UK’s Grammy Winning Reggae Band Honors Charles Neville and “Grizzly” Nisbett at New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
By Shelah Moody
Steel Pulse perform a Celebration of Life show for former drummer Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett tonight, Wednesday May 23rd, Fonda Theater, Los Angeles, https://www.axs.com/events/350792/steel-pulse-tickets
Steel Pulse or Sting… who would you choose? Oz or Wakanda?
On Friday April 27, opening weekend of the 2018 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, (nolajazzfest.com), music lovers were faced with quite a dilemma: whether to catch Sting at the Acura stage from 5:35 p.m. to 7 p.m. or another wildly popular British act, Steel Pulse, on the Congo Square stage from 5:25-6:55 p.m. For this writer, it was an easy choice. I love Sting, but the pop icon could not have put it better when he sang, “if you love somebody, set them free.” That being said, I joined thousands of revelers at Congo Square just in time to hear Steel Pulse delivering the first riffs of their liberation anthem, “Rally Round (the Flag).
I sipped a tall strawberry lemonade under a big tree at Fest and threw my fist in the air as David “Dread” Hinds sang the popular refrain “closer to God we Africans.”
Steel Pulse’s return to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, affectionately known as Jazzfest or Fest to locals, was indeed a spiritual experience as founding members David Hinds (lead vocals, rhythm guitar) and Selwyn “Bumbo” Brown (lead vocals, keyboards, melodica) rocked against racism and downpression and preached the gospel of Rastafari. Laying down the grooves were Steel Pulse’s stellar lineup of supporting musicians, some, producers and arrangers in their own right: Sidney Mills (keyboards), C-Sharp Clark (drums) Amlak Tafari (bass), Jerry Johnson (saxophone), Steven Bradley (trumpet) David Elecciri (guitar) and Baruch Hinds, the rapper, aka Steel Pulse, the next generation. (insert video clip of Jazzfest performance)
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of their breakthrough album, “Handsworth Revolution,” the Pulse performed extended, jazzy renditions of the title track, along with “Ku Klux Klan,” “Soldiers,” “Prodigal Son” and “Prediction.” They kept the crowd dancing with SP favorites such as “Roller Skates,” (which I’ve been told is one of Roberta Flack’s favorite songs) “Chant a Psalm a Day,” “Taxi Driver” “Drug Squad” “Bodyguard” “Stepping Out” and as an encore, a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower,” featuring a soulful harmonica solo a la Hinds.
Sadly, prior to the Pulse’s performance, on April 26, one of New Orleans’ finest musicians, saxophonist Charles Neville of the Neville Brother’s fame, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer at age 79. The band took a few moments to honor their comrade on stage and Hinds referred to Charles Neville as one of the greatest musical phenomenons to come out of America. They also paid tribute to former Steel Pulse drummer, Steve, “Grizzly” Nisbett, who made his transition at the beginning of the year…
Following their Jazzfest performance, the Pulse stayed in New Orleans for a few days for rehearsals and recordings. I met up with the band at the Music Shed recording studio in the Garden District. (insert studio video).
“The vibe at Jazzfest was kind of a strange one; I didn’t expect to be performing so early on stage,” Hinds reflected.
“Also knowing that Sting was performing on the next stage, I was expecting a half; lackluster type of audience but it was the opposite. There was a sea of people along the horizon and the crowd was deep. I was fascinated by that experience as well. We’ve been performing in New Orleans for quite some time, and usually when we hit here, it’s been the House of Blues and Tipitina’s back in the day.’”
In between laying down track at the Music Shed, band members reflected on the life of Charles Neville and offered their condolences to his family, friends and fans. .
“We toured with the Neville Brothers some time ago in the early 2000s,” said Hinds.”
“It was a terrific experience touring with a group of seasoned musicians and that silky voice of Aaron’s. I was so fascinated with those guys that I had to buy their autobiography. What I liked about the book was the four brothers telling their stories at the same time. I pretty much held on to Charles’ story because of his experience; his was perhaps the most memorable of the scripts that I read from each brother. It was really like a homeboy went with us; the way I saw how his life panned out. I’m sorry to hear the scenario of Charles’s passing. We’ve always admired New Orleans itself and the whole experience of here all the time and coming down to the 9th Ward about 12 years ago. Our heart rendering sympathies go out to the Nevilles, to New Orleans and to America because the Neville Brothers are one of the most prolific bands to come out of the United States. Respect to the Neville Brothers.”
When Sidney Mills comes to New Orleans, it is like returning to family, He said. Mills also remembered touring with the Neville brothers and being influenced by their brother, pianist Art Neville, on the Jam Cruise.
“Charles was a nice person,” said Mills. “I first met Charles on tour with the Calabash band and we did a show with Judy Mowatt and the Neville Brothers in the early nineties. Charles would hang out with us. He was not just a musician; he was a people person. He had this love for indigenous people. He was open to all kinds of music. He always told us that he would come to Jamaica and smoke weed with us, because back in those days, it was a big deal, because ; he was arrested for marijuana in the sixies. He told me that was when he hooked up with James Booker, a New Orleans pianist. Charles was phenomenal. He could play two saxes at the same time, playing harmonies, so he was well developed.”
At press time, Steel Pulse was laying down plans for an all-star celebration in honor of longtime drummer Steve “Grizzly” Nisbett, at the Fonda Theater in Los Angeles
“As you know, Grizzly passed in January,” said Hinds. “We’’ be holding a ceremony and tribute to him on May 23. We’d love everyone to be there. Grizzly influenced a lot of drummers, so they will be stepping in and filling in the spots as well. There will be (musicians) from Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Ziggy Marley’s band. They all want to participate in this event, so we are welcoming them with open arms. We are hoping to raise some funds from this experience and we are hoping to put it towards something charitable or some cause related to Grizzly himself.”
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