My friend Jedediah from Cloverdale kept telling me about a friend of his who was into Reggae. Jed was kind of a weird guy. He had been accused of starting a fire that burned down several houses in Cloverdale in order to hide some pot plants he was growing. I never figured out if that was true or not. He also did some very spaced out things; once he was driving his panel truck down Haight St. from our house with his girlfriend & her baby in the passenger seat. He turned a corner, the door wasn’t shut, and she & the baby fell out on the street. He didn’t realize it until a few blocks later. So when he kept telling me about Josh, I didn’t pay much attention.
Bill Thompson and I had been busy at Wally Heider’s recording, but we were both looking for a live situation. Finally, I went to meet Josh. He had a Reggae band composed of mostly relatives; his ex-wife on keyboards, her current boyfriend on rhythm guitar, and the father-of-Josh’s son on bass. Karen Ida White played congas & percussion I don’t think they had a regular drummer. I dug the music & brought Bill with me to jam with them at a gig on a houseboat at Gate 5 in Sausalito. We had to literally walk planks across the docks to get to the houseboat where the gig was. People came from all around the houseboats by plank and some by skiff. Bill and I had lots of fun, playing lead over this mostly percussive group. Bill and I decided we’d play with these guys on a casual basis to offset the regular studio stuff we were doing. But soon we brought the band into the studio and discovered where the group was really at.
The keyboard player, was a very spaced out, very cool person, but she couldn’t play keyboards to save her ass! I swear, the stuff we were doing was very simple, but she would just go ahead, playing the wrong chord,
not even noticing the clash of notes. I tried yelling the chord out to her a few times, but then it messed her up on the beat, which she could also keep playing wrong without noticing. Luckily, she played kind of softly. Her boyfriend, was a beginning guitar player; he’d only played for a year or so, and he didn’t know many chords. I offered to teach him some stuff, but he always flaked out when we were supposed to get together. He did have a good feel for the rhythm, but was very limited to what he could play and none of what he played sounded that great. The bass player was a coke dealer from Marin. Susie referred to him as “The Chicken Scratcher” after we did some recording. He didn’t lay down much bass; and for Reggae, that’s ain’t good.
Meanwhile, I started doing business with Josh. He was a sailor and, for a living, he brought sailboats back from South America, loaded with grass. He had these guys he worked for and every year or so, he’d be gone for a couple of months, and come back loaded with cash. There were a lot of hangers on, like Josh’s ex-family in the band. As I got to know Josh better, I let him know that I thought he was a world-class singer, but that his family band being in the band relegated him to a non-professional status. Bill and I, I told him, would stick with him and Karen, the conga player, and replace the other members. He made the right choice. Besides being lousy players, they were also leeching off of him.
I brought in Joyce Jackson on vocals, percussion and flute and Shelly Huntley, another woman, in on bass. We started looking for a drummer. We had a gig in Berkeley, and if was really hard in tose days to find a drummer who could play Reggae. Josh got the number of this guy who had been in a Reggae band. We invited him to our studio where we had all of our equipment set up, but he insisted we go to his studio. He assured us he had two keyboards, a bass amp, and a P.A. system. When we got to his place, it was a tiny garage. The two keyboards were stacked on top of each other, and he told us after we got there that we couldn’t use the bass amp after all. In fact, we couldn’t all even fit in the tiny space. We were pissed at the guy as it was to be our only rehearsal with him before the upcoming gig as he had been putting off rehearsals. We went to the gig. There were only four people in the audience, and after a while it became clear that no one else would show up. We started playing anyway. About the fourth song, the drummer smashed his crash symbol and the whole stand fell over, cutting through the top of his nose. This guy had been such an asshole that we couldn’t stop from laughing as he bled all over the place. We made him finish the “gig” for the four audients. After a while, Bill brought in Jim Carrington in on drums. Reggae Jackson was formed.
Josh had lots of stories to tell about his adventures as a smuggler. One story he told was about a run that he made in Mexico. He had to take his sailboat up a river to a predestined spot where he met up with a group of uniformed Federales that he had paid off in advance. The uniformed cops themselves loaded the bales of grass aboard the sailboat. All of a sudden, someone sounded the alarm. A different group of Federales were coming down the hill toward them. Josh thought he had been set up. The Captain of his group went to talk to the Captain of the other group. They screamed at each other for a few minutes, then Josh’s Captain pulled out a pistol and aimed it at the other Captain. His group backed off and left. Josh’s Captain explained that they wanted a piece of the action. Another story he told was about a trip he made to South America, past the border patrol and way up a long river to a small village. At the village, everyone was out to greet him and help load the ganja onto the boat. It was very hot and the villagers wore almost no clothes. One older man wore nothing but a pair of stark white BVDs and another wore only the stiff part of a tuxedo shirt. Josh waited nervously as they loaded the boat, and described his great relief when the engine started on cue. He sailed back down the long river, finally meeting up with the open sea, and brought the load up the coast to San Francisco. That story inspired me to write “Rasta Sailor”, a chronicle of the event.
Shortly after Bill & I started playing with Josh, he went on what was supposed to be a one month trip, flying down south to sail back a loaded boat. While he was gone, Wally Heiders was put up for sale by Filmways, who owned it. Ginger told us we could probably buy the whole studio with everything in it for $150,000. We knew Josh would have that kind of money when he came back, and we hoped he would get back before the deadline was up. He came back a month later than planned and missed the sale by less than two weeks.
Heiders was dismantled and sold in pieces at auction for aver a million and a half. It was very poor timing. Now we would have to find a studio to record the band.
We started recording the album in a studio owned by some coke dealers in Modesto. The studio was located in the middle of an almond orchard and had a couple of buildings for clients to stay in and a real nice swimming pool. After we recorded the first few tracks, I played them for Bob Johnston. He saw the potential and agreed to take over and produce the album. He gave us his prescription. He told us to get the “best Thai sticks” we could get, some palm trees, the best Jamaican rum, and fresh fruit and juice. He also wanted everyone to have a little joint tin like I always carried, so they wouldn’t have to go off and roll joints. Every morning we got up and rolled as many doobies as we could, and at 5pm everyday, the rum punch would come out. We recorded all day and into the night, and in the end, it turned out that we kept all the tracks recorded after 5pm. It was an exhilarating time. We also went to the Record Plant and recorded PJ’s sixth grade class that we bussed to Sausalito, and also went to Cherokee Studios in L.A. and recorded Cheryl Lynn
and Delbert Langston’s vocals. Bob Johnston had to fly somewhere out of San Francisco the following day, so we rented an RV so Bob could sleep on the way back and be at the airport the next day. We drove down, recorded Cheryl Lynn for about six hours, and I ended up driving all the way back with everyone else asleep.
When all the tracks were laid, Josh, his then girlfriend Suzannah, Susie, Bob & I flew to Caribou Ranch in Colorado to mix. Caribou was owned by Jim Guercio from the band Chicago. Located at 9,000 feet, it was an incredible place to mix. You could hear everything!
After the album, we rented a big space in an industrial building near Goodman’s Lumber. It was killer, with two small offices in front and a huge space inside with a mezzanine. We built a big stage to practice on, about
40 feet across. The sound system was set up on the mezzanine and we had what could have been a nightclub for a rehearsal space. Josh had met a couple who said they were interested in managing the band. I didn’t much care for either of them as managers because they had no experience and no real idea of what to do.
The band was a hard sell. We were way before our time. There were no Reggae nights, only Jazz night, Folk night, and Blues night. We really didn’t fit into any of those categories and had some strange gigs. We opened for the Cajun accordionist Clifton Chenier in Berkeley. The show was broadcast live on the radio. Chenier’s crowd booed Josh in between songs when he mentioned “ganja”, but there was also a small crowd of Reggae enthusiasts who cheered us loudly, giving the broadcast a weird ambience.
We couldn’t get any positive response from record companies. Like the clubs, they had their categories, and we weren’t it. They didn’t know what reggae was. We tried the reggae labels, but they only wanted Jamaican musicians. Despite their good intentions, our “mangers’s” promo was lame, and they were trying to weedle themselves into our thing. There were also, unbeknownst to me, getting money from Josh, actually getting paid for what they were doing! Also, unknown to me, others in the band were getting money from Josh and Josh was getting tapped out.
I couldn’t take the tone of the promotion the managers were putting out, and they weren’t doing any kind of job managing. The band was grumbling.
We weren’t getting many gigs and nothing was happening with any record companies. After spending a lot of money, recording an album, setting up our offices/rehearsal space and plugging away week after week, things were getting discouraging.
There was some tension between some of our members. We hung in there for a while, replacing Karen, the conga player who finally had it and quit. Alzuma was the conga player for the last months.
By the time we gave it up, Josh and I had spent all our dough, going on a frustrating quest to bring a mix of reggae and latin rhythms way too soon (like about 40 years too soon).
After the band, I didn’t see Josh much except to get together once in a while at a party to play. I always loved his voice. In 1989, I released the Reggae Jackson LP, ten years after it was recorded. I brought Josh in to sing “Searchin’” on my Rhythm Addict album, and for some group vocals. He had a great voice. He passes away in the late 90’s after health issues stemming from an accident he had while working as a volunteer fireman. I’ll always miss him. He was like a big cuddly bear.
Around the time that Jah Love was transitioning into Reggae Jackson, I was asked to play a sound track for The Snake Theater, a performance art group in Marin County that was produced by a young guy by the name of Larry Graber. He had me play some very way out stuff with lots of echo and effects, similar to the work I had done years earlier with John Adams. I had such a blast working with larry, that I called him a few weeks later to offer my services for any upcoming project. In those few weeks, he had fell ill, was diagnosed with lukemia, and died a few days after my call. I think he was 24.