The first edition of Rhythm Express recorded a mixture of Latin, funk and soul jazz on a disc titled Beat Street, becoming a popular entity on Real Jazz — Sirius/XM and CBC radio in 2008.
The band played a few gigs and laid dormant until a life revival when recent Reggae Hall Fame inductee, drummer Everton ‘Pablo’ Paul invited Bill King to lay keyboards on an album of instrumentals featuring eighty-three year old guitarist and ska/reggae pioneer Ernest Ranglin: Ernest Ranglin at Side Door Records circa December 2014.
King and Paul rekindled their friendship and music relationship dating back to 1973-1976 when they recorded the funk instrumental, “Sawbuck” and “Nothing’s Gonna to Take You Away,” featuring vocalist/guitarist Wayne McGhie. “Nothing Gonna Take You Away,” was updated when Buffalo native Deborah Ash added her pastoral lyrics and reconfigured melody to the verses and then covered by Chaka Khan on the recording “Naughty,” for Warner Music. King, Paul and McGhie scored another song placement with “Streetwalker,” as part of the soundtrack to the iconic Canadian film, “Outrageous,” staring female impersonator Craig Russell. King’s '70s band was an integral part of the growing popularity of reggae in the Toronto music scene.
The band played the El Mocambo, the Jarvis House and numerous college and university gigs throughout southern Ontario; even an appearance on Keith Hampshire’s Music Machine in 1974.
In 2013 the band recorded two sides – a cover of iThree’s Judy Mowatt — “ Black Woman” which stands at over 200,000 Soundcloud plays — featuring the lead vocals/guitar of Selena Evangeline and “Hold Fast”.
The 2015 edition of Rhythm Express evolved from those inspired sessions with Ernest Ranglin. Ranglin stuck around and played guitar on the first singles with the band, “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” featuring Selena Evangeline on lead vocals and guitar, and “Midnight Confessions,” featuring popular Canadian reggae artist, Ammoye.
Juno award winning reggae artist Jesse “Dubmatix” King settled in on electric bass and recording engineer Shane ‘Shaky J” Forrest – guitar. The players share a mutual admiration for those great studio rhythm sections dating back to the 60s’ and 70s’ — Federal Records in Jamaica, Muscle Shoals, Stax, Motown, the Wrecking Crew in Los Angeles.
Everton Paul’s home basement studio (Side Door Records) is the perfect set-up. All of the equipment is there – Shane Forrest is one hell of a recording engineer and guitarist/bass man – the room is good vibes - old school funk and the growing number of first rate musicians engaged in the recording process is remarkable.
The horn sections range from Heavyweights Brass Band trombonist, Christopher Butcher, Cuban trumpet virtuosos Alexis Baro and Alexander Brown, trumpeters William Sperandei and Rebecca Hennessy, tenor sax man Michael Arthurs, and on alto sax, Bobby Hsu.
The voices are some of the finest in Canada – Selena Evangeline, Gavin Hope of the Nylons, Michael Dunston – Soul Stew, Ammoye Evans and Aria Zenua.
Each month since January 2015, the Express quietly drops a single on YouTube and CBC Radio. The response has been terrific. “I’ve given plenty of thought about where we are today with sales and marketing, and realistically understand the music world outside is over-saturated and there is much disconnect. Getting people to listen to any recording is a mammoth proposition so we decided to unveil the album one track at a time so people could hear the depth, talent, spirit and artistry in each song. Once complete we know there are no dead spots, wasted space and the joint effort is something you can play top to bottom, absent filler,” says King.
Since January the band has released the instrumental, “Before the Rain” – covers of Ann Peebles, “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” the Grass Roots, “Midnight Confessions,” Allan Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can,” The Specials - “You’re Wondering Now” – Jimmy Forrest's instrumental –“Night Train” – Donnie Hathaway/Michael Dunston’s – “The Ghetto/Black Lives Matters” – Marlena Shaw’s, “Woman of the Ghetto,” the Temptations' “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” - the classic reggae instrumental “Double Barrel” and most recently Jimmy Cliff’s – “The Harder They Come.” Scheduled for October – Aria Zena is featured on Millie Small’s, “My Boy Lollipop” from the first ska session produced by Ernie Ranglin in 1964 – November – Baby Huey’s, “Hard Times” featuring Michael Dunston and a sweet December side – Roy Ayers' “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”
The big party and release night comes Sunday October 25th – a double soul bill with the Blackburns' at Lula Lounge.
“We feel privileged and fortunate to have this rich/vast catalog of soul/funk/ska/reggae history to borrow from. Jazz has taken some of the finest songs of Gershwin, Porter, Arlen, Bacharach — you name them and revisited with today in mind. Pablo and I were there when the “soul explosion” began – playing five hours a night, six nights a week Otis, Sam & Dave, Carla, Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Booker T. & the MGs — that grand inventory of supremely crafted songs. To be together with like-minded musicians in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties and share common ground – studio and stage time – is what being a musician is all about. It’s the journey – the power and practice – the sounds and those rare, but special people moments.”