If you set out to do something more than just being an entertainer in this business, like combining social and spiritual awareness and not compromise too much with your musical outlook, you will see a lot more obstacles come in your way. That road has always been rocky, the journey will be so much harder if you choose to trod a conscious path. Bob Marley became unquestionably the flagship for reggae music that carried social awareness. When he passed away something had happened to roots music, people got less receptive to conscious music and it had lost its major appeal. Perhaps it was just time for a change, more deejays such as the slack General Echo bust big even at the height of Marley's fame, and dancehall style - the rub-a-dub music - was the result: gimmicks, slackness, slurs, slogans and a musical outlook with perhaps a questionable direction. But the people buy the music and this is what they supported, so it filled a need during that time - even until this time. Cultural artists were from now on mainly left out in the margins of the music, you could say they've always been. Singer/songwriter Willie Williams had struggled for several years before a mighty sixties rhythm boosted his name to the majors with 'Armagideon Time' over the Jackie Mittoo-penned 'Real Rock' instrumental back in 1979. British punk rockers The Clash had a keen ear for the latest in reggae music, and so appropriately they covered Willie's song, giving it an assured status as one of the true classics in any era of the music. Still, it didn't propel Willie to become established on a broader level, perhaps the answer to that lies in what I wrote in the beginning. Steadfast in his conviction of music as a cultural vehicle to educate just as much as to entertain, he refuses to compromise the music for a wider audience in order to maintain values seldom lived up to in these times. The timeless quality of his creations have to break him eventually, reggae needs more exponents of such high integrity as Willie Williams, who some refer to as the 'Armagideon Man'. Time will tell when - finally - that wider breakthrough occurs. He is shuffling snow to get the car into the garage after a period of heavy snowing when I reach him in Toronto, Canada, in January 2004. My thanks to Willie (took some time!), Daisy, Greg Lawson, Bob Schoenfeld, Steve Barrow, Michael de Koningh and Russ Bell-Brown.

Q: As far as I know you grew up in the countryside, in St. Ann, right?

A: St. Ann, same parish as you have Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley was born. Not far from where they were born. I was born in the same St. Ann's parish.

Q: What did your parents work with in the country?

A: Well, my mom she was a seamstress, or dressmaker as we call it in Jamaica, and my dad was a carpenter.

Q: Was that something you wanted to do yourself, from an early age, follow in your father's footsteps and become a carpenter, or something similar in the building trade?

A: Well, not really. Um, I was introduced to it but my dad passed away when I was... young, at a very early age. So I had the opportunity to get involved in the intense part of becoming a carpenter, 'cos I had the knowledge of what was being done. And in growing up I had my brother, he was doing the trade also, so... I learned some of the things from him, but it wasn't one of my interests, 'cos I grow up more in Kingston, which is the city. Yes, it needs carpenters and things but there is more things there to choose from.

Q: Apart from the musical opportunities and having it as an income, was there something else you were close to?

A: Well, well music was a part of the family before even the dedication of music, electronics and those things. We had my mom's brother, he used to play fiddle. They had a thing that they call - in Jamaica they had the original dancehall fashion, was called quadrille. So my uncle he used to play, he was one of the favourite players at the quadrille dances. And my dad was a keen person, he used to love music. He loved music so much that he made a wooden saxophone from bamboo, which was used by him and my elder brothers, as musicians. Not only as musicians, but just to, y'know, entertain themselves.

Q: And that was your introduction to playing.

A: That was my introduction to liking music or, y'know, getting involved in music. This is the root part of it. But on going to Kingston I...

Q: Did the whole family move there, or was it just you alone along with some brothers, sisters?

A: Most of the family moved there but we had roots there still in the country because that was where the family is from, and we had other relatives there an' t'ing. But our family, we left most of us when we went to the city and that was where my real music enlightening and liking and involvement started.

Q: Where did you settle down now in Kingston, which part? Was it Trench Town from the start?

A: Yeah, the neighbourhood I settle down first was Greenwich Farm and then Trench Town, and I started going to school in Trench Town. But at first I was going to school in a place they call Whitfield Town, which is the... sort of... You know, so we had quite a stint going there - Trench Town, with Whitfield Town too, y'know. And, which I met a friend there, Sly Dunbar and...

Q: Went to the same class.

A: Yeah, we went to the same class, Sly Dunbar and myself. And you know, we...

Q: Was he drumming even at that point?

A: That was long before the drumming stage, that was when we were listening to kind of same where you're listening to the jukebox - the dance, y'know. And you're developing a love for the music from that period, that point. 'Cause it was more so of a listening period, y'know, learning from what you hear from what's happening around, learning the music. That time it was ska and it was kinda... rock steady, y'know, that kinda music was happening.

Willie Williams.
(Photo courtesy Drum Street)

Q: What was the acts you fancied the most, at that time?

A: Well, my fancy the most at the time was Heptones, y'know. The Heptones was big in the business, and we had other groups and other individuals like Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis, and Jackie Mittoo as an instrumentalist. There were lots of people that I really... grow up on. And then eventually I grew with them 'cos they were living in the neighbourhood of Trench Town - that was where the whole atmosphere of the music came from, all of these names.

Q: Who taught you the rudiments of singing, and composing? Was that something you got from singin' in church, I don't know if you ever was a man of the choir and all that?

A: Well, I wasn't a singer in the choir because I wasn't drawn into that kind of music. I loved the church, but... When my love for music was more of the cultured music that was happening out there. You know, talking about what was happening from day to day, which was something pretty new, we were listening like to Bob Dylan, we would listen to some people who - protest songs, and those things, y'know.

Q: You picked up a lot of foreign records then, or the radio? The radio was the centre of these things.

A: Well, I think Jamaica have one of the best format of music that is played on the radio, because they don't just play reggae. They play a wide cross section of all kinds of cultural music, of all different nationalities and different places in the world, y'know.

Q: A melting pot.

A: It is a melting pot, 'cause we have the best of the classic, the best of the rap, the best of the - anything, any kind of music. So, y'know, people we had - I used to listen to these songs, plus listen to the protest songs and what was happening at the moment, and exceptional things like Alton Ellis, 'Back To Africa'. You know, Bob Marley, 'Bend Down Low', whole heap a different things then that came out of the woodwork that appealed to me.

Q: Writing songs, was that something that got fuelled by picking up these type of songs from the airwaves, or what prompted you to get seriously into songwriting?

A: Well, at an early age I had a teacher in Primary School - his name was Mr. Hope, and he gave me a lot of 'hope', because he taught me how to write a poetry. Not just me, but most of the people them in the class who liked that. He was a sports person and he taught us how to play cricket and football and all these stuff, but the major thing that he taught me was poetry. And I used to look at poetry, most of the people look at it from William Shakespeare and those guys perspective, but he brought it down to our level, or brought it up to our Ites, where he could see poetry coming out of our own community, coming out of our own selves, y'know, our own history. And I embark on something like this because it was pretty new to me. I didn't realise that I could take my life and turn it into a story. So, I started to do my story instead of his-story, so I ... that was what really start me off at writing lyrics. Then I realised the ethics that he taught me in writing poetry, it applied to writing lyrics also. I just applied and it became very easy to me, because then there was so much things around me to write about (laughs)!

Q: And those times was obviously very different to ours, revolutionary in a sense, a lot of major changes came about which we can see the results from today.

A: That's correct. It was totally different, y'know, it was the age of innocense, or the things that was happening there now, what was needed, you just see it happen. But then there came a time when the question was asked, by us and by everyone in what was happening. You know, we wanted to find out the whole perspective of the thing, plus I had another teacher in school, his name was Mr. Stewart when I used to go to Trench Town Comprehensive, and he was my history teacher. And I loved history, so I used to be one of his favorite students, and I used to learn about historical facts that I didn't know about before, like, y'know, I knew of the slave trade but I didn't know how intense it was. I didn't know much about Africa, so I didn't know much about myself. So he taught me to appreciate these things and to look into these things and when I look into them I found a lot of answers and these were some of the backlog of writing some of my lyrics.

Q: Right. Basically the backbone of what you wanted to...

A: Right, I embark on something like that. The reality of it was more than singin' about 'ooh baby I love you'. I still love, I love my girl and everything and my woman, but there was something that was much more important that we was supposed to learn. You know, to let it be known to the world, so... And this was part of it.

Q: And all this stems from the sixties, not Jamaica alone but the world at large. There was an awareness movement about, which came out of not accepting the norms as they were.

A: Right, it was a revolutionary period where people tried to answer questions and tried to seek out things that they didn't know about, so... And it was right for that period of time.

Willie Williams.
(Photo: Greg Lawson)
Q: I read somewhere that you actually owned a sound system in your teens, which is kind of unusual. I mean, how could you run something like this at such a young age, with all that it takes?

A: Yeah, but the love of music, I used to... When you love something, you'd do anything for it. My love of music brought me into the first stage of it, before going into studios was the sound system. As I mentioned before, it was the jukeboxes and the sound systems. A friend of mine which was a much mature person had a set, a sound system set, which was in my neighbourhood and he wanted me to operate the set because I was keen on the songs of the day and, y'know, the liking of the public in general of what songs it takes to be played for, you know, parties an' things like that. So I used to run the system and select and deejay for it, because you didn't have this separated at those times. So, y'know, I was all in one. And when he decided to migrate to the States, he left the sound system with me.

Q: What was his name?

A: His name was Blackstock, a friend of mine. And from that period of time we - I started to operate sound system, we started going to different parishes, different places in Jamaica and we get response, and more so in my neighbourhood which was in Duhaney Park, which is the western more, y'know, going to the suburb of Kingston.

Q: How did you - what was the name of your sound by the way?

A: The name of my sound was Tripletone.

Q: And that started about mid sixties?

A: Um, it was more like - about '67, maybe about '67. And this was in a period in which I start appreciate the music and one of the main reason for going into the music business was to make dubs for my sound, which was different from what was being played at the time. Because I wanted to hear, as I said, what I learned. I wanted music of history. You know, music of a change, different thing, y'know? Because there was revolution that was happening at the time so I wanted music so as to speak to the people of that kind of nature. So I went into the studio myself and started making my own music for my own set, my own sound system set.

Q: But then you differed a lot from the rest, if we're still in the sixties period, it wasn't to be this wave of 'message music' until several years later, into the seventies. So you had a tough time in getting this across, or you got a steady following still?

A: Right, in the sixties you had that in sometime music, where you had like a more lovers rock kind of music that was coming out, 'cause that was in any era - that was what the people really loved, because most of the people didn't understand what was happening, or what is happening. So the kind of music that I embark on was - of course the acceptance of it was slower in the beginning, because the people didn't want to hear about lots of things, like too much problems. They want something more entertaining.

Q: The easy listening, like.

A: Easy listening, right. But I see more than that in the music where you could speak to the people and be more sensible, and get more action in the sense of a big group, becoming more sensible and living, y'know, the sense among themselves.

Q: I was here gonna ask you what sort of stuff you played on the sound, what you dropped on the turntable. I suppose there was a mixture of foreign and local music, and was there any acts locally that you found fitting to play, who suited your purpose by bringing out a message in the music?

A: Well, in the mid sixties you had a lotta groups, a lotta people, musicians in Jamaica who started embark on that kind of music, y'know. And as I said it stemmed down from the - it was an international cry from the Civil Rights movement in the United States, to what was happening in South Africa, y'know, what was happening in Rhodesia - which is now Zimbabwe, the world in general. You know, we were more educated to what was happening, and we wanted to make music too, not just tear up people, but to make people come to their senses. It doesn't matter what colour, to let the man understand that we are all brothers and sisters, and if they don't understand this thing, then there will be bad repercussions in the future. One of my first music I made for Studio One was called 'Calling'.

Q: How did that come about, that you got the opportunity to record for Coxson?

A: Well, how it came about was that I met Bob Andy, Bob Andy was staying close to me. I met Bob...

Q: He was still in the Paragons at that time?

A: Um, he... he was just going solo, y'know. '(I've) Got To Go Back Home', y'know, 'people see me acting strange, they might say its the burning stains', y'know, those songs. You know, the kind of thing that was happening, The Heptones had lots of songs that appealed to me. But in any way, I met Bob Andy and he introduced me to Studio One which I went there and...

Q: You were only about... how old?

A: I was about sixteen, going on seventeen at that time, y'know.

Bob Andy.

Q: You must've been pretty exalted being around all these seasoned musicians at the time. Nervous?

A: Well, yes, I was nervous at first, but when you went there it was different from what was on the street because when we went to the studio it was like 'we've gone to heaven' (laughs)!

Q: Yeah, 'finally' (laughs).

A: Yeah, 'cause the people there working, musicians were like real people, people who have feelings, people who express feelings. It was different from what was on the street because the most of the musicians were 'in the know' in general, y'know. So, it was a different set of people because they were like my real brother (laughs), y'know? That kind of feel. So, it was a good feeling at that time. Yes, nerve-wrecking in the sense that you wanted to make it sound like what is there. But it was a good experience.

Q: Can you recall how many tracks you cut there at this first session? Only this lone track?

A: No, I did about three tracks at Studio One.

Q: And this is at a time when it was cut 'live' in the studio, all things packed together for the recording.

A: Yeah. No, no, no - it was live, live musicians.

Q: One take.

A: One take, because at that time you had like two-track, right, that was the norm at the time. You had like two-track, with all of the musicians there one time, and you'd sing. And then they'd run into a next tape and you overdub your vocal and harmony or whatever, horns, y'know, and then - that's it (chuckles).

Q: Can you remember who played on that debut session for you?

A: We had Leroy Sibbles was playing bass, Fil...

Q: Fil Callender?

A: Fil Callender was drummer. I had Robbie Lyn was keyboard, was piano man. Frater was the guitarist.

Q: Right, Eric Frater - 'Mr. Rickenbacker'.

A: Yeah. And we had on the organ at the time - Jackie Mittoo had just left then, and we had Richard Ace. On horns we had (Deadly) Headley Bennett, on trombone we had Vin Gordon.

Q: Was Bob around at the time, at that particular session?

A: You mean Bob Andy?

Q: Yeah.

A: Oh yeah, Bob was the A&R person for Studio One at the time. You know, he would choose acts, artists, so I was one of the acts that he chose, at the time.

Q: What did Mr. Dodd feel about your songs? I guess you had to audition for him first, or someone else auditioned you?

A: Well, I tell you something, I think he left everything over to Bob, so Bob was the man we had to impress, and I had already impressed him with my songs and he loved my songs and everything, so... He mentioned that I would go very far. And so, which I thought it was just being nice (laughs)!

Q: Yeah, of course.

A: But, being the person that he is, a great brother, we reach each other still, y'know, we have good times. So he and Marcia (Griffiths) and myself we started out on a good friendship.

Q: How many of those tracks came out, was it only 'Calling' he took to press?

A: 'Calling' came out like about a few months afterwards, because...

Q: So it actually saw release on a single? I always got the impression that he only put it on a compilation, like a few years after.

A: Nah. It came out on a compilation, 'cause compilation albums was being done at that time, and the compilation album included like some instrumentals and... One of the songs I remember, because on the same session was 'Hello Carol' by The Gladiators, and that was on the album 'Party Time In Jamaica'. So those things came out like in the sixties. The record industry was way ahead in that time - now, I mean more than it is now, in Jamaica. Because we could sell like a fifty thousand or hundred thousand units of records at that time. You know, of any record that is believed to be a hit or, y'know, the hit of the day.

Q: How come it was like that, apart from the obvious musical quality? It was a genuine Jamaican thing, that was to be supported.

A: Yeah, they had an idea what they wanted. And owing to the fact that reggae music was a new art, a Jamaican music. Because at that time I'm telling you about it wasn't even called 'reggae music' yet.

Q: Rock steady.

A: It wasn't even called (that), it was a transition period because it was from ska to rock steady to - I told you about the other original format, the quadrille, up to the what we call - there was a format of calypso that we had in Jamaica, what they called mento, and that was like island music. And then when ska came about it was an identity, like Jamaica identified itself by having its own music format. So coming around to the rock steady era - that was phased out, and then it was a period where there was a new sound, a sound which was slower, more intense. It would deal with more of a personal subject - history, y'know, things that is touching us more than just singin' about things that you hear on the radio. So it was something that people wanted to invest in because it was something new and it was identifying with you, as an individual.

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