In 1983, I heard "Red Red Wine", a cover recorded by UB40 which was originally a Neil Diamond(!) song. It was the first time I had heard a reggae song. I was hooked. I spent the next twenty years exploring the reggae genre in depth, meticulously building my music library, educating myself about Marcus Garvey and the rastafari movement and faithfully attending the Reggae on the River music festival each year.
Despite my passion for reggae, I was in a shrinking minority. The popularity of reggae began to decline in the 1980's as reggae icons like Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Jacob Miller and Augustus Pablo all passed away. The once strong reggae beat was reduced to just a faint pulse as far as the american music scene was concerned.
Even more depressng was my first pilgrimage to Jamaica in 1993. Instead of hearing rootsy reggae everywhere like I had expected, all I heard was dance hall music. The only reggae I heard during my trip were bad Bob Marley covers performed in touristy bars.
I was in love with a dieing genre.
Then a funny thing happened. American reggae bands began to emerge.
In 1996, the ska/reggae/punk band Sublime released their self titled album. Tragically, two months after the album dropped, Sublime founder Bradley Nowell, died of a heroin overdose. The album went platimum 5-times over. Songs like "Santeria" and "Caress Me Down" introduced the world to a new "Reggae-Rock" sound.
Following in the footsteps of Sublime, a number of American reggae-rock bands formed and began to make a name for themselves. Bands like Groundation, SOJA, John Brown's Body and Rebelution gained not just local followings, but national followings as well. Reggae festivals, once headlined by the few remaining Jamaican acts like Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Cliff and the Marley offspring, are now joined by these bands. A good example of this changing of the guard was the 2014 Cali Roots Festival in Monterey. While it included such artists as Damian Marley, Ziggy Marley and Steel Pulse, it was SOJA and Rebelution who were the headliners on Friday and Saturday night.
Reggae-rock (a;so known as "West Coast Reggae") has arrived. Not only has the reggae sound evolved, but the message in the music has changed as well. Gone for the most part are the songs about "Babylon", suffering and repatriation. Now the lyrics are focused more on love, the environment and herb - all things easily identifiable by a whole new generation of young american music fans.
Below are some of the bands I follow, along with some playlists you can listen to if you use Spotify. Enjoy!
Rebelution is my favorite band. Katie and I first saw them at Reggae on the River in 2007. It was Saturday morning, and only 50 or so people showed up to watch the band. We were blown away. Courage to Grow (2007) reached #4 on Billboard Top Reggae Albums List. Bright Side of Life (2009), Peace of Mind (2012) and Count Me In (2014) all reached #1 on Billboard and iTunes Reggae charts.
SOJA is a close second. Founders Jacob Hemphill (vocals) Bob Jefferson (bass) have been friends since the 1st grade. Their first album, Peace in a Time of War (2002) was well received. Every album since then, Get Wiser (2006), Stars and Stripes (2008), Born in Babylon (2009) have made the Billboard and iTunes Top 10 Reggae ablums. Their latest release Amid the Noise and Haste (2014) and received a Grammy award for Best Reggae Album.
Slightly Stoopid has been a mainstay of the reggar-rock scene since 1995. The San Diego-based band was discovered by Bradley Nowell of Sublime, and signed to his "Skunk" label despite still being in high school.
Influences include, Sunlime, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and Nirvana. Their albums "Closer to the Sun" and "Chronchitis" are classics of the genre.
Listen to My Spotify Playlist
Stick Figure is the live band that backs Scott Woodruff when his on tour. Scott writes, produces and plays all the instruments on his albums. "Stick Figure" was his nickname in high school. Burnin' Ocean (2008) cracked the Top 10 on iTunes, and Burial Ground (2012) reached #1 on the Billboard and iTunes reggae charts. Tours with Coco the Tour Dog, his trusty companion.
Fortunate Youth is a 6-piece band, led by vocalist Dan Kelly. Ire State of Mind (2013), reached #2 on the iTunes Reggae Charts and #13 on Billboard's Top 100 Reggae Albums. It's All A Jam (2013), hit #1 on both the Billboard & iTunes Reggae Charts. They just released their new album, Don't Think Twice. Another great festival band.
The Movement - Joshua Swain, Jordan Miller, and John Ruff (aka DJ Riggles) formed the band in 2004. Their first album, On Your Feet has proved a mainstay of the reggae/rock genre, and is listed at No. 9 on The Pier's 10 Essential Reggae Rock Albums. Side By Side debuted at #2 on the Billboard Reggae Chart. Their latest release Golden, reached #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart.
Listen to my Spotify Playlist
The Dirty Heads is a 6 piece band led by front men Jared (Dirty J) Watson and Dustin (Duddy B) Bushnell. The band’s breakout 2008 album Any Port In The Storm, (2010) included the chart-topping hit track “Lay Me Down which features current Sublime frontman, Rome. Cabin By The Sea (2012) and Sounds of Change (2014) have met with equal success. One of the best festival bands you'll ever see.
John Brown's Body also formed in 1997 and is lead by front man Elliot Martin. JBB burst on the national scene in 2005 with the release of their seminal album, Pressure Points, which included the single Follow Into Shadow, one of my all-time favorite reggae songs. Subsequent albums Amplify (2008) and Kings and Queens (2013) both reached #1 on Billboard's reggae charts.