Monday, June 24, 2013

The Roots and Growth Of Reggae

Lee "Scratch" Perry
Lee "Scratch" Perry
by Andy J Wilson

Ska developed in Jamaican studios in the late 1950s, born of the earlier genre known as Mento.

It is often recognized by its quarter-note walking bass-lines, accentuated guitar or piano rhythms played offbeat, and a drum pattern that emphasizes the 3rd beat in the bar.

The jazz-influence can be heard in the exuberant horn-riffs that are so characteristic of the ska-genre.

The music became a staple for Jamaican and international youth, outside of Jamaica most notably the UK Mods.

Lively, fast-paced and vibrant, ska-music was played at a slower tempo by some musicians. It is believed that this trend had begun when the singer Hopeton Lewis had been unable to pitch his vocal when recording the hit-song "Take It Easy" at a ska-tempo.

By 1968 this trend had caught on with the release of a single by the artist Alton Ellis, which defined and established what became known as 'Rocksteady' as a distinctive genre in itself.

The new genre sounded similar to what we recognize now as reggae but lacked the emphasis on social conscience, protest and spirituality that permeated the early form of reggae.

To its early protagonists, reggae was seen as a progression from rocksteady that had a more grass-roots appeal than it's' more pop-oriented forbears.

Reggae developed from mento, ska, R&B and jazz in the 1960s. The shift from rocksteady was illustrated by the use of the 'organ-shuffle' technique pioneered by Jamaican musicians such as Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright.

It can be heard in singles such as 'Say What you're Saying' (1967) by Clancy Eccles, and in 'People Funny Boy' (1968) by Lee "Scratch" Perry. "Long Shot (Bus Me Bet)" (1968) by The Pioneers is cited as being the earliest example of the new, slowed-down rhythm that became reggae.

In 1968, a series of genuine original reggae hit-songs were released, notably "Nanny Goat" by Larry Marshall and "No More Heartaches" by The Belltones.

The American artist Jonny Nash had a hit with "Hold Me Tight" which is credited with introducing reggae to the American public. The influence of reggae had by now reached as far as The Beatles, who adopted some of its techniques for their hit-single "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" the same year.

Perhaps the best known and loved example of the authentic reggae pioneers is The Wailers.

Formed in 1963 by Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, they were to transit the whole range from ska, rocksteady to reggae. Their contemporaries include Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker and Ken Boothe.

Besides the musicians who made it happen, were the notable producers such as Coxsone Dodd, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Leslie Kong, Duke Reid, Joe Gibbs and King Tubby.

Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records in 1960, had relocated to the UK by 1962. He was an important figure whose promotion of the reggae genre did much to consolidate its appeal among UK pop and rock fans.

Reggae's appeal was also big in America. In 1972 reggae had found its' way into the influential and prestigious US Billboard Hot 100 chart, with the band Three Dog Night having had a hit with their cover of The Maytones' "Black and White".

By the end of the year Johnny Nash was at number 1 with "I Can See Clearly Now", whose clear reggae/calypso influences were plain to hear.

By 1973, Jamaican culture/music as a valuable pop-cultural asset was very much in its ascendancy. The film "The Harder They Come" starring Jimmy Cliff, did much to introduce foreign audiences to Jamaican culture.

Although the film achieved cult-status, its success could in no way match that of Eric Clapton's song "I Shot The Sheriff" which became a global hit.

It had been produced using all the trickery and technology available in professional music-production and managed to retain some of the original reggae-techniques.

The song, although superficially something of a comical pastiche, nevertheless paved the way for the commercial success of Bob Marley and The Wailers and others.

By the mid-70s, DJs such as John Peel were giving air-time to reggae dub plates and specials. He continued to promote reggae throughout the remainder of his career.

The Jamaican culture from which reggae had emerged was further promoted by UK film-maker Jeremy Marre who documented the Jamaican music-scene in his film "Rock Roots Reggae".

In the late 70s the reggae scene had become a significant, if unlikely element of the then growing UK Punk scene. The DJ Don Letts would often play reggae songs along with punk rock anthems at clubs such as The Roxy.

Established punk bands such as The Clash, The Ruts and The Slits played many reggae-influenced songs. As if taking a leaf from the UK punk scene, UK reggae at this point became more protest/politically-oriented.

Bands such as Steel Pulse, ASWAD and UB40 were typical of this return to a more grass-roots form of the genre.

Steel Pulse, with their public-performances of songs such as the satirically-scathing "Klu Klux Klan", were regarded as being too provocative by the Birmingham reggae scene from which they had emerged.

To get exposure, Steel Pulse became involved with the punk-driven Rock Against Racism movement, often double-billing with notable bands such as The Stranglers.

Come the 1980s, successful pop-acts such as The Police and (to a lesser degree) Culture Club were adopting reggae techniques and molding them into a new, mainstream pop-culture where reggae's inherent easy-on-the-ear sound could flourish in a commercially-lucrative fusion with the UK New Wave.

Bob Marley was by now a huge global star. Steel Pulse are still active and touring. Like other significant movements such as Rock n' Roll, reggae has evolved from parochial grass-roots to become a major global-mainstream genre, profoundly influencing other genres along the way.

The author owns and runs an online clothing shop that specialises in reggae t shirts We have a wide range including Bob Marley, Lion Of Judah, Jah Love and Ska t shirts.

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