Natty Dread, Port Washington, New York, Late 80's to early 90's



Mathew Brett wrote: That's me on keyboards. I have since downsized the glasses and lost the accent. Here is the story of Natty Dread:

My parents always exposed me to music and early on, I took a liking to reggae. I remember my dad used to play Bob Marley cassettes in the car all of the time. The big moment for me came around the age of ten. We were on a family trip to Jamaica and a calypso band played what seemed like a twenty minute version of "No Woman, No Cry" The song hit me on a gut level, perhaps because of the time and the place – I was with my family on a vacation in the Caribbean – it had the power of a hundred Springsteen records wrapped into one.

In seventh grade, I bought a Casio CZ-1 synthesizer. I still have it. I was really into electric music at that point and loved the fact that I didn't need a band to play all of the music. I just sat in my basement and spent hours learning new songs. When I went to camp, a friend introduced me to the Peter Tosh album “Equal Rights” and I began to explore reggae intensely through the music of Bob Marley, Tosh, and Steel Pulse. At home I tried to replicate the music. It took me a while to learn the syncopated rhythm that is the quintessential reggae sound. Once I was able to master it a whole new world had opened to me. I became obsessed with reggae. I looked for every recording I could find and read every article or book I could locate at the library about Jamaica, Bob Marley, Rastafarianism, reggae. I tried to learn every song. Not just the rhythm, but the bass and lead parts as well.

This was a thrilling time. For some reason, the lyrics of the poor down trodden Rasta in Trenchtown spoke to me. Here I was an upper middle class Jewish kid from Long Island chanting: "Them belly full, but we hungry". Looking back, its funny to think how I connected Judaism with Rastafarianism.

By junior year in high school, I began to develop a mutual love of reggae with Jamal Skinner, a popular and charismatic kid, whom I had seen sing in a school play or two. I ran into him at our local Battle of the Bands. We watched the three classic rock combos and two metal cover outfits that existed in our high school trash it out in our Battle of the Bands. Somewhere in the midst of the third rendition of "Wish You Were Here," Jamal turned to me and said, “If you put together a reggae band I will sing in it.”

I had been friend with Matt Sadowsky since meeting in Hebrew School during first grade. He was drafted into use his jazz trumpet skills to be our horn section. Nat Nadich, a massive dead head played bass. Jamal then brought in our new drummer Tsongo. He was a freshman at the time and was truly a natural talent. His dad was a professional drummer and used to tour with Billy Joel (when you are dealing with a Long Island Band there is always some connection to Billy Joel or Blue Oyster Cult). I do not think Tsongo saw his old man much. He had a pretty poor set of drums. But it worked. Before one show we did, Tsongo's dad showed up about an hour before hand and did some magical tuning of the drum set and it sounded pretty awesome. That was the only time I ever saw his father.

We needed a guitar player. I connected with Steven Engel, who was a year younger and I had known from hebrew school as well. Steve was reluctant to join. He had just taken up guitar and only knew a couple of chords. I said "no problem" and taught him the chords, the rhythm parts and thankfully he was a quick study. Jamal recruited two of his buddies Charles and Lance to sing back up. I also brought in a woman called Dani to sing back up. She had a theater background and had just cast me as "Berger" in the student production of Hair. It was the least I could do.

We had a band and we began playing in my basement. We would play for hours at a time. My mom loved hearing the music blasting below her in the kitchen. Jamal and I came up with the somewhat unimaginative name "Natty Dread" right before we tried out for the Battle of the Bands. A couple of fellow students on the planning committee came by to the basement to listen to Natty Dread. We were rejected. One of the committee guys said that the rhythm was "off." But that is the whole point of reggae. We were devastated and a little shocked because we were definitely better than some of the other bands at the Battle and certainly the most original in the line up of Schreiber High School Bands at the time. I don’t want to attribute any negative motives to the students involved, but it was really strange that we were not even allowed to compete. I was too young and naive to believe that our band's "composition" had anything to do with it. After all it was the early 90s.

We moved on and shortly thereafter we performed at the schools talent show. And Won! Riding high, another band had asked us to open for them at a spring show at Bar Beach in Port Washington. We jumped at the chance and the video you see – a take-off on Madonna’s Truth or Dare (replete with use of black and white and color footage) chronicled our efforts. This was our high point. We only played one or two other times after that. Natty Dread never really broke up. We just graduated. It was what kids on Long Island did.

We all went on to college or continued with high school. I became a lawyer. Matty S went into the business world. Steve is a now works for the Justice Department as a Deputy AG. I think he has testified to Congress about torture at Gitmo, etc. I lost touch with Nat, Dani, Charles and Lance. Jamal has kept the fire burning. He is the lead singer of Colorado-based reggae band called Dubskin, "Fort Collin's Original Roots Controllers.”

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