Crate Digger: THE EMPERORS Karate 1966
The Emperors Karate (Mala 1966)
The first time I heard this record, it was New Year’s Eve. I was in Newcastle, I had watched the fireworks over the Tyne bridge in the freezing cold shortly before but now I was thawing out in a near-empty bar where a good friend of mine had been booked to play a Latin set. When it came on I mistook the band for The Ghetto Brothers as I was drunk and I’d recently watched a documentary on them. As I told him how much I enjoyed the documentary (there wasn’t much dancing going on) he looked at me confused. I decided to be quiet and listen.
Listening to this record again in the cold light of day, and obviously sober it’s not hard to see how this record was misidentified that night. It doesn’t sound like the Ghetto Brothers but also it doesn’t sound like your average 1966 offering either. The polyrhythmic beat of the drums is funky and almost of an Afrobeat nature, the sax has that ‘is it, isn’t it?’ out of tune quality that you associated sometimes with the greatest of RnB tunes and the production quality is definitely lo-fi and all the better for it. On top of all of it, it has a really great vocal and banging doo-wop style backing. It confuses you but really, really makes you want to dance.
So how did it come to be so far ahead of its time, I hear you shout? Well, I don’t really know, The Emperors did record a good version of ‘My Baby Likes To Boogaloo’ a year or so later, so they were well aware of the early straight-up funk styles of the lies of Don Gardener and No.1 Soul Brother JB. But I can’t find any clues as to how they found themselves to this musical point. There is very little written about them or this record. They were around for a couple of years after this release but they didn’t make any sort of real impact and before the 1970s rolled into view they had rolled out of view. But they had left behind a record that is truly something different.
What it wasn’t was successful. It was a regional hit in the Philadelphia area and had very modest success on the R&B chart and Billboard Top 100 but it didn’t spark a dance craze. Like many dance craze records, it starts with the immortal words ‘we got a new dance craze going around..’ However in the case of Karate, as with many others, there wasn’t. A good dance craze sweeping the nation would have made plenty of money but Karate was nearly a good record and that should have been enough.
THE EMPERORS Karate
Group photo via Flea Market Funk // Artwork via Spotify // Vinyl photo via 45cat
Ronnie Bowers – Bass
James Jacson – Guitar
Tyrone Moss – Drums
Milton Brown – Organ
Donald Brantley, Jim Jackson, Edgar Moore, David Peterson, Bobby Fulton – Vocals
Phil Gaber – Producer
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