Jah Woosh interview
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Neville Beckford, otherwise known as Jah Woosh, originates from Prince Lane in Kingston. He was born there on September 16th 1952. Leaving school, he took up mechanics and entered the car trade. Soon after taking the Rastafarian faith he left home. By 1969 he had formed a duet with George Daley aka Reggae George. They called themselves Neville and George and proceeded to check various producers in hope of a record deal.
Apparently George couldn’t harmonize very well, causing producers to ask for more harmony. This in turn caused Jah Woosh to become more interested in the DJ business. In 1972 he began working with Prince Lloyd’s sound system, as a DJ. His popularity grew to such an extent that his friend Bruce suggested to approach a producer called Blue (George Bell). He did and in 1973 he made his first record “Angela Davis”, a tribute to the American black civil rights leader. It was followed by “Try A Thing”, which was produced by Blacka Morwell.
“DJ/CHANTER, SINGER, AND PRODUCER”
Both were good enough to bring Jah Woosh to the attention of producer Rupie Edwards, who straight away began to cut a whole album with Woosh that eventually was released in England by Cactus in 1974. Cactus was one of the first of a new set of reggae labels/companies who were emerging to challenge the Trojan Records domination of the reggae market. They did it by releasing music from unknown or little known artists and producers, and they were successful. Jah Woosh’s LP went to No.1 in the reggae album charts and stayed there for weeks. Its appeal lies in the rawness of the set. Woosh’s basic DJ lyrics over tough Rupie Edwards rhythms tracks. Woosh was no U Roy or Dennis Alcapone, Big Youth or I Roy, but he was fresh and had come through with an album, not a long series of hit singles and that was appreciated.
A disagreement with Rupie Edwards over money took Jah Woosh to long time producer Phil Pratt with whom he cut “Psalm 121” and one called “Magnet Scorcher”, which Magnet another small UK independent company, issued on its Faith label. Then he moved on to work with Lloyd Campbell, released a couple of tunes “Sixteen Love” and “African People”.
Leonard Chin (Santic) was Jah Woosh’s next producer. No doubt, encouraged by the tremendous success of the Rupie Edwards produced album. Santic proceeded to record an album with Woosh. The album called “Chalis Blaze” saw released on the Ital label in 1976, yet another small promising label of that time, and once again Jah Woosh went to No.1 in the album charts. This second album success could not be reasoned away by recourse to ideas of reggae’s music continual demand for fresh talent. First of all there was nearly a two year gap between the albums, and although then DJ albums were scarcer, two years is still quite a time between albums.
True, Woosh had been successful in the single charts with the likes of “Rocking Blues” and “Don’t Do That”, both on the Lucky label, “Iffie This Company” on Tropical and “Judy Drowned” on Cactus, but nothing that big to create a following which give him a second No.1 album hit. Yet there the man proudly was. The “Chalis Blaze” album is very much like his first album, hard roots rhythms with traditional DJ lyrics, including love, Rastafari, the Ghetto and Freedom themes, all delivered in a vocal style that takes in Prince Jazzbo, I Roy and U Roy.
Other compelling music from Jah Woosh from this time, early ’76, included the great “I’m Alright” for Keith Hudson, which Trojan issued on the Attack label. And possible his biggest single hit “Shine Eye Gal” for Randy’s Clive Chin, a version of Carl Malcolm’s “Miss Wire Waist” which Tropical issued in the UK.
By all accounts Jah Woosh’s third album recorded for the Ja Man production team of Hollet and Swaby should have given Jah Woosh his third No.1 album hit. The general concensus is that “Psalms Of Wisdom” is the man’s best album. Unfortunately it seems it was such a good seller on pre-release that Black Wax, perhaps the most astute of the new reggae companies, could only pick up enough sales to put it into the album charts, instead of at the top.
Still the amount of success that had come to Jah Woosh in the UK was enough to bring him to the the UK in early ’76 for a number of shows and some recordings. While he was here he set up a deal with Trojan Records to release his first self produced album “Dreadlocks Affair”, which features the Mighty Cloud Band – one of Jamaica’s lesser known bands – on the rhythm tracks. Woosh had already worked with the Mighty Cloud Band’s George McLean, who had produced his “Rocking Blues” title and the same tune appears on the album.
Although not as successful in the charts as his first two albums, it gave Jah Woosh the chance to demonstrate that his talent, also extended to production. Working out of Channel One, Woosh manages to produce a fine set of rhythms for his now pronounced toasting/chanting style. Musically the Mighty Cloud Band have a similar style to that of the Twinkle Brothers at the time. If it was basic, that was more than made up for by the sheer energy and commitment that could be heard in their work.
An interesting mix is given to the album by King Tubby who always seems to revel in the rawer sounds. “Dreadlocks Affair” begins with “Omega Dollar”, a dubwise toast that the Upsetter or Niney would be proud of. More traditional Jah Woosh is the excellent “Albert Classue” where a strong U Roy influence can be heard. On side two “Dreadlocks Affair” itself chants down chatty mouth people. “Natty Baldhead” employs the Caribbeans’ “Poverty” rhythm to good effect. Side two finds Jah Woosh in an inventive form.
Cactus then issued Rupie Edwards’ second album with Jah Woosh “Jah Jah Dey Dey” which represented his third or fourth album release in a year. 1977 saw only one album from Jah Woosh, “Lick Him With A Dustbin”, released on K&B in 1978. In 1978 came “Marijuana World Tour” which was released on Creation Rebel, followed in the same year by another great work, the “Gathering Israel” set, produced by Dread & Dread music, pressed on what could only be described as multi coloured red, gold and green vinyl.
It was soon quickly rereleased by Trojan Record. The album is Jah Woosh’s most conscious album so far with titles like “Israel”, “Redemption”, “King Shaka”, “African Chant”, and “Judge Them Jah”. Like Prince Far I, Jah Woosh had developed his toasting or deejaying into what was described as chanting, a mixing together of singing and deejaying.
On the “Gathering Israel” album the themes are serious and the rhythms heavy. “I Pray For The People” is a Yabby You rhythm that Woosh chants with conviction and power. To conclude an excellent album the “Walls Of Babylon” is finely sung by Woosh over the “Tonight” rhythm. After another LP for Trojan in ’78, “Religious Dread”, Jah Woosh then set up his own label Yard International and released a few discos and a compilation album called “In A Rub A Dub Style” which featured U.Black, Bim Sherman and Horace Andy. He made an LP for Form in ’81 (“Rebellion”) and followed it in ’82 with “Sing And Chant with Jah Woosh” issued on the September label.
His most notable work in recent years was the production (with V.E Waltors) of Reggae George’s outstanding album “Fight On My Own” issued on the Sky Juice label in 1984, with Woosh’s many years in the business being put to good use in the studio. His own most recent work is “Some Sign”, also released on Sky Juice in 1985.
Jah Woosh is a talented DJ/Chanter, singer, and producer. Like many in the UK reggae business all he needs is some decent promotion and a little luck.
What are you doing over here now?
Well, at the moment I am getting my label together, cause I’m establishing a business – Yard International is the name of the label. The first release is Bim Sherman’s “What Sweet You So” and Larry Marshall to come.
So it’s not just for your own tunes?
No, different, different music. It’s also in Jamaica as well. It’s going to be an import label as well as a releasing label over here.
How long has it taken you to set it up?
I set it up in March, when I come back from Jamaica this year. I have outlets in Holland and Paris, because now I’m not really considering the toasting any more, just vocal and producing.
A lot of DJ’s are doing that, is there any reason?
It have its time through bad production and bad releases, it slow it down, they can’t kill it still. For as time come on, DJ’s will come forward again. It’s just time for me to build up in a different fashion of form again.
How long have you been in the business?
From 1971, the man who discover me was Morwell Wellington, then Rupie Edwards , from their various companies.
You had a big hit with “Shine Eye Gal” a few years back?
Well, “Shine Eye Gal” I do it over in a different style rhythm coupled with a Larry Marshall disco called “Bird Song”. The other side is “She’s Gone”. It’s a double A-Side.
Have you had any hits in Jamaica?
Well, “Shine Eye Gal” and “She Take A Set”. But I travel a lot now. I travel Holland, England, America and France. So I don’t spend much time in my own country – only for recording.”
Do you have any problems moving around, cause it seems those reggae artists who do, lose themselves sound wise. How do you control that?
You find the money, the money can lead. We start on four track, then you find as they make some money they go into sixteen, and sixteen is something else. It’s different from original four. Four is the roots, that’s the only way, because it becomes commercial through money. When you get that, you feel you should be on twenty four track. I’ll stick with the four track, because I already know the roots. It doesn’t bother me, traveling.”
Most of the studios are going over to sixteen track recording.
They might feel like they want to reach the international market, but I don’t do that, that’s a good idea. I think four is the roots, it’s better, I mean you don’t want to hear the commercial sound?
But that’s it, it’s just my opinion. I don’t feel it worth it really, it’s just a waste, a waster of time. You can get on four what you get on sixteen except that you have to tie certain instruments together for mixing.
No, that’s not my bag. I know that. I don’t write music, I write music to send a message. I don’t class it as a job. I’m here to do certain works. Like most of my records “Shine Eye Gal” – somebody whose eye is red, everything you see you want, they call them “Shine Eye Gal”; like take for instance “Gathering Israel”, it’s just speaking of culture, the originality of Black People form that time to this time, Rastafarian, culture, speaking about Rastafarian culture – King Shaka going into history.
You’ve always been interested in history?
What do you think of the less serious toasters?
They take it for a joke really. Everyone’s called Ranking This and Ranking That, that is why I separate myself from the toasters really, it’s become a rat race. Every man think that he can talk over a rhythm. But they are not looking on the future of the business.
Do you regards yourself as a chanter?
Yeah, when you chant of African culture, that’s chanting…”
(This interview was originally published in Small Axe #8. There were 28 issues of Ray Hurford’s Reggae fanzine released from September 29, 1978 on to September/October 1989.)