Reggae legends Third World are renowned for hits like 96 Degrees In The Shade, Now That We’ve Found Love,Hooked On Love and a string of albums stretching back to the mid-seventies. Their infectious fusion of reggae, funk and soul arrived complete with Rasta sensibilities and a show-stopping live act that was only slightly affected by the loss of Ibo Cooper and Willie Stewart. Fortunately lead singer Bunny Rugs, guitarist Cat Coore and bassist Richard Daley are still in the band and have recently proven more than capable of delivering Third World’s best album in years.
Patriots was intended to commemorate their thirty-fifth anniversary but fell behind schedule. That was two years ago, but it’s certainly been worth the wait. As well as marking another milestone in their own career, Third World have now set out to celebrate a few of the other artists who’ve meant something to them over the years, as well as highlight several newer talents they see as the future of reggae.
“From there we started to pinpoint those people we wanted to do certain things,” says Cat. “We contacted Stephen and Damian Marley and asked them if they would redo 96 Degrees In The Shade, which they did and we loved how they took the song in their direction and gave it a new sound. We also approached Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffiths and Toots who all said, ‘No problem.’ The sound those artists have is so much part of a nation. It’s a part of Jamaica’s history and will forever be but all of them gave their time and their whole vibes as a gift to us, which was really cool.
“We see them as Jamaicans who’ve carried this music all over the world, putting some serious effort into delivering what we see as a positive message, whether it’s through a love song or a revolutionary song. That’s what we’re celebrating on this Patriots album, so big up artists like Tessane Chin and Tarrus Riley, because their performances are excellent…”
Cat first saw Tessane Chin sing in a rock band at a show in central Kingston. The grand daughter of Jamaican bandleader Kes Chin, she’s a wonderful talent and By Your Side offers fine testament of this. Marcia Griffiths was originally supposed to sing By My Side, except it was in the wrong key for her so they gave her You Make Me Feel So Very Happy instead, which is a song reggae fans will always associate with Alton Ellis, despite Blood, Sweat & Tears’ version. Marcia, like Gregory Isaacs and Toots Hibbert, all started out a long while before Third World graduated from the ranks of Inner Circle back in 1973. Alas, Gregory was ill by the time he voiced Front Door, which is one of his last-ever recordings – not that you’d guess. Cat testifies to Gregory’s indefatigable spirit even whilst suffering from cancer, and still mourns the loss of a friend he praises for his kindness and humour.
As you’ve probably guessed by now, such collaborations didn’t come about because of record company intervention, but genuine affinities. Toots sings up a storm on Island Girl, which Bunny Rugs wrote for him. When I mention that Toots would be considered one of the giants of soul music had he been born in the US, Cat replies that, “surprisingly enough, he’s born in the West Indies and yet he’s one of the giants of soul music, same way!
“When I first joined Inner Circle I was playing these shows that Derrick Harriot and Clancy Eccles used to put on over Christmas and Easter, all of that and we used to back a whole bag load of artists – Ken Boothe, the Mighty Diamonds and many more coming down the line,” he recalls. “In those days the Paragons were still around and the Jamaicans… Also the Chosen Few but Toots was around then too. This was when I was just thirteen. He was a big man to me back then and that was over thirty years ago yet he still looks like the same as he did when we played at the Carib Theatre back in 1969, can you believe that? He’s still the same person, and he’s a tremendous Jamaican musical icon. He’s one of those that is embedded in us. He’s not somebody we can ever leave at home. We have to take him out everywhere with us.”
Roots fans are going to love the rallying call that is Revolutionary People. Also Capleton’s Goodhearted People andFreedom Is A Must. The latter finds Michael Rose in runaway form, and on a song that resonates even more because of what’s been happening in the Middle East. Third World have been unjustly criticised in the past for being too commercial but these reggae ambassadors also have serious credentials where cultural matters are concerned. The United Nations awarded them Peace medals after they’d refused to tour South Africa during apartheid, and a mid-eighties’ release called Lands Of Africa co-starring artists like Freddie McGregor, Aswad, Steel Pulse and Mutabaruka raised both funds and awareness on behalf of Ethiopia’s starving people. Their latest tribute record is The Spirit Lives, which another former Black Uhuru frontman, Junior Reid, sings on the new album. Legendary producer Kenny Gamble wrote this song for Third World after being impressed by their cut of Now That We’ve Found Love, which Gamble & Huff had originally produced with the O ‘Jays. Third World’s cut became an international hit, even rivalling the original.
“Kenny Gamble came to Jamaica, spent time with us and saw how we lived, found out things about our background, our culture and everything and was totally impressed by it,” says Richie. “He was in awe of it and as a matter of fact when he came to Jamaica, two days after his arrival there was a hurricane. He was staying at a hotel in New Kingston that had no water and no lights, but he was entranced by the experience. He saw the spirit of the people and that’s where that song comes from. He wrote it after the rains stopped and this white dove landed on the rails of his hotel balcony rail… He knew then that the storm was over. That’s when he wrote those lyrics, ‘down in Jamaica, one Friday afternoon, a little bird gave us the song and melody…’ It was a very spiritual experience for him.”
It’s no wonder Third World should have “livicated” this new cut of the song to Haiti in the aftermath of that country’s devastation. Gamble & Huff later wrote and produced other songs for their Hold On To Love album, released in 1988. This wasn’t the only major league collaboration they’ve been involved with. Several years earlier they’d joined Stevie Wonder on stage at the 1981 Reggae Sunsplash in Jamaica playing Master Blaster, which he’d written in honour of Bob Marley [who’d died just a few months earlier.] Stevie loved the band so much he invited them to his studio in Los Angeles, where he wrote and produced songs for their You’ve Got The Power album, including hit single Try Jah Love. Cat had first supported Stevie on a Jamaican tour many years earlier, whilst still in Inner Circle. He, Bunny and Richie all comment on what an amazing experience it was to sit down with one of their musical heroes and write songs – despite being called for sessions in the middle of the night!
Bob Marley was another key figure they knew well and supported on a number of occasions, including those famous shows at London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1975, soon after Chris Blackwell had signed Third World to Island Records. Cat was especially close to Bob, and his first wife Donna and Bob’s main squeeze, former Miss World Cindy Breakspeare, were partners in a Kingston crafts shop for a time. Their respective sons Shiah and Damian are best friends, and sang in a group together called the Shepherds as children. This was long before Damian hit with Welcome To Jamdown and teamed up with Nas, or Shiah turned producer and made songs with the likes of Elephant Man, Tessane Chin and Assassin.
Damian and Stephen Marley’s new take on 96 Degrees In The Shade is quite different from the original, but masterful. It’s a radical update of a song Third World wrote about a slave uprising led by Jamaican National Hero Paul Bogle in 1865, and which still rates among the band’s best-ever tracks. They explain the story behind it in Jerome Laperrousaz’s film Made In Jamaica, which also shows Cat and his son Shiah working together in the studio. This same pairing are responsible for That’s All We Have, featuring Tarrus Riley, which is another of the current album’s highlights.
“It’s Shiah’s rhythm track. I went up to visit him where he lives in Jamaica and he was saying that he had this progression and wanted the two of us to finish it. I just basically helped him along,” Cat explains, “then when I heard it back I said, ‘Let me take the track and write something on it.’ Not really with Tarrus in mind, but leaning towards a proper style of rockers, y’know?”
We should mention at this point that King Jammy’s son Trevor “Baby G” James co-wrote Freedom Is A Must and produced the vocal section of that track [although it’s a Third World rhythm.]
Cat, Bunny and Richie all agree that reggae’s future is in good hands given the number of sons and daughters of established names coming through the ranks, and also the flood of talent streaming out of the Edna Manley School Of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston, where former Third World keyboard player Ibo Cooper teaches. Dean Fraser is another old friend of theirs and a man Rugs wishes could be cloned “because reggae music could use at least ten of him.” His sax playing on Always Around is sublime. You’ll find the original cut on Third World’s The Story’s Been Toldalbum but this version is just so damn seductive. Dean has also done his share of nurturing young talent over the years, and it’s gratifying to know that elder statesmen like these aren’t content to sit on their laurels, but take an active interest in bringing forward the artists of tomorrow.
“Jamaican music is always evolving and we are the reggae minstrels so we have to keep that going,” says Cat, who was only thirteen when playing on sessions that led to songs like Eric Donaldson’s Cherry Oh Baby and hits by the Chosen Few, Derrick Harriott and others. “Third World have always been into that. We’ve always been looking to do things that are new, whilst holding on to what is good from the past. You need that attitude, because you can’t just look at what you do and what you did and think that was somehow better. The kids out there, they’re hip man and they’re moving at a very quick rate; a very quick rate.”
Cat was a musical prodigy himself. Classical influences have long been a hallmark of the Third World sound and it stems from Cat’s prowess on the cello, which he studied from infancy. In fact he was so proficient, he played with Pablo Casals at the age of nine and was earmarked for Juilliard before heeding the call and joining a neighbourhood band called the Alley Cats, which is how he got his nickname. Ibo was also classically trained, which helped Third World as they searched to expand the band’s musical palette. Right from the start, they were a self-contained unit that wrote, played and produced their own material for the most part, rather than backing a singer, even after recruiting Bunny Rugs, who is one of most soulful lead vocalists Jamaica has ever produced. [And if you don’t believe me, check out his latest solo album, Time.]
Back in their late seventies/early eighties’ heyday, Black Echoes described them as “the number one reggae / funk crossover band of all time. They’re the only band to fuse the two styles with complete effectiveness and yet not lose that essential vitality of reggae” – this after 12” extended disco mixes of their hits had gone down a treat in clubs, challenging the best of disco and funk from that era.
Thirty years later and this talented band of patriots are still a force to be reckoned with, with or without their celebrity friends.
Originally published in Echoes magazine, April 2011.