|Let the spotlight now shine on one important, but controversial, part of the Jamaican music business, in the role of the producer. In most cases these people only sponsored the project without taking active part in the actual production of the music. A 'real' producer is looked upon as someone shaping and forming the sound of a recording. He or she was actively involved and together with musicians worked out the magic in the studio. In JA this came mainly through musicians and engineers. In reggae music they are, for the most part, just looked upon as 'financers'. But naturally there are exceptions. Niney, Lloyd the Matador, Coxson in his early days, Keith Hudson, Lee Perry, Clive Chin, Sonia Pottinger, Phil Pratt, Jo Jo Hookim and Bunny Lee are in these times regarded as the exceptional producers who spent the time needed to get the goods out of their stable of artists. Lee was also known as the effective one, cutting the most out of a limited time available. For some, he is not up there with the most innovative of producers throughout the history of Jamaican popular music, but nonetheless he has contributed his part of new and exciting innovations over the years. If nothing else, he is a brilliant story-teller with a detailed memory like few others. He will serve you a 'verbal plate' of treasured musical memories for years to come, if you come close. The following interview is one such occasion. My thanks to Bunny, Reg (Three Kings), Carlton Hines, Carl Gayle, David Corio, Laurent Pfeiffer, and (especially) Steve Barrow.|
Q: If we go back to your youthful days in Jamaica, what did you look for in music, say the late 1940's, it was mainly jazz and mento, wasn't it?
A: Yeah. No man, the early days of Jamaican music was - whe you call it now - mento and calypso. Yes, it would be mento, calypso and a t'ing named quadrille. Quadrille is a form of mento but it going through first beat or second beat or t'ing like those. Those t'ings Jamaican people start off with.
Q: So what was your first love, musically speaking?
A: Well, we used to listen to a lotta those quadrille business an' calypso. And then Jamaica start bringing in the Rhythm & Blues. People like Fats Domino, Smiley Lewis, Roscoe Gordon and... you know, Louis Jordan. Louis Jordan was one of the biggest of those days. You have Louie Prima, Smiley Lewis was big too.
Q: And the sound systems was from some time in the 1940's.
A: Yes, the late 40's, right. Because you used to have - man used to keep dance now with orchestra. With orchestra is like band, musicians used to come an' play. You'd have to hire a band. Because the calypsonians dem used to come an' do them t'ing firs' an' them quadrille, and then the other band would sing the American songs like Louis Jordan an' all those t'ing, like Val Bennett an' those people.
Q: That was optimal.
A: Yeah man. Probably it was a pick-up band with different, different musician, yunno. They was the name band, it was a mento band, but the mento band they were versatile, they could a play Rhythm & Blues an' everyt'ing.
Q: Where did they keep the dances?
A: House dance, people used to rent houses an' keep the dance. And you used to have a few like all Liberty Hall an' t'ing like those.
Q: This was at the same time when the sounds used to play?
A: No, the sound system come in after now. After the sound system come in, a guy in Jamaica name Goodie's, I think he may had the firs' sound system. Nick The Champ, a man name Nick The Champ, him come from Maxfield Avenue. An' Hedley Jones, Hedley Jones is a technician. So those guys start bring in them sound system business now. Yeah, when the sound system come in now, it was better, beca' when the band dem tek a break, yunno, dem eat out the profit. Them eat off your curry goat an' all a dem t'ings deh, an' if you say anyt'ing whe dem nuh like, dem jus' pack up an' gone home.
A: You understan'.
Q: So that's about the time when you started to follow sound systems.
A: Long time, man. From sound systems come up we was... you know, in our teens. Before we in our teens we used to listen to Jones, Count Jones, Hedley Jones them an' some other sound. Any time a sound system string up, yunno, it draw a crowd. Yes.
Bunny Lee & his parents.
Q: What was the scene like in your area, Greenwich Farm?
A: Not Greenwich Farm alone, man. You have Greenwich Farm, Trench Town, those places. Greenwich Farm, you used to have Jones Town, t'was Jones Pen, those areas was formerly Pen 'til them change them to Town now, is Greenwich Town now. It was Greenwich Farm an' Jones Pen. Trench Pen is Trench Town now. So those areas is around a long time, y'know. And people used to live in a place named Ghost Town. Whe alms house... when a man dead from alms house, a poor man, dem used to bury dem in a place dem call Ghost Town. People used to build up dem house, capture dem land deh an' build dem house. Tivoli Garden was Back O' Wall. So even why today those areas still have violence in a dem, beca' dem people deh in dem days deh was violent people, like Woppy King an' all dem man deh come from dem areas deh.
Q: So we're talking the early rude boys...
A: Yeah, those was before rude boy. Two-Gun Rhygin, Martin him did name, call him Rhygin. Jimmy Cliff dem mek a show with part-time story, with this script aroun' him.
Q: 'The Harder They Come'.
A: 'The Harder They Come'. It was a real rude boy life in a Jamaica, yunno. Yeah.
Q: There's a certain glorifying of the rude boy in Jamaica, in some circles at least. Did some people look up to these outlaws in those days, or it was rather the opposite?
A: People used to 'fraid a dem, man. People never look up to outlaws in a Jamaica dem times. People dem was Christian people an' go to work an'... Firs' time from man smoke all a spliff, man, if you smoke all a spliff an' your parents know, dem ban you! Dem nuh want you to come back a dem yard an' all a dem t'ing deh. Jamaica did change. Yet the rude bwoys dem them days deh go to Back O' Wall an' Ghost Town an' them place. Man neva glorify badman, badman haffe stay in a bush any time the people a call the police, y'understan'. Yeah man.
Q: But that wave of 'rude boy-ism' swept over town sometime in the sixties, didn't it?
A: Politics, it's politics now. These politicians, after British rule gone now an' we get independence then the politician waan tek over now, that's when them start.
Q: Infiltrate the communities.
A: Yes, a man start... a politician start an' yet a man claim seh dem is your leader, whe a big politician call 'im an' seh well, you work with me now. Them give you the money fe get the guns fe get the guys fe intimidate people fe vote for me. But some a the man, them bother him... from them stop there so, them start rob an' kill people. As I say, some a them a come back from the old days, the whole Ghost Town an' Back O' Wall days deh now, a man a chop off all a man head an' dem days deh dem used to hang people. But it different now, yunno. The firs' time before a man kill a man, him t'ink... y'know, him seh bwoy, if dem hold him dem a go chop off him head. But nowadays dat no gwaan now, dem new yout' deh different.
Q: Times change. Like Derrick Morgan said, if you didn't return a 'hello' or 'good morning' to the elders, you could get a flogging for that.
A: Yeah, dat the ol' days, you haffe respec' your elders, man. It different now.
Q: It was 'easier' to live under British rule?
A: Yeah. When we did 'ave British rule, man, it was much better. Yeah man, land order was the order of the day, man. From we get independence the politician dem with dem greedy self, dat mash up the place. That's why the gunman come in, beca' each man waan stay in a power, yunno. Most of the politician dem is frien', when dem meet up dem drink an' seh bwoy, 'I give you help to any situation bwoy', my bwoys dem was down deh'. The bwoy, 'tomorrow me a sen' roun' my bwoys dem too, yunno'. So, when the badman dem start kill dem now, dem take a closer look an' some a dem get 'fraid. But sometime it get outta hand, probably even now. Beca' you hear a man jus' a kill, kill, kill so, y'understan'.
A: Yes. And the rude bwoy - it gotten in a the music now, beca' you'd hear they had a t'ing down deh now with Movado an' Vybz Kartel now, one on Gully side an' one name Gaza, one a Gaza. It reach all de school now, de school children dem. The guys dem start instigate this an' that against dem one another an' the school yout' dem tek it up. The nex' t'ing, a Gaza man a stab a Gullybank man.
Q: The current dancehall feuds is nothing new on the map, is it? I mean, Jazzbo and I Roy...
A: Yeah, but Jazzbo an' I Roy... You have it in a the ol' days too, Derrick Morgan an' Prince Buster an' a few others, right. Jazzbo an' I Roy, but dem rivalry deh now was jus' fe sell record. No man neva shoot you ca' you t'ink somet'ing 'bout him, a man jus' go in a the studio an' mek up a nex' song an' answer you back. But dem new yout' now dem a play it fe keeps. Yes.
Q: How did you actually start out in the business, was this as a record plugger for Duke Reid, or it goes even back before that?
A: Yes, also Coxson and Leslie Kong.
Q: How did it come about?
A: We used to have a panel whe we 'ave our vote at 'Teenage Dance Party'. Sonny Bradshaw, him die the other day, bring in that. So, if a tune get earmarked, right, an' you get your frien' dem fe vote fe it, an' it vote to a hit, it play right through the week - powerplay. Right through the week that tune play, so it grow on the people dem. So a man used to want get powerplay fe him tune, an' we as the panel people, dem vote. Sometime, it's not every week we on the panel, but you 'ave other people jus' vote. But you'd have to influence dem seh bwoy, this week you 'pon de panel seh bwoy, me have four tune, yunno, me waan dem - one from Coxson, two from Duke Reid, and one from Leslie Kong. You waan dem tune get powerplay, so you haffe vote fe it. The same week when your time come 'round dem come an'... you have to do one another favours. Yeah.
Q: So that's the link.
A: Yeah man, because when we leave work a daytime or evenin' time you go straight to dem record shop an' you collec' dem records fe go a the radio station an' plug it, get it played. So as a man put out a new tune, the big guys dem like Duke Reid, we used to go a dem record shop during lunch-time an' all that, dem would a leave the record dem fe we so we carry it in the radio station. Small man dem find you now, yunno, like when Joe Gibbs jus' a start, dem find you fe get... because that's how you get your play. But the big guys dem like Byron Lee now, the radio people go to all Byron Lee fe play it, beca' after a while him was the big band in a Jamaica, so anyt'ing him mek - good or bad - it had fe air it. Them days deh you'd have one radio station till you have JBC come in now, Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, you'd have two station an' dem was the main one.
Byron Lee & The Dragonaires - 1950s.
Q: Before that was the Rediffusion.
A: Rediffusion was in a the fifties. Poor people who couldn't buy a radio, right, it didn't come - the mother company was from England 'ere. JUI was the firs' radio station whe turn RJR an' dem bring in a radio station, the rediffusion, some lickle boxes, an' you hire JUI, it used to be fe a month. So people used to have one in a 'im house. So, a so they get the news an' it's the radio an' the radio series an' all a dem t'ing. You used to have one name' Second Spring come over 'pon a Sunday night-time, man. Like a 'oman, her husban' dead an' she a fe marry again, everybody, everybody a fe listen to that. Second Spring. When a man have a radio in a... all a area, yunno, people crowd 'round dem radio an' two hundred people listen to one radio. That's when Rediffusion come in now, everybody could a hire one. Them jus' install it an' whether you 'ave money or not, it spread like wildfire.
Q: What's the story of your first connections in the music industry, such as Ken Lack, the Caltone label?
A: Same way. Ken Lack did 'ave a agency business, yunno. Ken Lack used to manage the Skatalites an' Ken Lack get we fe come 'round now an' start do t'ings. Ken Lack used to deal with... Ken Lack use we as a young people fe produce the tune dem an' all that, an' it work.
Fatman & Bunny Lee.
Photo: David Corio | www.davidcorio.com
Q: How long did you stay with Ken?
A: Well, I was all over the place, yunno. I was by Ken Lack, Duke Reid same way, an' Coxson. An' I can remember Ken Lack promised me all a car fe mek this... one a him tune go number one. Ken Lack, Joe Gibbs come in a the business an' you'd have two big guy work a post office - McDermott, Jerry - dem used to come in sometime an' storm the place... we used to call them the 'Big Cat'. Used to walk with him back full of record when he was a postman, yunno, when him done... Tom and Jerry, man. Him sing some nice tune too. I dunno if dem still alive now. Tom - Jerry McDermott did 'ave a heart problem one time an' him go, him go America go do operation. Him did come back an' leave an' go America go live, I don't know if him still alive. But dem guys deh did do some great music with Bobby Aitkens & The Carib-Beats. Yeah man.
Q: Did you always have that in mind, the ultimate goal, to go into the business fully to produce yourself when you hung around Duke, Leslie Kong, Lack and all these people? Taking the step to go into self-production, how did that come about?
A: Oh, when you around the business so long now an' most of the young artists dem get fe know one another. And we meet the evening time an' fe work 'pon some a them own... seh dem na get enough revenue, we start decide fe do our own t'ing. An' the musician dem get fe know we an' all that. So it wasn't so hard.
Q: You had the connections already.
Q: How did you get treated personally by these people, Duke for example?
A: Good, man. Duke Reid was a man that give me the firs' studio time fe start, yunno. Him had a festival tune an' tek it 'way. Me used to go an' promote it like politics, put on all a loud speaker 'pon yu cyaar and 'campaign'! Yeah. So all dance before a radio station, beca' we couldn't afford air-time. Put on loud speaker 'pon yu vehicle an' truck - we call them 'truck' in a Jamaica - an' go right through an' advertise it. (Raising his voice) 'Tonight is the night at Forrester's Hall, Sir Coxsone's Downbeat you'll be dancin' to in tune with brand new hits!', y'understan'. All them way the people flock the dance... Mr Curry-Goat an' Miss Wright will be there dancin' an' Red Stripe beer an' all that, y'know. Them guys used to advertise the dance stylish, man. Them time Red Stripe beer was the t'ing in a Jamaica. And white rum.
A: Yeah. White rum still - that is the only t'ing I never see dem advertise all when I grow.
Q: I was gonna ask you how you solved the problem with airplay, because I assume you had the same problem back then, during the 1960's, with payola over the airwaves, didn't you?
A: Yeah. When I started now, right, I used to buy a radio show, fifteen minutes. Me an' Randy, Randy used to sponsor seh... Vincent Chin, 'Bunny Lee an' Randy's a Go-Go Presents', fifteen minutes to over thirty minutes, every Thursday night. An' people start listening an' come in an' buy the records. Then everybody start do what we do now an' then we start get it 'pon the two station till Randy start do it fe himself an' me start do it fe mine. Them days deh was foundation a Jamaica, twelve pound fe half-hour. But dem days deh, twelve pound, yunno, is big, it come in like all twelve thousand now. But you 'ave fe save, yunno, an' when yu record sell you could pay yu rent fe your record shop an' the time you a produce people come from all four corners of Jamaica every Thursday night an' Friday, yu shop full, y'understan'. So it used to work out.
Q: So it was a combination of Randy's and your product at first on that radio show?
A: It started as 'Bunny Lee and Randy's a Go-Go' first till it change to 'The Bunny Lee Show'. Yeah.
Q: And it ran from '67 until long into the seventies?
A: Yeah man.
Q: And then you expanded the show.
A: Yeah man, we go right on till half an hour. We go right on from fifteen minutes to half-hour from both radio stations. Beca' everybody - every other new producer an' the old one dem start. Duke Reid used to have a program, him firs' start with 'Treasure Isle Time' 'pon a Saturday, whe him used to advertise him liquor store. It was a way of life fe the people dem when him start with a tune name' 'My Mother's Eyes' an' the man seh "'Treasure Isle Time'!" Coxson did start one too. But after dem fade out now we as the younger generation come in.
Q: You came up in a time when rock steady was shaped, competing against those big shots in the music.
A: Yeah, well, we were pluggers, yunno, so we now come in with our different ideas. First Coxson dem used to copy the Rhythm & Blues t'ing an' all dat now, and then we slow down the beat. Duke, it was Duke idea still, y'know, to slow down the beat, but we jus' continue with it. Because when the beat come you coulda hear (imitates bassline) 'boo boo podobo podobo', the bassline come out more better an' t'ing an' the people didn't have fe rock so much... swing, yunno, like the pants get a lickle hole. When you have great dancer dem, like Sparky an' Pluggy an' Lloyd Pompadoo an' dem guys deh, dem was electric, man. An' Persian the Cat now was a rock steady dancer - pretty, y'understan'. Every era produce some great dancers. So rock steady was a beautiful music. Up to now, you still have the rock steady, yunno. But, you see, the reggae - you know what 'reggae' is? Is the organ shuffle in a the rock steady. It carry up back the beat lickle (imitates the beat) 'chuh chuh, reggae reggae' - that's the organ shuffle. Carry up back the beat an' mek it in-between. Beca' you tek out the organ shuffle outta the reggae... tek the organ shuffle outta the business.
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