Thursday, May 3, 2018

Punk: Punky Reggae Party

Bob Marley & The Wailers: Punky Reggae Party

On the one hand, punk music and reggae don’t appear to have much in common musically—one is hard, fast, aggressive, and loud, the other, more laid back, slower, and mellow. I think that it is fair to point out that both styles arose as music of angry, rebellious, disaffected youth, making their philosophical connections more obvious than their musical connections. And yet we know that there has been a strong merger of the two styles, by bands like The Clash, the Two Tone bands, and in the ska-punk genre.

So, how did this marriage get arranged? Not having a clue, I turned to Google, which served me up this article that makes the case that the matchmaker was Don Letts.

Letts was born in England, of Jamaican heritage, and ran a London clothing store popular with musicians from both the punk and reggae scenes. He was able to meet Bob Marley after a gig, and they became friendly. When the Roxy nightclub opened, catering to the emerging punk scene, Letts became the DJ, and began to spin reggae and dub songs, along with punk music, in large part because the scene was so new, there weren’t that many punk records to play. Apparently, the punks enjoyed the music, including Joe Strummer of The Clash, and members of The Slits and The Sex Pistols.

Meanwhile, Letts convinced Marley, who appeared to have a negative feeling about punk based on sensationalist tabloid newspaper articles rather than from actually listening to the music, that it was worthwhile. According to Letts, he went to collect some money from Marley, dressed in punk bondage clothing, and Marley mocked him, to which Letts responded, “They ain't no crazy baldheads, they're my breddrin.” Shortly thereafter, inspired by the message and the music of punk rock (and by The Clash’s cover of the reggae song “Police and Thieves”), Marley wrote “Punky Reggae Party,” which referenced punk and New Wave, and namechecked The Clash, The Jam, The Damned, Dr. Feelgood (really more of a pub rock than a punk band, but whatever), as well as The Wailers and The Maytals. But even more importantly, Marley makes sure to point out that while all of those musicians would be at the party, “no boring old farts will be there.”

Letts went on to a career as a musician, most notably as a member, along with former Clash member Mick Jones, of Big Audio Dynamite, which mixed many genres of music, including punk and reggae where his role was, mostly, to supply audio samples to the songs. But he is best known as a filmmaker and video producer.

And the punk and reggae marriage remains strong to this day.

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