Originally known as Rainbow Warriors, Big Mountain formed in San Diego in 1986. Though they earned national notice for their early 1994 cover of Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way," which reached the U.S. Top 40, they first hit the charts with the song "Touch My Light" in the late spring of 1993, which was spun frequently on radio stations Q-106 and B-100.
"Baby, I Love Your Way" appeared on the soundtrack for the film Reality Bites. Big Mountain's pop-reggae sound inspired their nickname as "The American UB40."
According to singer Joaquin McWhinney, aka Quino, "Jah willing, we na dun yet!" McWhinney and his brother James are the nucleus of Big Mountain and have kept the band alive.
As of 2009, Quino McWhinney - who also fronts the pop reggae band Quinazo - is a vocational teacher at Olympian High School in Chula Vista. “I do a lot of yelling. All they want to do is jump on MySpace. Every day I have to put the punching gloves on to get ready for 130 kids in six classes. Part of this digital age is kids get distracted by so much media. I try and let them know they should focus on the music and not get distracted by all the bling and images.”
Later that year, a new song cowritten and performed by Quino led Big Mountain to a new record deal. Quino cowrote “Leap of Faith” with L.A. duo Jeff Barry and Jed Leiber (son of Jerry Leiber, of Leiber and Stoller fame). “They had started on this, and they knew they wanted it to be a reggae tune.”
In March 2011, Quino met with Barry and Leiber in L.A., listened to what they had done so far, and added to it. “I wrote the rap section that comes in after the bridge.” The song got attention on iTunes, and the net result was that it got Big Mountain signed to Leiber’s Night Bird records.
In April, Quino, performed on a song played as wake-up music for astronauts aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. “Luna Llena” (originally titled “Moon,”) was written by Carlsbad’s Allan Phillips, with lyrics by La Mesa guitarist Jose Molina Serrano and his wife Malia.
“Until a couple of years ago, reggae has had a tough time on radio. This new wave of bands, groups such as Reggae Revolution and Slightly Stoopid, are kicking ass and bringing excitement to the scene.” The phone, he says, has started ringing again. “It’s a good time to be a reggae artist.”
In January 2012, Big Mountain played a series of festival gigs in Australia and New Zealand. A new single “Leap of Faith” was made available on iTunes, and they recorded a live album (their first) on February 18 and 19 at the Tribute to the Legends concert, formerly known as Bob Marley Day. The band reconvened in 2013 to record their first full-length in around ten years.
In summer 2015, after relocating to Ensenada, Quino announced "I just landed my first little acting gig in a movie called Ruta Madre, to be released next summer," adding that "Big Mountain also contributed a song to the soundtrack." While in Ensenada, Quino opened the Big Mountain Kombucha Café.
A new single appeared in summer 2021, "Reggae Inna Summertime."