Simmer Down - Book Review by Jamaican author and broadcaster Barbara Blake Hannah
SIMMER DOWN - MARLEY, TOSH, LIVINGSTON
John Masouri is one of the few excellent writers whose knowledge of everything 'reggae' has made them the historians of the genre. Blessed are we citizens of reggae-land Jamaica, inheritors of the music that made Jamaica a world-known and world-respected nation, for the history of our music needs its scribes – especially those who love it as much as John Masouri does.
This, his third major book on reggae following his books Stepping Razor: The Life of Peter Tosh” and “Wailing Blues: the Story of Bob Marley's Wailers”, Masouri adds now to the reggae library with “SIMMER DOWN: Marley, Tosh, Livingston”. It's a thick book but, as the writer himself introduces it: “SIMMER DOWN isn't another book about Bob Marley, but the vocal group he formed back in the early sixties with Peter Tosh and Bunny Livinston. These are the faces that deserve to be carved on reggae's Mount Rushmore.”
Masouri starts the story with his own life as a teenager growing in a post-Windrush Britain where the new sounds coming from West Indian house parties in the early 60s were drawing young white kids like moths to the reggae flame that never went out in him. Weaving the historical thread between the musical hits of England, America and Jamaica at that time, he describes the social, political and musical world in which the three young singers grew up and grew into The Wailers.
The book is full of detailed information that shares the in-depth reasearch Masouri has recorded from noted sources from the lengthy list of Jamaicans who have made the music great. The book records the dates, studios, producers, musicians who played on tracks, sales, performances and the people in the lives of these three special men.
Name-dropping occurs in every paragraph and SIMMER DOWN shares stories with details. We enjoy knowing more about the humble musical beginnings of so many reggae superstars and learn details of what it was like for the young artists to work with Coxsone at Studio One and The Skatalites. There's the famous story of the Wailers, Scratch and the bottle of yellow liquid that burnt a hole in a wood table when Peter smashed it.
It's interesting to read more details of the Wailers growing into America's Black Power philosophy and then into Rastafari, despite the repressive political climate at home. SIMMER DOWN reveals that the Wailers' first appearance in Rasta outfits with Rasta drummers among the backing musicians caused the audience to boo them off the stage. It was a rude awakening for them all, but not a deterrent.
There is more detail in SIMMER DOWN on the Wailers' relationship with Johnny Nash and also about the meeting and eventual signing with Chris Blackwell's Island Records. But a special part of the story comes from Jamaican actress Esther Anderson whose relationship with Bob included her taking the iconic photo of Marley smoking a spliff that has been immortalized not only on the 'Burnin' album cover, but posters, T-shirts and Marley memorabilia of all kinds.
SIMMER DOWN credits her influence with Bob's writing of “Burnin' And Lootin'” and especially “Get Up Stand Up'. “Bob and I wrote the original song in about twenty minutes,” she reports, explaining it further in some of the most interesting pages of SIMMER DOWN's excellent tale. She is there when the Wailers start breaking up and the story comes to an end, emerging as three brilliant Jamaican artists who as solo acts continued the global sweep of sweet reggae music.
It's always good to know more about Bob, Peter and Bunny. Just when you thought you already knew everything. SIMMER DOWN is a book that makes you realise that the half has never been told.
Good work, John Masouri. ONE LOVE.
Barbara Blake Hannah - Jamaican author, broadcaster and founder of Jamaica's Reggae Film festival