music is the music of the working person.
It came together in urban Kingston, Jamaica,
as traditional island sounds of calypso
and mento collided head on with the radio
friendly R&B of North America. As I
sat in Mike Franklin's den, after a long
Monday of work, I felt the deep blue that
resonated through the taut strings of Dewayne
Jackson's bass, Mike's keyboards and Melvin
Welborn's sax, the working man's blues.
Jay Williams' guitar danced with the rest
of the horn section, and RJ's drums beats
were calm and cooling like an island breeze.
Mike's house, crowded with the eight musicians
and all their gear, felt more like a backyard
bbq then a band's rehearsal. Though this
was the end of trumpeter Ed McNames's day,
it was still the beginning of something
beautiful - an aged flower of friendship
wilted in the hot summer and mild winters
of Austin, only to bloom again in the spring.
the band Tribal Nation has only been around for 7 years,
the members have been playing together for 20 years.
They've seen Austin's reggae scene blossom and fade
as venues and promoters disappear with time. Wallace
Hawkins noted that reggae hung tough during Anne Richards'
reign over the state, dissipating with Bush's office.
So if you dig the irie vibe, vote democrat. Chatting
with the members of Tribal Nation was like sifting through
a musical stream of knowledge - here's a little nugget
of what I found ...
Rothschild: It seems a little tough getting
eight guys together, just for a practice like this?
It's hard. We're older now, we all have other things
going on in our life, other responsibilities. It's difficult.
You got to really want to do it, and even wanting to
do it still doesn't work out sometimes.
And seven others want to do it as well?
They all want to do it, but they all got different stuff
going on too. We'll call each other ...
Some of us are in other bands, so there're set nights
that we don't ever try on that night. More than anything
it makes for a long day. I came straight from work over
here to rehearsal, so it's pretty much go home and go
to sleep and back to work tomorrow. It can be a loose
rehearsal because everyone's tired. We can go through
the tunes, boom, just to keep them fresh in your mind.
Is it tough to work out new tunes in this situation?
Since we first started the band, the dynamic
of the band has changed a lot. We started out as a four-piece,
and of four musicians, three were writing the songs.
Now we have eight people. And eight people in theband
can all write songs. Everyone's been in their own band,
and they have got just as many musical ideas as we do.
The dynamic of the band is changing, so we haven't gotten
the chance to focus on any new material with the core
group we have now. Hopefully we will in the future,
but it's just hard - like you say, getting the practices
together and everything. We usually put our own ideas
in everybody's music. If somebody writes something,
they put their own flavor, or the way that they play
into somebody else's song. There has been a time where
we've done a song on the spur of the moment and got
a tape of it and worked with the song from there.
hard just keeping a band going and doing the band, let
alone practicing. I'd say over half of the bands don't
even practice. They just get together and play. We've
always made a habit of at least trying to get together
Diane Causey (sound engineer): They've
all been playing together so long that its just going
over little sections ...
From a horn player's perspective, we've been in situations
where guys just want to practice and practice and go
over it forever, you know, this needs to be tight, this
needs to be tight, a horn section needs to be tight.
It kind of takes the three guys or however many horns
in the section that know how to play, to get together
so that you can articulate and make it sound good. It's
nothing you can really learn in a rehearsal. That's
why I like playing with these guys, it's fun because
they play well. It's a challenge to yourself just to
play to their ability.
Who are the original four?
Myself, D, Jay and Melvin. But everyone has played together,
Wallace and Jay used play in the Bees together, RJ and
I have played together. And Diane has been mixing with
all of us. Even when she was doing Root One.
did his first gig with us when he was fourteen or fifteen.
We had to get permission from his mother to get him
out of the house.
I was fifteen.
That was weird. Everything kind of started with Jay.
I worked at the Texas School for the Blind. So I started
taking students out. And that's how Dewayne got involved
Wallace has played with all the old school guys, way
back, a long time ago.
Wallace has played with Gladys Night and the Pips ...
Many moons, many moons ...
A couple moons ago ...
Have you been in Austin since then?
No, I've been everywhere.
I met Wallace with the Killer Bees.
I think I met Wallace with the Killer Bees too.
And the Bees met me with Pace Entertainment.
ER: How is it being a reggae band in
No place to play.
As a matter of fact, there're a lot of reggae bands
that have disappeared, they're gone. Even the Bees are
Is it a shortage of gigs or venues?
It's a shortage of gigs and venues. That's a whole 'nother
can of worms.
That's a couple cans of worms ...
Well, you know, reggae is a hard genre of music to play
and promote anyway, so us doing original music, and
then doing our own style, then mixing funk in it, a
lot of reggae clubs don't want you to mix the styles.
And some of the audiences, they don't like it either.
Flamingo doesn't like us to mix reggae and funk, but
we do it anyway. I used to be that way myself. I didn't
want to really here another style of music. I just wanted
to hear straight reggae, so I can understand it.
When did y'all start funking it up?
Right away pretty much. Our influences are funk and
soul. The Temptations ... well mine anyway.
The funk was really easy to do, we had to pull it back
some to keep from making it so funky. When we first
started we trying to be this serious roots reggae band,
and it would pop out, and kept on popping out, and finally
it just took over. It's what it is.
Fuck it, ain't nobody else doing it either ...
That's what's cool about it though. You can only play
how you play. You can learn all these different styles,
but there's something that's going to come out of you
that is where you are and what you take in. It's how
you grew up or whatever.
The closest thing to it is Toots.
Most reggae bands I hear over here in America don't
sound Jamaican. When Jamaican bands come over it's like
whooosh .... It goes off right away and you go "That's
it right there!" You go to hear American bands
and sometimes they hit it, but it's always Americanized.
And y'all are Americanized as well?
Oh big time.
We can't help it, we're all Americans. We go to Jamaica
on vacation ...
But they're on the side of the stage listening to us
The trade goes back and forth, everybody brings their
Tribal Nation has shared their part with reggae greats
like Black Uhuru, to jam-rock icons Widespread Panic.
They've been recording their live shows, with hope of
compiling a live album. Their mix of reggae with funk
brings the genre full circle, as they dip into the soulful
roots of reggae that preceded Bob Marley, Toots and
other legendary island performers. August 2000.