Q: So what do you say about the claim of 'Hold Them' by Roy Shirley to be, probably, among the very first rock steady tunes out there at the time, if not the first?

A: No! Derrick Morgan tune 'Rudies Don't Fear'.

Q: That was the first?

A: Yeah man. A guy name' Busby. Busby use' to come in a the dance an' jus' rock.

Q: Can you recall how people responded at first to it?

A: The dance man dem use' to love it, man. An' Byron Lee band was the band whe tek up the music an' go uptown with it now.

Q: The Dragonaries.

A: Yeah.

Q: So they sort of 'took over' rock steady for a time?

A: Yeah man, them tek over calypso, every damn t'ing!

Q: (Chuckles)

A: Byron Lee. Because the whole people dem use' to follow them uptown, yunno, Saturday night.

Q: So when did the door open up for a visit to European shores, when you decided to try to get a break and succeed in England?

A: Forty odd years ago. When I come a Englan' I never know where to go. Jus' come 'pon a plane. Island (Records), Dave Betteridge, him did a work fe Chris Blackwell at the time, him did invite me up here.

Q: Betteridge was like the right-hand man to Blackwell?

A: Yes. Him used to run the country, the country of music. Dave Betteridge used to come a Jamaica fe Island an' jus' buy music fe put out inna Englan'. Beca' our music used to come up on pre. So him - them guys used to mek two to three trips from Englan' an' come there. Him an' Lee Gopthal now, dem did form Trojan (Records). Through dem could get Duke Reid t'ings, dem form a label up here name' Trojan, because it was 'Duke Reid the Trojan', yunno, an' start put out records. Trojan record company start off a Duke Reid t'ing.

Q: Right. What about Pama Records?

A: Well, Pama start dem same time too, yunno. I start Pama dem. Pama did start with Alton (Ellis) an' Clancy Eccles an' it never work out. Now, '68 when I up here now, Pama dem find me over Paris Gate, the three brother dem come an' me see them all black man so me decide fe give it a chance, so dem gimme 'bout 700 pound. I don't remember if it 300 pound cash or 400 pound cash or three hundred pound cheque. I go Jamaica an' start mek some music an' the rest is history.

Q: But you managed to get some compilations out on the Island label at the time, like 'Put It On - It's Rock Steady' for instance.

A: Yeah man, nuff t'ings with Island, man. When we start Island was the main label, beca' Jackie Edwards an' Jimmy Cliff dem was my friend dem before them come an' live a Englan'. Them was the firs' set a artist', an' Owen Gray. Beverley's, Beverley's beat, he used to come down a Greenwich Farm an' rent a man named Les Buchanan 'pon a Lizzy piano an' rehearse before dem go studio. Actually Jackie Edwards go as a piano player 'pon the Owen Gray session an' Chris Blackwell hear him singin' an' recording. It come out before. Owen Gray and Jackie, they never looked back. That's how me do so much work with Jackie, when Jackie come up back a Jamaica.

Q: You didn't license much to Chris and Island, but how long did you last with Pama?

A: Well, at the time Pama did have the Black Power t'ing, yunno, where all - they give the black man the bly, y'understan'. But I do a lotta work with Island too, man. Ca' Island come up here with some tunes from Mr Pottinger an' Mr Robinson, them guys send me to Chris beca' dem remember yu hear from Chris, dem remember dem get pay an' Chris use' to explain an' seh nutten nuh gwaan.

Q: Could you secure airplay for your product at that time in the UK?

A: Yeah man. Well, Chris used to make... Dave Betteridge dem run the t'ing.

Chris Blackwell.

Dave Betteridge.

Q: Certainly not on the BBC, but (Radio) Luxembourg?

A: No man, dem days deh it used to go in a the trash-pan. BBC never inna no reggae an' dem music in a the old days.

Q: Not even Caroline or Luxembourg?

A: Fight, we used to fight. We used to have a station name'... yes, Luxembourg, it was a pirate station. And Radio Caroline. Used to haffe buy time fe play your reggae tune 'pon it. Yeah man. How long... it come on till in a the evenin', Tony Blackburn an' dem guys deh start 'pon dem station. The BBC employ them beca' dem get so good.

Q: Lee Gophtal of Trojan Records now, the late accountant, the stories surrounding his work for the music is of a man not so knowledgable about Jamaican music but at least he could get the product out there and not just the West Indian circulation of shops...

A: Lee Gophtal, him amalgamated with... Black people used to go to him firs' when dem come up. Is him, Blue Cat, him use' to put out Coxson t'ing. You had a label name' Blue Cat, is him, Lee Gophtal, and Dave Betteridge, come together an' start the Trojan label. Even to this day is Trojan put out some Island tune and Island put out some Trojan tune. But some a dem Chris own an' some a dem was Lee Gopthal. The man whe really start the t'ing big... the man whe start the big t'ing on ya...

Q: ... was those two?

A: Eh? No man, you have a man name' Shallit, yunno, him use' to deal with Prince Buster. Emill Shallit, him start the Blue Beat label on 'ere.

Q: That's right, yes.

A: Yeah. So him do 'im part too, Emill Shallit. The main t'ree people was when I come a Englan' forty odd years ago, right, was who now...? Mrs King, Iris King and Iris' husband name' Benny. Benny use' to come a Jamaica too, yunno, an' put out - a get record. Him use' to put out anyt'ing whe Ken Lack (Caltone imprint) make, Rita an' Benny, y'understan'.

Q: Rita & Benny King, R & B Records?

A: Yes, Rita an' Benny, right. Them did 'ave a big distributing place from - dem was powerful people inna the business. Mrs King was a force to reckon with. Them use' to have a place inna Stamford Hill. If she na sell the record is better yu come outta the business.

Q: (Chuckles)

A: When she talk everybody jump! By the way, she a the firs' person whe bring U Roy come inna this country. And Roy Shirley an' Maxie Romeo. Max Romeo did come a'ready with Pama dem but him did go dung back, a Rita did bring 'im back. Yeah.

Q: And that was in the late sixties.

A: Ah, she put them in which part now... I think a the early seventies, when U Roy come, she put a tour together fe 'im. I think a Croydon a the firs' place they did go. A promoter name' Les White use' to work with her.

Q: But in the end your relationship with the Trojan crew got sour. They went bankrupt in the mid seventies, got accused from all over for a massive amount of piracy, and so on.

A: Yeah, the whole a dem is some damn pirates, yunno. Ca' Trojan use' to put out Duke Reid t'ing, beca' through dem mek the Trojan label people think it was... Duke never give them no tune. Is after a while Duke come dung deh Duke draw 'im gun 'pon Dave Betteridge an' Lee Gophtal, dem run like thief! Go write a book an' mek people know 'bout it. A me haffe cool off Duke beca' Duke was a wealthy man, him never need no guy a Englan' fe put out him record, fe pay people or not. Duke did 'ave him money. Yeah man.

Q: OK, they simply took his stuff, Duke's productions, without a license for it and put it on...?

A:... on the Trojan label. I was there when Trojan label formed. Dandy Livingstone use' to work with Mrs King an' she an' him fall out, an' me an' him was up by Dave Betteridge an' Pama did give 'im some money fe mek a album, an' Dandy give it to Trojan fe put out. Trojan firs' album, it name' 'Dandy Returns'. You see 'im come off a plane step, Dave Betteridge go 'pon the phone an' sell fifteen thousand of that album right before - 'pon the phone. Firs' time when it come on ya an' a man see yu with all a pre, he mek 'em hold them, he no waan hear it, yunno. From is a white label, if it is even stupidness him a pay a money an' hold it. You have a man seh "Wha' dat, pre? Mek a hold dem now". Him no even waan hear it.

Dandy Livingstone.

Q: What do you feel was the downfall of the Trojan empire back in '75 then?

A: Bad management. Yeah man.

Q: Obviously. How much could you sell of a substantial 'hit' back in those days?

A: Could sell plenty, man. Plenty.

Q: We're talking figures around forty to fifty thousand?

A: Yeah man, fe a good seller dem days deh you have thirty, forty, sixty thousand or so. Or a hundred thousand. Ca' you used to 'ave Jamaica, Englan', America did young to it, although you had a guy name' Brad (Osbourne). An' Randy's start fe put out records, Chin-Randy's was before VP. But Chin-Randy never gwaan good. It was Vincent brother - Vincent, 'VP' is 'Vincent & Pat', yunno. Me an' Vincent start, beca' him bredda never waan pay no royalty an' put out record. An' Vincent jus' start VP Records, Vincent and Pat, him an' his wife. Him use' to mek - we do the work a Jamaica, use' the studio time a Randy's studio an' in return we give him the tune dem fe - instead of paying studio time fe release in America. An' see VP today - big t'ing. Yeah.

Bunny Lee & Clive Chin.
Photo: David Corio | www.davidcorio.com
Q: What about Keith Chin?

A: Keith Chin was Vincent brother too. Him use' to dry cleanin' business in America.

Q: But what about yourself in this period, say '68 to '71, did you go over to New York to cover that market as well?

A: Yeah man, I start go to New York inna those days, it was me an' Randy's. It was Randy's an' myself. I use' to stay a Keith's house, yunno, that's how Keith got interested in a record business. Beca' Keith an' him wife did 'ave a dry cleanin' business in New York.

Q: Randy's did have a releasing outlet in New York even as early as '69 or '70, I think.

A: Yeah, Randy's start him produc' - Vincent start him product long time, right, the brother that tek on the name 'Chin-Randy's' off a Vincent label inna Jamaica. VP was Randy's Records inna Jamaica, yunno. Chin-Randy's was one a him brothers, him name' Victor.

Q: Right.

A: Victor, an' the other bredda name' Keith. Yeah.

Dennis Brown, Big Youth & Brad Osbourne (circa 1978).

Q: What was the main players for the Jamaican record market in the late sixties or early seventies in the New York area? It was basically the same names, Brad Osbourne, Bullwackie?

A: Brad Osbourne was one of the backbone inna the business, beca' after me an' Brad hook up the rest was history, right. VP never - when I say VP never born yet, it was Chin-Randy's, but Chin-Randy's jus' decide fe put out your music an' no pay nobody, an' claim seh (turns into a complaining voice) "Oh, me cyan owe myself two hundred an' me cyaan mek back me stamper money", an' Brad tell we it was a lie an' we and Brad start workin'. An' then him do the same t'ing with Vincent now, so that's why Vincent start VP Record. Ca' him couldn't get no return from him bredda. Keeling (Beckford) has that bredda's place now, I think Keeling rent it from him wife. And then him sister name' Molly, she was inna the business, she use' to put out record. But when her husband dead she never bother. An' Miss Pat an' Vincent come over to America an' live an' the rest is history. VP a one of the biggest reggae distributor inna the world now, not even in a New York ca' them buy out all Greensleeves. Yes.

Q: You became one of the first independent producers to use the newly built Randy's studio in Kingston?

A: You have to say I start using it before everybody, then Lee Perry. Ca' when it jus' started it had a distorted sound. E.T. (the late Errol Thompson) was an apprentice at Coxson's studio at the time, yunno, an' E.T. was the firs' engineer at Randy's studio.

Q: I think he and Clive Chin, they were schoolmates at that time.

A: Yeah.

Q: You kinda repeated this by using Channel One when they arrived on the scene.

A: '74 Channel One arrive' an' I have the firs' tape, the first session there inna that studio, too. History tape, firs' set o' tunes that do inna Channel One was me. Me use' to open the studio dem, yunno. Harry J studio, me firs' record inna it. Me was the guinea-pig whe test out the studio dem.

Photo: Syphilia Morgenstierne.

Photo: Syphilia Morgenstierne.

Q: (Laughs)

A: Byron Lee did 'ave a nex' studio whe... him do it fe Mick Jagger but Mick Jagger dem did prefer the top studio. Byron Lee did set up a studio fe dem (the Rolling Stones), come mostly do all 'Cherry Oh Baby' an' 'Goat Head Soup', fe the album, but dem prefer the big studio. Beca' even 'Cherry Oh Baby' a do over five or 'bout six different times, yunno. An' the one whe stand out was the one they do 'pon the number one studio, right. Dynamic Sound have the greates' sound up until this day. Them pull down the equipment now an' all dat, but it was from West Indies Records. The bass never distort inna that studio. An' then you have Federal which was before them with the Khouris dem. Federal use' to do a lotta calypso till them start do reggae, rock steady, Ernie Smith an' all them guys. So everybody chip in a lickle. Federal was a big manufacturer, like WIRL Records, dem were bankrupt an' Byron Lee get a name-change to Dynamic Sound. Harry J build him own studio. Bob Marley biggest hit LP dem come outta Harry J studio, 'Natty Dread' an' all 'Catch A Fire' an' all dem t'ing deh. Harry J studio dat make.

Q: But Blackwell did invest a reasonable sum in that studio, Harry J's?

A: Yeah. Him did invest, ca' him did get result. Any way you get result you invest your money. Chris did have a vision, yunno, so...

Q: Yes, but you yourself must've had a certain 'vision' about recording when you took chances on all those new, 'unfinished' studios at the time?

A: Yeah, but Chris did born up here, yunno, so Chris had money. People like we start from nutten. I start do my firs' session with twenty pound, put it inna Lynn Taitt hand an' the four a them come; Lynn Taitt, Bryan Atkinson 'pon bass, an' Joe Isaacs 'pon drums, an' Gladdy Anderson 'pon piano. A so me start. Them days deh was thirty shilling a side fe musician, yunno. Them days deh we start with four man an' they play four tune fe me fe twenty pound. Cyaan bawl, through me use' to go 'round with everybody the studio time come an' from there the rest is history.

Q: Did you leave the production ideas in the capable hands of these people or you had a basic idea from the beginning how that first session should be?

A: Yeah man. You see, we was the youth whe go to dance an' saw what the people dem like. Ca' I record even U Roy before, before Duke start record him, with a tune name' 'Here Comes the Man Lennox Brown With the Big Horn', like a live effect. That was suppose' to come on an LP now, 'Lennox Brown'. Him did not much talk inna it but at least... 'hear the brother play an' the brother pa paaah daaah... you can swing an' sway', y'understan', that was one a the firs' U Roy tune. That was our t'ing. How we bring all version now. Me could not afford fe do everyt'ing a session, me haffe use the same riddim an' put horns 'pon some an' dub organ an' dub t'ings... tek all one riddim an' mek a LP, with different artist, different sound. So everybody start follow we. But, a true, we couldn't afford it - fe every music, every singer or every instrumental is a different t'ing, is a different riddim. So we start these t'ings, through lack of funds an' t'ing. An' when me deh a record Delroy Wilson, Ansel Collins play drums 'pon that, yunno. Four man again, 'This Whole Heart of Mine' in a '67, forty-one years an' you hear that tune deh put on right now you'd have a guy say it jus' make.

U Roy.

Q: But some critics would probably say that this practice 'cheapened' the music... in the long run.

A: No man, them know dem tune deh is classic an' them stand up up till now. Better than what's happenin' now.

Q: True, but the issue of 'versioning', what it caused was, perhaps, to hold the development back a little. But to each his own.

A: In a them days deh everybody a do the 'version' now. The critics them only talkin', if you follow critics yu dead fe hungry, yunno, you dead of hunger. Old time people inna Jamaica seh 'If you 'fraid a Eye yu cyaan eat Head!' That mean if you afraid a the fish-eye you cyaan eat the head.

Q: (Laughs)

A: Y'understan'?

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