For the next three columns, DeepSoul is spotlighting songs that have been frequently sampled by artists from various genres.
"Take that funk inside of you / And make your body move," funk group Breakwater commands listeners. With a room-shaking beat, funky synthesizers, and blasting electric guitar, they encourage us to "Release the Beast." Originally released in 1980, the song found renewed attention when Daft Punk sampled it for their 2005 track "Robot Rock." Clearly the French DJs/producers glommed on to this lesser-known groove, as they actually altered it little for their own remake. In any case, the EDM stars shined a much-needed spotlight on an unfairly overlooked band.
Formed in Philadelphia in 1971, Breakwater consisted of Gene Robinson (lead vocals and trumpet), James Gee Jones (drums), Lincoln Gilmore (guitar), Steve Green (bass), Vince Garnell (woodwinds), Greg Scott (woodwinds), John "Dutch" Braddock (percussion), and Kae Williams, Jr. (keyboards). After signing with Arista in 1978, they released only two albums: Breakwater (1978) and Splashdown (1980); they soon split after leaving the label. Their first self-titled album emits an Earth, Wind, and Fire feel, with tracks such as "Work It Out" and the LP's lead single "You Know I Love You" featuring horns, elaborate percussion, and Robinson's Maurice White-esque voice. Interestingly, Splashdown leans more toward the Average White Band, Ohio Players or Lakeside with some shades of George Clinton, although the classic soul vibe remains. Slow jams still appear, such as the track "Love of My Life" (with stellar bass courtesy of Green), but "Release the Beast" remains the standout song of the album and Breakwater's career.
"Release the Beast" begins on a deeply funky note, with the hard-hitting drums, distortion-enhanced guitar, thumping bass, and spacey synthesizer notes immediately urging listeners onto the dance floor. "How can you say you wanna sit down / With all this funk going on?" Robinson growls. The rest of the band chants "get up" as if channelling James Brown, urging fans to "release the beast." While the song heavily relies on only chord, the groove and grunginess of the track retains interest.
Daft Punk clearly understood the Breakwater track's sampling potential. The extended riffs, robotic sound of the guitar and keyboards, and danceable beat perfectly fit the EDM legends' material. Their remake made "Release the Beast" sound as if it had been recorded today.
While Breakwater existed only a short time, Williams found success as a studio musician, playing with groups such as Change, the Richie Family, and B. B. & Q. Green's bass work also graces songs by Patti LaBelle, Lou Rawls, Phyllis Hyman, the Stylistics, and the Jones Girls. Judging from the superior, sophisticated musicianship on the band's two albums, it's clear how Breakwater's members would be in demand as studio artists. Williams passed away in 2008, but Robinson, Jones, Green, Gilmore, and Braddock recently reunited the band and still tour, particularly in Europe.
Fans of classic funk and R&B should look up Breakwater and Splashdown, two superbly crafted albums that should have experienced greater success. Breakwater's story, however, demonstrates how sampling techniques can bring renewed interest to a deserving band.