Burning Spear, Blue Room, April 20, 1998
Winston Rodney, a.k.a. Burning Spear, takes an unexpected detour on his new album, "Appointment With His Majesty." The 52-year-old reggae veteran has recorded a tribute to the late Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia called "Appointment with His Majesty." Spear's leathery tenor offers lyrical snapshots of a typical Dead shindig underscored by a slow-burning Jamaican groove and spidery guitar lines. So what is it doing in the middle of Spear's latest collection of protest songs, pleas for unity and hymns to Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Jah?
Call it the universal vibe equation: Grateful Dead + mystic vibration = Jamaican dread. Spear became acquainted with the Dead's music in 1991 while recording the song "Estimated Prophet" for 1991's "Deadicated" all-star tribute disc. The 12-year Queens, N.Y., resident attended two Grateful Dead concerts before Garcia's death. "It's a very live feeling, a touchy feeling, a feeling with a lot of inspiration, an ‘upliftment' feeling."
The same can be said of Spear, whose performances are almost unrivaled in intensity. Drawing on music from as far back as 1969's "Door Peep" and "Chant Down Babylon" singles, Spear sends dreadlocks flying as he whirls himself into a trance during performances. "It's a natural thing," he explains. "Sometimes when an artist is on stage, the artist himself doesn't even know how it's gonna be. It's the whole vibes and the inspiration. ... I'm supposed to get as deep as possible in the music."
The St. Ann's Parish, Jamaica, native was advised by Bob Marley himself to take his music to the reggae mecca of Studio One. The Kingston studio was headed by legendary producer Clement "Sir Coxsone" Dodd, who helped guide the recording careers of Marley, Dennis Brown and the Wailing Souls. Spear went on to achieve international acclaim with the landmark mid-'70s albums "Marcus Garvey" and "Man in the Hills."
His new music mixes social commentary, spiritual meditations and straightforward songs of romance. "My music uplifts the people. My music also teaches the people," says Spear. "This music has been touching the people for a long time now and will always touch the people."