Andy Bassford | The Harder They Strum

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Reggae: Roots Reggae World: Reggae Moods: Featuring Guitar
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The Harder They Strum

by Andy Bassford

Veteran reggae guitarist's remake of the classic soundtrack from the seminal Jamaican movie "The Harder They Come," recorded mostly live in the studio with a stellar cast of thirty-six musicians and vocalists, including Monty Alexander and New Kingston.
Genre: Reggae: Roots Reggae
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. You Can Get It If You Really Want
5:24 album only
2. Stop That Train (Draw Your Brakes) [feat. Monty Alexander & New Kingston]
5:09 album only
3. Rivers of Babylon
3:58 album only
4. Many Rivers to Cross
6:53 album only
5. Sweet and Dandy (feat. Soul Sisters Six)
5:02 album only
6. The Harder They Come (feat. George Naha & The Blue People)
5:52 album only
7. Johnny Too Bad (feat. The Blue People & New Kingston)
4:17 album only
8. 007 (Shanty Town)
4:34 album only
9. Pressure Drop (feat. Soul Sisters Six)
3:36 album only
10. Sitting in Limbo (feat. Monty Alexander & New Kingston)
6:16 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
Like many Americans, the 1972 movie “The Harder They Come” starring Jimmy Cliff was my first real exposure to the world of Jamaican music. Seeing the movie, and buying the soundtrack, set me on a journey that continues to this day. So it seemed natural to go back to beginning of that journey and revisit it for my first solo album after over forty years of recording and performing as a sideman with the best musicians and singers from Jamaica.

"The Harder They Strum" is a song by song remake of the original soundtrack from the movie, in order, in the original keys.I recast all the songs, which were originally vocal tracks, as guitar instrumentals. My idea was to pay homage to the original versions while improvising and elaborating on them. The album title is both a reference to the original album and a little nod to my father, my greatest supporter, who loved plays on words.

When I was planning the record, I wanted to create something that would appeal to the first audience that really accepted me, the roots Jamaicans I recorded with and performed for when I lived there in the 80s. While we were makingit, I always had those people in mind. Would what I was doing make sense to them? Would they sing along with it? Would they dance to it? I stayed close to the original vocal melodies, but in some cases I rearranged the music. When I did so, I employed approaches that I know Jamaican audiences enjoy. This gave the project focus, and made it easier to make decisions and stick to them.

There are lots of reasons to make a record. I’ve played on thousands of them, and in most cases the motivation was that someone paid me to do it. That’s a perfectly good motivation, and I’m fine with it. But “The Harder They Strum” wasn’t done with that in mind, necessarily.

I’ve been a working musician since the age of 15. That was a very long time ago. I’m at an age where many of my colleagues, heroes, and mentors have passed on. In baseball terms, I’m probably in the seventh inning, though I’m hoping that I can tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and go a few more innings afterwards.

This may be the only full-length album I get to make. So I wanted it to reflect my personal and musical values all the way through, from start to finish. Every musician and singer who worked on the project (with one exception, who simply refused to accept payment, much to Local 802’s consternation) was paid according to AFM and/or SAG/AFTRA rates and regulations. The other professionals who contributed were paid what they asked for as well.

I also wanted to document the musical relationships and friendships I’ve developed over my career. So almost everybody who sings or plays on the record, as well as the people who recorded, mixed, and mastered it, is a friend and/or colleague of long standing. I didn’t bring in any big names just for marketing purposes, though some of the people on the record are reasonably well known.

Of the ten songs, six were recorded completely live in the studio. “Rivers Of Babylon” consists of two complete live performances recorded at different times and edited together during mixing. “Stop That Train (Draw Your Brakes)” and “Johnny Too Bad” were also recorded live in the studio except for New Kingston’s background vocals, which were added later. Nobody punched in or fixed anything, though we did a bit of cleanup during the mixes. What you hear is pretty much what everybody played at that moment in time. We didn’t use click tracks either, except on one song where the studio monitor system was overloaded by the amount of people singing and playing through it. I didn’t even know that click tracks existed until I left Jamaica and we did just fine without them back then. So I figured we’d do just fine without them now.

“007 (Shanty Town)” is the only song with guitar overdubs. It’s a tribute to my mentor Lynn Taitt, who played on the original recording, and who was gracious enough to show me a lot of his voicings and concepts when we toured together with Toots and the Maytals. It’s also a nod to the 60s instrumental recordings credited to “The 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett.” I heard these on my parents’ AM radio station growing up in rural Connecticut, long before I played the guitar myself. I remembered thinking “Wow! Who would ever have a band with fifty guitarists in it? What a crazy idea!” Now, thanks to technology, I have my own 50 Guitars song. Since one of the things I do when I work for other people is track lots of interlocking guitar parts, I thought it would be fun to do it on my own record.

I’ve been recording now for over forty years. One of the many things I’ve learned over that time is that the process you use to make a record has a tremendous amount to do with the outcome. If you record a song one instrument at a time, you gain precision, perfectibility, and clarity, at the expense of human interaction. There’s nothing wrong with this if that’s what you want. Most of the records you hear over the past twenty years were made this way. I do this all the time for other people. But I didn’t want to do it myself.

I started my session career recording as part of a seven piece rhythm section onto four track analog tape: drums and percussion on one track, bass on one track, guitars and keyboards on one track, no fixes allowed. If we spent as much as a half hour on a song, it was a bad day. You were expected to find a part fast and commit it to tape. We did some great work under these conditions and it was a lot more fun than most of what I do now. I still love playing in the studio, but now it’s more like doing crossword puzzles than making a great dinner with a lot of people in the kitchen, which is what it felt like when I started.

What I enjoy most about the process of making music is the human interaction, which is maximized when you play live. Plus if I’m going to spend a whole bunch of my own money, I’d rather pay musicians and singers than studio owners. So that’s what I did: I hired a whole lot of my friends, crammed them into the studio, and recorded them all at once, quickly. It was nerve-wracking. But the fun factor was off the charts, and I think that everybody else involved felt the same way. You’ll hear that in the music.



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