CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. — Iconic reggae legend Black Uhuru, having performed for more than 40 years, stepped onto the stage of the Crystal Bay Club Crown Room on Sept. 11 to serenade the crowd with roots rock reggae, a genre it helped define.
Black Uhuru was founded in the late 1960’s by Derrick “Duckie” Gong Simpson, Garth Dennis and Don Carlos. It has had a laundry list of members, ones who come and go, and then come back again, but one remains constant: Simpson. Black Uhuru’s most successful arrangement included Duckie, Michael Rose, Sandra “Puma” Jones, with Sly Dunbar, and Robbie Shakespeare producing the classic dub sound. This compilation of artists between 1979 and 1985 led the band to win the first-ever Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 1984, with “Anthem.” In 1989, the album “Red” was ranked No. 23 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Albums of the 1980s.
At the Crystal Bay Casino Crown Room show last week, Black Uhuru consisted of Simpson, Andrew Bees, Kaye Stahr and supporting band. The evening was chalk full of Black Uhuru classics such as “What is Life” “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” “Sinsemilla” “Sponji Reggae” and more. The crowd swayed in the rhythmic dub beats and was quick to get on their toes as Bees, (a Michael Rose sound alike) danced across the stage. The current members have huge shoes to fill from their predecessors, but they are still putting on a good show and giving audience members plenty of Black Uhuru classics. After the show Lake Tahoe Action spoke with Simpson.
Action: How do you feel about your current 2012 tour?
Simpson: Well we haven’t been in the U.S. for several years, we just recently started back in the U.S. in 2011, so this is our second run in the U.S. Everything is going great. I have a new album complete by the name of “Life Is.” It will go out in a few weeks, it’s my first album up front, I’ll be doing all the lead.
Action: After Tahoe, where does the tour take you, and are you promoting your new solo album?
Simpson: Definitely. We will go to Humboldt, then we will break for a little while, then we start again, we head down to South America, then we do a musical in L.A. at the Shrine Auditorium, its like a Broadway musical. We got a couple things lined up ... Russia, Dubai, so we be workin’ in the next couple of months.
Action: Is there any extra preparations you are making for the upcoming shows?
Simpson: No, we be doing good, We have been doing this for quite awhile. I didn’t do my songs tonight because my throat is gone. I caught a cold in L.A., you know, so I didn’t do any lead tonight.
Action: Do you have to rehearse extensively for the musical?
Simpson: 13 days, man, 13 (blanking) days, man. We got to be performing in the orchestra, we got to be playing characters, or whatever the (blank) they got to do. I don’t know what they got to do that we need to rehearse for 13 days. That is like I am doing a movie. And I’m only going to sing one song, and play a character for like three minutes, and they want me to rehearse 13 days. But they are going to give us a lot of promotion. It’s worldwide TV, it’s like six continents, so I’m going to be representing the Caribbean. Then you got the Russians, Israelis, Europeans, Americans, all these people are winners of Emmy Awards, and Grammy Awards.
Action: Fits well since Black Uhuru was the first reggae band to ever win a Grammy.
Simpson: And nominated five times, and I won the Diamond Awards of Excellence too.
Action: Are you on good terms with Don Carlos?
Simpson: I haven’t seen Don in about two decades. Don “Fraudlos.” He’s a pirate, he keeps singing in the name of Black Uhuru, he leaves the group, yet he uses the name. I had to take the guy to court, and I won the judgment, and he’s still using the name. I’m gonna (blank) him up, I’m gonna send a sheriff on him, man. I’m gonna move on him so (blank) hard you’d tnink its Katrina.
Action: How does something like this keep going on for so long?
Simpson: I didn’t execute the judgment, he was suppose to give me a couple hundred thousand dollars from the judgment, and I did not execute it, but the guy is still using my name. I’m gonna start collecting ’cause he doesn’t learn. You know, Michael Rose leaves the group, he still uses the name. Junior Reid leaves the group, he still uses the name. Garth (Dennis) leaves the group, he still uses the name. Don (Carlos) leaves the group, he’s still using the name. Sly (Dunbar) and Robbie (Shakespeare) they use the name in their feed-out. I’m shutting down all of them. I’m in the U.S. now so I’m shutting them down, one-by-one.
Action: Is this something you are pursuing right now?
Simpson: Yes, definitely, I’m shutting them down, man, because they all left the group.
Action: You personally had the name trademarked in the early 1970’s correct?
Simpson: It’s mine, way back from ’67-68. It was originally me and Garth Dennis, and he left on his own. Then Don left also to pursue a solo career, and I recruited Michael (Rose.) Eighteen years after I invite back Don and Garth in 1990, and we worked for four years, and they tried to take the name away from me. So we had to go to court. So I don’t call him Don Carlos, I call him Don “Fraudlos.” And I’m such a nice guy I won the judgment, and I did not execute the final part of the judgment. I just allow it. Who else would do that? Nobody would do that. You got a judgment from the court for hundreds of thousands and you don’t execute the client.
Action: So you thought they would come to terms and fess-up and pay-up?
Simpson: They keep using the name and using the name, so I’m gonna start collecting now. They just don’t learn.
Action: Duckie the “collection man.”
Simpson: Yes, the bailiff.
Action: So where do you play after tonight?
Simpson: We go to the head quarters of marijuana, Humboldt County.
Action: Are you still exercising the use of marijuana?
Simpson: Me? I’m born and bred in marijuana, man. We are the guys who sing “Sinsemilla.” ... I got a marijuana song on my new album by the name of “Chalice.” So I’m always singing about marijuana. … They hate herb in Nevada, man. … I’ll just wait and step over into California.
Action: How do you like Tahoe?
Simpson: I didn’t know up here was so heavenly, man. It’s like I’m in Jamaica. I was up here like 20 years ago, but I didn’t get to see the place. I was here for two days, so I see a lot of places. I was at the lake, the beach.
Action: It’s clear but the water’s not as warm as Jamaica.
Simpson: It’s not that cold man, it’s OK, we jump in the water, man.