Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Scary Sounds of Lee Perry and the Wailers

Jamaican society has long been steeped in superstition by way of its aural folklore rooted in ancestral Africa. The concept of the “duppy” or ghost comes from a West African belief that each human holds 2 souls. Upon departure from the living, the first soul goes to heaven for judgment; the second remains here among the living. In order to summon a duppy someone would have to perform an “obeah” or voodoo ritual that involves tossing rum and coins onto a grave. The spirit would then rise from its grave and go out causing mayhem. In Jamaican folklore the breath of a duppy is said to cause disease and its touch causes fits. The duppy is “considered the personification of all the evil found in men.” Often times these evil spirits take the form of an animal, such as a bird.

Now stick with me here, I’m going somewhere with this… in 1969 or ’70 the Wailers who were working with Lee Perry at the time, caught wind of a strange story involving a "John Crow" or what is more commonly known outside of Jamaica as a buzzard. This buzzard was somehow given the name “Mr. Brown” and the story went that he had been observed traveling around Kingston on a coffin on its way to the cemetery. Days later the same John Crow, wearing a shirt and tie, was seen in a courtroom. The general populace was scared stiff thinking that the evil powers of obeah had been unleashed and had even gotten to the point that many were afraid to leave their houses at night. The story was even reported in the Jamaican newspaper the Daily Gleaner and added more fuel to the fire.

The lyrics were mostly written by Glen Adams, the keyboard player in Aston “Familyman” Barrett’s Hippy Boys. Max Romeo of “Wet Dream” and “War Inna Babylon” fame was the Hippy Boys’ vocalist but I digress… The Wailers thought the subject matter would be appropriate material under Lee Perry’s slightly psychedelic control and recorded it. It was originally released on 7” single and because Lee Perry sold the rights to all the material the Wailers recorded over that 2 year period it’s available on hundreds of Bob Marley “Greatest Hits” cassettes and CDs you can pick up at a local gas station near you.

Anyway… I decided to share it because its scary theme works so well with Halloween.
I have also included the instrumental version “Dracula” that isn’t as widely circulated as the omnipresent vocal version… enjoy!

The Wailers - Mr. Brown & Dracula Version

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