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The Bass Mechanic’s Field Guide To Florida While Videodromed In Brazil

Dave Tompkins

"After leaving home in north Miami, he found himself headless in the woods somewhere in Jacksonville, aiming for Chicago but marooned in the middle of hellnaw.

Xuxa is considered the most popular beautiful superstar woman in Brazil to have her own line of children’s shoes. Some believe she made a satanic pact to appear on TV in giraffe suits and pink spaceships. Today, her special musical guest from Liberty City is the Bass Mechanic. She is Shoo-sha. He is A.D.E. She once declined an offer to be the mother of Michael Jackson’s baby.  He once threw a cheeseburger at a bus. She had a breakfast song called “Who Wants A Bread Roll?” He could do the “Tootsie Roll” but probably wouldn’t admit it. She was nearly kidnapped in Rio. He was nearly killed in Rio. We could go on. The tape is still rolling.

This is a big-time memory for A.D.E, being on the most popular show on Globo Brasil TV in the mid-90s, doing a song about as old as his audience, a bunch of kids screaming Bass Mechanic. Bass this, Bass that. He understands little else, only that they get it. When he was their age, Adrian Hines was a runaway, assumed to be the state of Florida’s problem. After leaving home in north Miami, he found himself headless in the woods somewhere in Jacksonville, aiming for Chicago but marooned in the middle of hellnaw. He had wandered into a late night field recording, sound unseen, creeping among the winged, the humming, the stridulating. Boars on the mind. They got panthers in Jacksonville? He remembered “a bunch of tall-ass trees” and just enough moonlight to see he wasn’t in Miami anymore. Things had suddenly gone country and cold.

Adrian would rather hear it from the woods than his mother, Lottie Hines, a social worker in Liberty City trying to keep her son out of trouble. The dressing downs were too much for a kid in a hurry to be a man, so Adrian left. He started out as a Greyhound stowaway, occasionally catching a Yoo-hoo and a cheeseburger from a stranger, getting as far as Jacksonville until some lady demanded to see his toothbrush and ratted him out. The police then deposited him in a boy’s home in the northeast Florida wilds, described by Hines as “Santa Claus’ cabin.” (“This place was nestled, real sweet now.”) According to Hines, the shelter’s director said he could tell the truth and give up his real name or just walk out the door. So Hines walked. Or in his words “walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked and walked.” Chicago, no longer in the picture. The Bass Mechanic would’ve been happy with some interstate at this point.

Had the police known his name, they would’ve hauled Adrian Hines down to his father in Fort Lauderdale, where U-boatmen once stole ashore and the Spring Break classic Where the Boys Are ’84 was filmed, starring Lorna Luft and Smutty Smiff. Billy Hines sold records at Royal Sounds, a stall inside an interminable flea market at the corner of Sunrise and NW 71st, near Sistrunk Boulevard. (Jazz fusion legend Jaco Pastorius reportedly once walked the Sistrunk naked, shredding his bass in rush-hour traffic.) Called the Swap Shop, the flea market had a budget circus featuring a troupe of busted-looking monkeys and a dingy elephant with a buzz cut. Willie Nelson reportedly once opened up for the circus during his IRS blackout period. Sometimes the monkeys would get loose and liven things up a bit. Beyond the circus and good records, it has been said that the Swap Shop’s main attraction was a  six-foot mountain of nuts and bolts.

Billy Hines had tried a little bit of everything before getting into the record business. Bail bondsman, menswear, manager of Big Daddy’s Lounge on 31st.  Big Daddy’s fed an interest in music, which in 1977 led Hines to open Royal Sounds. From there, he started 4-Sight Records, a label that released now pricey electro 12s like “Radio Mars”  and “Beef Box.” Credited to Ervin German and Sexy Lady, “Beef Box” somehow but not surprisingly charted in Germany, unbeknownst to most in Lauderdale. A.D.E. was identified on the record as “effects coordinator,” increasing his portfolio in the Pork n’ Beans district of Liberty City. Ervin German wasn’t German but Sexy Lady, according to Hines, was a “very sexy lady.” German may be the first rapper out of Florida who could actually rap—there’s really something to how he says Dude jumped up and started doing the Smurf. German also went by MC Chief, making references to Seminole life before Andrew Jackson came slaughtering through the Everglades. The Shadow Country freak in me imagines German romancing the sub-frequencies propagating from a Chokoloskee shell mound, 150 acres of oysterized, swamplified, Bloody Watsonian Bass decay. Meanwhile, Sexy Lady could’ve been inspiration for the 4-Sight logo, a Loreal eye with flytrap lashes. (Or rare tropical fish with defense quills—hard to say.) This would evolve into a spaceship and then finally what appeared to be a range of yellow glaciers hunched under a purple popsicle sky.

For beats and production, 4-Sight retained bass player Frank “Thumbs” Cornelius (the “Thumbs” of Thumbs & The Hoestiles), former Bell South telephone operator James “DXJ” McCauley and Amos Larkins, who cut his teeth working for disco mogul Henry Stone but turned to electro-funk after spending an extraordinarily high afternoon watching Tron at the Dade Cinema 8. Larkins produced some of the best Binaca laser mist electro out of South Florida, including a record he claims sold for 3000.00 in yes, Germany. To his credit, McCauley could be the Roger Corman of Bass, creating a universe run by giant speakers eating (woofing?) Downtown Miami. You have to go mangrove when tracing the Miami Bass roots of McCauley and Larkins, with roughly thirteen recording aliases between them and a catalog that’s tangled, prolific and all over the place.

In 1985, Billy Hines released his teenager’s debut single “Bass Rock Express,” the first South Florida track with bass in its name—Trans Europe to Flagler, rail to rail. Some concerned citizens denounced it as a crack endorsement. Most were just happy to lose their minds to this song that opened with Vic Mizzy’s theme from Green Acres. It may not rumble your guts, but if the lyrics to “Bass Rock Express” are to be believed—and I really don’t see why not—this train was equipped with subwoofer seating. And if you’ve ever had the sensation of warming your bottom on a JBL cabinet, then you know it is, how do they say, “more than a feeling.”

By the early ‘90s, future bass merchants like Atlanta’s Jermaine Dupri (So So Def)  and New Orleans’s Mannie Fresh (Cash Money) were making overtures at 4-Sight. The unfortunately named Chattanooga R&B troupe, Darryl & His Happy Clowns, also paid a visit to Lauderdale, with a kid from Dallas named Usher Raymond. 4-Sight quickly became a Boyz II Men boot camp, with Adrian Hines rousting kids up at ungodly fishing hours to go jogging. “They were doing all those flips and stuff. That’s when Usher was landing on his head.”  Other characters would soon follow, including the great Gigolo “Smurf Rock” Tony and the incredibly named Iceman Ja Mega Jon. Then there was MC Player, a maniac from Jacksonville who confused everybody with an overactive vocabulary that sounded like LL on zombie dust. Son of Eula Speights, Player talked about debraining you with death bass and then to “prepare for the virtual rot.” “Player was sophisticated,” sighs A.D.E.

Death Bass!

Virtual rot!

Most of these aspiring rappers had heard of 4-Sight through A.D.E.’s second hit, “Bass Mechanic,” a song that inspired one Miami resident to pinstripe the interior of his 1956 VW Bug in dayglo green. Released in 1986, this 12-inch would become a halftime legend, covered by black marching bands throughout the Southeast, providing merciful relief from “Another One Bites the Dust.” Returning to Green Acres, “Bass Mechanic” begins with someone dropping a wrench, perhaps startled at the presence of the Zsa Zsa Gabor imposter in the studio. She asks in a befurred Hungarian lilt: Dahling, who’s A-D-E? The Bass Mechanic responds in a gastronomic register that could’ve been rendered from burp and tin, electronically refluxed while preserving the integrity of A.D.E.’s swamp twang. (The way A.D.E. says “isolate your brain” in his 1990 John Carpenter-sampled track “How Much Can You Take?,” always came up oscillate in my ear. Someone should throw a panel and discuss the crap out of it.) Though the hayseed often gets lost in space in these channels, A.D.E.’s singsongy vocoder sounded more local than artificial, more Southern than Miami. There’s something panoramic about this track, with a strip-mall synth sprawl that seems to be admiring some grand frontier that Florida never got around to, an airbrushed sunset behind empty billboard promises: Your Space Here.

A few years ago at a party, a friend bequeathed me his copy of “Bass Mechanic.” We’d just witnessed it vibrate a sunken couch a few centimeters across the floor, not too long after former Miami resident/Luke colleague Professor Griff had freaked his way through a Soul Train line. The record was handed to me without a sleeve, so scuffed it could’ve been pressed in cat hair. I vaguely recall standing in the middle of some railroad tracks, waving this baconatered thing from Lauderdale at the night and yelling something to the effect of fuckin’ shit goddamn Bass Mechanic! (This music, or perhaps its memory, does get the best of me at times—it’ll make you cuss the teeth right out of your head.) Same happened when I recently heard Gucci Crew’s “Dating Game” at a bowling alley. And again, even more profane, after a friend in Lauderdale misinformed me that Gucci Crew once played his middle school prom. It’s the thought that counts.

Mr. Scarface, a depressed rapper-rancher from Houston, shares my enthusiasm. At a Roy Jones fight in Miami in 2004, the Geto Boys legend came up to A.D.E. and did his best Zsa Zsa. “He was trippin’,” says Hines, still flattered. “He said, ‘What that bitch say again? Call A.D.E.?’ He went slap off like it was locked in his brain and went to calling different parts of the song.” Over in Memphis, 8-Ball and MJG took their appreciation into the studio with “Pimp Harder,” an embellishment of A.D.E.’s “Hit Harder.” Here you’ll find Hines riding around town in a white Excalibur convertible wearing a monogrammed silk robe, whapping a palmetto bug with a leather slipper.

In the late ‘80s, Brazilian DJs like Marlboro helped introduce Miami Bass  to lesser clad regions like Rio, recording Portuguese versions of 2 Live Crew songs so extreme the rear end became an extremity in itself. Likewise, A.D.E. would be adopted, sampled, and otherwise James Browned for countless remixes and Baille funk versions. “People stuck it in things,” says Hines. “They raped it. Rio was extremely hot. We didn’t feel like it was a human person they were dealin’ with.”   The Bass Mechanic became something else, performing in soccer stadiums while wearing a trench coat over a tracksuit. “It was off glass. These stadiums were packed like ants.”

A.D.E.’s popularity in Brazil got him on Xuxa’s TV show, and nearly got him killed in the process. His video camera was to blame. Though A.D.E.’s accounts of being in the favelas are a departure from reality even by Miami standards, he did learn that filming kids firing automatic weapons at the state police was probably not the best of ideas.

“Our translator went to get the owner [of the Favelas] to come meet me. Then shots start ringin’ out. These kids start comin’ round from one side of the building, passing by the van , and coming back with all this artillery. They just runnin’ back and forth just grabbing ridiculous artillery. I’m taping all of this.”  Suddenly his van was surrounded by kids with machine guns painted silver. The government appointed fixer was nowhere to be found and A.D.E.’s two dancers [The Peanut Gang] freaked.  “They want the camera—thinking I’m filming for the police—while the rest of ‘em are around the corner shooting at the police.”  A.D.E. refused to surrender the camera because it belonged to his girlfriend. “I know if she was there, she‘d be like GIVE EM THAT DAMN CAMERA! Mind you this crazy shit is goin’ now around us but I’m somewhere else. God knows my brain don’t work sometimes. And my security, his ass is standing across the street, not even tryin’ to get into this shit. He’s like whatever happens is on y’all.”

Hines called it “real third world action.” Luckily someone in charge appeared on a bicycle and asked why was the “King of Bass” being held at gunpoint, and the kids turned their attention to more official matters. “The translator cat closes the door and the federal police cat finally get his ass back in the car. They still shootin’, but they still staring at us while shit is goin’ on around the corner.”

Imagining this death bass scene is another fissured mural in itself. I meant to ask Hines if the vocoder was in the van. Or if the words Bass Mechanic could’ve called for a cease fire. I figure he was just happy to get out of there alive. Imagine the scene had the favela command successfully obtained his girlfriend’s video camera and the tape. Some coke lord waving the remote with a mirthless coke-lord laugh, rewinding through the Bass Mechanic’s memory, Benny Hilling the shootout, the stadium show, the intro music (Space Odyssey), that ray-dawn monolith rumble, the high speed babble of the tape somehow making it all seem crazier, as if it could be crazier, or maybe it is, ke ke isso! Did he just see a kid walking through tall-ass trees in the dark? Did dude jump up and start doing the Smurf? The tape, really gargling now, tape heads squealing, smoking, wait—. The engine, the everything, screeches. Xuxa! The screen pauses, as if trying to get hold of itself but it’s too far gone, the frame in a distorted lurch, the moment caught in its collapse, twitching in place, Xuxa’s taffy forehead, stretched and pulled upwards, as if trying to get away from her own face, debrained and sucked out of the TV, this most popular beautiful superstar woman in Brazil to have her own line of children’s shoes.

Based on interviews conducted with Adrian Hines, Billy Hines and James McCauley in 2004.