#SleptOnSoul: Sleepy’s Theme ‘The Vinyl Room’ by Michael A. Gonzales @gonzomike @sleepybrownatl


Sleepy’s Theme – ‘The Vinyl Room‘ by Michael A. Gonzales

Producer/singer/songwriter Patrick “Sleepy” Brown wasn’t just inspired by yesteryear funk, the brother grew-up in the thick of it. As a boy, he traveled to gigs with his music playing daddy and Brick founder Jimmy Brown. When the Atlanta-based group released their monster debut Good High, their single “Dazz” made them urban dance floor darlings. Combining disco and jazz into sonic depth, Brick competed musically with big city boys Kool & the Gang and Mandrill; “Dazz,” with its deep groove and wicked flute solo, was an instant success.

Savoring the black stardust of the soul luminaries, Sleepy often stood in the shadows of backstage watching Cameo, Con Funk Shun, Switch and Brick throwing down as the audience worked themselves into funk frenzy.

“Just watching those guys walk on stage and turn it out was exciting,” Brown told me in 2004 as we sat in the lounge area of New York City radio station Hot-97. “Seeing my father up there was incredible. I knew then what I wanted to do.” Although Pop’s Brown brought his boy a set of drums, it still took a few years for Patrick to start taking music seriously.

“I guess I was about 18 when I realized if I wanted to be good, I had to start putting in the work.” Befriending fellow music enthusiasts Rico Wade and Ray Murray, whose mackadelic tastes was in-line with his own blaxploitation aesthetics and superfly sensibility, the trio set-out to develop a sound that might separate them from others. Still, Brown realized, if he was going to be a super cool character like Goldie, Willie Dynamite or a model from a Flagg Bros advertisement, he needed a better name than Patrick. “Back in the 80s, I was a major Big Daddy Kane fan,” he recalled. “I thought he was the coolest nigga on the planet, but he always looked sleepy to me. I thought, what could be cooler than me calling myself Sleepy. According to Rico, I just walked into the house one day and said, ‘Just call me Sleepy.’ That’s a gangster name like Bumpy Johnson.”

After taking the boys over to his dad’s studio, they began grinding, initially making tracks for their group Uboys. Playing their demos for singer/TLC manager Perri “Pebbles” Reid (aka Mrs.LA Reid), she advised them to dump the group concept and stick with production. “We produced a rap duo for Pebble’s label called Parental Advisory (P.A.), but when that didn’t jump-off, we met Outkast and started working with them.”

Invited to submit a track for the LaFace Records Christmas album in 1993, the newly christened Organized Noize (Sleepy, Rico and Ray) crew contributed the Outkast song “Players Ball,” a track that could’ve been a theme song to more than a few flicks back in the day. Production wise, the music was as inspired by the seventies soul icons Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and Willie Hutch as well as by the “in the lab” flare of Marley Marl, Dr. Dre and DJ Quik.

“During that time, we all stayed in the same house and didn’t do nothing except make beats,” Sleepy remembered. “We stayed up all night, smoked all day, went to the Waffle House and go right back to work. We were so tight and together back then.” Coming at a time when pimp/player role-play thang had brothers watching The Mack as though it was a self-help video, “Players Ball” was a smash; five months later Outkast’s debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik was released to much fanfare.

Serving as the perfect calling card, Organized Noize continued to explore the depths of soul and hip-hop on various productions including TLC (“waterfalls”), Joi (Dandelion Dust”), Goodie Mob (“Dirty South”), Cool Breeze (“Watch for the Hook”) and a gang of other ATL artists who formed under the Dungeon Family banner. With a sound that was as soulful as chiltings with champagne sauce and cheese grits on the side, Organized Noize became a major factor in the ATL sound that included LA and Babyface, Daryl Simmons, Dallas Austin and Jermaine Dupri. “Our main thing was we just wanted to give Atlanta a voice,” Sleepy said. “We came up at a time when nobody wanted to hear anything from the south, and we wanted to be a musical force.”

However, for all his success behind the mixing boards, Sleepy’s dream was to be in the studio leading a band of soulful renegades into a retro-futuristic rebellion against radio, critics and popular musical tastes of people shaking their booties to whatever Puffy’s Jiggy Hit Factory produced that week. “Being a producer was cool, but I wanted to be upfront,” Sleepy explained. “I had seen my dad do it and I wanted to do it too. We tried it first with Society of Soul (consisting of the Organized trio and vocalists Esperanza and Big Rube), but that didn’t work out.” Signed to LaFace, Society of Soul released their only record Brainchild in 1995. While it was a powerful album, it was a still a major label flop at a time when few got second chances.

Three years later, Brown conceived a more indie band Sleepy’s Theme featuring keyboardist/singer Eddie Stokes, drummer Victor Rico Cortez, guitarist Bill Odum, vocalist Keisha Jackson and the late Pimp C, who produced one track (“Simply Beautiful”) and co-produced “Falling in Love” and “Can’t Let Go.” and. The group’s official press release, referred to them as “one of the tightest, greasiest, yet sophisticated bands in the land.” In addition to providing production, Brown sang in falsetto that was as sweet, thick and chocolaty as a glass of Bosco without the milk.

Sleepy's Theme - The Vinyl Room insert

“Sleepy’s Theme was my punk rock garage band,” Brown said. “On The Vinyl Room I was just trying to do an underground thing. I knew the album wasn’t going to be a commercial success, but it got out there.” Releasing the sonic wonderlove The Vinyl Room in the summer of ’98, their small label Bang Records (which was Brick’s former home) had little budget for promotion or marketing of The Vinyl Room, which explained why I hadn’t heard of it until my homie Curtis Waller hipped me. Attending a dinner party at a West Village restaurant in New York City, Waller, a Black music fan with pure funk in his blood, handed me a copy. “You’re going to love this,” he said, slipping me a CD.

From the vintage heist movie music that opens the first song “Can’t Let Go” before it morphs into a strung-out love song of about a damaged dude that refuses to leave the fine witchy boo driving him crazy (“…I’m so messed-up I don’t what to do,” Sleepy slurs, bluesy as Little Milton crying in the backstreets), to the Pimp C’s low-riding beat for “Simply Beautiful,” a ill gangsta track that interpolates Barry White’s swag-laced midtempo slow grind “You’re the One I Need,” Brown proved to be the perfect captain for the black, red and green mothership that hovered over Atlanta in the late-90s. With Brown bragging in the bio that there were no samples, The Vinyl Room was a richly textured, mesmerizing and ballsy album where the recurring themes were women, cars and weed.

“The music of the seventies wasn’t computerized, it was just realness from the heart and that’s what Sleepy captured,” singer Keisha Jackson, the daughter of raunchy soul star Millie, says. A former back-up singer for LaFace Productions, she was recruited by Sleepy to supply her sultry vocals to the mix. In pure Dragon fashion, during the conception and making of the songs, the studio was often filled with clouds of potent blunt smoke.

“I don’t smoke, but the contact high was a doozy,” Jackson laughs, “but if the atmosphere hadn’t been like that, the record wouldn’t be what it was. Everything was played in the same room and we played off each other so well. The first day I came to the studio, Sleepy said he wanted me and Cee-Lo to sing the hook on ‘Curse on You.’ We both sang backgrounds on that, and when it was done, they asked me to do another one. The group wasn’t conceived with me as a member, but after that first session, I became a constant voice on the album.”

Other ATL notables appearing on The Vinyl Room included singers Joi Gilliam and Whild Peach (“Choked Out Saturday Night”), bassist Preston Crump (“Can’t Let Go,” “Fallin’ in Love Again”) and guitarist Tomi Martin (“Conversation”). Taking notes from Brick, the horns on “Chocked Out Saturday Night” and “Grind On” were significant. “Sleepy and the guys were writing songs on the spot and we recorded them quickly,” says Keisha. “We couldn’t wait to see what the final product would sound like.”

Still Smokin Art

Sleepy’s Theme first single was “Curse on You,” which opens with a slow-hand strumming an electric guitar entices one into the musical mojo of that gothic groover until Brown slipped-in and began crooning, “If you don’t love me like I love you, there’s only one thing I’m hav’to do…I’ma put a spell on you.” With the lyrics creepy as a folklore fetched from the journals of Zora Neale Hurston, the music was nightmare dreamy as their stormy sound cracked the clouds and frogs rained from the sky.

“We shot the video up in the mountains and I was five months pregnant,” Keisha Jackson, whose raw vocals featured prominently through the song. Draped in a way to hide her bulging belly, Jackson fitted herself with a red Afro for the shoot. “When I was a kid, my mom had a drawer full of Afro wigs that I used to play with, but when I saw myself in the video I thought I looked like a Mr. Microphone.”

While the blues-wreaked voodoo was of the song exquisite was sure to end badly for all involved, the real spell could be found in the voices of Sleepy and Keisha, with the real Miss Jackson (not to be confused with the woman in the Outkast song) doing singing her backup position in a way that would make her mama’s friends The Pips proud.

The album’s second single “Still Smokin’” was another rousing track, this time featuring guitarist Billy Odum keeping wah-wah alive as he plays one of the coolest solos this side of Ernie Isley. “We shot the video in Little Five Points and the director just had us hanging,” Jackson remembers. “It was all just natural vibing except there was a camera in my face.” The laidback anthem was hypnotic, hot and went down as smooth as a shot of Jack Daniels.

Listening to The Vinyl Room, one can almost hear, see and feel the ATL landscape with it’s the churches and juke-joints, preachers and pimps, lush trees and the red dirt, holy-roller sisters and the sistas dancing at Magic City, warm-hearted brothers and cold-hearted macks. While the south might’ve be “dirty” in 1998, Sleepy and his cool collective of super funk friends was just straight-up filthy.

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