Old-School Reggae Legend, Steel Pulse: Going Strong

Correction Oct. 6, 2005

The date of Bob Marley's death was incorrectly stated in this report. The correct date is May 11, 1981.

Acclaimed as the greatest British reggae band when it emerged in 1978, Steel Pulse is perhaps the last great old-school reggae band left. Two of its best recordings have been recently released. The band's former road manager, music critic Tom Terrell, reflects on the group's early days.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

In 1978, Steel Pulse was acclaimed as the first great British reggae band. Twenty-seven years later Steel Pulse is the last great old-school reggae band left standing. Recently the group's best recordings, "True Democracy" and "Earth Crisis," were reissued. Critic Tom Terrell has this insider's account of the band and its music.

(Soundbite of music)

TOM TERRELL reporting:

My first Steel Pulse experience was at London's 100 Club in August '77. It was surreal: a reggae band in Ku Klux Klan robes singing angry songs about racial pride and white oppression to pogoing white punks. My second Steel Pulse experience happened at Washington, DC's 9:30 Club on the day Bob Marley died, May 18th, 1981. I co-produced the sold-out show. Steel Pulse tore the roof off the sucker.

(Soundbite of song)

STEEL PULSE: (Singing) Sounds call ravers got you craving more. Sounds call ravers got you craving for more. Come mek we go deh in a rub a dub. A dis ya ridim drive. Drive the wwhole world. Come mek we go deh in bang diddly bang. I wanna know how you're feeling. Reggae bandwagon is the fsahion that's...

TERRELL: My third Steel Pulse experience was in the summer of '82. The band hired me to road manage their "True Democracy" North American tour. I called it `the heart attack tour.' It was total madness, Toronto to Tempe, 35 shows in 42 days. But every night on stage, the power, the joy, the sheer spirituality of those "True Democracy" songs would just lift you up. With this band, political consciousness and musical ecstasy were one and the same.

(Soundbite of song)

STEEL PULSE: (Singing) Tipped off by informers, dem a watch who come out and come in, yeah. Come a raid I blues dance. Come a raid I blues. Yes, they knew when the time would be right. Run come gate crash I party. Come a raid I blues dance. I come a raid I blues.

TERRELL: It took Steel Pulse eight months to record the follow-up to "True Democracy." "Earth Crisis" finally came out in 1984, Steel Pulse masterpiece number two, big, brash, hard, sweet. "Earth Crisis" was a brand-new reggae pop sound.

(Soundbite of song)

STEEL PULSE: (Singing) Open says a me. Here comes Rasta man. Abracadabra, catch me if you can. I know you'll find it hard to believe that I am the genie of your lamp, and I can do anything you wish. But right now I'm commanding you to dance.

TERRELL: How brilliant is "Earth Crisis"? From politically conscious party jams about the ecology to David Hinds' up front on the mike, starvin' like Marvin Gaye on this song, "Throne of Gold," "Earth Crisis" is nothing less than reggae music's answer to "What's Going On."

(Soundbite of "Throne of Gold")

STEEL PULSE: (Singing) She's my queen. I'm her king man. No love no deh like the love I bring her. In the moring, while I'm waking, waiting for me, arms embracing.

TERRELL: Twenty-three years ago I was Steel Pulse's road manager. Today I'm a music journalist and a photographer. Steel Pulse is still the best live reggae band on Earth. "True Democracy" and "Earth Crisis" are still two of the greatest ever made. Some things never change.

(Soundbite of song)

STEEL PULSE: (Singing) Eli-eli-eli-eli-eli-eli-eli-elay...

BLOCK: Tom Terrell writes about music for the magazines Vibe and Global Rhythm.

(Soundbite of song)

STEEL PULSE: (Singing) ...eli-eli-eli-elay. Oh, the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof now gave man his love, and they reward him with violence. In these last days lend ears to what I say. Man, in his ignorant state, has signed and sealed his own fate. Doctrines of the fallen angels quench eternal flames of hell. Hell fire. I said doctrines of the fallen angels to quench eternal flames of hell. Hell fire.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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