Incredible Bongo Man: King Errisson, the Percussionist Behind “Apache”

October 18, 2012

Words by Jesse Serwerโ€”

King Erisson still from "Sample This"

An epic clash of Afro-Caribbean rhythms and Western movie bombast, the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache” is the grand poobah of breakbeats, a record so integral to the development of hip-hop that Kool Herc himself called it hip-hop’s national anthem. And now “Apache” is the subject of a new documentary, Sample This (check the trailer below), which connects it not only to Bronx DJ pioneers and Missy Elliott but also Robert F. Kennedy, the Beatles and Charles Manson, among others. Whoa. We expect it will also shine a nice, shiny spotlight on the great King Errisson, the Bahamian conguero whose bongo playing is the epicenter of “Apache”‘s titanic rumble.

Born in Nassau, Errisson toured the Chitlin Circuit after emigrating to the US and landed roles in the James Bond movie Thunderball (he later appeared in Uptown Saturday Night with Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby) before becoming the go-to percussionist at Motown Records, where he played on classic records including Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” In his autobiography To Be Loved, Berry Gordy even called King “the unsung hero of Motown.” In a 2006 story on “Apache,” The New York Times called Erissson one of the two most important drummers in hip-hop (the other being Jim Gordon, who played the trap kit on “Apache” and, a decade later, killed his mother in a drug-fueled delirium). And we thought Questlove had that title sewn up.

Today, King lives in Las Vegas, where you can often catch him supporting Neil Diamond, for whom he’s played congas for over 35 years. Watch the intriguing preview for Sample This (set to make its premiere this weekend in Austin, Texas) and check out “Apache” and some of King’s own funky solo work below.