Classic Track: “Tomorrow People” Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers

Jul 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Blair Jackson


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Ziggy Marley

On the album (and live for a few years), Marley was backed primarily by a band called Dallol, comprising young musicians who had emigrated from politically unstable Ethiopia to Chicago during the late ’70s, and subsequently formed a group to play their own distinctive brand of reggae. Their eponymous debut album for the Shanachie label had been released in 1985, and they first toured with Marley in 1987. Augmenting the Dallol players (drums, bass, rhythm guitar, percussion, two keyboardists) were a pair of Jamaican reggae stalwarts: guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith and keyboardist Franklyn “Bubbler” Wahl. Ziggy also played guitar on several songs (though not on “Tomorrow People”), while his three siblings contributed backing vocals, along with one lead from “Steve,” as he’s called on the record). Guests included guitarist Keith Richards, saxophonist Lenny Pickett and, on two songs, including “Tomorrow People,” Jerry Harrison on B-3.

“If I recall correctly,” Rosenstein says, “Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith was using a custom modified Stratocaster as his main guitar, and for an amp he had one of Sigma’s—a 1966 blackface Fender Twin. One of the guitarists from Dallol was using a little combo Mesa Boogie amp. My mics of choice for the amps were probably [Shure] 57s and [Neumann] 87s, most likely a combination of both, very tight-miked and blanketed, because we’re talking about eight players in the room, one of them a percussionist, so real estate was at a minimum and leakage was at a maximum.

“But the thing that was remarkable about those sessions, what made us feel as though we really had something, was that these guys played together so well and they caught the vibe of every song so quickly. They were not just good musicians, they were phenomenal musicians.”

Rosenstein recalls that Ruphael Woldemariam’s drums (his name is misspelled in the album credits) were likely captured with a Neumann FET 47 inside the kick and a Beyer M88 outside; for snare, a 57 on top and an AKG 451 underneath; a 451 on the hi-hat; U87s on all three toms; and 87s as overheads, as well. Electronic keys would have been taken direct: “Franklyn Waul was quite expert with a Wave PPG, and I think he might have had a [Yamaha] DX7, too,” the engineer says.

All the tracks featured the full band on complete takes, with Ziggy singing scratch vocals in an iso booth. “For a typical song, like ‘Tomorrow People,’ we might have run it down three or four times and I don’t recall that we cut between takes. Most likely that was an early take.” Keeper lead vocals were cut later with an AKG C-12 tube. “Over the course of three records I made with Ziggy, comping was kept to a minimum, vibe to a maximum,” Rosenstein says. “He really knew his voice and how to use it, and he was very effective at nailing vocals quickly.”

Reverbs Rosenstein used in the mix included the then-fashionable Lexicon 224 and 224 XL, EMT 250, “and we had a couple of [Lexicon] Delta Ts, which were the precursor to the Primetime. We also used analog tape delay—we’d dedicate a 2-track, have the assistant engineer run tape, and we’d varispeed the machine to correctly time the delay. A couple of Publisons, some AMS DMXs, a few EMT plates—these were the tools we had back then; a little different than now.”

Conscious Party was released in the spring of 1988, and right out of the box, the catchy and melodic “Tomorrow People” was embraced by rock radio and a video for the song made it into MTV’s rotation (back in the days when they actually featured music videos). The single of the song made it to Number 39 (higher than any Bob Marley single), while the album peaked at Number 23, eventually selling well over a million copies. A second track from the album, “Tumblin’ Down,” hit Number 1 on Billboard’s R&B and Dance charts and Number 5 on Modern Rock Tracks. It also kicked off a particularly fertile period for Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers. The following year, they recorded another album, One Bright Day, with Weymouth, Franz and Rosenstein (who was listed as co-producer), and then in 1991, Rosenstein and Ziggy produced Jahmekyas.

Was Rosenstein surprised by the success of Conscious Party and “Tomorrow People”?

“Absolutely. I thought Chris and Tina had done a remarkable job capturing the emotion and spirit of the artist, and it was clear to me that we had done something special. But even in the context of a time when there were huge hits—these days the definition of a huge hit is considerably different—I’m not sure anyone could have had that type of expectation for Conscious Party’s success. Everyone always hopes for a successful project, but that this album would break out of its genre and become MTV fodder? While I know that was the intention of the label—and Virgin was a very well run label—we didn’t really expect it. So it was definitely quite cool when it happened.”

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