meta-scriptMy Chemical Romance, Run The Jewels, Pixies & Smashing Pumpkins To Headline Riot Fest 2021 | GRAMMY.com
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My Chemical Romance in 2012

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My Chemical Romance, Run The Jewels, Pixies & Smashing Pumpkins To Headline Riot Fest 2021

The Chicago alt, punk, rock, rap and more festival returns to Douglas Park Sept. 17-19, 2021, with Coheed and Cambria, Taking Back Sunday, Lupe Fiasco, FEVER 333, K.Flay and more joining the first wave lineup

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2020 - 11:42 pm

Yesterday, June 16, Riot Fest revealed the explosive first wave lineup for the next edition of their festival, now scheduled for 2021. My Chemical Romance, Run The Jewels, the Pixies and the Smashing Pumpkins will headline, with Sublime with Rome, Big Freedia, FEVER 333, K.Flay and many more also joining the initial billing.

The Chicago alt, rock, emo, punk, rap and more fest will return to Douglas Park on Sept. 17-19, 2021. The lineup announcement comes with the news the 2020 edition has been officially canceled due to COVID-19—ticket holders can request a refund or use their ticket in 2021.

Read: Sublime With Rome Talk Latest Album 'Blessings,' 10 Year Anniversary & Rocking Out With Post Malone

Riot Fest 2021 is dedicated to making emo kids' dreams come true—in addition to the My Chemical Romance reunion set, Taking Back Sunday, Coheed and Cambria, New Found Glory, All-American Rejects, Simple Plan and Saves The Day will also play.

Chicago's own alt hip-hop hero Lupe Fiasco will perform his 2007 GRAMMY-nominated album, The Cool, in its entirety. Vic Mensa, Meg Myers, Toots and the Maytals, Best Coast and Alex G also bring sonic diversity to the stacked lineup.

The festival organizers also announced the addition of the first-ever Thursday Preview Party, featuring "mystery bands (including one who will only play Thursday), early access to merch, and an assortment of carnival rides and food to enjoy," according to the press release.

Related: Saves The Day's Chris Conley Talks 20 Years Of 'Through Being Cool'

The Thursday party is a special benefit for fans who commit to the fest in the next 30 days, either with the purchase of 2021 tickets or 2020 ticketholders who hold the passes for 2021. Alternatively, 2020 ticketholders who want a refund or want to transfer their pass to a friend have 30 days to do; more info here.

Weekend passes for Riot Fest 2021 are currently on sale for $150. Ticketing info and the complete wave one lineup can be found on their website.

Today, My Chemical Romance, who was the only act previously announced to headline the 2020 fest, announced new 2021 dates for the North American leg of their reunion tour, which was set to take place this year. The emo vets played together for the first time in seven years in Los Angeles in December 2019, for a four-night run of sold-out shows.

Run The Jewels Are Ready To Pierce Your Heart Again

Patrick Wilson, Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell and Matt Sharp of Weezer in 1995
Patrick Wilson, Rivers Cuomo, Brian Bell and Matt Sharp of Weezer

Photo: Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

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Why Weezer's 'The Blue Album' Is One Of The Most Influential '90s Indie Pop Debuts

Weezer’s debut album was a harbinger of nerd rock and its many acolytes, with hits like "Buddy Holly" and "Undone (The Sweater Song)." Thirty years after its release, 'The Blue Album' stands tall for the ways it redefined indie pop and rock.

GRAMMYs/May 10, 2024 - 03:48 pm

We can thank Kurt Cobain and Tower Records for one of the most enduring debut albums of all time. 

Weezer frontman Rivers Cuomo was working at a Los Angeles Tower Records in 1991 when the store began to blare Nirvana’s "Sliver." His ears perked up, inspired by Cobain’s music and lyrics.

"It’s like, 'Oh, my God. This is so beautiful to me. And I identify with it so much.' Hearing him sing about Mom and Dad and Grandpa Joe, these personal family issues, in a really heartbreaking kind of innocent, childlike way, over these straightforward chords in a major key," Cuomo told Rolling Stone.

Fast forward to May 10, 1994, and Weezer —originally a nickname Cuomo took on due to his asthma-induced wheezing — debuted an album brimming with thoughtful themes, chunky riffs, sublime solos and a song that would end up as a game-changing music video directed by Spike Jonze

Cuomo cut his headbanger hair — he thought metal would be his future — and adorned thick glasses reminiscent of Cobain. Along for the ride came drummer Patrick Wilson, guitarist Brian Bell and bassist Matt Sharp. The cover art for The Blue Album featuring the foursome simply standing and staring at the camera evoked a feeling of awkward geekiness that would eventually lead to the album’s designation as being the harbinger of nerd rock and its many acolytes.

From the time of its release and through to today, The Blue Album reverberated with both music fans and indie rock bands. It felt like a lovechild between the Beach Boys' melodies and the Pixies’ distortion-friendly rhythms. It was certified platinum in January 1995, and has since gone three times multi-platinum in the U.S. Rolling Stone readers ranked the album the 21st greatest of all time. 

In honor of an album that arguably has a banger for every track, here’s a deep dive into what makes The Blue Album such an iconic indie pop record, and how its impact on modern rock is still being felt today.

It Has More Hooks Than A Walk-In Closet

Refreshingly original pop-rock wasn’t sprouting up in the mid-1990s, when Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Smashing Pumpkins dominated the radio waves. Enter The Blue Album with songs, such as "Say It Ain’t So," boasting catchy hooks so infectious they became earworm fodder.

It’s not just the big singles blasting addictive hooks. "Surf Wax America" lets Weezer fans ply their falsetto skills when they try to reach the end note in, "You take your car to work/I’ll take my board/and when you’re out of fuel/I’m still afloat."

Tokyo Police Club's Graham Wright said in 2019: "That [album] has such an unfair amount of hooks packed into it. Like, every song has like 5 to 10 hooks that are good enough to easily sustain an entire song in their own. It feels like they hogged everything."

TPC toured with Weezer in 2008.

…And Its Lyrics Were More Than Just Playful

Cobain wrote about drugs, Metallica’s lyrics skewed dark, and some fans couldn’t even make out what Eddie Vedder was crooning into the mic. But Cuomo’s lyrics had that everyman quality fans could find relatable. 

Album opener "My Name is Jonas" speaks of a common crisis Cuomo was inspired to put to paper: Cuomo’s brother was dealing with insurance challenges after enduring a serious car crash. Knowing Cuomo’s MO, the song's lyrics resonate more deeply: "Tell me what to do/Now the tank is dry/Now this wheel is flat."

On "Say It Ain’t So" — the most-streamed song from the album on Spotify — Weezer manages an eternal hookiness with a heavy dose of reality. Over a reggae-influenced beat with guitar upstrokes, the song offers a potent look at Cuomo’s past. It tells the story of his estranged relationship with his alcoholic father ("Somebody's Heine/Is crowding my icebox") and how Rivers Sr. eventually left the family, got sober and became a preacher ("You've cleaned up, found Jesus/Things are good, or so I hear").

The Blue Album Had A Singular Look

If there is any moment to showcase how Weezer set itself apart from other rock bands at the time, look no further than the music video to one of the album’s blazing hits. "Buddy Holly" might have been a reference to the close-cropped hair and wide-rim glasses both Holly and Cuomo wore, but the video is a taste of the band’s nostalgia-heavy, pop culture-referencing personality that other bands would later emulate.

Directed by Spike Jonze (who was also responsible for the Beastie Boys' astounding "Sabotage" video,) "Buddy Holly" featured Weezer playing in 1950s garb as they interacted with characters from the show "Happy Days." The video was a marvel of editing and jokiness at the time: Mary Tyler Moore gets a shout-out; there’s something so deeply satisfying seeing the Fonz dance to Weezer verses and fuzz guitars.

"Buddy Holly" was an early example of Weezer's unique and deeply referential aesthetic; their free-spirited, random and weird viewpoint would appear in videos throughout their run.  In "Undone (The Sweater Song)," a parade of canines runaround the band as they exuberantly play the hit song, with drummer Patrick Wilson shaking booty behind the kit.

Post- Blue, the Muppets danced and sang along with the band in the hilarious "Keep Fishin’," while sumo wrestlers battled it out between clips of the band rocking out to "Hash Pipe."

It Delivered Memorable And Inspiring Intros 

Producer Ric Ocasek ensured that there were no wasted moments in The Blue Album. That includes the intros, which can feature some of the best opening licks to ever grace a Weezer track (as on "Holiday") or flirt with a genre–rock folk– that quickly switches to another (see "My Name is Jonas").

But a true-stand out intro, if only for its experimental personality, comes from "Undone (The Sweater Song)," which opens with a circular riff stemming from guitar picking. Then comes a music-less intro with a couple guys chatting — courtesy of bassist Sharp and friend of the band Karl Koch — that isn’t as meaningful as the song’s more maudlin theme. It may inspire fans to see the song as a fun and silly tune instead of what Cuomo intended: an anthem of the underdog.

That intro is mirrored in other pop-rock tracks of that era, such as Nada Surf’s "Popular" which begins with over a minute of spoken word before the verses.

The spoken intro to "Undone" is a reminder that Weezer never likes taking itself too seriously. They enjoy breaking conventional rules of what a song, or first few bars, should sound like for their audience, and they revel in throwing us curveballs as a way to say, "Hey, we’re a rock band, but we’re not your Dad’s rock band." 

They Aren’t Afraid To Move Away From Traditional Indie Pop

"We're experimenting, trying to come up with the best music we possibly can, so our motivation is pure. We're not just trying to cash in," Cuomo told Guitar World in 2002, reflecting his anti-frontman persona with an honest take of Weezer’s standing in the rock world. That "best music" is shining on The Blue Album but also their inventiveness, which saw them extend the usual track length on "Only in Dreams" from the usual three minutes to almost eight minutes. 

Moving away from the head-boppin choruses of "Buddy Holly" and "Surf Wax America", the final track on the album plays with rhythms and unadorned bass lines reminiscent of early Phish. It careens from dreamy and meandering to chewy distortion and crashing cymbals, and ends with four minutes of instrumental jamming. 

Wavves bassist Stephen Pope took to "Only in Dreams" right away. "[It] stands out to me, as a not-very-technically-skilled bass player, because of how memorable the bassline is even though it’s so simple. It’s extremely Kim Deal-esque, and I attribute a lot of my playing style to Kim Deal and Matt Sharp," he told Consequence of Sound

Bands Love Covering The Blue Album

Everyone loves to try their hand at belting out Weezer songs, especially those from The Blue Album. One of the more notable covers is the pitch-perfectly sung "My Name is Jonas" from Taking Back Sunday, whose own tunes have Weezer-esque personalities. 

Foster the People covered "Say It Ain’t So" in 2011, Relient K cleaned up the distortion for their version of "Surf Wax America," and Mac DeMarco delivered a throaty take on "Undone (The Sweater Song)" where he adlibbed the tune’s spoken word bits. 

And if there’s any sign of the album’s wide-ranging influence, the cast of "Succession" recorded a raucous rendition of "Say It Ain’t So."

The Blue Album Is So Iconic That Weezer Is Touring It Globally

From Atlanta to London to Vancouver, Weezer’s 2024 tour schedule is solely focused on playing The Blue Album from start to finish. Titled Voyage to the Blue Planet and featuring openers the Flaming Lips, the Smashing Pumpkins and Dinosaur Jr., the tour will be a retrospective of the killer tracks that cemented Weezer as pioneers of nerd-rock and a whimsical sorely needed during the super-serious era of grunge.

As much as Weezer fans also adore the emo classic Pinkerton and admire the ambition of the four-album box set of SZNS of 2021, The Blue Album remains a perfect debut record and one that transcends any age demo. A 50-year-old rock fan and a 25-year-old TikTok influencer will both be front row centre at the tour this year, and expect them to be mouthing the lyrics to "Buddy Holly" while playing the meanest air guitar.

8 Ways 'Musicology' Returned Prince To His Glory Days

Steve Albini in his studio in 2014
Steve Albini in his studio in 2014

Photo: Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

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Without Steve Albini, These 5 Albums Would Be Unrecognizable: Pixies, Nirvana, PJ Harvey & More

Steve Albini loathed the descriptor of "producer," preferring "recording engineer." Regardless of how he was credited, He passed away on the evening of May 7, leaving an immeasurable impact on alternative music.

GRAMMYs/May 8, 2024 - 08:17 pm

When Code Orange's Jami Morgan came to work with Steve Albini, he knew that he and the band had to be prepared. They knew what they wanted to do, in which order, and "it went as good as any process we've ever had — probably the best," he glowed.

And a big part of that was that Albini —  a legendary musician and creator of now-iconic indie, punk and alternative records —  didn't consider himself any sort of impresario. 

"The man wears a garbage man suit to work every day," Morgan previously told GRAMMY.com while promoting Code Orange's The Above. "It reminds him he's doing a trade… I f—ing loved him. I thought he was the greatest guy."

The masterful The Above was released in 2023, decades into Albini's astonishing legacy both onstage and in the studio. The twisted mastermind behind Big Black and Shellac, and man behind the board for innumerable off-center classics, Steve Albini passed away on the evening of May 7 following a heart attack suffered at his Chicago recording studio, the hallowed Electrical Audio. He was 61. The first Shellac album since 2014, To All Trains, is due May 17.

Albini stuck to his stubborn principles (especially in regard to the music industry), inimitable aesthetics and workaday self-perception until the end. Tributes highlighting his ethos, attitude and vision have been flowing in from all corners of the indie community. The revered label Secretly Canadian called Albini "a wizard who would hate being called a wizard, but who surely made magic."

David Grubbs of Gastr Del Sol called him "a brilliant, infinitely generous person, absolutely one-of-a-kind, and so inspiring to see him change over time and own up to things he outgrew" — meaning old, provocative statements and lyrics.

And mononymous bassist Stin of the bludgeoning noise rock band Chat Pile declared, "No singular artist's body of work has had an impact on me more than that of Steve Albini."

“We are very sad to hear of Steve Albini’s passing,” stated the Recording Academy’s Producers & Engineers (P&E) Wing. “He was not only an accomplished musician in the various groups he played with, but also an iconic producer and engineer who contributed to some of the greatest albums in indie rock, from artists such as Nirvana, the Pixies and PJ Harvey. Steve was a true original. He will be greatly missed, but his influence will continue to live on through the many generations of artists he inspired.”

To wade through Albini's entire legacy, and discography, would take a lifetime — and happy hunting, as so much great indie, noise rock, punk, and so much more passed across his desk. Here are five of those albums.

Pixies - Surfer Rosa (1988)

Your mileage may vary on who lit the match for the alternative boom, but Pixies — and their debut Surfer Rosa — deserve a place in that debate. This quicksilver classic introduced us to a lot of Steve Albini's touchstones: capacious miking techniques; unadulterated, audio verite takes; serrated noise.

PJ Harvey - Rid of Me (1993)

Some of Albini's finest hours have resulted from carefully arranging the room, hitting record, and letting an artist stalk the studio like a caged animal.

It happened on Scout Niblett's This Fool Can Die Now; it happened on Laura Jane Grace's Stay Alive; and it most certainly happened on PJ Harvey's Rid of Me, which can be seen as a precedent for both. Let tunes like "Man-Size" take a shot at you; that scar won't heal anytime soon.

Nirvana - In Utero (1993)

Nirvana's unintended swan song in the studio was meant to burn the polished Nevermind in effigy.

And while Kurt Cobain was too much of a pop beautician to fully do that, In Utero is still one of the most bracing and unvarnished mainstream rock albums ever made. Dave Grohl's drum sound on "Scentless Apprentice" alone is a shot to your solar plexus.

"The thing that I was really charmed most by in the whole process was just hearing how good a job the band had done the first time around," Albini told GRAMMY.com upon In Utero's 20th anniversary remix and remastering. "What struck me the most about the [remastering and reissue] process was the fact that everybody was willing to go the full nine yards for quality."

Songs: Ohia - The Magnolia Electric Co. (2003)

When almost a dozen musicians packed into Electrical Audio to make The Magnolia Electric Co., the vibe was, well, electric — prolific singer/songwriter Jason Molina was on the verge of something earth-shaking.

It's up for debate as to whether the album they made was the final Songs: Ohia record, or the first by his following project, Magnolia Electric Co. — is a tempestuous, majestic, symbolism-heavy, Crazy Horse-scaled ride through Molina's troubled psyche.

Code Orange - The Above (2023)

A health issue kept Code Orange from touring behind The Above, which is a shame for many reasons. One is that they're a world-class live band. The other is that The Above consists of their most detailed and accomplished material to date.

The band's frontman Morgan and keyboardist Eric "Shade" Balderose produced The Above, which combines hardcore, metalcore and industrial rock with concision and vision. And by capturing their onstage fire like never before on record, Albini helped glue it all together.

"It was a match made in heaven," Morgan said. And Albini made ferocity, ugliness and transgression seem heavenly all the same.

11 Reasons Why 1993 Was Nirvana's Big Year

Coxsone Dodd in his studio circa 1980 color
Coxsone Dodd circa 1980

Photo: David Corio/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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Remembering Coxsone Dodd: 10 Essential Productions From The Architect Of Jamaican Music

Regarded as Jamaica’s Motown, Coxsone Dodd's Studio One helped launch the careers of legends such as Burning Spear, Toots and the Maytals, and the Wailers. In honor of the 20th anniversary of Dodd’s passing, learn about 10 of his greatest productions.

GRAMMYs/May 3, 2024 - 02:17 pm

On April 30, 2004, producer Clement Seymour "Sir Coxsone" Dodd — an architect in the construction of Jamaica’s recording industry — was honored at a festive street renaming ceremony on Brentford Road in Kingston, Jamaica. The bustling, commercial thoroughfare at the geographical center of Kingston was rechristened Studio One Blvd. in recognition of Coxsone’s recording studio and record label.

Dodd is said to have acquired a former nightclub at 13 Brentford Road in 1962; his father, a construction worker, helped him transform the building  into the landmark studio. In 1963 Dodd installed a one-track board and began recording and issuing records on the Studio One label. 

Dodd’s Studio One was Jamaica’s first Black-owned recording facility and is regarded as Jamaica’s Motown because of its consistent output of hit records. Studio One releases helped launch the careers of numerous ska, rocksteady and reggae legends including Bob Andy,  Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Alton Ellis, the Gladiators, the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, Marcia Griffiths, Sugar Minott, Delroy Wilson and most notably, the Wailers.

At the street renaming ceremony, a jazz band played, speeches were given in tribute to Dodd’s immeasurable contributions to Jamaican music and many heartfelt memories from the studio’s heyday were shared. In the culmination of the late afternoon program, Dodd, his wife Norma, and Kingston’s then mayor Desmond McKenzie unveiled the first sign bearing the name Studio One Blvd. Four days later, on April 4, 2002, Coxsone Dodd suffered a fatal heart attack at Studio One. His productions, however, live on as benchmarks within the island’s voluminous and influential music canon.

Born Clement Seymour Dodd on Jan. 26, 1932, he was given the nickname Sir Coxsone after the star British cricketer whose batting skills Clement was said to match. As a teenager, Dodd developed a fondness for jazz and bebop that he heard beamed into Jamaica from stations in Miami and Nashville and the big band dances he attended in Kingston. Dodd launched Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat sound system around 1952 with the impressive collection of R&B and jazz discs he amassed while living in the U.S., working as a seasonal farm laborer.

Many sound system proprietors traveled to the U.S. to purchase R&B records — the preferred music among their dance patrons and key to a sound system’s following and trumping an opponent in a sound clash. With the birth of rock and roll in the mid-1950s, suitable R&B records became scarce. Jamaica’s ever-resourceful sound men ventured into Kingston studios to produce R&B shuffle recordings for sound system play. 

Recognizing there was a wider market for this music, Dodd pressed up a few hundred copies of two sound system favorites for general release, the instrumental "Shuffling Jug" by bassist Cluett Johnson and his Blues Blasters and singer/pianist Theophilus Beckford’s "Easy Snapping," both issued on Dodd’s first label, Worldisc. (Some historians recognize "Easy Snapping" as a bridge between R&B shuffle and the island’s Indigenous ska beat; others cite it as the first ska record.) When those discs sold out within a few days, other soundmen followed Dodd’s lead and Jamaica’s commercial recording industry began to flourish.

"Before then, the only stuff released commercially were mento records that were recorded here, but our sound really hit so we kept on recording. When I heard 'Easy Snapping,' I said 'Oh my gosh!'" Coxsone recalled in a 2002 interview for Air Jamaica's Skywritings at Kiingston’s Studio One. "I thank God for that moment." 

Dodd was the first producer to enlist a house band, pay them a weekly salary rather than per record. Together, they had an impressive run of hits in the ska era in the early ‘60s; during the rocksteady period later in the decade, Dodd ceded top ranking status to long standing sound system rival (but close family friend) turned producer Duke Reid. (Still, Studio One released the most enduring instrumentals or rhythm tracks, also known as riddims, of the period.)  As rocksteady morphed into reggae circa 1968, Dodd triumphed again with consistent releases of exceptional quality. 

In 1979 armed robbers targeted the Brentford Rd premises several times. Dodd left Jamaica and established Coxsone’s Music City record store/recording studio in Brooklyn, dividing his time between New York and Kingston. Reissues of Dodd’s music via Cambridge, MA based Heartbeat Records, beginning in the mid 1980s, followed by London’s Soul Jazz label in the 2000s, and most recently Yep Roc Records in Hillsborough, NC, have helped introduce Studio One’s masterful work to new generations of fans. 

"The best time I’ve ever had was when I acquired my studio at 13 Brentford Rd. because you can do as many takes until we figured that was it," Coxsone reflected in the 2002 interview. "God gave me a gift of having the musicians inside the studio to put the songs together. In the studio, I always thought about the fans, making the music more pleasing for listening or dancing. What really helped me was having the sound system, you play a record, and you weren’t guessing what you were doing, you saw what you were doing." 

To commemorate the 20th anniversary of Coxsone Dodd’s passing, read on for a list of 10 of his greatest productions.

The Maytals - "Six and Seven Books of Moses" (1963)

In 1961 at the dawn of Jamaica’s ska era, Toots Hibbert met singers Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias and Henry "Raleigh" Gordon and they formed the Maytals. The trio released several hits for Dodd including the rousing, "Six and Seven Books of Moses," a gospel-drenched ska track that’s essentially a shout out of a few Old Testament chapters. 

Moses is credited with writing five chapters, as the lyrics state, "Genesis and Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers Deuteronomy," but "the Six and Seven books" are in question. Many Biblical scholars say Moses wasn’t the scribe, believing those chapters, including phony spells and incantations to keep evil spirits away, were penned in the 18th or 19th century. 

Nevertheless, there’s a real magic formula in The Maytals’ "Six and Seven Books of Moses": Toots’ electrifying preacher at the pulpit delivery melds with elements of vintage soul, gritty R&B, and classic country; Jerry and Raleigh provide exuberant backing vocals and seminal ska outfit and Studio One’s first house band, the Skatalities deliver an irresistible, jaunty ska rhythm with a sophisticated jazz underpinning. 

The Wailers - "Simmer Down" (1964)

A flashback scene in the biopic Bob Marley: One Love depicts the Wailers (then a teenaged outfit called the Juveniles) approaching Dodd for a recording opportunity; Dodd inexplicably points a gun at them as they recoil in terror. Yet, there isn’t any mention of such an inappropriate and unprovoked action from the producer in the various books, documentaries, interviews and other accounts of the Wailers’ audition for Dodd. 

The Wailers’ first recording session with Dodd in July 1964, however, yielded the group’s first hit single "Simmer Down." At that time, the Wailers lineup consisted of founding members Bob Marley, Bunny Livingston (later Wailer) and Peter Tosh alongside singers Junior Braithwaite and (the sole surviving member) Beverley Kelso. When Junior left for the U.S., Dodd appointed Marley as the group’s lead singer.

The energetic "Simmer Down" cautions the impetuous rude boys to refrain from their hooligan exploits. The Skatalites’ spirited horn led intro, thumping jazz infused bass and fluttering sax solo, enhances Marley’s youthful lead and the backing vocalists’ effervescence. The Wailers would spend two years at Studio One and record over 100 songs there, including the first recording of "One Love" in 1965; by early 1966, they would have five songs produced by Dodd in the Jamaica Top 10. 

Alton Ellis -"I’m Still In Love" (1967)

Jamaica’s brief rocksteady lasted about two years between 1966-1968, but was an exceptionally rich and influential musical era. The rocksteady tempo maintained the accentuated offbeat of its ska predecessor, but its slower pace allowed vocal and musical arrangements, affixed in heavier, more melodic basslines.

Alton Ellis is considered the godfather of rocksteady because he had numerous hits during the era and released "Rock Steady," the first single to utilize the term for producer Duke Reid. Ellis initially worked with Dodd in the late 1950s then returned to him in 1967. The evergreen "I’m Still in Love" was penned by Alton as a plea to his wife as their marriage dissolved: "You don’t know how to love me, or even how to kiss me/I don’t know why."  Supporting Alton’s elegant, soulful rendering of heartbreak, Studio One house band the Soul Vendors, led by keyboardist Jackie Mittoo, provide an engaging horn-drenched rhythm, epitomizing what was so special about this short-lived time in Jamaican music.

"I’m Still In Love" has been covered by various artists including Sean Paul and Sasha, whose rendition reached No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 2004. Beyoncé utilized Jamaican singer Marcia’s Aitken’s 1978 version of the tune in a TV ad announcing her 2018 On The Run II tour with Jay-Z. In February 2024, Jennifer Lopez sampled "I’m Still in Love" for her single "Can’t Get Enough."

Bob Andy - "I’ve Got to Go Back Home" (1967)

 The late Keith Anderson, known professionally as Bob Andy, arrived at Studio One in 1967. He quickly became a hit-making vocalist, and an invaluable writer for other artists on the label. He penned several hits for Marcia Griffiths including "Feel Like Jumping," "Melody Life" and "Always Together," the latter their first of many hit recordings as a duo. 

A founding member of the vocal trio the Paragons, "I’ve Got to go Back Home" was Andy’s first solo hit and it features sublime backing vocals by the Wailers (Bunny, Peter and Constantine "Vision" Walker; Bob Marley was living in the USA at the time.) Set to a sprightly rock steady beat featuring Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Roland Alphonso (saxophone) and Carlton Samuels’ (saxophone) harmonizing horns, Andy’s lyrics poignantly depict the challenges endured by Jamaica’s poor ("I can’t get no clothes to wear, can’t get no food to eat, I can’t get a job to get bread") while expressing a longing to return to Africa, a central theme within 1970s Rasta roots reggae. 

The depth of Andy’s lyrics expanded the considerations of Jamaican songwriters and one of his primary influences was Bob Dylan. "When I heard Bob Dylan, it occurred to me for the first time that you don’t have to write songs about heart and soul," Andy told Billboard in 2018. "Bob Dylan’s music introduced me to the world of social commentary and that set me on my way as a writer."  

Dawn Penn - "You Don’t Love Me" (1967)

Dawn Penn’s plaintive, almost trancelike vocals and the lilting rock steady arrangement by the Soul Vendors transformed Willie Cobbs’ early R&B hit "You Don’t Love Me," based on Bo Diddley’s 1955 gritty blues lament "She’s Fine, She’s Mine," into a Jamaican classic. The song’s shimmering guitar intro gives way to the forceful drum and bass with Mittoo’s keyboards providing an understated yet essential flourish.

In 1992 Jamaica’s Steely and Clevie remade the song, featuring Penn,  for their album Steely and Clevie Play Studio One Vintage. The dynamic musician/production duo brought their mastery (and 1990s technological innovations) to several Studio One classics with the original singers. Heartbeat released "You Don’t Love Me" as a single and it reached No. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Several artists have reworked Penn’s rendition or sampled the Soul Vendors’ arrangement including rapper Eve on a collaboration with Stephen and Damian Marley. Rihanna recruited Vybz Kartel for an interpretation included on her 2005 debut album Music of the Sun, while Beyoncé performed the song on her I Am world tour in 2014 and recorded it in 2019 for her Homecoming: The Live Album. In 2013, Los Angeles-based Latin soul group the Boogaloo Assassins brought a salsa flavor to Penn's tune, creating a sought-after DJ single. 

The Heptones - "Equal Rights" (1968)

 

"Every man has an equal right to live and be free/no matter what color, class or race he may be," sings an impassioned Leroy Sibbles on "Equal Rights," the Heptones’ stirring plea for justice.

Harmony vocalist Earl Morgan formed the group with singer Barry Llewellyn in the early '60s and Sibbles joined them a few years later. The swinging bass line, played by Sibbles, anchors a stunning rock steady rhythm track awash in cascading horns, and blistering percussion patterns akin to the akete or buru drums heard at Rastafari Nyabinghi sessions.

Besides leading the Heptones’ numerous hit singles during their five-year stint at Studio One, Sibbles was a talent scout, backing vocalist, resident bassist and the primary arranger, alongside Jackie Mittoo. Sibbles’ progressive basslines are featured on numerous Studio One nuggets (many appearing on this list) and have been sampled or remade countless times over the decades on Jamaican and international hits.

In a December 2023 interview Sibbles echoed a complaint expressed by many who worked at Studio One: Dodd didn’t fairly compensate his artists and the (uncredited) musicians produced the songs while Dodd tended to business matters. "When we started out, we didn’t know about the business, and what happened, happened. But as you learn as you go along," he said. "I have registered what I could; I am living comfortably so I am grateful." 

 The Cables - "Baby Why" (1968)

Formed in 1962 by lead singer Keble Drummond and backing vocalists Vincent Stoddart and Elbert Stewart, the Cables — while not as well-known as the Wailers, the Maytals or the Heptones — recorded a few evergreen hits at Studio One, including the enchanting "Baby Why." 

Keble’s aching vocals lead this breakup tale as he warns the woman who left that she’ll soon regret it. The simple story line is delivered via a gorgeous melody that’s further embellished by Vincent and Elbert’s superb harmonizing, repeatedly cooing to hypnotic effect "why, why oh, why?" 

Coxsone is said to have kept the song for exclusive sound system play for several months; when he finally released it commercially, "Baby Why" stayed at No. 1 for four weeks. 

"Baby Why" is notable for another reason: although the Maytals’ "Do The Reggay" marks the initial use of the word reggae in a song, "Baby Why" is among a handful of songs cited as the first recorded with a reggae rhythm (reggae basslines are fuller and reggae’s tempo is a bit slower than its rocksteady forerunner.) Other contenders for that historic designation include Lee "Scratch Perry’s "People Funny Boy," the Beltones’ "No More Heartache," and Larry Marshall and Alvin Leslie’s delightful "Nanny Goat." 

Burning Spear - "Door Peeper" (1969)

Hailing from the parish of St. Ann, Jamaica, Burning Spear was referred to Studio One by another St. Ann native, Bob Marley. Spear’s first single for Studio One "Door Peeper" (also known as "Door Peep Shall Not Enter") recorded in 1969, sounded unlike any music released by Dodd and was critical in shaping the Rastafarian roots reggae movement of the next decade.

The song’s biblically laced lyrics caution informers who attempt to interfere with Rastafarians, considered societal outcasts at the time in Jamaica, while Spear’s intonation to "chant down Babylon" creates a haunting mystical effect, supported by Rupert Willington’s evocative, deep vocal pitch, a throbbing bass, mesmeric percussion and magnificent horn blasts. 

As Spear told GRAMMY.com in September 2023, "When Mr. Dodd first heard 'Door Peep' he was astonished; for a man who’d been in the music business for so long, he never heard anything like that." Dodd’s openness to recording Rasta music, and allowing ganja smoking on the premises (but not in the studio) when his competitors didn’t put him in the forefront at the threshold of the roots reggae era.

"Door Peeper" was included on Burning Spear’s debut album, Studio One Presents Burning Spear, released in 1973 and remains a popular selection in the legendary artist’s live sets.

Joseph Hill - "Behold The Land" (1972)

In the October 1946 address Behold The Land by W. E. B. DuBois at the closing session of the Southern Youth Legislature in Columbia, South Carolina, the then 78-year-old celebrated author and activist urges Black youth to fight for racial equality and the civil rights denied them in Southern states. The late Joseph Hill’s 1972 song of the same name, possibly influenced by Dubois’ words, is a powerful reggae missive exploring the atrocities of the transatlantic slave trade from which descended the discriminations DuBois described.

Hill was just 23 when he wrote/recorded "Behold The Land," his debut single as a vocalist. Hill’s haunting timbre summons the harrowing experience with the wisdom and emotional rendering of an ancestor: "For we were brought here in captivity, bound in links and chains and we worked as slaves and they lashed us hard." Hill then gives praise and asks for repatriation to the African motherland, "let us behold the land where we belong."

The Soul Defenders — a self contained entity but also a Studio One house band with whom Hill made his initial recordings as a percussionist — provide a persistent, bass heavy rhythm that suitably frames Hill’s lyrical gravitas, as do the melancholy hi-pitched harmonies.

In 1976 Hill formed the reggae trio Culture and the next year they catapulted to international fame with their apocalyptic single "Two Sevens Clash," which prompted Dodd to finally release "Behold The Land." Culture would re-record "Behold The Land" over the years including for their 1978 album Africa Stand Alone and the song received a digital remastering in 2001.

Sugar Minott - "Oh Mr. DC" (1978)

In the mid-1970s singer Lincoln "Sugar" Minott began writing lyrics to classic 1960s Studio One riddims, an approach that launched his hitmaking solo career and further popularized the practice of riddim recycling — which is still a standard approach in dancehall production. Sugar, formerly with the vocal trio The African Brothers,  penned one of his earliest solo hits "Oh, Mr. DC" to the lively beat of the Tennors’ 1967 single "Pressure and Slide" (itself a riddim originally heard, at a faster pace, underpinning Prince Buster’s 1966 "Shaking Up Orange St.")

"Oh, Mr. DC" is an authentic tale of a ganja dealer returning from the country with his bag of collie (marijuana); the DC (district constable/policeman) says he’s going to arrest him and threatens to shoot if he attempts to run away. Sugar explains to the officer that selling herb is how he supports his family: "The children crying for hunger/ I man a suffer, so you’ve got to see/it’s just collie that feed me." To underscore his urgent plea, Sugar wails in an unforgettable melody, "Oh, oh DC, don’t take my collie." 

The irresistibly bubbling bassline of the riddim nearly obscures the song’s poignant depiction of Jamaica’s harsh economic realities and the potential risk of imprisonment, or worse, that the island’s ganja sellers faced at the time. Sugar’s revival of a Studio One riddim and reutilization of 10 Studio One riddims for each track of his 1977 album Live Loving brought renewed interest to the treasures that could be extracted from Mr. Dodd’s vaults.

Special thanks to Coxsone Dodd’s niece Maxine Stowe, former A&R at Sony/Columbia and Island Records, who started her career at Coxsone’s Music City, Brooklyn.

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Students participate in Getting Funky In Havana
Cuban music conservatory students perform during Getting Funky In Havana 2024

Photo: Eduardo Reyes Aranzaez

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At Getting Funky In Havana, Young Musicians Feel The Power Of Cross-Cultural Connection

An annual program organized by the Trombone Shorty Foundation and Cimafunk, Getting Funky In Havana explores the deep connections between Cuba and New Orleans — and provides student musicians with once-in-a-life-time learning opportunities.

GRAMMYs/Mar 25, 2024 - 08:34 pm

It’s sweltering inside the Guillermo Tomas Music Conservatory, a primary school in Havana’s Guanabacoa neighborhood, where American visitors enjoy what will likely be the best school recital they'll ever see.  

A series of teen and tween musicians — some in trios and quartets, others in larger ensembles — are playing a mix of Latin jazz, orchestral overtures and even a rousing rendition of the Ghostbusters theme. During an interpolation of Aretha Franklin's "Think," three young horn players burst to the front of the group in a competitive but friendly battle of brass. 

The performance is the centerpiece of Getting Funky in Havana, a four-day music and cultural exchange program developed by GRAMMY-nominated Cuban funk artist Cimafunk, GRAMMY-winning New Orleans multi-instrumentalist Trombone Shorty's namesake foundation, and Cuba Educational Travel. Now in its third year, Getting Funky brought nearly 200 American music lovers, artists and students to Havana in January to explore the deep connections between Cuban and New Orlenian sounds through a series of performances, educational activities and panels. 

"Cuba and New Orleans have a long line of influence, and we have special things that happen in both places that people can hear through our music," Trombone Shorty, born Troy Andrews, tells GRAMMY.com. "Passing along music and knowledge is…how the music's staying alive. I always try to tell the kids, learn everything that came before you, but also be very innovative."

While there are many conservatories in Havana, Guillermo Tomas was chosen in part for its similarities to New Orleans' Treme neighborhood, where many of the Trombone Shorty Foundation students live. Guanabacoa is "probably the deepest Afro-Cuban cultural neighborhood" in Havana, says Foundation Executive Director Bill Taylor.

Those shared roots and experiences were on display during several capstone concerts, which were also open to Havana residents. At a massive outdoor concert blocks away from Havana's famous Malecón, Getting Funky attendees enjoyed performances from Cuban salsa legends Los Van Van, reparto star Wampi and Shorty's Orleans Avenue. At a pinnacle performance the day before, more than 30 artists gathered at Havana arts hub La Fabrica for a sold-out international jam. Shorty, Big Freedia, Ivan Neville, percussionist Pedrito Martinez, PJ Morton, Tarriona "Tank" Ball, drummer Yissy Garcia and others joined forces with Cuban artists Reina y Real and X Alfonzo to create an unceasing groove. 

Getting Funky In Havana outside school embed

Cuban and American students perform outside Guillermo Tomas┃Eduardo Reyes Aranzaez

While the concerts certainly brought the energy to a fever pitch, the beating heart of Getting Funky is its mission of music education. Ten members of the Trombone Shorty Foundation's brass band traveled to Cuba, where they performed at Getting Funky's opening night party and several other events. Throughout the week, the New Orleans students shared stages with their Cuban counterparts,  learning each others' musical idioms and finding common ground.

"So much of the music [we hear in New Orleans comes] from Africa through the Caribbean to New Orleans, then spreading throughout the United States. When our students connect with those [Cuban] students, there's a natural, symbiotic connection that takes place," Taylor says. 

High school senior and sax player Dylan Racine called the trip — his first time out of the country — a life-changing experience. "I learned so many new skills on this trip, including how to network, how to collaborate with young people from a different culture than me, and more," he says via email. Drummer and pianist John Rhodes, another senior,  added that the experience was invaluable. 

"I was able to interact with another culture and understand other young people through music. Although we couldn't speak the same language, we understood each other musically," he writes.

Both Cuba and New Orleans' unique musical cultures require constant innovation to survive, Taylor adds. "You honor the past, but it needs an infusion of new life in order to thrive. Getting Cuban musicians together with New Orleans musicians infuses a shot of energy into both of those musical styles." 

The trip also put students from both countries in contact with working musicians, whose own perspectives were expanded by the experience. 

"Music education and pedagogical expertise is so important. We need the next level to come up and be dope, just like we are," says trumpeter Keyon Harrold, whose work has taken him from sessions with Beyoncé to the 2024 GRAMMYs. This was Harrold’s second year at Getting Funky. "It's even more visceral and engaging to actually see these kids at the age of 10, 11, 12, and to know that in five years they're going to be the next." 

For many of the musicians who attended, Getting Funky was an inspirational experience that furthered their existing work as well. "I perform for a living, but performing and playing with [students] is super dope. [Their energy is] clean," says GRAMMY-winning producer, rapper and mentor Deezle. "If I can in any way help to guide their path away from the pitfalls that I've encountered and endured, I would love to do that."

Legendary singer/songwriter Ivan Neville said he was blown away while watching young musicians from different worlds performing together. "This music was making their souls feel so good. I know music is good for the soul, but it was another level that I saw."

Getting Funky In Havana Primera Linea

Fabio Daniel (center) and members of Primera Linea, or "first line"┃Eduardo Reyes Aranzaez

Since Getting Funky In Havana was established in 2020, the program has had a measurable impact on Cuban students' lives. In 2023, several young Cuban musicians traveled to New Orleans during JazzFest, where they visited Shorty’s studio and performed together at legendary venue Tipitina's. When the group returned home, they formed their own brass band, Primera Linea. 

"This band is working; they are playing many places in Havana and that's thanks to the project. They were so into the satisfaction of [feeling] that they are valued," says Erik Alejandro Iglesias Rodríguez, who records as Cimafunk. "They are learning good quality things in terms of human relationships and in terms of music. [The program is] something that changes their mentality and lets them know that they can make it." 

While Cuba harbors an incredible amount of musical talent, "making it" as a musician in the country comes with a unique set of challenges. The country's shrinking economy, high rate of inflation and low monthly incomes have 62 percent of Cubans reporting that they "struggle to survive" financially, according to a 2023 survey. Purchasing a professional calibur instrument, which may cost hundreds or thousands of U.S. dollars, often comes with great sacrifice.  

It's an emotional day back at the Guillermo Tomas, where 10 of the school's top students will be awarded an instrument.

"An instrument is not something you can buy in a store," says Amanda Colina González, an art historian and one of the trip guides, who studied saxophone in conservatory. Colina González, like the majority of students, was given an instrument to play for the duration of her studies but had to return it to her school upon graduation. Remembering that moment brought tears to her eyes.

Because of its high cost and the possibility of leading to international travel, owning their own instrument can truly change a young musician's life. Getting Funky has donated approximately 50 instruments to Cuban students over three years of programming. 

Fifteen-year-old Daniela Hernandez was awarded a trombone for her skill and dedication to music outside of school. Harried and teary-eyed after the recital, she shared her happiness and pride for being able to play with musicians who she's long admired. She plans to use her new trombone to study and will "take it with me everywhere."

Daniela and classmate Fabio Daniel (who received a trumpet during the first edition of Getting Funky in Havana in 2020) joined Trombone Shorty onstage at Getting Funky, performing for more than 15,000 people. Several of their friends and classmates brought their instruments to the concert — the largest held in Cuba in the last four years — and played back at the band from the crowd. 

"Cuban musicians really enjoy playing and making other people feel joy through music,” Daniela says. Fellow trombone player and awardee Cristian Onel León says it's important to play for people outside of Cuba, and enjoys teaching people about his country's rhythms and keys. "I’m [also] learning other forms of playing, that aren’t mine. And it feels good,” he adds.

The program's instrument donation is spearheaded by the long-running nonprofit Horns To Havana, and supported by the Gia Maione Prima Foundation and private donors. Tickets purchased to attend the program also fund its efforts; Taylor says 2024's Getting Funky raised approximately $50,000. The Trombone Shorty Foundation hopes to continue the annual event, and expand into different countries; a 2025 Havana trip is already in the works.

For Rodríguez, who recently moved to New Orleans, the effect of this musical exchange is tangible. He's noticed more musicians who are open to collaborating across borders, and is working on new music with artists who have attended Getting Funky in previous years.

"Just jamming changes everything," he says. "That changes the minds of people; that changes the sound."

The connections made during Getting Funky have led to a variety of opportunities for students on both sides of the Gulf of Mexico. Foundation alto saxophonist Jacob Jones credits the trip for broadening his way of thinking while playing music; Deezle says he wants to get Cuban trumpeter and bandleader Fabio Daniel on a track; Primera Linea may perform at San Francisco's Outside Lands festival in August. 

"To be able to facilitate that, and give to these young musicians of Cuba, is unbelievable," Andrews says of the program. "It's just a blessing to be able to be a blessing and help out the next generation, and help those musicians see a brighter future."

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