Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Today is a Day for the Kashmere Stage Band's "Texas Thunder Soul, 1968-74"

The best high school band ever? Ever.

One of the best performing bands of the modern musical era? Most certainly.

The Kashmere Stage Band was insanely good both in the studio and on the stage. Texas Thunder Soul, 1968-74 compiles most of the band's available studio and live work on two CD's. The sound is incredibly crisp and well-mixed.

The Kashmere Stage Band, populated by students attending Kashmere High School in northeast Houston during the late-60s into the 70s, played and recorded some of the deepest funk grooves this planet has ever known.

Led by the bandmaster and music educator "Prof." Conrad O. Johnson, the KSB dominated high school big band competitions throughout Texas, the region, and the entire U.S. for nearly a decade. They recorded 8 albums of material and played live shows, during holiday and summer breaks, to packed auditoriums and gyms across the United States, Europe, and Japan. [You can find a fascinating interview with Johnson from the record label Now Again here where he reflects on his years leading the KSB.]

I can't say this strongly enough: this guy was a musical genius and he and his band of high school kids were making some of the best music in the country during the early 1970s. Everyone should know the name Conrad O. Johnson. As his biography on the Texas Bandmasters Hall of Fame (year 2000 inductee) award page describes his background:

After first attending Houston College for Negroes and later graduating from Wylie College in the east Texas town of Marshall, Johnson began teaching in public schools in 1941. His 37 years of classroom service were highlighted by a distinguished tenure as director of the Kashmere High School Stage Band, which won 42 out of 46 contests entered between 1969 and 1977, recorded eight albums featuring more than 20 original compositions by Johnson and traveled throughout Europe, Japan and the United States.

"Prof" Johnson passed away at the age of 92 on February 3, 2008, after spending the previous two nights as the guest of honor at a pair of Kashmere Stage Band reunion shows. The Houston Chronicle sums up his final days and his legacy here.

NPR's All Things Considered did a wonderful story on Johnson and the KSB back in 2006, a short 15 months before his death. You can listen to and download the story here, along with links to 3 songs that you can stream.

In addition, most KSB songs can be streamed on grooveshark. Check out this live version of the song "All Praises" from 1972:

I would strongly encourage you to get yourself a copy of the 2-CD Texas Thunder Soul set somehow, someway. The Kashmere Stage Band kick out the funk-jazz-fusion jams, mofo. The compilation can be purchased/downloaded in all the usual places.

And while I'm at it, I recommend that every music-loving American look for the recent documentary that premiered at SXSW '10 about the Prof and his band which should be out on DVD soon:

It is available to save in your queue until it shows up on Netflix.

Ok, still reading? Are there any high school large bands that have written, composed and recorded songs this perfect? I intend that as a serious question. Here is the student-penned "Al's Thing" from the KSB:

Still clicking? Here's "Headwiggle":

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