Chris “DeRoc” DeBose, leader and lead singer of local reggae/world beat/funk band the Revealers, served 10 years in the Marine Corps. His tours of duty included a violent hitch in Beirut and a stint in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm.
But his decade in the military was only slightly more dramatic than his 20 years with the Revealers.
“I could write a book. It could be a movie,” DeBose said recently. “We’ve dealt with life and death. We’ve dealt with Katrina. There’s a lot of history.”
That he and the band have survived so much upheaval makes the Revealers’ 20th anniversary celebration at Tipitina’s on Saturday all the more meaningful. The bill also includes long-running local reggae institution the Shepherd Band, still led by founding drummer Ron Hill. Revealers keyboardist Claude Bryant will also play a set with his own band, Claude Bryant & the All-Stars, showcasing original compositions and classic reggae songs from the likes of Gregory Isaacs, Bob Marley and Steel Pulse.
For DeBose, the anniversary show — which will likely include several new songs — is a sign that the Revealers, after years of uncertainty and change, are once again committed to their collective mission.
“I didn’t want to just come back and gig — I wanted to come back and make an impact. Peace, love, harmony and getting along with each other — that’s what the songwriting has been about for 20 years,” he said.
Several months after graduating from St. Augustine High School in 1983, DeBose joined the Marines. Back in New Orleans 10 years later, he started a band, the Brothers Crucial. But with the addition of a female vocalist, the “Brothers” designation seemed inaccurate. Thus, the Reggae Revealers were born.
A year later, they dropped “Reggae” from the name so as not to limit themselves musically. “I really wanted to be a New Orleans, funky, reggae, world beat band— that kind of vibe,” DeBose said. “But the songs still have that reggae feeling behind them.”
The Revealers released a handful of independent CDs in the 1990s and early 2000s and won a couple of Big Easy Awards and OffBeat Best of the Beat awards. A series of setbacks and tragedies then intervened.
Percussionist “Kufaru” Aaron Mouton and keyboardist James “King Sweets” Dogan died. Other members came and went; DeBose figures 30 musicians have passed through the ranks. At one point, he was the band’s only remaining black member.
Hurricane Katrina scattered the band members. Theresa “Ms. Tee” Williams III, DeBose’s onstage foil and co-lead singer, wound up in Dallas.
After the storm, DeBose stepped on a nail, puncturing his foot. A serious wound developed. When the Revealers opened for Steel Pulse at the first post-Katrina reggae concert at the House of Blues, he sang from a wheelchair.
He later set down the band to deal with other health issues. Founding bassist Norman Nail dropped out for a while.
But DeBose remained committed to the ideal of the Revealers. That commitment sustained him through a decade of weekly Wednesday night rehearsals, through a two-year stretch of grueling Friday night gigs at Café Negril on Frenchmen Street.
For a while, he led a four-piece version of the Revealers. The roster is now back up to seven, anchored by DeBose, Nail, Bryant, founding drummer Darryl White and guitarists Don Williams — who joined in 1997 — and Al Ventura.
After a decade of fronting the band alone, DeBose now shares the stage with a new female singer, Felice Guimont, whose voice reminds him of Williams’. “It’s almost like striking gold again,” DeBose said. “We’ve gone back to the original format of a strong male vocal and a strong female vocal. I’ll do a verse, she’ll do a verse, then we do the third verse together. That’s the winning format for us.”
Pairing his gruff baritone — it recalls the rapper Tone Loc’s — with a smoother female voice “is a win-win situation for me. It helps me sing better, and it takes some of the pressure off,” he said.
Guimont was a fan of the Revealers for years before she finally suggested herself as a possible addition. “Right off the bat, from the first note, we were harmonizing together,” DeBose said. “I wasn’t expecting that. We’re using the formula that we used originally. It’s old-school and new-school. It’s a new configuration of the old-school vibe.”
To be surrounded by musicians and singers as committed as he “is a beautiful thing,” DeBose said. “I thought it was gone for a while. This phase is coming from God. We’re back on track and trying to make a difference.”
Follow Keith Spera on Twitter, @KeithSpera