You’ve heard Bohannon even if you don’t know it.
When drummer-producer Hamilton Bohannon died on April 24, most knew the name solely from Tom Tom Club’s callout on “Genius of Love”: “Bohannon Bohannon Bohannon Bohannon.” That simple repetition of the man’s name is guaranteed to set off an earworm in a certain generation of music fans, and the beat neatly echoes the man’s straight-ahead funk magic. But Bohannon’s music, at least under his own name, can be more elusive, and doesn’t translate into big bucks—yet. When I picked up the 1982 album Bohannon Fever sometime in the mid-‘80s, it was just $2, and the price hasn’t gone up in the decades since; taking inflation into account, the price may in fact have gone down, since you can still find it for a dollar or two. But with his death, the undervaluing of Bohannon’s solo albums may finally come to an end. This album is 32 minutes of solid funk (with the token ballad), and the bright-sounding Phase II pressing makes it an unbeatable disco/boogie bargain.
There are clips of Bohannon performing on “Soul Train,” singing behind the drums with a modest voice and unassuming demeanor, but the beat sending the studio audience into enthusiastic wiggles. That’s what Fever is like. Despite its hot name and sultry cover models, the music seems basic enough, and opener “The Party Train Sound” (a three-parter) directly invokes P-Funk with “Tear the rook of the sucker,”—although that cop is a courtesy from P-Funk legend Garry Shider, who co-arranged the vocals. But there’s something about that steady beat, and Bohannon kicks it up a notch for the anthemic follow-up, “She’s a Boogie Woogie Freak.” The lyric is little more than the title chant as a chorus with verses adding, “I said the girl is a freak/ Do you know what I mean?” But out of those basic building blocks (and funky fills) and a sizzling solo from guitarist/co-arranger Melvin “Wah Wah” Watson,” its eight minutes maintains a fantastic, mesmerizing pulse that takes the James Brown vamp into the ‘80s with an irresistible brilliance.
After a non-stop funky A-side, the B-side opens with that funk rarity, a charming ballad. Built on airy piano chords rather than synth and basslines, “Thoughts and Wishes” has a delightful melody and jazzy piano fills that vaguely suggest what Thelonious Monk might have sounded like if he made quiet storm records. The guitar melody that leads “What Is a Dream” gives you a better idea of what Tom Tom Club owed them; the light tone wouldn’t sound out of place on the Talking Heads spinoff, a perfect segue to “L’Elephant.” “I’ve Got the Dance Fever” closes out the album with more of the reliable funk you came for, and if that’s just five good songs in a little more than a half hour, a funk album this consistent from funk to ballad is a gift; and that’s just one Bohannon album.
You’ve heard Bohannon even if you don’t know it; he backed up Motown legends like Stevie Wonder and the Supremes, and he’s on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. He’s been sampled by Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg. Bohannon Fever will set a fire under you to seek out his own music; you can get this album for peanuts, but it’s value is as immense as the delight it will send through your feet.