Taken from McDonald Theatre (October 31, 2004)
Michael Franti & Spearhead at McDonald Theatre
Michael Franti and Spearhead
Sly and Robbie
Sunday, October 31,
by McDonald Theatre
Michael Franti's musical career started in 1986 in San Francisco when he formed a group along with Kevin Carnes ( Broun Fellini's) The band was "The Beatnigs". They were signed to Jello Biafra's label Alternative Tentacles in 1987. The band played lots of different clubs in San Francisco & the Bay Area. They then took to the road and toured throughout the U.S. and Europe.They only recorded one album , however it stants out as a showcase of Michael's beginnings of social commentary with songs like Nature, Burritos, & the original version of "Television, the drug of the nation". The album mixed up many different styles including funk, hip-hop, & industrial sounds.
Michael Franti from Spearhead
Michael's next venture started in 1991 when he met a guitarist named Charlie Hunter. Charlie played a guitar that had 4 guitar strings and 2 bass strings ,& was able to play both guitar & bass at the same time. He and Michael hit it off and began to play together as a duet. Michael then decided to call upon his friend Rono Tse who was also in The Beatnigs.
This began Michael's next band , "The Disposable Heroes Of HipHoprisy. They were signed to Island Records in 1992 & put out their album "Hypocrisy Is The Greatest Luxury". It was a very bold album with Michael dropping much knowledge on a wide array of subjects from gay tolerance to the governments slippery doings. The album was extremely well received by fans and critics from all over the world. The record gave Michael a worldwide audience of listeners and fellow artists. One of these artists was Bono from U2 who asked Disposable Heroes to join them on the huge Zoo TV tour. This tour allowed Michael & the group to reach a huge audience and stands as an important achievement in Michael's career.
After this project Michael was approached by a music supervisor named Hal Wilner who was compiling a record of music to be recorded by different bands that was going to be paired with spoken word pieces by the famous beat poet William S. Burroghs. When William heard Michael's tracks he liked it so much he asked Michael to do the whole record and what came of their collaboration is a great album titled "Spare Ass Annie and other tales" put out in 1993 on Island Records. This would be the last record that Disposable put out.
At the end of 1993 Disposable Heroes decided to go their separate ways.
In 1994 Michael decided after speaking out in such a confrontational in your face way that he would still stay true, but to do it in a different approach. This would be to have consciousness in the music , but also bring the music so people could dance and have a good time as well. This idea manifested itself as Michael's next group Spearhead. The band started off with a great album on a new label(Capitol Records) and a strong female singer named Mary Harris that added a lot of fire to the group. The album was named "Home". It gave Michael his first hit record with the thought provoking track "Hole In The Bucket". It also was the first record in the rap community to address the subject of HIV & Aids. The song "Positive" was also picked up and included on The Red Hot organization's album "Stolen Moments". Spearhead embarked on a 2 year tour in support of "Home" with artists such as, Ben Harper, Digable Planets, Brand New Heavies, The Fugees.
In 1996 Michael began writing for the next Spearhead record which was released in 1997. The album, entitled "Chocolate Super Highway" was a new level for Michael's storytelling skills. It featured collaborations with Stephen Marley, Marie of Zap Mama, & Joan Osborne. It also contained an updated version of the Disposable Heroes song "Water Pistol Man". This album also introduced Spearhead's new singer, Trinna Simmons who added a lot to the new songs , such as "u can't sing our song" , "madness in tha hood" , & "ganja babe". Spearhead started on another world tour. This tour they played on the Smoking Grooves tour during the summer of 1997.
Perhaps Michael Franti's best album in an accomplished career, entitled "Everyone Deserves Music," the fully realized songs mark a kind of a personal and musical turning point. Together, they have an effect that is nothing short of revelatory. From the shimmering opening chords of the personal manifesto, "What I Be," to the poignant coda of the call-for-unity, "Crazy Crazy Crazy," Franti spans the personal and political with grace, depth, and beauty. If the times have been marked by tension and fear, Franti offers compassion and release. "Even our worst enemies," he sings on the title track, "deserve music."
Sly And Robbie - The Riddim Twins
Theirs is the ultimate musical marriage, a partnership that, once formed, re-etched the very landscape of not just Jamaican music, but the entire world's. Such hyperbole is oftentimes rolled out by publicity machines whenever two musical talents come together, but in the case of drummer Sly Dunbar and bassist Robbie Shakespeare, it really was an earth-shattering union. Their rhythms have been the driving force behind innumerable songs - one statistician estimated that together they've played on approximately 200,000 tracks, and that doesn't count remixes, versions, and dubs. As a production team, the pair has been the equivalent of a creative storm, the cutting edge of modern dub, ragga, and dancehall.
Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare
Dunbar and Shakespeare linked in 1975, but by then they'd already become established figures on the Jamaican scene. Lowell Charles Dunbar was nicknamed Sly for his adoration of Sly Stone, and in his teens had begun his career in the late '60s playing in studio bands. For a while he was a member of the RHT Invincibles, a group led by Father Good'un which included such talents as Lloyd Parks, Bertram McLean, and Ansell Collins. The group cut several singles, but none were particularly successful. Dunbar would have better luck with his studio work and made his recorded debut with the Upsetters on the single "Night Doctor." Producer Lee Perry was obviously impressed with the young drummer and consistently used him in the studio. Even so, Dunbar continued with his outside interests, joining Skin Flesh & Bones, a group led by Al Brown that boasted the drummer's old compatriot Lloyd Parks. In 1974, the drummer and fellow bandmember Ranchie McLean launched a short-lived label, Taxi, which focused mainly on the group and its members' own material. Meanwhile, Shakespeare was also making a name for himself. He, too, had launched his career as a sessionman in his teens and, by the early '70s, was a member of producer Bunny Lee's house band the Aggrovators.
Inevitably, the two youths had crossed paths during this period - both were Kingston born and bred and were only a year apart in age (Dunbar is the elder). Over time, both had worked with virtually all the major (and minor) artists on the island. It was producer JoJo Hookim who eventually brought them together when the two separately joined his studio band the Revolutionaries in 1975. Their partnership grew slowly and their first work together was on Jimmy Cliff's Follow My Mind that same year. The duo then, oddly enough, was also asked to produce the established French singer Serge Gainsbourg's new album, Aux Armes Et Cetera, in 1975. It was a bizarre pairing for all concerned, but the sessions went so well that the duo not only produced the singer's next album, they also agreed to accompany him on his French tour.
Their first major project was providing backing for the late singer/songwriter Peter Tosh in his backing band Word Sound and Power. In this period they scored their first major worldwide nr 1 hitsingle with Peter Tosh and Mick Jagger: (Keep on walking) Don't Look Back. They recorded five albums with Peter Tosh: Equal Rights, Legalize it, Bush Docor, Mystic Man and Wanted Dread and Alive. While on a world tour with Peter, they lived on bread and water to save money to be able to start their own record label: TAXI Productions.
When they returned from touring, they indeed raised the TAXI label. They joined the band Black Uhuru and from there things really started. Black Uhuru, consisting of singers Ducky Simpson, Puma Jones and lead singer Michael Rose (now known as Mykall Rose) and Sly & Robbie on drum and bass turned out to become the most progressive sounding reggaeband of that time. In this line up 5 (6 with the dub album included) albums were released: Showcase, Sinsemilla, Red, Chill Out, (The Dub Factor,) and Anthem, each album being a large step forward towards innovating reggae music. After Anthem, Michael Rose left the group and was replaced by Junior Reid and two more albums were produced: Brutal and Positive.