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Caribbean Musical Influences in Nashville

Updated on June 5, 2017

A Reggae Master Goes Country

One of the first Jamaican musicians to record a Country & Western tune as a cover was none other than Bob Marley
One of the first Jamaican musicians to record a Country & Western tune as a cover was none other than Bob Marley

Reggae Loves Country

Most probably, it was a small cadre of reggae musicians that got this reggae-loves-country ball rolling. As early as the mid 70s, Toots and Maytals made musical history, when they recorded a lyrical version of John Denver's popular hit, Country Roads, Take Me Home. Instead of going home to Denver's West Virginia, the reggae version, took the listener to the hills of West Jamaica in a very popular hit, called Almost Heaven, West Jamaica.

What followed was a whole string of reggae covers for a variety of Country & Western hits that included such tunes as as King of the Road by Freddie McGregor, El Paso by Antonio Sanchez, On Wolverton Mountain by Richie Stevens and The Gambler by Busy Signal.

And then there's the real mother lode of country crossover hits that occurred in 1962, when Bob Marley recorded Claude Grey's hit I'll just Have Another Cup of Coffee, (Then I'll go). This C & W cover by the master of reggae, just goes to show, how long reggae artists have been recording Nashville songs and also how deeply rooted this phenomena is.

Reggae Loves Country

A Gulf Coast Busker Makes It Big

Jimmy Buffett began his musical career by playing music on the streets of New Orleans and then in the bars of Key West. In his efforts to bring in a few dollars, he was sometimes accompanied by such musical legends as Jerry Jeff Walker and Steve Goodman. In 1970, Buffett released his first album, an obscure collection of songs titled, "Down To Earth".

A few years later, Jimmy moved into his Key West phase with an album entitled, A White Sport Coat and a Pink Crustacean. Jimmy Buffett had been playing around Key West for a while and the musical result was a Country, Folk-Rock, Reggae mix that went over well with beachlovers, barflies, sport sailors and a variety of other like-minded souls. This trend continued into the late 70s, when Buffett hit it big with an album called Changes in Lattitude, Changes in Attitude, a catchy little phrase, if there ever was one.

Riddles in the Sand

Jimmy Buffett posing for one of his lesser known,  mid-career album covers
Jimmy Buffett posing for one of his lesser known, mid-career album covers

Buffett's Ship Comes In


Without a doubt, Changes in Latitudes, Changes In Attitudes was Buffett's big, breakthrough recording. Not only did it have a highly successful title song, but also there was a second number, Margaritaville that would go to be a major expression of the laid back, ex-pat lifestyle that Jimmy Buffett had grown to symbolize.

After Changes the hits just kept coming with Son of a Son of a Sailor and Fins from the Son of a Son of a Sailor album and then Cheeseburger In Paradise and Volcano from an album simply called Volcano. By now Jimmy Buffett was a household name, but there were subtle changes on the way.

Robert Greenidge at Work

Robert Greenidge playing the steel drums
Robert Greenidge playing the steel drums

A Steel Pannist Joins the Coral Reefer Band

Can anybody here pass me the rum, And we can find somebody who can play the steel drum" Zac Brown from the Island Song.

With his 1983 release of One Particular Harbor, Jimmy Buffett entered a new phase of his musical career. One where he was past his spectacular high of successive mega-hits, but yet, still able to put out many high quality songs. One Particular Harbor also marks the point, when a steel drum player joined the Coral Reefer Band, the colorful handle attributed to Buffett's backup band.

The drummer's name was Robert Greenidge and he was born in Success Village, Trinidad in 1950. By age eight Robert was playing publicly and then as a teenager he joined the Trinidad and Tobago National Steel Orchestra, where he often appeared as a soloist.

In the 70s, Robert came to the U.S, where he played with such talented performers as Grover Washington Jr., Taj Mahal, Earth Wind and Fire, John Lennon and Ringo Star. In 1983, Robert Greenidge appeared on Buffett's One Particular Harbor album and has stayed with The Coral Reefer Band ever since. Take a close listen to some of Buffett's late career Caribbean tunes, such as Jolly Mon Sing, Jamaica Mistaica and Barefoot Children and you can immediately feel Robert's musical influence.

Jimyy Bufffett and Zac Brown On Stage Together

Along Comes Zac Brown

"And I'm a rolling up, like my name is Bob, Yeah I'm goin' to party like I'm ah Jamaican," Zac Brown from The Island Song

Ever since Jimmy Buffett burst on the scene in the late 70s with Margaritaville, perhaps no other has captured audiences with a rousing Caribbean-Country mixture like Zac Brown. Although the band's roots are solidly Country and Bluegrass, something happened along the way and the band put out a series of very popular Caribbean style hits that included songs like Toes, Knee Deep, Island Song and Where the Boat Leaves From.

All these musical numbers, deal heavily with enjoying the warm waters of the Caribbean, drinking rum and enjoying the white coral beaches of the sub-tropics. The last album release by this band is strictly, bluegrass and Country, but I'm sure there are many fans waiting for them to make another musical visit to the aqua blue waters of the Caribbean.


Other Island Experiences

Not many people know this, but In 1972 Johnny Cash bought an old sugar plantation in Jamaica that overlooked Montego Bay. The place was called Cinnamon Hill. Reportedly, the old mansion was haunted and even received a visit from a film crew connected with a TV program, called Ghost Adventures.

Even stranger still was another plantation located nearby, called Rose Hall. While living at Cinnamon Hill, Johnny Cash visited this notorious sugar plantation, which was run by a ruthless Haitian woman named Annie Palmer. While living at Montego Bay, she supposedly killed all three of her husbands and buried them each underneath one of the three, palm trees that grew next to the water. You can check out the whole story on the Cash video posted below. It's called The Ballad of Annie Palmer.

The Ballad of Annie Palmer

And a Heads Up To Kenny Chesney

Though born and raised in the highlands of East Tennessee, Kenny Chesney has become a Nashville sensation, as well as a genuine beach bum. With over a dozen, commercially-successful albums and several Entertainer of the Year Awards, Chesney;s Nashville achievements are indisputable. Still, this was not enough to prevent Kenny from adding steel drums to his music and eventually buying a million dollar estate in the Virgin Islands.

For a taste of Kenny's tropical conversion check out such numbers as Pirate Flag, Island Boy, Sherry's Living In Paradise, Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven, Guitars and Tiki Bars, Key Lime Pie and a beautiful poetic, tribute to Bob Marley, simply called Marley. Listen closely to all these songs and you will hear distinctly Country music, skillfully accompanied by the steel drums. What more could anyone want?

Pirate Flag

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