1996 saw the independent release of the debut album by a group of renegade Canadian musicians – The Reggae Cowboys – who, in a supreme leap of faith, dared to fuse Jamaican reggae rhythms with, well, cowboy music and imagery.
Van Halen’s “Hang ’em High” as kick-off track
As reported in this February 17, 1996 Billboard piece, “Reggae Cowboys Corral Audience“:
“Bird Bellony, leader of The Reggae Cowboys, figures that executives at multinational labels based in Canada might not be too impressed with his five-member group or reggae/country/blues-flavored debut album, Tell the Truth.
With an 1850s photograph of African-American roper and bronco-rider, Nat Love (a.k.a., ‘Deadeye Dick’) on the cover, the album features songs about black gunfighters and cowboys of the Old West. The album was independently released Nov. 24, 1995 on the band’s Tumbleweed Records.
‘We chose not to look for a deal with a major Canadian record company, because black music, particularly reggae, is dead in Canada,’ says Bellamy, who goes by the name Stone Ranger in the group.
Reggae in Canada has not evolved much from the late ’60s and early ’70s, when such acts as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley & the Wailers, Toots & the Maytals, Burning Spear and Third World were widely popular, while such Canadian-based acts as Jackie Mittoo, Joe Isaacs, Ishan People, Ernie Smith’s Roots Revival, Leroy Sibbles, Carlene Davis, Faybiene Miranda, and Messenjah struggled to find an audience.”
Two years later, country duo, The Bellamy Brothers, would title their album – coincidentally or not – Reggae Cowboys. Musical thievery? It is possible we will never know the answer.
The Reggae Cowboys would produce a video for the tuneful title track behind 1999’s Rock Steady Radio – an album of Bill Bellony originals (save for Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”):
“Rock Steady Rodeo” — The Reggae Cowboys — 1996
According to Discogs.com, this song – the album’s kick-off track – would be (wryly) retitled “Reggae Rodeo” on the track listing itself. Is it possible this title change hampered the public’s ability to locate the band’s second studio effort? Another musical mystery that may never be solved.
The Reggae Cowboys would round up one last collection of songs – 2003’s Stone Ranger – before riding off into the sunset.