Jamaica Backstage: Rock was reborn at Johnny’s House
Wanna see Rock reborn in East Jamaica? Something absolutely magic happened last night at rehearsal with Lenni I-Music and his Trail Blazer Band.
We turned the Mento song ‘Go Tell It To The Mystics’ into genuine Arena Rock anthem. And the take after this was the most punk moment I have ever been a part of. And that’s saying a lot since I am a part of the Snatchee Records family for LIFE.
This move from Mento to Rock & Roll is actually a historic move that Northwest Rock and Garage Rock that launched the British invasion was built upon.
In 1955, American R&B artist writes a Calypso style tune about a Jamaican sailor coming home to see his girl. It’s based on a Latin tune called “El Loco Cha Cha”.
This connects with Jamaican Mento because that style which Jamaican-American Harry Belafonte popularized when the song was written has a heavy influence from the Spanish Afro-Caribbean before Cuba fell off the map in those very same years.
[pullquote]Some people think we should all stay in our lane culturally, and they are dead wrong. History explains otherwise. And so does this moment in the heartbeat of Mento.”[/pullquote]Now Mento is nearly forgotten because most of Belafante’s smash album in the 1950s is called “Calypso.” Most of the album is actually Jamaican Mento, including “Banana Boat Song.”
Fast forward to 1963 on the heels of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kingsmen cover “Louie Louie” as best they could and it turns into an explosion of American Garage Rock that launches 10,000 bands. The controversy around the song is hilarious because the FBI tries to say the singer is bragging about a money shot, but the drummer drops his stick and the one mic recording the whole song picks up him screaming, “f☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ck!!!”.
The FBI misses that.
Fast forward to 2019 in the very headquarters of Mento where the music is kept alive by the next generation of The Jolly Boys themselves. This very place is where Johnny the rhumba box player lived before he died last year. I met him on my first trip and meeting him as he cruised around at 80 years old on his bike was a huge influence on the creation of “Go Tell It To The Mystics.”
Watch the song being born and recognize the hero of this song being reborn. To my right in the picture is keyboardist Ryan Carr. Watch him give the drummer the Rock beat, watch him shift from synth percussion, to organ at my request, to synth guitar with heavy distortion, all as the song evolves before our very eyes.
Watch the reaction. It’s a shame the camera is positioned as such because I had to move it from a prime location when I had to use the phone to show the guys a reference.
But I am so fortunate to have this. It’s also a reminder that if I am filming a TV special, I can’t get bleeped out seven times in 17 seconds on King 5.
What melted my ice cold heart was that Ryan and the guys asked if they could record the Rock version of the song with me. I said oh “Oh F☆ck yeah, buds.”
Ryan’s explained that of all the music formats, Rock is still “Tops.” He thought white kids would love a version like this and these Jamaicans were having a blast interpreting and embodying Rock their own way.
This is one of those genuine moments you chase every generation as a songwriter and frontman.
This is a moment and song that transcends simple basic sophomoric misunderstanding of the real issue of cultural appropriation. What is happening here is much more complex and beautiful.
Some people think we should all stay in our lane culturally, and they are dead wrong. History explains otherwise. And so does this moment in the heartbeat of Mento.
I think the original Jolly Boys would of loved it. Right before this rehearsal, the nephew of Johnny from The Jolly Boys called me over next door to enthusiastically show me Johnny’s old guitar and pointed at the room and said, “You’re practicing at Jonnny’s house.”
And Rock was reborn.
— Davin Michael Stedman
ABOUT Davin Michael Stedman
Davin Michael Stedman is a songwriter, author and part time TV host from Seattle. He is best known for his work fronting The Staxx Brothers and for his incredible un-choreographed dance moves. He currently is traveling between New Orleans and Kingston, Jamaica, recording his first solo album, "Creoles," with artists and producers including Sly & Robbie and Anthony Redrose.