THERE was still a growing fascination with reggae and Jamaica when the movie Rockers was released in 1978, 35 years ago. Its all-star cast and raw energy has made it a cult favourite in Europe and the United States west coast.
Rockers never gained the international acclaim of The Harder They Come, the sensational 1972 movie that starred Jimmy Cliff. But for its fans including reggae historian Roger Steffens, who first saw Rockers in 1980, it has endured.
"My wife and I drove 400 miles from LA ( Los Angeles ) to see it at the Castro Theater in San Francisco in 1980, and it was worth every dollar of gas and mile of travel," Steffens told the Sunday Observer. He recalls the full house being "slack-jawed and spellbound" by Rockers' spontaneity.
Directed and produced by Americans Theodorus 'Ted' Bafaloukos and Patrick Hulsey, respectively, Rockers starred in-demand session drummer Leroy 'Horsemouth' Wallace, who played a struggling musician determined to get back at the system after years of being exploited by producers.
He was supported by a who's who reggae cast that included singers Kiddus-I, Burning Spear, Gregory Isaacs and Jacob Miller, saxophonist Richard 'Dirty Harry' Hall, bass player Robbie Shakespeare and producer Lawrence 'Jack Ruby' Lindo.
Wallace and Hall met Bafaloukos while touring Germany in 1976 with Burning Spear.
He spoke of that meeting in a 2003 interview with the Observer.
"He said he was trying to do a documentary on reggae an' right away me and Dirty Harry tell him sey wi a big movie star inna Jamaica ," Wallace recalled. "Wi start do a likkle fight ting an' him (Bafaloukos) get so frighten him run."
Bafoloukos looked up Wallace and Hall when he visited Jamaica in 1977 to discuss his project. In early 1978, he returned with Hulsey, whose credits included documentaries on indigenous tribes in South America.
They hastily assembled a cast and commenced filming in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston. In a 2003 interview with the Observer, Hulsey says Rockers cost J$500,000 to produce over two months.
Kiddus-I got his role in the film after an on-spot 'audition' at Harry J recording studio in east Kingston where he was doing a Jack Ruby session. The song he was recording when Ruby and Bafaloukos walked into the studio was Graduation in Zion which eventually made the Rockers soundtrack.
"He decided he wanted that scene for the movie, so a part wasn't written for I an' I to start wid," says Kiddus-I, who played himself. "You neva got a script, the movie was a natural unfolding."
Rockers premiered at the San Francisco Film Festival in late 1978 and showed at the Cannes Film Festival one year later. It was not until 1980 that the movie was released in select cinemas across the US.
While it was not a huge financial success, Rockers made Wallace a star in Europe and Asia where he still regularly performs and records. Kiddus-I recently released Topsy Turvy World, his fifth album.
Now 67, Ted Bafaloukos continues to work in the film industry. He is credited as production designer and assistant director for the movies Diner, The Thin Blue Line and The Truth About Charlie.
Patrick Hulsey never made another movie, though he worked on music videos by Paul Simon and blues guitarists Robert Cray and Taj Mahal. He died from cancer in 2005 at age 63.
Rockers was re-released on DVD in 2000 and had a brief run on the United States east coast in 2001.
Roger Steffens says he watched Rockers again recently. He still gives it high marks.
"It really holds up terrifically well. Alongside The Harder They Come, Rockers stands as one of the two best reggae musicals ever made."