Willi Williams brought the roots rock reggae to a packed Echo Park crowd last Wednesday at the Echoplex. The skunk-like bouquet of the weekly Dub Club venue added to the event’s Jamaican authenticity as the crowd caught the soulful legend’s riddim.
Not just your usual dreadlocked Rastas, the night’s eclectic mash-up of dub fans represented both ends of an 18 to 80 year old spectrum. Everyone from Dubspot NYC founder, Dan Giove to local reggae scene socialite, Reggae Pops, came out for the rare appearance by the fabled Willi man, himself.
Backed by local roots band The Expanders, and accompanied by veteran percussionist Larry McDonald, Slackers’ saxist David Hillyard, and Mr. T-Bone on trombone, Willi et al put on a super irie set. Although Ol’ Willi ain’t as young as he once was, the Jamaican-born wailer sure wouldn’t let you know it. The Rasta-dude rocked all his favorites, and even stepped off stage for some Expanders jam sessions. High-stepping through a performance with multiple outfit changes, the combination of Willi and The Expanders didn’t dissapoint.
Williams’ career began as a one-hit wonder with the renown 1979 hit, “Armagideon Time.” The ominous track went mainstream when Brit rockers, The Clash, threw it on the B-Side of their “London Calling” single, and later adopted it as a staple in their live routine. Even Sublime bit the baseline off of “Armagideon Time,” and borrowed its lyrics, for “Sweet Little Rosie.”
Since then, Williams has established an iconic status over his 40-plus year career. The legendary Rasta-man boasts a regularly recycled music catalogue, and has consistently added to the growing library of reggae. Williams’ production credits include artists The Versatiles, Delroy Wilson, and the Kingston-born Barrett Brothers of Wailers fame. Willi also worked closely with Jamaican keyboard prodigy Jackie Mittoo, one of the most influential musicians in reggae history, to create Williams’ 1978 album, Messenger Man.
Seeing Willi on stage was a rare glimpse at a musician who truly carried his genre. And by the looks of it, it doesn’t seem like he’s stopping any time soon.