This originally ran in the Riverfront Times in 1996.
Modern Roots With A Message
Israel Vibration, one of reggae music's greatest vocal
groups, triumphantly makes its return to St. Louis for a
performance this Sunday night at Mississippi Nights.
Although the concert takes place only seven days after the
"Reggae Sunsplash," it still promises to be, without a
doubt, the show of the year.
The reason is that this is one of the most unique,
powerful and captivating groups you'll ever witness on
stage. Performing on crutches (each member of the group was
stricken with polio as a youth), the three take turns
singing their songs of hope and inspiration, all the time
backed by the outstanding roots reggae of the incomparable
The trio, Lacelle Bulgin, Albert Craig and Cecil
Spence, met in the Mona Rehabilitation Center in Kingston,
Jamaica. This friendship led to the formation of one of the
most critically-acclaimed groups to ever come from the
island, and ultimately to some of the most memorable reggae
music to ever be recorded.
In a recent telephone interview prior to their current
tour, Albert Craig - better known as Apple - discussed the
group's history, philosophy, upcoming show and even his
"Yeah, Professor," Apple began in his Jamaican accent,
"me parents have 10 children and I was the youngest and also
the "apple" of me father's eye, ya know? So they call me
Apple. I was a normal little kid, running around and things,
but when me get 3 1/2, me get polio. So I moved into
Kingston from the parish of Clarendon. Moved into the
institution. That's where I met "Wiss" [Lacelle Bulgin] and
"Skelly" [Cecil Spence]."
After some discussion of the group's history, their
first single, "Why Worry" in 1977, and their debut album the
following year, Apple quickly interjected.
"No, no, no, mon. Them not the right dates. Every time
we talk to people, people write different things. Let me
tell you the truth. We start singing, like together, from
1973, but not professionally. 1974 is when we did our first
performance. It was right next door to the Rehabilitation
Center, at the Theological college, just the three of us and
me playing the piano.
"Soon we hook up with a bredren named Hugh Booth from
the Twelve Tribes of Israel and he put out our first single.
"Why Worry" was a big hit and that success link us up with
[producer] Tommy Cowan.
"We then do the "Same Song" album in '75 and it was
released in '76. After that, we put out two 45's from it:
"Lift Up Your Conscience" and the title track. We then did a
disco 45 named "Crisis" and the last 45 we did was "Never
Gonna Hurt Me Again." That was 1980 and was our last song
using Tommy Cowan.
"That same year we went to Bob Marley's studio, Tuff
Gong. We were one of the first artists there, along with the
Melody Makers and Nadine Sutherland, and we recorded
"Unconquered People" using the Wailers band. That was an
incredible experience, 'cause Bob was right upstairs when we
were doing it and he really enjoyed it. Ya know, we were one
of his favorite groups, mon.
"We then recorded "Why You So Craven." It was our third
album and we did it for [producer] Junjo [Lawes], but it
never went out through him, it was Dynamic [Sounds] who put
it out. That was around '81 or so and after that we all
moved to America, to Manhattan.
"When we come to the U.S., the group was struggling so
we kind of branch off and do some singles. It's not that the
group separate, we were still together, among each other
every day, but we were just trying to catch a little
individual thing here and there, just for survival purposes.
"Wiss" did an album called 'Mr. Sunshine,' Skelly put out a
45 and I put out three. One is 'Blue Jeans,' one is 'Be
Mine' and one is 'Rock On.'"
This early '80s period found reggae in a state of
confusion following the passing of Bob Marley. Finally, in
1988, Ras Records founder Dr. Dread was the catalyst to once
again have the group record together.
"I had Dr. Dread's phone number," said Apple, "from
when I meet him years ago at Tuff Gong. I always kept in
touch with him. After some talks I drive all the way to
Washington [D.C.] from New York and have him listen to my
tapes. He liked them, but him said what him really want was
Israel Vibration together, not just Apple, but Israel
Vibration because it's such a powerful group in the world
with such a strong name.
"I drove back to New York, talked to Wiss and Skelly,
and then Dr. Dread flew us to Washington. We started to work
on our first album ["Strength Of My Life" in 1988] and now
look at us, eight years later, mon. We just finished our new
one, called "Free To Move," and I really think the people
gonna love it."
By the time this prints, Israel Vibration will have
just begun their latest U.S. tour after having played shows
in Puerto Rico and St. Croix. One of the genre's greatest
backing bands, the Roots Radics, will once again be on hand.
"The Roots Radics are really hot," said Apple. "We
livicated the last album ["On The Rock"] to Bingy Bunny [the
legendary rhythm guitarist who died of Cancer in 1993].
Right now the band still has "Flabba" [Holt] on bass, Dwight
[Pinkney] on lead guitar and "T-Bird" Johnson on Keyboards.
Steve [Golding], he used to play for Peter Tosh, he's the
new guitarist and Carl [Ayton], who used to play for Bunny
Wailer, is our new drummer" [replacing Style Scott]. These
are musicians with a whole heap of experience and believe me
when I tell you they'll be sounding great."
Those witnessing this vocal group for the first time
will realize that they truly are a "group," as each of these
extremely accomplished writers and vocalists unselfishly
take turns singing their songs, shuffling the line-up so the
lead vocalist at the time is in the center, between the
"We're like three lead singers who come together and
form a group," explained Apple. "When we started out we tell
one another that none of us in this group is the leader, Jah
is the leader. We three are leaders, but Jah is the highest
When the group takes the stage - Apple with his cane,
Wiss and Skelly with their crutches - it's truly a sight to
behold. Passion and inspiration rule their performances.
"We try to unite people together" continued Apple. "The
message is that we have to come together, to recognize that
there is but one creator who created all of us, not to make
us different from each other but to make us beautiful
TOGETHER. Sure, each and every person has problems, but you
"I used to question myself, and God, too, why this
happen to me, ya know, and I was confused for awhile. You
find that people treat you differently. Some people curse
you in an argument and call you "cripple." It prevent you
from getting a certain kind of job, it take a lot from you
to be real with you. It take a lot from me outta life, but
at the same time it give me much more in life, understand?
"Ya see, my songs have a spiritual vibe, coming from
the soul. Them are real things, real situations. The cries
that all human beings have in their life. My songwriting and
singing are gifts from Jah."
As we wound down our hour-long conversation, Apple had
some interesting parting words.
"When I was 16, my mother -she was a spiritual healer-
I asked her to read me up and tell me what she seen for my
life. She said one day that I'm gonna be a great leader in
the world and millions of people shall follow behind me. She
also told me that out of all of her children I was the only
one born with this thin layering of covering over my face.
Ya see, all them prophets, them born like that. When the
Doctor peeled it off my face she said I didn't look like a
baby, I look like an ancient man, like I was here thousands
and thousands of years ago. I never forget these words, mon.
"And she also told me that God give that foot to me for
a reason, not for a bad reason, because I did nothing bad to
have that foot. It's for a good purpose, why God give me
that foot, because I have a special work to do in my life."
Make sure you check out that "special work" for
yourself this Sunday night. It will be an evening that's
guaranteed to blow you away.
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