This is the first installment in Local Sounds, an occasional summer series on Lexington bands. Look for the spotlight to fall on more Central Kentucky bands later this summer.
Somewhere along the way to global popularity, the heart and soul of reggae music got excluded from the party.
In the decades since pioneers Bob Marley, Black Uhuru and Burning Spear opened the world's ears to the Rastafarian-bred, Jamaica-born sounds of reggae and dub, the music has become a tad safe. To many, it exists as an aural picture postcard, a snapshot of sunny escapism expressed through patterns of repetitive dance grooves. It had become, in essence, party music that edited out the roots-driven spiritualism and themes of protest and unrest that brought reggae to a Caribbean boil in the first place.
That's where the Rudies come in. Fascinated by reggae's original sound and driven by the sort of punkish immediacy pioneered by The Clash, the long-running Lexington group — comprising four even more established local music pros — the Rudies have furthered a reggae formula that strips away the pop varnish for a starker but no less fervent sound.
"We're about showing our whole approach to reggae, which is more of an original roots sound than what you think of as reggae now and the genre that everyone says reggae is," said vocalist Jerrod Figgs, who co-founded the Rudies in 2002. "A lot of that is the offshoot of the original reggae. It's more of a dance hall thing. We try to give our approach to the original reggae, which was geared more towards protest.
"Listen to Bob Marley and you will hear a lot of nice beats, a lot of nice rhythms. But when you really break it down and listen to what he's talking about, ... they're usually not pretty subjects. Most of his songs deal with real issues."
Figgs and the rest of the Rudies lineup — guitarist Jeff Rice, bassist Steve Cherry and drummer Tim Welch, with help from percussionist Dave Ferris and guitarist Wendell Rodgers — took those inspirations into Lexington's Nitrosonic Studios with co-producer and fellow local music vet Brian Pulito. What they came up with was the band's fine sophomore recording, Rude World Order.
The album opens with Geronimo's echoing guitar melodies and dub-style vocals. It concludes with Babylon System, a saga that shifts from spiritual strife to more earthly class struggles set to a Clash-style, neo-Calypso groove. In both tunes, and in all the music that comes between them, the rhythmic propulsion is lean but richly organic, and the lyrical content maintains a sense of inviting urgency.
"We wanted the record to sound old," Figgs said. "We wanted it to sound like we had done the whole thing in analog. We also knew we had to do this record live because that's the way we are. Doing that thing where each person does their own tracks to a click track or something, ... we just don't do that.
"I don't say we had anything to prove with this record, but we definitely had something to show. A lot of bands that are in our genre with that punk-reggae thing, most of them are party bands. There's nothing wrong with that. But we're not party people. We just do what we do. We just wanted to make sure that came across."
But Figgs' performance past boasted plenty of party-savvy drive. He helped pilot the punk, metal and reggae ensemble Groovezilla during the '90s, but the singer is perhaps best known for the lengthy stretch he spent as frontman for the local funk and R&B cover troupe the G-Funk All-Stars.
"G-Funk obviously was a cover band, a party band. It had its place, and we did what we did. And they're still going. As far as the things that I write myself, if an artist and musician are lucky enough to have a talent to entertain people, they should at least try to make them think. Anybody can make you want to party or make you want to dance. There's enough of that in the world."
The Rudies perform in the Lexington/Louisville/Frankfort region about once or twice a month. But Figgs said the band already has come up with another batch of songs, so it is likely to take a month off to record the new material as a quick follow-up to Rude World Order. Thanks to Internet accessibility, the reach of the band's music has extended far beyond Kentucky.
"Back during the uprising in Egypt, we were hearing from people in Cairo about how much they liked Rice and Beans (an instrumental composition from the Rudies' debut album). That means someone took the time in the middle of a revolution to tell us, 'This is really cool. We're really enjoying this.' That is where it's at for us."