Steel Pulse - Chapter 9
Chapter 9: Roots Resurrection
Steel Pulse released their tenth album, Vex, which proved to be their last for MCA, in September 1994. Determined to return to their spiritual roots, the album was recorded in Ocho Rios, Jamaica and featured Diana King and deejays Tony Rebel, Macka B and Jukie Ranks. Kevin Batchelor rapped on Better Days and Micah Robinson took over trombone duties. Many of the tracks were mixed by Dennis Thompson, who'd worked with the band at various intervals over the years. Grizzly recalls, "we wanted a different flavour, different producer (Stephen Stewart), different setting, different everything and where else to go to record reggae but Jamaica. Some others helped out like Jukie Ranks and Macka B from Birmingham, who did their vocals over here." He points out, "if a track was not used on one album, it might be used further down the line. There's a cupboard full of unused songs written by David and Selwyn. Putting an album together was like putting a story together or like painting a picture. If some songs didn't fit, they wouldn't be used. In the early days, we'd do a show based on the album and would put in a couple of extra tracks that the audience hadn't heard before. Steel Pulse was and always will be an album band." Selwyn declared, "We reached a stage with the albums where we tried and tried and tried this crossover thing and basically got tired of it. When it didn't work, when it didn't cross over in a big way, we thought, 'this don't make no sense so let's just go back to what we're more accustomed to doing,' which is stuff like we're doing now on the Vex album...all those kind of tracks represent Steel Pulse more." This stance was echoed in the lyrics of the album track, Back To My Roots. 'We took that commercial road/searching for some fame and gold/and gained a whole wide world/and almost lost our souls./Some say we should have led the way/take it over from Bob Marley/got brainwashed by the system/what a heavy price we paid./It's time to go back/the way it was...back to my roots.' In May 1994 they'd appeared on the Late Night Show with Conan O'Brien and performed Let Freedom Ring, a tribute to Martin Luther King. Steel Pulse also spent that Summer headlining the 10th Reggae Sunsplash tour of the US with Maxi Priest, Europe, Japan with Big Mountain, visiting islands like Aruba, Lesser Antilles and Guam and a successful tour of Brazil and Argentina in July and August.
In 1995, a live performance of Blues Dance Raid alongwith another two dozen Reggae Sunsplash artists was captured on the documentary film, 'The Reggae Movie'. In April they played the Cayman Islands and during their end of year Caribbean tour were again refused entry into Dominica. Long-time manager Andy Bowen departed after thirteen years and following a period of reflection and a strategic rethink, David 'Dread' Hinds assumed control of the band's affairs, and alongwith the remaining core members, drummer Steve 'Grizzly' Nisbett and Selwyn 'Bumbo' Brown on keyboards, reactivated the Wise Man Doctrine (WMD) label and upgraded their rehearsal studio in Birmingham to recording premises to lay down their definitive Rastanthology compilation album in 1996. "Rastanthology was tracks that everyone liked. We put out a few feelers about what people would like to hear and that was the result," explains Grizzly. Earlier in the year Pulse toured extensively in the Caribbean and in January appeared at the 7th Hollywood Rock festivals in Brazil, in Sao Paulo (at Pacaembu Stadium on 21 January) and Rio de Janeiro (Apoteose Square on 26 January) alongside Page and Plant, The Cure and Smashing Pumpkins. They also contributed the track Franklin's Tower to the Fire on the Mountain: Reggae celebrates the Grateful Dead album and I-Spy to the film soundtrack, Klash, a romantic thriller set in Jamaica. The group had been invited to play at the Atlanta Centennial Olympic celebrations on 27 July that year but Hinds cried off with a ruptured tendon in his shoulder and they fortunately avoided the deadly bomb blast that killed one and injured dozens as they listened to an open-air music concert in the early hours.