Rory is currently one of the greatest characters in reggae. And I’m not talking about his talent as a selector for the top name sound system in Jamaica. I mean “character” in that his personality booms larger than life—he’s always got a cigarette in one hand, a joke on the tip of his tongue, and a mischievousness to match. Through the journalistic circles I met Rory years ago and still, to this day, I never know what to expect around the corner.
His jokes may be irreverent, they may be hilarious, or even in bad taste, but one thing is no joking matter: music. Rory has a musical knowledge that is unmatched, and his versatility takes him around the world. Still after 22 years with Stone Love, he stays current with the latest riddims, the “big tunes,” and the hype that surrounds the dancehall. He no longer spins records—everything is now on CD (“It makes the flight easier,” he says)—but when it comes to music, there is a certifiable fire in his eyes.
Stone Love is celebrating their 32nd anniversary. Who would have thought that Wee-Pow’s humble beginnings on Molynes Road in Kingston would have led to the most recognizable name in the dancehall sound system world 32 years later? Winston Powell (“Wee-Pow”) began spinning in uptown Kingston and in rural areas, but was encouraged to bring his sound to the ghetto areas in 1983—Stone Love became THE sound of popular street culture in Jamaica.
Apart from his annual rootsy set at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, Rory doesn’t get to Northern California much, so it was a surprise to hear that Club Dread in San Francisco booked him for their regular Monday night spot. I hadn’t been out of the house in months, so I was really looking forward to hearing some good music.
There was a nice crowd at StudioZ. It wasn’t packed but there were certainly enough people there to create a good vibe. Rory started out slowly with some old-school tunes—the familiar ones that we all grew up with—then took off from there. The set was all conscious—no “Boom Bye Bye,” no “Chi Chi Man,” no “fyah fi burn dem,” or any of that. I don’t know if Rory knows what he will play in advance or if he has a masterful ability to read the crowd, but whatever it was, he hit it right on.
What excites me most about the various sounds are their dubplates, the songs recorded specifically for that particular sound. Between all the years and all of the selectors, Stone Love has an enormous arsenal of dubs, and the Club Dread crowd was privy to some of them on Monday night. The most memorable ones were of Tony Rebel’s “If Jah,” Luciano’s “Over the Hills,” Junior Gong’s sped-up “Educated Fools,” and the wicked “Ghetto People’s Song” from Everton Blender: “It’s a Stone Love Sound, only them can play this one…”
From Garnett Silk to Richie Spice, the London-born selector gave the crowd hit after hit. We heard Capleton’s “Jah Jah City,” Jah Cure’s latest “Longing For,” numerous tracks on the Fiesta riddim including Baby Cham’s “Vitamin S” and Beenie Man’s “Dude.” He came with Tanya Stephens’ “It’s a Pity,” and Morgan Heritage’s “Best Friend.” We heard a number of Sizzla tunes, including “Haven’t I Told You,” “Woman I Need You,” and “Just One of Those Days.” Some of my favorite T.O.K. tunes were well accepted by the audience: “Gal Yu A Lead” and “Solid as a Rock.” We even got Elephant Man’s “Jiggy” and Richie Spice’s hit “Marijuana,” and despite the time lag, Sean Paul still gets a huge forward with “Gimme the Light.” Although Rory’s set might not have been hard enough for Brooklyn or Kingston audiences, he was San Francisco’s golden child for the night.
I saw so many people that night who I hadn’t seen in quite some time–I have to give respect to all the familiar faces in the place. For more info about Stone Love, click here.
Club Dread takes place every Monday night at StudioZ, 314 Eleventh Street in San Francisco. The promoter has just added Sunday nights in San Jose for 2005 at Pete Escovedo’s Latin and Jazz Club at 400 South First Street. Everton Blender, Sammy Dread & Rankin Joe, and Earl Zero are already booked for January 2005.