by Charlie Swanson
The term “living legend” rarely describes someone as well as it describes guitarist Ernest Ranglin. His innovative sound and style swept his home nation of Jamaica in the 1950s, and have made him a worldwide icon of modern music.
At 83 years old, Ranglin is still highly active, making records, touring the country and performing this week for the first time at Terrapin Crossroads.
Born in Manchester, Jamaica, in 1932, and raised in a musical family, Ranglin, at a young age, began developing a style that mixed traditional calypso and the jazz he picked up from longtime friend and musician Monty Alexander. Ranglin got his start as a session musician before moving on to composing, and eventually he became the music director at various Jamaican record labels.
In working with Jamaican producers like Lee “Scratch” Perry, Ranglin would change the face of Jamaican music and define the guitar style of ska and reggae in the 1960s, specifically the signature upward stroke that creates the sound.
Now in Jamaica’s Music Hall of Fame, Ranglin has played alongside iconic figures like Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Thelonious Monk.
When Ranglin was booked to play the High Sierra Music Festival in 2011, producer Tony Mindel assembled backing band Avila, with an ensemble of talented players, to join Ranglin on the live performance. Avila is now a permanent fixture in Ranglin’s repertoire.
Today, the band is eight members strong, including drummer Ian “Inx” Herman (Hamsa Lila, Paul Simon), bassist Yossi Fine (David Bowie, Lou Reed) and keyboardist Jonathan Korty (Vinyl), along with a cavalry of horns and vocalists.
Aside from his burgeoning festival and live appearances, Ranglin’s notoriety has shot through the roof in the last few years, thanks to his steady output of new records that continue to explore the textures of reggae rhythms and Caribbean melodies.
Ranglin’s 30th studio release was Bless Up, in 2014. It’s an album full of blissful grooves and warm atmospheres, recorded live at In the Pocket, the Sonoma County recording studio that hosts other living legends like Tom Waits.
And this year, Ranglin released a new album—Ernest Ranglin At Side Door Records—for which he traveled to Toronto to record with drummer and Side Door Records owner Everton Paul. With 31 albums under his belt, Ranglin has truly played and recorded in every corner of the world, from sunny Jamaica to frigid Canada.
Ernest Ranglin makes his Terrapin Crossroads debut with Avila and Stu Allen on Thursday, August 6 at 8pm; 100 Yacht Club Dr., San Rafael; $28; 415/524-2773; terrapincrossroads.net.