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Sunday, March 3, 2024


May 15, 2003 – The Harmony Dem musicians, who aren't getting any younger, finally bit the bullet two years ago and started work on their first CD.
Like many an undertaking in the Virgin Islands, it didn't come together overnight. But now the album is hot off the presses, and on Saturday, they're unveiling it to the world — aptly titled "Harmony Dem — Before We Forget the Words."
The CD celebration takes place at Molly Molones in American Yacht Harbor from 6 to 8 p.m., and everybody's welcome.
Harmony Dem in its current incarnation comprises founding members Polly and Fred Watts and Donnie Edwards plus relative newcomer Grizz Skeels.
Everybody sings; Fred plays autoharp, Don does guitar, Grizz plays bass and Polly puts together the spoons and other hand-held percussion stuff.
The Wattses have been contributing folk-type music to the St. Thomas sound system for more than a quarter of a century, including founding the October Sunday Fest, although not for all that time under the name of Harmony Dem. The group itself was formed in 1989, "a couple of weeks before Hurricane Hugo," Polly Watts says.
"We've spent two years recording in bits and pieces, some of it our living room," she says of the album. "We polished it up at Island Soundworks, a studio run here by Dan McGuiness."
The music is "the usual Harmony Dem eclectic mix," she says, "calypso, Cajun, classic rock, folk, reggae and three originals — two by Don and one by Fred."
The two by Edwards have personal meaning — one co-written by his brother and his dad and the other dedicated to his dad. The one by Watts should bring back fond musical memories for just about anyone who's been a Harmony Dem follower for more than the last seven years. The song is called "Echoes of Bill's," and it's about that onetime Sub Base mecca of live music, Barnacle Bill's, which met its demise a year after Hurricane Marilyn when the government declined to renew the lease because it wanted the land abutting Crown Bay for a four-lane thoroughfare. Uh-huh.
Two guests artists are featured on the album — Sid Dunn, a friend of the Wattses from Washington, D.C., on Cajun fiddle; and St. Thomas steelpan player Andrew Douglas.
The track list: "Back to the Island" by Leon Russell; "La Porte en Arriere" by D.L. Menard; "Southern Cross" from Crosby Stills and Nash; "Siyahamba / Freedom," a South African praise song (sung a capella); "Peaceful Easy Feeling" from The Eagles; "Lover's Return" from The Carter Family; "Echoes of Bill's" by Fred Watts; "Across the Great Divide" by Kate Wolf; "No Woman, No Cry" from Bob Marley; "Thibodaux," a traditional Cajun tune; "Pappy's Song" by Don Edwards ("for my father"); "I Can See Clearly Now" by Johnny Nash; "The More Things Change" by Don Edwards with his brother and father; and "Le Bega Carousel" written by Scot Fagan and learned from Nicky Russell.
At the Saturday night party, the CD's will be on sale for a promotional price of $10 each — with autographs thrown in at no extra charge. "And we'll be giving some away, too," Polly Watts says. Plus, of course, there'll be real thing — live music by Polly, Fred, Don and Grizz.

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