“Horsemouth is reggae,” said the Greek filmmaker Ted Bafaloukos, the director of the 1978 film Rockers, one of the first successful movies to focus on the culture surrounding Jamaican music. Along with its predecessor, 1972’s The Harder They Come, Rockers exposed the attitude, music, style, poverty, and social environment that were central to the original reggae scene, and it helped to bring the musicians to an international audience.
Wallace was cast as the male lead in Rockers after Bafaloukos saw him playing drums with the popular reggae singer Burning Spear in New York City in the mid- ’70s. The director was impressed with the drummer’s charisma and felt that he embodied the spirit of reggae music.
Adding to Wallace’s star status was an appearance in Heartland Reggae, a 1980 documentary of the 1978 One Love Peace Concert in Kingston, Jamaica, which featured many of the genre’s heavy hitters. The film also documented Bob Marley’s triumphant return to his home country after leaving for sixteen months following an assassination attempt in 1976.
According to Horsemouth, being a movie star proved to be both a curse and a blessing to his music career. “It’s a very weird ’ting to be a drummer in Jamaica who becomes a star,” he said in an interview in the July 1983 issue of Modern Drummer. “Other musicians don’t like it. They prefer you to just keep the beat, y’know.”
Despite growing up poor in Kingston in the ’50s and ’60s, Wallace achieved a higher level of musical education than many of his contemporaries, due to his training at the Alpha Boys School, a reformatory run by Catholic nuns, who taught him how to read music and encouraged him to play in the student band. Wallace went on to become a regular session player at the famed Jamaican producer Coxsone Dodd’s Channel One studio during the golden era of reggae in the mid-’70s, and his résumé would eventually include reggae greats the Gladiators, Gregory Isaacs, Horace Andy, Inner Circle, Don Carlos, and the Skatalites.
Wallace would also become known as an effective multi-instrumentalist; his performance credits include playing bass, keyboards, and saxophone on a number of reggae records released in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Horsemouth is still busy in the studio and on stage, appearing most recently with the Congos and with Errol Organs and the Trenchtown Experience, with which he toured Europe in 2011, including an appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Credited with inventing the rockers beat, Wallace lists Lloyd Knibb of the Skatalites and Hugh Malcolm of the Supersonics among his early drumming influences. “I used to sit with Lloyd at the bottom of his drum,” Horsemouth recently told Harrison Stafford of the neo-reggae band Groundation. “He give me the first idea towards local music.”
Transcribed by Eric Novod
Gladiators, “Holiday Ride,” Sweet So Till
Here’s the classic steppers groove, which features a four-on-the-floor bass drum, hi-hat accents on the downbeats, and a snare hit on beat 3. The triplet fills in measures 2 and 4 are classic Wallace.
Burning Spear, “Old Marcus Garvey,” Marcus Garvey
After an intense 32-note-sextuplet fill, Wallace jumps into a classic 16th-note-triplet reggae groove with open hi-hats on the offbeats. Later in the tune he adds some slick swung bass drum improvisations. (0:00)