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Forty years of reggae roots coming to Whitehorse

When Clinton Fearon was a boy growing up in rural Jamaica, he didn't have a lot of money, but he had a freedom and quality of life many would envy.

When Clinton Fearon was a boy growing up in rural Jamaica, he didn’t have a lot of money, but he had a freedom and quality of life many would envy.

Fruit was free for the picking, and he and his friends would run barefoot through the forest with hardly a care.

“It was rough. Nothing like here,” Fearon said from his current home in Seattle.

“It was rough but sweet in the same breath. At the time I didn’t know how sweet it was.

There were challenges, to be sure, but Fearon was always able to overcome them with a quiet simplicity. When the reggae music of the Skatalites captured his heart, he couldn’t afford to buy a guitar.

“It was really something to watch the Skatalines do their thing and see how much fun they was having. It had a great impact on me, but I couldn’t buy myself an instrument. I couldn’t buy myself a guitar so I made me one,” he said.

Building a guitar from hand is an impressive feat, but consider also that in rural Jamaica, proper tools were as scarce as proper instruments. So Fearon made those, too.

The neck was carved from cedar, with a plastic top cover. He used a six-inch nail as a chisel and broken glass to shave it down smooth.

That hand-made guitar gave birth to a 40-year career as a reggae musician, and on March 30 Fearon brings that career to Whitehorse.

He’s never been this far north before, and while he’ll be playing music in a territory that’s about as far from Jamaica’s balmy beaches as one can get, his childhood on the island won’t be far away. Its influence is clear in his music.

“I realized how important people are. When I was around eight, it was just my dad and I. Sometimes I wouldn’t see another person for a couple of weeks except for my dad. I learned to respect nature and people, no matter where they’re from,” he said.

When he was in his mid-teens, Fearon moved to the capital, Kingston, and experienced culture shock for the first time. Mangos that his friends once used as toys now had to be bought from grocery stores. Life was different in the big city, but with the changes came exposure to something that would shape Fearon’s life forever.

When he was 11, Fearon was drafted into the local choir.

“Dad and I used to go to Adventist Church and one day the choir master asked Dad if I’d be interested in doing some singing,” he said.

The choirmaster pushed Fearon hard.

“She gave me the drill, you know? She gave me a part to sing all by myself right off the bat, and I didn’t like her for that. But when I think back later, I think she saw some potential in trying to get me out of my shell. When I reckon back, I see ‘Oh, that’s what she was doing,’ and I give thanks for all of it.”

Fearon moved to Seattle in 1987 for work, and had planned on splitting his time between the U.S. and Canada. But when a band member ran into difficulties with U.S. customs, Fearon decided to make the move to Seattle permanent.

In 2008, Fearon connected with Simon Schachner, and the two have been working together frequently ever since.

“This will be my 16th show with Clinton,” Schachner said. He first met Fearon while doing a Canada World Youth placement at a community radio station in Nelson, B.C.

He’d been introduced to Fearon’s music through a coworker at the station.

“I played it on my first radio show ever. I saw him play at a festival about two years later, and I said, “Hey, I know your friend in Nelson, can I arrange an interview?” Schachner said.

“Every time I saw him in concert I’d go talk to him at the break. Eventually the time came for a show in Nanaimo and we went from there. It was more of a political rally and he was totally into it. He really is one of my favourite musicians. He’s right up there with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. He’s one of the authors of the genre,” Schachner said.

Schachner himself has been living in Whitehorse since 2011, and always wanted to revive his music promotion business. This year he took the plunge, creating the Yukon Reggae Council with fellow reggae fan Edgar Musonda, whom he met on a Canada World Youth exchange.

Fearon’s show at the Jarvis Street Saloon will be their first effort together, but the duo has plans for more shows in the spring before Schachner heads back to Africa for work this summer.

Clinton Fearon takes the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 30 at the Jarvis Street Saloon. Tickets are available at Arts Underground.

Contact Jesse Winter at