I discovered Winston Rodney’s voice on a compilation cassette called Grooveyard, which included the killer Black Disciples track “Marcus Garvey” alongside classic tracks by Lee Perry, The Melodians, Max Romeo, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff, the Heptones, Junior Murvin, and others, including if I’m not mistaken, Nigerian superstar King Sunny Ade! As amazing as all these recordings are, “Marcus Garvey” stood out. I didn’t really know why at the time but something about the vocal performance captivated me. And so began the quest. The next phase of discovery included some of his newest, (at the time), and oldest recordings. In a local record shop I found and purchased an old 45 of “Door Peep”, the double LP “Spear Burning” from the mid 70’s as well as 1990’s “Mek We Dweet”. Quite a range of music represented right there, and I would have probably bought every Spear recording I could find, had I not been stretching hard to pay the $216/month for my rent... now THOSE were the days!
It wasn’t until several years later that I discovered the incredible release known as “Dry and Heavy”, and it remains at the top of my desert island list today. From the opening signature Horsemouth Wallace drum lead-in to “Any River” all the way through to the final strains of Mr. Rodney’s voice chanting Freedom at the end of side two... the many layers of guitars, organ, clav, nyabhingi percussion, and horns, all played in what we lovingly refer to as the elusive “cultural tuning”, never gets overly dense. And for connoisseurs of the string machine, there is plenty to love here. Looking back on it now I realize what it was that turned me on so much about “Marcus Garvey” when I first heard it. It’s the restraint. You get the sense that the Spear is keeping cool amidst chaos, mostly holding back the full force of his Voice. There are a few moments on side one where you get brief blasts of power - during the outros of “The Sun” and especially “Throw Down Your Arms” emerge the guttural percolations of a man channeling his slave ancestors suffering and wailing. And toward the end of the title track, finally, the triumph of the Spear-it rings out. Loud and Clear.
That dynamic plays out in his live set as well. The restraint and the triumph. In the late 90’s, traveling parallel to the Burning Band and sharing stages all around the US with Mr. Rodney I watched him daily saving up his energy for the stage. He knew us American kids were inspired by his music and that we wanted his blessing on our own take on Reggae. He obliged in his dignified way. I will always remember the sight of Mr. Rodney and his shining gold teeth looking on from the side of the stage while we finished our set. Yet he never spoke more than a few words at a time to me. His band and crew, most of them younger and a mix of Jamaican and American were less intimidating and I got to know a few of them pretty well, and learned that indeed Mr. Rodney was impressed by what he heard but was not in the habit of showering praises on anyone... and I always wondered if it was somewhat strange, and possibly unsettling for him to see a mostly white, American band on the road making their living playing what was essentially his people’s music.
In any case my reverence for his music lives on and I personally salute the man for his fierce independence and continuously outspoken stance on the music industry. The man’s convictions are as strong now as ever and he still speaks truth to power with an authority and dignity that come from a lifetime of chanting down the wicked.
10 Ft. Ganja Plant come hard with two, count that TWO record release shows this summer! Friday August 15th in Boston at The Sinclair, and the following night in NYC at Bowery Ballroom. New album 10 Deadly Shots Vol. III will be available at the shows, & hits the streets soon after- stay tuned for album pre-sale info.
This is the latest installment in The Plant Speaks, an ongoing series of personal notes from the members of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant about their favorite albums.
Snow. It’s two days before Halloween and all I see outside my window is snow. And if the predictions are to be believed, winds tonight may surpass those which knocked out our power for over a week just a short while ago. My thoughts drift back to the original House of Blues in Harvard Square, and the phenomenal cornbread they used to dish out… peas, carrots, peppers, and corn all baked in. Eating a piece could uplift you to the point where you felt like jumping out of your seat and singing “Breaking Bread” by the J.B.‘s… But cornbread nostalgia aside, this foul weather means I am now stuck inside for the day. I decided to use the last lingering mental whiff of buttery goodness to motivate myself toward the treadmill. Popping in a DVD, I switched my inspiration to get fit from bread to martial arts. Watching Donnie Yen in “Ip Man” provides plenty of impetus to keep jogging. Sure, I’ll never be as fit as Donnie Yen or Bruce Lee, but inspiration serves its purpose if its results manifest in reality. And it is incredible to see. Having trained with the son of the man he portrays on screen, Yen unleashes a more authentic, dynamic display of Wing Chun than has been seen since Lam Ching-Ying’s incredible performance in “the Prodigal Son” (1981). It’s no surprise that veteran Sammo Hung was heavily involved in the making of each film.
Reggae music and Hong Kong cinema have long enjoyed a close relationship. Shaolin monks were mentioned prominently in early dancehall tunes after the success of Jet Li’s “Shaolin Temple” series and such classics featuring Gordon Liu as “36th Chamber of Shaolin”, “Shaolin Drunken Monk”, “8 Diagram Pole Fighter”, and many more. Barrington Levy released the classic “Shaolin Temple” album in 1979. The monks were even popping up in unexpected places and situations, such as Madoo’s “Yuh Jamming So“, recorded for Joe Gibbs, in which he chats: “I was coming from the Shaolin temple/ when the girl said I really look simple/ Through she see mi with mi sexy dimple/ she never know me as a Shaolin disciple”. Joe Gibbs also released Ranking Joe’s classic “Drunken Master“. But when it came to full-on promotion of the kung-fu craze, no producer could compete with the Mighty Upsetter, Lee “Scratch” Perry. In his own way, Scratch embodied the true meaning of Gung Fu, since the phrase literally denotes not necessarily martial prowess, but a high level of skill in one’s own field that reflects a lifetime of experience, hard work, and livication. During the late ’70s, Perry worked tirelessly from his home studio in Washington Gardens, a musical haven known as the Black Ark. He released many kung-fu themed sides, such as the amazing “Kung Fu Man” from Linval Thompson and “Natty Kung Fu” from Dillinger. In 1975 he released the seminal Kung Fu Meets the Dragon album, a collection of scorchers with titles like “Enter the Dragon”, “Iron Fist”, and “Black Belt”. But Scratch had yet to unleash his greatest treatise on health and fitness, which are after all, the primary reasons for most people to learn martial arts in this modern age.
Stepping off the treadmill after the movie ended, I decided to continue the workout with some sit-ups and weight exercises. Once again, some inspiration was in order. I reached for the CD rack. And there it lay, Scratch’s ultimate self-help motivator. The survival guide. The basics of how to live, as filtered through the mind of a mad genius. The album, of course, is Roast Fish, Collie Weed, and Corn Bread. If you do not own this album, stop reading right now, go out, and find a copy. I’ll be here when you get back. Released in 1978, this album of vocal cuts from the master himself was produced during the short interval between the release of the Heart of the Congos album and Perry’s destruction of the Ark a short time later. The mixes are over the top, as Watty Burnett provides moo-ing background vocals through a paper towel tube and reverb-soaked percussion flies in and out of the mix. “Throw Some Water In” is Perry’s most succinct ode to fitness, in which he compares taking care of your body with maintaining your car. “Throw some water in your irrigator”, he sings. “Service your body if you want it to function/ exercise and build up your structure/ go to sea and learn how to swim/ if you can’t afford up a gym/ buy a piece of rope/ exercise and tune up your system”. In “My Favorite Dish”, he praises the virtues of “I-ckee and salt fish/ I-umpling and I-anana… I’m a working man so I feed up strong/ I hope you overstand”. The title track employs an incredible bassline from the Gladiators’ Clinton Fearon that proves empty space can carry immense weight. Once again, Scratch sings the virtues of a balanced diet and eating I-tal. But the entire album doesn’t linger on physical health. There are also classic social commentaries as in “Big Neck Police”, a reworked version of “Dreadlocks in Moonlight” with sweet female harmonies added. “Soul Fire” is a biting scorcher with plenty of punch.
Roast Fish, Collie Weed, and Cornbread remains among the best of Perry’s vocal work, alongside the tracks collected for the “Soundzs from the Hot Line” CD released on the Heartbeat label. No other reggae artist has done as much to embody the mystical connection between mind and body as Lee Perry, and as such I can think of no better workout soundtrack than the aforementioned work. As for me, my workout is ended, and the snow is accumulating quickly. Now I believe I have to go see if I have any cornmeal in the cabinet…
This is the latest installment in The Plant Speaks, an ongoing series of personal notes from the members of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant about their favorite albums.
year 2011 looms overhead, and the reclusive 2012′ers in neighboring Woburn are settling in for what they believe will be one of their last long New England winters. They huddle in front of a giant LCD screen and ponder how best to prepare for the return of Quetzacoatl. Is two years enough time? In Providence, they wonder if he’ll be bringing Nyarlathotep with him. And together they hear rumors spoken in hushed tones during online gaming sessions of new directions for 10 FT. Ganja Plant between now and then. As for myself, all I can say is good things are certainly on the way… and if these cultists are right, we’d better Get This Show On The Road. And why shouldn’t we? I hate to sound like a pessimist, but a few more years like the last couple and anyone with a vested interest in roots reggae will be dead.
This was a bitch of a year for reggae. Two titans in the world of roots reggae have passed on. On the evening before we gathered in the studio to begin tracking our next album, the one and only Lincoln “Sugar” Minott passed away all too early. And more recently, the Cool Ruler himself, Mr Gregory Isaacs went home to Jah. But as much as I love and respect both these great talents, there was yet another, less publicized passing that has affected me more than either. Vivian Jackson, a.k.a. Yabby You, had a unique voice in both a physical and a philosophical regard. His voice was not the type of sugary-sweet Jackie Edwards type, but evoked all the heaviest attributes of that quality that sets the golden era of reggae apart; the essence of “dread”. Yabby You did not sing love songs in the romantic sense, choosing instead to extoll the virtues of the Love of Jah. Literally. That’s the name of a classic track from the incredible “Conquering Lion” album. “Conquering Lion” itself was one of the heaviest riddims of the day, being versioned many times over by the likes of sax virtuoso Tommy McCook and Big Youth, the Human Gleaner.
When I first made the transition from smoother reggae (think “Third World”) to the heavy stuff, the Conquering Lion album hit me like a lead weight. Some of the deepest grooves ever laid down anywhere, mixed by the visionary King Tubby. The album is a soundtrack to Armageddon. In “Jah Vengeance”, Yabby You admonishes the wicked that “the Lord shall roll and shake the land”. He examines the poverty around him, noting “The man who does the work does not get any pay / But the one who doesn’t work, he inherit/ But I know the time has come now / When my Father’s ready / They’ll get their pay according to their works”. Not exactly roller skating music for most people. But for me it became a part of the soundtrack to my daily life, playing somewhere in the background at all times, even when no radio was around. On one occasion a friend and I were sheet rocking an apartment while the guy fitting tile in the next room, a staunch metalhead, found himself chanting along with “Run Come Rally” before stopping himself midway through the chorus and proclaiming to us loudly that that was in fact Some Heavy Shit.
Credit must also be given to the extra-heavy harmonies of the Prophets. Every classic Jamaican harmony group has a unique, distinct sound, and the Prophets are rarely given their just due. The record also features some of the hardest beats ever laid down by Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Yabby you was also a respected producer, releasing killer records on his own Vivian Jackson label for the likes of Wayne Wade, Michael Prophet, and Trinity. Yabby You was a survivor, a man who endured persecution from other Rastas because he, as a self-described “Ites Rasta” did not believe in the divinity of Haile Selassie, thus earning himself the nickname “Jesus Dread”. He also suffered from different physical ailments from an early age, ranging from arthritis to malnutrition. And yet he was still active in his later years, even performing internationally in his later years and still possessing a strong presence.
Yabby You should be featured prominently in any serious reggae fanatic’s playlist, especially in times as dread as these. And if you don’t yet know his music, you owe it to yourself to seek it out. It’s worth the effort. As a new year approaches, take a moment to remember the reggae greats who have left us in recent years for a brighter home; Yabby You, Sugar Minott, Gregory Isaacs, Joseph Hill, Justin Hinds, David Isaacs, Brent Dowe, Joe Gibbs, Coxsone Dodd, and all the rest. In the turbulence of a broken economy and a feuding government with no concern for its people, remain strong and always look forward. While we cannot replace the cornerstones of reggae music, 10 Ft. Ganja Plant can at least build upon that foundation to provide a seed for future generations. Tune in soon for more news regarding the group and new plans for next year. If you love roots music, you shall not be disappointed…
This is the second installment in The Plant Speaks, an ongoing series of personal notes from the members of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant about their favorite albums.
Whenever I reflect upon my first trip to Jamaica, there is one album that is forever linked to those memories; one album that instantly transports me back to the sweaty streets of Kingston every time I hear it. My friend and I landed in Montego Bay in the midst of a national state of emergency. Most tourists had been evacuated from the island shortly before our arrival. As we climbed into the rickety taxi, a radio news report informed us that the number of taxi drivers killed in Kingston that year had just reached nine.
As soon as we had reached our tiny motel room and began to unpack our bags, we were greeted by a hasty knock at the rear door of the room. The knock came from a local man hustling some ganja. We informed him that we’d already bought plenty from our cab driver and he went on his way. Reaching back into my single piece of luggage, I realized that we had only brought two cassettes to listen to on our pilgrimage to the birthplace of reggae. One was Dadawah: Peace and Love by Ras Michael & the Sons of Negus, a spaced-out, psychedelic dub nyabinghi extravaganza. The other, and the only true reggae album we had, was Lamb’s Bread by Sylford Walker.
Walker is lamentably obscure, even among fans of roots reggae music. A couple of his early singles for Joe Gibbs, such as “Burn Babylon” and “Jah Golden Pen” can be found on various compilations, but his true crowning achievement to date is the seminal Lamb’s Bread . This record collects some of the singles Walker voiced for legendary producer, musician, and singer Glen Brown’s Pantomine label. Featuring an all-star lineup of JA’s greatest session musicians, including the Barrett brothers, Santa Davis, Robbie Shakespeare, Ansel Collins, Tommy McCook, and many more, the tracks were voiced and mixed at the great King Tubby’s studio. Walker’s incredible chanting vocals are often likened to Burning Spear, yet his style is unique and inimitable. The lyrics are always conscious and cultural, and often apocalyptic, as when Walker asks “weh you ago tell Jah on eternal day?” And the hard-hitting “Cleanliness is Godliness” is almost too tough to believe. It’s as if Tubby, Brown, Walker, and company managed to distill roots reggae down to its most raw, pure form. Somewhat appropriate when one considers that Sylford used to make his living brewing and selling roots tonic from his home on Gold Street in Kingston.
As the taxi sped into Kingston down Spanish Town Road, we were informed by the driver that he wouldn’t be stopping for any signs or traffic lights for a while. To our left, the midday heat distorted the view over the hot tin-roof shacks of Trench Town. To our right lay the sprawling development called Tivoli Gardens, once called “Back-o-Wall” before the original community was bulldozed by the government. As we rolled tensely through the area, strains of Walker’s “Babylonians” struck home: “Each and every day I walk up, all I see is violence…” A sobering reminder of the realities that make up everyday life for an unfortunate majority of the world’s population.
For the rest of the trip, the sounds of Lamb’s Bread accompanied us everywhere we went, from the old site of Randy’s Studio upstairs at 17 North parade, to Idler’s rest on Orange Street, and even uptown, from Lee Perry’s neighborhood of Washington Gardens, to the king of reggae’s uptown address at 56 Hope Road. Ironic that as two young white foreigners trod the island listening to Sylford Walker and Ras Michael, the prevailing definition of roots music in JA at that time was extended to such artists as Sizzla and Buju Banton. Most Jamaicans live unaware of the massive contributions their very friends and neighbors have made to the world of music, arts, and culture.
It was not until some time later that I came across another album entitled The Way to Mt. Zion, by Glen Brown. This excellent album features the producer himself voicing several of the same riddims as the Lamb’s Bread album, and is also worth checking out if you love the heavy vibes. Incidentally, Brown’s album was released on the ROIR label on CD in 1995. I think we need to find some way to work these connections to track down Sylford Walker and get him as a guest on the next Ganja Plant album…
This is the first installment in The Plant Speaks, an ongoing series of personal notes from the members of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant about their favorite albums.
It was late in the summer of 1997, a considerably brighter time. The economy was on track (at least when compared to today’s vicious state of affairs), and those who spoke out against the government did so because of clandestine oral operations in the oval office. By today’s standards, such issues may seem trivial, but such was life in the last days before the ugly dawning of the Bush Era; or as Obi-Wan Kenobi would have called them, the Dark Times. It was also a great time to be awakening to the world of roots reggae music.
Even out in the so-called “Quiet Corner” of Connecticut, rumours of frequent reggae shows filled the air as a barrage of classic Jamaican bands were beginning a short-lived string of tours. At about that same time I started to see the first re-issue labels popping up, providing the masses with much sought-after quality roots music. The shows were plentiful, but as any serious reggae freak knows, we Must Have Our Fix. This need to expand my musical horizons stemmed from first hearing a particular Lee Perry album a couple years earlier (but that is a story for another time), and saw me next buying albums from anyone I could associate with the great Producer. My bredren and I would drive with furious, knock-your-balls-back-into-your-throat speed from rural CT to locales as exotic as Burlington, VT in search of the next big score.
It didn’t take long, of course, to discover the incredible Max Romeo. War Inna Babylon is probably one of the first albums any roots fiend finds. But despite the brilliant Perry production and the superb Upsetters riddims, our insane lust for ever-deeper grooves drove us to look for lesser-known material. On one of our search-and-consume missions to RI, Max Romeo would throw us the ultimate curveball.
When my friend pulled the five-dollar cassette from the closeout bin, he had know way of knowing that, by the end of the ride home, I would be offering him several times that in exchange for the tape. And there was no way he was giving it up. At first glance, there was nothing striking about the lone copy of Open Up the Iron Gate except the name Max Romeo.
As we prepared for the trip home, my bredren decided to first try the other tape he had bought (Wally Badarou: Words of a Mountain; only recommended as a gift for people you don’t particularly like) simply because he associated the artist’s name with the Countryman soundtrack. The ensuing cacophony nearly resulted in the loss of both our lives in a near-collision caused by a spastic aneurism-type reaction from the driver. We were forced to pull over and roll a spliff for mental re-calibration and to shake off the bad craziness of a few moments earlier. At that time, my bredren was growing pure Hawaiian sativa that tasted like ripe tangerines. As its pungent smoke filled the car, the Wally Badarou tape was thrown into a deep lake (leading, I suspect, to the deaths of many unfortunate fish), never to be heard again. It was now definitively Romeo Time.
As the first strains of “Revelation Time” etched themselves permanently into my brain, I suddenly felt at Home. Spiritually, that is. Even there in the heart of that bizarre and foreign land of Rhode Island. Probably one of the last places you expect an epiphanic reggae experience. Yet there we were, absorbed completely in the rolling bass lines and crackling drumbeats. The sparseness of the instrumentation was complemented perfectly by the crunchy production and, when combined with Max’s meditative vocals and dread lyrics, provided the sonic neutron bomb that would blow our collective mind.
Somewhere mid-way through “Blood of the Prophet” everyone in the car was laughing melodically with the riddim like some type of crazed laudanum freak in a silent German impressionist film. I have never been so completely out of my tiny little mind except when under the influence of salvia divinorum (thankfully, those days are over). And this insane musical reaction was probably the catalyst that would kick my berserk lust for deep reggae music into overdrive. From there it went to Ras Michael, to Yabby You, to Sang Hugh, Lennie Hibbert, and Far Beyond. If Lee Perry’s Soundzs From the Hot Line had been the gateway drug that kickstarted my reggae habit, then Open Up the Iron Gate was almost certainly the vicious hard stuff that would fling me wildly into a great morass of deep roots music from which I am likely to never escape. And for that I am eternally grateful.
So while I may not be a critic or reviewer, as a daily habitual user of reggae music, I can tell you to avoid this album if you don’t want to foster a lifelong obsession with vintage Jamaican music. If, on the other hand, you are looking for the perfect album to send you plunging head-first into the neverending depths of quality roots and culture music, you need look no farther for your springboard. Revelation Time is here to stay. And if your brain never fully recuperates (or feels any particular need to), remember You Have Been Warned.