John Brown's Body (band)
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John Brown's Body
|Origin||Ithaca, New York and Boston, Massachusetts, United States|
|Genres||Reggae, dub, indie|
|Years active||1995– Present|
|Labels||Easy Star Records, I-Town Records, Shanachie Records|
|Associated acts||10 Foot Ganja Plant, Mang Dub, Guvna Dub, Midnite|
|Past members||Kevin Kinsella
Nate Silas Richardson
Scott Palmer (deceased)
Jason "Jocko" Randall
Together for two decades and hailed as "Future roots, reggae and dub with an intricately balanced weaving of vocals, percussion, keyboard, bass, guitar and a stunning 3-piece horn section that ties it all together" (WRUV), John Brown’s Body (JBB) is building "a legacy that has inspired and carved a path for the now thriving contemporary American reggae scene" (Rudeboy Reggae). Formed in Ithaca, New York, in the mid 1990s, at a time when there wasn’t yet a far-reaching U.S. reggae scene, JBB was one of a small handful of U.S. reggae bands that began touring nationally. Since then, JBB has played an important role in helping define distinctly "American reggae." JBB’s music is steeped in traditional vibes, but unapologetically incorporates elements from other genres. While most American reggae bands tackled typical reggae themes (such as religion and marijuana), JBB acted more like an indie band, writing songs that used the vocabulary of reggae to express their own experiences. Their unique approach resonated with the masses. The group’s 2008 full-length record, Amplify, hit #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart followed by 2012’s JBB In Dub reaching #1 on iTunes’ Reggae Chart and topping both Billboard and iTunes Reggae Charts at #1 with 2013's Kings And Queens and 2016's Fireflies. Today, JBB’s signature style has become the norm for U.S. reggae bands - and many in the genre admittedly point to John Brown’s Body as a key influence. Their eleventh studio release, Fireflies, was released September 9th 2016 on Easy Star Records and debuted at #1 on the Billboard and iTunes Reggae charts.
History [ edit ]
Development (1996-2006) [ edit ]
Beginning in 1996, JBB released All Time on their own I-Town Records label. The record made Rolling Stone's "Top 10 Indie Records List." Following that, JBB signed with reggae label Shanachie, then released three albums; Among Them (1998), This Day (2000) and Spirits All Around Us (2003). The Boston Herald called them "one of the world's best roots-style reggae bands" following the release of This Day. After positive reviews, the band appeared at Bob Marley Day Festival in Miami, FL., alongside Lauryn Hill and others. Also, after the release of Spirits All Around Us, the band had become a national name. The appeared at The Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Reggae on the Rocks and Wakarusa. After the release of This Day, Mike Keenan left JBB to raise his children, Oscar and Damon (Damon in 2004) and returned in 2006 but was not an "official" member until 2006.
In 2005, JBB signed with New York City record label Easy Star and released their fifth studio album Pressure Points, evolving from a traditional roots approach to a twist on reggae and dub they titled "future roots." Pressure Points was critically acclaimed and the Village Voice review called JBB "reverent as well as revolutionary" while Popmatters described the record as their "strongest, most consistent effort to date." Elliot Martin wrote 8 out of 11 songs, while Martin had only written a few songs from previous albums. Kevin Kinsella wrote the other three.
Disaster and recovery (2006-2009) [ edit ]
The band recruited Boston bassist Nate Edgar to replace Scott; he had been a fan since seeing Scott playing years earlier with DJ Logic's Project Logic. More JBB line-up changes include the departure of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Kinsella who had formally left the band on good terms and organist/guitarist Nate "Silas" Richardson who stepped out to spend more time with his newborn son. JBB replaced Richardson with guitarist Keenan who was a member of The Tribulations and a previous member of the band who also stepped out to raise his children. JBB continued to tour. Near the end of the journey, Dan Delacruz and Chris "C-Money" Welter who joined the punk-reggae band Slightly Stoopid.
Kinsella's departure freed Martin to become the band leader and point in new musical directions. For years, a creative rift separated the two primary songwriters and childhood friends. Kinsella's songs tended towards religious and roots-reggae sounds, more like the band's beginnings, while Martin's writing emphasized futuristic and atypical rhythms, as well as dense metaphorical imagery. "I used to think that having two songwriters and vocalists was a strength that made us unique, but it probably confused a lot of people. Now our sound is more cohesive," says Benedetti, "We feel comfortable with one another and you can hear it in the music we're creating."
Just before Kinsella's exit, Martin wrote three "rooster" tracks, Give Yourself Over, Speak of the Devil and Be at Peace. When Kinsella quit, Martin felt less pressure to make everything fit within a perceived JBB sound. He then wrote The Gold, an up-beat drum and bass-inflected tune featuring a guitar line reminiscent of an Ennio Morricone Spaghetti Western soundtrack and Make Your Move, which brought the band closer to hip hop. According to Martin, the title track was one of the band's original ideas. He stated "the seeds for that one [The Gold] are five years old. It was originally a hip hop beat, like a Funkadelic song. The bass line was the same, but much more slinky. I didn't know what it would become, but I knew it should be the lead for this record."
In 2007, the band went into the studio to work on their sixth record at More Sound, a recording studio owned by sound engineer Jason "Jocko" Randall in Syracuse, NY. During that time, Elliot began to notice problems with his vocal strength and endurance. After months of doctor visits and vocal training, the problem was diagnosed as vocal polyps. In early 2008, Martin had surgery to remove polyps on his vocal chords and began voice training to teach him how to lessen the strain on his throat. Another quote from the band's website states "I feel better every day. Each show back after surgery, I could feel myself getting stronger. Now I think I'm doing things I couldn't even do before," along with saying, "Add that to the energy of the new line-up and this new batch of songs."
The band released Amplify on New York City label Easy Star Records. Amplify debuted at #1 on Billboard 's reggae charts, #10 on CMJ's World Music Chart and made it on the "iTunes Beat of 2008" list for reggae records. The band toured across the U.S. for the first time in nearly two years.
All Music Guide wrote that "Elliot Martin has taken firmer control of the group and now it is [JBB] now a completely different organism; although the John Brown's Body sound is still distinctly reggae-ish, it's denser, swirlier, sometimes downright funky and loaded with more melodic hooks."
Success (2009-2010) [ edit ]
In 2009, JBB released their first remix EP Re-Amplify (under the Easy Star record) and it debuted in the Billboard reggae Top 10. Re-Amplify featured remixes by artists from around the world including Dubmatix (From Toronto), WrongTom (From London) and their friend Kasongo from Gym Class Heroes (US.)
After a few changes to the horn section, they brought in trombonist Scott Flynn, saxophonist Drew Sayers and trumpet player Sam Dechenne. In 2009, the band traveled to the United Kingdom for 16 shows with labelmates Easy Star All-Stars and 11 shows in New Zealand with The Black Seeds, also Easy Start label mates. The tour leads to a musical brotherhood with The Black Seeds and they later performed together at the 2010 Grassroots Music Festival in Ithaca, NY.
In December 2009, JBB covered "Bankrobber" by The Clash for a charity record named "Shatter the Hotel: The Songs of Joe Strummer in Dub". All proceeds from the record went to benefit Strummerville: The Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music.
In 2010, JBB performed on Jam Cruise off the coast of Jamaica and Grand Cayman Island. Then, in April through May 2010, the group performed their first tours ever in France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and in Canada performing at festivals and headlining clubs.
New Music (2013) [ edit ]
On April 16, 2013, JBB released its Kings and Queens. Neil Kelly of PopMatters wrote about the album, "where they have stayed true to their roots on previous releases, JBB incorporates many electronic embellishments and elements on Kings and Queens, giving the album as a whole a modern, American touch."  The album featured 12 new tracks and was released in iTunes download, CD and 180 gram vinyl LP. The latter was the first time that a vinyl version was readily available for fan consumption.
In September 2016 the band released the album Fireflies, which went on to top the Billboard Reggae Albums Chart.
Influences [ edit ]
Elliot Martin stated that while writing Amplify he was influenced by artists including Sigur Rós, Batch, Toumani Diabate, Sly and Robbie, Radiohead, Talib Kweli, Aswad, Funkadelic, King Tubby, Roots Manuva, Masaru Sato and Midnite (whose lead singer, Vaughn Benjamin, lends a vocal to the end of "Speak Of The Devil").
"I think that the strongest reggae was coming out of the UK in the 70's and early 80's," Elliot explains. "It was the best produced, had the most complex songwriting; it's the most progressive reggae that's been made. Steel Pulse, Aswad, Reggae Regular, Misty in Roots, Mikey Dread, Dennis Bovell and Linton Kwesi Johnson were doing groundbreaking stuff. I want to pick up where those artists left off. Of course, we don't come close to what those artists did, but I think that's where the idea comes from—that reggae can take other forms. I guess I'm just saying that I see our music as progressive reggae."
Awards [ edit ]
- 2010: #2 ZonaReGGae BEST of '09 - The People 'REVIVAL' [Portugal]
- 2009: Best of 2009 Reggae Records – ZonaReggae [Portugal]
- 2008: #1 Billboard Reggae Chart debut
- 2008: CMJ World Music Chart Top 10 debut
- 2008: iTunes Top 10 Reggae Records selection of 2008
- 2008: Best Dance/Dub/Club Album nomination NAR Lifestyle Music Awards [Barcelona, Spain]
- 2008: Most Anticipated Albums of 2008 – ThePier.org
Recent collaborations [ edit ]
Studio releases [ edit ]
- All Time (1996)
- Among Them (1999)
- This Day (2000)
- Spirits All Around Us (2002)
- Justin Hinds & John Brown's Body - Live At Grassroots Festival (2002)
- Pressure Points (2005)
- Amplify (2008)
- Re-Amplify (2009)
- JBB IN DUB (2012)
- Kings & Queens (2013)
- Kings & Queens in Dub (2015)
- Fireflies (2016)