The "Amen Break": The unlikely story of the most sampled song ever

The Winstons in 1969
By Metromedia Records - Billboard, page 77, 6 September 1969;, Public Domain, Link

The "Amen Break": The unlikely story of the most sampled loop ever

Back in 1969, the DC-based group The Winstons shot to the top 10 on the charts with their debut single “Color Him Father,” the beautiful, memorable tribute to a stepfather who came into the lives of his new wife's children. It won a Grammy Award back then, and is still revered today as an all-time great soul song.

The "Amen Break": The unlikely story of the most sampled loop ever

Back in 1969, the DC-based group The Winstons shot to the top 10 on the charts with their debut single “Color Him Father,” the beautiful, memorable tribute to a stepfather who came into the lives of his new wife's children. It won a Grammy Award back then, and is still revered today as an all-time great soul song.

Less known to casual fans is that on the flip side of that single is a song that changed the music industry forever. The Winstons' “Amen, Brother” was a funkified version of the classic Gospel number, “Amen,” and, though it was recorded quickly as a "filler" cut, it was glorious. At 1:25 of the song (check it out below), the group’s drummer, G.C. Coleman, soloed on a drum break that simply made the song. And that four bar break became iconic -- a sequence that we’ve heard thousands of times since.

The Winstons broke up after just one album, but “Amen Brother” found a surprising second life. As hip-hop began its ascent around 1980, artists were looking for great beats with which to work. Aspiring DJ Louis Flores and his partner Lenny Roberts decided to create a collection of hot beats called Ultimate Breaks and Beats, and included the “Amen Break” by the Winstons. It became the highlight of the project.

The “Amen Break” took on a life of its own, becoming the foundation for a generation of songs. It was sped up by British club DJs, it was slowed down by New York hip-hop DJs, and it was chopped and reordered by artists in just about every genre. To date, it has been included in over 4,500 songs, including Salt-N-Pepa's "I Desire," Rob Base's "Keep It Going Now," David Bowie's "Little Wonder," the theme song from the television show Futurama and, perhaps most famously, in "Straight Outta Compton" by N.W.A.

While neither Coleman nor The Winstons' group leader Richard Lewis Spencer saw meaningful royalties from the clip (no surprise, right?), its impact is tough to overstate. Chances are you will hear the “Amen Break” somewhere this week – though it may be so distorted that it is tough to catch. But now you’ll know the incredible story of a spontaneous moment by a long forgotten band that is still impacting us a half century later.

To learn more about “The Amen Break,” check out the Great Big Story below.

By Chris Rizik

 
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