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Incredible Bongo Band

Incredible Bongo Band

The Incredible Bongo Band, also known as Michael Viner's Incredible Bongo Band, was a project started in 1972 by Michael Viner, a record artist manager and executive at MGM Records. Viner was called on to supplement the soundtrack to the virtually anonymous B film The Thing With Two Heads. The "band's" output consisted of upbeat, funky, instrumental music. Many tracks were covers of popular songs of the day characterized by the prominence of bongo drums, conga drums, rock drums and brass.


The band released two albums, 1973's Bongo Rock and 1974's Return of the Incredible Bongo Band. The instrumental "Bongo Rock", co-written by Art Laboe and Preston Epps and released by Epps as a Top 40 hit in 1959, was covered by the Incredible Bongo Band (shown as "Bongo Rock '73" on the album), and became a minor US hit for them in 1973, and a substantial hit in Canada.Michael Viner would make use of MGM recording facilities in down-time, recruiting whichever studio musicians were on-hand. This apparently included many well-known blow-ins, all uncredited. Important contributions was made by Jim Gordon on drums and King Errisson on Bongos. Ringo Starr is rumoured to have played on some tracks. The "down-time" sessions carried on for some time, until words from upper management finally quelled the vanity project.Other musicians involved in the sessions, per Sample This, the movie include:
  • Mike Melvoin - keyboards
  • Joe Sample - piano
  • Robbie King - organ
  • Mike Deasy - guitar
  • Dean Parks - guitar
  • David T. Walker - guitar
  • Bobbye Hall - percussion
  • Ed Greene - drums
  • Kat Hendrikse - drums
  • Wilton Felder - bass
  • Jerry Scheff - bass
  • Steve Douglas - saxophone
This was never an actual band. When product was finally released, a fake band was assembled and photographed. Those photos were seen on some album artwork, and in publicity.The first Incredible Bongo Band album included a cover of "Apache", an instrumental tune written by Jerry Lordan and originally made popular in the UK by The Shadows, and in North America by Jørgen Ingmann. The group's version of "Apache" (produced by Perry Botkin Jr.) was not a hit upon release, and languished in relative obscurity until the late 1970s, when it was adopted by early hip-hop artists, including pioneering DJs Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, for the uncommonly long percussion break in the middle of the song. Subsequently, many of the Incredible Bongo Band's other releases were sampled by hip-hop producers, and the "Apache" break also remains a staple of many producers in drum and bass. The song received popular attention again in 2001 when it was featured in an ad for an Acura SUV. In 2008, music critic Will Hermes did an article on "Apache" and the Incredible Bongo Band for the New York Times.As well, the band's cover of "Let There Be Drums," which was made famous by Sandy Nelson and also performed by The Ventures, was used as the theme song for the long-running television show "Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling" during the 1980s."Last Bongo in Belgium" has been sampled in the songs "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun" performed by the Beastie Boys "Angel performed by Massive Attack and "Song of Life" performed by Leftfield."Let There Be Drums" was used in Ken Burns' Baseball: The 10th Inning, the follow-up to Burns' '94 PBS documentary."In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was used as the main loop in the song Hip Hop Is Dead performed by Nas.The 2012 documentary Sample This tells the story of Viner and the creation of the Incredible Bongo Band. It is narrated by Gene Simmons.


A group formed by musician Shawn Lee, given the parallel name "Shawn Lee's Incredible Tabla Band" released a cover album, Tabla Rock based on the album Bongo Rock with Ubiquity Records. Lee decided he’d take on the entire Bongo Band debut album; and also two tracks from their second album. The album covers the music on tabla instead of played on bongo,presenting it in an Indian-funk style.

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Incredible Bongo Band - Apache