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Preston Epps

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Preston Epps (born 1931 in Oakland, CA) still performs in clubs in Southern California and the Southwest region of the United States. A one-hit-wonder, Epps scored a number 14 pop hit in 1959 with “Bongo Rock,” but subsequent singles failed. He learned to play the bongos and other percussion instruments during the Korean War while stationed in Okinawa.

When his duties ended, he forsook Northern California for Southern Cali, sustaining himself by working odd jobs; he hung around the emerging beatnik, hippie set by frequenting coffeehouses, and pounding the skins for the appreciative heads. DJ Art Laboe discovered Epps at a cozy, laid-back coffeehouse and signed him to his newly founded Original Sound Records. Epps’ “Bongo Rock” became the label’s first hit; Laboe released a second single, “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo,” in 1960 that slotted 64 positions lower.

Epps first album, Bongo Bongo Bongo, dropped in 1960 on the heels of the second single and did okay. However, subsequent singles, “Bongo in the Congo,” “Bongo Rocket,” “Bongo Boogie,” “Flamenco Bongo,” “Mr. Bongo,” “Bongo Shuffle,” and other Bongo derivatives failed to generate any interest. Two more albums, Bongola (1961) and Surfin’ Bongos (1962), went unnoticed; you can find select recordings by Epps on numerous vinyl and CD compilations. The Incredible Bongo Band updated “Bongo Rock” (Epps co-wrote the instrumental with Arthur Egnoian, a pseudonym for Arthur Laboe) and rode it to number 73 in 1973.

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