Archive for the ‘Burning Spear’ Category

Burning Spear

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Listen: Lion / Burning Spear
Listen: Lion / Burning Spear

Most consider MARCUS GARVEY and the accompanying dub version, GARVEY’S GHOST, both from ’76, to be the ultimate introduction to Burning Spear. Not me. The ’77 followup, MAN IN THE HILLS, takes the prize hands down.

Blame it on the compilation THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3). Howard Thompson sent a copy with a bunch of Island punk and reggae releases in his very first mailing that began our friendship. It was known as a care package in those days, the kind you’d load a new pal up with when you worked at a record company. Just go over to the cupboard and pull one of anything remotely good, then ship it off. And the cupboards at Island were bursting with good stuff back then.

I dare call it life changing. Sure, that sounds way over dramatic. But no, it’s actually not. The records in that big box did just that, not only to me, but to my closest friends and Corinne as well. She for one, dove head first into a reggae addiction from the get go. Took her years to shake, to find a normal balance between it and everyday life, but not before up and going to London to see Burning Spear and Aswad at the Rainbow, with Karen. I think they had some unfinished Eddie & The Hot Rods business on that particular journey as well.

The box. Yes. I can still recall every record in it:

Various Artists THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3)
The Upsetters SUPER APE
Toots & The Maytals REGGAE GOT SOUL
The Heptones NIGHT FOOD
Derek & Clive LIVE
Max Romeo & The Upsetters WAR INA BABYLON

Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Writing On The Wall’
Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Wooly Bully’
Eddie & The Hot Rods ‘Teenage Depression’
Lee Perry ‘Roast Fish & Cornbread’
Dillinger ‘Cokane In My Brain’
Aswad ‘Back To Africa’
Aswad ‘Three Babylon’
Junior Murvin ‘Police & Thieves’
The Heptones & The Upsetters ‘ Sufferer’s Time’
The Heptones ‘Book Of Rules’
Justin Hines & The Dominoes ‘Fire’
Justin Hines & The Dominoes ‘Carry Go Bring Come’
Kevin Ayers ‘Falling In Love Again’
Sparks ‘Big Boy’
Sparks ‘I Like Girls’
Ultravox ‘Dangerous Rhythm’
Max Romeo & The Upsetters ‘One Step Forward’
Max Romeo & The Upsetters ‘Chase The Devil’
Trevor White ‘Crazy Kids’
The Dwight Twilley Band ‘I’m On Fire’
Fay Bennett ‘Big Cockey Wally’
Leroy Smart ‘Ballistic Affair’
J.J. Cale ‘Travelin’ Light’
The Jess Roden Band ‘Stay In Bed’
Rico ‘Dial Africa’
Agusutus Pablo ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’
Burning Spear ‘Lion’

Might as well get this over with now: the 7′s were all promo copies. Sorry.

Yeah, go ahead. Take a breather. I tell you what. There was no preparing for that package in real life either. I wasn’t expecting a box, maybe a few records, but not a box. Howard had rung me from his office shortly after receiving a letter I’d sent off to Island, written on WITR stationary. We talked for a bit, he filled me in on Eddie & The Hot Rods, who were my original reason for writing, suggested we trade some records and that we should stay in touch. Little did I know both his package and that phone call would change my life forever.

A week or so later, I just found this large box from Island Records UK in my apartment building’s lobby. Cost something like £40 to ship, a fortune in ’76. Hoisted it upstairs and into our place, could not open it fast enough. Fuck me, a shock to the system indeed, like my heart froze. Yet somehow I’ve lived to tell.

We poured over these records, the bunch of us, for weeks. You couldn’t wait for whatever was playing to end, so you could begin another. Corinne worked nights back then, and I vividly recall staying up until dawn, those first two days in a row, eating white crosses and just playing them, waiting for her to come home. Wow, what a fantastic flashback.

Every track on THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC became anthems to us, every one a badge of honor, knowing we’d found some of the best music of our lives, suddenly a whole new world opened up, and that album did it.

Burning Spear was little known to me at that point. Saw the US copies of those first two albums occasionally, but hadn’t heard either, or even tried to. Reggae had not entered my life. Once this compilation arrived, I became insatiable for it though.

‘Man In The Hills’, the title track, opened Side 2 of the comp. It was instant. Immediately tore through that pile of 7′s, sure I’d seen a Burning Spear single amongst them. The whole day was a blur, it was hard to process this all at once. Yes, there it was. ‘Lion’ / ‘Door Peep’ by Burning Spear

‘Lion’ defines my very favorite style of reggae, where the chorus keeps getting sung over and over and over. Just a lazy, hypnotic swirl that’s hard to fight. The genre has many a unique voice, but Winston Rodney’s, well it’s one of the greatest.

The Heptones / The Upsetters

Thursday, May 16th, 2013

HeptonesBook, The Heptones, The Upsetters, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Island

Listen: Book Of Rules / The Heptones

Been digging out a lot of reggae stuff lately, combing through the shelves separated out specifically for the genre, well ska and blue beat are on them too.

A Burning Spear post from few years back details my initial introduction to reggae proper, basically via an unexpected crash course box full of seminal records from Howard Thompson when he worked at Island UK in ’76. Fast forward twelve years, I’m employed at Island New York and was given the task of assembling a promotional cd for the label’s reissue series encompassing most of their classic 70′s reggae titles. Both cd and campaign were called 96º IN THE SHADE. It was good fun, and honestly a piece of cake. So this is called a job?

I just started off with Jimmy Cliff’s ‘The Harder They Come’ and using the Island master printout which chronologically lists every single and album by catalog number, I picked out the gems. It was easy.

And I’m proud to say, the compilation got such good response from the shops that we renamed it GROOVE YARD, changed the cover, squeezed on a few more good ones, and released it commercially. The cd sold well.

Like the rest of the solar system, I don’t use cd’s much anymore. The Airbooks in the house don’t even have disc drives, so most of those compact discs are boxed and in storage, although some I do keep shelved for the car. I grabbed GROOVE YARD on my way out recently and found myself reliving the greatness of quite a few tracks from the era, as well as some sentimental memories of those times.

‘Book Of Rules’ is certainly one of my ten-ish favorite reggae 7′s. Fantastic song, nice clean vocal and lovely production by Chris Blackwell.

HeptonesBookDub, The Heptones, The Upsetters, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Island

Listen: Book Of Rules (Version) / The Heptones

Released as the single’s B side in ’73, ‘Book Of Rules (Version)’ seems to have preceded full on dub by a year or two, when instrumentals with decorative sound effects thrown in were still called ‘version’ and always used as B sides. I’ve always wanted ‘Book Of Rules (Version)’ to be a bit more exciting or something more moving but it basically isn’t. Regardless, it’s interesting to hear how dub was getting started.

HeptonesSufferers, The Heptones, The Upsetters, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Island

HeptonesSufferUS, The Heptones, The Upsetters, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Island

Listen: Sufferer’s Time / Heptones with The Upsetters

By ’76, Lee Perry is at the controls, The Black Arc in full swing and with The Upsetters doing the tracking, The Heptones were in tune with the times. Another classic, ‘Sufferer’s Time’, is basically perfect in every way. I never spin it just once. Can’t. I’ll even be late for something important to hear the song that one extra time.

The real fun bit here being that Island US, like the UK company, issued it as a 7″. I’m guessing there were pockets of Jamaican communities in some of the major US cities that would warrant say a 1000 or 2000 piece run. Those sales figures are again guesses, and as the manufacturing details were very sloppy at Island. I never could figure out a real number on this nor a few others that had been shockingly issued here on 7″, to my disbelief.

This I can tell you. There weren’t many pressed as I’ve never seen another US copy of ‘Sufferer’s Time’. Just happened to stumble on this while going through some deeply buried boxes in the Island New York mailroom, a process of completion that took a month or two, but I managed them them all and it was well, well, well worth the sleuthing, trust me.

UpsettersSufferersDub, The Heptones, The Upsetters, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Island

UpsettersSufferersUS, The Heptones, The Upsetters, Lee Perry, Chris Blackwell, Island

Listen: Sufferer’s Dub / The Upsetters

Not only is the A side a heart threatener, but by ’76, proper dub was in serious swing hence this monster example of it on the flip, aptly titled ‘Sufferer’s Dub’. Oddly credited only to The Upsetters despite many Heptones vocal drops, it makes for even more excitement. An American single by The Upsetters. Never been another.

I get very excited by records.

HeptonesParty, The Heptones, Lee Perry, The Upsetters

Listen: Party Time / The Heptones

When ‘Party Time’ first arrived in the mail, dependably hot off the presses from Howard, I was mildly disappointed and that was very stupid of me. It’s a gem.

I had the original UK LP pressing too, but now find only the US Mango copy in my wall shelf. Somewhere in the black hole of unfiled records it does lurk.

Justin Hines & The Dominoes

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

JustinHinesCarryUKA, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

JustinHinesCarryUK, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

JustinHinesCarryUS, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

Listen: Carry Go, Bring Come / Justin Hines & The Dominoes

Back in ’76, when Howard Thompson was still a junior A&R scout at Island UK, we struck up a quick friendship. Well it happened quick but it’s still going today and as strong a friendship as one can have. The first package he sent over, and a big one at that, included the compilation THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3). His accompanying note implored me to listen, citing the ‘almost psychedelic’ nature of the songs and their production. More accurate words have never been written. That sampler changed my life.

I couldn’t get down the phone fast enough to him. The call was quickly followed by a box, a fucking box, jammed with full length LP’s from just about every act on that comp: Aswad, Jah Lion, Burning Spear, Junior Murvin, Max Romeo & The Upsetters and Justin Hines & The Dominoes’ JEZEBEL – plus a slew of 7 and 12″ singles from all the above and more (Lee Perry, Fay Bennett, The Skatalites, Leroy Smart, Rico, Lord Creator, Millie, Dillinger, Augustus Pablo) each with that vital dub B side. A treasure trove if ever, ever, ever there was one. I’ll never forget ripping that one open. Can you imagine how it blew my mind and my friend’s minds too? Well it did.

There were a couple of singles in there from Justin Hines & The Dominoes. A then current reggae remake of his very own decade old Jamaican ska hit (then listed as Justin Hinds & The Dominoes) ‘Carry Go, Bring Come’. This newer version being my preferred choice.

JustinHinesJezebelUKB, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

JustinHinesJezebelUK, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

JustinHinesJezebelUS, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

Listen: Jezebel / Justin Hines & The Dominoes

It’s flip, ‘Jezebel,’ a confusingly titled non-LP track from the JEZEBEL album, stay with me here, is actually a very nice dub of the A side ‘Carry Go, Bring Come’. Give it a listen and see for yourself.

To my knowledge, it’s never appeared on a reissue of any sort.

JustinHinesFireUKA, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

Listen: Fire / Justin Hines & The Dominoes

‘Fire’ still reminds me vividly of that summer ’76 when Corinne worked the night shift and I had the place to myself, with not a responsibility in the world between semesters but doing a bunch of play whatever you want radio shows. So I’d spend all night spinning records and drinking tea, then sleeping the morning away once she got back home. Ah the joys of being young.

‘Fire’ in particular was the well worn 7″, a perfect song to overlay onto the backdrop of an alarmingly silent city, all asleep, not even a mouse was creeping on the deserted streets – quite eerie. Jack Ruby, the record’s producer, was indeed known for just such a haunting production quality. I still prefer to think of him as Reggae’s Joe Meek. We’d listen to it at least a few times, religiously, every morning before passing out.

JustinHinesNatty, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Jack Ruby, Island

Listen: Natty Take Over / Justin Hines & The Dominoes

There’s not a bad track on that JEZEBEL album, yet there is a favorite: ‘Natty Take Over’. A most obvious A side to me, yet relegated as a B, I was just happy it was on a 7″ at all.

It fit in perfectly with the Island promo shirts announcing these reggae releases. The shirts came in many colors. I preferred the purple one with sky blue lettering that said quite simply, REGGAE on the front, with that palm tree Island logo on it’s sleeve. What better thing to wear almost daily during a nice hot summer. I still have that shirt.


Friday, July 9th, 2010

Back To Africa / Aswad

Listen: Back To Africa / Aswad AswadBack.mp3

Don’t dismiss Aswad because they were an English reggae band. I can understand you confusing them with the generic Steel Pulse based on origin, but Aswad indeed were roots. And the hits they had years later, well, they were great singles. I still love ‘Don’t Turn Around’.

Howard turned me on to them back in ’76. He put them out with Eddie & The Hot Rods. Remember when reggae and punk happily co-existed? Well that tour may indeed be the one that gave Joe Strummer the idea to take The Clash reggae a year or so later – I mean he was copying everything else so why leave this idea on the table?

I initially had no idea Aswad were English, having been part of those 45 packages Howard would send along from Island: Augustus Pablo, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Max Romeo & The Upsetters, Rico, Burning Spear and Junior Murvin. They sounded so authentic, I couldn’t tell the difference from their initial few singles, of which this was the first.

Max Romeo / The Prodigy

Saturday, June 21st, 2008

Chase the Devil / Max Romeo

Listen: Chase The Devil / Max Romeo 03 Chase The Devil.mp3

Out of Space / The Prodigy

Listen: Out Of Space / The Prodigy Out Of Space (Edit).mp3

Back in ’76, I was the music director and program director of my college radio station. I’d returned to school after a few years of fucking off in England and working for a one stop record distributor, but remembered the tricks of the trade: get into the radio station pronto, and snag both MD and PD slots if possible (oh yeah, and become the concert chairman while you’re at it as well), thereby insuring ALL the records pass through your mitts first, allowing one’s self to keep the extra (and sometimes the only) copy received. Yes those were some of the brutal measures necessary when plagued by a record collecting addiction. I was very into pub rock then: Ducks Deluxe, Doctor Feelgood and especially Eddie & The Hot Rods. The Hot Rods were signed to Island UK, and because we were playing their LIVE AT THE MARQUEE EP, and it was selling a few at the local record shop, I felt quite justified in writing Island’s London office letting them know of this incredible success story, oh and um….looking for some freebies. Talk about a smart move. The letter, the first one about Eddie & The Hot Rods from the US as it turned out, was handed to the young A&R scout who had signed them, Howard Thompson. He rang me, we began exchanging letters, phone calls, the latest releases and ended up best friends for life. He gave me my first real job at Elektra 8 years later, hence the smart move comment. But back to ’76, I would wait in huge anticipation of his packages showing up, as they were always filled with the latest punk singles and Island releases. A turning point that got me into reggae, was when Howard sent over the Island compilation, THIS IS REGGAE MUSIC (Volume 3). It in itself is a classic reggae title. Every act on there being seminal (Lee Perry, Peter Tosh, Justin Hines & The Dominoes, Junior Murvin, Bunny Wailer, Burning Spear amongst them – and all great tracks as well). This was also Lee Perry heavy, as he either performed on, or produced most everything on the comp. And one of the tracks, ‘War Ina Babylon’ was by Max Romeo & The Upsetters. The note that Howard enclosed described this Lee Perry stuff as ‘almost psychedelic’, and no truer words have ever been written. Of course, I needed all the singles and full length albums by each of these acts, which Howard quickly and thankfully supplied (see Max Romeo single pictured above). Fast forward a decade or two, and sampling has started. I remember reading Bowie’s comments on the process, he loved it as long as he got paid. Most artists weren’t as adventurous, not wanting their music altered, chopped, processed etc. But Bowie, not surprisingly, loved the ability of reinterpretation it afforded. Fast forward again to mash ups….which brings me to this record by The Prodigy: ‘Out Of Space’. From their classic and ‘must own’ PRODIGY EXPERIENCE album, this may be the first ever mash up, before they were even called mash ups. If not, then it certainly samples Max Romeo’s ‘Chase The Devil’ generously, mixing their own song with his. From the looks of The Prodigy’s label copy, neither Romeo nor Lee Perry were credited at the time, but I can’t imagine that hasn’t been sorted since. Never mind. Both singles are great and stand up beautifully on their own.