Music Monday: “Simmer Down” – The Wailing Wailers

How Motown is this album cover?
How Motown is this album cover?

“Peter Tosh loved to fight for his beliefs,” Froggy trailed off, clearly lost in nostalgia. As we drove through the Junction pass from Kingston to Annotto Bay, Froggy went on to share stories from decades past about the dramas among the reggae greats, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.

Froggy has worked for Peace Corps Jamaica for longer than anyone else, and throughout his lifetime has met many interesting people and lived through many changes in the socioeconomic climate of Jamaica. When I struck up a conversation with him about roots reggae of the 1960s and -70s, it became clear that I’d struck a right chord. He had so much knowledge to share!

It was in our conversation that I learned about the dramas between Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, who were two of the three original Wailers, or as they were known in 1964, the Wailing Wailers. Talking with Froggy that day felt like tapping into another time, another Jamaica.

Today I share one of the Wailing Wailers’ first songs off of their namesake album, “Simmer Down.” Before reggae, there was ska. Before Bob was a dreadlocked Rasta, he was a Wailing Wailer.

Ska music came about in the late 1950s in Jamaica and was the precursor to reggae and rocksteady music. It was heavily inspired by American jazz and R&B music of the time, combining a walking bass line with a rhythm on the upbeat*. Along with the genre came new dance styles and new club scenes.
Dancing the ska

There’s a saying in Jamaica – “When America sneezes, Jamaica catches a cold” – which means that Jamaicans have the tendency to grab onto bits of American culture, rework them, and create something entirely their own and with a greater intensity than the original influence. If ska music was the result of a jazzy sneeze, I’m so glad that Jamaica came down with that cold (sorry about that terrible pun, I couldn’t help myself).


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