Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Purple Dub: Denver Dub Collective Record A Ska, Reggae and Dub tribute to Prince's Purple Rain

I'm proud to say that I am a huge Prince fan (I even stuck with him through that period of time when he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol). The 'Purple Rain' film and album still remain defining touchstones of my late adolescence and early adulthood. I saw the film the day it opened during the summer of 1984 and I never got tired of hearing 'When Doves Cry' played on the radio at the David's Cookies store I worked that summer (and that song was in HEAVY radio rotation). I got very excited when I recently learned that the Denver Dub Collective, an 11-piece band based in Denver, Colorado, had recorded and was performing a reggae, ska and dub tribute to the 'Purple Rain' album in its entirety.

Taking a page from their musical brethren in Easy Star All-Stars who have recorded stellar reggae tributes to Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Radiohead, the Denver Dub Collective set their sights on a re-working of Prince's classic Purple Rain which they named 'Purple Dub' (the two bands performed together this summer in a show dubbed 'Purple & Pink). The album is subtitled 'The music of Purple Rain in Ska, Reggae & Dub' and that neatly sums up the creative approach the band took in re-imaging the Purple One's opus. Produced by singer/trombonist David Dinsmore from renowned Denver reggae band Judge Roughneck (who have played with UB40, Burning Spear, General Public, The Skatalites, The Specials, The Wailers, and Fishbone among others), the album features a who's who of the Denver reggae scene including : Wayne Jahkama (Lion SoulJahs) Byron Shaw (Judge Roughneck's vocalist), Venus Cruz (Future Jazz Project), Black Rhino (Lion SoulJahs) and a variety of the best reggae and ska players in Denver.

The vocalists on each song vary, which makes each one a unique listening experience, though I was immediately struck by Dinsmore's vocals which come closest to matching Prince's yearning falsetto. Notable stand out tracks include 'Baby I'm A Star' which has an English Beat styled driving bass line, a dubbed out version of 'Let's Go Crazy' (which keeps the spoken word intro) and dancehall/jungle stab at 'Darling Nikki'. I loved the horn section and ska feel of 'When Doves Cry' and Venus Cruz does justice to 'Purple Rain.' 

Dinsmore was kind enough to to answer a few questions about the genesis of the project and whether or not Prince Rogers Nelson himself has heard the reggae tribute yet. Read on...

Most people I've spoken to who are into ska and reggae remember the exact moment when they fell in love with it. How did it happen for you?
Back when we were dating my wife played for me Desmond Dekker "Honor your Mother and your Father". I had heard General Public, The Clash, Fine Young Cannibals and many other ska records but didn't really know what I was listening too. This is where the light bulb went on.

Do you remember the first ska or reggae album you bought that had an influence on you becoming a musician?
Fishbone's 'Truth and Soul'. I always wanted to be a lead trombone player in a rock band and I played over the top of my Sex Pistols record. When I heard the 'Truth and Soul' record I knew I was going to make it a reality and have a hell of a lot of fun too!

You have been active in the Denver reggae scene for some time. Can you share a bit about your previous reggae bands and projects?
I was invited to be a part of Denver's Judge Roughneck (see picture above) when they first started but I had my own band World Separation and it was very hardcore and very dark. They asked me again a few years later and I was ready to play more trombone for a while. I have been in Judge Roughneck for many years and have shared the stage with great reggae musician including Burning Spear, The Wailers, The Skatalites, UB40, Culture, Yellowman, Toots and the Maytals, Damian Marley and many more. I have also been blessed to play in Colorado's finest venues. My background is jazz and hardcore but reggae is a 2nd language for me now. (See video below of Judge Roughneck performing 'Rockford Rock' live at Red Rocks in Colorado).

What was the inspiration behind the Purple Dub project? Are you a passionate fan of Prince and his music?
I have been a Prince fan for many years. He has so many great songs and is unreal singer and multi instrumentalist. I have everything of his. For my 40th birthday my wife took to see him play at his 3121 club in Vegas for inspiration. I also saw him on the Lovesexy tour and the Emancipation tour. Purple Rain is a great record and I appreciate it more now on every level. I've learned so much about why the arrangements work. They need each of the parts: the melody, the counter melody, the lick, the groove, the call and response. Its beautiful. My favorite Prince records are 'Rainbow Children' and 'Sign of the Times'.

Which came first - the Denver Dub Collective or the idea for Purple Dub? Where did you meet/find the other musicians involved in the band?
Judge Roughneck was playing at 'Reggae on the Rocks' the year that Easy Star All Stars busted out 'Dark Side of the Moon' just as the sun was setting at Red Rocks and we all knew that was a game changer. The sax player in Roughneck and I really wanted to do something like that. We started going through likely albums with strong tunes and lots of little melodies for the horns. We were really stoked about 'Purple Rain' and pitched it to the band. I ran into a lot of resistance, got tired of beating my head against a wall I took the whole thing into my project studio and got to work.

How did you approach the creative process for how each one of the songs on Purple Rain should sound as a reggae or ska song? Did you have this thought out ahead of time or was it worked out in rehearsals and in the studio?
I mapped out the whole record based on the tempos of the originals and divided it up into ska and reggae. 'Let's Go Crazy' was going to be a burning ska opener for Judge Roughneck but Byron the Roughneck singer encouraged me to have a big dub opener on the record. I took each Prince tune and figured out the chord progression and started finding ways to make them into to bass lines into reggae. Also finding ways to turn the Prince drum parts into something more like dub. Think about the classic 80's electro groove on 'I Would Die 4U' turned into a Burning Spear hi-hat thing. A lot of the tunes had King Tubby or Sly and Robbie loops that served as a foundation while I pulled other parts together. Most of the programming has been replaced by live drums, however, 'Computer Blue' actually has two completely different drum tracks, one in each channel, live and programmed. The drummer plays drum & bass style really well so I have him play the beat against the computer on 'When Doves Cry' and then the computer plays against him on 'DJ Nikki'.

I also wanted to find ways to have the horns take over some of the instrumental guitar and keyboard parts from the record. Example: The horns play the sick guitar noise at the beginning of 'When Doves Cry' and then play the little keyboard melody. Also, various ways to turn Prince keyboard parts into a skank or a bubble by turning it inside out. 'I Would Die 4 U' is a good example of that. Some of the Prince tunes are really complex like 'Computer Blue' and had to be simplified. Some of them don't have a bass part which makes it really hard.

I programmed all the tunes and then figured out who would be the best fit among my musician friends to sing each song. That was hard for me because I am an ego maniac and I had already sung everything. Hence the 6 vocal tracks of me on 'When Doves Cry'. I also kept me on 'Beautiful Ones', a song I always wanted to cover, and 'Computer Blue'. I knew Venus had to sing 'Purple Rain'. I've never had her sing on anything of mine because I knew she would be all they would talk about! My favorite moments on the record are when Black Rhino come in and does his dancehall thing.

So there are a dozen musicians on the record and I've played a few shows out with the big lineup. These are all my friends in town, I've been playing in town for some 20 years and have a lot of really talented friends. I had horn players, guitar players, keyboard players, drummer and bass players come to the house and play over the programmed parts until everything had been replaced.

The day before the mastering I realized I hadn't played a trombone solo on anything so I opened up some room on 'When Dove's Cry' and did a quick mix for the mastering studio!

Do you know if Prince has heard the recording?
I don't know if he has heard it. I hope he likes it.

You have performed the album a few times in Denver (particularly with Easy Star All Stars on a 'Purple & Pink" show). Any plans to take the band on the road or do more shows with Easy Star?
I need to figure out a way to play it out with a smaller group. This is difficult because everyone on the CD is a personal friend of mine. We are playing a showcase to get Colorado Park and Recreation gigs in January so I need to figure it out and rehearse it by then. Club dates are a drag in Denver. You can play every night of the week and not make any money.

Finally, any plans to bring the band out east? I think the band would go over great around here.
Not sure. I'd probably need some label support to make that happen!

Here is video of the band featuring Issa Forest performing 'Purple Rain' live from a show with Easy Star All-Stars earlier this summer in Denver:

Below is a video of of the song 'DJ Nikki' taken from Purple Dub:

The Purple Dub album is available for sale on

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