Tag Archives: Joe Higgs

Reggae and Irish folk music on Joe Higgs’ last recordings

cover170x170Well-respected Jamaican singer and songwriter Joe Higgs died in the late 90s, but his legacy lives on through various reissues of his excellent material. Now – however – comes a previously unreleased album from this singer who mentored Bob Marley and who was instrumental in creating the sound of The Wailers in the 60s.

Godfather of Reggae collects Joe Higgs’ last recordings. It was recorded in 1997 and 1998 in Ireland and Jamaica and it sees Joe Higgs collaborating with Irish folk musician Donal Lunny and Irish band the Hothouse Flowers. They were joined in Jamaica by Wayne Jobson from the band Native and drummer Max Hinds, son of Justin Hinds, another reggae legend.

This is an unusual and extraordinary album containing both violins and harmonica. It’s stylistically varied, yet never losing its focus. Godfather of Reggae offers a rousing mix of reggae, Irish folk music, soul, pop and blues and showcases Joe Higgs’ rich and passionate voice.

Highlights include the naked Caution with its urgent backing vocals, the countrified And It Stoned Me and the uplifting You Don’t Have to See Me with its catchy saxophone solo.

Melancholic, yet positive, and best described as an astonishing slice of alternative reggae.

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Joe Higgs’ Unity is Power is a grower

310Joe Higgs is one of reggae’s most influential forces, but at the same time one of the most overlooked artists. His voice is far from anonymous, but due to a number of circumstances he is today probably best known for teaching Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh the basic principles of singing – harmonies, breathing and structuring a song. He even took Bunny Wailer’s place on The Wailers’ first U.S. tour.

Among reggae heads he is probably also known for his 1960 hit song Oh Manny Oh, which reputedly sold more than 50,000 copies at the time.

But he also recorded a number of albums. In 1972 he dropped his debut set titled Life of Contradiction, reissued by Pressure Sounds some years ago. Now the same label has decided to reissue its follow-up – Unity is Power. It has not been reissued since its original release in 1979 and comes with two bonus cuts – his 1972 Festival Song Competition winner Invitation to Jamaica and its version.

Unity is Power was produced by Joe Higgs himself and he utilized some of the best musicians around at the time of its recording. It’s a mellow and mid-tempo reggae set that is much in the same vein as his debut. No hard roots or crazy dub mixing. This is soul, gospel, jazz and vintage R&B set to a reggae beat. It might not grab you instantly and it might need a few spins before its majestic character is revealed.

Joe Higgs’ rich, rural and emotive voice, with its melancholic and honest tone, is however easy to fall in love with and hard to let go.

The extensive and frank liner notes by noted reggae historian Roger Steffens tells a story of a man that managed to overcome a lot of hardship and difficulties during his lifetime. This pain and suffering is heard in his voice and in his music. Authentic sounds from one the many overlooked and forgotten heroes in reggae music.

Available now on LP, CD and digital download.

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Richie Spice passed his own test

The acoustic trend has taken reggae by storm and this year both Clinton Fearon and Tarrus Riley have each put out an acclaimed set. Now it’s Richie Spice’s turn. His Soothing Sounds: Acoustic collects re-recordings of old material coupled with new tracks. Reggaemani had a chat with Richie Spice about why he has stripped himself and why the album is already a classic.

Soothing Sounds presents Richie Spice unplugged for the first time.

Ask any music fan about his or her favorite acoustic reggae track and the answer will probably be Bob Marley’s heartfelt Redemption Song, included on his last album Uprising released in 1980. Bob Marley was not the first to record reggae with sparse arrangements, and one of my personal favorites is Joe Higgs’ – coincidentally Bob Marley’s mentor – unplugged version of There’s a Reward.

Over the last years the acoustic reggae catalogue has grown, partly thanks to guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith and his nyabinghi-influenced project Inna de Yard All Stars.

In 2012 the catalogue has broadened even more since two world-known singers have dropped acoustic sets – Tarrus Riley’s Mecoustic and Clinton Fearon’s Heart and Soul.

Being a positive force
A third artist drops his acoustic project tomorrow. Richie Spice is his name, and you will know him by a trail of strong albums and equally strong singles, including Earth a Run Red, Youth Dem Cold, Marijuana and Di Plane Land. You might also recognize his rugged crooning and his railing against injustices and the plight of the oppressed.

“I want to educate the youths and make uplifting music,” explains Richie Spice over the phone from Kingston, Jamaica, and continues:

“Doing positive things and being a positive force is an important role to me.”

A family affair
Richie Spice was born Richell Bonner in the Kingston suburb of St. Andrew in 1971, and hails from a musical family that includes his older brother Pliers, from the deejay/singer duo Chaka Demus & Pliers, middle brother and singer Spanner Banner as well as his younger brother Snatcha Lion. The latter two team up with Richie Spice on the family affair More Love.

It was Spanner Banner who initially brought Richie Spice to the recording studio, although he didn’t get the opportunity to record that time it opened his eyes to the proficiency required to succeed in the reggae industry.

“It was a strong learning experience. At that time I tried to record but I was never really ready so I couldn’t manage it. But it showed me that there is a lot of work to be done. So just do the necessary things until you reach that space where you are supposed to be,” recalls Richie Spice.

Gave himself a test
His biggest hit to date is Youth Dem Cold, which peaked at 59 on Billboard’s Top 100 Singles Chart and was featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto IV.

Richie Spice is a man of few words and it seems he likes his music to do much of the talking, but it’s apparent that he has high hopes on his new album.

“It has been on my mind for a long time and now it’s manifested to reality. It’s a new path in my career and it’s very exciting,” he says.

The recording process has taken some time – approximately nine months – and the album is produced by himself with a little help from co-producer Mitchum “Khan” Chin.

“The process was different [compared to an ordinary album]. I played it at home, I played it in the studio, adding things, making improvements,” he explains, and continues:

“There are things in life you’d like to do if you’d get the opportunity, and I wanted to give myself a test. Can I do this,” he asks, and adds:

“The album has a good vibration and I was feeling it from a long time. It’s an inspired album with songs I really loved and other people loved them also. I wanted to break it down and add a new level to them,” he explains referring to the re-recorded tracks on the set.

“The songs are classic”
An unplugged environment is naked and personal, which puts Richie Spice’s passionate vocals very much in the front. He sings every word and every syllable like he means them, something that put a lot of weight on his socially-conscious anthems about righteousness, unity and love.

Soothing Sounds presents Richie Spice unplugged for the first time, even though the albums boasts a myriad of influences and musical influences – contemporary acoustic rock, Spanish guitar, jazz and African drum beats to 80’s soul in the bonus track Agony, with a bass line invented by Robbie Shakespeare right there in the studio.

“It carries a variety of songs. Like Free, to be free within yourself, and My Heart, about searching,” he says, and continues:

“I fulfilled it and to me it’s a masterpiece. The songs are classic and it’s special to me and my fans. It’s deep in the soul of the people.”

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