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    NEW YORK - Beyond the Stones' classic rock groove, there's another beat Keith Richards feels at home with, and that's the Rasta rhythm. He has whiled away many an evening over the past 25 years bonding with a group of Nyabinghi drummers in the front room of his villa in Jamaica. Now, after considering these sessions strictly of the moment, Richards has produced an album with his brotherly collective-dubbed the Wingless Angels for the members' earthy substance yet heavenly voices.

    Due Oct. 14 from Richards' new Island imprint, Mindless Records, the 'Wingless Angels' album evokes the sort of music you might hear at a grounation celebration, or Nyabinghi-the long, late-night Rastafarian ceremonies full of meditative song and smoke. The sweet, soulful strains stem from a blend of unison chants based on old English Protestant hymns and the heartbeat pulse of African-style drumming, the root of reggae.

    This music is so ancient-it's pre-reggae, pre-Jamaican, really,' Richards explains. 'It's deep. 'Marrow music,' I call it. It's akin to the best blues or soul music the way it expresses this beautiful yearning, a yearning for home and for healing. And those feelings are about as spiritual as I get.

    The combination of Wesleyan hymns and African rhythms in this music is similar to what happened here with jazz, ' he adds. 'In Jamaica, the people took those colonial melodies they were forced to sing on Sundays and twisted them around and put them to their own beat and came up with an amazing mixture of their own.

    Richards first encountered the music of the Nyabinghi after the Rolling Stones recorded 'Goats Head Soup' at Kingston's Dynamic Studios in 1972. Richards stayed on after falling in love with the island, its people, and their music, setting up a house in the hills above Ocho Rios. He grew close to 'his brethren'; they watched his kids, and was their 'white spy in Babylon.' Inspired by his friends' pure music-making, Richards tried to take the group into Dynamic to make a record right away, but he says that 'The total non-vibe of the studio just killed the spirit of the song.' So he contented himself with the scores of homemade cassettes passed around over the years.

    But after going to Jamaica to kick back after the Voodoo Lounge tour in 1995, Richards found a number of serendipitous events coming together to suggest a recording in his home as the proper way of documenting the Wingless Angels for prosperity. The Jamaican film board supplied encouragement and recording equipment, Island Records chief Chris Blackwell dropped by to offer his blessing, and Jamaica-savvy engineer Rob Fraboni (who remastered Bob Marley's catalogue for Island) made himself available.

    The equipment and the right people showed up on the doorstep all of a sudden, and well, I can take a hint,' Richards says. 'And it was cool because we were where the music is made, in my house where the drums stay. So it got funkier every night. At first I thought I might just give a call to the Jamaican Historical Society you know, 'Here's some of your down-to-the-bone Rasta Nyabinghi shit, my contribution to ethnic field recording.' But Chris said he's put it out, so we tried to take it further.

    Richards prowled the room during the sessions, singing along, strumming his acoustic guitar, and exhorting his mates from Steertown-Justin Hines (a veteran of ska heroes the Dominoes), Winston Thomas (who's played with Talking Heads and the Bad Brains), Bongo Locksie, Warren Williamson, Bongo Neville, new addition singer Sister Maureen, and the late, lamented Bongo Jackie, who passed away after the recording was finished.

    After capturing several nights' worth of music-making (complete with hilarious between-song patter and the chirping of crickets outside), Richards then took the tapes back to his main residence, in Connecticut. There, he added the talents of Irish multi-instrumental ace Frankie Gavin, who brought the chants' Emerald Isle ancestry full circle with his Celtic fiddle and drones. And with a bit of divine inspiration, Richards added another key element to the record's final texture, his sensual, apposite bass guitar.

    'This music has never had any bass with it, but I got an idea from an old Wailers track, 'This Train'' he says. 'And I actually worked out which notes went where by getting on my knees and playing the pedals of a B3 organ. That churchy sort of sound was inspiring, plus one of the guys in the band had told me that a rusty old pipe organ was the sound he'd always imagined behind the music. So I tried to transfer that to the bass.

    I tried to keep all the extra elements as color and underpinning to the groove, to keep it all ancient-sounding and swirling like some open-air revival meeting. But I admit I was a bit worried about some of the overdubs-you know, 'How are the brothers back in Jamaica gonna like this?' When Justin heard it, though, he said, 'You're a magician, you know.' Whew. OK, I'll accept that title. That's all I need.

    Blackwell voices a similar enthusiasm for the finished product (and the idea of further such projects on the Mindless imprint). 'I think 'Wingless Angels' is just a fantastic album,' he says, 'very natural and organic, which is difficult to accomplish with this kind of thing-all the trappings of recording can often make the magic very hard to capture.

    But even the new sounds he added brought something special to the music without disturbing its essence. Keith is totally knowledgeable and passionate about this music. The album was a labor of love for Keith and it shows.'

    Richards' participation not only got 'Wingless Angels' made and made well, it will undoubtedly help draw listeners to its charms-particularly with the Stones' 'Bridges to Babylon' album just out and a massive world tour under way. Still, even an album produced by a Rolling Stone and drawing on the two most popular forms of world music-reggae and Celtic-faces an uphill battle in the marketplace.

    The problem that you always have with world music is that apart from some public radio, it just doesn't get airplay,' Blackwell says. 'So people never hear a lot of world music-although if they do by chance, many of them like what they hear. But Keith's involvement will obviously help the album get attention that it otherwise wouldn't, and that is only a good thing.'

    Even with the Stones' rock'n'roll circus gearing up, Richards will help promote 'Wingless Angels' as he can. One instance has him participating in an hourlong interview feature to be broadcast this fall on the world music program 'World Café' (distributed by Public Radio International). Also, VH1 filmed Richards at work on 'Wingless Angels' for a feature a couple of years ago and may rerun the piece this fall.

    There won't be any Wingless Angels live shows, though, as Richard points out that 'the brethren don't have passports, and I wouldn't want to drag them to Babylon, anyway. But they could do something in Jamaica. I'll be busy, but they don't need me, man.

    Island will work 'Wingless Angels' at community and college radio across the U.S. as well as paper various Jamaican enclaves here and in the U.K. with handbills and posters. Ads will also be placed in guitar magazines to attract Richards' core fans, and there is a Wingless Angels/Mindless Internet site in development that should link with various Stones and Richards sites.

    The key element of the 'Wingless Angels' campaign will be the efforts revolving around the Stones' tour, according to Alexis Aubrey, Island's associate director of marketing (U.S.). Co-op advertising with chains and indie shops will be stressed in the tour markets, and fliers will be distributed at the venues.

    In Greenwich Village-where reggae is the biggest-selling world music genre, edging out Celtic and Latin-Stones fans have already been asking about 'Wingless Angels,' according to the reggae buyer Craig Belmonte. 'About 10 times in the past two weeks, people have asked me about the record, and most weren't reggae customers,' he says. 'And the tour should definitely help boost sales. If people will pay $50 to see the Stones, they'll probably go for any record associated with them.

    Richards says he doesn't 'mind the Wingless Angels riding on the back of the Stones a bit, if it helps the brothers out. Playing with them is therapy for me, but they could use a little recognition. But really, one of the things I love most about the Wingless Angels is that excepts for a couple of them, they've never made their money from music. They're fishermen, divers, craftsmen, carvers. Making music, that's what they like to do of an evening. They play for the sheer love of playing, and that's very rare in this day and age. It's rare in any day and age.'"

    Posted by: WebCrew
WebCrew's picture
on October 04, 1997

 

NEW YORK - Beyond the Stones' classic rock groove, there's another beat Keith Richards feels at home with, and that's the Rasta rhythm. He has whiled away many an evening over the past 25 years bonding with a group of Nyabinghi drummers in the front room of his villa in Jamaica. Now, after considering these sessions strictly of the moment, Richards has produced an album with his brotherly collective-dubbed the Wingless Angels for the members' earthy substance yet heavenly voices.

Due Oct. 14 from Richards' new Island imprint, Mindless Records, the 'Wingless Angels' album evokes the sort of music you might hear at a grounation celebration, or Nyabinghi-the long, late-night Rastafarian ceremonies full of meditative song and smoke. The sweet, soulful strains stem from a blend of unison chants based on old English Protestant hymns and the heartbeat pulse of African-style drumming, the root of reggae.

This music is so ancient-it's pre-reggae, pre-Jamaican, really,' Richards explains. 'It's deep. 'Marrow music,' I call it. It's akin to the best blues or soul music the way it expresses this beautiful yearning, a yearning for home and for healing. And those feelings are about as spiritual as I get.

The combination of Wesleyan hymns and African rhythms in this music is similar to what happened here with jazz, ' he adds. 'In Jamaica, the people took those colonial melodies they were forced to sing on Sundays and twisted them around and put them to their own beat and came up with an amazing mixture of their own.

Richards first encountered the music of the Nyabinghi after the Rolling Stones recorded 'Goats Head Soup' at Kingston's Dynamic Studios in 1972. Richards stayed on after falling in love with the island, its people, and their music, setting up a house in the hills above Ocho Rios. He grew close to 'his brethren'; they watched his kids, and was their 'white spy in Babylon.' Inspired by his friends' pure music-making, Richards tried to take the group into Dynamic to make a record right away, but he says that 'The total non-vibe of the studio just killed the spirit of the song.' So he contented himself with the scores of homemade cassettes passed around over the years.

But after going to Jamaica to kick back after the Voodoo Lounge tour in 1995, Richards found a number of serendipitous events coming together to suggest a recording in his home as the proper way of documenting the Wingless Angels for prosperity. The Jamaican film board supplied encouragement and recording equipment, Island Records chief Chris Blackwell dropped by to offer his blessing, and Jamaica-savvy engineer Rob Fraboni (who remastered Bob Marley's catalogue for Island) made himself available.

The equipment and the right people showed up on the doorstep all of a sudden, and well, I can take a hint,' Richards says. 'And it was cool because we were where the music is made, in my house where the drums stay. So it got funkier every night. At first I thought I might just give a call to the Jamaican Historical Society you know, 'Here's some of your down-to-the-bone Rasta Nyabinghi shit, my contribution to ethnic field recording.' But Chris said he's put it out, so we tried to take it further.

Richards prowled the room during the sessions, singing along, strumming his acoustic guitar, and exhorting his mates from Steertown-Justin Hines (a veteran of ska heroes the Dominoes), Winston Thomas (who's played with Talking Heads and the Bad Brains), Bongo Locksie, Warren Williamson, Bongo Neville, new addition singer Sister Maureen, and the late, lamented Bongo Jackie, who passed away after the recording was finished.

After capturing several nights' worth of music-making (complete with hilarious between-song patter and the chirping of crickets outside), Richards then took the tapes back to his main residence, in Connecticut. There, he added the talents of Irish multi-instrumental ace Frankie Gavin, who brought the chants' Emerald Isle ancestry full circle with his Celtic fiddle and drones. And with a bit of divine inspiration, Richards added another key element to the record's final texture, his sensual, apposite bass guitar.

'This music has never had any bass with it, but I got an idea from an old Wailers track, 'This Train'' he says. 'And I actually worked out which notes went where by getting on my knees and playing the pedals of a B3 organ. That churchy sort of sound was inspiring, plus one of the guys in the band had told me that a rusty old pipe organ was the sound he'd always imagined behind the music. So I tried to transfer that to the bass.

I tried to keep all the extra elements as color and underpinning to the groove, to keep it all ancient-sounding and swirling like some open-air revival meeting. But I admit I was a bit worried about some of the overdubs-you know, 'How are the brothers back in Jamaica gonna like this?' When Justin heard it, though, he said, 'You're a magician, you know.' Whew. OK, I'll accept that title. That's all I need.

Blackwell voices a similar enthusiasm for the finished product (and the idea of further such projects on the Mindless imprint). 'I think 'Wingless Angels' is just a fantastic album,' he says, 'very natural and organic, which is difficult to accomplish with this kind of thing-all the trappings of recording can often make the magic very hard to capture.

But even the new sounds he added brought something special to the music without disturbing its essence. Keith is totally knowledgeable and passionate about this music. The album was a labor of love for Keith and it shows.'

Richards' participation not only got 'Wingless Angels' made and made well, it will undoubtedly help draw listeners to its charms-particularly with the Stones' 'Bridges to Babylon' album just out and a massive world tour under way. Still, even an album produced by a Rolling Stone and drawing on the two most popular forms of world music-reggae and Celtic-faces an uphill battle in the marketplace.

The problem that you always have with world music is that apart from some public radio, it just doesn't get airplay,' Blackwell says. 'So people never hear a lot of world music-although if they do by chance, many of them like what they hear. But Keith's involvement will obviously help the album get attention that it otherwise wouldn't, and that is only a good thing.'

Even with the Stones' rock'n'roll circus gearing up, Richards will help promote 'Wingless Angels' as he can. One instance has him participating in an hourlong interview feature to be broadcast this fall on the world music program 'World Café' (distributed by Public Radio International). Also, VH1 filmed Richards at work on 'Wingless Angels' for a feature a couple of years ago and may rerun the piece this fall.

There won't be any Wingless Angels live shows, though, as Richard points out that 'the brethren don't have passports, and I wouldn't want to drag them to Babylon, anyway. But they could do something in Jamaica. I'll be busy, but they don't need me, man.

Island will work 'Wingless Angels' at community and college radio across the U.S. as well as paper various Jamaican enclaves here and in the U.K. with handbills and posters. Ads will also be placed in guitar magazines to attract Richards' core fans, and there is a Wingless Angels/Mindless Internet site in development that should link with various Stones and Richards sites.

The key element of the 'Wingless Angels' campaign will be the efforts revolving around the Stones' tour, according to Alexis Aubrey, Island's associate director of marketing (U.S.). Co-op advertising with chains and indie shops will be stressed in the tour markets, and fliers will be distributed at the venues.

In Greenwich Village-where reggae is the biggest-selling world music genre, edging out Celtic and Latin-Stones fans have already been asking about 'Wingless Angels,' according to the reggae buyer Craig Belmonte. 'About 10 times in the past two weeks, people have asked me about the record, and most weren't reggae customers,' he says. 'And the tour should definitely help boost sales. If people will pay $50 to see the Stones, they'll probably go for any record associated with them.

Richards says he doesn't 'mind the Wingless Angels riding on the back of the Stones a bit, if it helps the brothers out. Playing with them is therapy for me, but they could use a little recognition. But really, one of the things I love most about the Wingless Angels is that excepts for a couple of them, they've never made their money from music. They're fishermen, divers, craftsmen, carvers. Making music, that's what they like to do of an evening. They play for the sheer love of playing, and that's very rare in this day and age. It's rare in any day and age.'"

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