Downbeat Abbey All-Stars bring you some Jamaica. Everything gonna be all right.
In the beginning there was ska, and it was good. Ska begat rocksteady and it was good. Rocksteady begat reggae and it was very good. BOOM! Sixty-five years of musical evolution in Jamaica summed up in three silly sentences. If you’d like a more visceral examination of that same musical history, just tune in the boys from Downbeat Abbey All-Stars. Rhythm guitarist and horn player Robert Waller introduced the band to me as “one of the hardest-working rocksteady groups out there” and that is accurate—but it’s just as accurate to call them ska and reggae, the whole package if you will.
The band is, for the moment, a five-piece, although the guys are looking to add a dedicated horn section at some point. For now, Waller plays horn when he isn’t on rhythm guitar or vocal duty. Kevin Miller plays lead and vocals. Jamie Danish thumps the bass while Dave DePriest bangs the drums and Rob Hoskins is the resident keyboard player and vocalist. The guys take turns on lead vocals and harmonies but the lion’s share of singing goes to Hoskins.
Collectively the band has a seriously impressive resume. Jamie, Dave and Rob have all backed major Jamaican recording artists like Freddy Notes, Eric “Monty” Morris, Don Carlos and Justin Hinds. Dave and Rob were both members of Freedom of Expression in the ’80s, the band that inspired Christian Craan to form Milele Roots, a perennial favorite here in the Scenic City.
Freedom of Expression ultimately morphed into a.k.a.: RUDIE (with a side journey as Soul Radics) where they picked up Kevin on guitar while Waller began his stint with Milele. The two bands did a few shows together, leading to a great deal of crossover in members and ultimately to the formation of Downbeat Abbey All-Stars.
The guys have been plugging away at an album that looks to be wrapped up around June. In the meantime, there are some excellent cuts available on the band’s Facebook page via SoundCloud.
There are some old classics, of course, “Johnny Coolman” for instance, but there are some fun and unexpected entries, too—like their loveable ska version of “What’s New Pussycat?” (which ties with Jack Black’s Korean version as my favorite interpretation of that particular tune).
Of particular note is the instrumental tune “Surfin’” that (to me) embodies the unparalleled “cool” of reggae music, an irie tune if ever there was one.
I’ve made arrangements to receive an advance copy of the album, so expect to see a review of it here when it becomes available. For now the band is working on some upcoming gigs with reggae monsters The Iscariots. Look for the double-header at JJ’s Bohemia in the coming months. With over 30 years of hardcore experience in the genre, the fellas know their business.
If you can’t come to Jamaica, then the All-Stars can, in a small but significant way, make Jamaica come to you. Respect.