Zak Starkey and Sshh's new album, Red, Gold, Green & Blue, is a celebration of two long-relegated yet beloved musical genres: reggae and the blues.
Starkey tells Q104.3 New York's Out of the Box with Jonathan Clarke that Sshh's recent cover of "Get Up Stand Up" brought the duo back to Jamaica last year, where they were readily embraced by a community of musicians there. During an ensuing recording session with legendary bassist Robbie Shakespeare, Starkey suggested Shakespeare's longtime band mate, drummer Sly Dunbar, sit in.
"We got on great with ... Sly & Robbie," Starkey explains. "...But we're both big blues fans, right? Especially Little Walter, but also Peter Green. I got into the blues, through my parents obviously. ...So we were listening to Peter Green, and we were thinking about going back to Jamaica, and we just went, 'Red, gold, green, blue. Whoa!' Let's take the lyrics and go to Jamaica and see if anyone wants to sing them in Jamaica."
Shakespeare loved the idea and encouraged Sshh and Starkey to enlist more reggae faithful for their all-star record. Starkey then ran into singer Freddie McGregor at a Peter Tosh tribute show, and he immediately understood what the pair was going for.
"It all stemmed Peter Tosh and also [our 2016 album] Issues," Sshh adds. "Because if we'd never done and done that cover [of 'Get Up, Stand Up'], we would never have gone to Jamaica."
While so many legendary Jamaican artists were happy to participate, Starkey says the next challenge was credibly playing reggae himself.
"Everything lands like [a flam]," Starkey gestures, indicating reggae's signature rhythmic feel. "...You look at it on the screen, ProTools, it looks completely wrong. If you did it with your eyes, and fixed it, it's sound like s--t. It's this weird off thing. ...When I started playing with Sly, I'd have to watch his left hand coming down on the snare drum every time or I'd miss it. The kick is just slightly ahead, but the snare is slightly behind. So you have to watch until you learn the feel."
To put out their new record, Starkey and Sshh have launched a new BMG-supported label, Trojan Jamaica, focusing on Jamaican music. Starkey says promoting Jamaican music in this way is a long time coming since he was raised on music by Toots & the Maytals, Bob Marley and Burning Spear.
To get up-and-running, Trojan Jamaica is focusing on promoting established acts, many of whom are legendary in the reggae world. Starkey confirms they are working on a touring package to get several of their artists on the road together.
"We're putting it together now," he says. "We'd like to do Trojan Jamaica Live, as a touring brand. ...At the moment, people have this stupid idea that you can only sell reggae in the summer, and you can only go to reggae shows in the summer...it's bulls--t."
Starkey and Sshh teased many more upcoming Trojan Jamaica releases in the queue.
Check out the full interview in the player above.