Q: I think some people refer to you as the leader of the Soul Syndicate band, but I'm not sure how true that is. Wasn't it Fully (Fullwood), you joined some time after, didn't you?

A: I joined them after three months, four months. I was like a band-leader for years until the guys left to the States.

Q: What was the first session with the Syndicate, if you recall?

A: Oh gosh, I'd lie if I tell you I can remember that. I dunno, maybe Fully could remember or Tony (Chin), is so much t'ings happen in my life then, y'know wha' I mean, to remember that (laughs)!

Q: The Syndicate came from Greenwich Town, what was the 'Farm' like in those days?

A: Yeah, well, it was the music place, everyone have to come down there. For some reason all the artists, y'know, we used to have the famous dancehall, we have one of Kingston best fishin' beach. So everybody have to come down there. Greenwich Town 'ave one of the seven natural biggest harbours in the world. You know, train-line run through it, we have the airport, small lickle... We 'ave all of that, and more. The best herb, coolie bwoy, y'know.

Q: For how long did the Syndicate keep together as a studio and touring outfit, did you split up or most of the band simply moved their base to the States?

Q: No, we didn't split up, is just the guys them haffe leave Jamaica after a while. I mean, after the whole violence t'ing them go away, not just Soul Syndicate members, a lot of musicians and other people in Jamaica through the whole political violence an' t'ing (speaking of the bloody 1980 elections in Jamaica, it led up to at least 800 people got killed). So like with me now, my t'ing, I was busy, I was doing stuff all over the place. I was like with every band. So I would like go out on the road with all of these guys that, y'know, the albums that we did, we become successful. Like I remember I was out on the road with Inner Circle, 'Reggae Thing', Bob Marley with 'Rastaman Vibration'.

Q: You did that tour with him in 1976.

A: Mmm.

Q: What was that like, was that your first big tour overseas?

A: Yeah, actually we stay out like three months on the road. It was a special experience too.

Earl 'Chinna' Smith with Soul Syndicate

Earl 'Chinna' Smith with Soul Syndicate

Q: So it was a natural step to form the High Times label around this time, when was that to be more specific?

A: 1980.

Q: That was when everything took shape, the label, the shop, the band, High Times Players?

A: Mmm, beca' the Soul Syndicate, the rest of the band leave to the States, and all other bands them was like forming their own plan, like I remember the (Roots) Radics, everybody have them own plan. So I seh, well, bwoy, I have to put together somet'ing. So I remember this went together, we have something, the label. I never really call my group a 'band', y'know. I think 'band' is like 'bandit' an' 'bandulu', so I seh, bwoy, we haffe call ourselves 'Players of Instruments', the High Times Players, y'know. And that's what it is.

Q: What was the original line-up for the group?

A: High Times Players was all the musicians them in Jamaica that I worked with. High Times Players was Sly & Robbie, Santa an' Tony, all of the man dem. But then it work out to be after everybody move out, I mean most of the regular guys was like Benbow (Basil Creary) on drums, Christopher Meredith on bass, Asher (Tony Brissett), resident on keyboard, me on guitar, you have Fazal Prendergast on guitar, he just died... Jah bless his soul. You have on percussion different man, you 'ave Harry T on percussion, you have Sticky. Robbie Lyn come in on keyboard too. So that is all of the people dem that we use on record. Santa on drums, he was there too.

Fazal Prendergast

Chris Meredith

Squiddley Cole

Q: Tell me more about Fazal, your guitarist who passed away so tragically.

A: Yeah, he was one of the guitar players for us. He leave to the States too and played over there all these years till I heard that he had this accident (drowning in a river in California).

Q: How important was Fazal to High Times during those years?

A: He was there all the time. When we went out on the road with Mutabaruka, y'know, the band High Times Players went out on the road. He was there all the time until he migrate to America. He was on most of the recordings that we did.

Q: What about Squiddley Cole, the son of Stranger?

A: Yeah, well, he was there. He come in after, but he was there too, pretty much he spent time around that programme.

Q: What became of Chris and Squiddley, are you still working with them as the High Times rhythm section?

A: Yeah man, everybody still there, y'know, both Chris and Squiddley. I think Squiddley is on the road now with Damian (Marley) or maybe Steve.

Q: What did you first put out on High Times, you formed the label with Teddy Reynolds, didn't you?

A: Yeah, it was 'Check It', Mutabaruka. 'Check It', Mutabaruka firs' album.

Q: On the Alligator imprint.

A: Yeah, yeah. But we put it out firs', Alligator did the American release.
Q: What about the 'High Times All-Star Explosion', that album has been out of print for some twenty years now?

A: All right, we give that to - we did three albums with Alligator, 'High Times Explosion' was one of them too, which I called my High Times compilation, which was some releases on 45 that I had been releasing previously. So I did a compilation with that. It was a Joe Higgs, a Freddie (McGregor), Mutabaruka, Frankie Paul, most of the artists them that was on the label. That was our first compilation that we did.

Q: Do you have the intention to put it out again?

A: Yeah. You know, right now I still have it. I mean, it's just that I don't make CD of it, tryin' to keep most of the t'ings them on vinyl. Ca' with vinyl I can keep more control over the whole programme, so all of them t'ing deh is pretty much available. And still, you can get it on vinyl if you contact me.

Q: Do you still have the High Times shop in operation?

A: No, the shop is no more, I kinda closed that from 'bout '96, now I'm operating from home. Like 'inna de yard' (chuckles).

Q: How come you closed it down?

A: Well, y'know, everyt'ing, shop an' all dem t'ing deh become obsolete after a lickle while. It sit dung with you, all of that happen before you get the drift an' move. I should've been doing that before an' make preparation for the, yunno, we call it the 'new systems'. So it's, whe yu call it now, cyber, cyber-space we work through now. So everything is through the net, so you don't have to be paying for all of these unnecessary overheads when you can operate through the net an' all of that. Instead of it to reach your yard by mail or whatever system there is, shop an' all dem t'ing deh is outdated stuff.

Q: I guess you have to move on too, move with the times.

A: Yeah, well, t'ings an' t'ings an' times, and times are changing.

Earl 'Chinna' Smith

Earl 'Chinna' Smith
Q: How do you see youngsters approaching the music nowadays?

A: They're approaching it on their level, and they can do nutten more than what they're doing, y'know. And you have to accept an' respect their way of doing it, beca' we're in a changing world an' this is what is happening.

Q: Of course, but it would be nice to see some more vocals and 'instrumental skills' rather than deejaying or just programming.

A: It can go back to that stage, it's just how the industry is set up and what radio is promoting an' companies is promoting, yu understan'. They're promoting that kinda stuff, so all of these people, all of this good music knowledge an' recording music a certain way, when them is recording, there's like a block. When you record, when you spend so much money to make your music a certain way an' you carry it to the radio and if you don't have money to play it, to pay to get it played, then you're out. You kind of want to do somet'ing else, and this is what is happening until the system can set up a way with people with certain knowledge and certain idea, can be accepted. Then you going forever have that problem, and it's not a lot of musician play music fe the love of music, most people are involved inna it for the business, an' the business, people want spend their money to make it back. Then you have musician who jus' want to play music ca' they love it, an' people who just want to buy music on a different level too, beca' they jus' love music for music, not for the hype or for the excitement.

Q: So do you see any change in a positive direction for, say, the 'vintage' way of approaching production? I saw that Harry J's studio is up and running again for instance.

A: Yeah man, a bunch of lickle youth start sing again on a rightful lyrics, pitch a certain way, so... We still 'ave a lotta bubblegum t'ing, but you 'ave certain youth whe a pitch the t'ing right an', y'know, writing good lyrics. I pay attention to them.

Q: I did pick up a new High Times 45 occasionally over the years, you've always been 'protective' of the people from your generation so to speak. You did some work with Winston Bailey for example.

A: Which one again?

Q: Winston Bailey, the guy from the Slickers.

A: Yeah, right.

Q: You did a recut of 'Johnny Too Bad' with him, early nineties sometime.

A: Mmm.

Q: What became of Bailey?

A: I don't know, come like the brethren just disappear (chuckles). And you know it's just - I guess maybe the problem dem have within the industry too, after making all of that effort an' spending them whole heap a money and energy, in vain. But is real funny how you call him name, I haven't seen him for a couple of years. I hope he is OK.
Q: How about Wadada?

A: Wadada, yes. Wadada is doing somet'ing with the Marleys, their label. Yeah.

Q: Tell me more about them.

A: Oh! Wadada is like, oh, I sure miss the group. You have Frank, Frank was a brethren that used to hang out with Bob Marley, him really have similar sound, and write beautiful too. All right, you have another brethren name Dip, him is a brethren that is related to the elder Rastaman, (Mortimer) Planno. And a beautiful voice an' great lyricist also. You have a next one now, Burroughs, I think he's from the same town that Peter (Tosh) come from. Them is the only three guys who's got the Wailers sound, naturally. Them should've an album, them have one a the wickedest album, I dunno why the Marleys dem don't release it yet. But whenever they do release it it's gonna be... you know? It's gonna be one of dem trademark. It done couple of years now, beautiful lyrics, so you can hear the sound whe I tell you 'bout, them 'ave the really true authentic Wailers sound. I'm not just talkin' 'bout Bob Marley as Wailers, 'cause Frank is like a Bob, Burroughs is like a Peter, him come from same place as Peter, Dip make the sound like a Bunny Wailer. So, when you hear the three voices dem, you will hear them a sing with Wailers' voice handle, you hear. Yeah mon, you hear. If you listen to music deep, you can recognise that.

Q: And then you did a record with the Tidals.

A: Yeah, Tidals is a great group too, y'know. One of their famous singer, one of the important singers died recently too. And that kinda dumped the sound. Me an' them do a portion of work too, like a bad 45 with them.

The Tidals

The Tidals
Q: 'Know Yourself Mankind'.

A: Yeah (chuckles). You serious, y'know dem tune deh nice. Yes, that's the one.

Q: Most of them are produced with digital stuff?

A: No man, is drum, is really drums. Yeah. Drums, keyboards an' guitar.

Q: You did recordings with Time Unlimited as well.

A: (Sipping from a glass of water) Time Unlimited, all right. I've worked with them from in the past. There was like one guy, that was the lead singer that used to operate the store, High Times, together, that was one of the reason for me closing down the store, ca' we had problem. Him used to manage the whole programme, it wasn't managed to the level I wanted, and I've been up and down the road most of the time. That make I kinda decide to just close down the record shop an' just continue playin' the guitar, taking the music to a next level. And then the group, I dunno, I think the group kinda split up too, one guy went to the States an' t'ing, one guy went to England. I think he's back there in Jamaica now, but everybody's been doing their separate t'ing.

Q: I did an interview some time ago with one of them in Time Unlimited, Hugo Blackwood.

A: Yeah, he's in Englan' (residing in the US, Ohio to be more specific).

Hugo Blackwood aka Istan Black
Q: Also known as Istan Black.

A: Yeah, great singer. Yeah, you know me an' him still communicate, good brethren. Nice and beautiful voice too, I have a couple of tracks with him, too. Great. They have CD which is supposed to be coming out soon, if everything is right.

Q: For some reason the 'vintage' style of recording is something that's intimately linked with your name and your past work, so how did you find the transfer to working with digital technology at first?

A: Make I tell you, the industry funny. You know, is jus' that sometime it force you to do t'ings, an' I guess is a conspiracy go down into music. Is like, it's going on now too, over the years drummers been playing the drumming right an' sometime in the eighties it's like a problem, everybody is saying "Hey, drummers is not playing right!", beca' they want to introduce this machine to the system. You know, it's like a conspiracy, but people take on to it an' start complaining, an' then the drum machine t'ing come in. Now, then I guess from 'Sleng Teng', an' then the whole t'ing change, everybody just start make music with drum machine, an' when they make music - if it's not drum machine it's like the radio or soundman don't even wanna play it. So you find seh the t'ing get vile, an' we say "No, we're tired of the drum machine t'ing, man, drummer can't play a way". So this is what happen all the time. Is just like today now, most music stop recording on multi-track, everybody's going to pro-tool. Now, pro-tool is a next form of computerized t'ing, an' then you hear seh well, bwoy, you cyaan use the multi-track tape beca' the companies not used to it, it out of business. It a great t'ing. Beca' I mean the pro-tool, you can jus' put up dem t'ing deh an' all your files just erase'. You 'ave the multi-track tape, yeah, you might have problem with them sittin' there for years an' backside kinda start (inaudible) on the machine, but there's other ways where you can go an' save it, you can bake it. So, when you put up so much effort fe make music an' energy an' money, an' jus' put it on a file like that, an' you might just come back all next day an' you don't see anyt'ing, a man might jus' come erase it beca' the Master Computer is just like - everyt'ing now, it not even yours any more (chuckles). Before you could control everyt'ing by having your multi-track, is you alone. Is like I have a mark an' you have one, I coulda just find out what the whole t'ing is an' jus' take it! Take off your music from, y'know wha' I mean, for my file, beca' of how the system set up, because of this new technological era that we're livin' in, y'know.

Earl 'Chinna' Smith & Mutabaruka
Q: How do you feel about the sound you are getting nowadays, it's not exactly the same warm, organic sound that you got back in the days, is it?

A: It can be, that's what I'm tellin' you, that's why we have to get a change-up. Ca' maybe you a come from a two-track to a four-track to eight to sixteen, to multi-track, twenty-four, forty-eight an' all of dem t'ing deh. No when it gone to pro-tool you can jus' get whatever amount of track, but that sound, the sound of old, I mean guitar go through amplifier, an' mic, y'know wha' I mean, mic a bass, an' dem t'ing deh gone. Certain frequency whe you get out of it when you listen to dem Treasure Isle an' Studio One sound an' Randy's, that compact recording, them Joe Gibbs an' early Federal an' all the old studios, you jus' cyaan get back them sound deh no more. But people have to sample them, maybe (chuckles).

Q: It's a sad fact, even though music have to go on, move forward.

A: It's a change, it's just the change. You know, you have people who are really serious...

Q: But for the whole listening experience, you'd prefer that warm, organic, 'dirty' sound, you know what I mean?

A: Well, for the serious people dem, dem try to preserve that, I t'ink that is good. Yeah. Is like wha' you 'ave here in France whe you don't lick down all of the old buildings dem an' put up new buildings, you still have the old ones you can come in like it's the 1800s or 1700s, whatever. That is still a great t'ing, yunno. Nice. You a feel like you was livin' back in those times, even though you are livin' in this time.

Q: What of the old studios are used frequently now?

A: Yeah, Dynamic is still there. I think them set up back Joe Gibbs. Where else...? Well, Studio One is still there still. Yeah, most of them. Channel One, the original Channel One is also there though I hear they're settin' up a new one.

Earl 'Chinna' Smith

Earl 'Chinna' Smith
Q: Right, I heard they're moving it to a new location, the old one was far too dangerous.

A: It is a must, most definitely. You know, Federal is there still, which is now Tuff Gong. You still have a couple of...

Q: Aquarius?

A: Aquarius, yeah. But them 'ave a new name too, and Harry J are back in the programme again. But don't sound the same, y'know.

Q: Most of the equipment is replaced, yes.

A: Yeah, yeah, everyt'ing is... True.

Q: I think you pointed to some of these things in the DVD interview as well, if it continues as it is then Jamaican music will lose something valuable.

A: Yeah, well, what you will be losing is somet'ing that you have created. You have created a music like ska, Blue Beat, rock steady, reggae, so when you come an' create t'ings like those, you find ways an' means to preserve it. Don't just throw it away to hold on to a new t'ing, because who tell you that that new t'ing is what you can hold on to an' be better than what you had firs', in the beginning, you see wha' I'm sayin'?

Q: Sure.

A: So you preserve all of that, and you add on to what is already there.

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