Rolling Stones

Exploring Jamaica in the shadow that the Rolling Stones left behind

When it comes to reggae and roots music The Rolling Stones always pilfered like high seas pirates with benevolent intent. They had their finger to the pulse and back in 1973, they decided a sunshine excursion was necessary to cut Goats Head Soup in Jamaica. This was a time Keith Richards remembered fondly in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, “[It was] very memorable, especially in that year. Because that was ’73. That was the year that [Bob] Marley and the Wailers put out Catch A Fire.”

“I remember being in Jamaica. There was this feeling in the air, actually, that Jamaica was starting to make a mark on the map. It was a great feeling.” After the record was cut, Richards was so enamoured with the place that he decided to stay in the Caribbean for a while. He immersed himself in the vivified culture and basked in the sun-soaked glory of Reggae and good times on tap as the cultural revolution finally stepped out from the stifling impact of colonialism and its exuberance joyfully infected the world.  

The album itself, coming after an iconic tour in 1972, didn’t quite excel in the way their previous effort had. “It’s not an album that’s revered as much as Exile on Main Street in people’s minds,” Mick Jagger opines. “I suppose including me.” Perhaps part of that reason is that the band were busy immersing themselves in the vibrant culture to such an extent that the record was placed on the backburner and experimental fun slipped into the studio, not necessarily producing results as polished as the record’s forebearers despite the endless hard work that went into it.

It’s still an album well worth celebrating, just maybe not quite as much as the island jaunt itself. After all, it’s hard to tie a man like Keith Richards down, so the fact that he stayed there long after Goats Head Soup was done and dusted is proof of the rum-soaked charm of the place. Below we’re checking out the best Stones sights to see when you’re following in the footsteps of rock ‘n’ roll’s foremost high-seafarers. 

Exploring the Rolling Stones’ Jamaica:

Dynamic Sounds Studios

In 1963, Jamaican star Byron Lee purchased West Indies Records Limited and set about steadily changing the course of music history. In fact, he changed the cultural landscape of the Caribbean to such an extent that he even became Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1980-1989, sadly, as the leader of a relatively right-wing party.

At 15 Bell Road in Kingston, the shack still remains as it did back then. The beauty of it now is that it is perfectly preserved in its own ramshackle way, it doesn’t look like much, but there is enough character surrounding the place that if you pressed a stylus to the wall then you would no doubt hear a song.

Amid the orange decay, local musicians still happily scurry around, not overawed by the studio’s revered history – where not only the Stones but Toots and the Maytals and just about every other reggae legend recorded – but blissfully aware of the legacy of the building. The Rolling Stones joked that they went to Jamaica because it was the only country that would let them in—here it is easy to. imagine the licence that they had to roam.

Ocho Rios

Away from Kingston, in the port town of Ocho Rios, Keith Richards found his own version of energised peace. The old Spanish town allows you to look at the bay with a gallon of rum and a shit-eating grin as you belt out ‘Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)’ ala Richards before you. 

Albeit Richards former private residency might be off grounds unless you’re staying in one of the swanky hotels nearby, the reggae bars down by Turtle River Park remain a beacon to the islands emergent musical past. With Konoko Falls in the background and Mallards Bay out to sea, the scene is as serene as ever with a twist of lime. 

Although the cruise industry may have given the area a gentrified facelift, hotspots like the Roots Rock Reggae Bar and Grill could essentially be run by Richards himself with the playlist to prove it. 

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Port Antonio

Although the boys may have joked that they absconded to the eternal seaside of the Caribbean to get away from all the red tape they had amassed in other countries, the boom of the music scene over there was also a draw. Jagger said that they are perhaps the only band to make an album in Jamaica without a hint of reggae in the mix, but that’s not entirely true. 

“What I love about reggae,” Richards regales in the recent Under the Influence documentary, “is that it’s all so natural, there’s none of this forced stuff that I was getting tired of in rock music.” He then goes on to clarify, “Rock & Roll I never get tired of, but ‘rock’ is a white man’s version, and they turn it into a march, that’s [the modern] version of rock. Excuse me,” he adds humorously, “I prefer the roll.” Goats Head Soup is brimming with it. 

And nowhere in Jamaica is that spirit still felt quite like it is in Port Antonio. Here establishments like Jolly Boys and Bushbar are nestled into the lush hills and practically bread the future of the music scene. The amount of artists who have used the hotspot to record is ridiculous and if you are after the same intoxicating spirit that the Stones basked in, then it proves a must-see destination.

Walking tour of Port Antonio Jamaica

The Terra Nova 

The spot that remains most pristine and the ghost of the band still lingers is at the Terra Nova palatial Hotel. In truth, it was a hectic time for the band. “Nobody has had any time to go sightseeing or shopping,” said Marshall Chess, their personal manager. Thus, the vast majority of their downtime was spent floating on Lilos with a cocktail in hand. 

The grand old hotel was the former family home of Chris Blackwell, founder of England’s Island Records, which brought Kingston Studios their current fame. The retreat suited the band down to the ground, with the exception of the culinary timetable. “Finding something to eat has been a problem,” Jagger told Rolling Stone while recording. “We usually get up too late for lunch and too early for dinner. When we return from the studio it’s too early for breakfast.”

However, that minor con came with a very big pro. “One of the benefits of recording away from home in an isolated place like Jamaica is there are no distractions,” Jagger said. “We can work without interruptions and that is what we have been doing.” Whether you’re a rock band looking for a sanctuary or just wanting to get away and listen to the music, Jamaica still offers up peace with a vitalised edge. Like Goats Head Soup itself, there is still plenty of roll in the sunshine mix of Jamaica.

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