Spy, that legendary international world music band led by Filipino Sammy Asuncion, will find their most popular release, Sulabama Reggae Blast getting a second lease on life when put out on vinyl by independent label Eikon Records later this 2023.
Furthermore, there are plans to record new music.
At their height, the famous line-up of Asuncion on vocals and guitars, Morris Casanove on bass and vocals, and Fritz “Dr. Sticks” Barth on drums and percussion put out six albums and performed everywhere from their birthplace in Paris, France to all over Europe and to parts of Asia.
“It was unusual in the 1980s that you had an international reggae line-up,” pointed out Asuncion over coffee at the Power Plant last Sunday, May 14, the day after a triumphant show at 70s Bistro that was packed with almost 230 people, and a day before he was scheduled to fly back to Finland where he now resides. “Morris was from France while Fritz was from Austria.”
“Reggae appealed to me because of its messages of peace and love and because the music was smooth, rhythmic, danceable, and positive. There was no tension in it so it is good for the heart. I was into Bob Marley and the Wailers, Peter Tosh, and bands like Burning Spear.”
Although it was Spy’s reggae phase that made them famous, theirs was a cauldron of rock, jazz, funk, and African music.
“Morris and I love reggae very much. Before I met him in Paris, I was already playing reggae in the Philippines. So Morris and I had this band and we toured Austria. That is where I stumbled upon Dr. Stix who was working as a roadie for this jazz band. We invited him to go to Paris and see what we could do together, and the rest is history. Everyone brought something to the table. Our chemistry was undeniable.”
Sulabama Reggae Blast was recorded in Paris in a whirlwind four days and released in 1996.
The band gained a lot of traction through touring, especially in the Philippines.
“We’d come to the Philippines mostly for a vacation and to do some gigs, but there was a time when we’d stay here for a few months. We were regulars at The Verve Room along Nakpil Street on a Wednesday night and people were lining up from the second street all the way down to the street. That’s a Wednesday and not even a weekend and it was always packed.”
Today, the band is spoken about in mythic tones. There are plenty of good memories and vibes.
Their show (with the current line-up of bassist Louie Talan and drummer Reli de Vera) at 70s Bistro that evening was the best attended thus far this 2023. They could have easily packed bigger venues.
“It was a great feeling more so since the show wasn’t really planned,” said Asuncion.
With the deal for Sulabama Reggae Blast’s vinyl release, it has given Asuncion hope that his band’s music will be appreciated by today’s generation.
“If it works, we can put out other releases including new music.”
The vinyl release is projected for this Holiday Season of 2023 with a triumphant release show planned for next year.
“It would be nice to have a Spy record out there. I never had one before and I am excited.”