John Brown (1800 – 1859) the revolutionary, is often considered to be the historical straw that broke the nation’s back. He led movements during his time in attempts to abolish slavery and is thought to be one of the few who rendered the states to eventually succeed and enact The Civil War. His tale was carried on through song, and is a living example of the great American folk tradition. But this is no history lesson. Nay, we wouldn’t do that to anyone this early on a Monday morning; this is about the sweet sounds of reggae and of those who inspire it.
The members of John Brown’s Body, a future roots and reggae band from Boston, MA, have also enacted a type of revolution, though not in a political sense. Theirs is musical, and has proven to be nothing short of a movement in their respective genres. Formed in the mid-1990s as a fresh affiliate to the reggae scene, JBB sought to use the already growing category to tell their experiences and continue a long-standing tradition that was just at the onset of the genre’s acclaim.
The early 90s reggae scene was bleak, at best, and was generally surrounded by the popular culture references that were in style – religion and weed. During that time, JBB worked more in portraying their own experiences, using the tone and vocabulary of reggae, and has since been listed by many of today’s artists as the stimulus to which they model themselves after. The concept took hold, and is almost standard now in contemporary reggae / dub / roots fusion genre.
This Wednesday, Sept. 18th, John Brown’s Body runs through Ft. Collins in the first of a three-day stay here in Colorado. Thursday it performs at The Fox Theatre in Boulder and then Friday in Denver, Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom will be sending the artists off in style in what’s become more of a Colorado tradition than anything else. Drummer Tommy Benedetti was kind enough to take time off of the band’s relentless touring schedule to give us a few words before JBB’s visit.
If you had to describe your band to someone who’s never heard of you, how would you do it?
"Well, I really feel that JBB has our own sound. It's progressive, contemporary, roots, reggae. We're an 8-piece band, so it's a big, lush sound, heavy drums and bass, lots of melody, a 3-piece horn section. We also love 1970s and 80s Jamaican Dub music, so that's also a big part of our sound. If classic Aswad and Burning Spear were put through a wormhole, and came out in a futuristic dimension, that's how I think of JBB."
You’ve performed with a great many acts through the years; do any stick out as being more memorable than others?
"We certainly have been lucky to have opened for, been a backing band for, and recorded with some of the giants of Jamaican reggae. We backed Justin Hinds for a couple of festivals in 2000. That was huge. He was such a kind man. So supportive, and he really understood where we were coming from…as far as honoring the tradition of the music, but putting our own spin on it. We even got to record an original track with him that we all wrote together. It turned out to be the last recording he made before he passed in 2005. As far as live concerts go, we spent a couple weeks on the road with Burning Spear in the early 2000's too. We were just coming up as a national touring band, most of the dates were in Colorado actually. It was mind blowing to play, then watch them every night. Their tightness and professionalism made a huge impact on us."
What’s your personal take on Snoop Dogg changing his name again to Snoop Lion, and leaning more towards a reggae influenced vibe in his music?
"I haven't really heard it. I guess he can do what he wants. What is unfortunate though is the nastiness that went back and forth between him and Bunny Wailer. I don't know Bunny personally, but I do consider him a pretty important figure in Jamaican music, and some of the things I read seemed a little over the top."
If someone cuts you off while driving, what’s your initial reaction?
"Ooooh. That's tricky because 1 .I live in Boston. 2. I'm an avid cyclist. So when biking in Boston, dealing with total idiocy is par for the course, so generally I try to roll with it. BUT, if it involves someone texting or talking on a cellphone, all bets are off."
Who are your major influences, in life and in music?
"In music, I'm inspired by tons of stuff. I grew up listening to The Police, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin, also some heavier stuff like Slayer, Testament, Exodus, all of that stuff I still listen to even now. When I moved to Boston in 1991 to attend Berklee College of Music, that's when the gates flew open. John Coltrane, Bob Marley, Lee Perry, King Tubby, Charles Mingus, John McLaughlin, Miles Davis, etc. I'm really lucky to be a part of a big musical family, with JBB and in Boston. I play with some real inspired musicians who turn me on to new music very often. So the thrill of hearing new music is still very alive to me. In life, I'm thankful and inspired by my friends, family, and my wife. You know, I get to travel to beautiful places and play music that I love…it's hard to beat that."
John Brown’s Body has been around for a number of years, something most bands can only hope for. What’s the ultimate “glue” to be able to accomplish that?
"It's not easy at times, but I think it comes down to the love of the music that we make together. I hear a lot of stories from touring bands about members who really don't like each other. I've seen it first hand. We actually enjoy hanging out together, and those vibes carry directly onto the stage. There's A LOT of downtime when you're on tour, travelling, airports, and hotels. It's a bit of a sacrifice, so not getting along would be a real drag. We're also at a point where we've figured out how much touring works for us. We go out for 2, maybe 3 week runs, then we take a bit of time off. Everyone has a ton of music that we play off tour, when we're home, so the balance keeps it fresh. That's real important."
If there were only one thing you want listeners to get from your music, what would it be?
"We want them to feel lifted. We want them to feel better leaving the venue than they did coming in."
You’re doing three nights in a row in Colorado, what are you most stoked for while you’re here?
"Colorado has always been a special place for us. We really can't get enough. I feel real comfortable in Colorado. We have a lot of friends there, the venues are awesome, the beer is killer. We just got off of a tour where the last date was an outdoor show in Steamboat Springs. It was massive and we had to fly home the next day! So it'll be great to have a few days there, and then most likely we'll be back in early 2014 to do the Mountain Towns tour."
What’s something you always remember about Colorado when you leave here?
"The nature. The Rockies. Some of those drives into say, Telluride, or Crested Butte, are unreal. Although there have been a few Cervantes after parties where my memory seems to have been erased for some strange reason."
What can attendees of the shows expect out of a John Brown’s Body live performance?
"Vibes, Vibes and more Vibes!!!!"