New Discovery: Herbie Hancock’s “Head Hunters”

Anyone who knows me or has talked to me via social media or anything else for longer than about 2 minutes knows that I am an old school R&B fanatic. Everything from 1967 to about 1991-92 is in my wheelhouse, but as I mentioned in Saturday’s post about learning new things, I’m open to explore other genres of music.

Thanks to the TVOne Unsung episode featuring Kool Moe Dee, I was curious about Herbie Hancock’s album Head Hunters, the one Moe Dee used to spit his earliest heat in his high school cafeteria. On Monday, I finally got a chance to listen to it all the way through and though this marked the end of Herbie’s experimental “Mwandishi” period, Head Hunters is still, as Temptations founder Otis Williams would say, “Funkier than an unwashed arm pit.”

For an album that would become a model for jazz funk musicians to follow for years to come, Herbie assembled an entirely different band, save for Bennie Maupin and took care of all synth play on the album. Recorded and released in the Fall of 1973, Head Hunters is 42 minutes of R&B horns and drums and a clavinet in place of a standard guitar, giving the album a spacy feel that was similar to other albums (Sextant, Crossings and Mwandishi) but still rooted in jazz feeling with obvious funk influences.

The album starts off with a 15-minute workout called “Chameleon,” one of Hancock’s best known compositions in which a funky bass riff synth serves along with with some ill hi hat work by Harvey Mason as the song’s backbone until the middle where the jazzier piano play of Hancock and Maupin’s saxophone take control and then the song closes with the funkier intro.

The closer to Side A is a re-working of “Watermelon Man” from Herbie’s first album over a decade prior, which I instantly recognized as the sample to Supercat’s “Dolly My Baby” remix, which of course featured a young unknown rapper named the Notorious B.I.G.

“Sly” kicks off Side B with a more jazz-rooted feel than Side A and sets the tone for Herbie’s future albums with some straight ahead upbeat jazz and the album’s closer “Vein Melter” brings it home with a subdued flavor.

This, surprisingly is the first Herbie Hancock album I’ve listened to as I’m honestly not much of a jazz person, but this album certainly has me interested in that funky subgenre of jazz that Head Hunters helped to pioneer.

Want to listen? Someone put the whole shebangabang on YouTube in ONE video, so here it is:

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