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Funky Czech-In

An introduction to Czech and Slovak pop music from the sixties, seventies and eighties with a touch of funk, soul, disco and jazz.

Interlude: The Matadors’ secret tracks

2007-10-29

You may have already read about popmuseum.cz before. Recently they have posted a request for help in order to identify four cover versions as played live by The Matadors between 1966 and 1968. As far as I can say, I seem to be familiar with at least two of the songs, but still I can’t tell either where the originals are supposed to come from. You see, the caveat is that at that time both Kahovec and Mišík weren’t singing real English words but something that became quite widely known as Kahovština, i.e. the “Kahovec language” (as a side note: Kahovština has been reinvented as Svahilština by Pražský výběr in the 1980s).
In any case, if you’re hunting the web for any rare audio files, this is your big chance to grab a few super rare recordings never heard in public before. Of course, their audio quality was anything else than hi-fi from the very beginning.
www.popmuseum.cz/records/records.php


Regarding Funky Czech-In, it seems that I will need to take an “official” short break from publishing new articles regularly. I have a couple of very exciting projects going on at the moment which will require my full attention for the next couple of months. I will still try to post at least one long article each month, apart from occasional interludes like this one.
The good news is, that one of these new projects is actually directly related or at least heavily inspired by this blog. The future looks very bright, so stay tuned. (In other words: don’t trash your RSS feed subscription to this blog, you might truly regret it!)

Shotgun

2008-04-30

The Matadors – Shotgun
from album “The Matadors”, 1968, Supraphon 0130493/1130493 (mono/stereo), Supraphon/Artia SUA13992/SUAST53992 (mono/stereo), reissued 1995 on CD Bonton 710244-2
produced by Jaromír Tůma

matadors 1 matadors 2
original LP sleeve, export reissue sleeve

Between 1966 and 1968 the Matadors belonged to the best beat groups in Czechoslovakia. At that time their enormous popularity might have been threatened only by the equally experienced “veterans” Olympic. (By comparing the former with the latter, think e.g. the never ending “Stones vs. Beatles” dispute…) So it was no coincidence that the Matadors were the second rock band after Olympic to have a full long player recorded and released by Supraphon in 1968. And it’s no coincidence either that their only album still belongs to the most sought-after items from former Czechoslovakia among vinyl collectors worldwide, being an undisputed classic of the so called freak-beat or psych-beat genre.

The band was mainly influenced by british R&B acts like Them, Pretty Things, Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Heartbreakers Bluesbreakers or even the Kinks and the Who. But like many other Czech groups around 1967 and 1968, also the Matadors couldn’t resist the infectious grooves from the omnipresent soul craze all over the world. Moreover since they were frequently playing abroad, particularly doing a Switzerland night club tour through the winter 1967/1968, where they were often asked to play popular dance tracks from the charts.

In this context it’s not surprising that the album song Shotgun nicely fits into this blog’s scope. Unlike Junior Walker’s proto-funk original however, the Matadors’ version speeds up the tempo quite a bit and adds a trace of a Hendrix-like rock feeling due to heavy use of wah-wah guitar; lead guitarist Radim Hladík (1946) was the Czechoslovak pioneer in using the wah-wah pedal to such an extent, that he supposedly even invented the now commonly used Czech word for that device: kvákadlo. And also lead singer Viktor Sodoma (1945) must have been in a good shape on this recording date. His English phrasing is precise and he doesn’t shout as “over-the-top” as on some other Matadors tracks.

The overall production quality of the whole album is rather bad though. The “old school” Supraphon recording engineers of the 1960s didn’t have a clue how to put this kind of music to tape, not to speak of the poor vinyl mastering. Especially Otto Bezloja’s (1945–2001) bass guitar and Tony Black’s (1946) drums suffer from the thin sound. And if there ever was Jan “Farmer” Obermeyer’s (1944) Matador organ on this very track, it’s nowhere to be heard now. (To illustrate these issues, one of the popular anecdotes is, that on an earlier recoding date an engineer supposedly thought that Hladík’s amplifier was broken after he switched on his overdrive pedal for the first time…)

The full Matadors story has been excellently documented in Aleš Opekar’s authorized biography book The Matadors – Beatová aristokracie z Prahy (Oftis 2007, ISBN 978-80-86845-91-3). While the book is written in Czech language only, it contains not only lots of photos and commonly understandable biographical data, but also a bonus CD with previously unreleased live recordings from 1966! (Hey, remember my interlude from last October…?) So if you are a serious collector of Czechoslovak oldies, this book belongs to your collection even if you don’t understand a word Czech. But as I’ve already noted last year, don’t expect any hi-fi quality – it is a historical document.

Speaking of the Matadors story: last year in June I’ve coincidentally discovered that the English Wikipedia already has an article about The Matadors. Originally it was so full of errors then that I’ve decided to clean it up as well as to add some less known facts about the band. At that time I’ve already read Aleš’s nearly completed manuscript, so my informations were first hand. Hence I won’t repeat what I’ve already put together in a more or less serious form elsewhere (although the Wikipedia article isn’t complete yet). But for regular readers of Funky Czech-In it will be of interest when I point out the connections between other Czech groups and artists previously posted here, like Flamengo, Vladimír Mišík or Komety.

The Matadors album has been reissued in 1995 on CD, which also contains all tracks but one released on seven inches and Supraphon samplers between 1966 and 1968. It’s out of print but it still pops up for sale here and there on the web. There’s also a Korean CD reissue available, but as I’ve been told by Jan Obermayer recently, it’s quite likely a bootleg, as are most of the other releases on various low budget samplers in the past 10–15 years all over the world. Still, some Matadors tracks appeared every now and then on some of the protagonists’ official Best Of compilations, like Sodoma’s or Mišík’s.

The export version of the vinyl LP was pressed by Supraphon/Artia way into the late 1970s, so it should be still around in quite sufficient quantity. In other words: don’t believe a record dealer who wants to sell you an overpriced Matadors copy in the black export sleeve, praising it as the “original pressing”. They are not! That applies also to the old Czech reissues in a half-generic Supraphon sleeve with overprinted text. The true rarity is solely the original Czech issue with the colored logotype – particularly the stereo edition – provided it’s in top condition. Because being likely a popular record to be played at way too many wild parties then, most are probably not in the best shape these days anymore. Anyway, don’t get fooled. ;)

There are chances that an official reissue of the complete Matadors recordings will be [is now] available within the next few years (to express it rather pessimistically) relatively soon. In any case you will find out about it here first. Simply stay tuned to the RSS feed.

Misik, Obermajer, Hladik, Machata

Ex-Matadors Vladimír Mišík, Jan F. Obermayer and Radim Hladík with Lou Kash at the backstage of the Lucerna Music Bar, March 31, 2008, right after one of their annual reunion gigs. (photo: Aleš Opekar)

Bafff

2007-06-01

František Ringo Čech Group – Bafff (Jingo)
from album “Báječní muži”, 1975, Supraphon 1131776

SchelingerCech_BajecniMuzi_a_128 SchelingerCech_BajecniMuzi_b_128
original LP sleeve (front/back)

František “Ringo” Čech (1943) is not only a “bigbít” veteran and a living legend, he is also one of the most controversial figures in Czech rock history. On one hand his music taste has never been really refined, on the other he supposedly didn’t only make friends among his colleagues during his career, neither with his business practices nor with his public statements. Čech originates from a family of musicians, his father was a well known songwriter in Prague. His career began as a teenage drummer in dixieland and brass orchestras. In that context it’s worth to mention that he’s probably the first (future) Czechoslovak rock musician ever to appear on a 12 inch long player: as a member of the Study Group Of Traditional Jazz he hit the skins on a track from the Czechoslovak Jazz 1963 compilation, sharing the vinyl grooves with top jazz names like Karel Krautgartner, Gustav Brom, Luděk Hulan or Karel Velebný. In 1963 Čech began to study at the Prague Conservatory, but at the same time he decided to become a rock’n’roll drummer. He got a job at the Olympik club, Prague’s beat address number one. With the club house band, the original Olympic, he recorded about two dozens of 7″ sides until 1965, including Dej mi víc své lásky (Give Me More Of Your Love), their first self-penned beat hit in Czech language. He quitted for a prestigious Las Vegas engagement with Jiří Srnec’s Black Theatre while J. A. Pacák became Olympic’s new drummer. Back from the States, Čech tried his luck with rock’n’roll again, founding the all-star Rogers Band with several former rock’n’roll stars, but by 1967 pure rock’n’roll was already out of fashion.

The history of the F.R. Čech Group begins in 1968 in the renown Semafor Theatre in Prague. They used to work there as the Shut Up Orchestra, being one of the theater’s house bands and usually backing comedy shows by Šimek & Grossmann. Initially their repertoire mostly consisted of country & western covers with Jiří Grossmann’s and later with Čech’s lyrics – sometimes humorous, sometimes rather silly. Shut Up performed and recorded with Grossmann, Jiří Helekal, Pavel Bobek, Miluše Voborníková, Karel Černoch or the ex-Rebels (what a pun…!) Jiří Korn. Among the group instrumentalists were Čech’s brother Svatopluk on bass, former Komety guitarists Kaleš and Reiner, keyboarder Zdeněk Merta or the ex-Juventus Petr Rezek. Čech was still sitting behind the drums but he also slowly evolved to the group’s master mind. After Grossmann’s death in 1971 Shut Up began to work with singer Viktor Sodoma who was still trying to launch a pop career since the 1968 breakup of the Matadors. At the very least, at that time Čech proved a good sense for choosing obscure bubble-gum music cover versions which then became popular hits in Czechoslovakia. The only part that might have been close to subversion and therefore objected by the authorities was the English band name, thus Shut Up had to be relabeled as F.R. Čech Group.

In 1973 Čech retired from playing the drum kit and became what we would call an M.C. these days – a master of ceremony – while he was still occasionally standing behind assorted percussion instruments on stage. Although he never really left the pop genre for the years to come, as an opportunist that he was he must have realized that the continuing communist oppression on rock music in the early 1970s could actually help him on his way to even bigger fame while gaining credibility by the non-commercially oriented young audience. So in times when almost everyone else in Czechoslovakia would be giving up distorted guitars in favor of safe jobs on the legal side of pop music, Čech’s group began to fire up their boosters in an unheard manner to date, bringing examples of contemporary hard rock à la Deep Purple or Black Sabbath to the hungry freaks. And with that change in style a definite change behind the lead vocalist’s microphone became inevitable as well, but that’s already another story.

Bafff is a “cover” of Babatunde Olatunji‘s ultimate afro groove Jingo, a.k.a. Jin-Go-Lo-Ba. But F.R. Čech was covering Santana’s latinized version from 1969 and he even got it all wrong because he obviously believed he was playing a track called Soul Sacrifice, at least that’s what the album cover says. (It’s likely that Čech & Co. only had a taped copy of a Santana LP and thus they weren’t able to figure out the corresponding track titles…) The song has been recorded by the Czech TV in 1973 or 1974, in the transition period before Sodoma’s definitive departure and while the new vocalist Jiří Schelinger arrived. The exact line-up or the recording date seems unknown though. František Ringo Čech was playing percussion, of course, and he’s not even doing all that bad. Most likely there’s the future Katapult frontman Oldřich Říha playing lead guitar and the Shut Up veteran Miloš Nop (1949-2006) was on organ. Jindřich Vobořil might have played bass and either Anatolij Kohout, Petr Eichler or Jiří Jirásek (ex-George & Beatovens) was drumming. Whether Sodoma or Schelinger were singing any backing vocals is unsure as well.

For sure is that Bafff isn’t the ultimate Jingo rendition, that honor belongs without doubt to Candido’s disco monster from 1979. But it’s still a remarkable afro-rock/latin-rock effort for a pop band that’s been stuck behind the Iron Curtain through the best era of the rock history. And as I have stated a couple of weeks ago, it’s one of the very few examples of this genre ever recorded in Czechoslovakia in the seventies. Unfortunately, as a quasi-instrumental cover tune it seems to be omitted from any Schelinger/Sodoma/Čech CD compilations, so grab it while it’s hot.

I’ve been briefly writing about the album Báječní muži (Wonderful Men) and some of its background story in my Schelinger post last year. While it was the Čech Group’s first true 12 inch LP, in the early 70s they already recorded two “bubble-gum” mini-albums for Panton under the Shut Up moniker. (Such mini-LPs or rather “maxi-EPs” were an obscure and luckily short-lived 7 inch/33 rpm hybrid format with 6 to 8 tracks – probably invented in order to save vinyl resources or something – and partly unplayable on auto-return turntables due to the much narrower inner groove diameter.) Shut Up/F.R. Čech Group has also been backing Sodoma on the side two of his only solo LP Haló děťátka (Hello Little Children) in 1972. Although with five years of age I definitely belonged to the target audience for that album, I can clearly remember that there was something about Sodoma that I disliked then…

Stay tuned to this channel, more about Schelinger/Čech & Co. will surely show up here in the future.

Recent posts

2017-07-08: In memoriam Dr. Gui, the funky drummer
2017-02-12: In The Game Preserve
2016-02-17: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, parts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 & 7
2009-09-19: Interlude: Vampi Czech-In, part 1
2008-08-31: Mercy Mercy Mercy

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Disclaimer

The audio samples are presented as a “specimen” to encourage readers to buy the artists’ albums. Many of the tracks presented herein are available for purchase in MP3 or FLAC format at supraphonline.cz.

Copyright

All written content is © 2006– by Lukáš Machata (Lou Kash). Unauthorized use is strictly prohibited. If you’d like to use portions of my articles, please contact me first.