Keith Douglas Interview
If Winston Reedy is currently the UK’s top reggae artist, and Trevor Walters currently the most successful, what kind of titles could we offer the likes of Pablo Gad, Trevor Hartley, Lion Youth, Junior Brown, Maxi Priest, Barry Boom, Byron Otis plus many many more! What kind of title could we give Keith Douglas. A great singer and a gifted songwriter? Perhaps his title should be left to time. An artist for the future.
“A SERIOUS BUSINESS”
My first record was for a brethren of the name of Eddie Airey. He had his own label Xamaica. That tune was ‘Struggling Inna Babylon’, that was the first tune I ever wrote.
When was that? How old were you then?
Let me see it’s ’84 now, I must have been about 18 or 19.
Who were you listening to then?
I use to listen to Dennis Brown a lot. Bob Marley, Alton Ellis, Gregory Isaacs. And a lot of Soul. James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye.
How about Bob Andy?
Yeah, I used to listen to him.
‘Try Love Again’ sounds very influenced by Bob Andy’s style.
Definitely, I love the way he sings. And as you know he’s a good songwriter, one of the best in the reggae field. I like all them youth there in my time, all the best.
So ‘Struggling Inna Babylon’ was your first record?
It was a reggae chart hit in Black Echoes. It went to No.17. I mean it never got me recognised, anything like that, but it got me started. From there I moved on. I used to rehearse with Junior Brown. Just singing backing vocals with him. He was a big encouragement.
Another very good UK Reggae artist.
That’s right, ’cause he was really more serious about it than me. He was the brethren that make me get serious, ’cause it was me, him and another idren called Derrick Green. The three of us used to sing together. We never really took it serious.
Keith then stops to think. If he did the tune ‘Struggling Inna Babylon’ before he practiced with Junior. Recalling that he did do the tune first and remembers about his brother’s sound system, where he used to deejay!
I was deejaying with my brother’s sound, and this brethren Eddie Airey, he knew I had a good voice, from my singing. You see on this tune ‘Struggling Inna Babylon’ I sang and deejayed. There was a little of that. Hugh Mundell used to do that, and Pablo Gad. It was quite forward then for its time.
I know it’s hard for a singer to deejay and DJ to sing, but to do both!
Pablo Gad is very good at that.
I was going to ask you about him.
I sang harmony on Pablo Gad’s ‘Hard Times’. After singing with Junior Brown I moved and I sing with Pablo Gad, me and my brother Tony.
Is this when you joined F.O.R.M. (Federation Of Reggae Music)?
There were no records between your first record and F.O.R.M.?
Well apart from doing backing vocals on an album that was never released, me and my brother did backing vocals on an album for Paul Dawkins, ex-Tradition.
They were a good band.
We got a lot of experience in the studio working with Paul, and then moving on F.O.R.M. We did some backing on Pablo Gad’s album ‘Hard Times’. Then he produced me on a tune called ‘Blessed Are They’.
Was that the only one?
No, we had another one ‘Teacher Never Taught Me’. I wasn’t really dealing with Lovers Rock at the time.
It’s really good to hear that you’ve worked with people like Pablo Gad and Junior Brown. You’re working with Aswad now on the album?
Well, I’m producing an album now for myself, with the help of my brothers and sisters and Rastafari.
Are you going to release it on your own label?
Tell me some more about F.O.R.M. How long did you work for them?
I wasn’t really working with F.O.R.M. as such. I was working with Pablo Gad. It lasted a couple of years.
Where did you record?
He used to do a lot of work at Mark Angelo’s studio.
Is that where you recorded your tunes?
One tune, ‘Blessed Are They’. The other one was a rhythm track, that I put lyrics to. As I was getting into the writing then.
Can you remember the musicians on your sessions with Pablo Gad?
Desmond Mahoney on drums, Elroy Bailey on bass from Black Slate. Can’t remember the keyboard player, but we had Hughie Issacher.
From Original Rockers.
Yeah that’s right, he played on one of the tracks.
So after spending two years with Pablo Gad, how did the connection with Fashion Records came about?
After a while, working with Pablo Gad and working a couple of live shows, one with Pablo, a couple with Junior Brown – at the carnival – I started getting the vibes. And so did my brother. He was really getting into it. We was working together, taking it seriously, but at the same… survival, you know. I had a job, driving, going around to building sites to collect samples for concrete testing. But I wanted to get into the music. So I was lucky to get a driving job with Saga Records – Trojan. I was there for a good while, and someone told me, someone was there was doing their own little that, had his own record company. This was Chris Lane. So they said to me, when he comes, they would introduce him to me. So one day, he came to collect some tapes. He worked at the Trojan office, he worked there with Clive Stanhope. So I introduced myself to him. So he said, did I have a tape of myself that he could hear. So I brought him up a tape to the office one day on my rounds. Him and Clive Stanhope listened to it and they liked what they hear (laughs) and from there we arrange a little thing. A little singing deal.
But Trojan wasn’t involved?
No, Trojan was a big company, and I was unheard of really.
And your first record for Fashion was?
‘Specialise In Good Girls’.
How about ‘School Children’?
I only did the harmony for that with Papa Face.
So you never finished it off?
No, I remember John MacGillivray (owner of Dub Vendor and Fashion Records) speaking to me about that.
Then you made ‘Cool Down Amina’, which was recorded with Aswad?
No it was a mixture of Aswad, George Oban, Clifton from the Israelites, John Kpiaye. The horn section was Annie and Bammie Rose.
And it was the same band that made ‘Try Love Again’?
Yeah, I think Reg from the Investigators was also on keyboards.
That’s interesting as the sound ‘Cool Down Amina’ and ‘Try Love Again’ are so different.
It’s the mix.
‘Try Love Again’ has a strong Studio One influence.
I know what you are dealing with, ’cause when I first started doing the tune, we were all saying, boy this has a Studio One feel.
It’s very well done. Why aren’t there more tunes made like that, as the talent is there?
It’s suppressed, we were beginning to wonder if we had any talent at all. The way we have to fight to survive.
What made you leave Fashion?
Me and Chris didn’t get on that well in the studio for some reason. He’s got his ideas and he stick to his ideas. And certain times in the studio, his attitude wasn’t really too right. We clashed. A personality clash. I write my songs from scratch and feel my tunes. How they are supposed to sound. If he came with certain ideas I never liked what he wanted to do, and I would say… it would cause a dispute. But we still get on, still friends.
So what can we expect on your debut album ‘Angel’ (that was recorded for Aswad).
Yeah, definitely supposed to include ‘Angel’, I’ve spoken to the Posse already.
And who have you recorded the album with?
Undivided Roots and members of Aswad doing certain overdubbing, but the rhythm tracks are laid strictly by Undivided Roots, apart from ‘Angel’.
They have their own label, don’t they?
Ruff Cut, based in Stonebridge. They have some hard singers in their posse, quite a few records to put out on their own label.
Where are you recording the album?
Addis Ababa studio in the Harrow Road. That is where I’m based right now, it’s the cheapest twenty four studio that you can have right now. Rastaman ah control that studio there. Right now Tony Addis is doing a whole heap of good helping his brethren in the area, and myself too. We need someone like Tony Addis around. Just the studio being there is the start of a new generation. The first Black who owns a studio, a 24 track studio. Who is really helping his brethren in the area. They have a set of musicians down there who are called the Addis Ababa players, including Tony, Mark Wright on drums, Victor Cross on keyboards. He’s a good singer as well. We have a good togetherness. It’s what we need, otherwise it’s too much fight. Like we are getting nothing. We are just surviving, we can just about live. No man is getting paid for his works.
As the interview draws to its close. Keith remembers the tune he did for Trevor Bow’s Natty Congo label, ‘Boom’, which he voiced at Easy Street Studios. And it can be said, it’s another fine tune, which sadly got lost in the Christmas rush.
(This interview was originally published in Small Axe #19. There were 28 issues of Ray Hurford’s Reggae fanzine released from September 29, 1978 on to September/October 1989.)