It was in the ’80s that reggae started to gain a wider, more international audience.
That was also when—for the most part—reggae stopped evolving. Locals Echo Street, who fiddle with funk, soul, and rock elements, consider themselves first and foremost a reggae outfit, even though their sound is very different than just about any other reggae bands since the ’70s.
“One of the things [singer/guitarist] Jason [Bryant] and I talked about with this project is wouldn’t it be interesting if reggae continued to evolve, that it didn’t stop with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh,” says guitarist Pete Sawyer. “There are a lot of great, amazingly talented Jamaican reggae artists, and we go and see them when they’re in town, but they’re all working off that same template.”
To take reggae to the next level, the members of Echo Street set about closely studying its roots in Motown.
While reggae evolved from the ska music of the ’50s and ’60s, many people don’t know how much American Motown influenced the music in terms of melody and songwriting.
“A lot of it comes from James Jamerson, who was a famous Motown bass player. Bob Marley’s bass player stole a lot of grooves from Jamerson, and then injected it into reggae. We like to use that as a nice reference point for a lot of what we’re doing,” Sawyer says. “Funk came from Motown. If you put the two together, you’re still working within something that has the same basic Motown style of groove.”
The band formed in 2013 when Sawyer and Bryant met and started jamming together. Before forming, Bryant had a traditional reggae background (he played with Damian Marley) and Sawyer had dabbled more in rock and funk. They decided to fuse their influences. It truly sounds like a seamless fusion of all their influences.
“It would be funk on the drums, maybe reggae bass, and reggae keyboards with rock guitar on top of it. It’s like funk-rock with reggae undertones,” Sawyer says. “We try to keep the lyrics very positive. That’s one of the things we do want to preserve out of traditional reggae, try to make everyone happy.”
INFO: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 26. Crow’s Nest, 2218 East Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. $5. 476-4560.