Edgar Rodriguez (top row, second from right) was the rhythm guitarist in Brother Soul, a group from the Bronx modeling their sound after James Brown and early Kool & the Gang. Through their relationship with producer Bill Moore, Brother Soul put out four 45’s over several years in the early 1970’s. One of their songs, a tasty hit called “Cookies” from 1974, was included on the compilation series Ultimate Beats & Breaks and was later sampled by Ultramagnetic MC’s and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo. Bill Moore also had Brother Soul backing up a vocal group he was managing at the time known as 4th Kingdom.
How did you get started playing music?
In third grade my class was given a music test and passing this test meant that one was musically inclined. I believe I was 8 years old at the time and I was one of the students that passed it. After the results were in the students that had passed the test were taken down to the music room to pick out instruments that they wanted to learn how to play. I wanted to play the bass but I was too short (laughs). They handed me a violin and eventually I learned to play it so well that I became concert master in the school orchestra. I attended Public School 63 in the Bronx and from there I went to Herman Ridder Junior High School. I continued playing the violin in junior high and during that time at Ridder was when I picked up the guitar and taught myself how to play it.
Why did you pick up the guitar?
John Lennon was the main reason I wanted to play the guitar. The Beatles took America by storm and as a kid I saw them playing on the Ed Sullivan Show. I thought John was the coolest guitar player I had ever seen and I wanted to play just like him. My grandfather had seen me playing the violin like a guitar and had asked me if he bought me a guitar would I learn to play it. “Of course,” I told him and he went out and bought me my first guitar. He told me that he wanted me to make money playing it and as far-fetched as that sounded to me then, it became a reality later in my life. My grandfather had passed by the time I was paid to perform but at least I didn’t let him down.
What was your first band?
The Midnight Roamers was the name of the first band I played in. We were four guys all from Bryant Avenue near 174th Street in the Bronx. My cousin Tato played bass on a guitar, Joey played drums and sang, Felix also played drums and I played rhythm guitar. We eventually added 4 singers and then Ronnie played the drums. We played in different clubs and also at the famous Palisades Park in New Jersey. From there I joined Brother Soul.
What year did you hook up with Brother Soul?
If I remember correctly it was very late in the summer of 1969.
Your best known song is “Cookies”. What can you tell me about that song?
I wrote the guitar part of that song playing around with my guitar at home. I played what became the horn part on the guitar and later we decided that the horn section would sound better doing the part. I used to always write little things on a piece of paper and then the guys would add on to it. We adopted that music to be like a break song when we were playing gigs. It sounded too good not to record it.
How did the name Brother Soul come about?
We decided on Brother Soul because we considered ourselves brothers and we played what was considered Soul music so we just said, “Let’s go with Brother Soul.” We didn’t want “the” in front of our name. We just wanted it to be Brother Soul.
What kind of band was Brother Soul?
We were a cross between Kool & The Gang and the James Brown band, the JB’s. We were a group of young teenagers from the Morrisania part of the Bronx that came together through the love of music and became so close that we felt like we were each others brother.
How did you get the band off the ground?
To begin with we had Leroy Harris playing bass, EA (aka Emilio Aviles) playing lead guitar and me on rhythm guitar but we needed some percussion and brass. We picked up a drummer, Philip White; a trumpet player, George Ellington and later on a sax, Steve White. We started picking up different pieces for the band and that sort of decided which direction the band was going in. In the beginning, we didn’t have anybody who could sing so we did the early Kool & The Gang music. Later we got a guy who could sing like James Brown so we started doing a lot of JB’s stuff. We got some neighborhood gigs and from the gigs we started to get noticed by interested parties.
At what point do you meet Bill Moore who was responsible for producing all the Brother Soul releases?
I can’t remember when we met Bill but I do remember that he used to come to where Leroy used to live on 168th St. That’s where we used to meet and from there we’d go to practice together. Sometimes we would practice in Leroy’s room or up on the roof. I remember Bill coming by and telling us how he wanted to hear us and that he wanted to take us further.
What was the scene like in the Bronx around that time?
The Bronx scene was a mix of Soul music and Latin music, later known as Salsa. There were clubs all around the Bronx and we played just about all of them.
What was it like to go to the studio for the first time?
Since we were so young it was kind of unreal. I remember Bill took us to Electric Ladyland Studios, which was built by Jimi Hendrix. We were in awe by the fact that we were in this studio and one time when we were recording, Rare Earth’s equipment was in the studio. That was a like a thrill for us (laughs).
Do you have any more stories from being in the studio with Brother Soul?
My best memory of being in the studio with Brother Soul was that we recorded “Feelin’ Funky” on my birthday. We had fun also jamming before the actual recording was done. It seemed strange how we were all in separate booths and all of us had headphones on and we could communicate without seeing each other. It was a great experience, especially because we were so young. I also remember being in the studio during the 4th Kingdom session and Kenny Williams and J.R. Bailey were there. Kenny played piano sometimes when we jammed. Kenny and J.R. Bailey were the authors of (Main Ingredient’s) “Everybody Plays A Fool” and won a grammy for that song. We also had J.J. Jackson in the studio with us. We didn’t do any music together but he hung out in the booth while we were recording. Him being there was just awesome to us.
Tell me about one of your live shows.
We played a lot of high schools but also places like New Paltz College, Small’s Paradise and the Audubon Ballroom. We were getting around and with every gig we were able to get more gigs. We were just going with the flow. We just liked to play. We were just children.
We actually did a show that (radio DJ) Hal Jackson used to do at Coney Island’s Astroland. He used to have a live show on WWRL from Coney Island. He gave us the opportunity to open up for Mandrill. We felt kind of famous when we came back to our neighborhood and all the people greeted us and told us that they had heard us live on the radio. That felt good. That made us famous in the their eyes. It was a nice feeling.
You told me about being in a competition with the band Brass Construction.
We won the Bronx part of a talent search contest during the summer of ’72 or ’73. I don’t remember exactly the year. Brass Construction won the Brooklyn part of that talent search contest. We competed against them in Manhattan at Mount Morris Park in Harlem. They beat us and got the recording contract and went on to record several albums. It was a pretty intense experience. We split up not long after that.
Can you tell me anything about the “Train Song”?
When we used to go downtown to record, the horn players would take their instruments out and start playing on the train. They came up with a horn riff that we added more to and that eventually became “Train Song”.
What was the end of Brother Soul?
We met Black Ivory, the vocal group, and they asked me, George, Donald and Eddie if we wanted to play with them. I did one show with them and the others recorded with them on the “Mainline” album. That was the end of my career as far as music goes. I was married and I needed a real income.
People who are familiar with your song “Cookies” would probably be disappointed if I didn’t ask you who actually stole the “Cookies” from the cookie jar?
I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.
You can follow the band here: Brother Soul