Saturday, August 8, 2009

American Reggae of the 1970's & 80's: The Babylon Warriors Put Los Angeles On The Reggae Map

For the next few weeks I plan to highlight American reggae bands who were instrumental in helping to create uniquely American reggae sounds and a reggae scene in cities across the U.S. While ska was cropping up all over the U.S. in the late 70's and early 80's, authentic reggae bands were also helping to grow a grassroots music scene of their own.

While the O.N. Klub in Los Angeles is credited with helping to launch the ska and mod scene in the city, the club also played a big role in helping to make reggae a popular sound throughout the city in the early 80's. One Los Angeles-based reggae band who used the O.N. Klub as a springboard to become one of the more well known reggae bands in the city and throughout California was The Babylon Warriors. The band began when Patrick Barrow and a group of expats from the Caribbean got together to play reggae music in their new home town. It was 1978 and there weren't any other reggae bands in Los Angeles area (though there were other bands in other parts of the U.S. like The Fabulous Titans in San Francisco, The Terrorists in New York City and Blue Riddim Band in Kansas City) . The band started as a ten-piece by playing covers of reggae hits, but by 1979 had slimmed down to a six-piece group that was writing and playing all original songs.

Though the never became a big name in the U.S. reggae scene of the late 70's and early 80's, they did manage to build a substantial local following that helped them get the support slot opening three nights at The Roxy for UB40 in 1981. Often described as an "American reggae band," all the members were originally from various parts of the Caribbean and Africa. Barrow, who moved to L.A. in 1967 and led a band called The Skyliters from 1971-1977, was originally from Belize, as were lead singer Harrington Trapp and bassist Lem Vaughan. Lead guitarist Jymi Graham had moved to L.A. from his native Kingston, Jamaica, while keyboardist Sly Degbor was a native of Ghana who had backed such African stars as Miriam Makeba and Manu Dibango.

The band were dynamic live and are often compared to Steel Pulse in sound and presentation, though they slotted in nicely with the best of early 80's reggae mixing in liberal doses of soul and funk to their reggae sound. The Babylon Warriors never signed with a major label or even a decent-sized independent, instead releasing their debut EP 'Forward'on American Music in 1983. Sadly the band and album remain obscure, which is regrettable, because they had amazing potential and could have been much bigger than they were. Although their EP is very difficult to find, it's worth picking up if, by some chance, you come across a copy somewhere on Ebay.

Below is video of the band performing 'Dread Situation' from 1981 at a Los Angeles songwriters competition. They are introduced by noted reggae expert and writer Roger Stephens.

Below is video of the band performing the song 'Feeling Alright' live in LA sometime in the mid or late 80's. You can get a sense of the energy of the band and their very up-tempo live show.

The Tone & Wave blog was kind enough to introduce me to The Babylon Warriors and to share an MP3 download of the song 'Feeling Alright' which you can download below. Its definitely worth a listen to hear a great U.S. reggae band who were far ahead of their time and sadly were never able to reach an audience outside Los Angeles and California.

The Babylon Warriors - Feeling Alright


Jason Lawless said...

I have an album by Babylon Warriors! another great lost gem man. Damn you're good!

Babylon Warriors said...

you can catch more on Babylon Warriors, and buy their music

Steven Edwards said...

I used to go see the Untouchables at the ON Klub back in the early 80's... cool place great days...