Words by Jesse Serwer
Well before “Old Town Road” — well before hip-hop existed, even — Jamaica’s deejays were taking inspiration from the Wild West into the dancehall, positioning themselves as horse-riding, outlaw gunslingers. Country and western, and also rhythm and blues, are deeply embedded in reggae and dancehall, with so many of the earliest tunes in the genres being distinctly Jamaican adaptations of tunes from the American songbook.
Foundation deejay Big Youth, one of the first acts to make a full-on recording career by chatting over records, of course comes from this era. So it’s fitting that, for one of his first solo singles in years, he dives into outlaw territory — with a twist, putting his spin on blues icon and rock-and-roll pioneer Bo Diddley’s own paean to the West, “Gunslinger.”
The version of “Gunslinger” featured in the song’s video is actually the remix to a track that’s not yet out in its original form (Stream the remix, out now on all digital service providers, here). The track is from the forthcoming album Red, Gold, Green & Blue, which features reggae greats covering blues classics, reconnecting the dots between Jamaica and the American South.
Red, Gold, Green & Blue is the first project from Trojan Jamaica, a newly-formed label from Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr, and longtime drummer for The Who) and Australian artist Sharna “Sshh” Liguz — not to be confused with the original Trojan Records label (to which its name is clearly a tribute; in a surprising twist, the Trojan name had become legally available for copyright).
The first release from the album, leaked in March, was a Mykal Rose cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put A Spell On You,” a track that reunited the Black Uhuru singer with his old musical partners Sly and Robbie — and also featured guitar work from the essential Jamaican fret man Ernest Ranglin.
Red, Gold, Green & Blue was produced by British producer/musician Martin “Youth” Glover, known for his work with U2 and countless post-punk outfits —in an interesting twist, his nickname, coined in the ’70s, was actually a reference to the one Big Youth himself! The version of “Gunslinger” found in the video, which was directed by Gabriella Blackwood and shot in Jamaica with local dancers Tara Tehrebel and Jacobi Calloway, is a remix of the as-yet unreleased track by Rob Jevons.
Watch the video below. And, if you’re in Jamaica, you can catch Big Youth and Sshh performing and talking “Gunslinger” business tomorrow on TV Jamaica’s Daytime Live.