This post contains my complete running coverage of this annual festival ...
© Tulsa World
Walls of wailing
By Thomas Conner 06/28/1996
Lloyd “Bread'' MacDonald and Winston “Pipe'' Matthews, together
known as the Wailing Souls, learned by doing. In their early teens, the two
would finish up a typical school day in Trench Town, Jamaica, with a vocal
jam session in an unused kitchen. Hanging out in their government yards (the
Jamaican equivalent of the projects) with the likes of young Bob Marley, Ken
Boothe and Delroy Wilson, they learned how to sing and how to mean it. Pipe
and Bread went on to record a string of reggae hits and establish themselves
as an important part of the reggae scene in the late 1970s and early '80s.
In 1988, they relocated to Los Angeles, but their mission and message stayed
the same. In fact, they discovered that the social worlds of Jamaica and Los
Angeles offered the same hope and despair.
We caught up with Bread in Los Angeles this week before his
Tulsa appearance as a part of Reggaefest this weekend.
Tulsa World: How did the environment of the government yards
in Trench Town contribute to the music you created?
Bread: When all the people are put together like that, it
teaches you how to get along with your neighbors. It helps to
develop a sense of family among many families. There is so much
poverty, and out of that is where most of the music is spawned.
People like Bob Marley and so many of the reggae singers are always
singing about oppression and suffering. That's our roots, really.
No matter where we are, we always remember the places like Trench
Town. It's easy for me to put myself right back into that frame of
mind in Trench Town. That picture stays with me wherever I go and
will be there all my life.
How are Trench Town and Los Angeles alike?
Trench Town in Jamaica is very much like Compton in Los
Angeles. Both places graduated many talented youths into musical
careers and both places have a lot of gangs. Lots of our friends in
school took the wrong path and did not survive. If Pipe and I
hadn't latched onto music when we were youths, we wouldn't be here
today ... Trench Town is a strange place. If you mix with the wrong
crowd, you could end up in prison or dead. We're thankful we found
guys like Bob Marley to hang out with and learn music.
And these conditions are pretty universal? Is that why you
wrote anti-violence songs like “O.K. Corral'' and “What's a Life
These things are happening all over the world. There is
violence going on all over. We always try to write songs that
reflect what's happening all around the world. Most of our songs
from 10 years ago are still relevant. I don't know if that's good
What's unique about reggae music? Why can it spread those
good messages so effectively?
That message itself is unique to reggae music. The rhythm is
very unique, too. You hear a reggae song and you know it's a reggae
song. We Jamaicans talk a different way and walk a different way
and dance a different way. The music basically reflects all those
things. It's music born out of the ghetto, not out of a
conservatory or something. The people who play reggae music learned
to play music by ear. It's created in jam sessions. In that way, we
have no boundary, nothing to say you can't do this or don't do
that. You just do whatever is natural in the context. It's freedom
Is it difficult to balance the demands of writing good music
and good messages?
We look at music as a spiritual thing, and the lyrical
content is most important. If we have a great track going but the
lyrics are not right yet, we'll take two months or whatever it
takes to finish the lyrics before we finish the track. The words
What do you think of other forms of reggae — ska, dancehall,
It's all the same music, man, it's just the music growing.
It's the same thing and we love it. You have to have the roots and
you have to have the branches. To me, it's just Jamaican music,
whatever you call it.
Walls of Wailing II
By Thomas Conner 06/28/1996
Bob Marley's last birthday party was thrown in Germany where
the Wailers had convened briefly after a tour. It was clear by that
point that Marley was not well, that his cancer was a formidable
foe even to someone as positively charged as Marley. Amid the
tempered revelry, Marley pulled aside the band's guitarist, Junior
Marvin, and bassist, Aston “Familyman'' Barrett, and told them to
keep the Wailers together.
“He said if worse came to the worst, he wanted us to keep
the positive energy going, to keep the music and the spirit and the
vibe going,'' Marvin told the Tulsa World last week in a rare media
interview. “We thank Jah we're still here, doing this for him and
True to Marley's wish, the Wailers have not stopped. They
played at Marley's funeral in 1981. A few months later, they were
already playing tribute shows in San Francisco. The occasional
legal wrangle has delayed recordings since then, but the band has
released three albums since Marley passed, and the members continue
spreading Marley's positive vibration around the world.
The Wailers without Marley are a different band, certainly. A
lot of technology has come around since Marley was in the studio,
and the Wailers make use of it to create their own sound, their own
songs. But they will always carry the legacy of Bob — a legacy in
music that extends far beyond the confines of “reggae'' or even
“black'' music — and they'll probably always play the old Marley
“Our show is about 50-50 old and new,'' Marvin said. “We do
about six or seven songs from our new album, and we do the Marley
classics like `Exodus' and `I Shot the Sheriff,' stuff like that. A
lot of people want to hear the old songs, but that doesn't mean our
audience is always old. There's a brand new generation out there.
Our crowds are full of 12-year-olds, 17-year-olds, parents,
grandparents, delinquents. They want to hear the things Marley sang
about. We don't get tired of it. It's like the Olympics, it's like
with Bob we won the Olympic medal. It's an honor. You can't decide
one day you just don't want to talk about it anymore. It's an honor
to keep the message going.''
The Wailers started humbly enough, as a trio of singers
wanting to take the doo-wop sounds they loved on radio and fit them
to the island rhythms of Jamaica. Marley's smoky voice led the
group through two albums that launched the band onto international
charts, and the peaceful revolution began.
Marvin hooked up with the Wailers in London in 1977. He had
played guitar on Steve Winwood's “Arc of a Diver,'' but he had no
steady band of his own. Marley recognized Marvin's ability to play
a wide variety of styles, from rock to blues to reggae riddim and
brought him into the fold. The first project they worked on
together was the “Exodus'' album.
“Our first session together was when I came in to play one
day with Bob and Tyrone Downey, the keyboard player. They were
jamming, so we became a trio. We were really happy with the way
things sounded, and I thought it was great to be playing with a
reggae band like this. Dreams really do come true,'' Marvin said.
Marvin's lead guitar gave some presence to the typically
bass-defined reggae pocket. His grasp of different styles came from
his upbringing — a jazzman father, an uncle who was a sound man,
schooling that exposed him to classical music and rock 'n' roll.
Marvin refers to his own playing as a mix of Jimi Hendrix and
George Benson, and Bob used that versatility to explore all the
Had Marley's popularity not taken off as it did, Marvin
wonders if Jamaican artists would have seen the acceptance they now
enjoy. Before Marley's reggae music got around, few off-island had
heard the style at all.
“Nowadays you see many reggae bands all over the world. In
Bob's time, hardly anyone from Jamaica was touring. Many were
putting out that positive energy in the music, but they hadn't been
able to get it out to the world,'' Marvin said.
So that's another reason the Wailers determined to carry on
with the band. Reggae is one part groove to one part sermonizing --
most of these musicians have a message of love they want to preach
to the masses, and in the wake of Marley their jamming can reach
wider audiences. The groove makes the message easy to take, and the
message makes you feel like dancing. It's musical mission work.
Marley was able to break through, Marvin said, because he
kept his messages simple. Plus, he practiced what he preached, a
rarity among musicians, Marvin said.
“Bob always said he wanted even a baby to be able to
understand what he was saying,'' Marvin said. “He was direct,
strong and forceful in a very loving kind of way. He didn't put you
off or upset you. He made you happy to talk about thing you might
be afraid to talk about.''
The latest Wailers album, “Jah Message'' on Ras Records,
uses a lot of new technology — drum machines supply a lot of the
groove and eerie guitar effects flavor the mixes — but the message
is the same. Some titles: “Rasta,'' “Jah Love (Believers)'' and
“Many Roads to Zion.'' “Know Thyself'' even reflects the Wailers'
doo-wop roots; Marvin and company open the song singing, “Shoo
whap shoo whap, do do do day.''
The world needs reggae, Marvin said. We need that message,
that reminder of peace. Music being a universal language, it can
reach cultures all over the world, and we always need it, he said.
“We need the message all the time. The conflicts and
troubles are the same around the world in every time of history. We
have a negative, warring side to us and we need to calm that
vibration. Music helps us stay calm and balanced,'' Marvin said.
“The message is very simple — 'Let's get together and feel all
right,' like the song says. It's that simple.''
By Thomas Conner 07/02/1996
It's easy to hype Reggaefest with lots of cutesy,
condescending ignorance — talking about musical styles you really
don't understand, insulting overuse of the word “mon'' — but when
the whole thing comes together, it really is something special. For
all the advertised peace, love and understanding, there is a
unified feeling of happiness and hope that actually delivers.
Or that could just be the delirium of heatstroke.
Either way, Reggaefest is the best party around, and this year's
bill was the finest lineup of world music talent in years — a
truly impressive bunch of international stars in lil' ol' Tulsa.
The crowd Saturday evening appeared to be a huge turnout even for
the perennially popular Reggaefest. The big draw was the featured
act, the one and only Wailers band. This continually evolving group
that once backed the legendary Bob Marley continues to tour and
perform Marley's songs as well as its own originals. But the crowd
came to hear those classics, and the Wailers came through.
What a show — you've got the expectation of seeing several
historical figures in the pantheon of world music, you've got a
catalog of timeless songs that by their very nature instill
positive vibrations and singing along, and you've got a band that
in spite of anyone's huffing about composition of original members
versus new members delivers a powerful performance. Lead singer and
guitarist Junior Marvin can perform “I Shot the Sheriff''
repeatedly and have his ticket written for him for the rest of his
life, but if he's resting on his laurels he doesn't show it. He put
every bit of his vocal strength and showmanship into Saturday
night's set, and they way he sermonized the sweaty congregation
hinted that his heart was in it, too.
The Wailers are still an impressive band. Aston “Familyman''
Barrett is the best bassist in reggae, a genre that revolves around
the bass guitar. Alvin “Secco'' Patterson is the happiest
percussion player you'll ever see. Saturday night he slapped his
drums and wore a towering rave hat with Rasta colors. During
“Where Is Love,'' he removed it and, sure enough, that huge hat
was stuffed with dreads.
Many Marley classics were covered — “Natty Dread,'' “I Shot the
Sheriff,'' “No Woman, No Cry,'' “Positive Vibration,''
“Exodus,'' even “The Heathen.'' The new Wailers material varies
between good progressive reggae, like “Jah Love,'' to silly filler
like “Rasta,'' sort of a Rastafarian “Jesus Loves Me.''
Marvin pulled out the 12-string guitar for “Redemption Song,''
and the performance of “One Love'' was as inspiring as any gospel
music. It is gospel music. Listen to those lyrics, “Give
thanks and praise to the Lord, and I will feel all right.'' It's a
devoted religious message being played to a multitude of eager
listeners, and it succeeds where much religious music fails because
of that extra step — feeling all right. Thousands of Tulsans held
hands and felt all right for two solid hours. Amen.
The two-day festival featured 10 other high-class musical acts.
Here are some highlights:
Festival organizers tried to branch out a bit this year. One of the
results of that effort was the appearance of the Grown-Ups on the
second stage Friday and Saturday. This is a ska band from Denton,
Texas, and they're pretty hot. Ska is a fairly rigid style of
music, but the Grown-Ups found ways to loosen it up a bit, chiefly
due to an energetic trombone player (with great shoes) and an
innovative drummer. The lead singer, though his lyrics are pretty
amateurish, barks with the force of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
When someone on Friday shouted, “Play some Bosstones!'' he said,
“What are the Bosstones? Is that 'More Than a Feeling?'''
Another result of branching out was Friday night's main stage set
by O.J. Ekemodie and the Nigerian All-Stars. Ekemodie and his two
female dancers, one on either side, must be the Tony Orlando & Dawn
of western Africa, playing their Afro-beat and singing songs about
“social concerns.'' He played a mean sax and a cool drum out of
which he got a surprising array of tones. His frequent dedications
to a free Nelson Mandela helped both charge and date the festival;
Mandela's freedom was still nebulous during last year's Reggaefest.
Billy Goat returned to Tulsa to ply us once again with its tribal
rhythms. This band, now based in Lawrence, Kan., played the
festival's second stage Saturday evening and actually got some of
the typically staid second stage audience members to dance. Billy
Goat always does. The rhythm is the thing for them, evidenced by
two drummers and a band member who's sole purpose is to dance.
Local Hero kicked off the main stage Saturday evening after a brief
delay caused by power problems. This Tulsa-based band has played
almost every Reggaefest, and the band deserves its billing on the
main stage. After seeing Local Hero a million times at venues
around the state, it's easy to forget how good they are until
they're in a festival alongside the international stars and they
hold their own. Heck, they were better than a couple of the main
stage acts from exotic islands. Lead singer and bassist Doc James
introduced the band's final number, “Put Your Hand in Mine,''
saying, “Everybody asks us why we're not bigger, more famous ...
I'm happy right where I am.'' We're happy to have him here, too.
Arrow is a tiny man but very mighty. He has taken soca music across
an astonishing number of borders, primarily due to the success of
his song “Hot Hot Hot'' — a terribly appropriate song for the
occasion — which he served up in the middle of his Saturday night
set on the main stage with infectious energy. His band was
incredibly tight and proficient; the drummer did not stop whacking
the same beat for the first 20 minutes of the set, and Arrow knelt
down before his three-man horn section for good reason. By the time
they blasted into “O'La Soca,'' everybody's feet hurt.
Bless those Rhythm Lizards. This local band of worldly music had
its own stage throughout the festival, playing sets while the main
stage was changing acts. They somehow came up with enough material
to perform for nearly six hours on a frying pan of a stage and
played their hearts out to a captive audience among the merchandise
booths. They win the endurance award.
Festival organizer Tim Barraza made a special dedication before the
Wailers set, dedicating this year's event to its former emcee, J.T.
“Dread'' Turner, and presenting a plaque to Turner's three
children. Turner died in September in a California hospital.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
First, I couldn't get anyone to go to the show with me. "Who
are the Plimsouls?'' my poor friends would ask. I could feel age
advancing upon me like a Monkees fan. Then I arrived at Ikon and
greeted Davit Souders, the club's owner. He said, "You'll feel
young when you get inside. Three kids came in and asked for their
money back because they said the crowd was too old.''
Indeed, I was a pup among dewey-eyed fellow geeks stuck
somewhere between the uplifting label of boomers and the targeting
label of Generation X. Some of them had brought their kids, and all
of them restrained themselves from dancing.
The Plimsouls are relics from that brief period in music
history when pop and rock merged quite fluidly. Now 15 years after
their original heyday, they held the Ikon stage on Monday night
with all the presence of ROCK STARS — flashy, brash,
hard-worn purveyors of the teen beat.
Nobody in this quartet is pin-up material (when they make the
film, Eric Stolz will gain several pounds and play lead singer
Peter Case), but they rock in the purest sense. They're not out to
change the world, they're not willing to sell their grandmothers to
be the next big thing and they have a freakin' ball.
Case has one of the most unpleasant, scratchy voices in rock
'n' roll, and he uses it to an incredibly appealing effect. Without
the sniggering attitude of a young Paul Westerburg, Case leads his
band through music perfectly balanced between the jangle of the
Byrds and the serrated stab of Blondie. It was around bands like
the Plimsouls, the dBs and early Joe Jackson that the term "power
pop'' was born. This is pop — unselfconscious, unpretentious songs
about bad luck and getting even and missing your other half --
charged with the desperation and kick of serious rock 'n' roll.
As the band charged through its lengthy set (rarely stopping
for more than a breath between songs), the guitarist cycled through
about eight different guitars while drummer Clem Burke — of
Blondie fame — reminded us how cool drummers can be. n occasional
offbeats, he would raise a drumstick high in the air, his eyes
following it, then drop it with a crash and a wince. He wore a
D.A.R.E. T-shirt. (When they make the film, Dana Carvey will have
This was no nostalgia show, either. As Case sang, "Time goes
by so fast / I don't want to live in the past.'' The set included
the standards (yes, they played "A Million Miles Away'') plus a
Who cover and several new songs, "Playing With Jack'' and "(Too
Much) Satisfaction,'' which are just as hot as the originals, maybe
Another band of power popsters from the L.A. scene opened
the show, 20/20. These three guys are Tulsa natives, though this
was their first Tulsa show. The group's two founding members came
back together last year to make another album with Bill Belknap,
owner of Long Branch Studios. Now the three kick around the country
playing infrequent gigs, wherever they find a festival or an
audience of new wave nostalgists.
Despite that occasional playing schedule, this trio is
amazingly tight. Guitarist Steve Allen worked a lot of sound out of
his lone guitar, and Belknap pounds the drums with shocking
Ron Flynt, the gangly bassist, loped around the Ikon stage
flashing his curious expressions of bliss and confusion. His songs
of tarnished innocence and childlike reconciliation reflect his
visage, from the set opener "Song of the Universe'' through 20/20
classics like "Remember the Lightning,'' "Nuclear Boy'' and
I'm no old coot, but somehow I become Grumpy Old Man when
talking about my new wave heroes. Those three kids should have
stuck around. This "old'' music feels so much younger.
By Thomas Conner
© Tulsa World
Plimsouls fans have long lamented the failure of their
favorite band to take over the world. Listening to the band's
pinnacle album, 1983's "Everywhere at Once,'' they certainly sound
like they could have — charged guitars and a hoarse singer that
preceded the height of Husker Du and the Replacements.
Lead singer Peter Case is the first to fess up as to why the
Plimsouls died an early death. They were slackers, he said.
"We didn't have it together at all,'' he said in an
interview last week. "We were talking last night about our
behavior during various tours. We weren't ever focused. You've got
to be willing to sell your grandmother to go far in this business,
and we weren't. We had the music and the drive and the commitment,
but we didn't have any common sense.''
For instance, Case said he hired the band's first manager
simply because the guy had cool clothes. One bad decision led to
another, and soon the band faded away.
But that's not the end of the story. Case — a consummate
songwriter who had polished his sense of perfect pop in another
short-lived band, the Nerves, before charging the Plimsouls — laid
down his electric guitar when the Plimsouls dissolved and picked up
his acoustic. For the next several years, Case painted a portrait
of the artist as a hip, literate troubadour, complete with baggy
suit and felt fedora. His folk approach wowed critics but still
escaped widespread attention.
Now he's back with the Plimsouls. The band reunited two years
ago and rode the same wave of Los Angeles new wave nostalgia that
brought 20/20, a band of Tulsa natives, back together. The revived
Plimsouls now ride that wave across the country, playing to venues
packed with people who claim they've loved the Plimsouls all along.
Funny how that happens.
"Stuff changes through time,'' Case said. "I definitely
remember nobody listened to Big Star when they were out. I had the
third album on tape and took it everywhere. No one knew who they
were. Nobody gave a s--- about the Velvet Underground, either. Now
everyone's realizing how important they were.''
The Plimsouls were sucked up by a late '70s record-label hunt
to find the next Knack. But don't tell Case that.
"We didn't have anything to do with that, with new wave or
anything,'' he said. "The first big Rolling Stone article about us
was headlined, 'L.A. Look for the New Knack.' It's insulting to be
called a throw-off of the Knack. New wave was a polite way of
saying punk at the time — no one knew what anything was called. We
didn't mind being stuck with the label because it said 'new,' which
we liked to think we were, but it still just meant something I
didn't understand, like 'French cinema.' The Clash called
themselves new wave, you know? I mean, let's wait and see what
'alternative' looks like in 15 years.''
After an independent debut that raised a few eyebrows, the
Plimsouls signed a huge deal with Geffen and released "Everywhere
at Once,'' the album that spawned the one song that can truthfully
be called a hit, "A Million Miles Away.'' Case growled on that
record long before Greg Dulli's desperate rasp came along in the
Afghan Whigs, and the band's aggressive spirit recalled the harmony
and power of "Beatles VI'' without losing its independence.
But alas, it was not meant to be. Case said they just didn't
have the gumption to take over the world.
"We were lazy, and we were stupid in terms of career
choices,'' Case said. "We worked hard, but I'm just not able to
connect in that way. Maybe it just wasn't our fate. I mean, Tom
Petty and those guys did 72 takes of 'Refugee.' They killing their
drummer, and it worked. We were really just a garage band. I've had
a great career. I'm not complaining. You can be a great artist, and
that doesn't mean you have to make a fool of yourself on MTV's 'Sex
Secrets of the Stars' or something. But try to explain that to anybody.''
Case didn't really want to walk away from the band, but he
said he felt he couldn't do both — the solo work and the band.
The band finally did reform and start playing gigs again. Case said
he now has the best of both worlds, but he's not so sure how the
Plimsouls fit into the current music scene.
"We played last night at this festival with Jewel and different assorted
alternative rockers. The average age of the crowd was about 12. They were
moshing and jumping around on each other. I don't really see myself as the
spokesman for the 12-year-olds,'' he said.
Drumming for the Plimsouls now is Clem Burke, who played drums
with Blondie. Case called him "the best drummer in the world.''
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: Ikon, 606 S. Elgin Ave.
Tickets: $10 at the door
These online "clips" reproduce a self-selection of my journalism (music etc) during the last 20+ years. It's a lotta stuff, but it only scratches the surface. I do not currently possess the time or resources to digitize the whole body of work. These posts are simply a bunch of pretty great days at the office.