art into something simultaneously retooled and fresh has now extended to nearly every aspect of media. Technically, it’s not an entirely new concept. Even “Apache” is a cover of a song originally recorded in 1960 by British rock band The Shadows.
But the way consumers tweak and twist content now is much more pervasive. Every time a blogger aggregates a post from an outside source, or a YouTube genius creates a viral-video mash-up, they’re engaging in a variation of what those hip-hop pioneers were doing on turntables with “Apache.” It’s a shame Sample This doesn’t make these connections. As an enjoyable documentary about the history behind a surprising game-changer of a song, this film works well. But it misses the opportunity to take its material to the next level and say something bigger: That we’re living in a society where we’re all sampling, every day.
ROTTEN TOMATOES AUDIENCE REVIEWS
Dec 01, 2013
Just had nothing for me. Guess you have to really know/care about the subject to enjoy it.
Sep 30, 2013
I loved it so much that I watched it twice!
Sep 27, 2013
Not the hip hop film I expected. Better story than Sugarman!
Sep 21, 2013
Very entertaining look at the creation and story of the song that became known as the national anthem of hip hop, told with great craft through the eyes and ears of the legends themselves, The Incredible Bongo Band...
Sep 16, 2013
I was lucky to see it in the theater on Friday. Personally I'm not really into hip hop but this film was great, highly recommend it even if you don't like that type of music. It was intelligent and well made. Its great to recognize from one song the beats you hear in music today.
Sep 07, 2013
I saw the premiere of this documentary film at the British Film Institute in London in June, followed by a Q&A with the director, Dan Forrer, who elicited gasps from the audience when he mentioned in passing that he spent 4 years researching and creating this film -- a level of dedication that's plainly evident throughout. I can honestly say that this is the most fascinating, surprising and compelling documentary that I have ever seen. Who would have guessed that the iconic piece of music (Apache) that represents the birth of hip-hop culture and rap, and the musicians who make it all happen, would be tied to so many key historical events from the assassination of Robert Kennedy to the Charles Manson murders? As a political analyst and pop culture junkie, this film treated me to a unique perspective on some of the history that shaped the American landscape, with the added bonus of learning about the birth and evolution of hip-hop along the way. If you're a celebrity watcher, this film has some great little gems that have never before come to light. And if you're a diehard hip-hop fan, you'll love this for the interviews and insight from some of the biggest names in the business. It's about 1.5 hours and doesn't drag at all. Great editing and the stellar soundtrack that you'd expect from a film about Apache.