|It's time to tell the tale of one Prince Hammer and you've got one of the more colorful producers, if not even deejays, from the unforgettable era of the 1970's to put the spotlight on. He started as a deejay for the Vee-Jay sound system; cut his debut 45 for legendary producer Glen Brown in the mid seventies; went on to produce himself and others for the Gold Cup and Belva labels like 'Addis Ababa' and the majestic 'Ten Thousand Lions', the latter a song he sung and perhaps his best known to date; starred in the epic 'Rockers' movie alongside 'Horsemouth' Wallace, Gregory Isaacs, Kiddus I and the late Jacob Miller amongst others; found himself producing the classic 'If Jah Should Come Now' album for Rod Taylor; had his first LP 'Bible' out on Virgin Records' Front Line subsidiary in 1978; and toured with big names in the pop world such as UB40, The Clash, Boomtown Rats and The Slits before slowly fading into obscurity in the eighties like so many of his peers from the 'rockers' era of the golden previous decade. So what became of him? Hammer (born Berris Simpson) issued a different mood of an album out of his Manchester base the other year; 'Back For More' on the KSJ label features him in a soul style and contradictory of what you might think, the album has met favourable comments and reviews throughout the local reggae music community and associated areas. My thanks to Hammer for an enlightening afternoon, Dom (Blood & Fire), Donovan Phillips, Richard Davies, and Steve Barrow.|
Q: You were a child of Kingston City, Hammer?
A: Yeah, right. Yea, I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, at the Jubilee, Kingston Jubilee Hospital, and I was grown up in the south part of Kingston, which is more like a kind of... more like a ghetto. I've been brought up by my grandmother who's now deceased, y'know, she done a lot of good job with me anyhow, so that's where my life come from, a lot of my ideal comes from.
Q: The common Christian type of upbringing from those days.
A: I was brought up in a Christian home, as a Christian lad I used to go to Seventh Day Adventist Church. It's like I used to go to school wherein we were like God-fearing children from those times and from an early time I got in contact with Rasta, I learned a lot of the Rastafarian faith. Because there's a place called Rhymeland in Kingston, Jamaica, where a lot of the Rastafarians come from, and that's in the south side of Kingston. Growing up and seeing those guys on the land, the gullybank, y'know, because they used to have like they sleep in hammocks and all those type of things and so on, so I've grown up knowing a lot about Rastafarian faith. And round the back of Tivoli Garden where there's another place called the Back O' Wall, where a lot of Rastafarians were, y'know what I mean. Yeah, the environment of the Rastafarian, that's where my religious culture come from, y'know, my background of being a Rastafarian come from. Growing up and seeing these people, because in Jamaica, right, as a youth growing up, they used to say that the Rastafarian, the Rastafarian people they are like 'Blackheart' people. You know, people who suck your blood, like cut... They used to say, well, they would cut your neck, and they'd sprinkle your blood on the rooftops, and so on, to use that like a pulpit to the Almighty.
Q: Looked upon as some sort of 'voodoo business', a sect or whatever, bushmen.
A: Yes. Rastafarian people, yes, that was the way they see Rastafarians. But you know, getting to know these people, that's giving me a chance to understand a lot more about them. Because you know, I think what they try to do, they try to explain about these people, in their way, to prevent you from getting close to these people so you could understand their religion. You know, because in Jamaica as I said about the God-fearing people, you've got the Church of God, you've got the Catholic, you know, you've got the - all different sector of church bodies in Jamaica. And to them they see Rastafarian people as bad people, because they smoke weed. But what they don't realise, what they didn't tell us about, is that these people were serious religious people, who really take their faith very strong and who really mean love, peace, unity, and so on, y'know, amongst every people and every nation. This is what they didn't told me as a kid, y'know what I mean? But for me going around these people, getting to know them, they give me a chance to know these people and understand the culture more.
Q: Someone in particular who influenced you to approach the Rasta in those days?
A: Yes, because as I said before, in Rhymeland, Rhymeland is like a big piece of land where it's like a loose piece of land where people don't pay taxes or anything like that, yeah? They just go, they just build these kind of a, like, shackhouse, y'know, wooden house or whatever they have to build, whatever they can use to build their houses, yeah?
Q: And that was close to Back O' Wall?
A: No. Well, it; s close to Back O' Wall but it was about two miles from Back O' Wall, yeah? So it was a lickle different area from, y'know, because Back O Wall is in the west, and Rhymeland is in the south.
Q: But Back O' Wall is no more, I believe they bulldozed that part sometime in the seventies, even the mid sixties, even a little earlier, to get rid of those that had settled there. It was a bit too rough at that time?
A: Yeah. Back O' Wall's been pushed down now, is like it's been Tivoli Garden now, and, y'know, it's been like a lot of different commercial buildings and so on now at the moment, y'know what I mean, business places and all of these type of things now that's built on the land.
Q: More specifically, why was that part of the ghetto bulldozed at this time?
A: Because those days, right, what they tried to do as I said to you before, they've seen Rasta as people who were bad people, not people who was good people. And in Jamaica those days, in the early sixties, and so on, seventies, if they caught you with just a spliff, you would've got eighteen months in jail for it! You understan'? So they see Rastafarian as people that would direct all the good people in the bad direction. And as I said, getting to know these people myself, it would give me a different outlook on these people. I understand that these people were very beautiful people, very good people, good at heart, good at nature - everything. And that is one of the reason why I have really chosen myself as being a Rastafarian. Most of the information as I said is like speaking to these elder dread, because a lot of these were like fifty, sixty year old people, up/down to five year old kids, three year old kids, etcetera. And in Jamaica as a kid, y'know, it's not like in some state, like most kids stay in their house or stay in their yard and all them type a thing, and so on, and stay close to their home. In Jamaica as a kid, you run up and down trying to make your own, you try to survive in the best way possible, even though you've got your own parents trying to help you, y'know, you go about. With like me now, I used to run up and down in the street pickin' up juice bottle (or 'bockle'), soft drinks bottle, and I would take them home and so on, and build up an amount of them and then I take them to the shop and go and sell them and I make my pocket money from there, or maybe copper-wire. You know copper-wire, electrical copper-wire? All brass or maybe the lead, all these type a things that would go about in the communities and so on, search out for these things, which I would make my pocket money from. So I'm brought up, I've grown up with a lotta knowledge in the ghetto itself, and being a ghetto youth I get to understand a lot more about these people because the more I go amongst these people the more I've learnt. But at the same time I was a Christian, going to church, because I've gone from Sunday school, y'know, from Church of God Sunday School to Seventh Day Adventist Church, when my grandmother take that religion as a more serious religion than the Church of God religion, and I had to take part and I'm baptised there myself.
Q: What time is this now, like mid sixties?
A: Yeah, I'm talkin' about the sixties then. And even when I was a Christian, a baptised Christian, I'm still seeing the Rastafarian faith - because I did admire the Rastafarian people them, and as I said getting to know them and understand what they really stand for, giving me a stronger outlook on their religion and the way they treat people and the way they wanna live their life. And one of the thing is about the way how they treat their family, there was really really a strong family unit in the Rastafarian religion. You know, them gone out to pay them respect, gone out to seek to find the food, to find whatever it might need to survive and to make that family unit strong, and that give me a good outlook as much, you understan'?
Q: So how you began, your first attempt to do something in the music business, this was the Vee-Jay sound system in the early seventies?
A: Yeah, well, what I used to do...
Q: Or even something else before that?
A: Yeah, I used to like run around on the sound called Vee-Jay The Dubmaster, and I did a lot of work as a deejay just learnin', learnin' my skill and so on, y'know. Because in my community there was a lot of reggae artists who used to live in my community, people like Freddie McKay, Dirty Harry (Richard Hall), Glen Brown, and there were a few people from my ghetto who naturally I used to see passing there and I used to admire them all the while, yunno. But as a kid growing up in Jamaica, right - this is a story for you to know; as a kid growing up in Jamaica, I was mesmerized by the record itself, y'know, the plastic record, the seven-inch record. Because on the radio itself, because in Jamaica in those days we used to rent radio, and you used to have a radio called Rediffusion, which my granny would've rent the radio and pay the rent every week or whatever time she paid. And I was amazed, 'cause I always think that people always go to the radio station and sing over the mic, singin' from the radio! I didn't know it was like a record itself, plastic, that's played every day! I just think that people go there every day and sing, sing, sing! You know, different people (chuckles).
A: But then they open up a bar in the community I live in, y'know, they open up a bar, and in that bar there was a jukebox and this is where I get more mesmerized with this thing. Because when I went in and seeing this jukebox and realised to myself that there's a plastic there, and I said to myself, seh 'Wow, this is really really amazin', because these people's voices is in this box, and they're at their homes!' You know? They're miles away from these boxes and their voices is in this box and it's making noise, it's singin', it's doing everything, and I was like 'Wow, wow, wow! I wanna be that, I wanna be that, I would like my voice to be there as much', you know what I mean, in a box playing and I'm at my home! So I've grown up just really mesmerized with everything around me, everything seemed so unnatural instead of natural.
A: Yeah, and I was fascinated by seeing these things happenin', because imagine to see you're miles away and your voice is miles away from you but yet still it's making noise 'round there and you're saying something beautiful, y'know. And I was unhappy about that, so I said to myself 'One day, one day I would like my voice to be on a record like that'. This is late sixties, that time.
Q: In the time of Stitt, Machuki, Sir Lord Comic, before U Roy changed the whole scene for deejays.
A: In those days you had like Alton Ellis, Bob Andy, Derrick Harriott, Prince Buster, all these guys, these guys were really really making up a lotta noise those times.
Q: But if we speak deejays?
A: In deejays? Well, in deejay terms is like U Roy, I Roy, y'know, (Prince) Jazzbo, a lot of these other guys, y'know wha' I mean, used to be there in them times. But as the years go by you find seh there's different people who come up gradually like Big Youth, Dillinger, Clint Eastwood, all of those guys come in a different era.
Q: What was the deejay that appealed to you in those days?
A: Well, it was Big Youth anyhow, because we were very close. Big Youth and U Roy, those were my two main deejay anyhow. Because U Roy were the king of deejays anyhow, but Big Youth really come and really did so well.
Q: He revolutionised the style, the whole deejay format, and paid special attention to the lyrical department, to bring in a cultural and social content.
A: Yes, it was more like a sing-jay instead of a deejay, you understan', a kind of a sing-type of a deejay instead of a straight deejay type of style. And that was pretty cool, because he give you somet'ing different from what U Roy used to be doing.
Q: And he had something to say too.
A: Yes, like the 'S 90' and all them type a skank and so on, what he did, he did some really really nice songs at the time. And I was like a ghetto youth growing up, I just admire these people an' everyt'ing, because Big Youth was a good friend of mine. As a ghetto youth growing up I always get the chance to know these people, I always tried to kinda get close to these people, trying to see them, trying to know who they are. And Big Youth was just about half a mile from where I live anyhow, so it wasn't very hard for me to get to know these people. But as we go back to whe you said before, about my first record. Glen Brown was the person who I mention, y'know, I have asked permission to record my first song with.
Q: How did you first get to meet him, he found you in session at the Vee-Jay sound system, and that's how you hooked up to do the record?
A: No, he - as I said, he lives in the ghetto, in the south part of Kingston as much, and I live in the south, so it was very easy for me to see these people almost every day, every other day I would see these people, right. And one day I just go up to him and I tell him that I got this song called '(A Whole Lotta) Sugar Down Deh', and a next other song called 'Tel Aviv Rock'.
Q: Right, take a listen to this (playing 'Whole Lot of Sugar' off the now deleted Glen Brown-anthology 'Dubble Attack - The Original Pantomine Deejay Collection' on Greensleeves/Shanachie, issued in 1989).
A: That's the one! 'Whole Lotta Sugar', that's the one.
Q: That's the one, great song.
A: Yes. At that time Keith Hudson - you remember Keith Hudson?
A: He was a part of my ghetto too as much, and Keith Hudson used to do a lot of things around Glen Brown as much, so I get to know Keith Hudson very well, very very well. We were very good friends before he died and everyt'ing. So my first two records came from, y'know, just inspiration being in the ghetto myself amongst people who's usually just nice people, and getting to know these people, and these people giving me the chance that I really wanted, y'know what I mean, was to be the star.
Q: Who was the resident deejay for Vee-Jay before you came there, who was owner for that sound by the way?
A: The guy's called - that's what his name is, we always call him 'Vee-Jay the Dubmaster'. Yeah. And he was the number one, the sound's named after the guy himself, yeah.
Q: He was the deejay for the sound too?
A: Well, I was one of the number one deejay, right.
Q: But before you came there?
A: Before I came there, I can't remember the guy's name now, because it's been so long now. But there was other people who used to just like run around. There wasn't any permanent deejay, because there was just people who just come and they would've just gone on the sound and just do whatever they need to do. Everybody would take a chance and get up there and said 'C'mon tonight, I'll go tonight an' do somet'ing', y'know. But I was one of the most popular guys being there with him, I'm always gone and I always stick around with him, because he live about three-four minutes from my house. So it was very easy for me to go there and especially on Sundays and practice, y'know, when the sound would've been stringed up in the yard - this is a big concrete yard and everything, and he would've just put all these big massive boxes out and everything like that, and I would've just gone there, and just really really do my style there and everything like that. Just try to improve as days go by.
Q: But Vee-Jay is not one of the sounds you hear much about from those days, it was more of a small local affair, just a small community sound system?
A: No, it was a popular sound, very very popular, he was one of the biggest sound in Kingston. Yeah.
Q: When did he stop playing out with that sound? He hasn't been in business for many years now?
A: He stop playing about - in the early nineties. Yeah, early nineties, that's when I think he kind of, like, I don't know if he sell out the sound or what he did, but I think it's the early nineties he stopped play anyhow.
Q: Is he still there in Jamaica?
A: I suppose the sound is still around, but maybe he sell out all those equipment now. But those equipment was like volt, big valve equipment. No computer or anything like that was around them times, so it was like volt amps. The amplifiers were built with these massive volt amps inside of them, y'know what I mean, like 78 volts, massive volt with them, which give the sound so much power. That's why so much people, even now the sound system guys them would rather if they were using these type of amplifier more than the one they're using now. Because those amplifier last for years and years and years, and you get a better sound and quality from those type of amps than you get from these ones now.
Q: Did you guest on King Tubby's sound in that time?
A: Well, with King Tubbys, right, I've known him even before he start up with sound system or even before he get into the recording business. He used to be in the same part of the South Side like me. There was a guy called Chin, all over as young boys we used to hang about right at the shop on Maiden Lane and Law Street, we all used to hang out at that shop, yunno, as group and group of guys and so on, and that's where King Tubby used to come all the time. And those times, in those days it was Quickly bike, the bike them call 'Quickly', those lickle slim motorbike whe sound like 'aaaeeerrrhhh aaaeeerrhh', y'know, those were the bikes. And King Tubbys had one of them, and King Tubbys used to be a part of that community itself. But when he moved from the South Side and go to the west, in Waterhouse, where he passed away, and had his business place and so on, that's when he build the sound system, King Tubby's (Home Town) Hi-Fi. You know, that's when he build that sound, and most of his time he used to play at the PNP headquarters, PNP headquarters in South Camp Road. I remember one night I was in the dance and there was a lot of problems there, gunshots and all these type a things, and there was a wall, a massive wall, a block o' wall had fell down on this lady's leg, and really really smashed her leg, and all these type a t'ing happen to her, y'know wha' I mean, she was really really pinned down. You know, because a lot of people were running left, right and center, and that was the first time there was ever being a problem in a dance where King Tubbys had been playing, because it was the leading sound. But Tubbys was a very very good guy, very lovely guy, very quiet, y'know. Because I knew his sister, I know his niece, and so on, because his sister used to live on the same lane, Foster Lane, that I used to live on. So we was living on the same lane, his sister, so that's how I get to know him, y'know, a lot. My chance of getting to know King Tubbys is because he is coming to his sister's house there, and I get to know him a lot better. But then again, with him sparrin' around Chin and all these guys, yunno, at Maiden Lane and Law Street, they used to have a kind of a crew, and the crew's called Wires, it was 'Wires'. At that time you used to have another gang called the 'Max Gang'. Max, and they came from Rosemary Lane, and you had another gang called Skull, and the Skulls just come from... just South Side guys, y'know. But they were like political guys, so one side was like PNP and one side was like JLP. You know, Jamaica Labour Party and the other one is People's National Party which is the parties in Jamaica, the two important parties in Jamaica. So one side would've been like, there would've been like one road would have been a border between the two sides, the Skulls and the South Side. So, that's how it used to be. Growing up in the ghetto them times I get to know these people, because my grandmother used to, she used to push up handcart, makin' ice-cream in this bucket, we used to kind of, like, turn the bucket with a handle kind of thing to make ice-cream, and she used to make like coconut cream, soursop cream, papya, and all a these type creams, y'know, rum and raisin and all that. And we used to get up like five o'clock in the morning and go down to the South Side, on the Skull side - the guys them from the Skull gang, down their side, and we used to go to the ice factory down there and buy crushed ice and coarse salt, which we used to use in the bucket to - at the side of the bucket, a part of the bucket, to make the ice cream and so on. So, with me growing up in the ghetto with my granny moving around, we used to push all these handcarts and I walk there beside her, and I get to know these guys by walking around in the community myself with her, y'know.
Q: Yeah. Speaking about all these gangs that move around in Kingston, for outsiders who didn't experience this, what was the vibe like to go into a dance at the weekend to enjoy yourself for a while, to even feel secure when you have those gangs coming in, it's like 'am I safe here?', you know what I mean? This was the reality of Kingston nightlife at the time anyway. Not saying it is specifically something that belongs to Jamaica though, it happens all over in one way or the other, but due to the political circumstances, it was heavier than most places at the time.
A: Yes. Well, you see, things and times change, y'know what I mean, because you see at the moment now it's like there's not a borderline now, everybody's going into each community at the moment now. The communities is properly open now, y'know, everybody's going left, right and center now, so it's all a lot better than before. You know, even though there's still a bit of a tension, people have eyes on each other same way. But what they had before, which is more like every day war, it's not there anymore. It's like a more like a unity type of a t'ing now, but I'm still a bit of aware, aware of still a few, you understand what I'm saying? I knew one of them. But I've grown up knowing these guys and knowing these gangs and so on in the community, before I get to even know these guys, which is knowing them in a more better way. You know, people I can go up to and talk to, but when I was younger with my granny now I used to like pass and I could know by just seeing them, and not really get to relate with them. But as you grow up as the years go by and you get more bigger, you get more time and more access to these people and get to know them a lot better. Because we all go to the same seaside anyhow, y'know wha' I mean, in Jamaica everybody go to the same and have a swim and so on. And in that part of the ghetto where I lived there, all of the seaside is down that side. You know, most of the popular sea, everybody go to those sea, so we all meet up at the same sea and the same water and we get a mix-up an' (chuckles) talk to each other and so on. So, yeah, we get to know each other better as the years go by.
Q: In that environment, living in a place like South Side, Gold Street and Maiden Lane and so on, how difficult was it to not be drawn into the gang mentality and that whole scene, to avoid something that more or less controls the community, like parts of it?
A: Very difficult.
Q: You feel the pressure to take side, or you more or less have to in the end, is that the vibes you had in those days?
A: It was very difficult, because in those times they used to say, like them woulda say 'Find a gear'. You know, 'What side are you on?', right. 'Find a gear!' So it's either you're on the right or you're on the left.
Q: You just had to choose.
A: But, you see, you don't have to choose because it's down to how you live amongst people anyhow still, because you can walk away from things. But then again there's people who's always trying to draw you into things, you see, and that's how it happened, it happen to me just as much. You know, there's people trying to drawing me into gang wars and all them type a things and so on, because the ghetto is like that. You know, it's either you be with them or you're against them.
A: You know, it's either you find yourself mix up with what they wanna do, or what they're doing, or you go somewhere else and live somewhere else in the community where you feel you won't get involved. And even when you move to another side of the country or another side of the community, if it's not really the posh part of the community, you'd find yourself to get involved. Because almost everywhere in those days, those times in Jamaica, they used to be the same. It used to be like war, war, community war everywhere, whether east, west, north or south. So, y'know, if you're in a posh community then you have a very good chance of not really getting too involved. But if you live directly in the community itself, which is a ghetto, then you'd find that you meet these people every day, it's either you're with them or you're against them as I just said.
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