Watch the History and Players online guitar lesson by Andrew Ford from Focus On: Reggae Bass
Around 1960 a style of music called ska was created in Jamaica. It is a style that combines calypso or mento, jazz, and R&B. This style of music is characterized by upbeats or afterbeats, as they are often called, played by the piano and guitar. Traditional ska songs often feature a walking bass movement in contrast to the upbeats played by the chordal instruments. One of the pioneers of ska bass was Lloyd Brevett who played upright bass and was a member of the group the Skatalites. In the mid 60's ska evolved into a style called rock steady which had a similar feel, still featuring the guitar playing upbeats, but at a more relaxed tempo. The slower tempo and R&B influence of rock steady allowed the bass players to experiment with more rhythmic, broken, syncopated bass lines, and with it came the development of the "one drop" drum groove. Jackie Jackson is one of the great session bass players of this short lived rock steady era. From these two styles, among others, emerged Reggae music in the late 60's. Reggae still featured the guitar playing upbeats but also incorporated organ, the one drop drum groove, which is a beat created by Winston Grennan and popularized by Carlton Barrett. This groove essentially drops the one normally played by the bass drum and instead often plays the bass drum and side stick together on beat 3. Reggae also had lyrics that were more socially driven, and for us bass players came the inverted role of guitar and bass. It has been said as compared to rock music, the role of bass and guitar switched places in reggae. The guitar role in rock is much more melodic and out front and the bass is more steady and supportive. In reggae the guitar takes on a more supportive, repetitive role and is less melodic, while the bass plays the featured melodic role many times. Some of the major players in reggae were Aston "Family Man" Barrett, Brian Atkinson, Flabba Holt, Boris Gardener, Leroy Sibbles, George Fullwood, Derrick Barnett, and later Robbie Shakespeare and many others. Unfortunately, many bass players and sidemen were not credited on the early ska, rock steady and reggae sessions.