The stories associated with Kansas City's Blue Riddim Band have been told and retold for the last three decades.
Yarns have been spun — sometimes even true ones — about the band's many accomplishments: playing Jamaica's Reggae Sunsplash Festival, opening for Bob Marley at the Hoch Auditorium in Lawrence, earning a Grammy nomination, and carrying the torch of Midwest reggae for the better part of 20 years.
Since its heyday, from roughly 1978 to 1987, Blue Riddim has split up and regrouped many times, both under its original name and under aliases such as D.D.I. and New Riddim Band. The story appeared to come to an end with the death of singer Scotty Korchak in 2007.
"More than one of us thought our time had come and gone," bassist Todd "Bebop" Burd says.
Then Burd met Kyle Dykes, a local hip-hop producer known for his work with groups such as Deep Thinkers and the Innate Sounds Crew under his alias, Leonard Dstroy. Dykes knew Burd and drummer Steve "Duck" McLane through his father, Jimmy Dykes, who played with New Riddim.
"Kyle and I kept bumping into each other at the Point," Burd says. "He kept bugging me to lay down some tracks. Initially, I was like, 'What do you want with a bunch of old dinosaurs like us?' We all kind of looked at each other and thought, Well, we better start playing before everyone starts checking out."
So Burd and McLane dropped by Dykes' home studio to test the waters with Blue Riddim alumni Jack "Blacky" Blackett on sax, Joe Miquelon on keys and Jack Lightfoot on trumpet. The chemistry was apparent immediately.
"We wanted to keep it raw, so there wasn't a lot of rehearsal involved," Burd says. "We just pulled out all these old Studio One rhythms. The thing that Blue Riddim is most recognized for is authentically replicating songs from that era. We're not trying to fool anybody — we're a bunch of white guys from KC. But we have Steve and Blacky's tutelage."
Dykes produced Blue Riddim's instrumental rock-steady cuts with an authentic flair reminiscent of dub mixers like Prince Jammy and Scientist. The resulting five-song collection will get a proper release sometime this year on the Innate Sounds label.
"He's making us sound like a million bucks," Burd says. "It's amazing what he was able to do."
The sessions inspired the group to reunite officially under the Blue Riddim name and book a reunion show with local ska and dub outfit the Sex Police. Local reggae veteran Eddie Turner (of Common Ground) has stepped in on vocals, and newbie trombonist Chris Bartak also has joined the ranks. Two members — guitarist Howard Yukon and harmonica ace Jimmy Becker — also will fly in for Friday's Blue Riddim rebirth at the Beaumont Club.
"I don't recall having this much time to rehearse for a show," says Burd, who spent 300 nights a year on the road during Blue Riddim's prime. "We're flattered that people are still interested in what we're doing. As long as people are interested, we're going to keep playing."
The show will serve as an introduction to younger audiences who didn't have a chance to catch Blue Riddim at its height. Formed from a nucleus of hot-shit jazz and R&B players, the group initially took shape around 1976 as Pat's Blue Riddim Band, named for then-keyboardist Pat Pearce and as a play on Pabst Blue Ribbon. Inspired by trips to Jamaica and South Florida, McLane assembled a Kansas City coalition to play a type of music that was still foreign to most Americans.
"Nobody in KC was really ready for reggae," McLane recalls. "One by one they begrudgingly said, 'All right, we'll play this.' Soul music was taking a dive at the time.... By the late '70s, if you weren't P-Funk, there wasn't much strong R&B music to play. Once I got exposed to reggae, I just thought, This is it — 20 years from now, this shit is gonna be on shampoo commercials."
McLane enjoyed a cultural exchange with some of reggae's leading players during annual pilgrimages to Jamaica. He buddied up with Studio One drummer Carlton "Santa" Davis and later enlisted Prince Jammy to mix Blue Riddim's debut album, Restless Spirit.
"We were some of the first white guys down the pike who were sincerely interested," McLane says. "It was like getting schooled every night."
McLane hand-delivered Restless Spirit to Jamaica's leading reggae stations, RJR and JBC, in 1980, spurring the band's appearance at the 1982 Reggae Sunsplash Festival and the popularity of its quirky hit song, "Nancy Reagan."
Burd still has a vivid picture of McLane from that era.
"He used to carry this battery-operated blaster that was 4 feet long and probably took about 12 batteries," Burd says. "It seemed like cutting-edge technology at the time."
Times may change, but the riddims endure.