Interview with Albert Griffiths (The Gladiators)
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Well, we all did work as Masons, me is a Mason and a main contractor, it was I who did all the employing. I was the head Mason, and I employed the people to do the work. Well you have a guy name of David Webber, him used to be a tailor. Him was the first brother that I sing with. Well as Clinton Fearon now, Clinton is a Mason too. And both me and him and Gallimore Sutherland worked on the same building.
“LIFE IS GOD”
We always play anytime we get the chance… as soon as we did the work, we would practice. After we practice, practice and practice – I said to my boss if he could do a session for me (pay for a session). And him decide alright he would do it. And the first session that we ever did was the one where the Ethiopians do ‘Train To Skaville’ and I do the flipside ‘You Are The Girl’ it was on the Wirl label. After that now I asked my boss he could do a next session for me. And on the next session we do ‘The Train Is Coming Back’, that is the record as The Gladiators.
How about ‘You Are The Girl’?
That was by Al & The Ethiopians. Mr Leebert Robinson payed for both sessions. Well after that we go onto Treasure Isle. Then we go to Studio One. We did two tunes for Studio One. We never had no plan to do ‘Hello Carol’. We never want to do no song. It was money we go for that day. We never went to sing. Coxsone wasn’t there so we sat down to wait and Richard Ace, the organist, him ask “Which artist is left” or “Next, which artist is left to record.” And I say well I and I go into the studio and sing ‘Hello Carol’.
Do you remember the name of the two tracks you did first?
One of them named ‘The Reggae’ and one of them named ‘Sweet Love’.
You mentioned that you did two tracks for Treasure Isle, do you remember the name of those two?
One of them named ‘Live Wire’ the other was called ‘Sweet Soul Music’. But right now me find ‘Sweet Soul Music’ on a Techniques LP. Just the other day I buck it and that song is on a Techniques LP from Winston Riley.
Did he re-record it?
No, he don’t record it, he just put it pon a LP – you see after Duke Reid dead the studio fall into the hand of a lady called Sonia Pottinger.
I ran across an interesting single on Studio One credited to Larry & Alvin called ‘Anyway’ but it sounds a lot like your voice?
Awoah! – ‘Fling It Gimme’.
Is that you, on that record?
Yes man, we did it over on ‘Serious Thing’ – (Nighthawk LP)
When you went to Studio One, you sought him out to do some recording?
I did the first two songs for him already and I wanted some money, but when I go down to the studio I never did see him, and I ended up doing a song for him that I never planned to do, and that was my first number one – seven weeks on both radio stations ‘Hello Carol’.
It’s a nice tune – You did a good version for Tony Robinson.
And we do it over for Eddy Grant.
Oh The ‘Gladiators’ album, I didn’t like that album too much.
You see Eddy Grant don’t really know nothing about reggae music.
When did you leave Coxsone?
We never leave Coxsone – Studio One! No time at all. Don’t believe what you see a go on. Me and Coxsone always have a thing going on. We’re always really recording for Coxsone – always. Anytime him see me, him always “What appn, come do a song.” Of all the artists that ah work at Studio One I think I is the only artist who have worked with him and have never had a fuss with him.
What was the name of the music school you opened?
Just Gladiators, Gladiators music school.
When did you open it, was it a school for youth?
Yes, anyone who was interested to learn to play a instrument. Generally artist have some song that they make, but they don’t have it in… it’s not arranged, it don’t have a beginning or an ending. They would always come to we, and we would arrange it out, and set it on a recording pattern. We used to record them too. When we get artists that sound good, me always carry them to the studio and record them.
Who did you record?
We had a group called The Manchesters. We do a tune named ‘Selassie Bandman’. That is a group we used to produce, there were a lot more artists, but me no want to say nothing, cause they don’t really give people credit in Jamaica for what they do. There is no artists in Jamaica they don’t pass through my hands, and as soon they begin to get international they don’t really tell the truth who they come to for help.
It’s not surprising to hear that your influence has penetrated other artists in their creations. It seems a lot of artists don’t stick with it long enough to come up with with a nice song. Whereas I’ve enjoyed listening to a lot of songs that you have written.
You have too much imitator in the business right now. All man who was a originator now turn imitator to grab two shillings.
Time is hard.
Well they make it look like it’s too hard. When Bob Marley just dead me a get a contract to sing, where them naw use my photograph on the LP. Just my voice and trick the people by saying it’s Bob Marley. There was a lot of money in it, but me just say no that is pretending, I want to be myself. You see reggae is a message music, it’s something I believe in. I am not in it for the money… Cause if it was money I was in it for, I would do something else. I have a whole heap of different trade, I’m a good tradesman. But the message is the work of the almighty. The morning I get up and find myself sing – I never have no intention fe sing, so I know it’s a gift of the almighty. So I can’t do it like some man. Some man… the only thing they’re into music for is the money. I don’t pray for fame, I pray for life, because life is god – what good is a man dead, him can’t praise god when him dead! So I always pray god for life, never for money. And I don’t come to do show for money. I come to do show for the love, the vibration and the message in the music.
You seemed to have a good relationship with Prince Tony. One that yielded a lot of good LP’s, one that brought a lot of attention – you got signed to Virgin – were you happy with that?
Well me happy that I got an international contract. But not with the man like Prince Tony. Prince Tony is just a guy who his for himself alone. The LP’s that he say him produce for the Gladiators – him naw produce nothing – except spend the money fe the studio. It’s I&I who always produce the LP. All he do was finance, pay the money for the studio, but him naw really in the studio when you do the recording. When you see him put on it produce – him naw produce nothing. Him don’t know nothing about music to produce anything – but what happens is that Prince Tony go like him something good for the Gladiators – but him never do anything for the Gladiators.
More recently, why have you done so much touring since you signed to Nighthawk and why the switch to Heartbeat?
Well we haven’t signed to Heartbeat, we just have a little agreement with them for the one LP. Let me say touring is a different business… me love to go out on tour, cause me love to meet, me love to share happiness. But when it come to recording, when we go into a studio record me naw record for joke seen?
How did you come to record the LP for Channel One, with you one one side and Don Carlos & Gold on the other side?
Well, when I&I are in Jamaica and play music, it’s proclaimed that I&I play the best rhythms. So one day JoJo call me up and say he love me to come and lay some rhythms for him. Him never say he want me fe sing, just play some rhythms for him. Me go to the studio and there only one artist they have down there, and it’s Patrick Andy. And as I go into the studio, tell me say it’s me he wants to sing a couple of songs for him. Well I didn’t want the money still cause when you play the rhythms, they pay you by the sides you play. I said I wasn’t ready to sing any song yet. But through we was in the studio and everyone was working… He never tell me say that me was the artist who him wanted. He tell me say that me was there to back up the artists to sing except Patrick Andy. Anywhen me look upon the whole system me decide to sing four songs from him. And me do the four songs for him, and when we do the four songs him show me say him have half an LP. But me decided to go no further. But I had a tune on tape already and I give him a cut and say put it on the four tracks and make it five. And that’s the way it come. To tell the god’s truth him get some good songs, because I had the songs planned to produce them myself. Me and him have a good agreement. At least me get me royalties and publishing. He was one of the first producers who ever call me to tell me that royalties there for me.
That’s good, it’s a step in the right direction. I know people were very surprised when that album came out. They wanted it. He released one of the tunes on a 10″ – ‘They Can’t Stop Righteousness’. Have you noticed any other artists recently – I noticed there was a single on the Photographer label, it was a Little John single and it was backed by the Gladiators band?
I record a girl, but the girl never sang the song properly. Well it happened that the guy, who was an Indian brother, helped me with the money for the session. And I left the tape with him. And it surprised me one day when I hear the song playing on the Juke Box and it was Little John. He gave it to Little John to sing something upon it. The guy gave it to Little John behind my back.
Does that happen a lot?
Well, that will never happen to me again, but like they say you have to pay fe learn. Take the Heptones. The Heptones sing over ‘Roots Natty’ and it call it ‘Streets Of Gold’. That LP that have that record on – we play every track on it for free. Through they didn’t have money to pay, but we know them, and like I most of the people in Jamaica whenever they want help as artists they come to the Gladiators. Well when I come back to Jamaica I hear ‘Streets Of Gold’ and when I looked pon it I see ‘Adapted’ on the label. How can they use ‘Adapted’ they don’t sings a word that I don’t use.
So that was your production played on that?
That was the only song we don’t play, but all the rest of the nine track we play!
(This interview was originally published in Small Axe #24 (The Seattle Special) and is a little tribute to the late Bob Kondrak. There were 28 issues of Ray Hurford’s Reggae fanzine released from September 29, 1978 on to September/October 1989.)