John Brown’s Body: An American Reggae Band Digging Roots in Farm Country

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John Brown’s Body: An American Reggae Band Digging Roots in Farm Country

The surrounding landscape yields rolling hills, beautiful gorges with waterfalls that leave your mouth gaping in awe, some of the world’s finest wineries, and farmland as far as the eye can see. Rooted in Ithaca, a small artsy community in upstate New York’s Finger Lakes region, comes a sound so cultural, so mystical, and so natural. Amongst a slew of great local musicians comes John Brown’s Body, a roots reggae sound that captivates audiences, and spills the universal message of thanks and praises. Before we can truly understand the roots of an American-based reggae band that carries a Jamaican sound and universal philosophy, we must first get to the roots of reggae music in United States from the beginning.

The origins of roots sounds in the U.S. came primarily from Jamaican communities that were set up in major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., and Miami. New York City was home of the first reggae centered recording studio was established. The credit for such a landmark establishment would have to go to Lloyd ‘Bullwackie’ Barnes, a singer who recorded with Prince Buster in the early 1960’s. The recording business started out as a partnership with ‘Munchie’ Jackson. Its location was at 4731 White Plains Road in the Bronx. By the mid 1970’s, Barnes was running the studio alone, using his own session band, Reckless Breed. He was also recording Jamaican singers that were local to the area, including names like Wayne Jarrett. Barnes also produced recordings of Jamaican singers visiting the states, including such artists as Sugar Minott and Horace Andy. During this same time period, Barnes was also able to record a string of dub albums as well. Bullwackie was the only U.S. studio to put out significant reggae sound prior to the 1980’s (Barrow 1997).

HC & F Studios was opened up in the 1980’s on Long Island and was run solely by Phillip Smart who had worked in Jamaica with the great King Tubby. Smart was able to record in his studio, sounds that would eventually make it into the dancehalls of Jamaica. Dirtsman’s "Hot This Year" is an example of the recording that gave its origin to Smart’s studio on Long Island. Today, HC & F Studio is the leading reggae-recording studio in the states (Barrow 1997).

More and more reggae-recording studios began to pop up including Jah Life, also making its home in the Big Apple, owned and operated by Hyman Wright and Percy Chin.

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