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THE NIGHT-TIME MASTER BLASTER


The Cylons almost had one less human to ventilate in the case of my best friend and his near fatal run-in with lawn particulates. Not that Nate was one to just up and die on you — not with the Master Blaster on the air every night. So once back from the hospital, we listened to the Les Norman tape as Nate lay in bed, shot up with epinephrine, waiting for his bronchial trees to deconstrict.

First up was “Nasty Rock,” a Vocoder track recorded by the Garrett’s Crew in Chapel Hill. It took “Word Up” out in the woods by its underwear, tore out the elastic and whipped it silly. “Nasty Rock” calls for hyperbole because it was a stretch — driven and pitched all across North Carolina’s back routes as the only electro-funk song by a guy from Fuquay-Varina to be released on three different labels (Hol-Gar, Clockwork and Prelude) and be “acquisitioned” by Patrick Adams, New York’s most prolific disco producer. “Nasty Rock” was limber yet Ohio-tight and, unlike its electro peers, minimal to the point of almost being quiet — still letting you in on it with room to glide. My knee surgeon would’ve called this “inter-articular space.” Hi-hats were lisping rattlesnakes, handclaps boxed your ears and the laryngeal gravel popped tires.

The Vocoder went: Do it, do it, so nasty, do it.

“Dude, that’s retarded!” said one critic, impressed with the nasal torque. (Our sinuses are in our toes, homeopathically speaking.)

The song was originally called “Master Rock” until James Garrett’s five-year-old daughter Latisha started dancing around the studio squealing, “Nasty rock! Nasty rock!” What the kid said, went. The only catch was that the songwriter, John Mitchell, was on the run and in arrears down in Fayetteville, North Carolina. To protect Mitchell’s identity, the publishing was credited to Latisha’s 11-year-old brother, James L. Jr. Not too many kids at Fuquay-Varina Junior High had a Vocoder radio hit in their name back in ’83, a novelty fully grasped by Garrett's son, beaming his way through the lunch line — corndogs and Nutty Buddies on the house.

James Garrett Sr. now runs Garrett’s Amusements at an indoor flea market in Fuquay-Varina, 10 minutes east of Chapel Hill, where “Nasty Rock” was recorded. For a quarter you get a handful of Apple Jacks (and a lick of cinnamon dust) from an old gumball dispenser. For $10 you can get your picture taken and framed inside a license plate. Five dollars more gets your face inside a customized clock. The walls at Garrett’s Amusements are covered with these clocks and plates, friends and lovers who passed through, copped some Apple Jacks and smiled.

When I visited Garrett, in May 2004, we laughed about the difficulties of clapping inside a space vacuum with Red 40 sugar dust on one’s hands. I asked if I could get a clockface photo of him. He thumbed to the back wall and said there’s already a clock on the wall over there with five of him on it. I thanked Garrett and he said, “No problem, Dave. I like making people happy.” He put his hands behind his head and smiled. “That’s what time it is.”

When James Garrett finally drove “Nasty Rock” to WPEG in Concord, Les Norman had it on the air in broad daylight before he was even back on the interstate. “Les had a good heart,” Garrett said. “He reached out when he didn’t even know us. That’s how we got to New York. That’s how we opened for the Isley Brothers and the Manhattans.”

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