I’m thrilled to announce my newest musical project – Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub (Facebook page). We are a live dub reggae band in the tradition of the great Jamaican studio and backing bands amp; producers such as King Tubby, Scientist, Lee “Scratch” Perry, Roots Radics, The Upsetters, Sly amp; Robbie, The Revolutionaries etc. The band will also feature my original music.
This project is roughly 30 years in the making. Some might be surprised to see me starting a Reggae band, but those that have known me since I was about 14 or 15 years old wouldn’t be surprised at all. My first real love musically was Reggae music. Of course I heard all the same stuff everybody else heard growing up in the U.S. but it wasn’t long after my Classic Rock phase that I “discovered” Reggae. Ironically, it was the day Bob Marley died that I really became aware of his music. I was listening to WXRT in the car when they announced his death and then played “Buffalo Soldier”. I would like to be able to sound more hip and say that I knew Bob Marley amp; the Wailers music from the early days, but the fact of the matter is that I had just turned twelve yrs old only eight days before Bob Marley died! Of course it was the rhythm and groove that really grabbed me initially and stuck with me. It immediately sparked my imagination and had me hearing the music in terms of feeling and colors rather than envisioning notes on paper. I had been playing drums for two years by this time, so I had some chops (not much) and could read music.
So, like many people all over the world, the whole thing started with Bob Marley amp; the Wailers. Over the course of time I started buying BMW records – every one of them on Island before I started discovering the earlier Jamaican releases. From BMW I discovered Jimmy Cliff, Steel Pulse, Black Uhuru, Gregory Isaacs, Toots amp; the Maytals, Dennis Brown, Burning Spear, Yellowman, Frankie Paul. I pretty much became obsessed with the music. I of course loved Roots Reggae and “One-Drop”, but I was also really into the DJ stuff at that time as well. In Reggae when they speak of DJ, they’re not talking about someone spinning records, they’re referring the the singer or rapper, or “sing-j”. Yellowman was King at this time, and me and my friends wore out “Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt”!
I didn’t start playing along with the records right away – I waited probably for a year or two before I even tried to play along. I just listened to them a lot. Eventually I thought that I had internalized the feel enough as to where I could try to play along on the drums. With Reggae the entire feel and rhythm is like North American music turned inside out. You can’t just sit down and do it. You have to be able to feel it first. The phrasing on the drums is also very different. Very rarely do drummers end a fill or phrase with a crash on beat one. Instead they’ll end it on beat four, or the “and of four”. This is contrary to everything you train yourself to do as a rock, funk, etc. drummer. I don’t remember the first record I played along with, but other than the Bob Marley records I did spend A LOT of time playing with Steel Pulse’s “True Democracy”, and Black Uhuru’s “Red” and “Tear it Up – Live”. I pretty much learned every note that Steve Nesbitt and Sly Dunbar played on those records. I used to walk home from school faster than usual so that I could get behind the drums and play to those records! Later I did the same thing with Style Scott on Gregory Isaacs’ “Night Nurse”. Those tempos just blew me away.
Eventually as a professional drummer I was able to work in some reggae bands back in Boston (shout out to Hot Like Fire!) and then here in Chicago. But that work eventually faded from me, however the love of the music has never waned. I enjoy a lot of post-80’s Dancehall Reggae but most of it I’m not very fond of. The music took a sharp turn at a certain point and the electronics took over to the detriment of the music (in my opinion). Very rarely did I hear a Dancehall record that was strong from start to finish. To me it was like Reggae on crack. The live shows were horrible. The songs would last 20 seconds before the band would “wail it up” and start again and play the frenetic shit for another 20 seconds and then stop again. Stop and start, stop and start, stop and start. The groove was lost. Everything was too fast. I still hear DJ’s who’s sets are like this. They won’t go 10 seconds without talking over the record obnoxiously or stopping the record just as the groove is getting established. That’s not the music I fell in love with. Again, don’t get me wrong, I do like a lot of Dancehall (I’ve written some music in that style), but I think the majority of it is not very good.
So, it’s taken me many many years, but after the New Year (with encouragement from my beautiful soon-to-be wife Yanira) I decided to rekindle my passion for this music and start my own band. We won’t be playing “Three Little Birds” or “Don’t Worry Be Happy”. Believe me, I had to do that more than anyone should have to endure. I want to focus on the sound and groove that the great musicians and producers created back in the day in Jamaica. My goal is to use that as a foundation and continue to write original music that pays tribute to that style but also represents who I am as a musician. True, I can’t think of one Reggae band lead by a white drummer, but I’m sure I’m not the first! Whatever the case, we plan on letting the music do the talking and we hope you will come listen and dance.