The 1984 first meeting in New York between Adrian Sherwood and Keith LeBlanc was one of the most important events in the history and direction of On-U Sound. It saw the birth of radical collaboration between the British producer and three American musicians that continues to this day.
Tackhead is the vanishing point, the vortex, at the end of many years of formative, experimental collaborations between the innovative British producer and mixologist extraordinaire Adrian Sherwood and the American trio of musicians: guitarist Skip McDonald, bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith LeBlanc. Wimbish and McDonald, whose partnership goes back to the mid-70s disco boom, first met up with Keith in 1979 on the newly-formed Sugarhill Records.
They soon became the label’s house band, providing backing for the ground-breaking Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”), Grandmaster Flash (“The Message”) and Melle Mel (“White Lines”), helping to launch the onslaught of 80s rap. After the demise of Sugarhill and drawn-out legal wranglings, the three musicians continued to work on various projects. Described by the New York Times as, “one of today’s most extraordinary rhythm sections”, they included recordings for Tom Silverman’s Tommy Boy label.
Moving on from the early 80s rap explosion, Keith LeBlanc hadalready released some solo work on Tommy Boy (“Maneuvers” and “Uh!” on the 1985 “Masters Of The Beat” compilation); mixing the (now legendary) DMX drumbeats with his own special drum sound. His release “No Sell Out” featured the cut-up raps of civil rights activist Malcolm X pitched against the infamous DMX drumbeat, now acknowledged as the first ever sampling record. Ahead of its time “No Sell Out”, brought him to the attention of London’s dub-meister extraordinaire and On-U Sound label owner Adrian Sherwood.
In 1984, while working on a remix of Akabu’s “Watch Yourself” for Tommy Boy, Adrian met Keith LeBlanc. After a productive meeting, McDonald and Wimbish later joined them in London to begin work on a new project which they christened Fats Comet. LeBlanc’s beat, pitched with Sherwood’s dub methodology, took it to the limit and created a unique media where the heavily distorted sound of McDonald’s guitar and Wimbish’s funky bass made things complete. As LeBlanc summed up:
“We started Fats Comet as a studio experiment. The stuff we considered being “non-commercial” got stuck on Adrian Sherwood’s label and Doug Wimbish came up with the name TACKHEAD; which is New Jersey slang for homeboy.”
After releasing a number of 12″s, including science fiction dancehall classics “Mind At The End Of Tether” and “What’s My Mission Now?” Tackhead had gained a lot of credits and popularity, especially among those who tied up to the industrial virus. A forthcoming LP was inevitable and Tackhead Tape Time, including the newly unearthed talents of Gary Clail, was bound to be a classic from the day of release. In the meantime, they also found the time to back former Pop Group main man Mark Stewart as the Maffia; a collaboration which resulted in probably some of the most deranged Hip-Mutant-Funk-Metal-Dub-Hop records ever to be made. “Tackhead In The Area!” became the common chant after “The Game” 12″ which featured TV commentator Brian Moore. The band also started touring, which resulted in the “En Concert” live album, quickly withdrawn soon after release.
The Friendly As A Hand Grenade album marked a new direction. They were now joined by fellow American and ex-Peech Boys vocalist Bernard Fowler, giving a soulful edge to their beats and making them more accessible to a wider audience. Bernard’s introduction to the band came through Mick Jagger who was himself a big Tackhead fan. Tackhead, now signed to EMI subsidiary SBK, released in 1990 the Strange Things LP which, despite some good tracks turned out to be the band’s “major malfunction”! They were dropped by EMI and the use of the name to promote new material largely dried up.
However, collaboration between various of its former members continues to this day – such as releases by the Strange Parcels (“a Tackhead re-duction”), the Barmy Army and probably most notably, the acclaimed Skip McDonald-fronted dub-blues releases of Little Axe.
Besides the previously mentioned activities it cannot be forgotten that Tackhead’s members also continue to play, produce and remix for a wide range of well known artists: e.g. James Brown, Afrika Bambaataa, George Clinton, Seal, BB King, Robbie Robertson, Annie Lennox, Mick Jagger, R.E.M, Tina Turner, Depeche Mode, Bomb The Bass, Robert Palmer, Neneh Cherry, Malcolm McLaren, ABC – and then we’re not even mentioning the numerous releases and formidable productions for the whole On-U Sound posse; Dub Syndicate, Gary Clail, Bim Sherman, Jesse Rae…!
Tackhead, a vast monumental influence on the music of the eighties and nineties; charming visionaries and story tellers about life, love and lust.
Adapted from Echo Beach’s Tackhead biography found at www.echobeach.de