1955 Born in Hartford, CT, to Ethan and Elizabeth Bassford of West Simsbury, a small town nearby. A TV arrives a couple of years later and an interest in music surfaces. Falls in love with Perry Como’s voice and cannot resist sneaks out after bedtime once a week to listen to his variety show. Interest turns to action: Attempts to imitate Mickey Mouse’s cymbal playing in the Mickey Mouse Club theme song with his mother’s pot lids. Also bangs Lincoln Logs on the floor to embellish the rhythms he hears in his father’s early jazz records. These early attempts at musical expression, particularly those involving kitchenware, are discouraged. However, music is very important in the Bassford household. Classical and “easy listening” music during the week on the radio, which is constantly on, and jazz on Saturday mornings when Dad makes breakfast and stacks 78s on the changer. Naturally, Saturday mornings are the best time of the week.
September 1963 Begins study of violin in elementary school, somewhat reluctantly. Trombone, the preferred choice, is not an option because braces are on the horizon.
Christmas 1964 Receives tiny AM radio for Christmas, complete with mono earphone. The implications are profound. Top 40 radio, previously taboo, is now accessible. The radio’s small size and tiny earphone also make it ideal for private listening after bedtime. Early Beatlemania is at its peak, as is AM radio as a cultural phenomenon. Amazing and innovative new sounds seem to appear daily.
September 1966 Inspired by British Invasion bands, constructs one string instrument out of toolbox and begins playing along with the radio.
September 1966 Inherits chromatic harmonica and four-string banjo from grandfather’s estate. Later orders two-sided harmonica (C & G) from S&H Green Stamps catalog for $6.00. Experiments continue.
September 1966 Begins private study of violin with the late Mr. Charles Palmer, teacher extraordinaire. Real music education began here.
1967 Encouraged by Mr. Palmer, first compositions.
1968 Gets a paper route during the summer in order to buy a Klira electric bass and Gibson Thor amplifier.
1968 Buys a one pickup Harmony electric guitar for $5 from a friend’s father during a divorce. The father also throws in a lap steel and a Goya fuzz tone/treble boost for free as he moves out. Unable to figure out the lap steel, concentrates on the guitar and is pleased to discover that much about the violin is transferable to the guitar. Works out most of “Jeff’s Boogie” in two weeks at the beach.
1969 Joins first band, Synopsis, on bass and harmonica. First and last gig in November 1969 at Simsbury Town Hall. Begins to integrate guitar into the band as well later in the year.
Winter 1970 Buys first good guitar (the Gibson SG seen in the photo on the homepage) from fellow student at prep school. The bass and harmonica fall by the wayside.
Summer 1971 Joins Granite (as in “the hard rock music of”). First paying gig at a church in Seymour, CT, for $8. Other gigs follow.
1970-1972 Takes electronic music and basic theory classes at University of Hartford with Edward Miller and Alan Hoffman, respectively. Mr. Hoffman describes him as a “B- musician.”
1971-1972 Granite performs in the Greater Hartford area at local schools, battles of the bands, and the occasional bar gig. Consistently comes in second to hot soul band Too Much Too Soon. The two bands become friends and Granite even performs at Too Much Too Soon’s nightclub. (Too Much Too Soon later gave birth to the highly successful Sturken and Rogers production team and the 90s hit act Rhythm Syndicate.)
1972-1973 Granite breaks up as members go to college (or not). Extensive jam sessions in Trinity College dorm room with former Granite bassist Kim Goldich, keyboardist Barry Douglas, and drummer Craig Peterson result in Small Bones, which eventually plays a gig. Also meet lifelong friend, songwriter and guitarist Bill Flowerree, at this time. See seminal reggae movie The Harder They Come at Trinity College Cinestudio and fall in love with the music.
1973 Carl Sturken comes to Trinity as a freshman. Along with Geoff Lee, there are three extremely hot guitarists in one dorm. Sturken ups the ante with his incredible energy, technical skills, and amazing record collection. Carl joins popular area band Lady, which includes future Cyndi Lauper bassist John K. Tag along as volunteer roadie when time permits. Many late nights listening to music and jamming.
Fall 1974 Buy “Funky Kingston” album by Toots at HMV in London. Semester in Berkeley with 60s activist and current Tikkun publisher Michael Lerner. Room with Bill Flowerree, and become interested in writing songs. Practice guitar six hours a day. A budding interest in jazz grows; see six Sun Ra concerts in two weeks. Take seminar with Joe Pass. Buy first Wailers album and Harder They Come soundtrack.
1975 Form Aardvark with Kim Goldich, Craig Peterson, and guitarist/singer Joe Casioppo. (Barry Douglas declines due to pre-med commitments, becoming a fabulously successful plastic surgeon.) Begin listening to reggae program on local R&B radio station WKND.
1975-1976 Aardvark hits the bar circuit, with Shannon’s in Hartford and The Looking Glass in Stafford Springs, a biker bar and serious candidate for most depressing night spot of the decade, being regular stops. Frat parties at UConn and Trinity pay better, but gatoring preppies are an occupational hazard.
June 1976 At the recommendation of Bel-Tone, auditions for the Mighty Venturians, a local reggae band in need of a lead guitarist to back Marcia Griffiths on a show Bel-Tone is promoting at the Hartford West Indian Club. Is surprised and pleased to get the gig. The Marcia Griffiths show falls through, but the Mighty Venturians get a steady gig playing in the HWIC pool room on Sunday nights.
May-June 1977 Meets Horace Andy at Venturians rehearsal; first recording session follows. Seven songs are recorded with Horace at A&R studios in NYC for producer Everton DaSilva. These tracks, plus three recorded in JA with a different band, become the “In The Light” album, released later that year. Many consider it Horace’s best album. The dub remix by King Jammy is also highly prized by collectors. Both are reissued together on CD by Blood and Fire as part of a 70s retrospective. Helps to found the urban commune Broad Street Men’s Collective in a row house on Columbia Street in Hartford. (This anomaly is an early indicator.) The group attempts to raise working class consciousness by organizing around men’s issues. Since many of the members play instruments, a band is formed with the goal of performing at political events and publicizing the group’s activities.
September 1977 Joins cover band Spanky as a substitute during a slack Venturians period, then decides to stay full time, as the cover scene in CT is thriving. The band stays very busy between playing high school proms and local bars. Continues to visit Bel-Tone Records and friends in the reggae scene. “In The Light” appears in Hartford record shops around November. Sales are brisk.
July 1978 At Bel-Tone’s suggestion, meets CT rock legends the Scratch Band, (who he says are the only other white people who ever come into his shop to buy records). They are looking for a guitarist to replace GE Smith, who is moving to NYC. The Scratch Band is a huge step up in musicianship, popularity, and professionalism from Spanky. Plus their omnivorous tastes in music match his, and they are smart and hip. This is the big break! Auditions, is hired, then fired after two weeks of rehearsals. Despondent, returns to Spanky.
December 1978 Spanky ignominiously dissolves after two band members cancel a gig because they don’t want to drive in the snow. Disgusted, discouraged, and flat broke, leaves music altogether and takes a job at the Hartford Courant photocopying and filing ads.
March 1979 Over the winter, the Blue Spark Men’s Collective band slowly mutates into a Latin Jazz band, Cocinando, rehearsing in the collective’s basement, much to the neighbors’ disgust. Soon they need a bass player. After hearing nearly a dozen auditioners fail to play “Lively Up Yourself,” disgustedly goes downstairs and plays the line correctly. Much to his surprise, is offered the job and accepts. Retirement is over as Cocinando begins playing fern bars across Central Connecticut. A few months later, joins Hartford punk/nostalgia rockers Billy and the Buttons, on guitar. The band gets a gig at CBGBs, then punk rock mecca. Someone hears the band and recommends that he audition for rock legend John Cale.
July 1979 Auditions for John Cale. In a hint of things to come, meets Ras Karbi in the elevator of 251 West 30th Street on the way in. Doesn’t get the gig, coming in second, but Cale’s kind words inspire him for the first time to contemplate leaving Hartford and to move to NYC.
July 1979 Auditions for John Cale. In a hint of things to come, meets Ras Karbi in the elevator of 251 West 30th Street on the way in. Doesn’t get the gig, coming in second, but Cale’s kind words inspire him for the first time to contemplate leaving Hartford and to move to NYC.
December 1979 While preparing to move to NYC. Lister Hewan-Lowe from Island calls, looking for Horace Andy to record a new album for his personal label. With Lister’s help and encouragement, the two Andys reunite for a series of shows, including a gig at My Father’s Place with a very young Joan Jett on New Year’s Eve 1980. Afterwards, Horace says, “You should come to Jamaica. You’d play on a lot of records and the girls would love you.” Plans for a move to New York are scrapped on the spot.
January  1980 While waiting for a Jamaican work permit to be approved, joins Frankie Knick and the Country Knights, an astonishingly good local C&W band with a 3000 song repertoire. Performs around CT in a variety of settings, wearing a variety of matching polyester shirts, for $5 over union scale. Frankie is a great singer and a a generous bandleader, and his fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach is great ear training and adds a lot of C&W licks to the trick bag.
July 1980 With Horace Andy, arrives in Kingston during the height of the 1980 election, the most violent in the country’s history. After three terrifying days in Kingston, temporary lodgings are arranged with Studio One veteran Freddie McKay and his family in Portmore. Spends the next two weeks mostly indoors, horrified by the daily body count.
August 1980 Attends Independence Day concert at the Carib Theatre with Horace Andy and Freddie McKay. Backstage, legendary producer Junjo Lawes asks what he is doing there. Freddie and Horace explain that he is a visiting guitarist from America who has come to work with Horace. Junjo asks them to bring him with them to Channel One when Freddie is scheduled to record. The day of the session, Horace returns to Hartford, appalled by the violence and unable to collect the royalties that were supposed to finance the recording. Goes to Channel One with Freddie, where he meets people who will figure in his life from then on: Winston “Bo Pee” Bowen, Winston Wright, and Roots Radics. Bo Pee becomes an instant friend and he records two songs, one with Michael Prophet and on with Barrington Levy. Junjo likes the tracks and finds him on Idler’s Rest next day to pay him, promising more work. A second session for the Jewels with Leggo follows at Harry J.
September 1980 Meets American harmonica player Jimmy Becker at Channel One. A veteran of the Chicago blues scene, Jimmy is already established on the scene, playing with Lloyd Parks and We The People and doing sessions. Jimmy gives vital advice: always walk with your instrument; it’s free advertising and explains what you are doing here. Jimmy invites him to Skateland to see We The People, who are playing that Friday night. Bo Pee is in the band also. The earth moves: WTP is one of the greatest bands he’s ever heard in his life.
September-October 1980 Kingston is hot as the 1980 General Election approaches. Following Jimmy’s advice, starts walking five days a week from studio to studio in Kingston, carrying his guitar and looking for work. Singer Ruddy Thomas, engineering at Joe Gibbs, is an early sympathizer and occasionally allows him to plug in and practice between sessions. Ijahman Levi hears him and hires him to play on “Tell It To The Children.” Joe Higgs is in the studio. Impressed, he starts to spread the word. A gig opens up with the band Current Affairs at the Ocho Rios Hilton and Bongo Herman urges him to take it. It will get him out of Kingston until the election is over.
October-December 1980 Returning to Kingston on days off from the Hilton, records “If I Follow My Heart” on Dennis Brown’s “Foul Play” album as his audition for Errol Thompson at Joe Gibbs. Word spreads on the North Coast about a hot young American guitarist firing off scorching solos in between the crab races and the variety acts at the Hilton. After five weeks, the band is fired, but by this time the election is over and he returns to Kingston. Sessions for Junjo, Joe Gibbs, and others follow, including the classic tracks “Fire House Rock” (later to reappear decades later in Grand Auto Theft III in a Scientist dub remix as “The Mummy’s Shroud), “Gunman,” and “Boxing.” Lloyd Parks is in the studio for his guitar solo on Dennis Brown’s “The Cheater” and hires him for a session with young singer Portia Morgan. Culture asks him to tour the States in December; a week later Lloyd asks him to join We The People, an offer he accepts joyfully. When the tour with Culture falls through, he goes home for Christmas. What happened next can be found here.
January-June 1981 Moves from Freddie McKay’s apartment in Portmore to the back of a dress shop in Kingston. Starts playing local shows with Lloyd Parks and We The People; the first is a show for the employees at Desnoes & Geddes, brewers of Red Stripe beer. The second is a concert at Skateland, the band’s home base in Kingston, which immediately becomes his favorite place to play. Since Skateland is a favorite hangout for artists and producers, the volume of session calls increases. A series of shows opening for Peaches and Herb introduces him to the uptown audience as well as the downtown sufferers. A&M Records signs Dennis Brown and the two tracks he recorded at Joe Gibbs are included, mistakenly credited to Willie Lindo, on Dennis’ A&M debut album “Foul Play.” It his major label debut.
June-August 1981 First major US tour. Backed by We The People, Dennis Brown tours the States and Canada for the first time, playing to a crowd of over 80,000 at a concert in Washington, DC. After the US leg, the band returns to Jamaica for Reggae Sunsplash, backing Dennis, Carlene Davis, and a number of other artists. The We The People set at Sunsplash introduces Dean Fraser’s legendary reworking of “Redemption Song” to the world for the first time, and climaxes with a ferocious guitar/bass duel on Lloyd’s “Trenchtown Girl.” The show is his introduction to the international reggae community.
September-October 1981 Records album with Rolling Stones sax player Bobby Keys at Dynamic Studios. Due to business problems, the complete album is never released, though one track, “Sitting On The Dock of the Bay” turns up decades later on a compilation album.