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Gonzo Report: King Yellowman brings reggae to Winstons

Fans grateful for the memories his voice recalls

Not The King in Yellow, but King Yellowman
Not The King in Yellow, but King Yellowman

December 16, 2001, was my thirtieth birthday. That night saw my first attempt to visit Winstons in Ocean Beach. The bouncer didn’t let me in, possibly because I may have already been drunk due to some earlier birthday partying. I took offense and vowed to never, ever go to Winstons again. I held onto that vow until 2021. Since then, I’ve been there on countless Monday nights to see Electric Waste Band and various other nights for other jam bands. The things I have grown to love about Winstons are: the sound system, the friendly bartenders, and the way their chairs and tables line the outside of the dance floor. The people sitting at the tables can watch the band without an obstructed view and the dance floor is left spacious for rump shaking. But it was not until January 25 of this year that I visited to hear a reggae act.

Winston Foster OD was born January 15, 1956 — or was it 1959? — and is better known as Yellowman or King Yellowman. He was abandoned by his parents and grew up in an orphanage in Kingston, Jamaica. He was not socially accepted due to his being an albino. He launched his career by winning a talent contest in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, he became popular in Jamaica after playing at various outdoor sound-system dances and pioneering the dancehall and dub Reggae sound. He beat skin cancer, but in the mid-’80s, the disease returned, necessitating the removal of a large portion of his jaw.

As my friend Libby and I parked behind Winstons, we spootted a group of what looked like Caucasian Rasta men smoking out of their chalice. It was San Diego’s own Maka Roots, getting ready for their set. Ocean Beach was lively: college-age kids decked in bright yellow and pink outfits, hippies, and homeless folk, all meandering about. There was a positive energy in the air.

Inside, DJ Richie Rich was spinning on the sidewall in front of a Yellowman mural on the widescreen TV. Ras Mike, the host of the show, was at the bar. Libby and I were sitting on the edge of the stage when this young blonde girl wearing a Slayer T-Shirt came up to us. “My name is Cassidy,” she said. “All my reggae clothes are dirty; all I had was this Slayer T-shirt. I heard that my friends Slightly Retarded might be joining Yellowman at the end of the show.” (I’m pretty sure she was referencing Slightly Stoopid; they did not join him.)

Maka Roots came on and got the show started. They showed us that skin color doesn’t matter when it comese to giving thanks and praises to Jah. I must acknowledge the gentleman in the band with the suitcase filled with percussion instruments, which he pulled out one by one during the set. They finished with a song dedicated to Bob Marley.

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I thought it was time to go outside and smoke, but didn’t want to lose my place on the dance floor — front right facing the stage, my usual. I asked Ras Mike if Yellowman was in the building. He looked at me shrugged: “I don’t think so.” Soul Syndicate, Yellowman’s backing band, came on stage and played “Crazy Baldhead” by Bob Marley. Then the commotion started as Yellowman entered through the alley entrance. Onlookers started crowding the area. The guy in charge of security detail was yelling, “Move the fuck out of the way!” Ras Mike jumped on stage. “Everyone put your hands together for King Yellowman!” Out he came, shaking hands with the fans then hopping across the stage and singing “Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt” He may have been around for decades, but he had a youthful exuberance.

The band went from “One Scotch, One Beer” into Bob Marley’s “Keep on Moving.” Yellowman kept on moving: he played for two hours, non-stop. After he finished, he headed out the same way he came in. I ran out the front door to get to the alley to see if I could catch him for a moment, but he was whisked off and gone in a flash. As I was fumbling with my phone, I could hear that security guy again, yelling “This isn’t a fucking entrance!”

A slender, attractive blonde with black rimmed Ray-Ban glasses like mine appeared. “Did you get that footage?” she asked. “Did you see and get the footage of someone pulling my hair?” I had thought she wanted my footage from the show. I told her I didn’t get the footage of her getting her hair pulled, and offered to delete the number she had given me to send it to. “That’s alright, you don’t have to,” she said.

Place

Winstons Beach Club

1921 Bacon Street, San Diego


She said her name was Heather Canton and shared her observation of the show: “Old-school reggae crowd vibes. Mellow, with so much love and appreciation all around. Fans of Yellowman were beyond grateful to see him healthy enough to perform, and our hearts went out to him for the difficult health struggles he’s been through. To us, his voice was a beautiful sound we were beyond grateful to have the opportunity to hear. None of us minded that he sounded so different. His fans have so much love for him and what his music represents in our personal lives. The memories the sounds brought back came from deep down in our souls, from that different era.”

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Not The King in Yellow, but King Yellowman
Not The King in Yellow, but King Yellowman

December 16, 2001, was my thirtieth birthday. That night saw my first attempt to visit Winstons in Ocean Beach. The bouncer didn’t let me in, possibly because I may have already been drunk due to some earlier birthday partying. I took offense and vowed to never, ever go to Winstons again. I held onto that vow until 2021. Since then, I’ve been there on countless Monday nights to see Electric Waste Band and various other nights for other jam bands. The things I have grown to love about Winstons are: the sound system, the friendly bartenders, and the way their chairs and tables line the outside of the dance floor. The people sitting at the tables can watch the band without an obstructed view and the dance floor is left spacious for rump shaking. But it was not until January 25 of this year that I visited to hear a reggae act.

Winston Foster OD was born January 15, 1956 — or was it 1959? — and is better known as Yellowman or King Yellowman. He was abandoned by his parents and grew up in an orphanage in Kingston, Jamaica. He was not socially accepted due to his being an albino. He launched his career by winning a talent contest in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, he became popular in Jamaica after playing at various outdoor sound-system dances and pioneering the dancehall and dub Reggae sound. He beat skin cancer, but in the mid-’80s, the disease returned, necessitating the removal of a large portion of his jaw.

As my friend Libby and I parked behind Winstons, we spootted a group of what looked like Caucasian Rasta men smoking out of their chalice. It was San Diego’s own Maka Roots, getting ready for their set. Ocean Beach was lively: college-age kids decked in bright yellow and pink outfits, hippies, and homeless folk, all meandering about. There was a positive energy in the air.

Inside, DJ Richie Rich was spinning on the sidewall in front of a Yellowman mural on the widescreen TV. Ras Mike, the host of the show, was at the bar. Libby and I were sitting on the edge of the stage when this young blonde girl wearing a Slayer T-Shirt came up to us. “My name is Cassidy,” she said. “All my reggae clothes are dirty; all I had was this Slayer T-shirt. I heard that my friends Slightly Retarded might be joining Yellowman at the end of the show.” (I’m pretty sure she was referencing Slightly Stoopid; they did not join him.)

Maka Roots came on and got the show started. They showed us that skin color doesn’t matter when it comese to giving thanks and praises to Jah. I must acknowledge the gentleman in the band with the suitcase filled with percussion instruments, which he pulled out one by one during the set. They finished with a song dedicated to Bob Marley.

Sponsored
Sponsored

I thought it was time to go outside and smoke, but didn’t want to lose my place on the dance floor — front right facing the stage, my usual. I asked Ras Mike if Yellowman was in the building. He looked at me shrugged: “I don’t think so.” Soul Syndicate, Yellowman’s backing band, came on stage and played “Crazy Baldhead” by Bob Marley. Then the commotion started as Yellowman entered through the alley entrance. Onlookers started crowding the area. The guy in charge of security detail was yelling, “Move the fuck out of the way!” Ras Mike jumped on stage. “Everyone put your hands together for King Yellowman!” Out he came, shaking hands with the fans then hopping across the stage and singing “Nobody Move Nobody Get Hurt” He may have been around for decades, but he had a youthful exuberance.

The band went from “One Scotch, One Beer” into Bob Marley’s “Keep on Moving.” Yellowman kept on moving: he played for two hours, non-stop. After he finished, he headed out the same way he came in. I ran out the front door to get to the alley to see if I could catch him for a moment, but he was whisked off and gone in a flash. As I was fumbling with my phone, I could hear that security guy again, yelling “This isn’t a fucking entrance!”

A slender, attractive blonde with black rimmed Ray-Ban glasses like mine appeared. “Did you get that footage?” she asked. “Did you see and get the footage of someone pulling my hair?” I had thought she wanted my footage from the show. I told her I didn’t get the footage of her getting her hair pulled, and offered to delete the number she had given me to send it to. “That’s alright, you don’t have to,” she said.

Place

Winstons Beach Club

1921 Bacon Street, San Diego


She said her name was Heather Canton and shared her observation of the show: “Old-school reggae crowd vibes. Mellow, with so much love and appreciation all around. Fans of Yellowman were beyond grateful to see him healthy enough to perform, and our hearts went out to him for the difficult health struggles he’s been through. To us, his voice was a beautiful sound we were beyond grateful to have the opportunity to hear. None of us minded that he sounded so different. His fans have so much love for him and what his music represents in our personal lives. The memories the sounds brought back came from deep down in our souls, from that different era.”

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