The Harder They Strum

Introduction

If you saw my interview in Vintage Guitar Magazine, welcome! I’m trying to get the album available as soon as possible. Contact me¬†and I’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready. I’ll probably have a PayPal pre-order link up in a day or two, when I have an approximation of a delivery date. In the meantime, wander around the site and find out a bit more about me.

The Story Of An Album

OK, the cat is out of the bag. My interview with Tom Guerra in the latest issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine has hit the streets. So it’s time to fill out the details. Many of you have been following the halting progress of my solo album over the past couple of years. It’s finally finished (though I’m waiting for the cover art and working on the business end) so I thought I’d tell you about it.

The album is a song by song remake of the famous soundtrack to the movie “The Harder They Come.” I recast all the songs, which were originally vocal tracks, as guitar instrumentals. My idea was to pay homage to the original versions while allowing me to improvise and elaborate on them. It’s called “The Harder They Strum,” which pays homage both to the title of the original album, and to my father, my greatest supporter, who loved plays on words.

Like many Americans, “The Harder They Come” was my first real exposure to the world of Jamaican music. Seeing the movie, and buying the soundtrack, set me on a journey that continues to this day. So it seemed like a natural event to revisit after over 40 years of recording and performing with the best musicians and singers from JA.

When I was planning the record, I wanted to create something that would appeal to the first audience that really accepted me, the roots Jamaicans I recorded with and performed for when I lived there in the 80s. While I was recording it, I always had those people in mind. Would what I was doing make sense to them? Would they sing along with it? Would they dance to it?o I didn’t try to recreate the originals, but when I rearranged something, I did it in a style that I know from my experiences with them that Jamaican audiences enjoy. This decision gave the project focus. But I also wanted to do something that I enjoyed, and something that the non-Jamaicans who loved the original record as much as I did could enjoy as well.

There are lots of reasons to make a record. I’ve played on thousands of them, including my own 45 back in the day, and in most cases the motivation was that someone paid me to do it. That’s a perfectly good motivation, and I’m fine with it. But “The Harder They Strum” wasn’t done with that in mind, necessarily.

I’ve been a working musician since the age of 15. That was a very long time ago. I’m at an age where many of my colleagues, heroes, and mentors have passed on. In baseball terms, I’m probably in the seventh inning, though I’m hoping that I can tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and go a few more innings afterwards.

This may be the only full-length album I get to make. So I wanted it to reflect my personal and musical values all the way through, from start to finish. Every musician and singer who worked on the project (with one exception, who simply refused to accept any money for his participation, much to Local 802’s consternation) was paid according to AFM and/or SAG/AFTRA rates and regulations. The other professionals were paid what they asked for as well.

I also wanted to document the musical relationships and friendships I’ve developed over my career. So almost everybody who sings or plays on the record, as well as the people who recorded, mixed, and mastered it, is a friend and/or colleague of long standing. I didn’t bring in any big names just for marketing purposes, though some of the people on the record are reasonably well known.

Of the ten songs, seven of them were recorded completely live in the studio. One song consists of two live performances edited together, and the other two songs are also live except for New Kingston’s background vocals, which were added later. Nobody punched in or fixed anything, though we did a bit of cleanup during the mixes. What you hear is pretty much what everybody played at that moment in time. We didn’t use click tracks either, except on one song where the studio monitor system was overloaded by the amount of people singing and playing through it. I didn’t even know that click tracks existed until I left Jamaica and we did just fine without them then. So I figured we’d do just fine without them now.

I’ve been recording for over 40 years, and one of the things I’ve learned over that time is that the process you use to make a record has a tremendous amount to do with the outcome. If you record a song one instrument at a time, you gain precision, perfectibility, and clarity, at the expense of human interaction. There’s nothing wrong with this if that’s what you want. Most of the records you hear over the past 20 years were made this way, to a greater or lesser extent. I do this all the time for other people. But I didn’t want to do it myself. I came up recording in a room to four track as part of a seven piece rhythm section, and that was a lot more fun than most of what I do now. I still love playing in the studio, but now it’s more like doing crossword puzzles than dancing, which is what it felt like before.

What I enjoy about the process of making music is human interaction, which is maximized when you play live. Plus if I’m going to spend a whole bunch of my own money, I’d rather pay musicians and singers than studio owners. So that’s what I did: I hired a whole lot of people, crammed them into the studio, and recorded them all at once, quickly. It was nerve-wracking, but the fun factor was off the charts, and I think that everybody else felt the same way. You’ll hear that in the music.

The Harder They Strum Track List

1) You Can Get It If You Really Want

2) Stop That Train (Draw Your Brakes)
with Monty Alexander and New Kingston

3) Rivers Of Babylon

4) Many Rivers To Cross

5) Sweet And Dandy
with Soul Sisters Six

6) The Harder They Come
with George Naha and The Blue People (my band)

7) Johnny Too Bad
with New Kingston and The Blue People

8) 007 (Shanty Town)

9) Pressure Drop
with Soul Sisters Six

10) Sitting In Limbo
with Monty Alexander and New Kingston