“Bankrobber”: Punk Roots Reggae, 2004

Great live performance of Mikey Dread at Glastonbury in 2004 where, in his tribute to The Clash’s Joe Strummer, he slyly mixes up the tempo about halfway through, as he veers playfully from torporific one-drop skank to ska at the drop of a hat:

Here’s a link to video footage of The Clash playing live with Mikey Dread on the band’s ‘Sixteen Tons’ tour — “Bankrobber” performed as the first song of their encore, no doubt from the three-camera shoot of the band’s concert at the Capitol Theater in Passaic, New Jersey on March 8, 1980.

“Bankrobber” enjoyed release as an A-side (backed with “Rockers Galore”) after first being issued as a B-side (“Train in Vain” – London Calling‘s ‘hidden’ track that ended up being The Clash’s first top 40 hit) — although some markets, such as Germany, Netherlands, France & Australia, got to enjoy all three tracks on a “maxi” 45 released in those nations.

Clash Meets Mikey Dread

“Awakening”: Modern Roots Reggae Inna 21st Century

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 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 included the uplifting “Awakening:

Awakening – JohnStone

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Awakening” by JohnStone.]

Eyes Open - JohnStoneEyes Open Dub - 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 in 2003


[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 see where you can enjoy upcoming live performances or here to purchase their recordings.

johnstone at rockville town Center – 2010


Secret Hidden Bonus Track

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:

Never Ever – JohnStone

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Never Ever” by JohnStone.]

“Play De Music” vs. “Finger Mash”: Festival Sound Clash

In the liner notes to Baba Boom! – Trojan’s compilation of Jamaica Independence Festival songs from 1966-1975 – one piece of text really jumped out at me:

“1974’s ‘Play De Music‘ by Tinga Stewart – a monster hit and the very last one of the archetypal Festival Songs, celebrating the joy of music and its persuasive power to bring people of all persuasions together, that would prove as popular with the judges as it was with the record-buying public.”

“Play De Music”     Tinga Stewart     1974

Written & produced by Ernie Smith

Tinga Stewart 45Lo and behold, the Upsetter himself – Lee Perry – released the oddly-titled “Finger Mash” that same year and (coincidentally or not) it pretty much sounded like an unabashed rewrite of “Play De Music,” despite claiming to have been written by Perry himself:

“Finger Mash” + “Dub the Music”     Lee Perry & the Silvertones     1974

To be fair, the Upsetter mix does feature some trademark Lee Perry sonic surprises.  Sweet falsetto backing vocals, too, from The Silvertones.

Finger Mash - 7 inchHow likely is it that Tinga Stewart stole his Festival-winning song idea from Lee Perry? More importantly, who wins the ’74 Festival Face-Off:  “Play De Music” or “Finger Mash”?

Festival Song Competition:  A Thing of the Past?

Ominous story in the April 12, 2013 edition of the Jamaica Observer about the decision by the Jamaica Cultural Development Corporation to suspend the usual song competition in favor of allowing people instead to “vote for their favorite Festival song as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations” — thus, the “first time since the Festival Song Contest was held in 1966 that it will not be held in traditional form.”