Performers for the 2018 National Folk Festival
Clinton Fearon & the Boogie Brown Band
photo credit: Franck Blanquin
A member of the legendary Gladiators, one of the most popular vocal groups to emerge from Jamaica in the formative years of reggae, singer and songwriter Clinton Fearon has been bringing roots reggae music to audiences across the globe for more than four decades. Emerging from the island of Jamaica in the 1960s, reggae captivated the world with its musical calls for justice, freedom, and equality, and messages of hope and redemption. Clinton’s vibrant voice, the deep groove of his bass playing, and his visionary lyrics remind listeners that reggae is much more than just a musical style.
The reggae beat, slow and steady like the human heartbeat, has roots in Jamaica’s indigenous folk percussion and the religious drumming known as nyahbingi. Reggae also drew from mento, a Jamaican folk music closely related to Trinidadian calypso, and from two popular homegrown dance styles, ska and rock steady, both influenced by American R&B and jump blues. Reggae’s development is intertwined with the history of Rastafarianism, a spiritual, social, and political movement that developed among the island’s poor beginning in the 1930s. In the volatile political climate of the 1960s, these musical antecedents fused with the social activism and spiritual consciousness of Rastafarianism to produce reggae.
Inspired by these musical currents, Clinton Fearon formed his first band as a teenager in Kingston. Then, in 1969, he was playing guitar in his yard when a member of the Gladiators overheard his voice; the band, with a big hit under their belts but suddenly short a singer, quickly recruited the talented 19-year-old. For the next 18 years, Fearon was a key member of the internationally legendary Gladiators, playing bass guitar and contributing to the band’s distinctive vocal mix. Fearon’s talent for songwriting also had a huge impact on the band’s legacy. At the same time, his commanding bass playing earned him steady work as a session musician with some of the biggest producers on the island, Lee “Scratch” Perry of Black Ark Studio and Coxsonne Dodd of Studio One.
In 1987, at the end of an international Gladiators’ tour, Fearon formed a new group, the Defenders, with other reggae musicians sojourning in the U.S. The Defenders’ stateside success led Fearon to settle permanently in Seattle. In 1994, Fearon started his own roots reggae ensemble, the Boogie Brown Band. Fearon remains a prodigious composer—his 11th self-produced album, This Morning, was released in 2016—and a powerful voice for the redemptive vision of reggae. As he says, “My music is good for the soul, always with a message of hope and betterment for tomorrow.”