The late 60s produced some very fine groups in Jamaica, in particular harmony trios, but also some duos patterned after their American contemporaries, such as the influential southern soul act Sam & Dave. One of those duos coming up at the time were in the Derrick Harriott stable, where Texas Dixon and Keith Rowe - better known as Keith & Tex - scored with some very memorable songs directed by the architect of the rock steady beat, Lyn Taitt with The Jets. Hits like 'Tonight' and particularly 'Stop That Train' (originally a ska number by The Spanishtonians from a few years previous) are connected to the classics that came out of the short-lived rock steady era. They didn't exist for many years recording in the Jamaican music business, but definitely left a lasting mark of well crafted and well executed songs. Keith Rowe also did some superb recordings in the mid 70s for Lee Perry at the Black Ark studio, of which 'Groovy Situation' became a big hit. Keith & Tex still perform together occasionally at revival shows, such as Heineken Star Time in Jamaica. There was also a comeback CD issued in late '97, produced in Keith's Mixdat studio situated in New Jersey. Keith Rowe remains very active in the business, hosting the "Sounds of the Caribbean" radio show in the New Jersey area. What follows is a conversation I had with Keith in early January 2003. Thanks to Mike, Tim P, Roger Dalke and Keith, for taking the time to speak at length about the "what could've been" type of career he's had and the shortcomings so typical in the music business. But still, it produced some beautiful music.

Q: So the early stage of Keith Barrington Rowe, give me the environment you grew up in?

A: Environment? Just out of high school, it was during the... we were like five years independent.

Q: And this is around '66?

A: Uhm... '67. Yeah, because we became independent '62. So it was an exciting time for the music. We were singing a lot about independence and they had like independence festival song competitions and t'ing like that, so it was an exciting time in the music. It was sort of like the transcedent period of ska music to the beginning of rock steady.

Q: Your family background then? You mentioned yesterday that your father was a preacher?

A: Yeah, my father is a preacher - still is. I'm the "son of a preacherman" and born and raised in the church.

Q: That's where the interest in singing started. How did you meet Tex (Dixon)?

A: I met him from the same neighbourhood, and I was...

Q: Where's that neighbourhood?

A: Uhm... Maverley, Pembroke Hall.

Q: And where is that on the island?

A: It's lower St. Andrew. In the parish of St. Andrew. Washington Gardens area, the counsel of Kingston... It's right from the same area from where (Lee) Perry came from, across the highway. You know? Just the highway separated where he lived and I lived.

Q: So you knew Tex from school?

A: Well, no. I was introduced to him as someone who could sing, y'know. Just by... people hear you singing on the street or the block or at the corner with your friends and they say "oh, by the way... you know this guy... he sings too" or "he can sing", or something to that effect. And then you check, so naturally you want to find out. Group singin' was in at the time. You want to hear some other voices and perhaps you can have a group or something like that.

Q: How old were you at this time?

A: 16 - 17...

Q: And Tex was about the same age?

A: Yeah, he was about a year older than me, so... We met there in our neighbourhood.

Q: So what happened after this - started to rehearse...?

A: Yeah, there was this young man at the time who had a piano. See, I used to play the guitar during that time, just a little acoustic guitar. There was this man with the piano who used to hear us practice, and he invited us in his house to use his piano if we wanted to. And then going from the guitar to the piano... oh man, it jus' opened up a whole lot of writing possibilities. You could play the "bass" with the left-hand (laughs)... and you would be doing the "ska-ing" with your right hand and it just opened up more possibilities for playing the music - for your singing. And I was like that. In fact, I learned to play instruments to accompany my singin', y'know what I mean? And then one thing led to another and we start learn more things on more instruments, and so on.

Q: What instruments do you play to this day?

A: I play most rhythm instruments: bass, guitar, keyboard, a little drums, y'know. Now you got programmed drums, so... I guess I'm a wiz! (laughs).

Q: So for how long did you rehearse with Tex before entering the studios - I suppose there was several competitions at the time?

A: Song competitions? No, we never entered any of those.

Q: Yeah, like song festivals?

A: Right. No, no, no! They used to have... actually I don't remember what they used to call it back then but at some theaters there would be like a little show set up to find talent.

Q: "Opportunity Hour"?

A: "Opportunity Hours"! Yeah, yeah, yeah! We never went that way though. We just practised until the people who heard us said "you guys sound good". You know? (laughs). So we got the nerve and said "alright, well... if everybody thinks we sound so good, let's go see if we can record something". And then we asked around for the producers on the labels. It was Coxsone...

Prince Buster

Coxsone Dodd

Duke Reid

Q: You went to Coxsone first?

A: Uhm... who did we go to first? Nah, I don't think so. I think we went to Prince Buster first.

Q: And that was at his shop on Orange Street?

A: Oh, my God. Yeah, I can't remember now... where exactly, but I don't think it was his shop though. I think he had like an audition location, y'know? But we went there, first. Got turned down.

Q: Got turned down. And then it was "come back tomorrow", or "come back next week", or "rehearse some more", or something like that?

A: Yeah, yeah! "You're not ready yet!" (chuckles). Then we went to Duke Reid, Treasure Isle. We got turned down. We went to Coxsone - got turned down.

Q: Do you now remember any of the guys at these different places? Obviously you got your "revenge" later on?

A: Who turned me down? (laughs). I remember Gladdy (Anderson). I think he was with Duke Reid. He was playing piano. You know, he came up with this thing when you'll be singing and he'll pick up... give you a chord or something. So we got turned down at all those places up to Coxsone. But we were practising and writing songs.

Q: So you started writing original stuff from early on?

A: Yes. Actually you know we sang the usual American hits that came to Jamaica during that time. But, for purposes of recording, we had written our own songs. So when we went for auditions, we took original songs.

Q: Speaking about influences - you said yesterday that Delroy Wilson had a strong impact on you as a youth, locally at least, apart from all those American acts you heard on jukeboxes, or from the airwaves. He was the one that kicked it off for many youths on the island at the time?

A: Oh yeah. Well, I mentioned Delroy. I went to a high school that had a lot of musicians come out of there. I remember Jackie Mittoo. You know, he was a few years before me but I remember he would be in the auditorium banging the hell out of the piano, y'know?

Q: What school was that?

A: Kingston College. And there were other guys, like the Jamaicans - Norris Weir. And Tyrone from the Paragons. Uhm... no, not Tyrone. What's the other guy that sang with them...?

Q: Howard Barrett?

A: Yeah - Howard. He was also from KC. You know, we had a lot of guys who were out there already. You'd recognise those guys. Plus... after...

Q: Were they established in the business already at that time - the Paragons, or getting there? Since you said school days?

A: No, no, no... they were already recording. They were ahead of me, y'know. So those guys from the same high school, these guys are baaad - they can do their stuff too! You know "when I grow up I wanna be like them"! (laughs). Then when Tex and I started singing together now, one big influence was Sam & Dave. You had a group called the Blues Busters. They were always... You know, Blues Busters were pretty much like Sam & Dave too. After Tex and I got together those guys influence just wicked. And the Righteous Brothers, y'know. The two main themes were the duos, we started look at them and try to pattern everything that they do.

Q: And people like Delroy, technically speaking... in terms of phrasing and all that, were he...?

A: Well, no - at that time, no. Delroy influence me in the sense that his music was so nice! He dominated the airwaves, during my growing up, you know what I mean? He was young, like me. You know, this is before I met Tex. I remember Delroy though. Delroy specifically, more than any other one singer really inspired me. And then you had the "Alton Ellises", and those kind of guys. But Delroy was my man. Before I even thought of singing as a profession, y'know? He was seriously influential.

Delroy Wilson
(photo: Howard Johnson)

Bob & Marcia
(photo: Trojan Records)

Q: Was there any other musicians in your neighborhood that were more established at the time?

A: Yeah, there was Bob Andy. Marcia Griffiths. In fact I remember... I think they were sweethearts, during that time. I remember going to Bob's house where he was living, and he loved Lou Rawls! At that time he patterned the way he (Rawls) sang. I remember that, y'know. Those kind of things. A mark on me. So Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths sometimes in my neighborhood, and of course Perry was from that neighborhood too.

Q: Perry was always in Washington Gardens?

A: From the time I met him, yes. Because I went back later, back in the 70s, and he was still there. You know, I jus' left my house and went to his house! (laughs).

Q: So, the first encounter with Harriott was some time close after you've got turned down by all these people?

A: Right. We continued on in our quest, y'know.

Q: But what did you feel at that time, I mean "not Duke Reid, not Studio One, not..."?

A: We said "next"!! (laughs). Let's go to the next one.

Q: Not giving up!

A: No, no, no! That wasn't even a thought! It was next, y'know. We were gonna run... We were going to Clancy Eccles - everybody, during that time. We had no intention to give up, no. No drawbacks, nothing to suggest that, if those guys didn't accept us! Because we sounded good, we were singing harmonies. And good harmonies! We listened to music from the States and we studied the harmonies. We listened to Sam & Dave and how they harmonised, they were both singing leads, and harmonising too. The Righteous Brothers... sweet two-male harmonies! We sounded good, that's why guys in our neighborhood gave us the encouragement to first of all go look for a place, a stable. Somewhere to record.

Q: Do you now remember the circumstances where you met Harriott, that led up to recording for him?

A: He was on King Street then, at his shop. It was just... he was "next"!

Q: Was Harriott still "big", at that time? He was certainly a big name during the Jiving Juniors times, but... He was going independent at this point?

A: He was going independent, yeah. I think he was just recording himself at the time. Because we started a whole new thing for him. I think we were at least among the first to make some kind of mark musically for him. But at any rate he was "next". And so we went. I think I was comfortable and confident because I kinda check out his music and we sang the kind of music that he sang. So right then and there I was confident that we had something in common.

Q: We're talking strong r&b influences?

A: Yes, exactly! We are talking about love songs, and lovers rock and everything. We're talking about whereas with Harriott, him being a singer I think I felt that going to a singer - you know, somebody who is doing exactly what I'm doing, I stand a better chance than a guy who is perhaps just , y'know - a session man, or a musician who is not attached to singing. Or has no singing connections.

Q: Someone who knows exactly, or at least close to, where you're coming from and how you wanna approach the music?

A: Yeah, and always in some ways probably prejudiced to a certain kind of music. He is looking for something and if you don't present that certain something, then y'know "I'm sorry". Than opposed to having a mixture of different things. So, if you don't have that particular sound, then they would say "thanks", you know what I mean? And, during that time there was a lot of three-male harmony, four piece groups, y'know. So here comes two little guys trying to do a Sam & Dave harmonising thing. Although it's reggae, it was jus' two voices, so... They were more into I mean... groups was in: Paragons, Techniques, Sensations, Uniques. All the big music was done by groups then. It's through... they were more guys, y'know. It was different, I'll admit that. It was different, for that time.

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