Secrets Of The Amen Break

This minimal 20-minute video by Nate Harrison looks at the history of the “Amen Break,” arguably the most important sample in history. Along the way, it touches on the art of sampling and genres from jungle to f’d-up beats.

The six-second drum sample came from the b-side of a chart-topping single from 1969. The sample went on to be used extensively in early hip-hop and music, and became the basis for drum-and-bass and jungle music.

via Nate Harrison

5 thoughts on “Secrets Of The Amen Break

  1. Having been through the whole rave thing and listening to tons of D&B myself (and a small autopgraphed shrine to LTJ 🙂 this was really informative. I always assumed the beat was taken from a reggae song.

  2. BlueBrat

    I was sort of amazed at all the different tracks that he connects with the Amen Break. Not sure if the break itself was influential in the creation of so many genres or if it is more of an inside joke for samplers, though.

  3. I played in bands from the mid to late 60’s that used that Amen Break… constantly… we called it “fat back” drums because it had that funky back beat and the original sound was way before the Winstons… I’d say James Browns band had been using it 4 or 5 years before the Winstons… the guys that I heard play it were out of the South and we always presumed it was from the Stax… Atlantic… Muscle Shoals…. studio guys picked it up from some cool creative black drummer out of Alabama… or somewhere deep South… We hired a drummer in Illinois who we first heard play it .. Jimmy Stice, still teaches in Jacksonville, Illinois… he was doing that Amen break back in 1964 or 65… it was a very cool fill in tunes like “Cold Sweat”… and any James Brown tune… To try to copyright a drum beat… cool as that one is… would be like trying to copyright a well used jazz or blues lick… we all know them and recognize them but they are like letters of the alphabet.. you can copyright sentences and phrases that are put into the language… and it becomes plagarism when you copy it and say that it is yours… But you can’t copyright a sentence like “it sure is hot today”.. and hope to enforce a royalty upon anyone else who uses that phrase. But you can copyright a sentence such as “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away”… and enforce that copyright… in fact if anyone today would start a song with those words.. it would have to be taken as a joke… But the point is well taken by Nate .. above… and well presented by the way… that it is amazing that so many have had so much fun with one small groove… And yes… what is it about that combination of notes that is so compelling ??? But then I’ve thought the same about Louie Louie chord change… and the Bo Diddley beat… and some of the Bach chord changes… sometimes… you just strike melodic or harmonic or rhythmic “GOLD” … and thats what keeps us writing…

  4. Joseph – thanks for the great feedback.

    What’s so cool about the Amen Break, to me at least, is that it’s sort of this secret code that gets transformed and buried into so many songs.

    Most people won’t have any idea its in all these different types of music, but it’s like an inside joke.

  5. Hee hee, speaking of inside audio jokes, google 'Wilhelm Scream'. I noticed it first when I was like 12 years old – I've seen it in so many films and video games it's ridiculous, everything from teh Star Wars saga to random Saturday morning sci fi cartoons.

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