“You know how digging goes…I could be here until, like, tomorrow,” says recent Portland, Ore., export Jumbo the Garbageman. It's a warm late-winter day, and Jumbo is taking in all the dusty vinyl and natural sunlight he can handle inside Grooves, an old used-record store in San Francisco.
As a producer and DJ (he's also an MC), Jumbo has been searching for the perfect sample, the perfect break, the perfect track for years. And whether it's a “random solo flute record” or a widely known track, he still chases the vinyl dragon. “There are some records that I'm still excited learning about,” Jumbo says. “So I'll still be able to tap into that same feeling that I got 10 or 15 years ago. It could be some break that everyone knows that I'm hearing for the first time. Even if Dre used it, I can still flip it.”
But once in a blue moon, Jumbo stumbles upon the really rare score. A couple years ago, he and Lifesavas MC Vursatyl and DJ Rev. Shines made a trip to Istanbul, Turkey, for a gig. It was there that Jumbo and Shines hit pay dirt. “There was this produce and meat marketplace with these gigantic freezers with dry ice coming out of them,” Jumbo says. “This guy waves to us, opens the door, and all you can see is dry ice. I'm like, ‘I'm not going in there!’ He comes back out, and he's like, ‘No, my friend. Come on in!’ So we walk down this spiral staircase, and underneath there was this underground city. There were cars being made down there, extravagant rugs made out of the finest silk, and there was this record store. They had this collection of Turkish funk bands covering rock songs and electronic stuff that you never would have seen anywhere.”
Unfortunately, Jumbo didn't bring enough money to pay for the whole giant stack of records. The store owner promised to wait, but by the time the guys came back with more Turkish Lira, the lights were out. “We're standing outside of the window and our stack of records was right in the window,” Jumbo laments. “Our tour guide was going to get them for us, but I guess the next time they opened, the next tourists came in, immediately went to the stack and took it. I saw them all on eBay, all of them, my exact stack in order of how I had them! But it was cool. It was really more about the experience.”
Fortunately, Jumbo has his share of successful crate-digging trips. It helps him think ahead to the next project and pass the time as he waits for his band's second album, Gutterfly: The Original Soundtrack (Quannum, 2007), to come out. Produced by himself and co-executive produced by Blackalicious' Chief Xcel, Gutterfly is a concept album through and through. It plays out as a fictional soundtrack to a made-up film, Gutterfly (inspired by a film of the same name from the '80s), in which each member plays a ghetto character — Vursatyl as Bumpy Johnson, Jumbo as Sleepy Floyd and Shines as Jimmy Slimwater — surviving in Razorblade City (aka Portland).
To create the aural scenes — sometimes melding Jamaican dancehall horns, psych guitar and samba in the space of one song — the trio worked with a handful of guests, including George Clinton, Vernon Reid, Smif ‘N’ Wessun, Dead Prez, Fishbone and Oh No. There was also plenty of sampling, but Jumbo didn't just flip samples and leave it at that. Case in point: “Long Letter,” featuring a sample of '80s soul singer Don Blackman. “Don heard the song, and it almost brought him to tears,” Jumbo says with a smile. “He said, ‘I love this. What do you want me to do with it?’ And I said, ‘Just croon on it a little bit.’ So he sent me the session files, and his daughters were on it. Don was like, ‘I'm not really trying to give my daughters a singing career, but this just feels too good.’ It was perfect; the song was a family song 'cause of my man Harp, who is fighting in the war on Iraq, and Vurs' cousin, who passed away from suicide.”
Today, with emotional scars documented on Gutterfly, Jumbo walks among thousands of old records holding other potential poignant triggers and finds a few gems.
Attic Thoughts (Sire)
Obviously, the cover caught me 'cause my man looks like a preying mantis with a human head. It has a little bit of a classic-groove edge to it, but it's really more experimental, almost prog. It's got some layered keyboard sounds; they're warm, and I like the way they progress. I'm working on this record that's a lot of experimental stuff with '80s electronic drums, so this will fit in perfect.
I've never seen this record before, so this is my come-up of the day. This is a Brazilian female vocalist. The guitar chording on here is amazing, the melodies are very strong, and I like the changes. I think that her nuances vocally are very similar to Louie Armstrong's fingering — very strong, and it seems like she's doing it effortlessly. As soon as I heard her voice, I was like, “Oh!” I can hack this up easily and flip it.
THE EDEN ELECTRONIC ENSEMBLE
Plugged in Joplin (ATV)
This record was probably sampled by Dilla, Pete Rock and Premo — some of the greats. And I'm going to be the next. There are a lot of strong electronic solos on the record. A lot of the synths that they used, the Minimoog and EMS Synthi AKS combos, give the songs a lot of depth. People talk about weighted keys, but you can kind of feel the mistakes. The mistakes give it that edge.
Welcome to the World of Riot (Motown)
This record should have been a soundtrack. It has a lot of strong, slow ballads. It has this song “Put Your Gun Down” that reminds me of Wu-Tang a little bit. I know it's been sampled. It has a nice little break in there that you would have to piece together, but it's one of my favorites. There's a nice version of “A Song of Long Ago.” I have a Brazilian record that has that song on it. I'm going to make those two marry, and it's going to be a nice little track.
Robert Craft Conducts Woodwinds, Brass and Percussion (Columbia)
A lot of it is sporadic. It has some percussion and brass. But again, it's another experimental, electronic record, and there's a piece on here where they run clarinets through some sort of modulation. It sounds like it's going through some sort of pedal, but the melody is really sick.
Stone Gon' (20th Century)
I'm a huge Barry White fan. I actually just read a book about his life, and I was really intrigued about this record because he said that it meant a lot to him for what he was going through with his wife, and it reminded him of his brother who passed. I guess one of the songs on here, “Never Ever Gonna Give You Up,” was a song that reminded him about the love he had for his brother and for his lady. Another thing about why I like Barry White stuff is his approach to strong, sweeping strings that swell around you. It doesn't just make you feel the movement of the melody, but it opens up the song and then surrounds you again. I have about five copies of this album, but I always get it ‘cause they're all sealed, so I need a listening copy.