The coolest “Cat” in reggae might not have nine lives, but the one he has is quite legendary.
Jamaica’s Stephen “Cat” Coore will appear at the Truckee Reggae Fest on Saturday, June 24, with the one of the longest-running bands, Third World. It is part of a slate of selective shows the band will perform this summer. Coore does not describe it as a tour.
“Life has changed for us,” Coore said, alluding to the pandemic-altered status of live music. “Let me put it this way, it’s nice to be doing a couple of dates in California. I know Truckee. I’ve been there before. It’s really cool.”
Years ago, Renegade Productions and promoter Robbie “Gade” Polomsky booked Third World on a few occasions. Gade, a beloved and accomplished North Shore guitarist, said Coore and Al Anderson of the Wailers are the top two lead guitar players in reggae.
The accolade kindled memories for Coore, who was interviewed via Zoom by Tahoe Onstage.
“Al Anderson is a fantastic guitar player and he taught me so much,” Coore said. “When he was playing with Bob (Marley), I used to go watch them rehearse. Bob was very stoic. Al saw something in me and I saw a lot in him, and he helped me on the road a lot and he’s one of the greatest guitar players I have ever heard.”
Coore’s musical roots go back to the early days of reggae. He joined the band Inner Circle when he was 13, and after finishing high school, joined Third World, which in its nearly five decades have recorded many iconic songs, including “96 Degrees in The Shade,” “Try Jah Love” and “Now That We Found Love.” It’s 22nd studio album, “More Work to be Done,” released in 2019, earned the band its ninth Grammy nomination.
Coore and bassist Richard Daley have been with Third World since 1973. Lead singer William “Bunny Rugs” Clarke died of leukemia in 2014 at the age of 65.
Unlike many well-known Jamaican artists, Coore did not have a poor childhood. His parents met after college, his father (University of Oxford) earning a law degree and mother (McGill University) graduating in music and communications.
“My mother had the records from Pau Casals to Ella Fitzgerald,” Coore said. “There was much music and love. I think that has a lot to do with me arriving at this point.”
His Inner Circle bandmates were four and five years older than he. The group started out covering top 40 songs from the United States.
“We grew up on that music and we studied it and learned to perform it,” he said. “We played a hotels and grocery stores and mall dances and private parties. We weren’t endowed with such a personality that you could just come from the ghetto and just become a hit. We were basically middle-class boys and we had to prove ourselves.
“We worked really hard and studied the Meters and Sly Stone and Santana songs and then when we decided to move to reggae, we carried all of that with us. The harmonies and arrangements we got from R&B music that we listened to as kids. We took all influences and we projected them on our platform.”
The musicians performed ska, then dancehall, and finally Toots Hibbard called the popular sound reggae. Coore followed that lead to join Third World.
“I started hanging out with American kids and they turned me on to rock music, Iron Butterfly and Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and all that,” he said. “I knew the Rolling Stones and The Beatles, obviously, but I got to explore rock music. I wanted to do something other than what Inner Circle was doing. That’s what caused me to break away but there was never any ill feeling. I just wanted to go down a different road and the funny thing is they went down the same road as well.”
Carlos Santana was Coore’s greatest guitar influence.
“Carlos is No. 1 boy,” Coore said. “He simplified guitar and kind of made it like a trumpet. It wasn’t about a lot of scales and exercises. It was about chosen notes. It made sense. Jimi Hendrix was the greatest, but Santana brought a melodic vibe that I thought really was fantastic.”
Third World achieved international acclaim in 1978 when it covered and recorded an O’Jays song, “Now That We’ve Found Love.”
“You can put out 15 songs but if the public don’t like them, they just don’t like them. But if you put out one and the public really likes it, it changes your whole life,” he said.
Some reggae purists were critical of the song’s arrangement, which had a disco beat. Coore laughed at a question about an issue from 45 years ago. But he was happy to reminisce about Marley, reggae’s superstar.
“Bob Marley on a scale of 1 to 10, he’s 12,” Coore said. “Every country you go to in the world you will see a mural of him on a wall. His music is heard from Egypt to Mount Saini, places where there’s major wars happening there’s Bob Marley songs playing. In Ukraine right in the middle of the war and there’s a guy you hear on CNN playing a Bob Marley tune.”
“This character who comes from an island is a big, big, big deal and we’re very proud of him. We will not forget him, not in my lifetime or anybody else’s lifetime. From this generation to the next generations, there will always be Bob Marley.”
Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley was just 2 years old when his father died. He spent much of his childhood around Coore, who he considers an uncle. While Bob Marley’s son is an acclaimed artist, he also is an accomplished producer. Third World’s Grammy nominated “More Work to be Done” includes appearances from Marley, Tessanne, Chronixx, Tarrus Riley, Pressure Busspipe and Busy Signal.
“That process was tremendous because Damian would not stop until he got what he wanted,” Coore said. “He did not stop until he got something that his uncle could be proud of. It is one of the finest reggae records in history. If you put that record on you can’t take it off until it’s finished. That’s a testament to him and his ability to stay focused, work hard. His work ethic is beyond me. Even talking about it, I am feeling a little choked up. I really have respect and love for what Damian did for us on that record. Like father like son.”
Truckee Reggae Fest will include more great artists including another Marley son, Ky-Mani Marley, and Wailing Souls, which will play Saturday before Third World.
“Let’s get together in Truckee and have a blast,” Coore said.
- Third World
Truckee Reggae Fest
Headlines Saturday, June 25
- 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. Friday, June 24
- Ky-mani Marley
- Sister Carol
- Big Mountain
- J-Ras & the Higher Elevation
- 2 p.m. – 10 p.m. Saturday, June 25
- Third World
- Wailing Souls
- Lutan Fyah & the Fyah Squad
- Arise Roots
- Pipe Down
- DJ’s for both nights:
- Stay Positive Sound
- Full Watts HiFi
- DJ Treez
- DJ Redlocks
- Festival MC – Cootdog from Mystic Roots