The golden age of rude boys, from Jamaica to New York and beyond
No film in the last 50 years better captured the purity of the Jamaican music scene in the Bob Marley era than the 1978 feature Rockers.
Director Ted Bafaloukos based the movie around a day in the life of renowned session drummer Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace as he distributes white labels for Joe Gibbs. Someone paints a lion on his bike, he hangs with his family, and he interacts with some of the greatest names in reggae music. In terms of cameos, Rockers is essentially the Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of reggae music, with appearances by Jacob Miller, Max Romeo, Burning Spear, King Tubby, John Holt, The Abyssians, Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare and so many more. And they are all just hanging out, jamming, dancing, playing footie, whatever.
It’s a movie where we can watch the guys who make the music we all chill to hanging out themselves. There’s such a comfortable feeling you get when watching Rockers, because we’re witnessing these musicians in their natural environment, undoubtedly partaking in what they’d be doing even if they weren’t in the presence of Bafaloukos and his film crew.
Published by Gingko Press earlier this summer 42 years after Rockers first hit movie screens, ROCKERS: Ted Bafaloukos + 1970s New York + Kingston + On Set Mayhem = The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film is a must-read for any fan of the original motion picture. Spanning 320 pages and housed in a 9” x 12” hardcover book, this coffee table tome not only explores the journey to Jamaica for Bafaloukos and his crew via insightful anecdotes and candid behind-the-scenes photos, but also the director’s own personal coverage of his reggae adventures in New York. Exclusive photos of Dillinger playing Max’s Kansas City and Burning Spear at My Father’s Place across the Throgs Neck in Roslyn on Long Island accompany anecdotes about run-ins with the likes of Jessica Lange, Grace Jones, Phillipe Petit and Robert Frank along the way.
Yet the glue of this book is in the deeply personal autobiography Bafaloukos wrote the year before his passing. It’s the story of a young man who fled Andros, Greece at age 17 in the mid 1960s to attend the Rhode Island School of Design [RISD]. He served two years in the Greek Army during the country’s military junta before moving to New York. The anecdotes inscribed within these chapters, which involve gunshots at his first ever reggae concert in Brooklyn, getting arrested on suspicion of being a CIA operative, and a super-weird experience at the Bob Marley compound. combined with wild tales about our favorite rude boys, will no doubt make a fine feature film of its own one day.
“Over the years, a lot has been said about Rockers,” Bafaloukos writes in his closing paragraph. “Most of it true. Much of it self evident. For me, Rockers is the music. The sound and the words. The sounds of reggae and the people who made it.”
With the movie, its soundtrack and now all four pounds of this essential book, there’s never been another white man shy of maybe Chris Blackwell who has done more for reggae music than Ted Bafaloukos, a true champion in every sense.