Owner of the “Amen Break”

I (used to) have a blog called Sample Spotters that talks about whose songs have been sampled by whom. With the help of sites like the-breaks.com and datraxer.com, I make a list of an artist’s songs and where they were used: e.g. Roy Ayers, Patrice Rushen or Labi Siffre. I also did it the other way round once (what songs were sampled BY George Michael), and for some pivotal songs, I dedicated a whole blog post to just 1 song: Funky Drummer and the “Amen Break”.

On that last post I just got a comment by someone who seems to be the original copyright owner of the song: Richard L. Spencer:

I am thoroughly disappointed at all of the comments that I read from decent sounding young people who are not appalled that works by artists such as Greg and the rest of us in The Winstons can be ripped off by hundreds of artists and they do not protest. I am the copyright owner of “The Amen Drum Break” which was created by fellow Winston Greg Coleman and neither of us have ever received a penny for our product.

The history of the Amen Break goes a bit like this:

The Winstons’ version was released as a B-side of the single “Color Him Father” (1969) (…). Unfortunately the drummer, Gregory C. Coleman, nor the copyright owner Richard L. Spencer, the Grammy award winning composer and performer of the hit “Color Him Father”, have never received any royalties for the sampling.
The song itself achieved fame within the Hip-Hop and subsequent Electronic music communities when Louis Flores compiled it onto his 1986 Ultimate Breaks & Beats bootleg series for DJ’s. (…) With the emergence of rave music around 1990, the “Amen” began to appear in an increasing number of techno productions. Very soon the famous loop became the sole drum element of many tracks and a whole style got its own name – Jungle. (…) In 1993-94 the whole jungle movement evolved into drum and bass. (…) At the end of the 90s, some producers focused on the amen break and took it to the next level. Artists like Squarepusher and Aphex Twin started a new sub-genre of hyper-edited drum and bass called drill and bass.
It is probably the only time in the history of music when a 5 second drum loop created a completely new style of music and managed to influence other musical styles to such a degree.

In that constant struggle between protection of intellectual property and freedom to create/recycle/innovate, the inventors of the “Amen Break” got a bad deal. Would jungle or drum-n-bass have taken off like they did if the rights to the Amen Break would have belonged to a lawyer-bombing IFPI/RIAA member? Can you copyright a drum fill? Starting from how many beats? Will future drummers be as free to talk about their inspiration as Jeff Porcaro was about “Rosanna”?

Background: There’s an installation about the Amen Break and there’s even a documentary movie. Don’t think you’ve heard it? Listen here:

5 thoughts on “Owner of the “Amen Break””

  1. man i understand what copyright dood is saying but hey, which is more important – the money or the music?

  2. Copyright “dood” says that “if you have the money then the music can be important”.”But if you are watching everyone and his mother making money from your stuff, then the money becomes very important.
    Also,if you are a member of the ruling class then you may become all noble and shit with other people’s property.Bull “shit purism” from poor people such as we “JUNGLE”folk is not allowed because it stifles creativity.And if we stop creating shit for you bastards to steal, where will you be? Living in Austria eating venison and “clapping” on the first beat!
    Min. Richard L. Spencer

  3. hey man no doubt you have every right to want your money out of us drum and bass people. Im just gonna say a few things:

    i think the reason that jungle took off the way that it did was not simply because of your break, i think it had alot to do with the growing rave scene and the introduction of ecstasy. people were speeding up their 33rpm vinyl tunes and mixing at 45 because of the amphetamines they were on. whether the genre was house or hiphop, it didnt matter to them as long as it had the speed. xtc is known to be the drum and bass drug. its one of the pillars in the scene, another is the amen break, and another one is the community. its about bringing people together. i mean why not think about it this way: the people you associated with did such a good job on the amen, that millions of people around the world decided they liked the sound of 6 seconds of it and it was asked to stay. millions of people around the world have been able to feel better about themselves to a degree because of it. One of my best friends is a DJ and loves amen based tunes. As soon as he heres one he starts smiling and looks at me like ‘this is hot’. I dont really see why you care that much, or you think that you are so good. You simply mic’d some drums, people heard it, thought it was a great recording, built a culture on it, all while you were building your career in something else, not like you cared what was going on much in music anyways, now its like 2008 and i hear you guys have packed bags to take legal action for ‘big producers’ @ $1500 per use of the break. i mean its a totally understandable route to take, but why dont you ask nicely? or be like hey mr. DJ/producer duo label, ‘i think what you are doing is cool with my old toy that i never use anymore, is it cool that i have a slice too maybe once in awhile?’ I mean, you have been long gone and definitely thought for dead, and the reverse can probably be said about ‘Winstons’ involvement with music. I mean im not talking about what is legally right or what is possible here. Im talking about the karmic nature of humanity. As soon as you start knocking on doors w/ lawyer A on your side, words gonna get around that you are a prick.
    What Producer is gonna respond to your emails, the door, your letters, or your phone calls if they already know that you are going around all mormon style door to door stuff ? I mean ‘how nicely are you able to put it?’ is basically what I’m asking. I assume that this how you would go about it. I also assume that you could somewhat interpret this like an adult would. I think what would be a better route to take would be to show up at some events like WMC or Ultrafest in Miami one year and just talk to some people, and tell them how you feel. People understand what you are probably going through, people at those drum and bass events will care about you and what you were doing. You could get on stage and make a speech about it. People would love that. People would love you too, instead of hate you for pressuring them by presence of lawyer to milk their shallow musician pockets. I mean I could totally see you doing something amazing for the drum and bass scene in a 15 min interview or some other type of involvement somehow. People would love love love to have you around, and Im sure that if you were personable about it, somebody would be willing to pay you to be there.

  4. this is crazy talk. pay for a drum beat? it is like saying i own the c chord because i played it first in my music. if someone rip the song structure of his song thats one thing but a loop its just a greedy person asking for people money

  5. The creators of the Amen Break should profit from the break because it is their creation _ whether is five seconds or five hours, it is still their creation.

    Often we have one opportunity to take our talents and create something that will improve the quality of our lives. Considering the phenomenon this drum break created, it appears to have been their chance.

    That they’ve ended up with nothing is disgraceful. For any sampler to say that they have no right to lay claim to their creation is like someone decorating his home with stylish furniture then claiming that the good-looking room is his creation.

    He didn’t make the pieces in the room. He arranged them. There’s a very big difference.

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