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Vintage Voices | Griffiths and the Electric Slide

Published:Sunday | May 19, 2019 | 12:13 AMRoy Black
Marcia Griffiths

Electric Boogie is one of several recordings that inspired a dance move.

Earlier, there was ‘ The Stroll’ by The Diamonds in ’57, Three years later, Chubby Checker rocked the world with The Twist, which also inspired a dance move of the same name. Also in 1960, the ‘Mash Potato’ dance created waves across the world and even spread to Jamaica, where Bill Black and The Combo’s White Silver Sand carried the swing. Later, Archie Bell and The Drells crashed American dance floors in ’68 with ‘Tighten Up’, while Kaoma’s Lambada from Brazil in ’89 was numbered among the many South American recordings that had accompanying dance moves.

Ska Ska Ska, sung by Keith Lyn and Ken Lazarus backed by Byron Lee and The Dragonaires in ’64, was perhaps the earliest Jamaican recording to have inspired a dance move – ‘The Ska’. The beat and the dance were promoted at the New York World’s Fair that same year after being commissioned by then minister in charge of culture, Edward Seaga.

popular dance

Besides ‘Ska’, ‘The Electric Slide’, which was the offspring of the Electric Boogie song, was perhaps the most popular Jamaican dance move to come out of the island. The recording, no doubt, was inbued with the energy of the childhood friendship between Bunny Wailer and Marcia Griffiths that in later years blossomed into an unforgettable musical experience. In a 2010 interview with Griffiths, the main voice behind the song, she told me: “Bunny and I went to kindergarten school together. He and I were always in communication. He would come by every day and we would reason, and he would write songs, and all that,” she said. Those contacts were later cemented when they again met at Studio 1 as teenagers, with Bunny some seven years her senior.

The camaraderie, generally, at Studio 1 will forever remain indelibly etched in her memory as Griffiths reminds us, “We were one big happy family, no pay, but our songs were done in sincerity, and that’s why they last so long.”

The Electric Boogie episode contains fragments of that camaraderie as it was at Studio 1 that the I-Threes, a group that featured Griffiths, Rita Marley, and Judy Mowatt, was formed around ’73. The group was on a Canadian tour in the 1970s when Griffiths stumbled upon a piece of a musical gadget that would become something like the protagonist behind the creation of the song. According to her, after one of their performances and some meager payments, “I was walking and I saw this rhythm box that I fell in love with. It had every single sound and every single beat. I bought it and brought it to Jamaica and was fascinated with this sound and this thing called the repeater. And when Bunny came by, he started to play around with it, discovering various things, and then we found this beat, and that’s how the whole thing started. He added the repeater keyboard, and from there, that’s how Electric Boogie was born. In no time, Bunny came back with a song. We wasted no time in getting to the studio, voiced the song, and it went straight to number one in Jamaica,” Griffiths revealed.

Originally recorded by Wailer in ’76, Griffiths’ version, which also featured him, became a hit in ’82 when it was first released. Possessing a beat out of the ordinary with drum and bass duo Sly and Robbie, saxophonist Dean Frazer, trombonist Nambo Robinson, and trumpeter Chico Chin at the helm, the recording also became a hit in The Bahamas, Amsterdam, and several other countries.

But the impact its associated dance had far outperformed the recording when seven years later ‘The Electric Slide’ dance craze swept America and several other countries. Very little is known about the origins of the dance. Griffiths recalls that “the dance was created in Washington, D.C., by a group of dancers and it has become the longest-living song and dance up to this day”. A Wikipedia source was more precise: “Choreographer, pianist, and broadway performer Richard L. “Ric” Silver created the dance in ’76 from a demo of the Bunny Wailer recording. The original choreography has 22 steps, but the 18-step variation went viral in ’89, and for 10 years, was listed by Linedancer Magazine as the number-one dance in the world.”