A Meditation on reggae: A great roots harmony trio plays Shank Hall
While many associate harmony groups with the doo-wop era of the '50s and the soul explosion of the '70s – and perhaps boy and girl bands of more recent times – the 1970s was a fertile time for vocal groups in roots reggae Jamaica.
In honor of this weekend's performance by The Meditations (details below), we present five great 1970s reggae harmony groups – not an easy list to narrow down – with this week's guests at the top and the rest following in alphabetical order:
The Meditations: Formed in 1974, the Meditations paired Ansel Cridland of The Linkers and Danny Clarke of The Righteous Flames, two fine, but unheralded early '70s harmony groups. With Winston Watson, they recorded a string of four great records: "A Message from The Meditations," "Wake Up," "Guidance" and "No More Friend." Like the Wailing Souls, the group was also tapped by no less than Bob Marley to sing harmony on tunes like "Rastaman Live Up" and "Blackman Redemption" from "Confrontation.
Cridland, whose distinctive voice was the group's trademark, left in the early '80s, but returned early the following decade and although the group's members live in three separate U.S. cities, they continue to get together to perform and, sometimes, record. The group's latest studio set was 2004's "Stand In Love."
The Meditations play Sunday, March 18 at Shank Hall. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $20.
The Abyssinians: Bernard Collins and the Manning Brothers (Donald and Lynford) forever have a place in the reggae canon thanks to a single song, "Satta Massagana," which has morphed into a true Rastafarian hymn and its rhythm track is a Jamaica recording industry staple. But other tracks, like "Declaration of Rights" and "Y Mas Gan," cemented their popularity at home at an early age. They didn't record frequently, but it didn't matter. Their 1970s "Satta Massagana" LP, which included updates of the three aforementioned tracks, stands as one of the absolute greatest records ever to emerge from Jamaica.
Black Uhuru: While the international success of Michael Rose, Ducky Simpson and Puma Jones was a product of the 1980s, the trio (and its earlier incarnations that included Don Carlos, Wailing Souls' Garth Dennis and others) was born in the early 1970s and released a healthy pile of brilliant 45s and two fine LPs – some devotees might call "Love Crisis" and "Showcase" their best – in that decade. Two of my favorites – "Rent Man" and "Wood for My Fire" are of late '70s vintage.
The Viceroys: I'm sure some of you are already balking that I grouped The Wailers, The Maytals and The Mighty Diamonds below to make room from The Viceroys, but the former two were more influential a decade earlier and The Viceroys – born in the 1960s as The Interns – made nary a misstep during the 1970s (and into the '80s), making some of the rootsiest, most satisfying harmony music of the reggae era. Pretty much any record bearing their name is worth the price of admission. Very few can make similar claims.
Wailing Souls: Like The Viceroys, the Wailing Souls were born in the '60s. Like the Meditations, they recorded harmonies for Marley and like Black Uhuru, they found wider success in the 1980s. The group's string of brilliant records for Junjo Lawes at the start of the '80s was preceded by a fruitful stint at Studio One that began 10 years earlier. Those recordings are mostly collected on "Wailing Souls" and "Soul and Power." However, 1979's "Wild Suspense" is one of the best records of the decade.
Bonus track: There are simply too many great Jamaican hamony groups to list them all here. During the ska and rock steady eras the scene was rife with them. Other 1970s standouts include Israel Vibration, The Tidals, The Congos, The Mighty Diamonds, The Wailers (they, like Toots and the Maytals, were mostly a 1960s phenomena, however), Tetrack, The Itals, The Tamlins, I-Threes and African Brothers, to name but a few.
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