Reggae's origin in blues (was: RE: Music originating in N. America)

William Sakovich sakovich@GOL.COM
Sat Jun 20 22:19:12 EDT 1998

> >> And for that matter, isn't zydeco just blues with an
> >> accordion? Reggae just american R&B/soul with an accent?
> >> just tex/mex rock and roll?
> >
> >Assuming that these aren't rhetorical questions, Barry, I think
> >answers are no, no, and no, in that order.
> It depends on how reductionistic you want to be.

Let's look at something Alton Ellis said about reggae.  Ellis was a
very popular non-Rasta singer in Jamaica in the 60s. In addition to
his reggae output, he also recorded straight soul numbers of some of
his reggae hits, using the same musicians. (Keep in mind that many of
these studio musicians were Jamaican jazz musicians who worked the
jazz clubs and tourist spots at night, and played reggae in the
studios during the day.)

"In reality it's just a groove. Even from the beginning we used to do
any music--calypso, tango, cha cha, sweet soul harmony...--till we
start to make our own thing, a blues thing. We take out the running
bass of the 12-bar blues measure and keep the ska! Keep the ska and
play what you want to play on the bass line and we start to find
we're going somewhere else. And eventually the bass line become the
melody line."

Now, is that R&B with an accent? Is that the musical equivalent of
Ricky Ricardo speaking English?

I don't think so. I think it's the musical equivalent of another
language.  Languages are created in much the same way. English is
said by some experts to have derived from a pidgin developed on the
north German coast out of the German of the time for communicating
with seafaring traders.

It gets more interesting when you realize that Ellis worked
extensively at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studios. Reid was a big fan
of Roscoe Gordon, some of whose tracks sound decidedly ska-ish. There
is also a photograph of him drinking with Fats Domino, and some of
Domino's later cuts also sound very reggae-ish.

But if it were an accent, it could be easily imitated. How many
non-Jamaican musicians do you know who are fluent in reggae? Some,
but not that many. Like with foreign languages, you have to apply
yourself and study to do it well. For another Caribbean example, the
average garage band is not going to be able to come up with a
listenable version of Iko Iko in two weeks. It takes longer than that
to learn how to play in clave.

- Bill Sakovich

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