Q: But 'Hear What The Old Man Say' is one of my favourites of that era, who wrote it?

A: I wrote it. Yeah man, I was the writer in the group, most of the... well, Albert wrote 'Sing Along' with me, he did most of that song, I put some words into it. But I'd say it was Albert song mostly. But 'Girls Like Dirt' was a next song that was done, that Bob Andy used the riddim for - 'Desperate Lover', I and Snore penned that one. But I penned 'A Get It', 'Money Lover', 'You Made Me Sour', 'Hear What The Old Man Say', I penned it fully. I was the sole writer on those songs.

Q: What was the inspiration for that tune, 'Old Man Say'?

A: 'Old Man Say'? Yeah when we were growing up as youths y'know, and we have our first girlfriend an' t'ing, as you know when you're young you kinda more want to rush the girls. So it wasn't like a direct experience with me, but I used to hear some elder men tellin' youths seh, 'Watch them girls an' t'ing yunno, most a them jus' lookin' whe yu can give them'. Right? So I used to hear older men tellin' youths that, they didn't actually tell me, so it wasn't a personal experience. But I had personal experience like that with girls, the first I get it trigger off although I wasn't warned by any elder. But my first girlfriend that I had at seventeen - not my first girlfriend, but my first girl that I got pregnant, I was seventeen and she was sixteen, and she had an abortion, yunno, which hurted me very much. And that inspired the tune, because the said year that I start to record first in 1967 when I was just seventeen years old. So I wrote that tune from '67. It was saying that it was so heart-rendered but I had to tell myself that I had to be strong and don't let no woman really break my heart, yunno. You see wha' me a say (chuckles)?

Q: Right. But 'Sing Along' was self-produced though?

A: Yeah, Beenie was the producer on that song, he had written most of the song. Because I was like a lead singer with the group, he gave me the opportunity to be the lead singer. But there was part of the song that was not completed, I added words to the second verse, yunno. When he came with the song it was not completed, and like we made the second verse together, and then we record it. So he sing the background vocal while I did the lead.

Q: What brought you into the music in the first place, it was your older brother who played the guitar who gave you some encouragement to do it?

A: Well, I grow up with a musical family. When I was growing up my father was a self-taught guitarist who used to play what you'd call classical songs on his guitar, and I was able to sing a lot of the songs he used to play. So from an early stage of about seven or eight my father recognised I could sing. So he used to take me to some bars and play his guitar, put me on his lap, and I used to sing for the people who was drinkin' in the bar from I was seven, eight years old. And people used to pay me to do that, like his friends used to put some money in his hands and say, "Buy somet'ing for the youth", you know (laughs)! So my brother now was very much influenced by my father's ability to play the guitar, and without even going through any formal studies, my brother learned to play the guitar just off ear and could back me up on any tune that I wrote. I sing it to him and he would find the changes and we just started singin' together. But my bredda mostly would play the guitar sometime and do some backin', y'know, like vocal. But him wasn't interested in the singin' part of it. So after growin' up now in the Eastern Kingston area this was when I meet Beenie and Snore who lived in the same area. My brother now and me used to sit down and sing all the time, and them come across and see me and say, "Youth, you can sing, man". And them start back me up, beca' by age twelve I had written my first song which was one of the songs I had entered, and I used to enter the amateur festival. I was the writer of the songs. The first song I wrote was called 'I Live The Life I Love', was like a girl-love song but I never recorded that song. And then one of the group members from our first group The Flames wrote a song 'Looks Are Deceiving', which was the song that we entered one of the amateur festivals with. So I was writing other songs now from I found out I could write. I wrote other songs and by the time we had formed the group I had already written 'A Get It'. So we started to practice that tune with my brother playing the guitar. Along the line Beenie-Bird was to play the guitar, so when my brother wasn't around, y'know, Beenie would play guitar and find the changes for songs that I was writing. After all of that now, when everybody migrating an' t'ing, I was forced into a solo career.

Fred Locks (Photo: Dennis Morris)

Fred Locks

Q: You were a bit unsure if to pursue a 'solo adventure' at that time?

A: I didn't even want to go solo, I had formed another group, and this is how the name 'Fred Locks' came about. I formed a group, using my name how I had done with Howard - Tony & Howie, I was gonna call the group 'Tony & The Melancholics'. But by that time now I had started to dreadlocks, I was seeing the Rastafari way of life.

Q: How did that come about again? I think I read something about you being kicked out of the house by your father when you had sighted Rasta back in '69.

A: No, he didn't kick me out before I started to grow locks. Yeah, because it's like I was moving in a path that led me to Rastafari. Because of the music business and the people I was around, I was exposed to the teachings and I absorbed it, y'know what I'm saying? It was the right thing for me. So I was singin' mostly... I was changin' my direction of writing now and started to write more spiritual or protest songs, y'know. And then I was singin' for some Rastafarian brothers, me and my group with Beenie, The Lyrics, was singin' some of those songs. In a way I regretted we hadn't recorded some of those kind of songs, but unfortunately they migrated. So I was left alone so I started writin' on that... those kind of subjects, mostly more spirituality. The faith just came about like that, 'cause I was movin' amongst some Rastaman from the eastern section of Jamaica, east of Kingston, and I was absorbing the teachings like, y'know, when we were smokin' everybody say a lickle psalms first and hail up His Majesty an' t'ing. So it exposed me to go into the scriptures to see where did it coincide. And then now by that time I was movin' among some Rass now an' one of my cousin in law, my cousin girlfriend, she could sing. She used to live in Canada and she came to Jamaica an' decide to sight up the faith too and my cousin was dreadlock at the time, she was his wife and they were all dread, yunno. But after she started to listen to us singin' and I realised she could sing harmony, so alongside she and another brethren named Alric, we formed this group now. I was the lead singer for Tony & The Melancholics. We sang on about two stage-shows with man like Count Ossie and Dennis Brown them, we singin' a lickle cultural songs at a theatre called the Ramble (?) Theater.

Q: OK.

A: But some youths now who was living in the area, it was in the Bull Bay area, heard us singin' and come across and said, "Hi, them sound goodie, then wha' the group deh named?" And me seh, "Well, Tony & The Melancholics". And them seh, "Wha', that no sound nice, me no like da name deh lickle Rasta youth" (giggles). So me seh, "What about Tony & The I-landcholics?" Him say, "No, me no like the name Tony, man. It no sound like a Rastaman name, yunno". So me seh, "You, wha' appen? Me go call meself Fred Locks" - 'cause it rhymed with dreadlocks (laughs). And him just say, "Wha', that sound good". That is how the name came about. Then that group never lasted too long, because my cousin was incarcerated and the brethren named Alric was trying to get to his wife, and I was so upset about it, now when she needed strength or anything. So I said no, that kinda broke up the group somewhat, 'cause we was in disagreement and disarray because of all that was happening, yunno. So I went on to be a solo act early after that, 'cause this was like about '73/74. But actually one day a brethren said to me that this song 'Black Star Liner', I wrote that from 1967 actually. This was before I was inside it fully, the Rastafari faith. But this brethren come to me and said, "You is a good lickle singer, you haffe start write some different kinda song, man". Too much love song, yunno. Him said, "Write about some Marcus Garvey t'ing, man". The Black Star Liner. So he hummed something to me like say (sings): 'Seven miles of Black Star Liner comin' in the harbour'. Me say all right, so I went home and the next day I come back and tell him say, "I finished write the song". Beca' I was reading a lickle book about Marcus Garvey and I got some ideas from it. So although it was written from 1967 I didn't record it until 1975! But when I recorded that song now it all happened because of a lickle youth with a tape recorder (chuckles). We were up a playfield, a football field, and watchin' some football training. When everything was done, we was sittin' down, and my brethren, the same brethren named Howard - we call him 'Grapeman', he played on the song too. He was sittin' down with his guitar, he was able to play the guitar, and I was tellin' him, "Bwoy, I have this lickle song here whe I try work it out ca' me no sing it to no music yet". So I had a cousin there who was sittin' down beside us and he had a paint-can, an empty paint-can, an' the brethren start to play the guitar and him start to playin' the paint-can like a drum. There I start sing 'Seven miles on Black Star Liner coming in the harbour...'. And there was a youth who's name was Trevor, he was recording on this lickle cassette-recorder and I didn't even know. So anyhow, he went and found... he went up by Mr Boothe, who was a Twelve Tribe member at the time - you've heard of the Twelve Tribes, right?

Q: Yes.

A: Yeah, so Mr Boothe was a Twelve Tribe member. But we never used to move with them because I wasn't a Twelve Tribe member, and most Twelve Tribe members didn't deal with other Rastafarians as such. We were kinda off-secluded, yunno.

The Black Star Liner

Q: That organisation was more like a youth movement at the time.

A: They were secular, if it's not a Twelve Tribe then it's not a Rastafarian, then you weren't on the right track. So if they don't know you they just pass. So anyhow, the youth just take up the cassette to Mr Boothe house and was playing it, and it sounded so clean. You know, 'cause we come across so clean and he was asking, "A who that one?" And him say, "Is a Rass down deh so, just a sing it an' me tape it". Seen? Ca' him say it's Fred Locks an' t'ing. So by the evening I see the track - for it was normal for us to be reasoning and... them wasn't so friendly, y'know (chuckles). And him did come check me out one day, and why? And he just said to me that, "Bwoy, I want see you, I man hear the Supreme did come with a cassette with a tune deh and him say a you sing it and bwoy, me a tell you, me is not a producer, me never produce before, but me interested in that tune ya. Me feel it's a hit, yunno". So him go spend some money and produce it. So him say, "I'm a Twelve Tribe member but although we no really reach, but Twelve Tribe really a deal with repatriation on that song ya, if we can relate to it then". Because it's a song that emphasise repatriation, so me say all right. Anyhow, first time I told him that I wouldn't record it, 'cause I was more leaning to the Nyabinghi kind of thing. I was saying that I no really want to record that song, beca' me go through them t'ing deh a'ready and kinda did feeling frustrated about the recording deal through the Coxson era, ca' Randy's wasn't treating us much better. So anyhow, him said to me seh, "You mustn't have a talent and bury". You know? And when him said that now, when I went to home and thought about what the man said, I know him was right. So I went back to him and said, "Bwoy, me waan more a record the tune dem". Ca' me no really want bury me talent (chuckles). And he took me to the studios and that was when we record two tunes with some musicians like Bagga Walker, Pablove Black, yunno.

Q: Albert Malawi?

A: Albert Malawi and dem was some Twelve Tribe man. So obviously, y'know, he was a Twelve Tribe member, Boothy, so him decide to bring in Twelve Tribe musician, it was Twelve Tribe man at the time. I don't think it was as yet named that, but they went on to become the Twelve Tribe Band, with Bagga and Pablove and most of... Ilawi was drummer. Some of the men dem like who played percussion was part of the Twelve. But we had other people on the session like Chinna Smith and my brethren Howard Roberts played the guitar too, y'know. We had three guitarists on the session rather, like Jah Jerry, Chinna Smith and Howard Roberts, alongside the rest of the Twelve Tribe brethren dem.

Label: Vulcan

Label: Top Ranking

Label: VP Records

Q: Jah Jerry from the Skatalites.

A: Yeah man, he played on 'Black Star Liner'. Three guitarists played on that tune. Yeh. And when the session was done, Tommy Cowan who had his music company called Talent Corporation, he was in the studio after it was recorded and come and said to the producer, "A hit song this, yunno. So you must come check me, mek me handle this". Ca' him would a distribute it. But the producer was trying on his own to be the distributor, and he was a newcomer to the whole thing, and it wasn't moving on fast. So after a while he went to Tommy and Tommy took up the distribution and the tune, y'know, it took off. Beca' they had their network set, beca' it was a t'ing wherein certain people had the payola system controlled, yunno, and dem deal with it. Is so Jamaican music has been running and still running that way up until now. You don't pay you don't get play, y'know (laughs)!

Q: You either have to force them to play it or...

A: Yeah, or you give them some money. You have people who is giving more money so their tune get more play.

Q: So you got some 300 Jamaican dollars for the recordings?

A: No, I actually got... off you mean from 'Black Star Liner'?

Q: Yeah.

A: No, well, for the first three months I got nine thousand dollars as payment from sales from Tommy Cowan, who was doing local distribution. We got some good payments on a regular basis every three months. It was a good seller at the time, it has been selling couple thousand copies in Jamaica. It was a good hit, yunno.

Q: I think I read that it sold some fourteen thousand copies at the time.

A: It could have been that, I'm not too sure about the number. It was a big seller in Jamaica at the time, it was actually on the Top Ten. It went number one on certain reggae charts. On RJR and JBC it was number one for a while. So it was good sales and cause it to reach there.

Q: This kick-started your solo career somewhat.

A: Well, it establish the name Fred Locks on a career which people in England got interested in my program and this resulted in the album 'Black Star Liner/True Rastaman', which a company called Vulcan from England showed interest in. But Boothe had spent his own money to produce the album, but the first payment we got was a bounce-check after they had agreed on paying us an advance of fifteen thousand pounds. When he got the check it was a bounce-check, and they in turn gave us a check for one thousand five hundred Jamaican dollars (chuckles)! So I only got five hundred Jamaican dollars from that album as an advance at the time. I got more money off the single 'Black Star Liner', from royalties, yunno. Anyhow, the company had declared themselves bankrupt and was not functioning anymore. So by 1978 I came to England on a tour and saw my album being distributed by a company called Phonogram, which we didn't know anything about. When I found these people they said they made a deal with the guys from Vulcan, which was a bredda named Webster Shrowder and Junior Lincoln, those two guys. I later on met Junior Lincoln, just since when Dennis Brown died, first time meeting him. I didn't know him before.

Q: He used to issue Coxson's music in the UK in the late sixties, early seventies.

A: I didn't know him, y'know, but Boothe had come to England and made the agreement with him and had signed some documents, saying that the go-ahead was there for them to do it. But they didn't deal with us fairly. I still bounced around, but Boothe got so frustrated that he had dropped out of the business. 'Cause I did an album for him from that same time, a follow-up album, which he just released recently called 'The Missing Link'.

Q: Right, I saw about that.

A: Yeah, those songs were just from the same time as the 'Black Star Liner'.

Q: He simply didn't have the finances to put it out at the time?

A: Well, Boothe had packed up the whole t'ing, wasn't doing anything. And actually I was living in America and Boothe had given me those tapes. But they weren't functional and I didn't even thought of taking them with me to Jamaica. And Boothy now found out that you could bake the tapes and restore certain things, which he did, and brought out the album. So he had given Jet Star in the UK to deal with it, and VP was doing it in America.

Fred Locks (Photo: Dennis Morris)

Q: But you got compensation for it I hope?

A: Well no, I haven't gotten anything. He said that Jet Star made a deal with him, but he did not collect anything yet, although they released it. And maybe I think beca' he is still living in America, I think he collected some money from VP, maybe a small sum, as an advance. But I haven't gotten anything from that deal.

Q: What a shame.

A: All the while, I see this all the time, y'know. But I'm trying to get these things straightened out. Trying to find a way to get them straightened out, those things, 'cause I was the writer for all those tracks on that album. I have to go deal with my publishing and certain things, to make sure that certain things reaches me. Yeah.

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