Around the old Desco studio we used to just call them “the kids.” The Mighty Imperials were only sixteen years old when they rolled in to record this album, Thunder Chicken. I think they had to play hookey from school to make the date. No jive.
The Mighty Imperials had their own unique brand of Funk. Their style was obviously heavily influenced by the Meters but unmistakably their own. It was raw but disciplined, raucous but minimal. It had a sense of humor, but at the same time it was genuine. And man, was it Soulful! Somehow these four kids had been gifted with taste, talent, and discipline well beyond their years.
Sean Solomon was on the guitar. He had a sound like he’d spent a decade cutting R&B sides in Memphis. Like an old country boy come in to play big city licks. Nick Movshon played the bass with a confidence and attitude that defied his youthful personality. He dug in and walked like a Motown pro, effortlessly soulful and intentional, as if he didn’t know any wrong notes. Tall for his age and lanky, Leon Michels hunched over the Hammond organ, swelling and swirling like an old man at a Baptist church. His mouth would open and close with the sound as his fingers danced about the keyboard. On the drums, was Homer Steinweiss. He was maybe the goofiest of the crew. He had a big mop of curly hair that would bounce up and down when he played. But when he sat down at the trap, his sound was terrifyingly powerful, reminiscent of the big stompers from New Orleans. James Black, Zigaboo Modeliste, and Clyde Stubblefield all rolled up into some unlikely high school kid. If I really wanted a take out of him, I just had to tell him one thing before we rolled: “Homer, be the Bull.” This was an inspiration behind their second single, The Matador, on which Homer practically banged himself off of the record.
I don’t remember whose idea it was to call up Joseph Henry on the sessions. The kids might have been fans. Joseph had cut a 45’ with us the year before called “Who’s the King?” which had become a relatively big hit on the funk scene. He had come up singing gospel and after a stint with the Coasters had ended up in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. He had a real soul shouting style that instantly locked with and energized the Imperials in the studio. When he first walked in the guys were already messing around on some groove, waiting for him. He threw off his coat and walked straight to the mic. “Keep it just where it is,” he commanded. He had already started singing by the time I got across the control room to the record button. Later, we added some horns and put it on the record as “Soul Buster”.
I have cut a few records since then, but the Thunder Chicken sessions will always sit apart in my memory as one of those unlikely, inexplicable sessions where everything just came together. Pure Funk Magic. Since then, the Mighty Imperials have grown to be irreplaceable parts of such groups as the Dap-Kings, El Michels Affair, and the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. Some of them are off at University. To me however, no matter how old they get, they will always be “the kids”.
-Bosco Mann, engineer