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FAMED AMERICAN ENGINEER’S LOVE AFFAIR WITH REGGAE MUSIC!

BY BRIAN BONITTO—

 Top: Audio engineer James ‘Bonzai’ Caruso at the consoles.
Bottom: Caruso mixing for Stephen Marley—

THE walls of James ‘Bonzai’ Caruso’s Las Vegas home is decorated with gold plaques of the who’s who of music. Madonna, George Michael, Luther Vandross, Chaka Khan, Ice T, Notorious BIG, Mary J Blige, P Diddy, and Missy Elliot are just a few.

But the 52-year-old audio engineer has developed an ear for reggae. In fact, his credits appear on five Grammy-winning albums and, as a result, he has become a go-to person to give tracks his Midas touch.

“You could say I have the golden touch…’cause I was a musician first. I played the guitar, drums, piano and percussions. So I look at things in a more rhythmic and melodic way, as opposed to most engineers who take a more technical approach,” he told Splash.

“I spend hundreds of hours on the songs to make them sound the way they should sound…Making them nice,” he continued.

 DamianMarleyWelcomeToJamrock

That sound made its way to Damian Marley’s Grammy-winning set Welcome to Jamrock in 2005. The lead track from that album also earned the Best Alternative Single award. Stephen Marley’s Mind Control and its acoustic version, also received the Grammy nod in 2007 and 2009, respectively.The Marley-Caruso combination secured their final Grammy lien with Stephen’s Revelation — Roots of Life Pt 1 in 2012.

The 52-year-old audio engineer is also credited on Dennis Brown’s upcoming three-track EP — Rock On. Produced by Phillip Thompson’s New York-based D Phil Productions, the set is due December 18.

“Dennis Brown is amazing… people can relate to his songs. They’re easy to listen to…not too political, but touch upon several things. That’s why he’s a legend,” said Caruso.

Brown had a distinguished music career, recording since age 11. Known for tracks including Wolves and Leopards, Cassandra and Westbound Train, the singer was dubbed the Crown Prince of Reggae. He was 42 when he died in 1999.

Dennis Brown

Dennis Brown

Born in New York, Caruso began honing his skills at the Institute of Audio Research at 17 years old.

He explained how he began his reggae journey.

“My first introduction to reggae was through Diana King’s Tougher Than Love. I was contacted by then Sony Music exec Maxine Stowe,” he said.

The 1995 Tougher Than Love album spanned four hit singles — Shy Guy, Love Triangle, Ain’t Nobody (a cover of the Rufus & Chaka Khan’s song from 1983), and Treat Her Like a Lady — and propelled the Spanish Town-born King into stardom.

“I’ve done a total of four albums with Diana King,” he said.

DianaKingTougherThanLove

Italian reggae act Alboroise, Aussie roots band Blue King Brown and Jah Cure are among his clients.

Caruso shared his opinion on reggae’s changing sound and its declining sales.

“New technology such as Pro Tools, new elements like keyboards, and drum machines have influence the music. But influences have also come from the artists as well. Look at the dancehall’s influence on reggaeton. Reggae is so much diversed…New producers, new vibes and tempos. It’s global,” he said.

As for sales, he said: “Decline sales are not just affecting reggae. People are not buying music anymore. You have the select few like Adele. But this new generation thinks its silly to pay for music. They’ll pay $5 for a cup of Starbucks Coffee, but refuse pay 99 cents for track… they want it for free.”

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