One name is enough for most people, two is one too many and three is out of the question, but on May Day, May 1, 1981, Fred Miller introduced me to a guy who had three, at least three I knew about, maybe there were more.
Fred introduced him as J. Walter Negro, a budding talent and the front man for a band known as the Loose Jointz. J. Walter had a song called Shoot The Pump he thought could be a hit and, strangely enough, so did a bunch of my pals at Hammond Music. Including John Hammond. It didn’t work out that way, but it could have.
The guy sitting in front of me had three names and each one was a bit of a hustle. His real name was Marc André Edmonds. He was twenty-five years old, was very bright, said he had gone to Columbia University and probably could have been a success in any number of fields, maybe advertising, maybe urban planning. He was also known as Ali, and as a graffiti artist he and his fellow Soul Artists had been bombing their way through the subway tunnels of New York for the better part of a decade. His pals were Futura 2000 and SAMO, later known as Jean-Michael Basquiat. Then there was J. Walter Negro, The Playin’ Brown Rapper, as he called himself. He was a hip hopper before it was cool to be a rapper.
He was a good-looking guy, spoke well, made sense once the hustle was over, had a lot of hair, and was wearing a Keith Haring Radiant Baby button. I was much too old to have know about that kind of thing, but somehow I did, so I thought he was with it for wearing it and he thought I was OK because I recognized it. He gave me one and I can’t find it. Too bad, it’s probably a collector’s item.
Shoot the Pump was recorded in early July and was terrific. You can read about how terrific all over the Internet in 2010. It was to be issued in August because it was a summertime dance single. Marc J. Walter Ali designed an incredible as good at that year’s Grammy winner cover but CBS wouldn’t issue it, insisting all 12” singles they distributed had to be released in a standard, ugly, shiny black jacket. We fought and fought, finally won, but by then it was too late. The summertime single wasn’t a September song and it tanked. Maybe it sold a couple of thousand copies. Then something funny happened.
I was sitting in my office in November and the telephone rang. It was a guy from Island Records in the UK, or maybe it was the guy from Virgin. I forget which one telephoned first. But each of them wanted the record and were coming to New York City the next week to make a deal for it. It seems the BBC had found a copy of the record somewhere, had been playing it to death and it was an underground hit in England.
The record company guys met at our offices, John Moore decided to make the deal with Island and a week or so later, on November 21, I took off for London with a two track master tape in my hand luggage. The tape was disguised as something else because if it had been declared as commercial goods it would have taken forever and Island was in a hurry.
I delivered the tape, the record was released, it crept up the charts, J. Walter Negro and the Loose Joints became fashionable overnight, Marc J. Walter Ali was featured on the cover of New Music Express or was it The Melody Maker. Or maybe it was both. He was that hot. A tour was arranged, the band went to the UK and then the trouble began because Marc J. Walter Ali managed to let the white powder go to his nose and it all fell apart. The tour was a bust and in the music business in those days as in these days, there aren’t a lot of second chances.
We tried with him once again. We cut a few tunes at Media Sound. The best, Times Square, was even assigned a master number, and a jacket was designed, but it was never released. It might have been better than Shoot the Pump. He wrote other songs like 52 Cans, Ron E. Raygun and While Nero Fiddles, but nothing was ever released. When Hammond Music failed, the tapes for the tracks that had been recorded went missing.
We stayed in touch. In November 1985 he gave me a cassette of what he thought were his best nine songs. It was for a concept LP and was very good, but Hammond was out of business and no one else seemed to care. It was one of the last times I saw him. About that time Marc J. Walter Ali went missing, at least from New York City, and spent the last decade of his life in Arizona. He did some good things, but got into trouble one time too often and wound up dead in a bus stop in 1994. The story is Mexican drug dealers who wanted to make a point overdosed him and left him to die at a bus stop, or maybe it was somewhere else, just like he had three names. No matter where, it was a tragic end for a talented guy who hustled the wrong people one time too often.
Fast forward to today. There are still people highly interested in Marc J. Walter Ali. You can see clips on YouTube and Vimeo, original copies of the 12” are valuable and you can download Shoot The Pump from many different sites, none of which have any rights to the song. Someone is doing research for a book, someone else is interested in a screenplay and I will devote a few pages to him in a book I have in production. I’ve encountered a fair number of “what ifs” in my life. Marc J. Walter Ali was one of the most interesting.
Marc J. Walter Ali, Times Square, New York City, Fall 1983
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Posted in on July 21, 2010 by