Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Angeleno Dread/"I, I and I"

In Richard Hell’s most excellent new memoir I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp (Harper Collins, New York, 2013), he outlines the “basic” disagreement between himself and Robert Quine over reggae. Put simply, Hell states: "[Bob's] aversion to reggae was especially mysterious, since that music is so wacky and homemade, the way Bob liked recordings, and Bob liked a lot of New Orleans rock and roll, and reggae comes out of a New Orleans beat. I think maybe these gaps of his came from being so guitar or solo oriented, which reggae and Dylan and country music and punk aren't." I think Hell nails the appeal in part for many reggae listeners with the wacky and homemade comment. That Quine didn’t like reggae was especially surprising to me given his omnivorous musicologist bent. He probably could identify all the American soul and r&b strains inherent in the very best of the music. Apart from the top notch instrumentalists found all over myriad JA recordings (equalling if not besting the Motown/Tamla/Stax/Hi etc inspiration into the beyond with dub and discomix – take James Jamerson and Leroy Sibbles as comparables), could Quine deny Junior Byles, one of the most profound and soulful performers of the 1970’s, whose religious devotion drips off the vinyl as much as any gospel great. One of the great mysteries that the man who loved "Pangea" and "Agharta" in real time (in part no doubt due to Reggie Lucas) could not grok Junior Byles And Rupert Reid's "Chant Down Babylon" from the same year or contemporaneous Lee Perry’s riddims.

Quine’s lack of interest may also have been an American thing though Hell was onto something about the centrality of guitars/soloists in Quine's worldview. The West Coast, and LA in particular was another thing. Claude Bessy was writing a reggae magazine in LA, "Angeleno Dread," as early as 1973 (copies anyone?) Claude Bessy had Philomena presumably to initiate him (via the UK). The influence is omnipresent: "Ranking" Jeffrey Lea Lee Pierce/Uptown Top Ranking J, Chris D of "Upsetter" records and Kickboy Face (nomme de rock gifted by Prince Jazzbo). Slash Magazine had no aversion to reggae and embraced it wholeheartedly ("Back Door Man" Mainman Phred Patterson also had excellent taste is JA music). I have been planning to write something on the Slash/Reggae connection. Looking at the Slash Magazines I have, I think you could write/compile a small book on the unique perspective of these cultural outsiders/insiders in the small LA punk clique that was Slash. The influence was more than overt editorially as both Peter Tosh and Burning Spear were cover stars. It is pretty weird to read real time reviews by favourite LA punks on what are considered now all time JA classics. For example, in Vol.3 No.4 (April 1980) is Chris D's review of Prince Jammy 's "Kamikazee Dub" and Kickboy reviewing Hugh Mundell's "Africa Must Be Free by 1983" alongside AWESOME reviews by JLP of the Cramps "Songs the Lord Taught Us" and X’s "Los Angeles" There is a lot of push/pull between someone like JLP who lambastes Kickboy for supporting any type of "ska revival" (though he loves JA music) instead of American roots music of roughly the same period. According to JLP, who in the course of making a pretty strong argument that "Songs the Lord Taught Us" is one of the best lps ever made, makes this digression on our topic:
I don't prefer revivals (the very word makes me uneasy) but I can't sit and watch people deny their own culture.  Writers in this magazine (a certain French Fry and Euro-damaged brethren) made an international embarrassment of us all by ignorantly condemning a short-lived rockabilly revival and instead encouraging a ska revival, which has no relevance to our music and culture at all.  The herky-jerky ska beat did not influence the likes of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Jim Morrison (under whose shadows all good new music exists), but I'll bet you all three would gladly confess to a preoccupation with Elvis.  Just about anybody growing up in America in their time would. . . You're gonna learn a lot more about yourself from American music of 20 yrs ago than you are from Jamaican music of 20 yrs ago
I will save Kickboy's riposte for my longer article (and a dissection of JLP's own cultural critique) though can one say they were both right? Looking at A Minute to Pray, A Second to Die: A Collection of Writing by Chris D (New Texture, 2009), had me thinking perhaps the radical divergence between Chris and Danzig on how the mix of “Walk Among Us” should have been done was based in part on Chris D perhaps pointing to someone like Errol Thompson or Joe Gibbs (if not Perry, Tubby or Scientist)! According to Chris:
“Cry Baby Killer” was influenced by reggae giants Lee Perry and Big Youth, with ironic lyrics spurred from reading too many true crime serial killer tomes and a song title cribbed from the name of a Roger Corman-produced exploitation quickie (that was Jack Nicholson’s first starring role). Likewise the title “Version Nation” – though the music track was identical to “Disintegration Nation” – indicates the reggae/Jamaican dub influence in mix-style. I laid a new lead vocal track, back-up vocals and new lyrics over a radically remixed, more dynamic version of the instrumental. (For those unfamiliar with the Jamaican dub mixmasters, they frequently would radically remic and edit already existing tracks, renaming them “Version such-and-such” as the case may be. To my knowledge, Lee Perry and other reggae pioneers were doing this way before even the earliest American rap artists in the late 1970s.)
The weird Jamaican/Rastafarian use of the personal pronoun “I” – something common in reggae lyrics and which I loved solely for the aesthetic sound of it – can be found in the song “No Questions Asked.” The “I” usage also occurred in another one of the earliest Flesh Eaters compositions, “I, I and I,” a song played live in 1978 but never recorded by the band.
Obviously the interest in reading the Slash reggae reviews is based upon what the authors were also doing on the side musically. Did JLP have anything to do with Blondie covering the Paragons for instance? Anyways, here is Chris D on Prince Jammy’s “Kamikaze Dub.”



  1. Nice. Some publisher really needs to collect all the reggae-related articles and reviews from Slash and NY Rocker and put out a punky-reggae anthology...

  2. I've been reading all the Slash mags recently - they've really got me into reggae. Claude is one funny writer

    1. The humour in his writing is great and underrated.