American soul music and Jamaican reggae are closer kin than you might think. “Basically every '60s ska and reggae band refers to Curtis Mayfield as one of their biggest influences,” says Mark Morales, a concert promoter and DJ based out of Los Angeles. Tomorrow, Morales' Hot Shot Sounds will host a double bill featuring Jamaica's legendary Gaylads and Brenda Holloway, the first West Coast Motown star, at the Echoplex. Holloway will be backed by a band comprised of Hepcat, Aggrolites, Police and Thieves and Sand Dollar Sound members.
The Gaylads' frontman Harris “B.B.” Seaton is a towering figure in the world of Jamaican music, despite the fact that he remains a fairly obscure figure internationally. “This is a little country that's created this music that's influenced the world,” says Morales. “B.B. was a producer, musician and screener. He screened Bob Marley before he got his start.” Thus, The Gaylads are not only important as a pioneering rocksteady band, but also in shaping the entire course of Jamaican music for the last 50 years.
Still, the roots of Jamaican music lie a bit further north than Kingston. “Most Jamaican music was influenced by American soul music,” says Morales, “The Motown stars, these guys really look up to them. About 90 percent of ska and reggae records from the 1960s are either adapted or directly copied from a soul record.”
If Los Angeles reggae aficionados are abuzz over the first Gaylads show in 40 years, The Gaylads are doubtless excited to be sharing a bill with Brenda Holloway. Holloway, the first Motown recording star to hail from the West Coast, was touted as the next Mary Wells. However, her career didn't last long. She recorded for about four years before retiring from the music business.
“I wasn't happy at Motown as their first West Coast artist,” says the 65-year-old singer says over the phone, explaining, “I never got the opportunity to record as much as I wanted. I never had the opportunity to be with the writers and sit down with them. I was hot headed and young and I just left.”
For years, Holloway, who moved to Los Angeles when she was a child, did little else but raise her children. But when “The Queen of Motown,” Mary Wells, passed away in 1992, Holloway saw reason to return to professional music. She hadn't gone unmissed in her absence. The Brits, in their infinite wisdom, had picked up her records. Her singles became a staple of the British Northern Soul scene of the 1970s. “The British have good taste in music,” says Holloway, a smile in her voice. “Those records were really well done.”
Holloway displays a great deal of nostalgia for the old days, although she herself has recorded new material, including 1999's It's A Woman's World. “Today's artists can feed off what we did. But we were the originals. We were old school. We had so much soul back in the day and went through a lot. I wasn't raised in the South, but I could still feel the oppression in California.”
It's hard not to be moved by her sense of commitment to the music. “We sang from our pain, our sorrows and our struggles. People picked up on that. We lived our music. Even after we're gone, our music will still be in the ears of people.”
Indeed, Holloway believes in the universal quality of soul. “Soul is something that everybody understands. It's not just in blacks. Amy Winehouse had soul. It's spiritual. That's why it reaches someone else.”