Jamaica’s Backing Band
Some of the hardest-edged, rootsiest reggae recently out of Jamaica, Africa and elsewhere, originated in…California? Strange but true. A collective of seasoned reggae musicians known as the STAMINA ALLSTARS is responsible for many rhythm tracks voiced by some of reggae’s top vocalists. But these are not ‘Cali-reggae’ musicians who recently discovered reggae via Sublime. Rather, the Allstars are longtime lovers and interpreters of Jamaica’s musical gift to the world. For instance, Herb Daly (bassist and writer/arranger of most of Stamina Allstars’ riddims) recorded and toured the USA in the early 1980s with pioneering Jamaican-American reggae band the Rastafarians – a decade before Sublime’s first record release – and played on Kingston recording sessions as early as 1976.
Herb and drummer Bruce Benjamin linked up in the mid-1980s and served as the heartbeat of several acclaimed California reggae bands in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Benjamin and Daly, after recording original riddim tracks for Northern California producers and their Caribbean vocal artists in the 2000s, recently embarked on the “100 Riddim Project.” Recalling how his artist father stretched canvases to paint later, Benjamin applied the same principle to compile a catalog of original roots rhythms that could be beautifully interpreted by the singers and musicians whose work he so admires. Benjamin’s Actual Music Productions recorded a large selection of Daly’s bassline creations on 2” analog tape with a select group of talented fellow reggae veterans collectively known as the Stamina! Allstars (Herb and Bruce, together with guitar wizards Rusty Zinn and Michael Mongiello, and keyboard maestro John Nevin).
In their recordings on tape with live musicians playing together, there’s a ‘tribal’ completeness and rhythmic interaction impossible to duplicate with computer tracks. Many outstanding reggae artists appreciate their classic, ‘organic’ feel enough to choose to lay their superb vocals atop the Stamina Allstars’ tracks, including Luciano, Mikey General, Hezron, Lymie Murray and Capleton, not to mention original pioneers of rocksteady and reggae such as Ken Boothe, Bobby Aitken, Earl Zero and Sammy Dread.
Next on the Stamina Allstars’ schedule is an upcoming collaboration with Tamlins vocalist Derrick Lara, who also toured as Rita Marley’s harmony singer. He still performs with the Tamlins, but has renewed his solo career and is getting ready to release ‘Solid’, a brand new album with riddim tracks by the Stamina Allstars.
The ‘reggae revival’ movement is growing as a new wave of conscious roots music strides forward in Jamaica, America, Africa and around the globe. The Stamina Allstars, who have long been steadfast in their passion for creating ‘roots with quality,’ are helping to lead the way and forge new horizons!
Look for an exclusive interview with the Stamina Allstars in the February 2016 ROCK feature of IRIE. Until then, discover more reggae music from the Stamina Allstars. Respect!
IRIE. Can you share with us the story behind how you guys all came together to form the Stamina Allstars?
Stamina Allstars: Bruce and Herb met in the early 1980s when Herb was working with the Rastafarians band, a group of Jamaican musicians out of Santa Cruz, California. They played together in several bands over the years, and about ten years ago started creating and recording original roots reggae riddims in an Oakland studio (that featured the 2″ recording tape that was standard for reggae recorded in the roots heyday in Jamaica) for a young Northern California producer who went on to record a number of excellent vocalists on these tracks. They brought in to the studio some experienced and talented reggae players on guitar and keyboard. Soon Bruce began to produce riddim tracks on his own, voicing over these riddims some tremendous singers and deejays from Jamaica, the Caribbean, Africa, and both coasts of the USA.
IRIE. Is there a special meaning behind the name Stamina Allstars?
Stamina Allstars: The band consists of veteran musicians who have been devoted to reggae music and its message for decades. It takes a lot of stamina (musically, physically and spiritually) to reach that level of dedication for that amount of time, in the face of all manner of challenges!
IRIE. What is your approach when producing tracks for artists? Is there a system in place or do you treat each artists uniquely?
Stamina Allstars: We reach out to talented artists in the reggae music world. Networking on Facebook is a great way to connect with people internationally. Informing them that we are in possession of many original new old stock “Foundation” riddims from our “100 Riddim Project” is a real icebreaker. After hearing the music many are quickly inspired to voice the riddims and others have called on us to contribute our instrumental tracks to their projects. We are making these tracks available to those interested as we are a business; Actual Music Productions LLC (our record label) and Dubgroove Publishing.
IRIE. You are currently working on Derrick Lara’s album. Can you give us some details as to what we can expect?
Stamina Allstars: Roots with quality! Original riddims (in the style of the rocksteady and reggae classics) from Stamina; heartfelt, conscious, topical lyrics and vocal magic from foundation vocalist Derrick; a wikked ‘yard mix’ from the engineering wizardry of Rohan Dwyer.
IRIE. Any advice for young artists looking to learn and master the true roots reggae sound?
Stamina Allstars: A great place to begin is listening to and penetrating classic rocksteady and reggae tunes and learn those foundation riddims! That’s where the music started and defined itself. Hear what the individual musicians do and how their parts cut in and out of each other to create a rhythmic whole that’s greater than the sum of the parts. Get together and work with other likeminded singers and players, and if you’re in an urban area, seek out veteran Jamaican and Caribbean musicians to learn from them. Go to roots reggae concerts and observe the musicians and singers to watch how they do it in a live situation.