High school bands are typically something you are subjected to, not something you seek. The Kashmere Stage Band was an exception. Bestowed with the unequivocal title of “Best Stage Band in the Nation,” the Houston high schoolers were something to behold. Led by Conrad O. Johnson, a mentor better known as “Prof”, they dominated the high school band competition circuit and gained international recognition. This two-CD plus DVD set documents their 1968 to 1974 reign as the only high school band that mattered.
The stage band played heavy funk instrumentals, with a chorus of horns shouting over muted porno guitar, percolating bassline and drums that beat out the high-energy vibe that over-scores all of the KSB music. No smooth keyboards — only strings, brass and beats. Their output was sophisticated and wild — rough in pose but expert in performance. Like good students they took turns, clearing the way for a flute solo or a busy guitar lead like that of “Do Your Thing”.
From the familiar funk of “Shaft” and “Thank You” to originals like “Headwiggle” and “Can You Dig It Man?”, the set-list on Texas Thunder Soul is exquisite. It includes both studio takes and live cuts originally produced and released by “Prof” Johnson on his KRAM label. The personnel on these recording varies from track to track for obvious reasons, but all of them sound like they were cut from the same cloth and that is testament to the teaching of Johnson. This “expanded deluxe edition” of Texas Thunder Soul is basically the same as the version released in 2006 except that it has updated liner notes that tenderly acknowledge Prof’s passing and a bonus DVD.
The DVD is essential, but so limited. It features a poorly produced short entitled “Texas Jewels–The Making of Texas Thunder Soul,” in which Now-Again Records honcho Egon crate-digs through the abandoned residence of saxophonist and record-maker Leon Mitchison. The disc also includes a slideshow of the Kashmere Stage band performing on “Jazz: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” But the diamond in this rough is the antique mini-doc “Prof. and his Band”, which really explores Conrad Johnson’s wisdom and leadership and features the some of the best performance footage taken of the KSB. In that segment we hear Prof reveal his intentions, “I got the idea to start a band and build a band out of young people that was equivalent in sound and in appearance to that of the professionals.” He did that alright, and he may have broke the shoulders of the giants he stood on, for the Kashmere Stage Band was a heavy force. Powerful, perhaps from the guidance of Conrad or maybe it was the fire of youth, but either way it amounted to some of the best funk ever carved into wax.