Born Winston Rodney in 1945, Burning Spear hails from Saint Ann’s Bay in Jamaica, the same town as another legendary reggae artist, Bob Marley. It was an early meeting with Marley that led Spear to pursue a recording career.
The 71-year-old artist has been touring for well over four decades. Now based in Queens, New York, he runs his own record label with his wife and manager, Sonia Rodney. Burning Spear is coming to Los Angeles on June 26 as part of Reggae Night at the Hollywood Bowl.
But, as the singer tells The Frame host John Horn, if you want to catch him on stage here in California, this will be your last chance.
Tell us what's special about your upcoming Hollywood Bowl show.
Spear: It's going to be my last show in California. Over the past years touring, I have been going back and forth to California and the time is right for "I Man" to stand down from the stage. I said it makes sense to do this last show and say bye to my fans.
Sonia, I want to hear about working with Burning Spear. Do you call him a reggae legend in the house or do you call him something else?
Rodney: I call him "Spear." (laughs). Or "pooh bear."
How did you decide that you wanted to be business partners and how does that differ from your marriage? Can you describe how you wanted to work together?
Rodney: After years of Spear touring and doing everything, he wasn't making any money. He looked at me one day — I used to work in [retail] — and said, "You probably need to take over my business." I was like, "Take over your business?" He said, "Yeah, you could take over my business and we could work together as a team." So I quit my job and I went out and bought a little typewriter and I put it in the dining room and I started to learn how to type. That's how it got started.
Spear: Since she became a part of the business and became a partner, there's been a lot of improvements business-wise. I was always touring for agents and promoters and I wasn't making any [money]. After I had her step in, we started to make something. It became so progressive that the business grew and grew to a distance where a lot of people didn't expect we were doing such good work together. Since that time, Spear's been burning, burning, burning.
Reggae music over the last several decades has changed dramatically, the audience has grown. What are you most satisfied about in terms of the way that the music is received? And what are your concerns about the way in which musicians work and can make a living these days?
Spear: For a musician to make a living right now, it's very hard to be honest. The music business and industry — it's not like before. It's harder for a musician to really go there and play instruments and live off of it. The record company is not doing what they are supposed to be doing as before. What they're always saying to the artist [is], You've got to be touring to make a living from your music. I don't believe in artists always having to tour to make a living. This music generates a large portion of money and this money just stays among record companies, labels and distribution.
If I were to ask you which song is the most meaningful personally to each of you from Burning Spear's entire collection, what would it be?
Spear: To me, I would say "Slavery Days."
Rodney: And that's my song also — "Slavery Days."
Why do you pick that song?
Spear: Because of the struggle of myself and many other musicians or artists based on how we've been treated in this reggae music business by record companies, labels and distribution. We've been pushed around, people always disrespecting us. I think the days of slavery — I've been treated in that way and in that manner as a Jamaican artist and a reggae artist.
Sonia, why is that song so important to you?
Rodney: Because slavery affects every race, color, creed in every different way. To me, slavery was never about color. I think slavery was about money. Every generation in creation experiences some form of slavery because slavery is universal.