It's not that The Majestics don't care; it's just that stardom and the magnetic allure of its trappings don't matter anymore. The legendary Rochester reggae band no longer chases the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The band abides.
And after a lengthy hiatus, The Majestics are back, Jack. Ron Stackman (guitar and vocals), Jim Schwarz (bass), Lou LaVilla (drums), Kevin Hart (lead guitar), and Brother James (percussion) are firing up the machine with a four-piece horn section and hitting the Jazz Festival stage for their re-debut. It's gonna be majestic.
It all started for The Majestics once upon a time in the 1980's, after the demise of Bahama Mama.
"We started as a trio," Stackman says, "then added guitarist Rudy Valentino and percussionist Brother James from Trinidad. We toured with every reggae act you can think of — especially Burning Spear, Peter Tosh, and so on. We were never able to get any serious kind of record deal, but we did some nice stuff."
There are a million reasons behind the fame the band deserved — and the fame it actually got. For Stackman, it's easy: they were ahead of their time.
"I think what we were doing wasn't in tune with the times yet," he says. "We were taking reggae and making it rocky. At that time people were just figuring out about reggae, and they weren't ready to hear it rocked out the way we did it."
Some purists scoffed. "But the Jamaicans loved it," Stackman says. "The hippies were a little confused — as they tend to be. We didn't wear the matching red, gold, and green outfits and shout 'yoy, yoy.' We always put our own thing on it."
And the band wasn't totally off the mark, according to LaVilla. Other rock bands were embracing reggae, and vice versa. "This was around the time of bands like UB40 and The Police," he says.
But when the push became increasingly uphill, The Majestics hung it up.
"We hung it up after the last Burning Spear tour, 1982-1983," Stackman says. "We thought something might happen there. We put on a lot of miles and worked real hard, and still came back broke."
The break-up didn't last all that long with the birth of the band Big Roots about a year later. And whereas The Majestics was a small band, Big Roots was fortified with 10 members, including a powerful horn section.
"It was full-blown," Stackman says. "We were quite popular regionally, but it ran its course and we got tired of it."
The members of The Majestics got together sporadically over the years before reforming for good about a year ago. They're older, wiser, and as excited for their own brand of reggae as ever, going back to the heyday in the early 1970's when a friend serendipitously slipped Stackman a Wailers album. He dug it.
"It was either 'Burnin'' or 'Catch a Fire,'" says Schwarz who dug the sound as well. "We had been playing in a Top 40 band, but we were playing Mothers of Invention stuff too."
"At the time I was living on a farm, raising goats," Stackman says. "And I was drawn to the natural kind of Rasta thing they had going. But when we tried to play it, we couldn't, and that's what really got us interested."
The Majestics toured extensively up and down the East Coast, the hard way: no GPS, no Verizon on the horizon.
"And you're diving around in a van with half a clue where you're going, with no money and a credit card ... back during the gas crisis, trying to buy gas every other day; trying to stay on the road," Stackman says. "We went through all that stuff together, man. We knew each other better than our wives knew us."
The Majestics even went down to Jamaica and made a record with Lee "Scratch" Perry, who found the band via a live video he'd been shown. This also included a string of dates opening for The Clash in New York City.
Now with the future a blank canvas before them, The Majestics have no plans or aspirations, just great reggae music. The band just put out a limited release EP with one song remixed by Dr. Dread, who has worked with the likes of Bunny Wailer and Gregory Isaacs. It's a big deal actually, but it doesn't carry the guarantee of limelight. Stackman waxes nonchalant.
"No, we're not going to make it," he says. "We won't be touring Europe soon. But we have something to offer that's totally unique: the fact that we've been playing for 40 years. We're old enough that it's just about the music again. It's not about anything else. It's not about making it palatable for the masses. It's not about egos. It's not about any of that. It's just about the music like it was when we started."
They've finally conquered that illusive one drop.
"Well ... I don't know that we've conquered it yet," Stackman says. "We don't sound like Jamaicans when we play. We were brought up on rock 'n' roll."
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