A report by Jon Blistein for Rolling Stone.
In 2016, Zak Starkey — musician and son of Ringo Starr — and his Sshh bandmate Sharna “Sshh” Liguz teamed with Eddie Vedder and a slew of reggae legends, including Wailers drummer Carlton “Santa Davis,” to record a cover of Bob Marley’s “Get Up Stand Up.” The track made its way back to Jamaica, earning Starkey and Liguz an invitation to perform at the opening of the Peter Tosh Museum, in Kingston. Since then, the pair have returned regularly to the island, working closely with local musicians and concocting plans for a new reggae label, Trojan Jamaica.
“We had recorded over 40 songs and decided to start a label in Jamaica to release them,” Starkey tells Rolling Stone of how the project came about. “We had a logo, but no name. Turned out nobody owned the rights to Trojan Records in the West Indies, so we got it and took it home.”
Trojan Jamaica’s first project will be Red, Gold, Green and Blue, a compilation featuring reggae artists covering classic American soul, R&B and blues tunes (the original Trojan Records was famous for its reggae compilations). To preview the album, Trojan Jamaica, a partnership with BMG, shared Mykal Rose’s (Black Uhuru) cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ seminal 1956 cut, “I Put a Spell On You.”
The track finds Rose and his collaborators, the producer Youth (U2, Paul McCartney), rhythm duo Sly and Robbie and guitarist Ernest Ranglin, flattening the punch of Screamin’ Jay’s original into a menacing groove. An accompanying video offers a behind-the-scenes look at the recording session, which Rose tells Rolling Stone was “spur of the moment,” with much of the song recorded live.
Rose – who’s also working on a new album, Ska, Ska, Ska – says recording such a famous blues song like “I Put a Spell on You” was a different experience for him, but notes the tremendous influence that the genre has always had on reggae. “We always liked blues,” he says. “That is how we get the feel because blues and reggae and rock music is similar with energy.”
Along with Rose’s cover of “I Put a Spell on You,” Red, Gold, Green and Blue will feature artists like Toots and the Maytals, Freddie McGregor, Phylea Carley, Kiddus I, Andrew Tosh and Robbie Shakespeare covering songs by Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and more. The session musicians include Starkey (guitar), Shakespeare (bass), Sly Dunbar (drums), Tony Chin (guitar), Cyril Neville (drums), Michael Rendall (keyboards, organ) and Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace (drums, organ).
Starkey says the idea behind Red, Gold, Green and Blue was to have “blues lyrics cut Jamaica style.” He continues, “We took our favorite blues lyrics to Jamaica and matched them to the voices we thought would fit the song and the song’s message, then presented each singer with two or three choices which were all accepted and worked up in the studio. All except Andrew Tosh, who brought ‘Don’t Go No Further’ and Robbie Shakespeare, who brought ‘Bring It On Home.’ The best moment was Toots agreeing to ‘Man Of The World’ by Peter Green.”
Starkey adds that Trojan Jamaica is already prepping a sequel to Red, Gold, Green and Blue, alongside a compilation centered around the famed singer and toasting pioneer, U-Roy. The label also plans to put out records by both legends (Big Youth) and up-and-coming Jamaican artists (Jesse Royal), while Starkey and Sshh will collaborate with some artists on a remix collection.