Before the world came to know Bob Marley, the teenaged Robert Nesta Marley comprised one third of a singing trio called The Wailing Wailers. Alongside his Trenchtown neighbours Winston (McIn) Tosh and Neville Livingston aka “Bunny Wailer”, all three would go on to enjoy lucrative solo careers. Amongst what became Tosh’s impressive catalogue was a song called “Reggaemylitis” (1981), describing the infectious allure of reggae music. I caught the bug at the age of 13, the same year Marley died. I distinctly remember lying in bed, listening to the radio, when his passing was announced. I stayed up all night as they played his whole discography.
I had been learning to play the tenor saxophone in school and had developed a strong affinity for music. I especially loved classical music but was beginning to enjoy the sounds of “two-tone ska” emanating from the UK. I gravitated to the defiant spirit of this unique, up-tempo beat that resonated with teen angst. I watched Quadrophenia and began attending parties dressed as a “mod”, where local punks and skinheads comingled, discovering their sexuality and bashing one another in mosh pits around Toronto. The soundtrack began to include some Bob Marley and the Wailers tracks amidst the Madness, Bad Manners, Specials and Selecter; “the English Beat”.
I began to expand my horizons, as I jammed with a couple of high school friends, imitating the sounds of The Police and The Clash in a ‘band’ we called Oddio for a brief moment in time. Eventually I recruited some lads at Lawrence Park Collegiate to form my first reggae band “Souljah”, an awesome name for a reggae band to this day. We placed second at our first gig, a ‘battle of the bands’ at The Concert Hall, a former Masonic Temple on Yonge St., and our second gig had a huge line up to get in, since the owner of Branko’s couldn’t allow a throng of under-aged high school students into a licensed venue.
Before long I found a kindred spirit in young Jason “Casper” Wilson. He grew up in the multicultural neighbourhood at Keele and Sheppard, in the shadows of local reggae pioneers Rupert and Carl Harvey. Rupert founded iconic Canadian reggae band Messenjah while brother Carl would go on to lead Toots Hibbert’s band The Maytals. Jason found himself in good company for learning the craft. As Casper’s talent for music grew and flourished, Messenjah invited him to sit in for their keyboard player Hal “The Saint” Duggan aka Lazah Current, who was sitting in on bass for their charismatic front man Errol Blackwood. It was at this gig that Jason and I would meet and forge an important friendship.
We went on to form a pretty good little reggae outfit called Jericho, in which we switched back and forth from keyboards and harmony vocals to lead singer. Several of Jason’s early original compositions had a lasting impression on me, not the least of which was “Keep Trodding Along”. When I signed my first recording contract with independent Jamaican recording studio Kingston Muzik in 1996, I asked Jason’s permission to record this song.
When I arrived at Kingston Muzik from Toronto, the CEO welcomed me, asking which musicians I would like to work with, to which I cockily replied, “The Wailers”. I hadn’t imagined that Bob Marley’s bass player Aston Barrett would materialize to lift up Jason’s track (and six other tracks on the album) to earn a Juno nomination for “Best Reggae Recording” at the turn of the millennium! I love the mix on this recording; a collaborative effort between UK studio engineer Paul Hussey, myself, and Jamaican sound engineer Otto Lee-Wilson. This song still stands out to me as a quintessential reggae track, with its super cool intro that leads us to the encouraging message to “Keep Trodding Along”.