Since their reunion in 2009 as a full-time act, Kansas City's reggae lifers of the Blue Riddim Band have been at it nonstop. Last year, they released Tribute, a collection of covers that pay homage to forefathers of ska, reggae, and dub, and they recently issued a version of their 1982 classic, "Nancy Reagan," featuring toasting vocals from icon Big Youth.
We spoke with Blue Riddim Band's Todd "Bebop" Burd regarding the band's new release and plans for his label, Rougher Records.
The Pitch: Was it your connections from back in your early years that got you hooked up with Big Youth?
Yes. Big Youth has been an avid supporter of the group dating back to our 1982 appearance at Reggae Sunsplash in Montego Bay, Jamaica. We toured with him as his backing band in 2000. We talk often, and his advice has been invaluable to us. He was very excited that the band got back together and, after hearing our latest album, Tribute, was anxious to voice over our cult hit "Nancy Reagan." It is a concept that has been in the works for a while, and, obviously, we are blown away that we could actually see this project materialize. It's very humbling to work with an originator of the music and true reggae royalty, but he's super easygoing.
What led to the band forming its own label?
The label was formed by myself and my partner, Emily Madison. We both play in bands and have faced the same stigma of being reggae bands from the Midwest. We talked about how people around here tend to be ashamed to represent our area and always look elsewhere for "real music." We talked about the need to have an administrative body outside of our bands to handle the business end of the music. I realized that after 30-plus years of playing and producing this music that my skills combined with Emily's would present a formidable label that could compete on an international level. It is a full-time job for two people, but we feel that that the Internet has leveled the playing field, and, with hard work, anything is possible. We are pleased with the results thus far and intend to keep looking for artists to add to the roster.
You'd mentioned that you've got upcoming releases from some legends of Jamaican music. Any you can share thus far?
I'd like to expand on this question a bit. It is important to have a basic understanding of the dynamics of reggae music today. You basically have two camps: the dance-hall or modern style of the music, and you have the old-school, roots crowd. For better or worse, these two groups do not see eye to eye. The roots crowd views the dance-hall crowd as promoting violence through lyrics and forsaking the music past, and the dance-hall crowd views the roots crowd as out of touch with Jamaica's ever further trend towards hip-hop and rap. Old music is referred to as "parents' music" these days in Jamaica. The truth of the matter is that while dance hall is a part of the evolution of the music, it has, in fact, forsaken its beginnings.
Inasmuch as our new album, Tribute, is a salute to the many, many artists that were forgotten and overshadowed by Bob Marley, it has garnered the attention of more than a few of the old guard, including Big Youth. You have to understand that the reggae that most Americans hear is long since done in Jamaica. An entire body of great music has evaporated from the collective consciousness of the Jamaican people. With Blue Riddim Band's history and deep love of the old music, it was only natural that some of the old cats would want to collaborate. We've been there and done that before, and the respect is mutual.
We currently have in the works a series of singles with the great Bob Andy [of the Paragons], pending his recovery from an illness. We have also spoken with Leonard Dillion (aka the Ethiopian) and plan on working with him, as well. There are also others that have shown interest. It is both humbling and awe-inspiring to not only talk with some of the legends we grew up listening to and to hear them say, "You guys are doing a good thing," but it's also just plain fuckin' cool as shit to even be in the arena of consideration by these pioneers of some of the greatest music ever recorded.