Burning Spear

It's stupidly easy to gush over someone who has been in the business as long as Burning Spear (a.k.a. Winston Rodney) has. Yet the gushing seems more sincere when you're talking about reggae, because despite brief flirtations with the mainstream over the last 30 years, the music has never enjoyed the same attention as rock, soul, country or blues. So merely surviving in the riddim business, let alone being consistently productive like Rodney, is imminently gush-worthy.

Rodney's musical break came in 1969 following a chance meeting with the up-and-coming Bob Marley. At Marley's recommendation, Rodney entered Studio One in Jamaica, auditioned, and well, the rest is well-documented history. It would be several years later -- 1975, in fact, with the release of Marcus Garvey -- that Rodney (along with vocalists Rupert Willington and Delroy Hines) would achieve a degree of international success. With its social messages and steady beats, the record was part dance-hall favorite and part history lesson. (The inner sleeve pictured the trio aboard a slave ship.)

"Marcus Garvey" may be his signature tune, but Rodney has laid down other solid recordings as well. His songwriting still possesses an inimitable spiritual quality as well as a sense of fun. (A few years ago he paid homage to Jerry Garcia, a man he'd never met, on "Play Jerry"). In fact, his hard work paid off earlier this year with his first-ever Grammy win for Calling Rastafari (Heartbeat Records).

Recent gigs have shown Rodney to be in top form as a conga player and vocalist (utilizing a unique, semi-nasal tone that's extremely calming). At the same time, his ever-changing Burning Band is usually a fluid unit driven by punctuated horns and tight guitar licks. Improvisation abounds. So prepare for some serious jammin'.