The Roots of Trop Rock – Reggae


You can hear the influences of Reggae Music throughout Trop Rock.

Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady.

Reggae is most easily recognized by the rhythmic accents on the off-beat, usually played by guitar and/or piano, known as the skank. This pattern accents the second and fourth beat in each bar (or the “and”s of each beat depending on how the music is counted) and combines with the drums emphasis on beat three to create a unique feel and sense of phrasing in contrast to most other popular genres focus on beat one, the “downbeat”. The tempo of Reggae is usually felt as slower than the popular Jamaican forms, ska and rocksteady, which preceded it.[1] It is this slower tempo, the guitar/piano offbeats, the emphasis on the third beat, and the use of syncopated, melodic bass lines that differentiates reggae from other music, although other musical styles have incorporated some of these innovations separately.

Bob Marley is said to have claimed that the word reggae came from a Spanish term for “the king’s music”.[5] The liner notes of To the King, a compilation of Christian gospel reggae, suggest that the word reggae was derived from the Latin regi meaning “to the king”.

Reggae developed from skamento and R&B music in the 1960s. The shift from rocksteady to reggae was illustrated by the organ shuffle, which was pioneered by Jamaican musicians like Jackie Mittoo and Winston Wright. This new technique was featured in the transitional singles “Say What You’re Saying” (1967) by Clancy Eccles, and “People Funny Boy” (1968) by Lee “Scratch” PerryThe Pioneers‘ 1967 track “Long Shot Bus’ Me Bet” has been identified as the earliest recorded example of the new rhythm sound that became known as reggae.[7]

Early 1968 was when the first genuine reggae records were released: “Nanny Goat” by Larry Marshall and “No More Heartaches” by The Beltones. American artist Johnny Nash‘s 1968 hit “Hold Me Tight” has been credited with first putting reggae in the American listener charts.[8] Around that time, reggae influences were starting to surface in rock music. An example of a rock song featuring a slight taste of reggae rhythm is 1968’s “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by The Beatles.[9]

Bob Marley in 1980.

The Wailers, a band started by Bob MarleyPeter Tosh and Bunny Wailer in 1963, are perhaps the most recognised band that made the transition through all three stages of early Jamaican popular music: ska, rocksteady and reggae. Other significant reggae pioneers include Prince BusterDesmond Dekkerand Ken Boothe.

Notable Jamaican producers who were influential in the development of ska into rocksteady and reggae include: Coxsone DoddLee “Scratch” PerryLeslie KongDuke ReidJoe Gibbs and King TubbyChris Blackwell, who founded Island Records in Jamaica in 1960, relocated to England in 1962, where he continued to promote Jamaican music. He formed a partnership with Trojan Records, founded by Lee Gopthal in 1968. Trojan released recordings by reggae artists in the UK until 1974, when Saga bought the label.

The 1972 film The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff, generated considerable interest and popularity for reggae in the United States, and Eric Clapton‘s 1974 cover of the Bob Marley song “I Shot the Sheriff” helped bring reggae into the mainstream.[3] By the mid 1970s, reggae was getting radio play in the UK on John Peel‘s radio show, and Peel continued to play reggae on his show throughout his career. What is called the “Golden Age of Reggae” corresponds roughly to the heyday of roots reggae.

In the second half of the 1970s, the UK punk rock scene was starting to form, and reggae was a notable influence. Some punk DJs played reggae songs during their sets and some punk bands incorporated reggae influences into their music. At the same time, reggae began to enjoy a revival in the UK that continued into the 1980s, exemplified by groups like Steel PulseAswadUB40, and Musical Youth. Other reggae artists who enjoyed international appeal in the early 1980s include Third WorldBlack Uhuru and Sugar Minott. The Grammy Awards introduced the Best Reggae Album category in 1985.

Early reggae

The “Early reggae” era can be looked as as starting in roughly 1968. The influence of funk music from American record labels such as Stax began to permeate the music style of studio musicians and the slowing in tempo that occurred with the development of rocksteady had allowed musicians more space to experiment with different rhythmic patterns. One of the developments which separated early reggae from rocksteady was the “bubble” organ pattern, a percussive style of playing that showcased the eighth-note subdivision within the groove. The guitar “skanks” on the second and fourth beat of the bar began to be replaced by a strumming pattern similar to mento and the so-called double chop that can be heard so audibly in the introduction of Bob Marley’s “Stir It Up” was developed during this time. More emphasis was put on the groove of the music, and there was a growing trend of recording a “version” on the B-side of a single. The mass popularity of instrumental music in the Ska and Rocksteady eras continued in reggae, producing some of the most memorable recordings of the early reggae era. Cover versions of Motown, Stax and Atlantic Records soul songs remained popular in early reggae, often helping Jamaican artists gain a foothold in foreign markets such as the U.K. As a testament to it’s far reaching impact in other markets, this era and sound of reggae is sometimes referred to in retrospect as “skinhead reggae” because of its popularity among the working class skinhead subculture in the UK during the late 1960s and early 1970s. One Caribbean band based in London, The Pyramids, even released an entire album dedicated to the unruly English youth culture under the name Symarip which featured songs such as “Skinhead Moonstomp” and “Skinhead Girl”. Eventually the, often experimental, sounds of early reggae gave way to the more refined sound made popular by Bob Marley’s most famous recordings. Indeed this era seems fittingly capped off by the 1973 release of “Catch A Fire”. Notable artists from this era include John HoltToots & the Maytals and The Pioneers.

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