The Origins of Ska, Reggae and Dub History and Major Figures of Jazz The Funky Muse

Psychedelic is defined as ‘mind revealing’ or ‘mind manifesting’ and the word is used to describe enhanced perception and imagination induced by ecstasy with or without the use of drugs. The term is also applied to illegal substances such as hashish, LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide - also known just as acid), mescaline and opium which help to produce that state and to the use of abnormally brilliant colours in art and design which has been fostered by psychedelic experiments.

The molecule LSD-25 was originally synthesised by Albert Hofmann in 1938 and tried on animals. No interesting effects appeared, and the molecule was consigned to the "useless" heap. If it had stayed there, the state of today's world would be different. However, 5 years later while working at the Sandoz laboratory in Basel, some "presentiment" was telling Hofmann to retrace his steps and perform a new synthesis, which was completed on 16 April 1943. Accidentally, Hofmann breathed in or swallowed some of the material, and had the merit to realize, when its effect came upon him, that something of momentous significance had happened. He assumed LSD was the cause, and waited until the next working day, a Monday, to try again. The assumption proved right, and a new chapter of history opened.

By the mid 1960’s research was being done on the use of LSD in treating psychiatric illnesses and in creative problem solving in the United States. From 1965 its exploration was also being popularised by writers like Timothy Leary and William Burroughs. From their communal base in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco Jerry Garcia and his band the Grateful Dead pioneered the free festivals and "love ins" which defined the flower power generation, having previously been involved in the "acid tests" with Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters.

Young America rebelled against the authorities who were supporting the Vietnam war, strengthening an underground movement which effectively used music to spread its philosophies around the globe and in 1966 LSD was made illegal in the United States. But it was already too late. Many musicians had already "turned on" and were looking for new ways to express themselves and Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, the Byrds and others changed the face of pop music with their free-thinking and exotic approaches to lyrics and sound.

Meanwhile, over in Britain many of the bands who were part of the 1960’s British beat boom rapidly became part of the new direction ushered in by psychedelia. Released in 1966, the Beatles album Revolver was a clear indication of what was to come and was the first sign that the Beatles had it in them to become more than a straight pop band - the era of true invention both sonic and musical had indeed arrived. Other British acts to ride the first wave of psychedelia included the Who, the Kinks, the Move, the Small Faces and Pink Floyd (pioneers of the psychedelic light show).

Heavily overdriven guitar came to the fore thanks to the new guitar gods, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix, while in Jamaica the ska-bluebeat advance into what became "rock steady" also occured around 1966 and by 1970 reggae had already been mutated into dub.

From San Francisco also came the first "Summer of Love," Sly and the Family Stone's funky muse and Santana's latin based rock, spiritualised by way of Trane and Miles, the man in the green shirt seeding jazz-rock fusion In a Silent Way, back east in New York. More elements to fuel an already bubbling cauldron of sounds.

The emergence of progressive rock at the end of the 1960’s can be attributed to the development of analog multi-track recording and the increased importance of the recording studio in making music. These new machines were initially four track, but there quickly followed in rapid succession eight, twelve, sixteen and a little later twenty-four track recording studios. Among the new English progressive bands were Led Zeppelin, Genesis (with lead singer Peter Gabriel), King Crimson, Yes and Roxy Music, the latter establishing Brian Eno’s important profile in the music industry.

The Wailers had been quite successful commercially in the Caribbean during most of Jamaican rock's evolutionary phases but after signing with Chris Blackwell's Island Records in 1972, they issued a string of well received albums on the internationally distributed Island label, beginning with the album Catch a Fire. Bob Marley and the Wailers' mesmerising and often incendiary songs were customarily steeped in images of Third World strife and underscored by the turbid tenets of the Rastafarian faith as well as by symbols and maxims derived from Jamaican and African folklore. Rastas smoked "herb" to "help with their meditations" and the Rasta colours are richly symbolic:

Red fe de bloodshed inflicted on the sufferah since slavery days

Gold fe de wealth stolen from the sufferah since Solomon's temple was laid low

Green fe de blessed land in Africa dat awaits the black mon's return

Jazz rock fusion and progressive rock tended to become more complex and pompous as the 1970s rolled on, and with the arrival of punk, these aspects were to become loathed and reviled. The initial energy and enthusiasm which fueled the post-punk new wave was to bland out into "business as usual" as the '80's progressed. However, by the late 1980s psychedelia had embraced dance music and a new tribalism emerged: rave culture and the drug of choice - ecstasy.

During the early 1990's bands like The Shamen produced house anthems like "Ebeneezer Goode" and as the decade progressed, labels like On-U Sound and Axiom continued to push the boundaries of contemporary music by producing music which fused reggae and dub with jazz, blues and other exotic music from around the world. The film Modulations explores how advances in technology enabled a wide range of electronica subgenres to flourish in the 1990s.


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For further information on this subject, including pictures and a commentary check out:

The Psychedelic Imagination
(illustrated version with commentary)
Psychedelic Album Covers

Strands of Contemporary Music
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