Reggae riches in the Roger Steffens’ bargain basement

Garry Steckles browses the reggae archives of Roger Steffens, the world’s leading authority on Jamaican music, and offers a condensed catalogue of the

Emperor Haile Selassie. Illustration by Nikolai Noel

Yes, folks, Roger Steffens’ reggae archives are for sale. Steffens, an actor, broadcaster, author, journalist, musicologist, Vietnam vet, globe-trotting lecturer, photographer and arguably the world’s leading authority on Jamaican music, has put his fabled collection of all-things-reggae back on the market. He’s spent seven frustrating and ultimately unsuccessful years of trying to ensure that the archives—currently spilling out of six rooms in the basement of his Los Angeles house—find a permanent home where he believes they belong: in Jamaica. The goodies up for grabs are enough to make any self-respecting reggae fan drool.

Among them (and this is just a small sampling):

• Nine thousand reggae records, about a third of which are autographed by the artists (for the benefit of readers too young to know what I’m talking about, records are vinyl discs that are played on a turntable, usually at either 33 or 45 revolutions per minute, and in this age of digital downloads, iPods, MP3s and whatever else has been invented lately, they’re still the best way anyone’s come up with to capture the sound of music for mass consumption). • Five thousand reggae, ska and rock steady CDs. • Two thousand hours of videos and DVDs, much of the footage either unique or rare, including 200 hours of Steffens’ cable TV show, LA Reggae, directed by Trinidadian musician/film-maker Chili Charles. • More than 10,000 hours of cassette tape recordings, including rare singles, interviews, and thousands of live shows. • More than 120 cubic feet of newspaper and magazine clippings. • Twenty-five thousand of Steffens’ photographs (that’s not a stray nought, it really is 25,000) and their reproduction rights; plus many thousands of others’ photos. • Twenty-five thousand-plus posters and flyers. • Three thousand buttons and badges. • Three thousand business cards. • One thousand one hundred T-shirts. • The most comprehensive collection of Bob Marley music and memorabilia in the world.

Among the items Roger Steffens is most proud of:

• A poster from a 1978 Marley concert in Berkeley, California, signed by Bob and 38 of those closest to him, including the entire Wailers Band, Bunny Wailer, Joe Higgs, Chris Blackwell, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Bob’s late mother, Cedella, and his sister, Pearl. “Peter Tosh is the only one missing,” says Steffens. “He told me ‘Mi naw sign no blood-claat Bob Marley poster.’ ” • An envelope autographed by Emperor Haile Selassie and postmarked at the United Nations on October 4, 1963, commemorating the day he delivered his historic “War” speech—the nucleus of Marley’s song War. This also contains a letter from Selassie’s secretary confirming the authenticity of the signature, written on Imperial Palace stationery in Addis Ababa. • A copy of one of Marley’s rarest singles, Selassie Is the Chapel, one of the 26 copies from the initial pressing in 1968, signed by its composer, the Rastafarian leader Mortimo Planno, and by legendary Jamaican broadcaster Dermot Hussey, who played that copy on the air on the day the country learned of Marley’s death. The highest auction bid for this record—without autographs—was US$3,800. • Peter Tosh’s extremely rare 1978 Bush Doctor album cover with marijuana-scented scratch-and-sniff sticker (banned in the United Kingdom). • The sleeve to Tosh’s 12-inch single version of Don’t Look Back, signed by Tosh, Mick Jagger (who dueted with him on the late-70s hit), and reggae’s “Rhythm Twins,” Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, core members of Tosh’s Word, Sound and Power band at the time. • A trove of Marley memorabilia, including a backstage pass for his final concert, in Pittsburgh on September 23, 1980; a press pass for the 1978 One Love Peace Concert in Kingston; scores of postage stamps from around the world honouring Marley. Also included are original wall posters for many Marley concerts, among them Apollo Theater in Harlem in October 1979; Port of Spain, Trinidad, in May the same year (one of Marley’s very few live appearances in the Caribbean outside of Jamaica); and Milan’s San Siro Stadium, before the biggest audience of his life, 110,000, in June 1980. • A platinum award (for tenw million sales) for Marley’s Legend album.   There’s more, much more, but you get the picture. How much, reggae fans may wonder, will it take to make this little lot your own? Says Steffens: “I am open to all fair offers that take into consideration the 35 years of unpaid labour that went into not only collecting these treasures, but also organising and sorting them for easy reference. I can be contacted at rasrojah@aol.com.” If you’d like a peek at some of the archives’ reggae treasures, check out www.reggaesupersite.com The cricket world’s buzzing with a new craze, in a sport that’s not prone to fads. It’s called Twenty20—an abbreviated, action-packed version of the ancient game. The Twenty20 refers to the number of six-delivery overs allocated to each side, and it means that a cricket match—which at international level can take up to five full days and end in a draw—can be played in roughly the same time as sports like baseball. So far, so good. I have a personal preference for the ebb and flow of five-day Test cricket, and the 50-over one-day game seems, at least to me, to produce a lot more nail-biting finishes than the Twenty20 version. But the fans seem to like it, the players are finally earning the sort of money they’re worth, and the pluses probably outweigh the minuses. I have to confess, however, that my jaw dropped with horror when I tuned in to the biggest Twenty20 cricket tournament thus far: the star-studded Indian Premier League, which attracted huge crowds to stadiums around India recently. My consternation had nothing to do with the action on the field. It was due to a bunch of blonde American-style cheerleaders, scantily clad and gyrating enthusiastically to what sounded like Bollywood-style Indian music. The bimbo brigade, it turns out, consisted largely of Washington Redskins cheerleaders brought in by one of the team owners for the occasion. Needless to say, their mini-skirts, bikini tops and booty-shaking caused an uproar in India. “See the pictures of these girls in the newspapers? This is not something you can allow inside your house, or something that you can look at in the presence of your sister or daughter,” said one angry politician. “It’s not a good thing for India, for our kind of culture.” I couldn’t agree more. I’m also becoming increasingly fed up with the Americanisation of just about everything, from the food we eat to the television we tune into to the sports we play to the music we listen to. And now, heaven help us, how we watch our cricket. I just hope we can’t look forward to seeing the Dallas Cowgirls at Trinidad’s Queen’s Park Oval…at least not in my lifetime.