As a student at Trinity College in the 1970s, Andy Bassford made sure he saw at least two new movies at week at Cinestudio, the fledging theater on the campus which was known for screening a wide range of interesting films that would not be considered mainstream fare at the time.
One such film was “The Harder They Come” which hit screens in the United States in 1973 and starred Jimmy Cliff. While the flick, which was subtitled to make it easier for viewers who had difficulty understanding the Jamaican Patois, was hardly an instant success, its corresponding soundtrack album is recognized for effectively introducing the world to reggae music. For the record, it was a double feature that day at Cinestudio as “The Harder They Come” was paired with the Ingmar Bergman-directed “Cries and Whispers”.
Just ask Bassford who bought the album shortly after seeing the film and was immediately hooked. A budding guitarist, he immersed himself in the captivating sounds that originated in Jamaica and upon graduating from Trinity in 1976 with a degree in philosophy, he wasn’t really joking when asked what he was going to do after college when he said: “I’m going to join a reggae band.”
While Bassford may have spent more time playing scales and practicing feedback than studying, despite being an honor student, that reggae career path became a reality.
The then-West Simsbury resident could hardly have imagined where his love of reggae and guitar playing would take him, but less than a year out of college he was sessioning on legendary reggae vocalist Horace Andy’s 1977 “In The Light” album and never looked back from there.
The session with Andy was the door-opener when it came to studio work for Bassford who has been a first-call reggae session player in Kingston, Jamaica, and New York City for decades. He’s appeared on eight Grammy-nominated albums and two Grammy winners. Recently he appeared on the new Sting-Shaggy collaboration, “44/876”; he was on each of Rihanna’s platinum-certified albums; and even Natalie Merchant’s “Butterfly” which went to No. 1 on the Billboard folk charts.
Bassford has also done his share of time on the road, including playing with the iconic Toots & The Maytals – who made a cameo appearance in “The Harder They Come” – as well as Dennis Brown, Yellowman, Gregory Isaacs, Marcia Griffiths and Super Cat. Most recently, he’s been playing with famed Jamaican jazz pianist Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express and reggae bass legend Derrick Barnett’s Statement Band.
Until April, there was one thing Bassford had not done as a working musician, released any of his own work, so after decades of supporting others in the studio and on stage, he put out “The Harder They Strum” – a nod to the album that changed his life as he redid the epic soundtrack.
Bassford will appear at the Hartford Jazz Festival in Bushnell Park on July 21 with Andy Bassford’s Jazz Conspiracy and the following weekend in Danbury at the seventh-annual Westside Reggae Festival at Ives Concert Park.