Rusty Zinn may not be a household name in Reggae Musik circles but he should be! The California based singer's recent "Manifestation" album is a tour-de-force that drew critical acclaim. It features backing from such luminaries as Sly Dunbar, Robbie Lyn, Mikey Chung, Skully, Boris Gardiner, "Stepper" Briard and Herb Daly. The songs of Love, Spirit and Hope are as authentic as sounds from "The Golden Age". Robert "Higherman" Heilman recently caught up with the multi talented artist who reveals an interesting story.


Q: Your first musical exploits were in Blues; rather than Reggae?

A: Absolutely. I was playing guitar at 17; self taught. My eyes and ears were wide open! I owe my musical foundation to my parents; they were always playing Doo-Wop, Fats Domino and The Beatles - massive inspiration. I listened to a lot of Soul, The Stylistics were the first Soul sounds I listened to. In the 1980's, I was living in Santa Cruz (coastal California town) and I was listening to everything. Then, I started listening to Roots Reggae and Lovers Rock - just loved it!

Q: So, you got inspiration from early sides of Jimmy Cliff, The Wailers and Desmond Dekker?

A: Yes, those were the first inspirations at the time. My good friend, guitarist Bob Welsh, turned me on to these sounds. It was a revelation; I found my love of Jamaican music. Then, I started listening to Studio One sounds - Delroy Wilson and The Heptones, to name a few.

Q: Blues and Reggae have an African connection. It must have been a calling for you?

A: It was a spiritual calling; a journey for me. Reggae is like a palate that you can paint on - you can Funk it, give it Lover's feel. Just so many different styles. During this time (early 1990's), I was earning a living as a Blues musician. It's easy to have tunnel vision when you're a musician. People tried to fight I down - "You'll never do this." Singing Blues wasn't right for me; I wanted to sing for Hope. In Blues, there's sufferation with no resolve. With Reggae, there's Hope!


Rusty Zinn: Dread in Toronto
Q: I understand that Joe Higgs (Godfather of Reggae) was a huge inspiration and you got to know his family very well?

A: Yes, yes! I got to know his family very well. Marcia Higgs did so much for me and my career. She was the first one to take a chance on me in my career. She flew me out to Boston to play some gigs. I've been up for the Joe Higgs Award a few times and she has always been very supportive. Joe's work is a true inspiration for me.

Q: You witnessed the magic of the late Alton Ellis on stage. That was a transformation of sorts for you?

A: Yes, I had seen Jimmy Cliff live previously and that was life changing. Seeing Alton sent me to another level. He embodies everything about what I love in Jamaican music. He was involved in it all - pre Ska, Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae. He is known for his romantic sides but he penetrated hard Roots music in undogmatic fashion. He's a subconscious inspriration to me.


Tony Chin, Fully Fullwood & Rusty

Rusty & Mikey Chung

Q: Thankfully, California is home to many Reggae legends, including members of The Soul Syndicate. Did Tony Chin and Fully Fullwood help in your career?

A: Tony is a dear Bredrin of mine. I learnt "Reggae guitar" from him. I recorded an album "Reggae Blue" with Tony, Fully and Santa Davis (guitarist/bassist/drummer of original Soul Syndicate and Peter Tosh's backing band). That was my introduction to the public with my Reggae sound; around 2005. I was unhappy with the finished result; the record company rushed it through with no promotion. There were no horns so I needed to relick these tracks. I've done some shows with Tony and Fully. Around the same time, I recorded a Frankie Valli song, "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You", that became a hit in South America. People want me to go down there, but there's always the money situation.

Q: Tell me about your trip to Jamaica. I understand that legends Barry Biggs and Mikey Chung organized recording sessions for "Manifestation" and making your dream a reality?

A: Barry was the one who got this in motion; I give him a lot of credit for doing this for me. Being friends with Barry led to Mikey and so forth. Barry set up studio time at Mixing Lab. I went to Jamaica in April, 2009 - a dream come true! I was saying to myself "I'm going to record with all these legends - Sly, Robbie Lyn, Boris Gardiner, Mikey Chung and Skully!" Mikey put it together once I was there. I was there for two weeks so Mikey asked if I wanted to record right away or get some vibes first. Of course, I wanted to chill for a bit and Mikey liked that response. One night, I was at his house and he cooked the best Chinese food I've ever had. He showed me some incredible photos of The Now Generation (Mikey's band from early 70's). He got on the phone and firmed up the studio time just like that! We went into the studio and started recording. I was nervous; my knees were knocking! I went outside with Sly and he mentioned that my tunes were "wicked". The fact that he liked my songs gave me more strength and confidence. I really wanted to meet Scully Simms (legendary percussionist), so I got him into the studio to add his magic. He didn't rush things at all; he really took his time to listen to the lyrics and riddim. That was a privilege!


Rusty & Sly Dunbar

Robbie Lyn & Rusty


Scully Simms & Rusty

Rusty & Boris Gardiner

Q: You came back to San Francisco to record more tracks for the album with some wicked players?

A: When I got home, I worked on some overdubs first. I did more tracks with Bill Ortiz (Santana), Mike Rinta (Sly Stone), Stepper Briard (Taxi Gang) and Herb Daly (The Rastafarians). I had my own players as well, like my longtime bredrin Bob Welsh and Johnny Blimling. I sent a copy to Randall Grass (Shanachie Records) and got an e-mail back stating how he was amazed how I nailed every genre of Reggae. That was very uplifting because I was nervous that the U.S. sessions wouldn't be on par with the Jamaican sessions.

Q: You released the "Manifestation" set - maximum raspect for a solid album fe real!

A: Well, it got a good response. I was happy with the review from reggae-vibes.com. People seemed to love it.

Q: You've mentioned that other foundation singers Clinton Fearon and Milton Henry are two good Bredrin of yours?

A: I reached out to Clinton on MySpace; I've always gravitated to Clinton's songs - churchical country singing with Gospel stylings. I sent him a copy of "Reggae Blue" and he loved my singing style. And it's really Clinton's guitar playing that has inspired me. I met Milton Henry through Leroy Brown, who both have connections from The Emotions and The Hippy Boys. Milton and I just hit it off. He cooked a big yard meal for me the first time we met in New York. He came to the Bay Area with The Meditations and I returned the favor. We reason a lot and he's a big inspiration. Good, good bredrin.


Q: You perform here in The Bay Area frequently. Which notables have you performed with?

A: In 2009, I did a Friday performance at the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival with Root Awakening. Ras Midas then did a seperate set with them. The next year, I came back again as a special guest singer with Soul Syndicate alongside Earl Zero! I spent time with Ken Boothe; just a real gentleman and pure class. That same year, I played up in Toronto at The Beaches Jazz International Festival. I played some gigs there with a tight Jamaican band (Jay Douglas and drummer Everton Paul). I was received so well that I wanted to move there! This visit turned into an extended stay. I ended up doing some tracks with legendary guitarist Ernest Ranglin and bassie Brian Atkinson, who played with Soul Vendors at Studio One. On that session we did mostly Ska and Bluebeat with a likkle Reggae!. The tracks are in the can and have not been released. To add to this experience, the promoter offered me tickets to see Jimmy Cliff perform on the last day of my stay! Back home, I got introduced to "Hux" Brown and I've been working with him for about three years. He's my favorite guitar hero. (Note: Hux Brown is a foundation guitarist whose work was intregral in Ska, Rocksteady and Reggae; he toured and recorded with Toots & The Maytals for years.)


Brian Atkinson & Rusty

Rusty & Ernest Ranglin

Q: What have you been working on since your last album?

A: I've released some singles. For Sly & Robbie I did "Wear A Crown" on the 54-46 Riddim. It's currently mashing up one sound system in the UK. I also did another one with Sly & Robbie called "You're The One" on the "I Know Myself" riddim. The industry has changed a lot, so I'm concentrating on releasing on that format right now. Last year, we went back into the studio to record six originals and four covers. Really soulful sessions; all live. Hux formulated the basslines and they came out incredible. I'm putting some mixing touches on it and am really excited about it. I've recruited a new manager, Bob Bell. He was at Island Records and then Trojan for years. He retired but after seeing numerous shows, he said, "I have no choice but to manage you". It's his idea for the new album that focuses on Ska, Rocksteady and early Reggae. I feel strongly about the romantic angle of Reggae. When you praise Queens, you're praising The Most High. I just voiced a new track for Anthony Brightly (of Black Slate) for the UK Lovers Rock market. I'm also in talks with Sly & Robbie to do a full length album at the end of this year or early next year.

Q: Tell me about the I-Dwell Allstars?

A: That's me and an assortment of musicians including legendary bassie Herb Daly. We'll go into the studio and do a whole heap of tracks.

Q: Did you play on Lymie Murray's "Deeper Roots" album from last year?

A: Yes, yes. Lymie is a talented singer.


Rusty Zinn & Lymie Murray
Q: Which artists today do you see creating Real Authentic Sounds?

A: Bitty McClean. I love him. Tony Chin turned me on to him. He's a real singer that's putting the class back into Reggae. From the older school; so many artists! It blows my mind that Milton Henry and Clinton Fearon are not household names. They are of the highest echelon; just great messages.

Q: The same goes for artists like Winston Jarrett and Keith Poppin.

A: Yes! Those artists are wicked! Keith's "Envious" is pure Roots.

Q: Rusty, give thanks for your time and we look forward to more works.

A: Good vibes are timeless. Reggae is so much more than what people perceive. So many bandwagonists; it's a scene. My message is love; spiritual. Thank you.


If you are looking for more info on Rusty Zinn or want to purchase "Manifestation", go to www.rustyreggae.com
Interview by Robert "Higherman" Heilman (April 2013)
(Please do not reproduce without permission)