Words, Photos and Video by Martei Korley
On a hot, sticky day at the end of August, we traveled to Jamaica’s Breezes Negril resort to witness a unique intermingling of the country and reggae music worlds. If such an exchange strikes you as unusual, well then you’ve got a lot to learn about Jamaica, where country music has been a part of the nation’s cultural fabric since it made its way there through the radio back in 1950. (For more on the extent of its influence, see this primer). As reggae artists Freddie McGregor, Busy Signal, Duane Stephenson and L.U.S.T. (the quartet of veteran singers Lukie D, Thrilla U, Singing Melody and Tony Curtis) tell us in our latest LargeUp TV exclusive, country enjoys a place among their earliest musical memories.
We captured those artists, along with Romain Virgo, Etana, Tarrus Riley and country great Larry Gatlin (who teamed with Virgo on a cover of his “All the Gold in California”) as they gathered at the “Reggae Gone Country” event in Negril, celebrating the release of VP Records’ recent compilation of the same name. Several years in the making, Reggae Gone Country is the pet project of VP Records vice president Cristy Barber, who assembled the above talent and put them in the studio with legendary reggae producer and session player Dean Fraser and also roped in Nashville producers John Rich (of Big & Rich and the TV series Gone Country) and Charlie Penacchio. An all-star team comprising of an expanded Blak Soil Band supported by some of Jamaica’s finest session musicians brought it all home (we can’t recall the last time we saw four keyboardists in a reggae session!). While album launches can feel overly business-oriented, the smiling faces of the musicians and artists assembled at this one made it feel more like a reunion of long lost cousins.