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How Clinton Fearon got his reggae groove back

  • Author: Chris Bieri
  • Updated: March 31, 2017
  • Published March 31, 2017

Reggae artist Clinton Fearon (Photo by Bernard Benant)

Growing up in Jamaica, a young Clinton Fearon quickly realized he wanted to pursue music.

But Fearon's desire to learn an instrument ran up against his family's economic reality.

"I asked my dad, 'Can you buy me a guitar?' " Fearon said. " 'I don't have any money,' he said. It was obvious. We are poor. I have no reason not to believe him. I know it too."

Fearon was not dissuaded, and started showing the ingenuity that has sustained him as one of reggae's most enduring artists over nearly five decades.

"My friend helped me get a piece of timber they sell at the roadside from the sawmill," Fearon recalled. "The wood was green, so I used my machete to shape out the guitar, just to shape out the wood, the neck and the body out of the same piece. I used glass to shave it down and then I varnished it."

Fearon said he used the teeth of a fork as frets and asked local shopkeepers to pick him up strings the next time they went on a supply run to Kingston.

Soon his masterpiece was complete, even though the strings were so far from the fretboard it became painful for him to play.

"The first night when I put it together I played it all night until daylight, literally," he said. "I want to play that much. I'm obsessed."

Fearon had already been bitten by the music bug at age 9 after watching trailblazing ska band The Skatalites on a grade school outing to Kingston.

"I knew then, that's what I wanted to do and that's what I'm doing," he said. "I worked at it."

By the time he was 15, Fearon had relocated from rural Jamaica to Kingston and formed The Brothers. Fearon was still a teenager when he joined The Gladiators, singing and playing bass. The Gladiators were among the most popular reggae bands throughout much of the 1970s and '80s, and Fearon was on board for much of their success.

But by the late '80s, he was in his own creative rut, seeing some of the music he had written languish, unrecorded and unperformed.

"The signs had been coming," he said. "We had changed. Bottom line, I wasn't having fun and we weren't making money, and if we aren't making money we at least have to have fun."

After completing a tour of the United States, Fearon eventually relocated to Seattle, where he's lived for the last 30 years.

Initially, the change was invigorating, but he said after nearly 20 years with The Gladiators, it was difficult to establish his own identity.

"Every time I'd venture out, people would ask, 'When are you going back to The Gladiators?' and wouldn't pay much attention to what I'm doing presently," he said.

After landing in Seattle, Fearon found his groove playing with The Boogie Brown Band. He has recorded nearly a dozen albums, most recently "This Morning," in 2016.

Fearon has gained a following in Alaska, most recently performing at Salmonfest in 2016.

And while interest in reggae music has waxed and waned, Fearon has maintained a presence by sticking to the roots of the music he learned as a teenager.

"Things go in waves," he said. "It's always there. It's a music that people will always gravitate to. You can't run from it."

Clinton Fearon and The Boogie Brown Band

When: Thursday, 8 p.m. (doors), 9 p.m. (opener), 10 p.m. (headliner)

Where: Bear Tooth Theatrepub

Tickets: $30/$35 day of show

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