Few genres ride the popularity roller coaster quite like reggae. One year, a smash hit brings it to the mainstream; the next, it’s tossed aside.
One thing that has remained constant is the Jamaican reggae fusion band Third World, an offshoot of Inner Circle in the early 1970s. The group won international acclaim in 1978 with the hit, “Now That We Found Love,” has had eight chart albums in the United States, including the Stevie Wonder-produced “You’ve Got the Power” (Columbia, 1982) and has won the U.N. Peace Medal.
In 1999, reggae again has taken the back seat. It’s too bad, because the group’s Gator Records debut album, “Generation Coming” (released March 9), contains one of the more radio-friendly tracks in recent reggae memory: the first single, “Reggae Party,” featuring Shaggy and Bounty Killer. It’s likely to go unheard outside the band’s loyal fans, and that dismays longtime member Richard “Bassheart” Daley.
“I’d like to see it get played,” the bassist said recently, “but what can you do to go beyond how to make reggae popular? We’ve exhausted our options over there. Some of our greatest songs, they weren’t interested in them. Who decides who is worthy today? Is it the people who listen or the people who decides what plays? It’s a business now. But we feel pretty good about it and just try to remain true artists.”
Third World has never been about getting played on the radio, Daley said.
“I reflect back to 1978 when we bumped into our first hit record, ‘Now That We Found Love,’ ” he said. “We didn’t go into the studio and say, ‘We’re going to make a hit,’ nor did we care to have a hit. We’re just a band that plays for what feels good at the time. We didn’t know we’d have a record that would end up on the charts. We didn’t think we were good enough. We hoped that one day that we would be popular, but we didn’t know about the criteria, that when Billboard has you in the Top 20 it signifies you are a happening band, that you’ve arrived. When we were doing a tour down in Guyana, I mean, what kind of band goes to Guyana? The only thing we knew about Guyana at the time was the Jonestown Massacre; anyway, when we were there, we heard we were climbing up the Billboard chart. We jumped up and down and screamed, but then we said, ‘What does that mean?’
“Then afterwards, we ended up coming to Los Angeles and meeting Stevie Wonder and recording. Then you’d see band members subscribing to Billboard and for most it became part of the whole ritual. We decided, ‘Let’s make our music regardless what is happening on the periphery,’ but we got more chart-oriented, we let it dictate what we do and what we shouldn’t do. We got caught up in that whole thing.”
Before recording “Generation Coming,” the group went through a jolt. K. Michael “Ibo” Cooper (keyboards) and William “Root” Stewart (drums) left, leaving Daley, singer-guitarist William “Bunny Ruggs” Clark and guitarist Stephen “Cat” Coore as the only remaining original members. Tony “Tuption” Williams took over on drums, and Rupert “Gypsy” Bent Jr. is the new keyboardist.
“You’ve known these guys since you were a kid from school days,” Daley said of his former band mates. “We’ve been all over the world with them, doing all kinds of things. We shared the same dream when we were like 15 or 16, and one day they said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore.’ It does hurt a bit, they’re like family, but it’s not like they died. We’re still friends. It lives on.
“Since we have two longstanding members who have left us, we decided to do something else. We went into the studio and said, ‘Let’s record what we feel like, about love and what we know about,’ so this album is all about that.”
Third World has lasted 26 years, Daley said, because it was built around a concept.
“We write songs about love, we were doing the Mandela message in our music from way back in the early ’70s before it was in vogue,” he said. “We believe in that concept; that kept the band together more than anything. It wasn’t about the members in the band, it wasn’t about me, it wasn’t about the lead singer; it was about what we believed in.”
BWF (before we forget): For more on Third World on the Web, visit www.bigmouthrecords.com.
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