You can take him out of Jamaica, but you can’t take Jamaica out of him. Clinton Fearon has called Seattle more or less home for most of the last decade, but when we reach him at residence in that city of rain and dull tin skies, you still get the vague impression he’s swinging in a hammock with a lukewarm Red Stripe. Partly because he’s still got the accent, thick and smooth as blackstrap molasses, and call me a landlocked hayseed but it’s hard to picture him ordering a double half-caff dry hazelnut macchiato or jousting his way up and down I-5.
Why Seattle for this reggae legend, ex-Gladiators, ex-Defenders?
Friends, circumstance and visa concerns, Fearon explains.
“We toured here as the Gladiators back in 1987, and things weren’t going too well with the group. We finished the tour in Miami, and we had some excess time on our visas. So we called up a friend of mine up here in Seattle and we told him, ‘Hey, man, we have all this excess time, we’d love to do something before we go back home.’ So we came up with the name Defenders and put together a group. I had an indefinite visa back then, and the idea was to have kind of a back-and-forth thing. But then one time a guitarist friend of mine went home to Jamaica and was coming back and they cross his passport and sent him back home and told him he could apply for another visa within two years. By mail.”
“I was in Seattle when I got the news, so I said you know what? I’m already here, so I’m gonna work and get my green card. It took me about five years. By then I’d established a home here. You live somewhere for five years, you live there, you know what I mean?”
Fearon says he started playing professionally in Jamaica when he was 19 or 20. Before that, he got his musical training through the church he attended with his father.
“I made my first guitar, I dug it out of a cedar trunk,” he recalls. “I used a dinner fork to make the frets. This man in church, named Mr. Cole, I asked him to buy the strings and the keys for me in Kingston. And the first night, man, I put ‘em on and the strings were about a inch from the frets. My fingers were sore the next morning but I still wouldn’t ease up.”
Easing up, it would seem, isn’t one of Fearon’s strong suits. He records and tours frequently, most recently with the Boogie Brown Band behind him. In the seven years the Boogie Brown Band have been together, they’ve recorded three successful albums and toured all over. They’re no strangers to Montana, either, having played here four or five times in the past half year.
So what does Fearon miss most about Jamaica? Old friends, of course, and, predictably enough: the weather. But I still swear I hear the ocean at the other end of the line.
Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band plays UM’s Moonlight Mix & Mingle on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 5:30 p.m., admission FREE. They play again at the Ritz on Wednesday, Sept. 6 at 10 p.m., cover $7.