A Hammond B3's entrancing mantra spills into the room, calling to arms a horde of skin beaters into a spellbinding, almost shamanic dance. A dark-voiced guitar pairs up to a silvery flute in melody. Earth and Fire unite. Enchanting, the musical whirlwind that unfolds brings to mind the spirit of the late sixties. Haight And Ashbury. Paisley hippies tripping. Beaded tresses and frail bodies swirling as if in trance.
Thus begins not some remastered audiovisual ditty from the Woodstock craze, but the title track from hard bop guitarist Pat Martino's 1967 solo debut El Hombre. It would also become the point of departure of a painstaking mission to uncover the life of its producer, Cal Lampley, who far from having consciously pandered to hippie ideology, nevertheless shared its open-mindedness and belief in music as an enlightening experience.
"It's about time someone write about Cal!" exclaimed friend and fellow composer Vivian Adelberg Rudow on our first interview. "He kind of stayed under the radar so to speak. He was very understated... but not his resume!"
Now, here is a nagging thought: why is it the producer of such landmark recordings as Miles Davis' Porgy And Bess (Columbia, 1958), and Richard "Groove" Holmes' charted hit "Misty"someone who worked with Leonard Bernstein, Mahalia Jackson and Dave Brubeck receive so little attention from the music press? I set to find out more. And, as pieces of the puzzle slowly fell into place, the story that emerged somehow felt like it needed to be told.
Calvin Douglas Lampley's Harnett County birth certificate states he was born March 4, 1924 in Dunn, North Carolina. The second child of Hettie Marina and William Lorenzo Lampley, he had a brother named William Elwood.
Little is known of Lampley's younger years, save he graduated with a B.S. from North Carolina Agricultural And Technical State University in Greensboro. The earliest mention of musical activity is as organist of Chapel Hill Presbyterian, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's on-campus church. There, Lampley had befriended a group of young musicians that were to make history as the first all-black, 45-piece band in the then white-only Navy: the US Navy B-1 Band.
The brainchild of leading political and educational figures (namely President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, UNC President Frank Porter Graham, NC Governor J. Melville Broughton, amongst others), the B-1 Band enlisted its first recruits in early May 1942. Rigorously selected by a committee that included amongst others Governor Broughton and Navy Chief Bandmaster C.E. Dudrow, recruits had been mostly members trained in the nationally-renowned North Carolina Agricultural & Technical band. Although his involvement with the NC A&T band is unknown, it must be noted that despite not being part of the B-1 band, Lampley was well-known and respected of its constituents. "We all knew about Dr.Graham from Calvin Lampley," says B1 veteran William Gibson, "who was the organist at Dr. Graham's church, and that was pretty rare to have a black in a position like that."
On his part, Lampley enrolled in 1943 as part of the black-only 364th Infantry. Though nothing is known of his time in the Army, nor what prompted his enrolment, an abundant yet polemical literature pertaining to this division offers insight on the tribulations of its men.
(Given the thorny, emotional, and as previously-mentioned, highly controversial aspect of the matter, an impartial summary of the events surrounding the 364th at the time of Pvt Lampley's service is proposed here. In clear, the controversy being already hotly debated by opposing factions (eg: the US Army vs diverse interests groups) only factual elements have been retained for the purpose of this article.)