By: Brittany Woolsey
When people think of reggae music, Bob Marley usually comes to mind. But Dan Ubick–guitarist/producer of the Lions–acknowledges some possibly lesser-known names. While the band prep for Saturday's show at Alex's Bar in Long Beach, we ask Ubick to reflect on the top five underrated reggae bands that inspired his band's creation and sound.
5. The Mighty Diamonds
They are probably one of the most famous Jamaican vocal-harmony groups. The blend of Tabby, Bunny and Judge's [Donald Shaw, Fitzroy Simpson and Lloyd Ferguson, respectively] three voices is beautiful and has an undeniable harmony. They each have such unique tonalities that sound so good together. Their most famous song, the one that most people would know, is “Pass the Dutchie,” but my favorite is “Diamonds and Pearls.” It has a great groove and lyrics about love making you wealthier than material possessions. The groove is just ridiculous in that song.
4. The Abyssinians
They're underrated and have genius-level originality. There is nobody in the world who sounds like the Abyssinians. Their vocal harmony is insane. Few people can even attempt to do it; they just twist and turn in ways that no other singers do. [Their sound] has the whole Ethiopian influence and spiritual influence. The way they twist their harmonies around melodies is unbelievable. My favorite songs by them are “Jah Love” and “Wicked Men” from one of my favorite records by them, Arise. It has great lyrics and that classic Abyssinian harmony that's just beautiful.
3. The Heptones
[The Lions] got to work with the Heptones quite a bit, and we learned a lot from them. They're one of the most famous groups from Jamaica, but not as many Americans know them unless they're in the reggae scene. I would hope everybody listens to the Heptones. You shouldn't say you know reggae unless you know the Heptones. Their song “Equal Rights” has lyrics so beautifully phrased: “Every man has an equal right to live and be free, no matter what color, class or race he may be.” Then there's “Book of Rules,” used famously in the film Rockers. Barry [Llewellyn] sings it so beautifully.
2. Justin Hinds and the Dominoes
Along with Burning Spear, I think Justin Hinds has one of the most unique and strong voices in reggae. They have this one record called Travel With Love, and it features Bob Marley's rhythm section, the Barrett Brothers, which is the most wicked rhythm section there is. There's a song called “Book of History” from that album, and it's a classic.
1. The Gladiators
They are by far my favorite reggae group. They sing great harmonies, and most of them play instruments as well. They're just incredibly unique. I could recommend about 17 songs by the Gladiators, but I'll give you my top three: “Love and Meditation,” “Mix Up” and “Watch Out.” “Love and Meditation” is off their early Studio One record, and they all play the instruments. The bass line in that song and on that entire record is probably one of the coolest bass sounds I've ever heard. It's so unique and funky. For their bass lines alone, I love the Gladiators.
The Lions play tomorrow night, May 25, at Alex's Bar with Arise Roots. 9 p.m. $8. 21+. Full details here.