Steel Pulse - Chapter 8
Chapter 8: Victims of the System
Steel Pulse toured the States alongwith Special Beat at the same time as their latest album Victims was released in June 1991, with contributions from Stevie Wonder (harmonica solo on Can't Get You) and Pato Banton (We Can Do It). Assisting on keyboards was fellow co-producer Paul Horton, Jimmy Haynes and Melvin Brown shared lead guitar duties and the horn section came courtesy of Paul Simm (trumpet), John Battrum (sax) and Frank Mysan (trombone). Soul of My Soul was released as a single from the album. "I recall a lot of re-writing and re-arrangements for Victims. David has very good ears. They're spot on. If he says something's wrong, he's right. It may be the timing, the groove, the feeling or the tuning is not right. He's a perfectionist, he hears things you don't and when he points it out to you, he's always right. You can't argue with him. We spent long hours in the studio, but its ours so we could come and go when we liked, sometimes 10am til 6am the next morning. Co-producing with the band was Paul Horton from Birmingham, who'd been a good friend of the band for a long-time. A musician who plays guitar, we knew he had studio skills and had his own studio no less," recalls Grizzly. The album was nominated for the Reggae Grammy award, which eventually went to Shabba Ranks.
In the same year, the group said goodbye to vocalist and percussionist Phonso Martin after fourteen years with the band. Grizzly believes, "he became business-headed. He'd always liked dabbling on the business-side of things, he went into a managment company and wanted to concentrate on that. I think he had a record label, a management company as well a boutique in London. Once he left the band he spent most of his time in the States but came to see us at a few shows." Meanwhile, Hinds took the New York Taxi & Limousine Commission to court for discrimination against black citizens and penned the single Taxi Driver as a permanent reminder. The $1 million lawsuit spawned a popular video at the time that included cameo appearances from Rev. Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, Branford Marsalis, C Thomas Howell, film-maker Robert Townsend and Sunsplash founder, Tony Johnson. Grizzly explains, "David tried to get a cab one day, something happened and he said I'll sue you guys. We did the whole Taxi thing and it took off. Everybody got involved, Al Sharpton, Jay Leno, everyone. No one had gone that far with the Taxi Commission in New York. It happens all the time, so we'd decided to do something about it. It was in the papers and on the tv, everything." Behind the publicity juggernaut that broke the story nationwide, that evetually saw the band playing at the White House, were publicity agents Lobeline, the company who also promoted the Reggae Sunsplash festivals.
Speaking in 1991 about the reasons for their success, David Hinds told High Times, 'If you go back into the '70s and count all the reggae bands that existed then and still exist today as reggae bands - and I don't mean artists with a reggae backing band - you can probably count them on one hand. As opposed to following the trend, we've been a trendsetter. We've always had our own type of groove. We've worked upon it over the years and also adapted different styles along the way. So we've had a strong following and been respected as a group that's been around for some time saying something.' Hinds continues, 'Obviously subject matter is going to differ because of where one originates. One can only speak of one's environment and peers within that environment. Also, British reggae artists tend to feature a lot more instrumentation, especially around the mid-range, where there are more keyboard and guitar fills and a lot of harmony stacks. Where Jamaica leans more towards rhythm, English reggae tends to lean more towards melody and harmonies. Jamaican reggae is drum, bass, probably one countermelody and a skank with a lead vocal that very rarely has harmony added to it.'
Still under pressure from their record company to produce more commercially-acceptable crossover music, the band continued to tour extensively in the USA, the Caribbean including Reggae Sunsplash in August and the French Caribbean, a second visit to Japan, a first time trip to Australia (where in New Caledonia their equipment was confiscated and auctioned by customs) and Europe and produced a live album, Rastafari Centennial, recorded over three nights in Paris in January 1992, for which they received a third Grammy nomination on its release in September 1992. Lead guitarist Cliff 'Moonie' Pusey, with experience with Paula Abdul, The Family Stand, Aftershock and Maxi Priest, made his debut appearance on the album, having first joined the band in 1989, alongwith the horn section of Kevin Batchelor (trumpet), Jerry Johnson (sax) and Clark Gayton (trombone), who toured with the group at that time. Here's Grizzly's take on it. "Loony Moonie - we needed a guitarist. We'd seen a video of him play and we wanted a guitarist who was different. Sidney introduced him, he came along, showed us what he could do and we said yes. But we found out what he could really do when he got on stage. That's when Moonie really comes into his own. Kevin and Jerry are a good horn section. They'd been together for a long while. We used horns in the studio but not live. It made it more dynamic, a whole new range to the show, a new melody, new rhythm section and was an added attraction on stage. It took the show to a new level. Musically, it added so much to us, they were performing, playing, they were singing. Kevin sings, raps, dances, he does everything."
In October 1992, Pulse guested on NBC's The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, performing Taxi Driver. They then appeared at US President Bill Clinton's inauguration party on 20 January 1993, the first reggae band to attend such a prestigious event, alongside Barbara Streisand, George Clinton and Salt 'n' Pepa. Grizzly explains, "Steel Pulse and Salt 'n' Pepa were in Washington next door to the White House. [Bill] Clinton was trying to get back for our show but was held up. We played for him on the way to and from the inauguration. Al Gore was there though." The day before they were invited to the Jamaican Embassy in recognition of their fundraising efforts on behalf of the Hurricane Gilbert Appeal. Recording for their new album took place in Ocho Rios, Jamaica in September 1993. It was during their time in Jamaica where they met the Prime Minister P J Patterson.Chapter 9: Roots Resurrection - will follow next week.