It may be kind of hard to believe now, but at one time in the 1990s and the early part of the new century, the DC area was an important center of activity for roots reggae and other Caribbean sounds. Georges Collinet, for instance, was broadcasting his internationally distributed radio show Afropop Worldwide out of DC, as Takoma Park played host to the West Indian Record Mart – where staff would spin vinyl records on a bona fide sound system, the way reggae music is meant to be heard but too rarely is here in the States – while Silver Spring served as home base to RAS Records (“Real Authentic Sound”), a respected roots label, founded by Gary “Dr. Dread” Himelfarb, that helped breathe new life into the careers of such storied Jamaican artists as Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, Israel Vibration, Freddie McGregor, Yellowman, Inner Circle, Don Carlos, and Joseph Hill & Culture among many others. And, as if by some divine bit of orchestration, these “conquering lions” of reggae could then record at Lion & Fox, a state-of-the-art recording facility just across the Potomac [since moved to College Park, MD] named, incredibly, for a real-life Lion (Hal) and Fox (Jim).
Charging into this robust music scene, playing strictly original songs and helping to bring roots reggae into the Modern Age, was (and is) JohnStone, who braved winter’s wrath in early 2005 to lay down tracks at Lion & Fox for their first full-length release, Eyes Open — which includes the uplifting “Awakening“:
[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Awakening” by JohnStone.]
Reflecting DC’s diverse international community, JohnStone brought together players from Jamaica (Andre White), Guyana (Alfred Adams) and Ghana (Chet Nunoo-Quarcoo), as well as the United States (Brendan DeMelle and Joe Mannekin). Guitarist/vocalist – and NCAA Division III soccer star – Andre White, formed JohnStone precursor, Zion Express, in 1995 with bassist DeMelle (whose brother, Jeff, has played bass with Clinton Fearon & the Boogie Brown Band) and Peyton Tochterman, before moving to DC in 2000 and forming JohnStone with drummer/vocalist, Alfred Adams. By the time the band went into Lion & Fox to record their first album, Mannekin (keyboards) and Nunoo-Quarcoo (percussion) were also on board – with Ben Crandall joining in on sax. Eyes Open would also receive a royal remix in the form of a dub version by engineer extraordinaire, Jim Fox.
JohnStone at Voice of America
[Bottom row] Adams, Nunoo-Quarcoo & White
[Top row] Mannekin & DeMelle
JohnStone has won several DC Annual Reggae Music Awards, including Song of the Year for 2001 (“Live On“) and 2005 (“Shashamane Land“), as well as Recording of the Year (“Eyes Open Dub“) in 2005 and Best Reggae Band in 2012. Besides being headliners in their own right, JohnStone have also opened for such legendary reggae artists as Burning Spear, Toots & the Maytals, The Meditations, The Itals, Third World, Sister Carol, and Yellowman.
2007 would see the release of Innocent Children – whose title track was originally conceptualized and written by Adams, horrified by reports of the use of child soldiers in Haiti’s coup d’etat in 2004 – while 2010 would find the band issuing their second all-dub disc, Dub Confidence.
JohnStone’s personnel, anchored by White and Adams, has evolved over the years – Warren Pedersen II now anchors the bottom on bass while Reggie Moore spices up the treble on lead guitar – but their songs and sound are as vital as ever. Click here to purchase their recordings.
JohnStone at Rockville Town Center
Andre (who sings lead on “Awakening”) and Alfred share lead vocal duties in JohnStone — here’s another track from Eyes Open – “Never Ever” – that features Alfred’s voice:
[Pssst: Click the triangle above to play “Never Ever” by JohnStone]
LINK to DC Week on Zero to 180