A major influence on my spiritual development was my friend Chris Hatton. We met early on in our respective music careers, converging at the point where reggae music began to inspire youths in ‘foreign’ to look to Rastafari for spiritual fulfillment. This magnetic young bass player took Rasta very seriously. I felt as though he took me to church and commanded reverence as he applied the same no-nonsense approach to both reggae music and the religion from which it was born. From his formative days as a bass player with a young band called Jah Youth, Chris went on to toast as “Friendlyman” with the progressive mixed-race Toronto-based band Culture Shock. “Friendly” went on to record a significant body of work, including perhaps his best-known track “Jah Rastafari”.
Coupled with our shared white cultural experience growing up in Toronto, we bonded over our love of Rasta music and all things Jamaican. I would show up at his studio apartment at Broadview and Danforth regularly, where we would smoke Jamaican ganja, read Bible passages and reason about Rastafari. When the time was right I invited Friendly to play bass with the original line-up of my backing band Halfway Tree, founded in 1995, where he led the music for a year and a half. Chris stands with the best amongst all of the reggae bass players I’ve had the pleasure to perform and/or record with.
Chris adopted the name DJ Friendlyness as he perfected his skills, spreading positive vibrations all over the city with his sound system Super Heavy Reggae. Friendlyness went on to assemble a top-ranking group of musicians that continue to carry the torch as Friendlyness and the Human Rights, featuring our mutual friend, colleague and mentor, all-star Jamaican keyboard player Bernie Pitters.
In 2010 I called upon Friendly to accompany me to Kingston on a last minute trip to record a new ska tune, somewhat ironically named “Rocksteady”. Recorded at legendary Harry J Studio in Kingston, this single takes us back to the golden era of Jamaican music. Featuring the original rocksteady drummer, Studio One pioneer, Soul Vendor Joe Isaacs, “Rocksteady” also features reggae Godfather Earl “Chinna” Smith on guitar. Soaring saxophones (courtesy of virtuoso Sean Weber), bubbling keyboards and playful harmonies paint a fun-filled soundscape for this celebratory testimonial, reminiscent of the days of doo-wop. The video is directed by my wonderful wife Jessica Marsh, and stars singer Katherine Langille on hula hoop!