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In tune: The "others" - with no disrespect to Bob, part II

by Chris Alcantara, music writer


Last issue I didn’t travel too far from the realm of the “King” Bob Marley, when I wrote of Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Steel Pulse as some of the “others” who helped define the sound of roots reggae. Here are a few more ground breaking artists of roots music that could not be forgotten.


Dennis Brown

Speaking of Marley, when asked before his passing who his favorite reggae artist was, he often answered Dennis Brown. The proclaimed “Crown Prince of Reggae” pioneered the much-sought-after lover’s rock style, a lighter, more rhythmically flowing brother to the popular, politically charged style of Marley. Brown was known for his trademark vocal mix of power and sincerity. Though the reggae world mourned the loss of this bright star on July 1, 1999, his legacy will live on indefinitely through the amazing wealth of music he left behind.

It is difficult to choose which Dennis Brown album to purchase first because there are plenty to choose from, over 80 according to rumor. However, to simply become acquainted with his work I would urge one to opt for one of his many “greatest hits” albums. I have found the 15-track album, Best Of Dennis Brown: Love & Hate to be a good introduction, as it includes lover’s rock favorites such as “Cassandra” and “Wild Fire, ” along with a few of Brown’s signature songs such as “Here I Come” and “Money In My Pocket.” Brown’s huge voice nearly blasts out of the speakers on the classic roots tunes “West Bound Train” and my favorite, “Wolves and Leopards.”


No reggae collection could ever be complete without at least a few selections from the ever-influential Culture. Lead singer Joseph Hill’s genuine voice is considered one of the most recognizable and unique of the genre. Throughout the ‘70s, Culture produced a series of revolutionary albums that helped to shape the sound of roots reggae.

While the Two Sevens Clash album is considered by many to be Culture’s finest work, I am partial to International Herb, originally released in 1979. Along with reggae’s obligatory tracks to praise “Jah,” Culture provides impassioned pleas for sufferers of injustice to better themselves in “I Tried” and “Too Long In Slavery.” Other highlights include the bouncy title track and the spiritual “Ethiopians Waan Guh Home.”

Israel Vibration

Strength. Resiliency. Determination. It takes qualities like these just to live a normal life through the pain-staking disease Poliomyelitis. But to turn those struggles into inspiration for some of the most celebrated music of the roots genre, put this vocal trio in a class of its own. Cecil “Skelly” Spence, Lascelle “Wiss” Bulgin, and Albert “Apple Gabriel” Craig formed Israel Vibration after being expelled from the Mona Rehabilitation Center in Jamaica for their beliefs and faith practices. Same Song brought them an instant classic in 1978, and a number of some of the most crucial roots albums ever made followed. The dishonest accounting practices and musical piracy of the Jamaican music industry, coupled with the need for better medical attention than Jamaica had to offer, caused the three to part ways in 1983.

Israel Vibration’s 1981 album, Why You So Craven, is undeniably a high point of the reggae genre. Comprised of nine roots gems, this album flows through intensely spiritual songwriting and beautifully sung harmonies, tailored with prevalent messages of unity. From the opening track, “Universal Father,” to the faithful “Jah Is The Way,” through the longing love song “What’s The Use,” there is no filler on this classic.

Israel Vibration reformed in the late 1980s with just Skelly and Wiss, while Apple took the road to a solo career. While continuing to make quality music in each of their respective careers, the music made as the great harmonizing trio, though short-lived, remains some of the best roots reggae to date.

Wailing Souls

Numerous line-up, name, and record label changes usually spell doom for a music group, but two things have remained for the Wailing Souls over the years; the two founding members (Winston “Pipe” Matthews and Lloyd “Bread” McDonald) and great roots music. The Wailing Souls began recording string of hits in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s with catchy beats and strong cultural lyrics that will indefinitely keep them amongst reggae’s elite.

To fully experience this group’s vibe, I highly reccommend 1981’s Firehouse Rock. Brilliantly backed by the Roots Radics band, this album showcases deeply political songs such as “Kingdom Rise Kingdom Fall” and “Busnah.” Rounding out Firehouse Rock are the infectious lover’s rock grooves of “Act of Affectrion” and “A Fool Will Fall” that are almost guaranteed to have you up and “skanking” in no time.

Next Issue: The Gladiators, Johnny Osbourne, and Burning Spear.


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