Bill Mason

Originally hailing from Columbus, Ohio, where he was born in July 1948, Bill Mason, the son of a Baptist minister, had first learnt music in church. Starting out on piano he switched to organ in his late teens.

Mason had come to Bob Porter's attention when as part of the Bryant group he recorded at Prestige on two sessions in March and October 1971. These sessions produced Bryant's hottest and funkiest albums for the label Fire Eater and Wildfire. For his debut album as a leader, Porter lined up the same studio - Rudy Van Gelder's - and the same drummer - Idris Muhammad - as the Bryant dates. The other musicians included the well known sounds of Hubert Laws on reeds, and guitarist Wilbert Longmire, the lesser-known talents of conga player Ron Coleman, and bass player Gordon Edwards, as well as Eastbound's other new signing, trumpeter Gary Chandler.

Chandler, by no small coincidence, had been playing around Columbus, where he had ended up after leaving the United States Air Force in 1963. A full ten years older than Mason, he had played with many of the names on what appears to have been a thriving Ohio club scene, including Don Patterson, Hank Marr and Benny Maupin. This led to him joining the Motown Revue and eventually in joining Lou Donaldson's group where he remained (at least) until the recording of his debut album. Strangely, he never appeared on any of Donaldson's recordings of the time - although on a six month break from Lou he made two dates for Charles Earland, another of Donaldson's alumni. Those two albums Living Black and Soul Story were both produced by Porter, who decided it was time for him to make a record in his own right. Joining Gordon Edwards and Muhammad this time were Caesar Frazier, Cornell Dupree, Buddy Caldwell, Dick Griffin and Harold Ousley, to create the band that made the trek up to Van Gelder's studio.

Both albums showed the players to be in command of the idiom, as the blues there were also covers of recent hits but most importantly, the funky originals really ruled the roost. Look no further than the tightened groove of Chandler's Kaleidoscope or Mason's fantastic Stone for definitive proof. These albums meant little at the time and are now sought-after collector's items.

Bill Mason - Funkadelic big band frontman.
Photo: Alpha Pup Records