Aashid Himons

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Aashid Himons, usually referred to as just "Aashid," was a part of Nashville's non-country music scene for nearly a quarter-century. A big man with leonine dreadlocks and a large artistic presence, the…
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Aashid Himons, usually referred to as just "Aashid," was a part of Nashville's non-country music scene for nearly a quarter-century. A big man with leonine dreadlocks and a large artistic presence, the African-American musical prodigy asserted an incredible influence on Nashville musicians, working with some of the region's best and brightest talents along the way.

Born in 1942 in rural West Virginia as Archie Himons, he began playing the piano at the age of three, soon singing and playing in church. By the time he was five years of age he had taught himself the drums and subsequently appeared on several radio and television shows, including The Today Show with Dave Garroway. He left home at 13, hitchhiking to New York City and later joining the army at the age of 17. After a brief and unremarkable tour of duty, Aashid settled into the Washington, D.C., music scene, forming the R&B group Little Archie & the Majestics. A number of bands and one-off single deals with fly-by-night indie labels would follow before Little Archie signed a deal with Nashville legend Buddy Killen's Dial label in 1962.

The late '60s found Aashid wandering the country as a blues musician, playing coffeehouses and street corners. He landed in Toronto in 1969, forming a short-lived duo with actor/musician Jim Byrnes, and later traveled to Mexico City, where he played with a blues band. It was in Honduras in 1972 that Aashid witnessed a performance by Count Ossie & the Mystical Revelation of Rastafari that would forever change the direction of his music. Returning to Pittsburgh, Aashid would create the style of music that he called "blu-reggae," a hybrid of country blues, R&B, and reggae that was informed by Count Ossie's nyahbinghi rhythms and Rastafari philosophy.

Performing blues in the Northeast as "West Virginia Slim," Aashid decided to look up his old friend, Killen, in Nashville and hit him with the "blu-reggae" concept. "You have to realize," Aashid told Nashville's Metro magazine in 1990, "that he hadn't seen me since about 1967. I had a process and wore pointed toe shoes and sharkskin suits...that's what he remembered. So I walked into his office in 1979 with dreadlocks and a tie-dyed T-shirt and the whole thing just freaked him out!" Killen appreciated the music but told Aashid that he'd never do anything with it in Nashville. Aashid decided to stay in the city, forming Afrikan Dreamland with percussionists Darrell Rose and Mustafa Abdul-Aleem. Between 1980-1987 the band would record six albums and create a long-form video, becoming the first reggae band to receive airplay on MTV. Aashid would also record his first solo album, Kosmik Gypsy, during this time. A nearly fatal bout with pneumonia in 1987 forced Aashid to get off the road, effectively breaking up the band save for special performances.

Over the next decade, Aashid would pursue a number of musical projects, including Aashid & the New Dream with Giles Reaves and Kirby Shelstad. He would record his first album of new age "space music," Black Holiness, in 1988 and participated in two Mind Orbit multimedia events with the band Akasha, which also included Reaves and Shelstad. In 1995, Aashid recorded the ambitious two-CD project The Leaders under the Afrikan Dreamland name with contributions from former bandmates Rose and Abdul-Aleem as well as members of the New Dream; brothers Mike, Paul, and Jamie from Nashville rock band Simmons; and multi-instrumentalist Tony Gerber.

In 1998, Aashid formed a band to experiment with country blues and Appalachian-inspired hillbilly music, releasing Mountain Soul, a collection of original and traditional tunes, with brothers Victor Wooten and Reggie Wooten, Giles Reaves, and Tramp of Bonepony. The project proved to be popular, leading to a live 1999 album, West Virginia Hills, recorded with the Mountain Soul Band, which featured Reaves, Gerber, Shelstad, Tramp, and Jody Lentz. At the close of the century, Aashid would delve deeper into the space music genre, recording numerous solo and band albums with collaborators like Reaves, Shelstad, and Gerber under band names like Sons of Akasha and Pyramid Underground, most of them released by Gerber's prolific Space for Music label.

Virtually unknown outside of the Southeast, Aashid Himons managed to forge a career that stretched across five decades. Utilizing new technology, Aashid recorded studio albums on an iMac computer, also using software to edit his live digital recordings. Prolific to a fault, Aashid was one of the most popular artists on MP3.com, where he had samples of his music and offered some two dozen albums for sale. Aashid continued to create interesting, energetic, and unpredictable music for a small but loyal audience until his death in March 2011 at the age of 68.