Talking Heads’ final album Naked leapt headfirst into world-beat territory. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone who had picked up on David Byrne and company’s obvious fondness for African, Latin and Caribbean music.
As if to complete the circle, a reggae band performing Talking Heads songs has sprung up, something that should have happened years ago. Caribbean versions of Talking Heads classics, it turns out, are awesome. The group, Talking Dreads, is led by Jamaican-born Mystic Bowie, an established reggae artist and member of the Tom Tom Club for the past two decades. The remaining members read like a who’s who list of legendary Jamaican players. In other words, it’s an authentic reggae dance party, not a corny tribute band gimmick. Bowie formed the group just over a year ago. The band’s upcoming show at Moe’s Alley kicks off their first show on their third U.S. tour, and Bowie talked to us about the project.
Why reggae renditions of Talking Heads songs?
MYSTIC BOWIE: I always had great appreciation for the lyrical content of Talking Heads music, the poetry in those songs. Along with over the years touring with Tom Tom Club, which is the rhythm section of the Talking Heads. I would ask for a Talking Heads reunion, which seems like it’s never going to happen. So I figured the same audience that listens to reggae and ska is the same audience that listens to Talking Heads. Why not fuse the two? You listen to Talking Heads’ music, you can tell that a lot of their influences are Caribbean. What I did, I stripped away the instrumental and listened to the rhythmic way David Byrne sings the songs. It was very Caribbean.
Has anyone in the Talking Heads seen you perform?
Chris [Frantz] and Tina [Weymouth], when I explained to them about nine years ago that I intended to do this project, they both encouraged me. They both said it was an amazing idea. They’ve watched the videos online. They loved it. They feel I am representing them in a very good way. David Byrne hasn’t said anything. I’m waiting. I hope he likes it. But here’s the thing, knowing David, if he was unhappy with it, he would have said something. David likes Caribbean music. So I don’t know why he wouldn’t like it.
You’ve played with all sorts of non-reggae musicians, like the B-52s, Widespread Panic and Trey Anastasio of Phish.
I’m friends with a lot of these guys. They call me—“if you’re free, we have a show here.” I just spoke to Rich Butler from the Psychedelic Furs, and I’m going to do the same thing with them. On the Talking Dreads album that I just recorded, Cindy Wilson from the B-52s sang with me. I’ve been around the rock world since my teenage years. I met Talking Heads back in the day. But we didn’t know each other. I was a kid that performed for Jamaican tourists where the Talking Heads would hang out and record at Compass Point Studio, owned by Chris Blackwell in the Bahamas, along with every single rock band. All the great rock bands would hang out there. I met the Ramones there. I met Blondie, Grace Jones, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I hung out with them all as a child. I forgot about them ’til I grew up and joined the Tom Tom Club, and they’re like “Oh my God, that’s you. I remember you.” Keith Emerson has this story that he told me once. He had his motorcycle. He’d give me a ride on the back of his bike. One day this other guy was on it, and he was drunk. He told me to get the eff away, leave him alone. When he took off, I grabbed the back of his shirt, and yanked him off the motorcycle, and run back to my room. Keith said, “You realize the guy you pulled off the motorcycle, that was Ringo Starr.”
Who do you get more of at your shows, reggae fans or Talking Heads fans?
A lot of our fans are Talking Heads fans that are curious. They want to know what I did with those songs. Some of them are Talking Heads fanatics—very opinionated. So far, they love it. I’ve seen one guy that went online that wrote something negative. Then literally, right below his post, Chris Frantz went on and said, “Love it.” Then the guy went back and deleted his post. I didn’t want to be a Talking Heads cover band. What I want to do is my rendition of Talking Heads music. That’s what I was going for. I think that’s what I accomplished.
INFO: Wednesday, Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way. Santa Cruz. $9/adv, $12/door. 479-1854.