"The deejay that I used to like was Ranking Joe," Emperor Faith Sound owner Mikey Faith reminisced. "Out of all of the deejay, when him come to work, him come to work. I used to pick him up and we would go. I used to operate the sound- I was the selector, so I would go to the dance early and I would pick up Joe and Joe would start to talk and wouldn't put down the mic until dance done."

As a youth starting out, Joe worked with El Paso sound as Little Joe, where he was taught by a deejay named Waistline. Like the sound's principal deejay, Dennis Alcapone, Joe's style was upbeat and energetic. When he was 15, he went to Studio One to audition for Coxsone Dodd. Dodd was open to recording deejays and released Joe's first song, 'Gun Court', which became a hit. Joe continued recording regularly, with a variety of producers, including Bunny Lee, and Sonia Pottinger, before he had his break-through hit with Tony Robinson, 'A You Mr. Finnegan', in 1977.

By this time, U Roy had left King Attorney and formed his own sound system, King Stur-Gav. Well established and respected in the music business, U Roy was the ideal person to run a sound system. He was soon joined by the then young and slim deejay, Little Joe and the selector Jah Screw. Together, on the sound, Joe and Screw were a powerful force. "Me and Jah Screw have a combination and a chemistry," Joe reminisced. "He was very special. He would know my voice, my tempo, and I wouldn't have to look at him to know the song playing, just know. We have that down pat, you know."

U Roy was in demand for overseas tours, and in his absence, Jah Screw would take care of the music. Jah Screw recalls, "U Roy's girlfriend, Vivian, she was the manager who runs the sound. U Roy often have to go and tour. And between me and she, at that time, I would take care of all the dubs and all the specials, all she would have to do is just give me the money. So, often, at the time, he wasn't the one who was paying us. She was the one. When we mash up the place, she was there, taking care of all the business. When U Roy gone about him thing, I said to her, 'Vivian, you got to change those boxes, we need bigger boxes', she would work along with me cause I was there. I spend most of my youth days, giving all of my time to King Stur-Gav."

U Roy by the window at home
(photo: Beth Lesser)

Ranking Joe
(photo: Beth Lesser)
Despite Vivian being an easy person to get along with, it was hard to work for a sound with an absentee owner, so Joe and Screw took their act to Ray Symbolic around 1975. Joe describes Ray Symbolic as "a discotheque sound - They used to play a lot of soul records, R&B, and they was doing their thing before I come along. [In those days,] they have sounds like Stan the Soul Merchant, Gemini, and a lot of sounds that were playing R&B stuff, like a mixture. Ray Symbolic used to play that way. But, when I come along [to] deejay, they turnover to the reggae part now. I start to deejay and then they go back to the soul. But after playing more and more, a lot of promoter wouldn't want us to play the soul. We become hard core."

For the following years, Joe and Screw switched between the two sounds, Ray Symbolic and Stur-Gav, easily and often. Joe was becoming more popular every day. Now working with Errol Thompson at Joe Gibbs Records, he scored big with 'Leave fe me Girl Arlene' and 'Drunken Master'. At the time, Joe was talking slackness on the sound. "[Joe] did slack when him just come a Stur-Gav. He was one of the slackest, most dirty mouth deejay you ever hear," U Roy ruefully recalls. "Same thing with Charlie [Chaplin] when Charlie just come." U Roy had to tell them to cool it.

But the style that Joe will always be remembered for is the fast talking style. Joe would punctuate his phrases with a quick 'Bong diddley', or suddenly launch into a lengthy, "bong didley bong diddley bong woodely woodely..." It was Joe's signature scat singing style, different from U Roy's distinctive, 'yea, yea, YEA', and 'Waaaaaahh!' Joe's style was a little more modern - something new that spread among the deejays until it became part of every toasters repertoire. Hardly a song went by in the dance with at least one diddley or woodily. Soon deejays were coming up with their own improvised riffs, like 'cree cree cree cracka' and adding 'bim', 'right!' and 'ribbit!'
Stur-Gav suffered a significant setback in 1980 when it was shot up during a session in Jungle. U Roy remained quiet for a year or two and then brought the set back with a new configuration including deejay Josie Wales as "The Colonel", Joe's previous apprentice, Charlie Chaplin as "The Principal", and a new selector, Inspector Willie.

It was an uphill battle, working in the early 80's. "We get a lot of fight from the police. Like certain area they don't want us to play, certain area we go, they say we have to lock off certain hours, especially uptown, like Barbican and those places," U Roy recalls. "Cause they would say, it's first class citizens living there. They don't want them to be disturbed."

Josie and Charlie had a natural chemistry rarely found between two performers in a dance. "Jah works', comments Charlie with a tone of puzzlement and resignation."Me and Josie never sit down, not even one minute and say, 'mek we plan it this way'. We come to the dance, and him lick a lyrics and me listen it and me counteract it, or me do a lyrics and him listen it and counteract it. A so we deal with it. We haf fe make everybody happy."

Josie and Charlie discover snow
(photo: Beth Lesser)
A 1982 live Stur-Gav session was a brisk and rousing experience. Josie and Charlie could be light hearted or deadly serious, but their words were never frivolous or petty. Their dedication to entertaining and maintaining a responsible, educational vibe, separated the sound the slackness sounds where some deejays seemed to parade their immaturity. The rough edges just gave Stur-Gav that 100% ghetto authenticity. But, behind the ragamuffin exterior, Stur Gav was about quality and hard work.

Even during the overpopulated dance hall explosion of the early 80's, U Roy ran Stur-Gav like an older sound from the 70's - no little youth grabbing the mike, no line ups of beginners waiting for their turn to say two little lyrics and 'gone'. Each man had his apprentice. Desi was attached to Josie and Buzzy to Charlie. Special guests made appearances. But the atmosphere was always work, not play.
Josie was always seen as the roughneck of the duo. He was shorter, with a solid, stocky build and a deep, gravely voice. He kept his gaze to himself, rarely looking directly into anyone's eyes. Charlie, on the other hand, was social. He was relaxed and gentlemanly, at ease in any group of people. Tall and slim, bubbling with energy, Charlie never stopped moving. "Anytime I hear music, even if I sick, I have to wiggle up like a worm". Charlie came across as educated and sophisticated, a huge contrast to Josie's deep, ghetto vibes.

The name Josie Wales came from his reputation of being like a cowboy, always roaming the land. "Them time, I never really have no resting place," Josie recalls. On his own from the age of ten, Josie had to look out for himself. He spent most of his youth on street corners, "running jokes" and talking. He wasn't holding down any job, just drifting. "I never really go to high school, you know. Just leave at primary age. I get most of my knowledge off the sidewalk, off of the street. I don't really grow up with no family. I grow up on my own."

Having virtually raised himself, Josie developed a cowboy outlook on life. He saw himself as a Wild West drifter, traveling with his horse and his "one frying pan", sleeping under the stars, fending for himself. Life in the ghetto was kind of like that. "It was just reality," he sighs. "Funny enough how it becomes music." Like the best deejays of old, Josie also liked to sing, and made a specialty of doing cowboy tunes, like 'El Paso' and 'Wolverton Mountain'. He got them from an old Marty Robbins LP his grandmother used to have.

During the early years, Josie wasn't serious about music. He used to go to dances and deejay - mainly small sounds like Roots Unlimited, Black Harmony, and Rebeltone. He admits freely that he was doing the wrong things back then, that he was into 'badness'. But Josie found his dedication to music grew as he got more involved. "It's like an inborn thing", he commented remembering how easily it all came to him in his youth. Music reached him, deep inside his soul.
In the early 80's, most deejays were moving away from the slackness. But the slack lyrics weren't being replaced by the cultural sounds of the 70's, but by a new style that spoke of current events, from local runnings to national social and economic conditions. Reality lyrics began where culture left off, dealing with whatever was happening in the community - ganja smoking, going to sessions, dancing, being harassed by gatemen, being harassed by the law, unemployment - all the little stumbling blocks of life 'a yard'.

No one represented the style better than Josie Wales. He was a keen observer of life and he described what was going on around him with humor and compassion. Like Kingston Hot, which provides a compact but vivid picture of what the Jamaican capital was like in those days:

The youth dem make a hustling by selling Kisko Pop
Dreadlocks just a jog ina dem sweatsuit top
Bad boy and police just a fire pure shot
Kingston hot! Lawdagod me say, Kingston Hot!

One of Josie's signature reality lyrics, "It haf' fe Burn", looked at the relationship between police and ganja smokers (and the very strict laws against it). Josie came up with the words on the spot during a dance that took place across the street from the station.

"It was a dance with Stur-Gav one night and [the sound] was playing exactly in front of a station, a police station, and them dare me- them dare me! They was daring me to see if we a go burn the chalice tonight. Cause we carry the chalice go a every dance. Cause it was a part of the dance to have the chalice there. [So, they] dare I fe go burn it that night".

Josie took up the challenge. There was a notorious bad boy police in the crowd. "But I was a daring youth and a brave youth." At 20 years old, Josie feared no one. He took out the chalice and lit it up with a piece of paper. Inspector Willie dropped the needle down on the Mighty Diamonds' 'Pass the Kutchie' and the crowd went mad. And Josie began to chant:

Ina the dance early one Friday night
Me and my bredren just a burn ganja pipe
Rip out a road and then we sight a bright light
Babylon a come in him red, black and white
Coming in the dance wan' give I a fight
It have fi done, Jah know, it haf' fi' done
From Inspector, Corporal to Sergeant
Whole of them have a gun ina them hand
Push down the damn gate man
Say move your hand when you sight Babylon
Then him lean up him M16 in a corner
And jack up himself on a stone
Say, 'dreadlocks you take me for fool?
Ganja pipe is my favorite tool
I man burn this from I go a training school
It haf' fi' burn, Lord it haf' fi' burn!

Perhaps because of his checkered past and bad- boy reputation, Josie was careful to stay away from anything that sounded like he was advocating or supporting violence. He had already come into the business with a reputation. A lot of promoters and producers were afraid to work with him. Still, a certain amount of violence went with living in the ghetto and Josie found himself in trouble over the words to his hit, 'Leggo Mi Hand'. The media objected to, what they perceived to be, gratuitous violence.

Based on an event in Josie's own life, the song told the story of an experience familiar to everyone who has gone to many dances.

Went to a dance down a Clarendon
Me and a big fat thing name Pam
When we reach at the dance gate
The gateman just a hold on pon me woman hand
One box me gi' him in his blasted face
Money scatter out all over the place
Babylon come butt me with a big 38
Hear me now dread
Leggo mi hand, gateman make me come in

In the story, the protagonist encounters a gateman who doesn't recognize him, says he looked "too simple" to be the real Josie Wales, and won't let him into the session. The 'violence' that ensues in the song is more verbal slapstick than a promotion of badmanship. Josie intended it as humor. To Josie, these things were part of everyday life in the ghetto. "That's where you were born, where you are coming from. So, it make no sense you hide from reality. Someone like me, I'm a street guy. I know the runnings. I lived there. I walked there. I know it!"

Yet, Stur-Gav seemed to carry a stigma that gave everything the two star deejays did, a patina of suspicious intent. Although Josie and Charlie were making hits on the radio, and selling out concerts all over the island and abroad, the media didn't really like them or trust them completely. There was always a tension in the relationship. Stur-Gav just wasn't like Gemini, with two soul boy selectors who were eager to please. The fact that no slackness was allowed gave the set a gravity that alienated a certain audience that night have legitimatized the sound for the upper echelons.

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Article: Beth Lesser
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