America’s reggae comes to Lionshead
VAIL CO, Colorado
John Brown’s Body’s sound is not something the band ever really talked about or tried to put into words. The American reggae group has a modern style all its own, which is something drummer and founding member Tommy Benedetti says has always been the goal.
“Things get mixed up. It’s hard to put words on it,” Benedetti said. “It’s a lot of more modern influences these days. It comes out to Radiohead or, sonically, a lot of the dubstep and DJ stuff that’s also happening today.”
JBB’s latest album, “Amplify,” received accolades such as a No. 1 Billboard Reggae Chart debut and an iTunes Top-10 Reggae Records selection for 2008.
The group formed 14 years ago between Ithaca, NY. and Boston, Mass. Benedetti met many of the his bandmates at the Berkley College of Music, where he got turned on to reggae music – not generally known for emanating out of the northeastern U.S.
“Those guys at Berkley turned me on to a lot of that stuff. I didn’t have too much experience playing reggae when I was there. But they turned me on to it, and it certainly stuck,” he said.
The band faced a major turning point, however, in 2006 after the death of its bassist, Scott Palmer, who had been with the group for about three years.
“He made a huge impact on the band, not just sonically. He came into the band when we started to go, musically, in a different direction – a little bit heavier, a lot of drum- and bass-centered music. So he was incredibly important to the evolution of the band,” Benedetti said.
When Paler passed away in the summer of 2006, it was clearly a changing of the guard for JBB. Some members wanted to move on, and that seemed to be the right time to do it.
Backed by founders Benedetti and vocalist Elliot Martin, the band began the process of rebuilding, and they have since put together a group that seems to stick.
“We had a lot more music left to give, and we saw it as an opportunity to refocus the music and come with a fresh approach and some new players,” he said.
The current eight-piece JBB, which we will see Thursday during a free show in Lionshead, is comprised of Benedetti on drums, Martin on vocals, as well as a bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, and three horns. It’s a group that Benedetti says is really crushing and he expects to stick together for a while.
While the band acknowledges and respects the music’s island roots, they do not try or want to play Jamaican reggae.
“We play our own version of it with our own inspiration,” Bendetti said. “We certainly dip from that well, of course, but we’re not singing about the same things, and we don’t want to. But we’ve toured with all the greats, like Burning Spear and Jimmy Cliff, and backed a lot of the greats, like Justin Hinds and The Meditations. They generally all have respect for what we do because they can see that we are trying to be ourselves.”
With a large stage presence, JBB’s live show is characterized by an enclave of sounds, textures and visual stimuli. And they love playing Vail.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Benedetti said. “We always have a really, really good time in Vail. So I’m so psyched that we’re going to be able to get back. I think we played this street gig two or three years ago, and it was off-the-grid fun.”
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