BASS players usually get the lion's share of the spotlight when it comes to reggae musicians. Not so for guitarists, even though the music has produced some outstanding players.
The LargeUp website out of Brooklyn, New York, recently named its Top 10 reggae guitarists, paying tribute to the men it believes are the sound's leading axemen. The Jamaica Observer presents the musicians who made that list and some of their finest moments.
(1) Ernest Ranglin —- Grandaddy of Jamaican popular music, Ranglin was one of Chris Blackwell's first signings when he started Island Records in 1959. Jazzy as they come, Ranglin has played on some of the pivotal songs in ska/rocksteady/reggae including My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. Check out his jazzy riffs on The Wailers' It Hurts To Be Alone, Ranglin on Bond Street, Take My Hand by John Holt or his instrumental interpretation of Junior Byles' Fade Away.
(2) Earl 'Chinna' Smith — Possibly the most recorded musician in reggae, Smith started playing in the early 1970s with the Soul Syndicate band, before moving on to the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff's Oneness band and Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers. Some of his best work can be heard on Java by Augustus Pablo; Dennis Brown's Westbound Train and No More Shall I Roam; African Roots (Johnny Clarke) and Conscious Party (Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers).
(3) Stephen 'Cat' Coore — Like Smith and Ranglin, Coore has been around, it seems, forever. Started as a prodigy with Inner Circle in the early 1970s before forming Third World. His Santana-style chops made Third World songs like Talk To Me, Always Around and Try Jah Love classics.
(4) Lynn Taitt — The Trinidadian who musicologists credit with transforming ska to rocksteady. A prolific session musician during the 1960s, Taitt played on countless hit songs including singer Hopeton Lewis' Take it Easy, said to be the first rocksteady recording. Taitt is at his best on Desmond Dekker's (007) Shantytown and Israelites, Girl I've Got a Date (Alton Ellis) and I Can See Clearly Now (Johnny Nash).
(5) Al Anderson, Donald Kinsey and Junior Murvin — All played for Bob Marley's Wailers. Anderson and Kinsey are African-Americans whose playing are steeped in the blues of Albert King and Jimi Hendrix. Murvin was born in Jamaica but grew up in England where he was influenced by the London rock scene. Anderson played on Marley's Natty Dread album as well as Peter Tosh's Legalize It and Equal Rights, while Kinsey can be heard on Marley's 1976 album Rastaman Vibration; he also played the searing solo on Tosh's version of Johnny B Goode. Murvin joined Marley for his Exodus album and tour, but played some tasty licks on the live Babylon by Bus album (that's him playing solo on The Heathen).
(6) Dwight Pinkney — Started as a session player with The Sharks at Studio One in the late 1960s. Pinkney went on to play with the progressive reggae band, Zap Pow, then joined the Roots Radics for their outstanding albums with Bunny Wailer and Israel Vibration. His distinctive flavour is evident on Zap Pow's This is Reggae Music and a host of instrumental albums.
(7) Mitchum 'Khan' Chin — Maybe the best known of reggae's new breed of guitarists. Chin cut his teeth with the Firehouse Crew, but has since established himself as a session musician, working on Tarrus Riley's Parables album and co-producing and playing on most of the tracks for Richie Spice's new Acoustic set.
(8) Eric 'Bingy Bunny' Lamont — Founding member of the Roots Radics band and solid rhythm guitarist. Helped define the Radics sound by playing on numerous hit songs for producer Henry 'Junjo' Lawes at Channel One and later, Bunny Wailer and Israel Vibration.
(9) Roger Lewis — Founding member and mainstay of the Inner Circle band, Lewis is mainly a rhythm guitarist. He has played on some notable hits including Africa Must Be Free by singer Hugh Mundell.
(10) Winston 'Bo Pee' Bowen — An under-rated musician, Bowen was a member of the Revolutionaries, legendary house band at Channel One. Also played with producer Joe Gibbs' Professionals as well as Lloyd Parks and We the People Band. Appears on classics such as Dennis Brown's Promised Land.