The Amen Break is the most successful drum loop in musical history, featuring heavily in hundreds of breakbeat, hip hop, drum and bass, jungle and ragga tracks.
The six second loop was originally performed by Gregory Cylvester “G. C.” Coleman in the 1960’s in soul and funk outfit The Winstons in the song “Amen Brother“. It’s been over 50 years since the beat was created and in that time, the four bar clip has spawned and influenced entire subcultures. Despite this neither the performer nor the copyright owner Richard L. Spencer have ever received a penny for it. In fact, Gregory Cylvester died in 2006; a broke, homeless man.
Richard L Spencer who wrote the arrangement was totally unaware of its cult status until around 1996 when he was contacted by a record company asking him for the “Amen Break” master. It was at this point that he discovered that the loop had been sampled in over 116 tracks.
Spencer was interviewed on BBC 1XTRA several years ago and when asked the question “If you could speak to any of the artists that have used the break what would you say?” he responded: “I’m flattered that you chose it but make a legal interaction – pay me“.
A few days ago, long term Break Beat lover, Martyn Webster and ‘DJ Destiny‘ set up a GoFundMe page to invite those who have “Written or sold any music with the amen break, or even just enjoyed one of the countless hundreds and hundreds of tunes that contain it” to donate a small amount to “the man behind the legendary breakbeat”.
Richard L Spencer penned a hand written letter in response to the fundraiser, it read:
Please thank all of the great souls who are kind enough to be a part of this event. I am reminded of the impact of Europeans like yourself who have historically been “The keepers” of African American music.
Thanks very very much,
Richard L Spencer”
Written by Maya Radcliffe.