Preston Epps (born 1931 in Oakland, CA) still performs in clubs in Southern California and the Southwest region of the United States. A one-hit-wonder, Epps scored a number 14 pop hit in 1959 with “Bongo Rock,” but subsequent singles fell on deaf ears.
He learned to play the bongos and other percussion instruments during the Korean War while stationed in Okinawa. When his duties ended, he forsook Northern California for Southern California, sustaining himself by working odd jobs.
He hung around the emerging beatnik, hippie set by frequenting coffeehouses, and pounding the skins for the appreciative heads. DJ Art Laboe discovered Epps at a cozy, laid-back coffeehouse and signed him to his newly founded Original Sound Records.
Epps’ “Bongo Rock” became the label’s first hit; Laboe released a second single, “Bongo, Bongo, Bongo,” in 1960 that slotted 64 positions lower.
Epps first album, Bongo Bongo Bongo, dropped in 1960 on the heels of the second single and did okay. However, subsequent singles, “Bongo in the Congo,” “Bongo Rocket,” “Bongo Boogie,” “Flamenco Bongo,” “Mr. Bongo,” “Bongo Shuffle,” and other Bongo derivatives failed to generate any interest.
Two more albums, Bongola (1961) and Surfin’ Bongos (1962), went unnoticed.
You can find select recordings by Epps on numerous vinyl and CD compilations. The “Incredible Bongo Band” updated “Bongo Rock” (Epps co-wrote the instrumental with Arthur Egnoian, a pseudonym for Arthur Laboe) and rode it to number 73 in 1973.
Epps played a bongo player in the movie Girl In Gold Boots, released in 1969. The flick was about a draft-dodger, a drifter, and his wannabe-dancer girlfriend; all get implicated in a murder centering around drugs, sex, and rock & roll in the late ’60s.
Epps has done extensive session work, including an appearance on Gypsys’ debut LP for Metromedia Records.
Still active, Epps plays a variety of clubs in Southern California including Monteleone’s West, the Lozano Restaurant, and the Atlas Supper Club.