One Drop: Keith Richards & The Wingless Angels

By James Calemine

Rare grooves…

Listen to the Keith Richards collection Wingless Angels. Keith lived in Jamaica for years, and played on a song called “Dirty Harry” for Sly Dunbar’s album called Sly, Wicked and Slick. Richards always loved Jamaican music. In 1997, Richards released his ‘one-drop’ Wingless Angels album that was recorded around his Steer Town home in Ochos Rios, Jamaica. It’s since been re-released…

In 1973, The Rolling Stones recorded Goats Head Soup at Dynamic Sound Studios in Kingston, Jamaica; the same studio Jimmy Cliff recorded his landmark song “The Harder They Come”. Southern boys Jim Dickinson and Eddie Hinton played on the classic Toots & the Maytals album, Toots In Memphis.

Jamaican music always contained a little southern soul. Jamaicans could hear radio stations in Miami, New Orleans and sometimes far away as Memphis to absorb the latest American music such as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding and James Brown. In Jamaica, R&B and ska began to rule the musical culture.

Island Records President Chris Blackwell signed the English rock band Traffic as well as Jamaica’s own The Wailers to his label. The two bands often played soccer together. Traffic recruited the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section’s David Hood and Roger Hawkins to play on Shoot Out at The Fantasy Factory, which was recorded during 1971 at Strawberry Hill Studios in Jamaica.

In 1974, Island Records released This Is Reggae Music, which contains a great rendition of the Eddie Hinton/Donnie Fritts classic “Breakfast In Bed” by Lorna Bennett. Anything is soulful from the Blue Mountains of Jamaica.

The Wingless Angels collection, recorded in one evening, earned their name from Richards who said “You sing like Angels, but you can’t fly.”  Nigel Williamson explained the culture these recordings revolved around:

“The Nyabinghi are a devout, Old Testament Rastafarian sect whose trademark in a slow, one-drop drumbeat the speed of the human pulse. They will keep up the rhythm for hours on African drums, funde, bass and kete repeater, while over the rop the chant down Babylon and the forces of oppression in all-night sessions known as “grounations”’.

Between Wingless Angels tracks, you can hear crickets in the Jamaican night. Highlights include: “O Mount Zion”, “Morning Train”, “Bright Soul” and “Rivers of Babylon”. It’s a spiritual vibe with Keith’s soulful guitar laced through every track. Within the liner notes, Vivien Goldman preserves the facts: “The sound is essentially African, but on “Wingless Angels” the Wesleyan hymns of the British churches, brought to Jamaica by Pentecostal missionaries, have intertwined with African heartbeats. They recorded when the sun set, in Brother Keith’s Ochos Rios yard…”

Sixteen tracks exist on this collection, but it sounds like one long–redemptive–mantra. A true aficionado must seek out this recording.

www.jamescalemine.com

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