Out of the Blue: Support for the music

February 19, 2013|By Billy Fried

Laguna Beach should be celebrated as a music colony — especially for world-class reggae — as much as an art colony.

It started back in the late '70s, when Laguna native Eric "Redz" Morton was 21 and gigging as the bassist in a L.A. Latin jazz band called La Luce.

Unfortunately, this was the horrendous period of pop culture known as the disco era, and fabulously textured Latin jazz wasn't the music to eat 'ludes and snort coke to. Disco was decidedly not a path Redz was willing to follow (anyone who knows the rootsy Redz can't picture him in sequins and platform shoes).


Despairing over his prospects to make a living playing music, his bandmate Jack Miller one day asked, "Have you heard about reggae?"

At the end of this column, the author suggests the city have a separate committee for music. In fact, the Arts Commission has a performing arts subcommittee, which puts on 19 concerts annually.

The only thing Redz remembered was that Paul McCartney said it was the sound of the future. So he checked it out. And from that first melodic, thick bassline with the big spaces in between that make listeners close their eyes and undulate, a lifelong love affair with reggae music began. It has drawn tens of thousands of reggae lovers to Laguna, and hundreds of players.

Bass is the foundation of reggae, and Redz wasn't initially in the pocket, that place where musicians don't think, but just feel. He knew that to truly master the gestalt of reggae, he needed to go to the source: Kingston, Jamaica. So this skinny Jewish kid from Laguna with fair skin and a shock of red hair packed up his band (then called Roots) and went to Jamaica for the Sun Splash music festival.

After two weeks the band went home. But Redz stayed, along with his wife, Debra Sullivan, the lead singer known as "Princess." They lived for three more months in the mountains behind Ocho Rios, in Arawak huts, cooking food in tire pits and sleeping in hammocks to protect themselves from scorpions. Redz was the only white man in the jungle, yet the locals respected — and were perhaps baffled by — this alien from California with the red dreads and beautiful black wife living like a Rastaman. He was the Red Mon.

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