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The Headhunters

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Biography

The Headhunters represented a major turning point for Herbie Hancock, whose approach to fusion became slicker and more commercial (though not without substance or integrity) with the formation of this popular band in 1973. Before that, the chameleonic pianist/keyboardist had been leading a daring unit called the Sextant, which fused jazz, R&B, and rock with world music and took more than its share of chances. But regrettably, the Sextant's three albums for Warner Bros. were modest sellers at best, so in 1973, he disbanded the Sextant and formed the Headhunters. Employing saxman/clarinetist Bennie Maupin (a holdover from the Sextant), bassist Paul Jackson, Jr., drummer Harvey Mason, and percussionist Bill Summers, Hancock made a point of being more accessible when he unveiled the Headhunters with his 1973 Columbia date Head Hunters. Fusing jazz with funk and rock, the album sold over a million copies and attracted many R&B and rock fans. In fact, Head Hunters even outsold Miles Davis' popular Bitches Brew. Defined by the catchy "Chameleon" (which was interpreted by jazz singer Eddie Jefferson in 1976 and sampled by various rappers in the '80s and '90s) and a funky remake of his 1962 boogaloo "Watermelon Man," Headhunters set the tone for subsequent Columbia projects with the Headhunters, including Thrust (1974), Man-Child (1975), Secrets (1976), and Sunlight (1977). By the end of the decade, the Headhunters were no more, and Hancock was turning his attention to everything from outright R&B to standards and acoustic post-bop. In the '90s, Sony's Legacy label reissued most of the Headhunters' work on CD, and in 1998 the group reunited to record Return of the Headhunters!

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