Sunday, July 11, 2010

R.I.P. Sugar Minott

In the early 80s, my late girlfriend Maati started working with Karen Lippmann, who did a radio show on KALX in Berkeley under the nom de dub of Jah Light, to promote local reggae shows at The Stone on Broadway. The first one was a stop on a tour that combined the talents of the legendary veteran reggae organist Jackie Mittoo with an up-and-coming roots/lover's rock artist named Sugar Minott. At the time, I was playing a lot with my roommate Alan Korn under the tentative band name PDR, which eventually evolved into X-tal. At this time, though, we are talking about a 2-track reel-to-reel and two guys who can't find a drummer but have a few ideas. Nothing special.

It so happens that Alan was a BIG fan of Sugar, especially his Lover's Rock showcase album, whose title song was pretty incredible, a gluey groove featuring a huge, warm blaring trumpet and Sugar's sweet, heartfelt croon. Somehow, due to Maati's instigation, Alan ended up driving Sugar and Jackie around San Francisco in his VW bug. He dared to play the visiting musicians a cassette of one of our early demos, a dub-flavored song I wrote about the Mission District called "Party In The Street" which you have never heard because...well, actually, it wasn't all that great, to tell the truth. BUT we had done a good recording with melodica and percussion overdubs. Apparently, Jackie listened and commented, "This sounds like the Clash!" A short while later, he added, "No! Better than the Clash!" which was certainly encouraging at the time.

Later, Maati gave the guys a ride in our trashed Plymouth Valiant station wagon, an oil and brake fluid-leaking monstrosity which we had just bought from Karen Jah Light for $100. Sugar and Jackie couldn't help making comparisons: "Didn't like that other cyaar. Now, THIS a good cyaar, mon!"

Anyhow, it was an incredible show all those years ago. Sugar went on to put out an intimidatingly large catalog of records, including the obscure but magnificent "Buy Off The Bar", (a real favorite in our Rough Trade days), "Four Wheel Wheelie", and the rootsy "Wicked A Go Feel It". I remember him as a nice, down-to-earth, sincere guy with a golden voice. Unlike some of his contemporaries like Gregory Isaacs, he wasn't particularly cool, suave, or sexy, just a regular dude from Trenchtown who sang like a dream.

Maati and Jackie left this plane years ago, and Sugar just followed in their footsteps this weekend. Thanks for the memories.


Davis Jones said...

Any way to find the links to those songs? Love to hear them.

Boy, Maati had a lot of influence in the music world at that time. Was she still a DJ at KZSC? Playing this stuff for everyone? That would have been cool.

J Neo Marvin said...

Hmmm, I will look into that (Sugar Minott links). We've played "Buy Off The Bar" a lot on Ear Candle Radio recently. The other two I'm only remembering.

"Four Wheel Wheelie" was a duet with a DJ named Charlie Chaplin that was basically a song about how driving is better than riding a bike because drivers can get insurance for when they crash. Hmmmm. But what made the song memorable is how much fun they were having when they recorded it. It's ridiculously infectious.

This was a couple years after Maati and I were doing the Psykick Dancehall show in Santa Cruz. She was working at Rough Trade by this time.

Here is Sugar's Myspace page, a good place to start learning about his prolific career.

Anonymous said...

I first learned of Sugar Minott listening to Karen's (Friday night?) show on the KALX. Later, I saw him perform at Keystone Berkeley. Good times…