Hamilton Bohannon, Pioneering Disco Musician, Dead At 78

Initially Stevie Wonder’s live drummer, Bohannon also performed with Jimi Hendrix, Diana Ross, Miles Davis and countless others.

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Hamilton Bohannon

The US disco, funk and soul musician Hamilton Bohannon, who backed Motown greats such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye before starting a respected solo career, has died at age 78.

No cause of death has yet been announced, according to the Newnan Times-Herald newspaper in the Georgia town of the star’s birth. The publication reported speaking to family members.

Bohannon was born in Newnan in 1942, the son of a working-class family who ran a barbershop and cafe. A talented drummer from an early age, he began playing professionally after moving to Atlanta following high school, including alongside his friend Jimi Hendrix at the city’s Royal Peacock venue.

He was hired by Stevie Wonder as his live drummer and came into the orbit of Motown Records, who later employed him as a band leader. His group Bohannon & The Motown Sound backed numerous label stars on tour, including Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The Temptations and Diana Ross And The Supremes.

After Motown moved to Los Angeles, Bohannon stayed in the label’s first home of Detroit and started a solo career. It began with the 1973 album Stop & Go, and eventually released 19 studio albums by the end of the 1980s. He struggled to cross over in the US pop market – only one of his singles reached the Top 100 – but he became a mainstay in the disco boom of the mid-1970s onwards with tracks like ‘Let’s Start The Dance.’

Let's Start The Dance

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He had three Top 40 hits in the UK courtesy of ‘South African Man’, ‘Foot Stompin’ Music’ and ‘Disco Stomp’, the latter reaching No 6 in 1975.

That year, Bohannon told Blues & Soul: “My ideas just seem to come from nowhere. And if I’m ever fortunate enough to be rich – really rich! – I would want to give it all away to help others who have been less fortunate than me”.

Much-sampled in soul and dance

Bohannon became a firm cult favourite among his fellow musicians. Tom Tom Club respectfully chanted his name over and over in their hit ‘Genius of Love’; artists including Mary J Blige, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg have all sampled his tracks. He is seen as helping to pioneer the “four-four” beat that powered disco and later house and techno, and the octave-jumping groove of ‘Me And The Gang’ became the core of Paul Johnson’s house hit ‘Get Get Down’, a UK No. 5 hit in 1999.

Defected Records, one of the world’s leading house music labels, was among those paying tribute, saying: “Today we lost a legend…Hamilton Bohannon, thank you for the music.” DJ Gilles Peterson heralded his “lopsided rhythmic brilliance”.

“A unique sound of his own”

The Roots’ Questlove also paid tribute to the late star, writing: “A drummer with a unique sound of his own. Hamilton Bohannon’s unmistakable 4 on the kick AND snare trademark made me think he hailed from Africa when he first started making records. Why his Dakar catalogue isn’t available for the public to discover is beyond me.”

He added: “So sad I never got to meet & pick his brain about his work & style of drumming. Salute to a master groove maker.”

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