Black History Month: The Legacy of Reggae

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Toots and The Maytals

The Maytals first had chart success recording for producer Clement “Coxsone” Dodd at Studio One. With musical backing from Dodd’s house band, The Skatalites, the Maytals’ close-harmony gospel singing ensured success, overshadowing Dodd’s other up-and-coming vocal group, The Wailers. After staying at Studio One for about two years, the group moved on to do sessions for Prince Buster before recording with Byron Lee in 1966. With Lee, the Maytals won the first-everJamaican Independence Festival Popular Song Competition with their original song “Bam Bam” (later covered in a Dancehall style by Sister Nancy, and also by Yellowman in 1982). Toots wrote “54-46 That’s My Number” about his time in jail in 1966

Following Hibbert’s release from jail towards the end of 1967, the Maytals began working with the Chinese Jamaican producer Leslie Kong, a collaboration which yielded a string of hits throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s. These included “Do the Reggay”, one of several songs released in 1968 to first use the word “reggae” (spelled “reggay”) in a Jamaican recording.

After Kong’s death in 1971, the group continued to record with Kong’s former sound engineer, Warrick Lyn. Their re-instated producer Byron Lee renamed them Toots & the Maytals. The group released three best-selling albums produced by Lyn and Blackwell of Island Records, and enjoyed international hits with Funky Kingston in 1973 and Reggae Got Soul in 1975. Following the release of Reggae Got Soul, Toots & the Maytals were invited to tour as the opening act for The Who during their 1975-76 North American tour. The tour went poorly and Toots & the Maytals never went on to the success of Bob Marley or Peter Tosh in the US.

Toots and the Maytals’ compositions would be given a second airing in 1978-80 during the reggae punk and ska revival period in the UK, when The Specials covered “Monkey Man” on their 1979 debut album and The Clash put out their recording of “Pressure Drop”. They were also included in the lyrics to Bob Marley & The Wailers song, “Punky Reggae Party” – “The Wailers will be there, The Damned, The Jam, The Clash, The Maytals will be there, Dr. Feelgood too”.

On September 29, 1980, the band decided to make the Guinness Book of World Records by recording, pressing and distributing a new album to the record shops all in the same day. A live concert was recorded on reels of 2-inch, 24-track analog tape, then rushed by van to sound engineers. After a running order was determined, the record label was quickly designed and sent to the printers. The album masters, labels and the outer covers were then separately sped to the Gedmel factory near Leicester, and the finished product (“Live”) was assembled and delivered to Coventry, where the band was playing the next day, successfully meeting the 24-hour deadline. “Unfortunately,” said Island Records’ Rob Bell, “the record was not included in the Guinness book, because they required prior notification that the event was going to take place, and no one at Island had informed them of the project!”

 

Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff is the only currently living musician to hold the Order of Merit, the highest honour that can be granted by the Jamaican government for achievement in the arts and sciences.
Cliff is best known songs such as “Wonderful World, Beautiful People”, “The Harder They Come,” “Sitting in Limbo”, “You Can Get It If You Really Want” and “Many Rivers to Cross” from the soundtrack to The Harder They Come, which helped popularize reggae globally and his covers of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World” and Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now” from the film Cool Runnings. He starred in the film The Harder They Come. Cliff was one of five performers inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Lee “Scratch” Perry

Lee “Scratch” Perry is a seminal Jamaican reggae producer noted for his innovative studio techniques and production values. Perry was one of the pioneers in the development of dub music with his early adoption of effects and remixing to create new instrumental or vocal versions of existing reggae tracks. Perry has worked with Bob Marley and the Wailers, Junior Murvin, The Congos and Max Romeo.

In the early 1970s, Perry was one of the producers whose mixing board experiments resulted in the creation of dub. In 1973, Perry built a studio in his back yard, The Black Ark, to have more control over his productions and continued to produce notable musicians such as Bob Marley & the Wailers, Junior Byles, Junior Murvin, The Heptones, The Congos and Max Romeo. With his own studio at his disposal, Perry’s productions became more lavish, as the energetic producer was able to spend as much time as he wanted on the music he produced. Virtually everything Perry recorded in The Black Ark was done using basic recording equipment; through sonic sleight-of-hand, Perry made it sound unique. Perry remained behind the mixing desk for many years, producing songs and albums that stand out as a high point in reggae history.

It was not until the late 1980s, when he began working with British producers Adrian Sherwood and  Mad Professor, that Perry’s career began to get back on solid ground again. Perry also has attributed the  resurgence of his creative muse to his deciding to quit drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis. He wanted to see if “it was the smoke making the music or Lee Perry making the music. I found out it was me and that I don’t need to smoke.”

In 1998 Perry reached a wider global audience as vocalist on the track “Dr. Lee, PhD” from the Beastie Boys’ album Hello Nasty. In 2003, Perry won a Grammy for Best Reggae Album with the album Jamaican E.T.. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked Perry #100 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Peter Tosh

Peter Tosh, was a core member of the The Wailers (1963–1974). During the early 1960s Tosh met Robert Nesta Marley (Bob Marley) and Neville O’Reilly Livingston (Bunny Wailer) and went to vocal teacher, Joe Higgs, who gave out free vocal lessons to young people, in hopes to form a new band. He then changed his name to become Peter Tosh and the trio started singing together in 1962. Higgs taught the trio to harmonize and while developing their music, they would often play on the street corners of Trenchtown. In 1964, he helped organize the band The Wailing Wailers, with Junior Braithwaite, a falsetto singer, and backup singers Beverley Kelso and Cherry Smith. Initially, Tosh was the only one in the group who could play musical instruments. According to Bunny Wailer, Tosh was critical to the band because he was a self-taught guitarist and keyboardist, and thus became an inspiration for the other band members to learn to play. Tosh invented the ‘chik, chik sound of Roots Rock Reggae, The Wailing Wailers had a major ska hit with their first single, “Simmer Down”, and recorded several more successful singles before Braithwaite, Kelso and Smith left the band in late 1965. Tosh would explain later that they chose the name Wailers because to “wail” means to mourn or to, as he put it, “…express one’s feelings vocally”. He also claims that he was the beginning of the group, and that it was he who first taught Bob Marley the guitar. The latter claim may very well be true, for according to Bunny Wailer, the early wailers learned to play instruments from Tosh. Rejecting the up-tempo dance of ska, the band slowed their music to a rocksteady pace, and infused their lyrics with political and social messages inspired by their new-found faith. The Wailers composed several songs for the American-born singer Johnny Nash before teaming with producer Lee Perry to record some of the earliest well-known reggae songs, including “Soul Rebel”, “Duppy Conqueror”, and “Small Axe”. The collaboration had given birth to reggae music and later, bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett and his brother, drummer Carlton Barrett would join the group in 1970. The band signed a recording contract with Chris Blackwell and Island Records company and released their debut, Catch a Fire, in 1973, following it with Burnin’ the same year. The Wailers had moved from many producers after 1970 and there were instances where producers would record rehearsal sessions that Tosh did and release them in England under the name “Peter Touch”. Tosh had written many of the Wailers’ hit songs such as “Get Up, Stand Up”, “400 Years”, and “No Sympathy”.

In August 2012 it was announced that Tosh would be posthumously awarded Jamaica’s fourth highest honour, the Order of Merit, in October that year.

Bob Marley

We remember the brilliant and evocative music Bob Marley gave the world; music that stretches back over nearly two decades and still remains timeless and universal. Marley has been called “the first Third World superstar,” “Rasta Prophet,” “visionary,” and” “revolutionary artist.” These accolades were not mere hyperbole. Marley was one of the most charismatic and challenging performers of our time.

Bob Marley’s career stretched back over twenty years. During that time Marley’s growing style encompassed every aspect in the rise of Jamaican music, from ska to contemporary reggae. That growth was well reflected in the maturity of the Wailers’ music.

Bob’s first recording attempts came at the beginning of the Sixties. His first two tunes, cut as a solo artist, meant nothing in commercial terms and it wasn’t until 1964, as a founding member of a group called the Wailing Wailers, that Bob first hit the Jamaican charts.

At the end of a European tour, Bob Marley & The Wailers went to America. Bob played two shows at Madison Square Garden but, immediately afterwards he was seriously ill. Cancer was diagnosed.

Marley fought the disease for eight months. The battle, however, proved to be too much. He died in a Miami Hospital on May 11,1981.

Read about more pioneers of Reggae at uDiscover

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