The Black Experience on WKDU, Part 3: The John Minnis Big Bone Band

By Esmail Hamidi

Well, a lot of times things happen to you, and the only thing you can say about it is, “what can you do?”

So this blog entry is a big one for me. This blog entry covers the tape that started this whole project.


The John Minnis Big Bone Band was a 21-piece ensemble headquartered in North Philadelphia. They were headed up by its namesake, John Minnis, the trombone player and vocalist. Among their ranks were some of the finest studio and touring musicians of Philadelphia, many still active today. And guess what radio station interviewed them in 1977?

Back in the winter, I found this tape in a dusty box with many, many others. Some of my findings on the Black Experience programs in the ’70s have been covered in Part 1 and Part 2. But this one is definitely among the crown jewels of KDU. The music they play from the band’s then-newly-released album, Classic-I Live, is top-notch. The tape’s in perfect shape. The interview…is pretty funny, to be honest. The hostess and musicians cover lots of info, with plenty of the goofy awkwardness endemic to college radio. Based on the remark that John Minnis’ birthday, May 22nd, was a Sunday coming up, I can (pretty confidently?) date the interview to Spring 1977. We might be dealing with some unreliable narrators here:  given that the record is supposed to have been released in 1979 (and how everyone on the tape seems to be feelin’ some kind of way), this date seems unlikely, but who knows.

I’ve probably listened to this interview fifty times. There was a period in the winter where I would listen to it on the way to class every morning. And while its 35 minutes are jam-packed with, well, jams, I knew I needed to track the full record down. According to the interview, if I was around in 1977, I could have picked it up at any of ten record stores – the long-defunct 3rd St. Jazz and King James Record Shop among them.

Trying to find the record: I put out feelers to all my record-collecting friends, with no luck. Apparently it was reissued in Japan in the mid-1990s, but a friend’s travels in Japan failed to yield anything other than directions to the “big band” sections of numerous record stores. Blast.  I ended up finding a copy online, and paying a stupid amount of money. But I got it. Score.


The record itself has some great rough edges. The decidedly mid-fi production value of the live cuts leaves some flubbed notes out to dry. But – after all – this is a big band! The idea of 21 musicians (count ’em – 21!) churning out grooves like this live on stage is positively electrifying. I cite the extended percussion workout of “What Can You Do” (evident at the 11:30 mark in the interview) as a prime example. They just keep going. And the studio cuts are genuine rare classics. There are covers of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye tunes in there  (WHAT?!?) – someone’s bound to sample this one of these days. If you ever see this record while digging, grab it….

PS: This record was also mastered by Frank Virtue – a mentor of Gamble & Huff, and a prolific human fountain of Philadelphia independent music. And, as it weregarage rock…..

PPS: This May 22nd, 2016 is also a Sunday, as it were. If you’re reading this – happy birthday, John.



The Black Experience, Part 2: A Few More Finds

By Esmail Hamidi

One of the most fun parts of this project is the alumni of WKDU I’ve had the pleasure of talking to. In gathering information, they’ve been invaluable. So first thing, I’d like to thank everyone I’ve spoken with so far: Kevin Brown, Johnpaul Golaski, Mel “Average Guy” Holmes, and Al Knight.

Today’s find was by way of Facebook. The alumni of WKDU have a group where they keep in touch and post the artifacts of those days. Browsing some shots from the 1974 Lexerd (Drexel’s yearbook) yielded this:

Continue reading “The Black Experience, Part 2: A Few More Finds”

The Black Experience on WKDU, Part 1: A Teaser from the Archives


A few months ago, I discovered a long-overlooked box of reel-to-reel tapes in the studio. After blowing my nose and clearing the dust, I grabbed a few and headed over to a friend’s place to hear them. Thank heavens for friends with reel-to-reel decks.

2015-12-14 14.34.07.jpg
low noise? yeah right…

Every other tape we tried had already completely disintegrated into a pile of dust and polymer goo. When tapes are old and dying and you play them, they squeal in pain. The dried out oxides that make up the tape scrape across all the parts of the tape machine, peeling and crumbling everywhere. It’s pretty much the worst thing ever.

But after wading through tape after tape of hiss and warble, I found some true gold. And it was in pretty nice shape, too.

2015-12-29 22.48.06.jpg
“Absolute Touchlessness to Be Observed”

This is a portion of a live tape recorded at the Kim Graves nightclub on December 29th, 1978. The Black Experience crew was there to record a band called The Production, a local group headed by Curt Campbell. The show was to be aired later on Kevin Rice’s show. They hit record when the house band was warming up….

It’s an amazing listen, with tight funk and hilarious crowd banter. The band finishes up with a cover of Expansions by Lonnie Liston Smith, which rules. WKDU alumnus Kevin Brown was present for the recording. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“This is a very interesting piece here because you have major stars in the Philadelphia music and sports scene in attendance. The host is Dr. Perri Johnson one of the top [personalities] on WDAS-FM  whose music sometimes overlapped with what we were playing on the Black Experience in Music. Also Kenny Gamble one of the founders of Philadelphia International Records. Darryl Dawkins [of the 76ers] was also one of the judges of the show. The hilarious comedian was “May West” a black male comedian in drag doing a spoof on the real Mae West.”

Now, the plot thickens: Since hearing this tape, I’ve determined that The Black Experience on WKDU was the catch-all name for a group of DJs that ruled the weekend airwaves from around 1972-1981. Jazz, funk, disco, and other smooth styles were the focus. Little information has survived from that era, but as I talked to alumni and others, it’s clear that there was a lot of cool stuff going on. Patience, college radio historians:  I promise there’ll be more on this in the near future.

Kevin Brown was nice enough to send me another reel full of station IDs, promos, and other cool stuff. Here’s a station ID that’ll flip your lid like it flipped mine:






Some Really Good Tunes: The Mystery of the Missing Records

A couple Friday mornings back, I went to the station. When I got there, this was leaned up against the door….

(re-enactment by author)

Inside were about 50 records. All were tagged WKDU circa 1971-1981. I can only speculate that maybe a former DJ, in an act of redemption, decided to give them back after “borrowing” them.

At KDU, there aren’t a lot of rules, but one stands out: NO STEALING. Says so on the door, probably written in DJ blood.


It’s interesting that these records made it back, but even more interesting that they were left on the outside. It implies that whoever gave them back is far enough removed from the station that they couldn’t enter. Otherwise, they could’ve put the records back themselves, or hidden them somewhere within the station’s many nooks and crannies.  The plot thickens….

So I started looking through the records, because that’s what I do when a random bin of records appears on my doorstep. Here are some of my favorites from the stack. Oh, and in case you’re curious: Yes, I did put them back on the shelf, where they belong.

Continue reading “Some Really Good Tunes: The Mystery of the Missing Records”

Sounds of South City: An Introduction to St. Louis DIY

Veil  –  Photo by Austin Roberts

—   by Allison Durham

There’s an undeniable Midwestern spirit. It is modest, unassuming, and devoid of pretension. Whatever music scenes exist in the cities of the nation’s heartland are homegrown- made by deep-rooted communities of musicians and artists who’ve planted themselves in the location or perhaps never left in the first place. These are not the cities people flock to because they are recognized as “cool”. Compared to the coasts, there is little national attention on Midwestern culture, and it seems its inhabitants are content this way; when national attention is garnered, it’s appreciated, but still becomes the subject of jokes. At least this seems to be true for the DIY music scene of St. Louis, Missouri. A place with a blend of Midwestern charm all its own and situated just west of the muddy Mississippi River, St. Louis is a brick city where baseball and beer reign supreme. But when the game’s turned off, fans of a different sort come together. In the bowels of South City there lies a proud community of musicians, punks, and other freaks who together make up an invaluable piece of the city’s creative heart. Whether people care or not, the South St. Louis DIY scene is alive and kicking, with longtime residents continuing to contribute to their scene while fostering the growth of new bands and new blood.

Q  –  Photo by Allison Durham

As a St. Louisan, I like to think that the music that comes out of the city reflects its underdog reputation, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. To get a sense of the town is to get a sense of the music that, if out for a walk on the streets of South City, might just be heard seeping through the brick walls of buildings passed. The list provided below exhibits just 10 of the many St. Louis acts helping to keep the scene strong.

Trauma Harness – Trauma Harness’s music emits sincerity while evoking a sense of twisted reality- think 80’s B-horror films or your favorite episode of Goosebumps. Trauma Harness is the soundtrack to such stories, representative of both their most triumphant and suspenseful moments.

Swear Beam – Debuting this summer, Swear Beam made an instant impression, filling an undeniable void in the city’s musical landscape with carefully crafted walls of melodic fuzz. Beam me up!

Black James – Experimental electronic rich with both minimalist sonic arrangements as well as complex structures sprinkled with hints of dissonance. Get down to it, freaked by it, or both.

Little Big Bangs – Bringing a blend of punk and garage, Little Big Bangs stay accessible while keeping listeners on the edge of explosive moments, performing noisy instrumental breaks and moving straight into irresistibly catchy melodies.

Veil – The dark imagery associated with Veil is representative of their distinctively grave sound; they are a warning of approaching danger, yet also a walk through a dimly lit neighborhood late at night.

Skin Tags – Driving guitar lines accompany a thrashing rhythm section and ferocious vocals. Skin Tags is awesomely abrasive while still maintaining a controlled delivery.

Q – Pounding drums propel crunchy hardcore riffs as unforgiving vocals tear through the foreground. Includes bass breakdowns best for slow-mo stomping and slinkin’ around.

The Brainstems – Indisputably timeless garage rock with ripping solos and attitude, The Brainstems are a St. Louis rock n’ roll mainstay.

Rüz – Agitated vocals, piercing drums and splitting guitar placed between shrouds of feedback tell the audience something is very wrong, but listening feels very right.

Hylidae – Hylidae is ambient electronic with direction, transporting the listener to another place where layers of aural peculiarities fill the air.

Mad Decent Block Party Friday Photo Re-cap

Mad Decent Philly Block Party Friday photo re-cap

Diplo and Mad Decent crew have come a loonggg way since they first set up shop at what is now PHILAMOCA in the early 2000s.

A trip down memory lane for Diplo, where the sidewalk outside PHILAMOCA still bears the Mad Decent stamp.

The Mad Decent Block party, which originally was a raucous street party that closed down the five-point intersection at 12th Street, Spring Garden, and Ridge Avenue, has exploded into a nationally touring summer sell-out.


Big up to Sean Agnew (pictured here in Elmo costume with a handle of Captain Morgan, also a former WKDU DJ) and R5 Productions for their biggest show to date, and for handling the event like the champs they are.

We took in the sights and sounds of the Friday madness, catching sets from Major Lazer, Philly’s own Dirty South Joe, Zeds Dead, Keys N Krates, Allison Wonderland, and Giraffage.

You’ve got to assume that Diplo is used to this at this point.

All photos by Frank Kinyon.

  Continue reading “Mad Decent Block Party Friday Photo Re-cap”

New Music Discovery: Getting Back in Shape

By Esmail Hamidi

All the CDs in my car skip now.

I bought earbuds so I could listen to music on my walks home, but I maxed out the data on my phone. Dead hard drive in my old iPod Photo, dead batteries on my old iPod Nano, dead batteries on my cassette Walkman. YouTube blocked at work. Mouse chewed through the cable on my kitchen speaker. No time. Obligations. Bad radio. Wack DJs. The rat race.

All these forces seek to destroy my relationship with new music. I’m feeling closer to 33 every day. Especially deep in the dusty record bins on Toilet Radio.

But no! At WKDU, I am still capable of falling in love with new music of all kinds.  This list is proof. Enjoy.

  1. Girlpool – Ideal World

This cut off of Girlpool’s debut really impresses me. Minimal production, rock-solid guitar tone, and their growing aptitude for harmonies make this song an ear-perking jam. Heroin, anyone?

  1. Blacksage – Basement Vows

Soulful triplet feel on Baltimore’s Friends Records. Cool.

Continue reading “New Music Discovery: Getting Back in Shape”