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John Brown’s Body brings roots reggae to Aspen

Caramie Schnell
Vail Daily
Aspen, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily
ALL |

ASPEN – There are two ways to handle life-changing adversity. Face it head on and pray that it makes you stronger somehow. Or quit – life, love, or whatever it may be.

Modern reggae band John Brown’s Body chose the former when bassist Scott Palmer, with the band for four years, died from cancer in 2006.

Drummer and founding band member Tommy Benedetti called the loss a “solid blow.”

“Scott was a great personal friend of mine, as well as a fantastic musician who helped elevate the band’s sound,” he said.

After he was gone, the remaining band members “took a step back, and downshifted a little bit,” Benedetti said.

“We’d been together for 10 years at that point,” he continued. “Some longtime members ended up splitting then, which was inevitable. The new blood came in and refocused the vibe of the sound and musically, where we wanted to go, and it just all came together. I think you take the bad things in life and try to turn them into better things and come out the other side a better band, and I think we managed to do that.”

The nine-member band returns to town for a show at Belly Up Aspen Monday at 10 p.m.

“There are a lot of music lovers in Colorado,” Benedetti said. “It’s really one of the few states you can come to and make a two-week run out of it. Historically Colorado shows have been great musically, and the venues – The Fox, Gothic, Cervantes [all in Denver] and the Belly Up – are great.”

Attendance has dropped at live reggae shows in general over the past few years, which means less are being booked locally, said concert promotor Crawford Byers. But John Brown’s Body isn’t “just” reggae, and the group traditionally draws a large crowd.

“People still love to see John Brown’s Body,” Byers said.

And maybe at least part of the band’s success can be attributed to the band member’s willingness to change, keeping its sound fresh while remaining true to reggae’s roots.

Byers describes the band’s sound as “roots reggae updated for the times – with splashes of dub, hip hop, and drum and bass.”

Over the past two years, the band has brought its sound to the international stage. At the end of 2009, the band did a three-week U.S. tour and then flew directly to the U.K. for another three-week tour. After that, they spent three weeks in New Zealand opening for The Black Seeds, a band that’s also spent three weeks in the U.S. opening for John Brown’s Body in what Benedetti calls a “musical exchange” program.

“It was completely mind-blowing,” Benedetti said. “Then during the spring of this year, we were in Europe for three weeks. We’ve definitely been getting around. The right opportunities have turned up for us.”

That’s not to say traveling is necessarily easy for such a big band.

“It’s a pretty big undertaking to get eight, nine, 10 guys overseas and travel comfortably, but the shows were really good,” Benedetti said.

After the band’s members finish up this tour and a few shows on the East Coast, they plan on spending a significant time in the studio, continuing work on a new album they started this past summer.

“We end up taking a long time between records,” Benedetti said, in part because of the hectic touring schedule. The band plays between 125 and 150 shows a year, he said.

“This last tour turned out to be a monster, but we just rode with it,” Benedetti said. “We were playing five, six nights a week. It was long, but cool. The band sounds great.”


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