In 1973 New World Pictures released a small film set in Jamaica, but it didn’t do what they call boffo at the box office. But not long after that, the film hit the midnight movie circuit and The Harder They Come turned intoa cult hit. It starred Jimmy Cliff and the theme song became a reggae standard and helped usher the musical form into the mainstream. A year later, Eric Clapton had a hit with Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” And before you knew it, FM rock radio was playing Toots and the Maytalls, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley and the Wailers. It’s been suggested that the music’s popularity was enchanced by the whole ghanga connection, but that’s another story. The evolution of reggae is far too complicated to explain in the time allotted here but suffice it to say it’s been around since the Sixties and developed out of the Jamaican musical styles called ska, dub, and rock steady. Now, reggae’s not to be confused with calypso which came out of Trinidad and first came to the attention of most Americans in 1957 when Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song” became a huge Top 40 hit.
Today’s batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl is all about that music with the emphasis on the off-beat known as the skank. For the most part we’ll hear how reggae sounded when filtered through rock ‘n’ roll. We’ll also hear a couple of faithful covers of reggae standards by Steve Earle and Jim Capaldi. Then we’ll wander deep into the Deep Tracks for the likes of The Johnny Average Band, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, and the group that wins the best name award: Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band. And we’re going to bookend the set with a couple of cool old 45’s. At the end we’ll hear what most people think of as the first reggae track to play on American radio. Johnny Nash’s #1 hit from 1972. But three years before that Desmond Dekker and the Aces came ouf of Jamaica with this Top Ten hit.
|Desmond Dekker & the Aces||Israelites|
|Steve Earle||Rivers of Babylon|
|Jim Capaldi||Johnny Too Bad|
|JoJo Zep & The Falcons||Hit and Run|
|Led Zeppelin||D’yer Mak’er|
|Johnny Average Band||Whatcha Gonna Do…|
|Root Boy Slim & Sex Change Band||Too Sick to Reggae|
|Johnny Nash||I Can See Clearly Now|
Wrapping up our reggae special, that’s Johnny Nash with his big hit from 1972. Before that, on Warner Brothers Records, Root Boy Slim and the Sex Change Band with The Rootettes, best known for their song, “Boogie ‘Til You Puke” (which is on the flip side of this album) we heard “Too Sick to Reggae.” Prior to the Sex Change, a group about whom I know very little. The Johnny Average Band. Their album, Some People, came out in 1980 and I’ve kept the record ever since because of the song we heard, “Whatcha Gonna Do (When the Reggae Breaks Your Heart)?” The other seriously Deep Track in that set came from a group out of Australia (roughly nine thousand miles from Jamaica, for those of you keeping score) Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons had been a successful R&B outfit down under, but one thing led to another and the next thing they knew, they had a reggae-influenced hit called “Hit and Run” on their 1979 album Screaming Targets. The song in the middle of the set brings to mind the old joke where one guy says to the other: My wife went to the West Indies. The other guy says, Ja-make her? No, the first guy says, she went of her own accord. At the top of the set, what is arguably the first reggae song to play on American radio. Desmond Dekker and the Aces had a hit in 1969 with their song “Israelites.” Dekker was probably the biggest reggae star in Jamaica until Bob Marley showed up. After that ,two songs that were on the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, but here we heard cover versions. First, Steve Earle, with his take on “Rivers of Babylon” with Emmylou Harris on the backup. And then the late, great Jim Capaldi covering “Johnny Too Bad.” And looking at the clock I can see clearly now that we’re outta time. But if you’re looking for the set lists or show commentaries, you can find them at billfitzhugh.com. If you’re looking for the rest of the story, track me down on Facebook or Amazon. I’m Bill Fitzhugh, thanks for listening. I’m going to go roll a great big batch of All Hand Mixed Vinyl for next time and I hope you’ll join us, right here in the Deep Tracks.