Audley Rollen Interview
The career of the man called Audley Rollen stretches as far back as the late fifties, when he and his brother enrolled in acrobatic numbers for an audience in the ghettoes of Kingston Town. That was the Wisdom Brothers. Audley later joined vocal groups such as the Emotions and got a big hit with ‘Hallelujah’ for producer Lloyd the Matador. After they split up he cut solo material for the same producer such as the classic Leroy Brown-penned ‘Repatriation’, and other fine songs such as ‘What’s Your Name’ and ‘All That Glitters’, the latter also featured a deejay version by Big Joe.
“REPATRIATION IS A MUST”
He migrated to the States in the early seventies and somehow disappeared off the musical radar, only to pop up again in the 1980’s with two very strong, and now long unavailable, albums. Lately he teamed up with noted producer Harry Mudie with ‘Just For You’, a record which met very favourable reviews. My thanks to Audley, Harry Mudie, Carlton Hines, Tim P. and Donovan Phillips.
A little background, the early years.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica. I was born and grew up there actually, I grew up in Jones Town. Jones Town is a very bad place.
And adjoining to Trench Town.
Yeah, yeah. But they call it Jungle now, I guess usually because they kill about (inaudible) there.
Ahhh, no. I guess that’s why they call it ‘Jungle’.
Yeaahhh, but you know I lotta good people come out of there.
The system provokes a lot of this I suppose.
The various spellings of your surname, let’s clear that up. It’s a bit tiresome to see all those different variations of it. There’s ‘Rollins’, there’s ‘Rollens’, and there’s ‘Rollen’, which one is it?
It’s Rollen, R-O-L-L-E-N.
That’s the correct one then.
(Chuckles) I’m sure you’ve seen that misspelling on and off over the years.
Yeah, but you know, sometimes people they don’t take the time to get the right signature, they just write what they wanna write. And sometimes some of these producers, they jus’ put what they wanna put. And you tell them but by then it’s already spreading, so whatcha gonna do, man.
Right, there’s no control over that when the job is done at the printery.
Nah, nah, they jus’ do what they wanna do, that’s it.
What about your family, you were the only one singin’ and trying to get into it more? What was the connection to practicing music, so to speak?
OK. Let me tell you from the beginning. The beginning, I’ve been entertaining since I was five years old. My entertainment career started – there was a manager in Jamaica called Vere John.
‘Opportunity Hour’, or ‘Knocks’.
‘Opportunity Hour’. But my brother and I, we were the Wisdom Brothers. We were a bicycle act, we used to do acrobatic stuff on bicycle. Back then you had people like Higgs & Wilson, you had Jackie Edwards, you had Owen Gray, you had Millie Small, you had Frankie Bonito & The Boys; that was the name of the band that used to play for all these people. You had the Blues Busters, you had Count Prince Miller, he had Sang & Harriott, which is not Derrick Harriott. He had Jiving Juniors, Downbeats, so those were the ones where the whole Jamaican entertainment started, really. This was about ’59.
The ‘infant’ stage of the business.
Right, right, right, so that’s where I started at, y’know. So I was an acrobat there, and they used to have like different acrobats when they used to have competitions. So we went on too, we won All Island Champion.
Yeah, it’s in the library in Jamaica, I went and I dug it up, y’know, did an ‘inspection’, I got the clippings and all. Anyway, along with us, Higgs & Wilson won and some kid named Sidney Wesley, I’ve never heard from him again. So that’s where I started out.
But these competitions, how was it set up? I mean, was it ‘all in one’ or did you have different ‘sections’ for music and acrobatics, step-dancing, comedy, or whatever? Various categories, or they stuffed it all together?
No, this is how it worked. The singers would compete against each other and they used to compare acrobatics – he had several different acrobatic teams, he had teams like George Nelson’s, he was another acrobat. And they had dancers, like Pluggy and Shan, and you had people like Little Twist and stuff. They would compare sometimes the dancers, they would put the dancers and the acrobats in the same group, and then everybody would come and perform. And then you’d have like three or four thousand people sit in the theatre, and then they’d say (raising the voice): “A whole round of applause for first prize!”, and they’d go by the loudest response. And so that’s how they did it, with the singers and everybody. Then we toured the whole island, they showcased us throughout the whole island and all that stuff. So we did that for many years and I started gettin’ heavier and heavier. But by then we were on tour across Jamaica with people like Higgs & Wilson.
Right, the classic package tour.
Yeah, Higgs & Wilson, Wisdom Brothers. Then I met Blues Busters when we hit Montego Bay.
Who took care of these tours, or that one, who was responsible for it, sponsored it?
Well, several different people. One was – at one point it was people like Ronnie Nasralla, and then at another point it was a man named Mr Riley, and he used to have shows all across the island.
Who’s mentioning them today? Not many speak about these people nowadays, to give them the rightful credit for doing a service to the early part of Jamaican entertainment.
Nah, not many people talk about Vere John and Vere John was the one who gave Jamaican artists their break. I think we all should have a big thing for Vere John and let people know who really gave Jamaica – people like Jimmy Cliff used to be on Opportunity Hour. Bob Marley, his first break was on Opportunity Hour.
Yeah, Bob Marley’s first break, he went to Palace (Theatre) and he won five pounds.
(Chuckles) You gotta start somewhere, I guess. What happened to Vere John and his productions later on?
Well, he had a son named Robert John – of course Vere John died, ’cause you’re talkin’ about 1959. There’s his son Robert Johns, but he jus’ never followed through like his dad did. So then after that we started touring and doing most of the hotels on the North Coast in Jamaica. My brother and I, we performed in Runaway Bay Hotel, Marracesh, Nan Zu-Zu, all the big hotels in Jamaica, they had set up shows for us, so… So we were like sort of making our living then on the North Coast in the hotels. So we got to the point where, while on tour, Higgs & Wilson they used to rehearse all the time. So, because I was there, I was always there with them and stuff, so they were teaching me those things, y’know, so that is how I started singin’. They used to tell me all the time, because in the night-time we used to hang out sometimes on the corner, and all the people would gather round when they’re rehearsing, and they said: “No, I don’t wanna hear you, let me hear the little one”. The ‘little one’, that was me, they said let the little one sing, let the little one… I said I didn’t want to, but they insist “Let him sing, let him sing, I wanna hear him”. And when I started to sing they said “Yeahhh” (laughs). So, that’s how that started.
How did you find Joe Higgs as the teacher?
He was very good, he knew stuff. He knew the stuff, he was a good arranger and a good writer, and of course he sang. He was responsible for helping Bob (Marley) too, Bob went to him and he helped to put that group together. But he was the one who really helped me, him and Roy Wilson. In the latter years Roy really was my mentor during my stay at Runaway Bay Hotel, ’cause he used to perform at the club. He used to do the vocals, used to sing at the club in the night after him and Higgs had split up, and we used to do the acrobat. In the daytime we used to live on the premises, so we spent a lot of time together on the beach during daytime and stuff like that. I learnt a lot from him. So then after that we left and I went back to Kingston, because by then my brother had migrated and I was left without him, I couldn’t do the acrobatics without him. So I go back to a place in Jamaica called Allman Town, I used to live in Allman Town. So, while in Allman Town I had a friend named Milton Henry, and also there was a guy that used to lead the group called The Techniques.
No, no, no, no, no, Winston Riley wasn’t much of a singer.
(Chuckles) OK, he became producer a bit later on anyway, so I assume that suited him better then.
Yeah. But he was a good businessman, but he wasn’t really a singer. But there was a guy named Junior Minz…
He’s one in the background of that group, he was never the upfront guy, right?
Yeah, he led a few songs, he was the one who sang ‘Queen Majesty’.
Right, that was Junior.
Yeah, he did the lead vocals on ‘Queen Majesty’. And he did ‘Love Is Not A Gamble’, he did that tune. But he wasn’t really a great lead singer but trust me, without him there would be no Techniques. Because after Slim Smith left and went to Uniques, it was Junior who went and got people like Pat Kelly. But before Pat Kelly was him, Winston, and Bruce Ruffin. Yeah. People like that, but he held it together real good. But he was a great arranger and he was great at setting harmonies up, and I learnt a lot from Junior too though. Yeah, Junior was great, he really was, man.
What has happened to Junior since?
Well Junior, Junior was born in the US, and he was in Jamaica, his family lived in Jamaica for a while, in Allman Town, Woodford Park, and he had a piano in his house over there. So, well, he heard that I could sing so he called me up one day, he said “Why don’t you come here, I got a spot open up in Techniques, come over audition for this spot”. “OK”. So, I went over there and I was auditioning there, but it didn’t work out. Because he was at the time lookin’ for somebody who could not only lead sing but also do harmonies. At that point I wasn’t really that good in harmonising, so it didn’t work out. But we used to still hang out together and eventually I learned a lot from him, but by then I was in another group at that time, which was called The Leaders. It was just two of us, me and Milton Henry.
What about Prince Alla, Keith Blake?
Huh? Yeah, well, Prince Alla was with Milton before me, but then him and Milton split up and then it was Milton and me, and then he went solo. Yeah.
Did you record anything at the time as The Leaders, you and Milton?
Yeah, we did a song for JJ, but it was never released.
It was called ‘Get On Board’.
For the late JJ Johnson.
He got killed sometime in the early seventies.
I don’t know. I know he died but I don’t know how he died, I heard he died. He used to be on Orange Street.
Yeah, yeah. Everybody was there, everybody was. And then after that we formed a group called Progressions, and that group was Milton Henry, me, Tony Russell, Patrick Hardy. And we did an album, that was called ‘Reggae To The UK With Love’.
I’ve seen about that, but the name of the company escapes me at the moment, what was the label again?
I think Pama put it out.
In England, yes. Harry and the Palmer brothers.
Yeah. But it was a various artists type of album, stuff like that. But anyway, that group didn’t last too long, so we did all that, didn’t last for too long. By then I started to hang out with a guy named Keith Hudson.
(Chuckles) Well, he said he was dentist…
(Laughs) Called himself dental technician at least.
He used to have a little record store at South Parade, right in front of the big church down there.
What was the shop, Mafia?
Yes, yes, that was one of his labels too.
Yeah, yeah. But I did a lotta work with him, me and Chinna Smith. Me and Chinna did a lot of work with him. ‘Cause Keith wasn’t really much of a singer, but he had ideas, y’know.
Innovative in most departments.
Yeah, yeah, he had ideas and he could get things done. He was very influential too among the young musicians. So he used to do a lot of sessions then. He even recorded Dennis Alcapone, me and Dennis Alcapone did a lot of work with him.
Yes, there’s one 45 credited to you and Dennis.
I did a lot of songs with Alcapone. I did a song called ‘Bad Harvest’, did a song called ‘You A Come’, and I did a song called ‘Zacka Zassa’. But he and I did a few tracks, three or four tracks too.
But before linking up with Hudson, didn’t you have a stint in The Emotions’ vocal group?
No, it was a – it was round about the same time. Because what happened was, I was moving from Allman Town and I went to live out among the eastern parts, and so I was living out there by Mountain View Avenue and Windward Road, somewhere round that area. But the Shakespeare boys, Robbie Shakespeare, Lloyd Shakespeare, they used to live on Jacques Road. So by then Max Romeo had left their group, so when Max left the group, Milton Henry left and went to become a part of that group. And that group by that time had Leroy Brown, Lloyd Shakespeare and Milton Henry. But I didn’t live very far from there then, but I knew Milton from our days in Allman Town, so we’re always close. So we all used to be up there, they used to rehearse as the Emotions, and I used to do my rehearsal there too. And sometimes some songs I could use some fourth harmony or so, I would add that too, ’cause we did some recordings for Sonia Pottinger. And I did a couple of cuts with them like ‘True Love’ and… can’t think of the other things we’d done. But we did that for Mrs Pottinger. So I used to visit them regularly, y’know what I mean, while I at the same time was doing my solo thing, with Hudson. He helped me to arrange some of the songs, I would do a lot of vocal tracks with him.
There are some Emotions tracks you didn’t mention, I wonder if you are on it, like ‘You Can’t Stop Me’?
And ‘True Loving’ as you said, plus there’s ‘The Storm’ and ‘Rum Bay’?
Yeah, ‘The Storm’. Yeah, ‘Rum Bay’ I didn’t work on. ‘Rum Bay’ was Lloyd Shakespeare. I was with them at the time when all that was done. Yeah.
There’s ‘Nobody Knows’ too.
But did you sing on ‘Hallelujah (Burning In My Soul)’, the one they did for Matador, or that was prior to you joining them?
I wrote that.
Oops! Great song, a big hit too.
I did the lead vocals on it. I did a lot of stuff for Matador. I did ‘Hallelujah’, I did ‘Wary Wary’, ‘Poor Man Story Long’. I did ‘Repatriation’, I did ‘All That Glitters (Is Not Gold)’, I did ‘What’s Your Name’, I did ‘Some Day’.
Right, but not all of those songs mentioned are Emotions, some of that is solo.
Right, right, right.
That ‘Poor Man Story Long’ has puzzled me for some years, had it on a blank and credited to ‘Meditations’. But now we know…
Yeah, I did all that. What happened was, I was up around there, up at Lloyd’s and them, up a Shakespeare boys. In them time Lloyd went away, and the other two fellows came to me and said: “Let’s not break up this thing, man, let’s keep the group together”, so I said fine. So I became the lead vocalist for the Emotions at that time. So we went to Matador, we did all them recordings with him.
Which is like ’68/69?
Yeah, somewhere around there.
Did you record enough for an album for him?
As the Emotions?
Yes, and solo. And for Mrs Pottinger too.
Neither one of them got a whole album. I think Mrs Pottinger got more. I think we only did three or four recordings for Matador as the Emotions. I did more as a solo act with him than the group did. So, I became a part of that group.
But Lloyd died later on.
Yeah, how you know?
I was talking to Max Romeo about that.
OK. And that’s the time when Family Man comes in too. Because even when I was in the Emotions, we had a group called the Hippy Boys. Yeah, Family Man was bass player in that group, and that was the first group that Robbie Shakespeare played bass in. Yeah, the Hippy Boys. I was the lead singer, we used to play all over the clubs at night, theatres and stuff. So we did them recordings with Matador.
Who was in the line up of the Hippy Boys at that time, Milton and Leroy Brown was in the group at this time I think?
Leroy Brown was the lead singer of the Hippy Boys before I was, even during Max Romeo’s time with the group. Yeah, he was the lead singer. There was a guy called Webby, used to play drums. Carly Barrett used to play drums, I mean Family Man’s brother used to play the drums, Carlton Barrett. Family Man used to play the bass, Aston Barrett. Webby used to play guitar. Roy used to play tenor sax, Barrington he used to blow the mouth organ, and Leroy used to sing.
But this guy ‘Webby’, was that Delano Stewart?
No, no, no, no, Webby is a guitaris’, played guitar. He was the leader for the group, he was great. He’s the one who teach Family and all of them.
What happened to Webby after that period?
You know, I’ve been trying to find Webby for a long time, nobody can’t seem to find him. I know Robbie was trying to find him one day when talking on Radio Jamaica, RJR, and he was saying that he wanted to get in touch with him, and he never did. ‘Cause he gave so much to our stuff we were trying to give something back to him, but we can’t even find him. I really would like to find him. He was a good guy. And so (short pause)… wow! I’m mixed up yunno, where did we start (chuckles)?
You spoke about being simultaneously the lead singer in the Emotions and playing with the Hippy Boys, shifting between those two.
Yeah, we used to play around, different, different functions. At that time Family Man was no longer in the group, Carly was no longer in the group, Leroy Brown was no longer in the group, but we had two members while Webby was still there. We had a guy who used to play drums named Shan, Milton Henry used to play guitar, Roy used to play saxophone and I used to play bass.
I seem to recall he was related to another half-famous musician, Shan, but I could have it mixed up.
No, Shan wasn’t. No, he was just a drummer, he wasn’t related to any other musician or anything.
I think I got that mixed up, yes.
Yeah, Shan was just an individual drummer that we played with. So anyway, we played all over, all over till – what happened was, Milton left the band, and for some reason that band, the Hippy Boys at that point disband. This was after ‘Dr No Go’ and all of that. So then I was out of that band, but then I was gigging with the Emotions at that time. And working with Hudson too. I was doing stuff for Matador and doing stuff for Hudson. Then at the same time now, Robbie Shakespeare he used to be at the house, it was his house, him and Lloyd and his father, mother, everybody, but he wasn’t a musician, he was just hangin’ around, hangin’ around, y’know. So every time we were rehearsing, he would lay down there and he listened and he listened and he listened, till one day he come to me and say, “Rollen, can I play the guitar?” And I said “Yeah, you can play the guitar”. But I had a big, big guitar, I had a nice bass sound to it. So he started play my guitar. He got real tight. So then he went and bought himself a real guitar, a bass guitar. So then him and Family Man got real tight and they started working out together, and then he started doing studio work, Robbie Shakespeare. And he started doing a lot of sessions with Bunny Lee and all that, but he wasn’t with Bunny Lee all the time, it was until he started to do other stuff. So one day I went up to his house, but before that, Milton Henry had left the Emotions, it was just me and Leroy Brown. So, then Leroy Brown left Jamaica and went to Canada, permanently. So then it was just me alone, with nobody! Then I went to Matador.
That seemed to be the best choice at that time anyway.
Right, ’cause everybody left. So I went to Matador Records and we recorded ‘Repatriation’, and that was a real big hit.
How did that song come about, what’s the background to it? It’s one of the early pleas for returning to the ancestral land, done at a time when airplay for those kind of sentiments was having a difficult time still.
Yeah, well, ‘Repatriation’ was a very big hit, all over the world, and it’s still listened to even now. That song was written by Leroy Brown and myself before he left Jamaica. Maybe he had thought that some day every figget have to find his own wine. So it all comes back to, like, going back to where you’re from, go back to your roots. At the same time he was gonna repatriate himself because he was living in Jamaica. So anyway, I went over there and we did that, and that was a real big hit for us, ‘Repatriation’.
I know Matador used Geoffrey Chung’s band a lot, but who played on that tune?
It was a group called (pause)…
Now Generation, yes, with Geoffrey Chung and Mikey them.
And they had someone doing a toast on it.
They had about nine versions of that one too. They had Hugh Roy Jr, they had I Roy, they had an instrumental, they had about nine different versions of it.
You remember that guy, Hugh Roy Jr?
He died, he die a long time ago.
I must tell you though, Lloyd Matador, he’s a producer that did some great work in Jamaica, he had some good productions. I don’t think he has got the credit he deserves, and I’d love to see him get some acknowledgment.
What sets Matador apart then, in your opinion?
Matador was a decent man, Matador didn’t cut corners in production. Matador would spend fifteen hours in the studio to get one thing right. Matador didn’t use anything second rate, Matador used the most expensive studios in Kingston. He used studios like Federal Records back in those days, Federal Records was one of the greatest studios in Jamaica. They were the first studio to have that eight track console. Matador is a good producer, y’know, a good producer who deserves more. Back in those days he didn’t cut too many corners.
You had some other songs for him that I enjoy a lot, in particular ‘What’s Your Name’.
Yeah, I did ‘What’s Your Name’ for him, I did ‘Some Day’, I did ‘All That Glitters’.
What became of them commercially, they did some noise in the charts at the time, or?
‘All That Glitters’ did good. As a matter of fact, they had some people out of England that re-recorded ‘All That Glitters’, some guy named Glen Sloley. Never met him before, he did the ‘Glitters’ too. They had a label named Studio 16, a label over there.
That’s Winston Edwards.
I don’t know, maybe it’s him. So everybody had left while I was doing those things…
Which is around 1970 or ’71?
Yeah, yeah. Then one day I went up to Lloydie’s yard and Robbie was there, so Robbie said – by that time Robbie had started a band, the band was Youth Professionals.
With Carl Dawkins on lead vocals and those people.
No, Carl wasn’t a part of the band, Carl was a guest artist with the band sometimes. He used to perform like (inaudible), but Carl wasn’t a member of the band. The band, Youth Professionals, was a boy named Charlie Ace…
Yeah. Charlie Ace was a part of the band, they had Touter, Bernard Harvey – he’s in Inner Circle now, keyboards. Then you had Benbow, the drummer, you had Robbie Shakespeare play bass.
What did Charlie play, if anything?
Charlie didn’t play nutten, Charlie jus’ take up the mic an’ talk and dance with the band!
(Laughs) Charlie… Charlie was the only man I know, Charlie come one minute before nine o’ clock when the band supposed to start, and he’s dressed to the teeth, y’know what I mean?
And him ‘ave a big scorpio t’ing round his neck as if he was a scorpio, and he jus’ took the mic and says: “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Green Gables! Tonight we’re gonna lighten the place up for you with some good music, so we’re gonna throw down an’ right about here we wanna get yourself going to flow, and we wanna see what you can DO!! This is the great Charlie Ace” (laughs). But he was all right.
He did operate his own label later on too.
Swing A Ling, the label and the mobile record shack.
Yeah, yeah. I think the label was Scorpio too. But yeah, when I went up to Lloydie, Robbie says: “Rollen, a whe you do later?” Me say: “Me nah do nutten”. So he say: “A’right, come sing, man”. Me say: “Yeah?” He say: “Yeah, come we go a rehearsal”. So we go to rehearsal. That time we used to rehearse up at Red Hills Road, it was a club called Evil People.
Right, this was the club strip in those days.
Yeah, you had Stables…
Tit For Tat of course.
Tit For Tat, yeah. Because Lloyd Parks used to play there, and Sly used to play with Lloyd Parks at that time.
Skin Flesh & Bones.
Yeah. Robbie always liked how Sly plays, so every time we took a break at Evil People, Robbie says: “Come, man, let’s go over Tit For Tat an’ go listen Sly”. So he developed a friendship there. Robbie is another one too, Robbie deserves a lot of credit. A lot of credit, Robbie is a very… he’s a guy who recognise talent, and when him recognise it him use it. So he say he like how Sly plays, so he developed a friendship with Sly, but Benbow was still our drummer. But him and Sly went on for a couple of years, not playing really, but just keep in touch and getting together from time to time. So I started working now with Youth Professionals over at Evil People, and Lloyd Parks and Sly them used to play over their club. So we play Evil People for a while until we had some problems with management at Evil People, so we left them and went to Mr Murray. Mr Murray was in Langston Road, Green Hill. We were with Mr Murray for a couple of years. The people, the band at Mr Murray was Benbow, Robbie, me, Touter, and a guitar player named Zadda. We play with him, and sometimes Sowell (Radics) pass through, and Chinna and Charlie. Then we get a tour, we toured the Caribbean. Mr Murray set up a tour and we tour in the Caribbean. Yeah man, them islands there, we come back and… Yeah, you know. But then I did some music for Mrs Pottinger solo too.
That’s one of my favourites, one titled ‘It’s Flowing’, or ‘It Flows’.
‘It Flows’ and ‘My World’, yeah.
Those two are some great songs, when did you record them?
I recorded those back in about ’73.
‘My World’ is almost equally good.
(Sings the chorus) ‘Without you in my world…’.
Also, you cut some tunes for a guy called Stamma (Hobson), aka ‘Buru’.
Yes, one called…
For Stamma I think ‘Oh My Darling’?
Yes, one is ‘Girl Don’t Know Love’.
Yeah, but that was Keith Hudson, that was Keith Hudson I record that for.
The one called ‘Hi Girl’, came out on Brent Clarke’s Atra label in England.
Huh? Yeah, that was the same song, that was what Stamma named it, ‘Hey Girl’. But that wasn’t the name of the song. What happened there, that song was done for Keith Hudson, it was called ‘Oh My Darling’. But Stamma used to hang out with Hudson, and then now Hudson wanted to give Stamma a start. Stamma was gettin’ too much of a pain to him, so Hudson gave it to Stamma and he said: “You tek it an’ you jus’ put it on your label an’ start”. Give him a start, you understan’. But I didn’t record that for Stamma.
Was Hudson, Hudson give it to Stamma.
Who was Stamma?
Stamma? Stamma was a badman, he was a badman, he was chucky.
Long gone, not alive?
No, no, he’s dead. Stamma was a badman, a so him say him was a badman, cut people up so.
So you did that stuff for Pottinger, then you decided to migrate?
Yeah, my parents by then were living in Philadelphia.
But before that though, you cut a tune for Dynamic, ‘Don’t Let Go’.
Yeah, it was a producer by the name Ed Wally, he used to be on television in Jamaica. Yeah, he came to me during the ‘Repatriation’ time when it used to do very well and Wally wondered if we could do something. And we got together and he produced ‘Don’t Let Go’, we did that song.
You had something else for Hudson, ‘Mad Lovers’.
The what? I don’t remember that one. I wouldn’t doubt it though.
How do you remember Hudson now, how do you look back on his time and work in the business?
Well, to be quite honest with you, Hudson was the first man record a deejay. When Hudson started, I think Hudson record – I think Hudson was the first one to record U Roy. Yeah, he record ‘Dynamic Fashion (Way)’ on the ‘Old Fashion’ riddim. Hudson was the first producer to reuse riddims, y’know what I mean.
Yeah, he was a very resourceful person. Because what happened was, because he couldn’t sing very well, he had lots of riddims that sometimes he could go in to make songs with, and the riddims were good! But when he sing them, it wasn’t – it couldn’t go! So he would use other vocals on them. ‘Cause sometimes he had lots of good riddims and he wanted to put other people on them, like he did some with Alton Ellis, like ‘Big Bad Boy’, then he start record Dennis Alcapone. It’s after U Roy had gone and did better with Duke Reid, then he used Jah Youth, ‘S-90 Skank’. But he was a very creative guy and was very resourceful.
And well respected in the music community?
I don’t know about that, that I don’t know about. Because he was like a rebel. Yeah, I don’t know about the ‘respect’ part, but he got along with the musicians them and most of those people. But he was a kind guy, y’know, a kind guy.
So you moved over to the States and Philadelphia, what became of the music there for you? You slowed down on the songwriting and the music in general?
Yeah, well, I moved to Philadelphia and formed a band named Rockstones, and we toured up and down the East Coast of America for a while, introducing reggae too. Back then people didn’t know about reggae in America, so it was when I came to America.
Who played in that band?
In that band? In that band I had Kevin Arthurs, guitar. I had Ricky Millwood, keyboards, I had Robert Walters on drums, I had (long pause)… bass player was Allen Black, I was on vocals, and David Boney (?).
Did you record with Rockstones?
Yeah. So then I formed my first label, which was called Philadelphia Reggae Sounds.
That’s the label where you had the first solo album, the ‘Prevail’ LP.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
That one came out circa ’82 if I’m not mistaken.
So you played in that band for the remaining part of the seventies.
Right. Yeah, we toured all across the East Coast of America when I played in that band, then we did some recordings. They did a couple of recordings, they did ‘Rasta Banner’ and ‘Be Wise’. Then after a while that band got dismantled, because they figured they knew everything and they wanted to do this and that. That wasn’t what I had in mind, so we fell apart. And I went back solo after that.
So tell me more about the conception of the ‘Prevail’ album.
Well, the ‘Prevail’ album like I say I had produced the ‘Rasta Banner’ and ‘Be Wise’ with them, and after the band broke up then I went down to lay the rest of the tracks to complete the album. All of these tracks were done at Wackies – no, not all of them, all but two tracks were done at Wackies. The other two tracks were done in Brooklyn, at Frano’s studio.
He was a prominent guy on the New York scene at that time, wasn’t he?
No, the other guy.
He hosted a club too I believe, a nightclub, managing some Skatalites people over there from the late seventies, and so on.
I don’t know about the club, because I never went. I just used that studio. After that now, me and Wackie got together and we did the ‘Role Model’ album, that did eventually end up in Japan with Sonny Ochai.
I believe he put out that ‘Role Model’ LP in ’84.
How did they take off, these two albums? Did they get what they was supposed to get in terms of promotion and coverage, and so on?
Well, to be quite honest with you, I don’t think they got enough promotion, I don’t think so. I know Wackie still have it in his catalog, but I don’t think it got enough push.
I saw someone selling it on the net for something like sixty or seventy dollars or thereabouts, that was recently.
Oh, they’re selling it for seventy dollars?
Yeah, second hand, not Wackie himself. But you can find it there for that type of price, it has become so rare and sought after now. So I figured, isn’t it about time that those two albums come out again, to CD for the first time. A reissue is long overdue.
Well, the ‘Prevail’ album, I still have it, so I’m getting ready to remaster it and issue it again.
Please do, it’s about time.
I would appreciate if someone in Europe could help and maybe we could work something out and put it together, maybe they could handle some of that stuff. ‘Cause I have about four or five albums that is completely mine that haven’t been distributed over there.
It’s about time they come out anyway, rated stuff from that time as I’d say.
The ‘Role Model’ album I don’t have any control over.
Right, it’s Wackies stuff. I did ask Basic Channel for the possibility to reissue that one, but didn’t get any clear answer what could happen with it.
I have the ‘Prevail’ album, I have the ‘Be Wise’ album, I have another four albums. Four albums that I produced, personally. Very good albums.
How do you feel about Wackie’s sound by the way?
Wackie’s sound is an unusual sound, I think he was trying to get it sound close to Studio One, whether or not he accomplished that, I don’t know. But he eventually developed that sound.
Some suggests a link to the Black Ark sound.
You did an album in around 1990 too.
Yeah, the ‘Honey’ album.
Right, I recall seeing an ad with it at the time.
Yeah, I had a big hit on that called ‘Shy Girl’, and I redid the ‘My World’ on that album too.
So what about the album you did for Mudie, ‘Just For You’?
Mudie got a good album.
What was the connection there?
Mudie get a good album, a very good album. What happened is, Mudie had produced some classical hit music from the late sixties and the seventies come up, y’know. So what we did we revamped, we used some of his old tracks, and I wrote some fresh lyrics and melodies to them and put together. It’s a very good album, very, very good album. We used tracks like ‘Stick By Me’, old John Holt riddim. We used tracks like ‘It May Sound Silly’ (sings the chorus), we used that riddim and we did ‘You’re My Everything’. My wife and I wrote most of them songs. We did ‘Rome’, he had a riddim called ‘Rome’, I don’t know if you know ‘Rome’ riddim?
Yes, yes, the Jo Jo Bennett one.
(Sings the chorus) Yeah. We did all of his hit riddims them. We record a bunch of new songs on top of them, it’s really good. Yeah, Mudie, we got together and we were talkin’ and said ‘why don’t we do that’. And yeah, ‘let’s do it’. We worked on it for a few days and it was done, smoothly.
I would like to know a little about your vocal style, I mean, vocally, what attracts your ears, what do you prefer? You have some sort of classical style in singin’ and arranging. Am I wrong if I hear some Lou Rawls in that?
Well, from early on I had an R&B approach to singin’. My influences are very wide, like I say as a kid it was Higgs & Wilson, then when I got older my mother used to send a lot of records all the time from America, and she get some Marvin Gaye, some Lou Rawls, Temptations – a lot of Temptations. Then this guy Patrick Harty, he’s a very knowledgable guy and he had a very wide library, very wide record library, and we used to listen to a lot of Temptations, old time something, Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, a lot of that. It really took a hold.
It was a lot harder to work from the States when you had moved over, I assume, even if the competition is tight in Jamaica too.
Yeah, it is, it is. ‘Cause when I left Jamaica I was at the peak, I was just getting ready to…
Get that ‘final break’ somehow.
Yeah. As a matter of fact I did break, but I would’ve gotten the consistency that was needed to really be a mainstay.
What’s ahead for you now, what are you working on? Also, you have a radio show in Florida, right?
Yeah, I have a radio show, my wife and I have a radio program.
What’s the content?
Well, the content is, we play a lot of reggae but the lovers rock thing. We don’t play like deejay music, and we play a lot of gospel. My wife is really into gospel.
How long have you stayed in Florida?
I moved to Florida in the eighties, early ’87. I’ve been here since then.
You couldn’t stand the cold in Philly (chuckles)?
Nah, that is too much, man! You know, it’s a big change, moving from hot Jamaica and going to a place like that, it’s tough with the weather.
In the summertime it’s not bad except it’s very humid, but when the winter comes, man, it’s terrible. And it takes a toll on your body.
I see. So otherwise, what’s coming up?
I’m working on a new album, I’m puttin’ those tracks together and I’m remixing some of my older stuff which I will put out myself, ’cause I’m concentrating on my material. I’m putting all my stuff together from the ‘Prevail’ album, and by the time I get this one done I have five albums and then I’ll put them out on the market. Maybe about next summer.
What about performing over in Europe?
Yeah, yeah, that would be great, but I just don’t want to come over there on my own. Maybe if they could put something together for you, then that could happen.
Audley Rollen Selection – 10 Tracks
A reissue of the ‘Prevail’ album is something to look forward to. Audley had a good thing going in the early to mid eighties, and ‘Prevail’ is, perhaps, the best example of that. I only hope the original mix is not tampered with for the CD release. Also, considering the prices demanded for his ‘Role Model’ LP for Wackies, it’s surprising that this album hasn’t been made available on the market yet. Hopefully it’s just a question of time before we get to see it. At the time, Audley found the right balance between his ‘standard’ lovers material and the cultural songs he does so well, it is clearly evident on those two albums. Traces of that is to be found on a later album like ‘Honey’, but apart from the hit ‘Shy Girl’, the cultural material stands out here, such as ‘Praise Jah & Live’. There are also decent remakes of ‘Repatriation’ and ‘All That Glitters’ on the album. Matador released some nice compilations of his best productions in about 1992, ‘Way Back When’ and ‘Shame & Scandal’, where Audley in his prime was featured.
Speaking of his own releases, ‘Be Wise’ came several years later and is a nice production overall, but hasn’t the variation you’ll find on his earlier records. However, Audley teamed up with veteran producer Harry Mudie and this produced ‘Just For You’, a real serious ‘comeback’ somewhat and a creative success as well. ‘Just For You’ is one of those records where most things fall into place. Don’t expect anything else than lush sophistication though, almost MOR; Mudie’s trademark, and Audley fits into the model very well. Rollen seems to be heading in the lovers rock direction almost exclusively these days, and even though he’s a fine crooner, I think it would be a shame if there wasn’t more material in the roots vein futurewise. More than half of the attraction with Audley Rollen lies in the cultural field. If you pick up ‘Prevail’ when it re-appears you’ll see what I mean.