Thursday, July 28, 2011
As reggae prophet Bob Marley famously sang: “One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
The Monterey Bay Reggaefest, as it hosts more than 50 groups on three stages, may banish pain permanently – or at least make it thoroughly scarce Friday through Sunday.
Inner Circle (8:30pm Saturday, Monterey Bay Reggaefest Stage) is one of reggae’s most influential outfits, and that’s saying something about a groove that has influenced everyone from Eric Clapton to Jerry Garcia to The Clash. Additionally, the Jamaican natives are responsible for penning “Bad Boys” the track that became the theme song for one of the earliest, most popular and longest running reality shows, COPS, which made it one of the most universally known reggae tunes ever.
But even after more than 20 years of playing “Bad Boys” thousands of times around the world, founding member Roger Lewis still digs singing the phrase, “Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?”
“Hey,” he told the Weekly, “Do you ever get tired of the beautiful California weather?”
“When you have something that works so good and everyone in the world knows it, it’s something to be proud of,” he says from his Miami Beach recording studio. “You could go anywhere in the world, North America, South America, Asia, Russia and even Libya, and they know ‘Bad Boys.’”
When the hit tune – which reached number eight on the charts – was chosen as the COPS theme song in 1990, the band initially thought the show was going to run once, not become a lasting television series that would pioneer a category of entertainment that’s become ubiquitous.
“[COPS] definitely has helped us so we can’t complain,” Lewis says.
The international success of “Bad Boys” came nearly two decades after Inner Circle had already established itself as a dynamic reggae force with its first album Rock the Boat, released on the Trojan Records label. They became so well known throughout Jamaica that they were often invited to jam with the likes of Marley, Peter Tosh and Gregory Isaacs, something Lewis looks back on as an invaluable learning experience.
“These were people I looked up to and love, and still look up to and love,” he says. “I love the old school roots.”
In 1980, Inner Circle frontman and legend in his own right Jacob Miller was killed in a car crash. It wasn’t until “Bad Boys” was recorded seven years later that the band worked together again.
“Jacob’s death had a major impact on us and it was a traumatic thing in Jamaica,” Lewis says. “By 1987, we were ready to go out on the road again and record.”
That first album without Miller, One Way, which included “Bad Boys,” was evidence that Inner Circle still pulsed with vibrant sounds.
Miller’s name lives on in more ways than one: His nephew, British singer Maxi Priest (6:15pm Sunday, Monterey Bay Reggaefest Stage), started making waves in the mid ’80s with his R&B-influenced brand of reggae and worldwide hit cover of Cat Stevens’ “Wild World.” The accessibility of Priest’s style was not accidental.
“From day one, I’ve made it clear I’m doing music for everybody,” he told The Los Angeles Times. “It wasn’t an intentional thing that I was going to bring all these different styles of music together for commercial success… or any success at all. It has just been a natural growth.”
The Brit has collaborated with UB40, Sly & Robbie, Shaggy and Roberta Flack over the years and his most triumphant single, “Close to You,” reached No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1990. The song is a prime example of the musical philosophy Priest aims to employ in all his work: an expansive patchwork of genres including reggae, R&B and even a dollop of smooth jazz.
Though the Wailing Souls (8:30pm Friday, Monterey Bay Reggaefest Stage) – not to be confused with The Wailers – don’t have any blood relation to Inner Circle, their reggae roots run just as deep.
Frontmen Winston “Pipe” Matthews and Lloyd “Bread” McDonald got their musical start in the ’60s, learning from reggae great Joe Higgs in Jamaica’s Trench Town yards alongside Marley and other up-and-coming talent. More than 40 years later, the duo continues touring and releasing albums.
“We love playing music and we keep creating new songs,” McDonald says from his Rancho Cucamonga home. “From day one, we learned how to write good lyrics and that’s one of the main things you need.”
One of the Souls’ most renowned LPs is their 1981 Fire House Rock, which is considered a roots reggae classic.
“We recorded that album at Channel One [in Kingston, Jamaica],” McDonald says. “We were fortunate to always have some of the best musicians in Jamaica playing with us.”
Since Fire House Rock, McDonald says the only thing that’s changed is the instrumentation, to fit the times, but the vocal styling and message is still the same.
“We never stray away from the message,” he says. “Peace, love, unity and fairness for everyone.”
THE MONTEREY BAY REGGAEFEST takes place 2:45pm-midnight Friday, July 29, noon-midnight Saturday, July 30, and noon-midnight Sunday, July 31, at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, 2004 Fairgrounds Road, Monterey. $35 Friday; $45 Saturday; $45 Sunday; $100 weekend. 394-8432.