Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Reggae From America - The Blue Riddim Band

I was never a fan of American reggae but years ago when I "borrowed" the Blue Riddim Band's 1984 LP "Alive in Jamaica" from my college's radio station, that all changed! These guys did reggae just as well as any Jamaican band! Again because of time limitations I'm directly quoting this write-up about Kansas City's preeminent reggae band written by Mike Warren and originally published by The Pitch Aug 29, 2002...

"Twenty-three years ago, Bob Marley played Hoch Auditorium at the University of Kansas. Local fans knew and loved Marley's music, but their regular exposure to roots-reggae came from the opening act, Pat's Blue Riddim Band, and that group's frequent visits to KC's Parody Hall and Lawrence's Off the Wall Hall. Kansas City's PBR, as it was, and frequently still is, affectionately known, held its own with the king of reggae that night.

"We were the first guys down the pike -- we had that opportunity," longtime Blue Riddim drummer Steve "Duck" McLane says, warm memories audible in his voice. "What was really cool [in our career] was having a chance to open for Bob Marley, Sly and Robbie, and Black Uhuru. Every night we'd get clobbered by them, but we'd climb up another notch. It was a real chop-builder."

In its earliest incarnations, PBR consisted of friends who graduated from Shawnee Mission East in '67 and '68. "We were born out of that late-'60s Kansas City scene -- the Vanguard, the Aquarius -- places where people were hanging out," McLane says. "We'd all played jazz and R&B together, in all different kinds of aggregations." McLane, who started hearing reggae when he played in New York and south Florida in the early '70s, immediately knew it was something he wanted to do.

"I came back to KC and said, 'We really ought to try to play some reggae music,'" McLane explains. "It was big-time dance music, and we all love dance music, so we started experimenting. By '74, we had something that was workable, a band called Rhythm Funkshun. That band, basically a rhythm section version of what became PBR, broke up because it was a little bit ahead of its time.

"About a year and a half later, we started PBR," McLane continues. "We were playing 10 percent ska, 10 percent calypso, maybe 25 percent straight-up R&B, and the rest of it would be reggae. People were just everywhere, on top of each other, dancing."

During the early '80s, PBR toured nonstop, burning through two vans and 42 of 50 states. "We just had our nose to the grindstone and never stopped," McLane says. "We really should have taken more time out to record, but it was 'dollar a day, give us what you can' and keep moving. When it got to the point where we could actually play it good, we made a record [1981's Restless Spirit]."

PBR made several trips to Jamaica, where it learned from the genre's best practitioners. "Jamaican musicians are really approachable, and we'd hang out with them -- a cultural exchange," McLane explains. Equally accessible were Jamaican DJs. "When I flew down there in late '81, I brought a box of 25 records, and I thought, What the hell. I'll drive them up to [Kingston radio stations] RJR and JBC. While I was driving to JBC, I heard the song come over RJR -- and I just about drove off the road. I thought, I'm driving around Jamaica, and I'm hearing my own music on the radio!"

Six months later, Blue Riddim became the first American band to play Sunsplash in Jamaica. "We were voted co-'Best Band' of the entire festival," McLane says. "It blew me away that we blew them away. I was expecting pineapples and cantaloupes thrown at us. We're playing these old songs, and we're also from America, and we're also white. It's five o'clock in the morning, and they're going, 'What in the ... ?'"

The track is "Nancy Reagan" and being that I absolutely love some brass in my reggae, this one is my favorite song on the whole album! Enjoy!

Blue Riddim Band - Nancy Reagan Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Roots of Reggae: Mento (No, not Mentos the Fresh Maker!)

After failing to come through with a couple tracks for Thanksgiving I really feel as if I've been neglecting my duties here in providing a well-rounded sampling of Jamaican music but today I'm gonna try to make up for that. I'm going to touch on a genre of music that was an important predecessor of what we know today as reggae. The music is Mento, the Jamaican variant of Trinidadian Calypso, that was popular in the 1950's. Mento was first recorded music to appeal to local Jamaican ears but due to the lack of record pressing facilities on the island it reached them in a round-about way. Producers would record the tracks in Jamaica and would send them to London to have them pressed on fragile 78 RPM discs which accounts for their scarcity.

I could go into more about Mento but I'll let the excellent website give you all the info you'll ever need!

I present the track "Country Gal" by Charlie Binger and His Quartet from a great Mento sampler called Mento Madness. Surprisingly this album is available for download in its entirety from Itunes! If you like what you hear this is a great place to start... so pull out your rhumba box, don your favorite straw hat, pour yourself a tasty rum punch and transport yourself to sunny Jamaica circa 1952! If you don't dig it don't worry, I'll be back with some more familiar sounding music soon!

Charlie Binger & His Quartet - Country Gal Sorry I had to use Rapidshare for this but I've been trying to upload to Yousendit for 45 minutes!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Lee Perry Stays Dread

Enough has been written about the genius that is Lee "Scratch" Perry and being that time is limited I'm not going to recap. I've been so busy this week I haven't had a chance to post as often as I would like but I wanted to share a couple Lee Perry/Upsetters tracks that should keep you groovin' this weekend. The tracks Stay Dread and Kingdom of Dub were given to me on a wicked CD of Upsetters' singles ripped from vinyl so I don't have the details concerning label or year released. See you next week with some "Thanksgiving" tracks!

Lee Perry - Stay Dread & The Upsetters - Kingdom of Dub Zip

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sister Nancy DJ Pioneer

Shame on me for not mentioning any of the talented ladies of reggae yet! I’ve decided to share with you today one of my favorite DJs of any sex, Sister Nancy. Sister Nancy born Ophlin Russell in 1961 (in the parish of St. Andrew) was one of fifteen children, most noticeably the sister of Brigadier Jerry. Nancy was the first female DJ of note to get her start on the Chalice sound system in 1977. She went on to work with a number of big sounds and later scored a top hit in the early 80’s with “One, Two” which she recorded for Winston Riley’s Techniques label. She followed that up with more hits including “Transport Connection,” “Bam Bam” and “Dance Pon the Corner” (for Junjo Lawes) to name a few. She still remains partially active today but her earlier music was the stuff that I’ve always enjoyed! Today I present “Papa Dean,” her first single. Good stuff!

Sister Nancy - Papa Dean 7"

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Barry Brown - I Can't Hide

Barry Brown (born 1962) was one of the greatest underrated vocalists of the late 70’s on… His conscious lyrics and topical subject matter earned him the nickname “Jamaica’s Bob Dylan.”

“Barry Brown penetrated the early dancehall scene of the late '70s with a slue of durable roots records that today stand as evergreen gems. Like Clarke, Thompson, Sammy Dread, Rod Taylor, Sugar Minott and other popular vocalists of the day, Brown brought an immediate, street-level atmosphere to his records. His passionately raw delivery wasn't candy-coated sweet or silky smooth. It was simple, direct, amicable and real. Listening to records like "No Wicked Shall Enter The Kingdom Of Zion" and "Politician" you knew this young brother wasn't from uptown.” Full Watts Vol. 3 Number 2.

Unfortunately Barry Brown died May 29, 2004, at the Soundwave Recording Studio at Ivy Green Crescent in Kingston where he reportedly fell and hit his head. He will sadly be missed…

I have decided to share a great 12” he recorded for Junjo Lawes on the Jah Guidance label (circa 1983). Backed by the incomparable Roots Radics the song is “I Can’t Hide” and includes the wicked dub version. Enjoy!

Barry Brown - I Can't Hide 12"

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Cool Ruler at Sunsplash

Gregory Isaacs is single-handedly responsible for taking up an entire shelf in my record collection! Ever since he started recording in the early 70’s, the man has released a ton of music for every producer under the sun as well as some real treats on his own African Museum label and I unfortunately for my shelf space I have liked the majority of it… But instead of yanking a track that everyone has probably heard I decided to provide a track off a various artists live album entitled Sunsplash Live. The album was recorded at the Bob Marley Performing Center in Montego Bay in July 1983. The album was mixed at Tuff Gong Studios and released on the 56 Hope Road label. Surprisingly this LP featured an extremely diverse sampling of music from Third World, Michigan & Smiley, Sugar Minott, Gil Scott Heron and of course Mr. Isaacs. The song “Love is Overdue” which was originally produced and released by Alvin “G.G.” Ranglin in 1974 on his G.G. label and was a monster hit. Here it is performed 9 years later and judging by the crowd’s reaction, it was still a favorite! Enjoy!

Gregory Isaacs - Love is Overdue (Live!)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Michael Smith - Mi Cyaan Believe It

More dub poetry... I've been looking for this album for years and after listening to it all weekend I decided it was too good not to share! Thanks Kerppu!

“Born in 1954 to a working-class family, after attending various schools, Mikey Smith in 1980, graduated from the Jamaica School of Drama with a diploma in theatre arts.

In 1978, Michael Smith represented Jamaica at the 11th World Festival of Youth and Students in Cuba. That year, saw the release of his first recording, a single titled, Word, followed by perhaps his most famous piece Mi Cyaan Believe It and Roots.

In 1981, he performed in Barbados during CARIFESTA and was filmed by BBC Television performing Mi Cyaan Believe It for the documentary From Brixton To Barbados.

In 1982, Smith took London by storm with performances at the Campden Centre for "International Book Fair of Radical Blacks and Third World books". And also at Lambeth Town Hall in Brixton for "Creation for Liberation".

While in Britain, together with Oku Onoura, Michael Smith also did a successful poetry tour and recorded the Mi Cyaan Believe It album for Island Records.

Linton Kwesi Johnson recalled how the circumstances of Smith's death was shrouded in controversy…

"As far as I understand the facts, Mikey had attended a political meeting in Stony Hill where the ruling JLP Minister of Education was speaking and [he] had heckled her. The following day, he was confronted by three [persons believed to be] party activists, an argument ensued, stones were thrown and Mikey died from a blow to his head," LKJ said.”

Taken from an article that appeared in the
Jamaica Observer on Friday January 18th, 2002.

Michael Smith - Mi Cyaan Believe It LP

With all this talk of dub poets and serious cultural/societal wrongs and injustices... I promise I'm gonna lighten the mood a little this week! Stay tuned!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Oku Onuora - Dread Times

After seeing an interest in dub poetry I decided to do a request. I know I’ve got Okuora’s album “I a Tell - Dub Wise and Otherwise” on cassette but I can’t find it as of yet. I set to pouring through a few reggae books and wasn’t able to come up with a biography so I borrowed what I found from Wikipedia…

“Oku Onuora (formerly Orlando Wong) came to public attention in the mid-1970s, while incarcerated for robbery, when his poetry, with its sharp description of lower-class urban life, came to the attention of Jamaican writers who arranged for the publication of his first collection, Reflections in Red. Well-known literary and cultural personalities, and students at the University of the West Indies, campaigned for his release, which was achieved in 1977.”

Scouring the various artist collections in my possession I came across this track on the 1986 Heartbeat LP, “Heartbeat Reggae.” (God I’m starting to sound like I must be working for these people!) It’s not the track I wanted to share but it’s better than nothing for those who’ve never heard the man.

Oku Onuora & AK7 - Dread Times

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Ska Circa 1963

When you mention ska to a younger uneducated music fan they automatically think of “The Mighty Mighty Bosstones.” If you mention it to a slightly older but still rather uneducated music fan they think of “Madness,” “The Specials” or any other Blue Beat band that gained a following during the ska revival in London in the 80’s. When I think of ska my thoughts turn to Kingston, Jamaica, 1963; the year the island nation gained its independence from England. I think of early soundsystems, especially Coxsone Dodd and Studio One who started recording Jamaican musicians for Jamaican ears to hear. I think of Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond, the Skatalites, Alton Ellis, Tommy McCook… I could go on but I think you get the idea. To me ska is the sound of a young independent Jamaica moving ahead on a light-hearted up-tempo beat. Now I don’t profess to know everything about ska and its history and my record collection contains very few actual ska LPs (damn they go for some big bucks!) but I do know that I like what I’ve accumulated. And since I’m not going to dig into the stacks for an ultra-rare Prince Buster 7” with a bad warp and continual hiss, I thought I’d share what I do have off CD. I’ve chosen 2 tracks; “Spred Satin” an instrumental by the Skatalites off Heartbeat Records’ 1991 Studio One compilation “Ska Bonanza” and “Strongman Sampson” by Eric “Monty” Morris off Heartbeat’s 1998 Duke Reid Treasure Isle sampler “Ska After Ska.” I hope you dig ‘em! If you do, be sure to pick up copies of these CDs – you won’t be disappointed! Props to Heartbeat for making all this rare music available to the masses – they’ve always done a top-notch job!

The Skatalites - Spred Satin

Eric "Monty" Morris - Strongman Sampson

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

LKJ - Dread Beat An' Blood

“Linton Kwesi Johnson b. 1952, Chapelton Jamaica. Johnson’s family emigrated to London in 1963, and he quickly developed a keen awareness of both literature and politics, culminating in a degree in sociology at Goldsmith’s College, London, in 1973. An interest in poetry manifested itself into two books, “Voices of the Living and the Dead” (1974) and “Dread Beat and Blood” (1975), both written in a style that put on paper the patois spoken in black Britain, often with a rhythm reminiscent of Jamaican DJs. Johnson also wrote about reggae for the “New Musical Experience,” “Melody Maker” and “Black Music,” as well as being writer-in-residence for the London Borough of Lambeth and heavily involved in the “Race Today” cooperative newspaper. Experiments with reggae bands at his poetry readings culminated in 1977’s “Dread Beat An’ Blood recorded as Poet and the Roots, an album that virtually defined the “dub poetry” genre.” The Guinness Who’s Who of Reggae (1994)

Here are two great tracks from LKJ’s first release…

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Dread Beat An' Blood

Linton Kwesi Johnson - Come Wi Goh Dung Deh