Live in Vail: John Brown’s Body sends roots music into the future
Vail Daily correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –John Brown’s Body, which plays Saturday night in Vail, may consist mostly of non-dreadlocked white guys from the Northeast, but don’t let the band’s appearance fool you: this is legitimate, progressive reggae music.
Tommy Benedetti, drummer for the eight-piece band, said that while his band’s music – a fusion of traditional, roots reggae with more recent styles like dub, drum-and-bass and modern rock – is clearly rooted in the Jamaican sound that Bob Marley made so popular, it’s an entirely different beast altogether.
“We have our own sound and our own approach to the music, and I think people can see right away that we’re not trying to rip anybody off,” Benedetti said. “We’re not singing about stuff that we don’t live, we’re not singing with fake accents, and we’re not up there trying to be the Wailers or anything. We’re just doing our thing, and we have our sound and our own style that I feel like we’ve created over the years.”
While some old-school reggae purists scoff at non-Jamaican purveyors of the style – and while Benedetti sympathizes with that viewpoint, to an extent – he thinks it is an outdated and close-minded outlook toward his group’s heartfelt and original style.
“When we were first starting out, we’d see a lot of that kind of vibe and that attitude, but there’s really no place for it,” Benedetti said. “I do kind of understand where people are coming from – I like traditional music played by the native culture and people. I love that as well. … But these days, a lot of my favorite reggae isn’t coming from Jamaica, and some of it’s not made by black people or Jamaicans or whatever. … We’ve been in this game a long time, and we’ve backed some of the legendary Jamaicans as well as put out our own records, and I feel like we’ve earned our keep in the business.”
There’s no denying that JBB has earned its keep, with more than 10 years of touring, seven studio releases and countless live shows under its belt. The band’s most cohesive and confident release to date, 2008’s “Amplify” (which was followed by a remix album, “Re-Amplify”), debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard reggae chart. The band’s previous albums also made appearances on the charts alongside other modern, American reggae acts such as Matisyahu, Easy Star All-Stars and Rebelution. To Benedetti, the popularity of these non-traditional reggae bands is natural musical progression at work.
“Anybody can play music,” Benedetti said. “Nobody should be able to tell anybody else you can’t play this style or you can’t play that style because you’re not from here or there. Nobody told Stevie Ray Vaughn he couldn’t play blues; nobody told Chet Baker he couldn’t play jazz. … Music is open to whoever wants to dive in and pay it respect and take it to the next level, and that’s our goal. We would be doing music a disservice if we didn’t try to push ourselves and create a new vibe and add something to the rich history of Jamaican music.”
Like reggae godfather Bob Marley, John Brown’s Body has demonstrated its international appeal with recently completed tours in the United Kingdom and New Zealand and upcoming shows in France, Germany, Belgium and Holland. Benedetti said the band owes much of its recent success – abroad and here in the States – to a renewed focus and zeal in the band.
“I think the band these days is a lot more of a focused product. When people see us, it’s not so disjointed as some people may have seen it in the past,” Benedetti said. “It’s been a phenomenal bunch of years. I think the band’s made real leaps musically and career-wise in the last three years, so that’s a really encouraging sign for me.”
That being said, Benedetti said John Brown’s Body wants to continue progressing and letting its unique roots sound evolve.
“We just want to keep getting better as musicians and as a band and as songwriters, and that’s what keeps us coming back every tour and every record. I think that progress is happening, and if we were ever stagnating and people weren’t happy doing it, then we probably wouldn’t do it,” Benedetti said. “Luckily music still inspires me every day to go back out on the road and meet new people and play tunes. There’s so much to love.”
Aaron Butzen is a freelance writer based in Denver. Check out more of his work at http://www.butzenmedia.com.