GO TO MCCABE’S, GO TO THE LIBRARY!
For many years I hid my shame, that the film “The Harder They Come” was my introduction to reggae music and my passion for it. It’s widely known that KCRW’s Reggae Beat (originating from Santa Monica College, carried by 130 stations worldwide) DJ Roger Steffens, the world’s foremost authority on Bob Marley and probably on reggae music as a whole, got turned on to the magic of Marley with that 1973 album “Catch a Fire.” His first guest on that radio show was Marley, and Steffens promptly took a short leave to join the Wailers’ tour.
I moved to LA from NM in 1980, with a passion for reggae but not much background. No Internet then, folks. No record stores in Albuquerque carrying any reggae albums except that soundtrack. I had seen the film at a local art theater, Don Pancho’s, and it changed my life. But arriving in LA, that was all I had. Steffens had a seven-year lead on me. And also, hanging with Bob on tour.
Nonetheless, when I began my forays into writing for LA publications, BAM (Bay Area Music) Magazine, liking what I had given them, asked, what do you know about reggae? Are you kidding? I replied it’s my number one. OK, we need a history of reggae music in LA. No problem, says I.
Of course, I knew nothing. But I had introduced myself to this guy Steffens at a reggae seminar at Cal State Dominguez Hills, because from the questions he was asking he seemed to know more than the person conducting the seminar, who passed himself off as the president of Mango Records but was, Steffens said he later found out, “just a guy in the office who translated patois.”
Steffens and I became friends, he showed me his mind-blowing collection at his home — which at that time consisted of a walk-in closet stacked floor to ceiling with cassette tapes of reggae music you couldn’t find anywhere else… now his reggae archives overflow the entire bottom floor of his Silverlake home, seven packed rooms — and so I called him in desperation after taking on an assignment I had no business accepting. No problem, Steffens intoned, I can help.
He did, gave me so much information, guided me to all the right people to interview, and I wound up with an impressive multi-page, referential spread in BAM, with photographs, that immediately established me, the kid from New Mexico who had only seen “The Harder They Come,” as a reggae authority in Los Angeles. Newly arrived, I nonetheless knew a few dozen people already who knew lots more than I did. Don’t tell.
It was a great lesson: the spoils go to those with the cajones to raise their hand and say, I’ll do it! (Of course, then you have to deliver.)
Decades later I was overjoyed to read somewhere that most American reggae fans came to it from “The Harder They Come.”
Roger Steffens had a birthday 11 days ago. God bless him and his kind heart and his lifetime of accomplishments in so many fields.
TONIGHT! — TOM PAXTON (come hear and see a Greenwich Village folk music legend, now 80, and support our local legendary music lessons, instrument store and concert venue McCabe’s on their 60th anniversary, oh the shows I’ve seen here and boo hoo the ones I’ve missed, Paxton wrote one of my favorite songs ever, “The Marvelous Toy” — Chad Mitchell Trio version — also “What Did You Learn in School Today?,” “The Last Thing On My Mind,” “Ramblin’ Boy,” “Bottle Of Wine,” “Talking Vietnam,” “Whose Garden Was This?,” Judy Collins is a huge fan and has always performed his songs and Holly Near said, “Every folk singer I know has either sung a Tom Paxton song, is singing a Tom Paxton song or will soon sing a Tom Paxton song, now either all the folk singers are wrong or Tom Paxton is one hell of a songwriter” — also three different, excellent shows at McCabe’s Fri-Sat-Sun), 9 p.m., McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, $60, VIP $100 (hey! It’s a fundraiser — it’s Tom Paxton!).
TONIGHT! — Soundwaves New Music Concert with DON PRESTON, Elliott Levin, Bobby Bradford (Bradford is known for his work with Ornette Coleman, Levin is a poet of note and ferocious hornblower who has traversed from Cecil Taylor to Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, but 85-year-old Preston is the one you go to see for his attack style on the piano and his wealth of musical experience and leadership from eight years with Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, that’s where I discovered him, what a band, and was surprised when he returned to his jazz roots, having played with Nat King Cole, Elvin Jones, Charles Lloyd, Charlie Haden, Yusef Lateef, Don Ellis, Herbie Mann, Al Jarreau, Johnnie Ray, Flo & Eddie, Nelson Riddle, Connie Francis, John Lennon), 7:30 p.m., Main Library, 601 Santa Monica Blvd., no cover.
TONIGHT! –THE ENGLISH BEAT (with what’s playing tonight right here in Santa Monica you’d have to be a huge Beat fan to drive to Pasadena but, I’d understand, this is one very entertaining band with more great songs than you remember, Dave Wakeling still singing the same and looking like he’s aged 10 years since 1980), 9 p.m., the Rose, Pasadena, $24-38.
FISHBONE (it starts! — the great summer outdoor mostly free music avalanche that makes LA freeways, Santa Monica gridlock and other bothers worth it all, great eclectic schedule from Levitt Foundation, 50 free concerts every Thurs-Sun through Sept., actually started June 9 but this is the first one I could heartily recommend, God bless Fishbone, first saw them in ‘80, an outrageous idea still doin’ it, ska rock R&B funk insanity, never know what you’ll get but you will be entertained), Fri 7 p.m., Levitt Pavilion, MacArthur Park LA, no cover.
FARTBARF (go look it up, I’ve bragged on these masked maniacs so many times in this column, absolutely one of my favorite local bands, or don’t look them up, just show up and have your mind blown, at one of the coolest bars in LA), Fri 9 p.m., the Redwood Bar & Grill, downtown LA, $10.
GERALD CLAYTON (brilliant local pianist and bandleader, this time a quartet that includes his famous bassist father, brought to us by the Jazz Bakery in their venue of choice, the acoustically-fantastic Moss Theater, right here in Santa Monica, ain’t we lucky!), Sat 8 p.m., Ann & Jerry Moss Theater, New Roads School, Santa Monica, $35.
GEORGE KAHN (financial advisor by day, ace ivory tickler by night, with Santa Monica roots, he has become a rising star on the local jazz scene, for his playing, his interesting musical conglomerations, and for his compositions, in LA’s most gorgeous and acoustically superb jazz room, great sight lines even from the bar, thank you, Herb Alpert), Sat 6:30 p.m., Vibrato Grill & Jazz, Beverly Glen, $20.
BAND NAMES OF THE WEEK: Destroy Boys, Death by Stereo, Nekromantix, Yip Yops, Negative Gemini, Left for Dead, Dead Air, Sweater, Slugs, Illuminati Hotties, Dynasty Handbag, Dumb, Lopez Beatles, Flaccid Mojo, Spare Parts for Broken Hearts, Pet Sex, Death Cat, Handsome Karnivore, Lust.
LYRIC OF THE WEEK: “Many rivers to cross but I can’t seem to find my way over, wandering I am lost as I travel along the white cliffs of Dover. Many rivers to cross and it’s only my will that keeps me alive, I’ve been licked, washed up for years and I merely survive because of my pride.
And this loneliness won’t leave me alone, it’s such a drag to be on your own, my woman left and she didn’t say why, well I guess I have to try.
Many rivers to cross but just where to begin, I’m playing for time, there’ll be times I find myself thinking of committing some dreadful crime.
Yes, I’ve got many rivers to cross but I can’t seem to find my way over, wandering, I am lost as I travel along the white cliffs of Dover.
Yes, I’ve got many rivers to cross and I merely survive because of my will.” — Jimmy Cliff (from the soundtrack of “The Harder They Come”)
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 32 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at firstname.lastname@example.org