Thanks to Now-Again Records, producer Eothem Alapatt, and author Lance Scott Walker, the story and recordings of drummer Bubbha Thomas and his spiritual jazz group, The Lightmen Plus One, are receiving new interest. A native of Houston’s Fourth Ward during the era of segregation, Thomas decided to hit the road in the early ‘60s and tour with an R&B backing band. Upon his return to Houston, his interests shifted to jazz as well as community activism, education and journalism. Thomas developed a powerful voice as editor-in-chief of the grassroots newspaper Voice of HOPE, and founded Houston’s Summer Jazz Workshop which continues to this day. In 1970, his newly-christened The Lightmen Plus One ensemble released their debut album, Free As You Wanna Be, on George Nelson’s Judnell label. Energy Control Center, released in 1972 on Thomas’s short-lived label, Bubbha’s Lightnin’ Records, is considered the group’s masterpiece.Continue reading →
Billed as the “long lost 4th Coming album,” the tracks on Strange Things were compiled from eight obscure (and some extremely rare) 7” singles the group cut between 1970-1974. Led by two progressive Black musicians from Los Angeles—Henry “Hank” Porter and Jechonias “Jack” Williams—the 4th Coming recorded at Al Firth’s Artist Recording Studio in Hollywood, picking up studio musicians (including members of the Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band) as necessary to realize their arrangements. Production assistance was provided by Yusuf Rahman, who played with both Horace Silver and Charles Wright. Rahman basically took the song ideas generated by Williams, then wrote proper arrangements and assisted with overdubs.
The varied and highly creative songs produced through these efforts offer a cornucopia of Sly Stone era funk, fuzz guitars, synths, and gritty soul. Highlights include “Don’t Let Him Take Away Your Man,” the shape-shifting, cowbell heavy (and still relevant) “Waterloo at Watergate,” the funk heavy title track “Strange Things,” and the jazzy but detour filled “Cruising Central Ave.” There are other surprises along the way, such as the countrified “Oh Love” and “Take Time,” the former a bit folksy and the latter plenty gritty.
In the extensive liner notes, producer Eothen Alapatt chronicles the saga of 4th Coming, along with a detailed history of the Artist Record Studio and Firth’s Alpha label. Regrettably, all of the group’s master tapes were lost, along with all personal photos and mementos, so the booklet is only illustrated with images of the 45s.
The 4th Coming may have been a group on the fringes, and one that never quite gelled—but listening to their music nearly fifty years later, I think that’s to our benefit. Indeed, Strange Things offers the kind of strange trip that can only be found in La La Land.