Many fans of Dub Side of the Moon by the Easy Star All-Stars believe the record was composed and arranged by a group of musical veterans undoubtedly fans of Pink Floyd. The truth is one person was mainly responsible for the creation of all the best-selling and critically acclaimed Easy Star All-Stars records. That man is Michael Goldwasser, also known as Michael G.
Producer Spotlight: Michael Goldwasser
Michael G was born in West Virginia, moved to Chicago when he was three and settled in New York at the age of seven. His parents exposed him to all styles of music for which he is exceedingly thankful. While other kids played “Mary Had A Little Lamb” Michael was listening to the jazz masterpiece “Mysterioso” composed by Thelonious Monk. By the age of thirteen, he began playing music and took a few guitar lessons before teaching himself and exploring various instruments.
Goldwasser’s influences include saxophonist Charlie Parker and the aforementioned Thelonious Monk, accomplished composer and pianist. His reggae repertoire in the mid-70s and early 80s included Steel Pulse, Black Slate, Dennis Brown, and Sugar Minott, with whom he was fortunate to work alongside on a few Easy Star projects. He embraced R&B legends James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, Kool and the Gang, and Rick James.
“My high school band was very eclectic and we incorporated all different styles of music as well,” Michael remembers. “When I got a little older I started concentrating on R&B and reggae, which were the two I most enjoyed writing and playing.”
“There was definitely this attachment to the second wave of ska, two-tone, which was happening mainly out of England.” The Specials and Ranking Roger (a major player on Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band) and his group The Beat (known in America as The English Beat) were also major sources of inspiration.
The dedicated musician immersed himself in the New York music scene. He lived in Queens before obtaining a drivers license and would have to make a two-hour trip to Manhattan for gigs with his guitar and amp using public transportation. It was not rare for his supportive parents to drop him off so he could meet up with his exceptionally active band.
“Even in New York there were a lot of local bands that I looked up to” such as Victor Axelrod, aka Ticklah, who produced Dub Side with him and played keyboards on a lot of other Easy Star endeavors. “We met when we were [around] 15-years-old in different bands. Its just amazing to think that after 30 years we’re still making music.”
Being well versed in writing, playing, and producing R&B, Michael notices the strong connection with reggae music. Jamaican reggae from the late 60s and 70s, specifically early Wailers covers, reflected the R&B sound and soul from America.
“There would be no reggae if it wasn’t for R&B, and its kind of lost on American reggae bands,” which he believes is purely circumstantial. “I would say every artist coming from Jamaica, since ska, has been influenced by R&B. I can’t think of one that hasn’t.”
Easy Star Records & Dubside of the Moon:
By 1996, Goldwasser, along with Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer, and Remy Gerstein, filled a niche in the American music scene by starting Easy Star Records. For years, the Easy Star All-Stars were a studio group producing no more than an album per year. In 2002, the label decided to pay homage to one of the most prolific records to date, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon.
“I don’t think I ever sat down and listened to the whole original album and got into it,” Goldwasser confessed, meaning he “didn’t go into it with any kind of fear or awe for the original. Reverence can be a very good thing and I have a lot of reverence towards music that I love but sometimes it could inhibit you.”
Frankie Paul was brought in to perform vocals for “Us and Them” and added his own spin on the song even though he had never heard it before. “It was a great session,” Michael G remembers, “That was the first time I worked with him and it was a big thrill for me being such a big fan.”
Kirsty Rock took on the challenge of singing “Great Gig in the Sky,” one of the most illustrious vocal tracks in rock history. “We kind of had to push her because you just have to go there, you know?” Michael G recalls of the session, “You just have to let your inhibitions go, and she nailed it, of course, in the recording. Now she just gets a chance to change it up a bit and go with how she feels when performing live.”
“I think that its possible the success of Dub Side showed some people that you can make authentic, traditional sounding reggae, but be able to appeal to someone outside of the reggae movement. One of our goals when we made Dub Side was to break down barriers. We’ve won that battle.”
Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour told BBC the album was great fun and wished he had been able to see them in London.
Dub Side would remain on the Billboard charts for 7 years after peaking at #5 on the chart. “It was a slow build with steady sales, and back in 2003 sales of many reggae titles were stronger in a relative sense, so we didn’t reach the top of the charts,” explains Goldwasser. To date, Dub Side of the Moon has sold over 250,000 copies.
Living & Producing in Israel
As the smoke was cleared around the hype surrounding Dub Side, Michael and his wife decided to travel to Israel around the time of their first anniversary. It was a place he was fascinated with since he was a young child. When other producers might lavishly spend on material goods and fancy cars, Mr. and Mrs. Goldwasser served those less fortunate in the middle of the Negev Desert.
Their days started at five in the morning as the commenced prepping food and washing sizeable stockpots. “The experience was both humbling and rewarding,” being immersed in the natural beauty of the area and being able to find his center. It was only a matter of time before he started making connections with Israeli reggae artists.
He describes the local scene as vibrant and was able to produce and record tracks for future Easy Star releases. He appeared on radio shows, was a DJ at multiple festivals, and says there were more reggae parties in Tel Aviv than New York City.
“Our first extended stay in Israel was in 2004. I went back to volunteer twice in 2005, produced an album there in 2006, performed with Easy Star several times over 2007-2011, and lived and worked there for almost a year over the course of 2009-10. And also DJ’ed at a festival there in 2012.”
Michael met a local group called Rasta Power and produced their sophomore album Taking Over with hopes of spreading their upbeat messages stateside. They had a mutual goal of bringing “the Middle Eastern fire through the positive vibrations of roots reggae and hip-hop to all nations, especially to the rebel teenagers seeking a righteous path to protest.”
The connections between Judaism and Rastafarianism are staggering. Messianic figure Haile Selassie I was a descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, queen regent of the area now known as Egypt and Ethiopia. Countless reggae songs mention the Lion of Judah and the inevitable return to Zion. Many Bob Marley lyrics come straight out of scripture singing of an Exodus from oppression back to the homeland. Emperor Selassie was exiled to England not before a stopping in Jerusalem after Italian forces invaded Ethiopia in 1935.
Michael G’s understanding of the movement’s history along with his personal quest to his ancestral homeland further fueled his passion by the time he returned stateside as he began working on his next musical homage. This time he paid his respects to a genre-defining album by another band from the United Kingdom, Radiohead. His biggest challenge in making Radiodread, Easy Star’s interpretation of Radiohead’s OK Computer, was creating a reggae album (generally in 4/4 time) out of a record chalk full of peculiar metering – no easy task.
For those not familiar with 4/4 time, Michael G explains that it “means that there are four beats to every bar of music. You can count along to the music – 1,2,3,4 – and as long as you are counting at the same tempo of the song then you can keep counting and it will fit with the track. Pretty much all reggae before ‘Dub Side’ was in 4/4 time. The song ‘Money’ on Dub Side is in 7/4 time, meaning that there are seven beats to every bar of music. To count along to that song, you have to repeatedly count ‘1,2,3,4,5,6,7’ to the right tempo.”
Re-creating Radiohead, the Beatles & Michael Jackson Music
Of the twelve songs on Radiohead’s OK Computer, “Seven of them are not in 4/4 time or they went back and forth on it all the time. Paranoid Android changes time signatures 13 times.”
Again, the artist’s behind the original were ecstatic with the finished product. Radiohead was heard playing Dub Side of the Moon prior to their performances and specifically mentioned Easy Star’s version of “Let Down” on stage in front of thousands of fans. It wasn’t long before Radiohead invited the Easy Star family to a show.
Continuing the trend of mesmerizing reggae tributes of timeless UK classics, The Beatles were next. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band was released in 2009 and also received stellar reviews. Thrillah, from Michael Jackson’s Thriller was released in 2012, and it appeared he could even translate dance-heavy pop albums with relative ease.
Interviewers ask Michael G which album he is thinking of doing next although spilling the beans is not one of his specialties.
“I’ll take on any challenge. I love to work on all different genres with all different kinds of artists. To me, it’s kind of like a puzzle. You have this Rubix Cube and you do it without taking all the stickers off. It’s a great creative and intellectual challenge.”
Michael G had complete creative control over arranging, producing, mixing, and mastering. “I’ll spend the first couple of months listening and getting ideas together, next few writing arrangements and finding musicians, do the actual recording, and get all the guest vocals and mixing.”
Amazingly, fifteen months is the shortest time it took him to complete an Easy Star All Stars album. When it comes to the touring Easy Star All-Stars, his profound ability to hire musicians probably contributed to the notion that the records are made by an entire group.
Michael G.’s Highlight Reel:
Michael G’s original work can also be found in films such as The Gambler, Humboldt County and Failure to Launch. He has been credited on television programs such as Access Hollywood, Best Week Ever, Big Bang Theory, CSI: New York, Dr. Who, and Prison Break.
Goldwasser has worked with reggae legends Steel Pulse, Third World, Morgan Heritage, Israel Vibration, Sugar Minott, Matisyahu, and Sister Carol. Recent projects include tracks with Rebelution, John Brown’s Body, Toots & the Maytals, The Hip Abduction, Yoko Ono, Umphrey’s McGee, and The New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble.
The acclaimed and humble producer has also been featured in musical periodicals Rolling Stone Magazine, Billboard, Entertainment Weekly, and Vibe.
He has a successful career as a DJ with Easy Star Sound System and plays original unreleased Easy Star All-Stars tracks, which creates a unique experience for any fan. He has performed at private and public events in New York, Jamaica, and Israel and was even asked to perform live Easy Star All-Stars songs at the wedding of Michael Bloomberg’s daughter, Emma.
Easy Star Records has grown by leaps and bounds over its twenty-year existence. Goldwasser recognizes the unique connection artists in today’s reggae scene have and act more like family than friends or band mates. He looks over his bands like a parent looks after a child while they tour the country and the world.
“Me personally as a record producer, I always want to work with good musicians. Part of Easy Star and the people that we work with, we try to be great people. I think artists like to work with us because we’re real and we do what we say we’re gonna do.”
Working with Rebelution, Passafire, The Green & New Kingston
The Easy Star Records family is ideal for both up and coming and established artists alike and Goldwasser is proud of the doors that Dub Side of the Moon has opened to American reggae artists. Their entire creative process mixed with professional A&R and distribution caught the attention of U.S. reggae powerhouse Rebelution, who signed with the independent label in 2013 for the release of Count Me In.
For Rebelution, signing with Easy Star Records was a no-brainer. “Easy Star is just committed to putting out positive music,” explains Rebelution’s guitarist/vocalist Eric Rachmany, “Rebelution has always been independent and we’ve seen how the record industry works and didn’t want any part of it.”
He applauds Michael G’s ability to “incorporate other genres and find a way to make it mesh. He’s a dude that I trust as a musician… Someone I can depend on that will come up with a part that I generally like. I don’t say that about a lot of people we’ve worked with, I’m usually very picky about stuff I want.”
Accolades for the easygoing Easy Star exec. continue, “I think Michael is a great producer, but he is also a great musician. He knows how to play multiple instruments and he just understands. I think it’s a connection we have… I’d always recommend him.”
Michael G mixed Rebelution’s More Than Dub in 2009 and Peace of Mind Dub in 2012. When Rachmany wrote “Life on the Line” he had some sort of Middle Eastern instruments in mind, and before he could make the suggestion, Michael G already added an instrument called an oud, similar to the European lute, but with no frets and a smaller neck, and incorporated the bouzouki, a Greek instrument that has a similar tone to that of a mandolin. “We’re just on the same page,” Eric acknowledges.
He also incorporated a beautiful string section to “Route Around” that Eric says “took the song to another level.”
“I think it’s great that bands are coming to us, they really want to be involved,” Michael G says of his ever-evolving label. “All the bands we work with now, they’re basically coming to us with finished product so I’m not necessarily getting a chance to produce with them. I would love to be working with some of these up and coming bands to bring my production value and experience.”
Hawai’i’s beloved group The Green is another band making waves Michael G has produced. Both of their records with Easy Star Records, Ways and Means and Hawai’i ’13 won the prestigious Hawaiian Na Hoku Hanohano Award for Reggae Album of the Year. Hawai’i ‘13 was also named Album of the Year in the 2013 Pier Awards.
“From the first time I heard The Green, they do get R&B, and the influence is there. The fact that they can have a good four part vocal harmony, like the classic reggae and classic R&B groups, in my experience, is really rare to find a U.S. based group that gets that kind of roots reggae.”
Michael G and Easy Star’s capacity to appeal to talented musicians continues with Passafire who have been fans of the Easy Star family for quite some time. Will Kubley told us, “It was a no brainer, it’s somebody we respect who wants to push us to the next level and we can work together.”
Passafire’s keyboardist Mike DeGuzman continued, “Especially coming off of ‘Start From Scratch’ which was released on our own. We kind of got to feel like what we were capable of doing on our own, to get that push and having the idea of a team investing in us and knowing that they believe in us.”
“They have a great team on the ground while we’re out here in the field,” says singer/guitarist Ted Browne.
New Kingston, from Brooklyn New York by way of Jamaica, is another recent group to sign with Easy Star. The three brothers, Courtney Jr., Stephen, and Tahir, along with their father, Courtney Panton Sr. (AKA Faddah P) brought their latest LP, Kingston City to Easy Star. The third album by the talented family debuted at #1 on the iTunes reggae charts. Faddah P says one of the main reasons they chose Easy Star was of their track record and they are looking forward to recording future music with Michael G at the helm.
Growing The Music:
It is difficult for artists and record labels these days because people do not buy music like they used to. Goldwasser gives his insight to the evolving music industry: “I think we’ve been able to adapt to the changes well,” he says, “I would love to see, may never happen, if there can be a paradigm shift where the next generation of people who could buy music actually understand that music should not be free.”
He continued, “It makes me sad that the music industry and music makers are really suffering. Music is such an important part of everyone’s life. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t love or need music.” Michael G still encourages artists to be on the road, even though it may not be lucrative or a winning proposition.
Although Goldwasser toured with the Easy Star All-Stars during the early years, he has since decided to stay in the studio. “More importantly, I love being with my family and I want to be very active in raising my kids. If I still wanted to tour then I would be, but I definitely prefer to be making records. The albums would never get done if I were on the road.”
The Goldwasser’s two daughters have been to a few Easy Star All-Stars performances and even mess around with his guitar. His oldest daughter just received her own keyboard to go with their little drum-set and various percussion instruments scattered about the house.
“I know if they made music I would just be playing their music 24/7,” he expresses with sincere affection. “They both really like dancing and singing and they’ll perform the heck out of it standing on the coffee table, it’s a short walk from there to the stage.” His daughters even have cameos on his upcoming solo R&B self-titled project, Goldswagger.
Goldswagger features analog equipment with a modern interpretation of vintage 1970s R&B, soul, and funk, music that inspired him in the first place. He is so well known for ingenious cover songs and he wanted to take the opportunity to pour his heart into a collection of original tracks that will flip the script and bring modern reggae fans to the roots of Rhythm and Blues.
The new record was completed in March of 2015 and the first single “Sh*t or Get off the Pot” will undoubtedly turn some heads and tickle some eardrums. Many of the same musicians he has surrounded himself with from Easy Star All-Stars make appearances on the new record. He is still in the decision-making process about how the album is going to be released.
Goldwasser could literally talk about his family and musical life for hours. Perhaps that is why he took on the challenge to fuse the sound of one of the most historic albums of all time and add his soulful R&B and reggae influence so perfectly. Perhaps it is his calling to take those challenges and translate them into the current reggae movement.
Whether it was fate or circumstance, Easy Star Records is at the forefront of genre-bending music and with Michael Goldwasser in the driver’s seat, the logical result is an influx of positive energy and peaceful messages that the world is lacking, but sorely needs.
Be on the lookout for the premiere of Goldswagger coming soon. Until then, you can purchase “Sh*t Or Get off the Pot” from iTunes by clicking HERE
Michael Goldwasser Website
Easy Star Records Website
Michael G.’s Sh*t Or Get Off The Pot
Easy Star Records Exclusive Blog
Article By: Blake Taylor
Photos By: Jeff Pliskin
Listen: Michael Goldwasser – “Sh*T Or Get Off The Pot”