Category Archives: Interview

5 min
7 Jul
2014

Sumy

Kenneth Sumter, better known as Sumy, short for Surinam-Baby, is responsible for a good amount of synthesizer drained boogie vibes. To me, one the most unique and innovative artists that Amsterdam, The Netherlands or Surinam ever had when it comes to the funk. Although familiar with playing several instruments, he’s probably best describable as a keyboard/synthesizer virtuoso. I sat down with the self-educated Sumy to have some coffee and hear him out.

We met at a terrace in the Bijlmer area of Amsterdam. In the beginning we chatted shortly about what inspired him music-wise when he was young. He told me he really liked the early Kool & The Gang and Cameo. To my surprise he also mentioned being blown away the first time he heard the synth bass line of Madonna’s Holiday. After ordering a cappuccino, we immediately broke loose about the city of Amsterdam back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

When living in Amsterdam as a youngster, Sumy worked at the bank in the city centre (Keizersgracht). Close-by there was a music store that sold a large variety of instruments (Dirk Witte). As a teenager, hungry for the music, he walked in there to ask for the most expensive thing they had. It was the Hammond organ. Impressed by the instrument he asked for more and was shown a Fender Rhodes and a PPG Synthesizer. He told the man he’d be back in ten minutes, went to the bank he worked at, provided himself a loan and returned to the music store. This is where the banking career of Kenneth ends and the music career of Sumy starts.

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Only in a short matter of time he started playing with members of American Gipsy (Steve Clisby & Co), a then popular American-Dutch soul & funk formation. The cooperation was no success, due to the fact that the guys had a different day-rhythm and therefore couldn’t handle the energy of the young Sumy, who’d get up early in the morning willing to jam. Besides that, the American Gipsy blokes used cocaine and then played at night, a routine which Sumy didn’t want to be a part of. He started sharing a studio at the Warmoesstraat in Amsterdam with some Latin American musicians. They were much more interested in Salsa, while he’d rather play Funk. He decided to record a single and release/finance it himself on his own label, Sumy Records. The 45, Going Insane, somehow made it to the radio stations where it was being played to his own surprise, which forced him to develop his distribution. As he always had been intrigued by the blue colored label of Philips records, he called them. Using the phone from the bank he worked at, he said to them he knew a good singer who should be of great interest for Philips. They responded positive and he was invited to drop by at the studios. As he recalls there were several studios at Philips and they were categorized in colors. He recorded his first Philips’ release, The Funky G, in the blue studio. What was kind of particular about the whole deal with Philips, is that he insisted the music rights would be licensed to himself. This way he could also keep the master tapes himself.. Money-wise the record wasn’t that much of a success.

We continue the conversation talking about one of my favorite cuts, Soul With Milk. A multi-layered energetic groove. This song is featured on his 1983 album Trying To Survive, released on his own label, not the previous Sumy Records, but Galaxy Inc.

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As a kid, growing up in Surinam, Sumy was often or mostly surrounded by nature. There was always the sound of animals, chickens or ducks in the background. He told me that when he came to Amsterdam, he missed the sound of the little chickens. You didn’t have those in the city or between the suburb apartment buildings. This lack of nature inspired him to hire a group of female vocalists to do a chicken-like background choir on Soul With Milk.

“The secret behind funk, is comedy.”

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According to Sumy, every Funk artist is a comedian. He adds that it’s all about rebelling, freaking and fun, which to him is the base of funk and even literally hidden in the word itself. The studio was a playground. While he starts drumming on a glass bottle, he tells me he would record things like that and use it in his songs.

Sumy always handled his own administration, promotion and international connections. When he played in Amsterdam back in the 80’s, in the Melkweg, he would go door to door to drop flyers around announcing his performance. He also played in Germany, France, Malta, Nigeria and Brasil. He regrets the way Philips treated him in Brasil. Funkin’ In Your Mind was a small succes there and only years later they paid him 35 bucks. The money was not even the issue, but the fact that he wasn’t even aware of the song’s success made him miss out on opportunities. A funny thing about Funkin’ In Your Mind is that he actually sent Philips the wrong cut. The one that was used missed out on a lot of vocals and other additional instruments. In the end it might be this mistake or accident that gives the song it’s mysterious vibe.

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The creativity Sumy puts in his music, is often based on his chimeras. Some songs are inspired by a character he plays in his head. He told me about a time a friend told a story about a pimp, as he had never heard of such a thing he played one in his mind for a while to create inspiration for a song. He cherishes a humorous and fun approach to music.

Music is like living in heaven, it’s the only piece of happiness nature blessed us with.

Sumy told me that if he was ever to stop playing music, somebody else should take over where he left it. It’s what nature owes him or us in general. He hopes that that if he ever was to inspire somebody, it should be to play an instrument.

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5 min
6 Jun
2014

We The People

We The People, a band from Orlando, Miami, released their 4th single in 1966 on Challenge Records. The A-Side In The Past, is a beautiful 60’s jam with a unique psychedelic sound. This is probably caused by the use of an eight stringed local instrument they used, instead of the then popular sitar. I contacted Wayne Proctor, from We The People, and spoke with him about the song and the band.

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As I find the sitar-like instrument in the song really fascinating, Wayne told me the facts behind this rarity.

“I call it an “Octachord,” Jasper, because it has eight strings.  Not much is known about the instrument, but I bought it from a high school friend whose grandfather made 50 of them by hand in Ohio, USA.  It has no relation to a sitar, and is larger than a mandolin.  Back when I recorded with it, there were no strings available for it’s size, so I had to buy two sets of banjo strings to fit it.  When I bought it, an old acoustic guitar electric pickup made by Kent, model WC-18, had been mounted on it, and it was played through a Fender Bandmaster amplifier head, with a large homemade speaker cabinet with two 15″ Jensen speakers, as well as a separate Fender Reverb unit.”

The song was covered about a year later in Belgium, Charleroi by Delphine. In the beginning I thought it was a bit strange how fast the relatively small succes of the single made it across the Atlantic. Now it turns out to be the single was also released in France under the London label. I reckon this press landed on the record player of Delphine Bury, what then caused here to cover both the A and B side on her 1967 EP (released on Decca). The first track on this EP is a french version of St. John’s Shop entitled Ne T’En Va Jamais , the third track a cover of In The Past entitled La Fermeture-Eclair. At the time, We The People didn’t know about this cover.

“I became aware of Delphine’s version sometime around 1983, and when I heard it I realized she had used the original We The People sound track/background music, and overdubbed her voice on top of it.  In other words, the music behind Delphine is ours (We The People), and that is us playing for her.  No one in WTP knew of this until about 15 years later…”

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Not only did the record fly across the atlantic, it was also heard in California. The record was covered in 1968 by San Jose psych outfit The Chocolate Watchband. After having made small fame with their first LP No Way Out, their second LP The Inner Mystique contained a cover of In The Past. Producer Ed Cobb (co-responsible for Gloria Jones’ Tainted Love) gave it a slight different vibe. This cover also wasn’t heard at the time by We The People.

“I learned of their version in the 1970’s, and was very excited that someone else recorded one of my songs!  I think it is a very interesting rendition, although not true to the original effort to make it dynamic.  However, that being said, I think the Chocolate Watch Band did a great job, and was trying to achieve a different, more psychedelic song than the original.”

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I’m always curious about the band’s influences music-wise. What influenced We The People?

All of us in the band were influenced by so many, many different styles, and we tried to interject each of our favorites into our own style.  Back in those days, it was customary to play mostly cover songs for our audiences, because that’s what the kids wanted to hear.  But, they allowed us to play our own songs, too, especially after they hit the airways on the local radio stations, and in record stores.  We loved the Beatles, of course, and the Everly Brothers, Chuck Berry, the Stones, theYoung Rascals, Little Milton, Wilson Pickett, and James Brown.  The old 60′s rhythm & blues songs were highly respected, as well.

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Nowadays the song is considered a garage classic among a lot of people I guess. How did the single do back in 1966, did the songs get any recognition at that time, and if not, maybe later?

Yes, “In the Past” got a lot of airplay and recognition in 1966 due to our favorite radio stations WLOF and WHOO in Orlando, Florida, but it wasn’t until much later when it began to catch on with a much younger audience in the 1980′s, and even through today.  I am amazed at how it has been accepted worldwide!!!

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Finally, I wonder what stopped We The People and what happened next?

That’s a long story, Jasper.  We had been traveling on the road for a long time, and trying our best to hit it big.  I guess the pressure and fatigue just caught up with us, and we were all just “burned out.”  That, and the fact that I had been classified as 1-A for the military draft about that time.  The only way I could keep from being drafted and going into the Vietnam war was to return to college, so I sold my guitar and equipment to pay for my school tuition.  I returned to college, but the rest of the band members stayed together for a while, and found another guitar player, etc.

Go check out We The People!!