Delroy Wilson Fights Back! (The Interview)

by Oct 9, 2019Articles, Interview

Delroy Wilson Interview


When: 1982
Where: Toronto, ON
Reporter: Beth Lesser
Copyright:  2019 – Beth Lesser

Delroy Wilson Interview

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You started singing when you were 13. How did you get hooked up with Coxsone?
I was going to school and singing in the playfields and in the classes and people always gather round, like having a break in the middle of the day they used to want to hear me sing. So I got alot of encouragement from people. Well, this guy, he used to sing but he couldn’t sing so he figured if he could team with me, we could have a thing together. So, he ask my mom if he could take me to this recording place which is Coxsone. My mom didn’t want me to go. She want me to study my lessons. But eventually, that guy beg and plead and break her heart. So eventually she said I could go. So we went to the place and we start to sing for Coxsone. He listen to us both, but he didn’t want that guy. He want me so he tell me I must come back.


Did you ever see that guy again?
No, I never did. He couldn’t sing. He was only trying that he could lean on me. And from there I started to record for Coxsone.

What was your first 45?
Well, I wrote a song by the name “If I Had A Beautiful Baby”, but that song didn’t really hit. Then Coxsone wrote “Spit In The Sky” and it was a smash hit for me.

How long did you record for him?
I start when I was 13 and left when I was 18.

What was he like to work with?
Well, in those days, the producers were looking out for themself really and truly. They were robbers. They would pay you a little money and they would get the bigger profit. The records could sell and what them get could buy their house and buy them cars, you know.

Did you know what was going on in those days?
Yeah, I know about it but I was a teenager and my mom she didn’t really know anyhing. So, I have to just keep going along.

What was the biggest problem? Collecting royalties?
Well, sometimes you could get the royalties but the guy would say like you owe him so many dollars and he has to take it out back from your royalties. But you don’t really owe the guy anything. You couldn’t do nothing. In those times you were glad to get what they give you.

Were your records released as dubplates?
Oh yeah, but you couldn’t get no money offa that when they sold plates to the sound system guys. They would sell them to as many sound system guys as the could and they would sell those plates for like 5 pounds, which in those days was alot of money. You, the singer, you wouldn’t get nothing for it.

Were alot of your records released as plates?
Yea, cause coming up after I made that hit, I used to make lots of hits after that. The sound system man used to want any record I sing in those days.

Did you sing with a set?
No, not as a regular thing. If I was at a dance the proprietor would call my name and say “Delroy won’t you sing a little piece?”. But I always singing with a band.

What were the sets around then that you used to sing on?
Well, there was King Tubby’s, Prince Jammy’s, Duke Reid, Prince Buster, King Edwards and many more.

Lloyd Charmers once said you only got paid 7 pounds for “Dancing Mood”.
No, I got 50 pounds for that and it sold and sold and sold and it still sells. What I’m planning to do now in time is sue those guys, those guys who think they are smart. I would get even back with those guys. If you wrote a song then, you didn’t know anything about ‘publishing rights’ and guys like Coxsone would just write their name on it like they are the writer. And coming up in the ’70s you begin to realize it. Your eyes are open and you realize what’s going on. Those guys are thieves still.

A young Delroy Wilson

A young Delroy Wilson

You tried to set up your own label, the Links label.
Well, I try. But the money, you know. I didn’t have any backing. Why I started my own label is like, those producers, they drive big cars and big homes and we do without. So the only thing you can try to do is produce yourself. You see, those guys can’t sing and they are the ones who are reaping.

Wasn’t it hard for a small independent label to go against the big guys?
Yes because the radio announcers, you have to pay them a sum to have your record played on the air. If you don’t have the money to pay those guys, they will probably play it one time and you don’t hear it after that.

Who were some of the people you worked with?
I used to work alot with Jackie Opel. He used to be a good singer but he died now. He wrote three songs for me. They was a big hit. Producers, I used to work with Miss Pottinger, Bunny Lee… I never work with Duke Reid, no. I was afraid of that guy. He used to have guns around his waist. I didn’t like that kind of situation. He used to want me to record for him but I was afraid of his guns so I keep away. He was like a western, put his gun in a holster.

Whose idea was it for you and Slim Smith to do a tune together?
The same, Coxsone. That was “Look Who’s Back Again”.

What happened to Slim Smith?
He was a good singer, but the same thing that happened to me, prducers rip you off… But he couldn’t take it, couldn’t take the pressure. Just went nuts.

Did you put out any records on your label?
Yea, I put out a record called “Once Upon A Time” and a song “I Want to love you but I can’t love you no more” with Stranger Cole singing harmony.

You recorded the “Sarge” LP for Lloyd Charmers.
I got ripped off too.

Who was the most honest producer you worked with?
None of them. They’re all the same. Some could act like they are a decent man or a decent woman but behind closed doors they are all robbers. Like if you record for those guys they will put your record on Africa and you don’t know how many sold. And they would go and collect the money in Africa and you wouldn’t know about anything.

Miss Pottinger

Miss Pottinger

Were you well aware of how well your records were doing in England?
No, sometimes you don’t know. Probably somebody come back from England and say “Ken Boothe, or John Holt, you got a record there and it’s doing fine” and you say “Where? What?” and you try to find out. And when you find out, you go to the producer and say ‘How come you put my record there and didn’t tell me nothing?”. And they say “Oh, Oh I was gonna tell you but I was waiting” and they might come up with any money, just any money – you don’t know how much it sold – but he just come up with “here’s 300 pounds” and you just receive a lump sum. But you don’t know. They just keep giving you bits of money but you don’t know. Sometimes when I would really think and consider, I would want to get a gun, you know? Let some of those guys have it. Well, you know what you got to do to those producers? You get some guys, some guys who don’t really care, some guys who don’t have any heart at all. You get those guys and, from those producer see those guys face, they know you mean business. So, they would come up and say “OK, OK I give you a moneys”. They might steal you still, but they’ll give you a moneys sometimes.

What producer do you prefer?
I would prefer no producer. Like I said, all of them is the same. When I get back to Jamaica I’m going to start producing myself and produce some singers. Because you always have young singers coming and saying “Delroy, we want you to produce us” and I will pay them what they must get. Not big name singers but singers who are coming up and sound good.

After you left Coxsone who did you work with?
I went to Miss Pottinger. Me and Ken Boothe and The Gaylads. I only stayed with her a couple of months and recorded 4 songs including “Put Yourself In My Place” and “I’m The One Who loves You”.

After that?
I got tied up with Bunny Lee. We would break away and then get back together. He’s a tricky guy but you can work a thing with him.

Who do you think is the most talented producer?
Well, the most talented producer who really knows what I got in me is Lloyd Charmers. I would say I like “Sarge” the best of all my albums. I like the phrasing on most of the tracks. I did an album with Coxsone “Good All Over”. That was in my teenage years. That was a good album too.

Your style of phrasing is sort of a Soul style. Did you listen to alot of Soul?
I used to, yea. One of my main singers was Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, gladys Knight… Listen to those records and you can take this from that and put it all together. Like even Bob Marley and the Wailers, people don’t realize, but even Bob Marley and the Wailers got their inspiration from listening to the Impressions. Thet used to lisren to the Impressions day and night. That was the kind of music that was popular in the ’60s.

Delroy Wilson - 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

Delroy Wilson – 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

You’ve seen alot of changes in the music.
Well, the music has really changed but you have guys, singers and djs, who are messing up the music. Cause reggae should be bigger and bigger and bigger. But you have some singers who can’t sing, who are in the music now trying to mess it up. They just sing anything that comes into their mouths and they’re holding back the music. In those days, I think, you used to have better singers, better lyrics. In those days, you couldn’t just go into the studio and record any song that come into your mind. People wouldn’t accept that. But, days now, any guy can just save a money and go in the studio and record anything. But even these new singers will go back to the old records and record them over.

What was the story behind your hit “Better Must Come”, which was used by the PNP in the 1971 election?
I didn’t record that song for the PNP. The song was a hit before and they use it after. They just take it! Take the music and win! I didn’t feel no way. All I was looking for from that some good money, if the song sell more. I even had some meetings with Manley. He promise what he would do for us singers, but he didn’t do nothing.

When did you first go to England?
In the ’70s. This guy named Lloyd Coxsone brought me over for a tour. The longest I’ve ever stayed anywhere like England or New York, has been 3 months. I always had to leave when it’s getting cold.

You have a new record out in England.
I did a new album, me and Bunny Lee.We put out two 45s off it and one of them is doing good.

You also sing on the new Sly Dunbar LP.
I did a song. I record that for Sly on the Coxsone label and they say that song will be a single. To my surprise thay put it on an LP.

Is there still as much pressure on artists in the recording industry?
Now, you the singers, knows what’s going on so they have to come up with money. But they still rip you off. Not as much as before. You, the singers, can leave and travel when you want so you know what’s going on and you know about ‘publishing’. You can find out if your record was put out in England.

So what are your plans now?
What I’m planning to do – I got a lawyer in London and I’m planning to go and state my case and see what he says. I want to make some real money. I deserve it. What I want to say to the producers: We, the singers, have to get together. The producers better look out. Cause, we the singers, is coming at you! I don’t know what the other singers want to do but I know myself, Delroy Wilson, is that I have to do something. Singers now, new ones, will do anything to get fame but they don’t know. In ten years they’ll regret it like I did. in those days, if you had a big manager behind you, you wouldn’t get ripped off. But I didn’t. It was just myself and my mother and we didn’t know nothing. Days gone by, I used to cry alot knowing that I’m not getting a fair deal. All I could do was cry; I couldn’t fight back. But I’m going to fight back now.

(This interview was originally published in Reggae Quarterly Vol. 1 No. 2. The PDF of the Magazine can be viewed or downloaded HERE.)