Roots reggae group John Brown’s Body to headline Mountain Music Series concert Friday
Steamboat Springs — Mixing the old with the new, roots reggae group John Brown’s Body (JBB) is a constant force within the reggae scene.
With electrifying live performances and critically-acclaimed albums, JBB has forged a legacy since the Boston band got its start in 1995.
In April, the eight-piece band released its newest album, “Kings And Queens,” which is a crafted balance between classic JBB roots and new sound with a heavier styler than most modern reggae offerings.
Traveling throughout Europe, New Zealand and the U.S., the group will be in the state that’s shown it support and encouragement from the beginning. At 7 p.m. Friday, JBB will take the stage in Gondola Square to headline the final Mountain Music Series concert for the summer. Then, on Saturday, the group will head to the quintessential venue, Red Rocks, to share the stage with bands such as Sublime and Pepper at this summer’s Reggae on the Rocks show.
Earlier this week, Explore Steamboat had a chat with JBB drummer Tommy Benedetti about the band’s new material, inspiration and life on the road.
Explore Steamboat: What is it that makes JBB unique? Is it the new take on reggae music and fusing all those different styles of music together within that context?
Tommy Benedetti: I feel like we have an identifiable sound. We’ve been around for almost 20 years now with a sound and style that is identifiable. We try to keep the musicality high; even though people may come in and out of the band, we try to keep the music consistent and continue to grow. We see a lot of three-piece horn sections now, and that was the benchmark of our sound. Back in the day, with Jamaican acts in the early 1990s, they didn’t have horns sections; it was done with keyboards. We just went out there and brought our whole horn section.
ES: How did you guys develop this style of music that blends roots reggae, dub, electronic, funk and ska?
TB: I didn’t grow up playing reggae music. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, and when I moved here, that turned me on to different music. But I was raised listening to the rock legends like Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, etc. I always liked hitting the drums hard, but traditional reggae drummers don’t hit it hard; they develop a bigger, beefy sound. JBB is an eight-piece and has the sound of those horns with the Hammond organ and bass rig that add something extra to the overall sound.We follow our inspirations and instincts and are fans of each other’s playing. We know each other really well and follow the music wherever it takes us. It’s hard to put a finger on it, but our music keeps developing and exposing different layers. We are always trying to keep it fresh for ourselves, and the songs keep getting better. The thing about our music and a lot of reggae music is that each member is a piece that contributes something. If you break it down and solo things out, each member has a bigger picture in mind, and that’s the groove and the pocket of each tune. Each has a key contribution to the overall sound. Some reggae music may sound simple in its approach, but there is a lot going on under the surface.
ES: This new album sounds a bit different than what you guys normally do. What was the initial idea or inspiration when you guys created this record?
TB: It has a lot of newer material. Even though our tour schedule keeps us pretty busy, we are always working on new music. Elliot — lead vocalist — has been writing a lot, which is a great thing. We are concentrating on getting new music together more frequently than we have in the past, and currently, we have five or six tunes recorded in Boston that will come out in the beginning of next year. The songs are all part of the lineage and history of the music that we love. This album has a nice flow to it, because everyone got really creative with these songs. Each one has the ability to stand on its own. We’ve been playing for 20 years at this point, and we love playing different styles and different kinds of music. That variety lends itself a lot to our unique sound. For me, drumming with reggae dub music is over-the-top creative and can be beautifully simple. But, it’s deceiving, because it’s powerfully challenging at the same time. I love the drum, bass, the whole vibe we are influenced by. Sometimes, it may have those sonic textures and minor key stuff leaning it more toward music from the U.K. Then we also have the horns coming in and out.
ES: Even though you guys are originally from the Boston area, it seems like you have quite the following in Colorado. Any ideas as to why that is?
TB: We’ve been coming out there for years since the band has been around. It was one of the first places we branched out. We even did a free show at the Fox Theater in Denver back in the day. In Denver alone, there are a half dozen historic venues that offer a unique situation. As a band, you can play 10 shows there, but you can’t do that in many other states. Reggae is a sound people relate to, and the music scene in general is out of control there. People don’t just bury their heads in reggae music, but they love a bunch of different music. It’s all represented out there, and people are so supportive. It’s a hotbed of music in Colorado.
ES: As a seasoned musician, so to speak, what are some of the things you have learned over the years touring all over and recording new music?
TB: It’s not easy, I’ll be honest. We’ve been in the business for a long time, and we are at the point now that we are comfortable with our sound and with where we are with our tour schedule. With music, we are always trying to get better at our instruments, writing and recording; that is our life’s pursuit. I would say one of the big things I’ve learned is to try not to pay attention to all the hoopla of the media and to not worry about the popularity contest of everything. And to have a good show for JBB, it’s hard to put a finger on it, but when we come off stage, you can just feel it.
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Witches and goblins and ghosts, oh my!