Lime Tree Garden, at St Ann Parish on the North coast of Jamaica, located at altitude in the middle of lush vegetation, only a few kilometers from Nine Miles, Bob Marley's birthplace. This is where Winston Jarrett was born in a period of turbulences for the world.

1940 seems to be his actual year of birth whereas several biographies say he was born in 1944. He is not completely sure about it himself but he puts forward September 14th 1940. His father was a farmer and his mother a housewife. She looked after her children carefully and made sure Winston received both school and religious education. Aged 5, his family moved to the capital, Kingston and they settled down in Trenchtown and Jonestown districts. They left Lime Tree's relaxed way of life despite poverty, to find Trenchdown's tarmac, which Bob Marley immortalized in several songs (Concrete Jungle, Trenchtown Rock, Trenchtown).

Winston Jarrett
This triangle Trenchtown, Jonestown & Denhamtown is a nerve centre, the heart of the Jamaican capital. Destitution, crime and murders are people's daily reality and they have little chance to get away unharmed from it. In the early 50's, Mento music is played at every corner. It is a spicier variation of Calypso music which comes from the great islands of the Caribbean area. Looking back to his childhood, Winston Jarrett remembers the successful artists of the time very well. With no hesitation, he names Count Lasher, Lord Flea, Lord Fly, Miss Lou, duet Bim & Bam and a few others. He grew up with songs like "Chi Chi Bud", "Linstead Market", "Talking Parrot", "Emmanuel Road" and "Nobody's Business". There was no sign of the violence that would explode in the middle of the 60's. Yet the sweetness, nonchalance and humor in the lyrics poorly makes it up for the dusty roads, corrugated iron roofs, these "shanty town" ghettos where people want to survive, not mentioning the sweltering heat.

Winston did not go to school much. He mixed with the young artists who would take part in the new musical trends; Jamaican Rhythm & Blues which was influenced by Rock'n'Roll music coming from the United States and of course ska music which was a way to distance, assert and above all free oneself from Uncle Sam's influences. Bob Marley, Ken Boothe, Lascelles Perkins, Alton Ellis, Joe Higgs and Eddy Perkins were all neighbours. Even though they were not famous then, they all had made a few records. In 1960, Joe Higgs's "Manny Oh" was a catchy tune. Radio stations would play Jimmy Cliff and Derrick Morgan while Robert Marley, aged 16 then, was knocking around on Fourth Street. Already popular since 1959 with "Muriel", Alton Ellis is part of the musical scene, more than ever. He also records a few remarkable skas. The roots of Jamaican music start here, in the district where the shy Winston Jarrett grew up. After Jamaica is granted its independence in August 1962, nothing is going to stop the musical wave, not entirely ready to conquer the world though.

Winston Jarrett has decided: music or nothing. In 1965, Alton Ellis finds himself at the studio of one of the most famous producers of the island: Duke Reid. On his record label, Treasure Isle, he has many hits, including, "Carry Go Bring Come" by Justin Hinds & The Dominos. Another star band is The Skatalites. They also record music for the big rival, Coxsone Dodd. At the time, contracts were insecure or didn't even exist as such at all. After his partner Eddie Perkins leaves to the United States, Alton Ellis decides to form a new band to play with him: Alton & The Flames. The three original members are Edgar Gordon, his brother Leslie Ellis and a certain Ronnie. Winston Jarrett and Lloyd Tyrell joined them later. Winston is a childhood friend. They used to live very close from Alton Ellis's house. Alton himself had taught Winston the basics of guitar playing and Jimmy Cliff himself also taught him a few chords. This school of the street was the best they could go.

As soon as he got the hang of it, back in 1965, Winston was an active part in Alton Ellis hits to come. "Dance Crasher", "Blessing of Love", "The Preacher", "Girl I've Got a Date" are key songs co written by Alton Ellis and Winston Jarrett. In 1966 and 1967: rocksteady has dethroned ska and is in full swing. At the end of 1966, Desmond Dekker releases one of the best songs to come out of Jamaica "007, Shanty Town" massively successful and then Dekker notches up hits for several months. With The Melodians, The Paragons, Justin Hinds & The Dominos, Alton Ellis & The Flames and a whole load of newcomers, the magic of rocksteady stays alive until it turns into reggae during 1968. After about forty songs written for Duke Reid, Winston Jarrett feels it is time he spread his wings. This is 1967.

He founds his own band, The Righteous Flames, with Baby Gee (Edgar Gordon) and Junior Green who joins them a little later. Joe Gibbs, Linden 'O' Pottinger are sensible producers and they give Winston the means to record his first songs. Coxsone Dodd, Studio One's boss is also interested in this new talent and it is only natural that The Righteous Flames make their way to 13 Brentford Road. Their partnership lasts almost 35 years. At around the end of 1967, The Righteous Flames have their first big hit, "Born To Be Loved".

Winston Jarrett & The Righteous Flames

It is the beginning of a real partnership with Jamaica's most famous producer. His record label, Studio One, can be compared to great American record labels such as Chess, Stax or even Tamla-Motown, no more and no less. Except that this is Jamaica, a few steps from Trenchtown's rough neighbourhood. A new musical revolution is taking place at 13 Brentford Road. The Wailers are cutting their teeth and so are The Gaylads, The Maytals, The Pioneers, Ken Boothe, Shenley Duffus, Clancy Eccles, Lee Perry, Slim Smith, Delroy Wilson, The Webber Sisters, The Viceroys and so many others it would cover pages and pages but I cannot omit to mention the Abyssinians or Burning Spear.

Winston Jarrett highly respects Coxsone even if he was not always acknowledged by his protégés, including Bob Marley. Studio One was like a school in which singles and LPs were like degrees. The amount of work delivered then would often be useful years later as the key for international recognition for the dozen of artists working for this record label. Winston recorded a lot of songs all these years. Following a good old Jamaican habit, he was given many names, sometimes without him knowing; The Righteous Flames, The Flames, Winston Jarrett and The Freedom Singers.

Winston Jarrett (2012)

Winston Jarrett (2012)

A cover version of the US number 1 band of 1969, Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" is even recorded by The Freedom Singers (especially Zoot 'Scully' Simms and Winston 'Flames' Jarrett). The Freedom Singers is one of the many names used by Coxsone to create new riddims and accompany artists from 13 Brentford Road. The band consists of Winston Jarrett, Scully Simms, Leroy Sibbles, official bass player and already member of The Heptones, Larry Marshall, Enid Cumberland and a few others. Members of the band have been interchangeable at will and renewable for several years. Coxsone alone deals. Even though he is paternalistic and protective towards his artists, Coxsone is not particularly generous to them, which is a source of heated tension.

Artists such as Bob Andy and Bunny Wailer always challenged him. But did they have the choice? In the Seventies, Reggae music explodes all around the world and Coxsone is the first to be thrilled. Making the most of the growing popularity of all these new artists and musicians on the music scene, he releases thousands of recordings that have been waiting in his drawers for ages. The Gladiators's LP Trenchtown Mix Up is a massive hit in 1976. Without being consulted by Coxsone, an album containing older songs is released the following year.

Same thing happened to The Wailers with at least three albums made of unearthed recordings from 1964 to 1966. For some artists, their albums would never come out. An album by Winston Jarrett was due in Christmas 1979, but it was cancelled and only Coxsone could explain why. It was only in 2003 that Winston Jarrett's first Studio One album was released, that is 35 years after he debuted with this record company. Crucial Times is a suitable title. Not only from a musical point of view but also because it is the last album produced by Coxsone, as he was to die a few months later.

Better late than never one may probably think but it is not easy to understand such a decision knowing both men respected each other. It probably left a bad taste in Winston's mind the following last years. A Studio One album in the 70s and his career would have hit the railways instead of beaten tracks. No matter the unfair moments of life. Scars that never disappear completely leave room to other ways to get through, adapt and sweeter sensations.

After all this time, the man from the ghetto, the "sufferer" now had acquired a philosophy and this subtle kind of wisdom most of us wouldn't sense and that you get only around Trenchtown. Places like hell whose names now sound like nostalgy we would love to tread at least once in our life. Brentford Road, Maxfield Avenue, King Street, Orange Street, Spanish Town Road, Trenchtown, Tivoli Garden, Hope Road and so on… "Fear Not Almighty Dread" and "Survival Is The Game"… don't these mottos symbolize pride? "Fear Not", "Ease Up", "Solid Foundation"… Basically, all these tracks created on Brentford Road, now Studio One Boulevard, brought nothing more than respect to Flames Jarrett. Doors were only half open to him though.

At the same time Winston Jarrett is recording for Studio One, he started to record for many other producers from 1968, and not minor ones. Joe Gibbs and especially Lee 'Scratch' Perry were establishing their reputations. Now, he was given nicknames such as "Flames" or "T. Man", the main two nicks which remain even today. Lee Perry uses The Hurricanes as the name of his band for the songs performed by Flames. Mysteries notch up. "Run To The Rock", "Walking The Streets Again", "Love & Emotion", "True Born African" are absolute works of art. "True Born African" is also performed by Alton Ellis in 1971 but Winston confirms he is the only author of this symbolic track. The Flames or The Righteous Flames are names that didn't bring him luck for his house and personal belongings were burnt down twice. T.Man believes this is too simple an explanation I'll leave you to guess it! At least it didn't cause harm to him.

Lee Perry is the craziest producer of all time. With his band The Upsetters, he is the most incredible voodoo. He is an all-rounder, a genius surrounded by ghosts and wisps, twirling around in curls of ganja smoke. Inspiration gets divine. According to Winston, he is not insane. He has fun, creates an image of himself and above all he knows how to enhance the potential of the artists he produces.

Lee Perry and Bob Marley's artistic partnership gave reggae music, and music generally speaking too, jewels of an intense kind. The Hurricanes' "Walking The Streets Again" found a few years ago turns out to be a time bomb. With this totally amazing song, silence falls. Only Bob Marley and Burning Spear impose a radiant kind of creativity at that time. Winston is much less productive and struggles a bit more to impose his style. The Upsetters and The Wailers knew they had to count with him. Their music is like a "rebel" and Winston is a pure "Sufferer". The combination is perfect and words seem to be trivial to describe it. The musical partnership lasts for several years.

Winston Jarrett

Winston admires Bob Marley. He pays tribute to him numerous times throughout his career, which he was reproached several times. Yet Winston is passionate and it is not easy to compare him to Bob Marley. Besides respect and tributes, the way they write music is quite different. Bob comes from the ghetto. Winston survived pain and shouts are never far: they are sharper, more poignant, and almost always part of the sonic picture. There are no photographs of young Winston Jarrett. The few memories he had went up in smoke. The first image we have of him is from the movie The Harder They Come he was featured in briefly.

When recording Toots & Maytals' "Sweet & Dandy" at Dynamic Sounds, as the camera slowly travels left, you can see Winston Jarrett, in his black and white check trousers, thin leather jacket, mauve-like hat and sunglasses. A few seconds later, you can see him standing next to a confident of a Jimmy Cliff explaining to a producer he can sing.

Another success for Winston is the track "Writing on the Wall", which he recorded in 1971 at Dynamic Sounds . His faith is unwavering, the emotion is here, you can sense it, and it is contagious and deeply moving. In 1973, he records for the label Atra Records. The work performed by The Wailers between 1971 and 1974 will miraculously be included in an album to be released in the UK in 1974, with RCA, a record label that was always interested in music from all around the world, rock music and other genres which have nothing to do with Jamaican music. This is a big surprise and therefore the songs go unnoticed typical! In the 80s, the album, which never came out in Jamaica, is sought after by reggae music lovers now that they have discovered the work of "the man of the ghetto", Winston Jarrett or "Flames", as he is also known as. "Fear Not", the new single released by Coxsone Dodd soon becomes a new classic of Jamaican music and a nice anthem from Studio One's catalogue.

In 1975, Winston Jarrett takes a new step ahead. One single comes after another, with regularity and quality. After "Fear Not", "Revolution", "Slaving In" and "Message From The Congo" are released. This latter is credited to a certain Bobby Souls, who merely stole Winston Jarrett's identity mentioned on the record. According to Winston, Bobby Soul, who had died a few years before, was the best at shady going-ons. He was a singer himself but never managed to become famous. Winston is unmoved but in the song "Revolution" the impassive character sounds like he's crying "only jah jah know, why I and I suffer so", he sings. The suffering added up resurfaces. Anyone will feel it in these words filled with distress. Marley also sang "Revolution". Both performances express the same inner wish for a "Revolution". You could already sense the most vivid emotions, and therefore the most likely to be felt by the listener, in Flames's voice when singing "Writing On The Wall" or "Up Park Camp". The ultra roots reggae offered here caters to every mood.

At the end of 1975, Winston works with Linden 'O' Pottinger again, one of his first producers. He was Sonia Pottinger's first husband, another producer who was successful with bands such as The Melodians or Culture. 1963 to 1966 were Linden's best years, with Lord Tanamo mainly, great band of Jamaican music.

Bob Marley was the first to talk about dreadlocks in his song "Natty Dread". This time we can blame Winston for using these words in Jamaica where people only use the Rasta's language. Etiopia, I tiopia, Natty, dreadlocks. Bob didn't invent these words but he sure made them popular. Flames releases "Trod On Natty", soon followed by "Ride On Natty", a track with a massive stature. Winston and Bob know each other very well. The controversy only exists among journalists, who only swear by Bob Marley and see not much creativity in Flames. Misjudgment! What comes next is going to lead them to go over their opinion. Not only does Winston deliver massive hits and number ones, but he does even better than this: He releases superb tracks, instant classics. "Too Much Confusion", "Spanish Town Road", "Humble Yourself", "Sleepers" and then in 1978, his first actual album, Man Of The Ghetto, produced by Tony Shabbaz also known as Ken McKinley and only available in Jamaica. With Culture's Harder Than the Rest, you get the best two albums published in 1978. Imagine the impact if Virgin or Island Records had released Man Of The Ghetto... still, Tony Shabbaz would have had to agree. He had converted to Islam a long time before and never seemed to be able to agree with international record labels. In 1986, even Trojan announced the release of an album, but the project got torpedoed.

Winston Jarrett (2012)
Let's go back to Man Of The Ghetto, now mythical. In "Jungle Collie", it's just as if hundreds of elephants were stamping the ground and moving tons of dust in the air. Amazing! Masai Mara into turmoil! You're hypnotized, bewitched and it is not about running away but simply putting up with it. Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Ranchie Mc Lean, Gladdy, Scully and others hammer it home. Winston's coarse voice work wonders. This voice is like the voice of a slave breaking his chains unless it sounds like an unforgettable rallying cry breaking through the jungle from a certain Johnny Weissmuller. After all it is a veiled reference to Flames who sang "Me Tarzan" the following year on the album Ranking Ghetto Style. What can we say about the rest of the album after that? The rhythm is swaying, full of life and fever, filling the air with unknown flavours and sensations. "Easy Squeeze", the next new single released almost at the same time as Man Of The Ghetto is actually a cover of a song which Hortense and Alton Ellis performed in 1966. It is a superb song but it is played essentially around Jamaica. Few tracks are released in Europe at the time. Tony Shabbaz bridled Winston's international career, but Winston would find out about it years later.

Two other albums are ready to come out in 1979. Ranking Ghetto Style, for Tony Shabbaz and Wiseman, recorded for Roy Cousins. Wiseman is at last released in the UK too but remains a mystery, with Winston asserting this is his first album. If memory is tricky at times, especially when it comes to dates, it is not easy to contradict him about pages of his own life. Who wouldn't remember their very first album? Let's assume Wiseman was recorded in 1976 or 1977, connoisseurs tend to believe it is his third album, dated 1979. I am not sure myself. After all, Winston is in the best position to know that, so why not believe him? Adding to the confusion, a note on Ranking Ghetto Style says his first LP is... Man Of The Ghetto… The mystery still needs to be unveiled. Another note on Ranking Ghetto Style's sleeve says: "Some people say he sounds like Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Meditation. As a matter of fact he is Winston Jarrett." Who would doubt it? The only reason why he doesn't enjoy the same glory as other well-established Jamaican artists in the UK and in the USA is that his albums are not released there.

Even the French record label Jah Live comes up with an incredible collection album called Rite Sound Reggae Story. Now the French are in position to discover who Winston Jarrett is. This is a complete surprise, just as much as "Spanish Road" and "Humble Yourself" are tremendously convincing tracks. We should be thankful to José Jourdain, by the way. He dared to release such an album in a country where everyone only swore by Island and Virgin productions. With time, we realize this collection album was and still is an essential cog in the constant evolution of reggae music. It is definitely an album to listen to, on trust. Even though it looks like time has come for Winston, it is not the case. Jamaica is far too remote a place for him. He hears about what happens in Europe, months, or even years later. Few records are released in the 80s, "Run Away" being the most striking. It's the end of a decade.

International recognition does not pay the bills and Winston Flames remains anonymous. He has no idea of the respectful image he has had among reggae lovers over the years. Some fruit takes longer to get ripe. At the end of the 80s, a few American and Japanese records companies make sure Winston Jarrett gets all the recognition he deserves. He goes back to the recording studio. He records three albums within three years. Given Reggae music has changed in the past few years, Winston tries to comply with new rules and tries to apply himself in both his albums for Nighthawk and RAS. Jonestown and Kingston Vibrations are serious albums which include wonderful tracks. His voice, you need to get familiar with every time, is intact and always pleasing to the ear. Let's forget the albums produced by Alvin Ranglin in 1991 and Jah Woosh in 1994… Sabotage... It seems Winston Jarrett is finished but fortunately it is not the case.

Winston Jarrett

Winston Jarrett

Winston Jarrett

In his native Kingston, poverty and violence are daily routine. Times are rough and danger is everywhere and every time. His house gets burnt down twice, and then he gets bullied/hectored, stabbed in the arm in the middle of Parade, on Kingston Central Square, a few steps from Randy's. That day, Thursday 5th December 1991, three young yobbos looking for a fight, started to make threats, right in the middle of the crowd for which huge speakers were broadcasting reggae-style Christian carols as it was Christmas time. They were raggamuffins, fearing neither God or man, who would sink at any depth for just a few dollars, not much to do with rudeboys who used to have such a different attitude. These incidents were banal in Kingston at the time. It could have turned bad many times. How many times did it almost end bad? Without reggae music, this heavenly island would fall prey to all her demons.

In 1996, for the first time ever, Winston tours in Europe with The Abyssinians. In 1997, he tours for the first time in France with Leonard Dillon also known as The Ethiopians, as well as The Mighty Diamonds. Throughout the tours, Winston becomes aware of the eagerness he triggers around the world. He had never toured since he started out in 1965. Therefore never had he imagined how respected his music was. His music, which was unknown in Europe as well as in the United States, is now released on must-have collection CDs. Magical songs coming out of nowhere unleash passions, such as the mind-blowing and furious "Hard Times", or "Where Is The Ark?" to die for. Winston got a taste for France. After 1997, he went to France in 2000, 2002, 2003, and 2005 and more recently in January 2012. He stayed for two weeks after the concert he gave on January 12th. On the agenda, radio shows, interviews, dub plates as well as recording sessions of forthcoming songs. A song like "Organize Centralize" should be a hit soon.

We saw that the 80s and the 90s were quite turbulent years for Winston Flames but his strength and will are intact. No room for discouragement, or else it is very deep in his mind then. Touring in Europe, Asia and the United States gave him a new shot of energy and will to carry on. In 2001, he left the city where he always lived and moved to Seattle. His new life is there. Once a year, he goes back to Jamaica to see his family and friends or to record music. His hometown is the least desirable place to be but this is where he was born and grew up. He will never renounce to it. When so many others fell down he kept his head held high. His incredible dreadlocks look and his amazing sense of humanity make him one of the most genuine artists originating from the ghettos of Kingston.

Discography (PDF files) : 45s (singles)   |   Albums

Special thanks to Christophe Pilorget for label scans and pictures Winston Jarrett 2012.

© Olivier Albot, February 2012.