For three decades, Carlos Jones has filled his sails with the warm breeze and good vibrations of Cleveland reggae. Cruising across the country with Ohio bands like I-Tal and First Light, he's become local nobility with his incessant tour schedule and many mansions of reggae-fusion music. At the age of 50, he's married to a family of fans that come out every week to see him.
"It's the love I get from the people that enjoy the music," says Jones, explaining his longevity. "It's that sense of community and camaraderie; that's what I live for. Because we're so insulated from each other and so isolated from each other, when we get together under that umbrella of one love — it's such a beautiful feeling."
Jones' Peace Love Unity Syndicate, or P.L.U.S. Band, is prepping release of their second full-length record, Leave a Trail. It features 12 tracks of the band's rhythmic roots-reggae sound — somewhere between Peter Tosh and Third World — recorded in the home studio of Jacob Fader of Cleveland's Afrobeat masters Mifuné. It's a mixture of songs that Jones has written and rewritten over 30 years in various bands.
"In 2004, Roots With Culture was our maiden voyage, and now Leave a Trail is the follow-up," he says. "Five years later, we've realized it's all about the journey. It's telling the story about how it all began and the journey in between — where we're at and where we're heading. It wasn't intentionally conceptualized to be that, to have a theme at all. But it just seems that the songs are telling our story. 'Who Say' was the first song I ever wrote."
That tune was written after Jones heard I-Tal on the radio for the first time in 1978, before he actually joined the seminal Cleveland reggae ensemble. "The message of the song is, who says my reggae can't rock?" laughs Jones. "Some people were criticizing the band because of its rock edge. I was like, Look, we're from Cleveland, the rock 'n' roll city. Who says that can't be?"
Jones joined I-Tal as a percussionist. They toured the Midwest and East Coast for six years, releasing one album in 1981 simply titled I-Tal. As one of the first American reggae bands, they were the initial live experience for a lot of fans of Jamaican island music. In 1984, five I-Tal members formed an offshoot called First Light, which became Cleveland's most famous reggae outfit. Jones was the principle songwriter and achieved rock-star-like status, touring the country with what many consider one of the first reggae fusion bands — mixing funk, blues, R&B and reggae into a seasoned and sweet modern-rock concoction.
"First Light over time became more of a rock band, even though we had a lot of reggae influences," says Jones. "A lot of the groups that have come out since then — like 311, Sublime and Slightly Stoopid — are doing what First Light was doing back in the '80s. But eventually, I felt the need for that inspiration that turned me on in the first place, that roots-reggae sound and that more organic kind of feeling. That's why I started the P.L.U.S. band."
Since forming 14 years ago, the P.L.U.S Band haven't stopped, playing nearly every weekend around town. The tunes on Leave a Trail are a key part of their set list. Hardcore fans already know a lot of the songs, like "Where Reggae Comes From," a First Light favorite that was never recorded. It's a salvation anthem in the vein of Steel Pulse, the protest-minded British Rastafarian group. The album is a timetable of Jones' progression as a reggae master.
"I feel if people are getting this CD, they're getting a little bit of Cleveland history," says Jones. "I feel very linked to Cleveland's musical legacy. I want this to be a part of that. When, 20 years from now, kids find a dusty copy on their parents' CD rack, they'll be like, 'What's this?' And they'll say, 'This is a part of us growing up.'"