Blending the music of Jamaica with the sounds of Nantucket
by: Elise Linscott
When you take an award-winning solo snare drummer, a former touring punk rocker, a jazz bassist and a theatrical singer and put them together, you might not expect a reggae band to form.
But that’s just what happened with Foggy Roots, whose renditions of wellknown songs by bands like Toots and the Maytals along with deep cuts from more obscure Jamaican artists have led to regular gigs and a solid fan base on-island.
The band played its first show at Cisco Brewers two years ago, and since then has picked up momentum, with regular gigs these days at restaurants like Atlas and a host of other venues, including a New Year’s Eve show at The Chicken Box, the Summer Rooftop Concert Series at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, private parties and weddings.
“We wanted to play music that’s not being played any more,” lead singer Andre Sang Quackenbush said. Their current repertoire consists of about 50 songs, mostly roots reggae from the late 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s,
and they’re constantly adding new tunes to the lineup. While living in California, Sang Quackenbush got to know many reggae artists personally, including members of Bob Marley & The Wailers, The Skatalites and others, giving him the idea to start his own band when the timing was right.
The four musicians in Foggy Roots are Sang Quackenbush, who also plays guitar; guitarist Floyd Kellogg; bassist and keyboard player Nigel Goss; and drummer Nick Hayden. Kellogg, Goss and Hayden also teach music on-island, and Kellogg works as a sound engineer at the Nantucket Music Center.
“We’ve all studied a different type of music, and when this band came together, stylistically with the repertoire, we had to learn how to be musical and play something that was completely different than what we were used to,” Hayden said.
Sang Quackenbush moved to Nantucket six years ago after his cousin called with a job opportunity, and he slowly started getting to know the island music scene. He first connected with Kellogg after seeing him play drums (though he’s on guitar these days), and he met Hayden through a local blues band. Hayden and Goss had been playing together for several years. The group booked their first gig at Cisco Brewers with only a couple rehearsals under its belt.
“My old bands used to play festivals,” said Kellogg, who once fronted bands like You Scream I Scream and Spookie Daly Pride. “We used to open for reggae bands, so I felt like I saw a lot of it. But before I never felt like I needed to be in a reggae band, and I didn’t want to be in a reggae band unless it was with someone like Andre who knew as much as he does about the music and can viscerally perform it, singing-wise.”
Goss echoed similar sentiments.
“I have a lot of respect for reggae music, and I didn’t want to do it unless it was with someone who knew what they were doing, because there’s a lot of subtlety and nuance that gets lost if you don’t. It doesn’t come out good at all, and I think it’s like that with any music genre, but I think with reggae it’s more obvious if it’s being done wrong.”
Some of Foggy Roots’ most enthusiastic audiences have also been their youngest. The band has donated its time playing concerts in classrooms around the island, at the Nantucket Lighthouse School and Children’s House Montessori school. One video posted on its Instagram account shows a group of about two dozen kids at Children’s House jumping up
and down and audibly screaming with excitement as the band plays. The group derives its name from “Foggy Road” by reggae artist Burning Spear, in which he sings about how even though the road of life is long and foggy, he will remain fearless and persevere through whatever
comes his way, Sang Quackenbush said.
“I took the word foggy from that song, as it is also closely associated
with Nantucket,” he said. “I wanted some connection to Nantucket as we might be Nantucket’s first year-round reggae band. Then I chose to change the word road to roots, as that is the foundation of the type of music we’re playing (roots reggae). The name Foggy Roots also points one’s attention back in time to what came before. Whether one looks forward into the future or back through time, it is often a foggy view one finds, as life is very complex and often appears obscured unless one perseveres in obtaining clear perception and understanding. So, by us playing certain songs from the past, we may be bringing back to life and clarifying various musics and connections.”
Sang Quackenbush said in the future the group may work on its own original material. He hopes that playing and embodying the music of the past will lead to a stronger connection to it, and ultimately to original songs with depth and meaning. As the old Jamaican Rastafarian saying goes, “A person without a past is like a tree without roots,” he said. ///
Elise Linscott is a freelance writer and former reporter at The Inquirer and Mirror, Nantucket’s newspaper since 1821.