Few musical genres are named after their characteristics in the way that drum ‘n bass is. This music generally revolves around a particular high-paced drumbeat supported by a grindingly low bass. The genre’s beat, however, would have sounded quite different if it wouldn’t have been for Gregory Sylvester “G.C.” Coleman’s iconic drum solo known today as the Amen Break. This four-bar fragment gained fame alongside drum ’n bass as it remains the main rhythmic pattern of the genre.
[ The Winstons' singer/saxophonist Richard Lewis Spencer (left) & drummer Gregory Sylvester Coleman (right) ]
At first glance the Winstons might not ring a bell for drum ‘n bass heads. But their 6-second drum fill has -arguably- become the most sampled recording in the history of music with over two thousand adaptations known today. The 1960s soul ensemble gained fame due to their Amen, Brother from which the Amen Break derived. Originally the track was released merely as an instrumental b-side track on their 1969 record Color Him Father. Check out the fragment below and you will surely recognise it!
[ Amen Break at 1:26 ]
So how did this 6-second drum loop from a Washington, DC funk band end up becoming the standard beat pattern in UK-based drum 'n bass music? The answer is by the efforts of "Breakbeat Lenny," who included it in his Ultimate Breaks and Beats bootleg compilation for producers. The Amen Break first grew popular as a hip hop beat in the late 80s. A famous example of a hip hop song using the sample is N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton (1988).
While the sample had been slowed down for the bootleg series, it was sped up again for its use in breakbeat hardcore music in the early 1990s. This genre closely resembles jungle, disputably the predecessor of drum 'n bass (although all coexist today). Differing nuances for fans mean the genres are worlds apart, yet a consistent trait throughout these styles is their use of the Amen Break. "G.C." could probably not have imagined almost half a century ago that his four-bar drum fill now gets thousands of ravers off their feet in the drum 'n bass arena.