Hugo Blackwood interview
Probably the first time people outside of Jamaica came upon the name Hugo Blackwood was in the late seventies on a Disco Bum 12″ entitled ‘Reggae Music’ featuring Dr Alimantado, Disco Bum of course meant produced by the unmistakeable Upsetter himself, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. But there’s a lot more to learn about this somewhat enigmatic artist. He was singing as member of Time Unlimited, another group known from the Scratch stable, as well as working with such personalities as Sir Lord Comic, Sly & Robbie and Chinna Smith’s High Times label. Nowadays Hugo performs out of Columbus, Ohio as ‘Istan Black’ along with harmony group The Sweets, where a CD, ‘Fatal Struggle’, hit the streets a few years back. My thanks to Hugo, Stacey, Bob Schoenfeld, Teacher & Mr T and Michael de Koningh.
“REGGAE MUSIC I-TINUALLY”
Where did you grow up?
Well, I was born in St. Catherine. That’s just like the borderline of Kingston, so that’s like Spanish Town. And Spanish Town now which was the first capital of Jamaica, y’know, when it was ruled by the Spanish, and after that the English take over the capital of Kingston. Well, as I say I was born in St. Catherine, 1951, the same year that I was born we had a storm, a hurricane called ’51 Storm’, I was like a few months old when that happened. Grow up in St. Catherine and Kingston now, my mom is from St. Ann’s and my father were born in Kingston. I grew in St. Catherine, since my mom was from there. I’ve got a slight history, that my mother was a cousin to Bob Marley. Yes, from a distant cousin to Bob Marley.
And his family was from Rhoden Hall, the Nine Miles district of St. Ann.
Yes, Nine Miles, St. Ann. My mother’s born and grow up in Wah Town, St. Ann, and so my grandmother and Bob’s grandmother is cousins, y’know.
Did you know about this connection at the time?
No, I didn’t know about that. It was one of my aunt, right, that just know the history. Because she have more experience and more knowledge about the whole bloodlines, y’know, she is the one that let us know.
So what was the start with music, singin’ in the choir wouldn’t be a wild guess, or you built up your experience on your own, playing by yourself.
I put a lickle time with guitar but not professionally, y’know, not professionally. I mostly concentrate on writin’ songs an’ I wouldn’t say it wasn’t in my mind to learn but I didn’t have the time, financially, I had to achieve somet’ing for the kids them. But no, I didn’t start with the church, ‘cos when I go to church weh my mother go to, they’re Catholic so they didn’t have a choir. Anyway, I start out, like, how I would say crying, yes. You know? And I loved music so much that when I going to school I take off my money an’ – like my lunch money, and when I get a lunch time from school I go to the shop and put my money into the jukebox an’ just listen to music instead of buy lunch. Delroy Wilson at that time was my favorite song them time, my favorite Delroy Wilson song was called ‘Conquering Lion’. That’s the first song that I was really…
He had a hit at that time with ‘Lion of Judah’ for Coxson I believe.
That’s it, that’s the song (sings the chorus). So, then again I used to be a number one dancer. When I go to the dance, and go dance the ska, Skatalites, ska songs, we used to go to them dance and dance like dance contests, I was one a them number one dancer in my area, y’know. Then I started to play sound, y’know.
What was the sound?
Well, I used to play a small lickle sound first, right, it was called Brooks Hi-Fi, that was in St. Catherine, like central village on Cayman Avenue. And then sometime Brooks the owner for the sound at holiday time he take the sound down to (inaudible) and play and then come back, he could just go to country for a week or two weeks and jus’ play. After that I start play a sound called Starlite Hi-Fi, used to play by Sir Lord Comic…
‘The Great Ooga Wooga’ (laughs)? Was that the first time you met?
Yeah, ‘The Great Wooga Wooga’. No, I met him before, it was in the seventies, like ’76/77. No, as I say I should put on my thinkin’ cap as I want to make sure… no, I record my first song in 1973, that was my first recording and Sir Lord Comic was the one who take me to the studio. But in the sixties I would just go dancin’, love to go to dance an’ t’ing like that. And, like I do concerts, visiting concerts, yunno. Yeah, whenever anything is going on in the community and they want me to do something I just sing, y’know.
Anyone from where you grew up… anyone from that area that got a break in the music business?
Yeah, um… what’s his name again…? I forget his name but he is one of the top, at that time, the top St. Catherine singer. I think it’s those riddims from the Moodies label…?
You had Dennis Walks among the Mudie singers, would it be him?
Dennis Walks! Yeah, Dennis Walks, he was like one of the… was the top artist from St. Catherine at that time.
‘The Drifter’ and ‘Heart Don’t Leap’, those two were big hits in that time.
Yeah, and he was from like central village, right, an’ he’s mostly based in Spanish Town. So, you had Dennis Walks and other St. Catherine artists. You know that girl is from St. Catherine too – Grace Jones. Yeah, she’s from Spanish Town. But anyway, as I say I play Starlite that was mostly played by Sir Lord Comic before…
We’re talkin’ the early part of the seventies?
Yeah, and he left it, right. It was the number one sound in central village, and when Sir Lord Comic was playing it and then left it, it go down. And I take it up, and bring it back (chuckles) to life. So when I start play the sound now it’s like a ‘rebirth’ now, y’know. Ever hear that song, ‘Rebirth’? The people come back to the sound and Sir Lord Comic now he come back to the sound.
What did he say when returning?
He say that he’s surprised, yunno, like, he was looking for somebody else could really come an’ get back the sound to life after he leaving, and that is how he take me to the studio. That was to Dynamic studio and do my first recording.
How do you recall that now?
It was like a glory, it was like a glory for me, ‘cos going to a lotta producers before, record producers like Niney, Coxsone Downbeat, and they give me time, yunno.
I take audition an’ them love what them hear, and them give me time to come back, and when I come back it’s like ‘Alright, next week’. And when them see we come it’s ‘Next week!’ again, or any other week. Then I just get tired and seh, alright, let’s forget ’bout it. But it was a glory when Sir Lord Comic was taking me to studio for the first time. I never really get fed up by trying, the only t’ing that… is the attitude of the producers, yunno.
What material did you use at that time, original or material by others?
No, all my songs are original, all of the songs that I have in my head are original songs. It’s more than a few songs we bring, like in them time if you sing a song and it kick them you don’t have to sing the second one. In those times I listen a lot to Heptones, that is some artists I really love. When going to concerts I mostly like to see Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis. In those time too, Bob Marley, but in those time I mostly concentrate on songs by Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis.
What was some of the early songs you had?
Yeah, well, the firs’ song that I record is called ‘Pick Your Choice’, it was a deejay song. So you see, the first opportunity I get in the studio I don’t really cared, I jus’ want go in the studio, ‘cos that was on my mind, doing my first recording with a deejay song, right. But that is my first opportunity and I just take it, and it was on a riddim done by Dynamic Sound, right, Jaguar label, and the riddim is a Freddie McKay riddim called ‘Rendevouze’.
Was it released as by ‘Hugo Blackwood’ or a different name?
No, ‘Hugo Blackwood’ is there but that time they used to call me ‘Hugo Man’. So that’s my name as a yout’, as a recording artist, yunno. So it came out as that on the Jaguar label, Dynamic.
Who was responsible for production, was this between Byron Lee and Sir Lord Comic, or Comic alone?
Well, Lord Comic was the producer for that song, for Dynamic Sound, he get the credit for that. So I just reuse the riddim track, like he jus’ select that track.
What was the response for that song?
Right, the response that I get is that I used to have a few friends that work at Dynamic, they were the ones that released it, ‘cos Tommy Cowan was responsible there for the distribution part at Dynamic at that time. So, well, is like those guys told me already that the song was coming out, and then I go and check Tommy Cowan, and Tommy Cowan seh ‘It do nice’, although he don’t know anything about it (chuckles). Like, around four days later I went back and go to get my copy. So those guys that are my friends, they’re always giving me, ‘cos they’re the ones who are pressing the record, so they are always giving me information that they’re going to press a five hundred of the record today, and everytime I have a meeting with them they tell me they’re pressing another five hundred. But it didn’t really sell in the Jamaica circuit, yunno, it’s mostly like for Europe, places like those, export, it didn’t take off in Jamaica. So the export I don’t know wha’ appened. At that time it sell for five cent a copy. When I go for my first quarter, I get some nine dollars five cents. That wasn’t much, and then I jus’ say ‘You know what? I’m not going back for anyt’ing more’. That is how I head off and don’t even think about recording a nex’ song for Dynamic Sounds.
So did you feel Lord Comic had any involvement in this?
It’s not Lord Comic, because it’s got nothing to do with – is Byron Lee. When I go to get my royalty for the first time, Dynamic is a big place, Dynamic and Byron Lee has a lot of workers. He’s there inside the office, and I tell them to check for the books about my record. But, Byron Lee’s wife was trying to deny what was going on for me, was Sheila Lee herself, Byron Lee wife, come and go look it up, right, and give me the firs’ royalty of nine dollars five cent, and I said: ‘You know what, I don’t even going take it, I don’t care what you wanna tell me, or wha’, I’m just heading somewhere else’. That is the time now I get to meet Scratch.
So you waited a few years before recording for Perry, after this mix-up ‘affair’ happened with Dynamic and Lord Comic?
Like around… that was ’73, and ’74 I go to Scratch. Yeah, I record a song for Scratch in ’74 an’ that is when I and Time Unlimited meet up.
What was the title for that first solo recording you did for Scratch?
It was a song called ‘Raindrops’, but it didn’t see the light of day.
Well, you never know, Perry released several songs overseas without any information about this to the artists themselves, so… It could be out there.
Yeah, I don’t know, I don’t know wha’ appened, outskirt. But in Jamaica, I know it didn’t see the light of day in Jamaica. From that I take a break again.
How did you find recording for Perry? This was cut at the Ark or recorded somewhere else, like Randy’s?
Yeah, at his house home in Washington Gardens, right. So, I were rehearsing with Time Unlimited at Duhaney Park, round at the hillfoot at Duhaney Park we were rehearsing every day. And then we seh ‘Alright, we’re heading off for Scratch’, beca’ they were the ones who got the connection for Scratch.
So tell me about how you became a member of that group?
Alright, at the rehearsal, like the audition/rehearsal for Rupie Edwards, that is before Junior Delgado even joined the group. So we were rehearsing for Rupie Edwards, so it’s like every Sunday he do recording… You know Rupie Edwards from the Success label, right?
Yeah. And, at the rehearsal they were the top group and I were the top solo artist, and so we become brethrens, y’know, after that we keep in touch. Because of we keep in touch that is how I get to know them and them know me. And then Junior Delgado, he’s now in the group.
But they had done a tune on the ‘Skanga’ rhythm entitled ‘Rasta Dreadlocks’ (credited to the ‘Heaven Singers’ to avoid conflict with Perry) for Rupie, with Delgado in the line-up at this point?
Yeah, it was Junior Delgado, Orville Smith as the founding member, Hugh Marshall, and Porti.
Right, Glasford Manning.
Yeah, Glasford Manning, but we call him ‘Porti’. So they were the four members, ’cause Time Unlimited start out originally with four members. So, what I would do some of the time, where I were living at that time was, like, around six miles away to Duhaney Park, so some of the time I just walk the six miles, y’know, to get to them. While doing a lotta walking I get a lot of inspiration, a lot of inspiration with the music, y’know, lyrically, and that is how I go to rehearse, a one away. You know, while walking I jus’ sing, sing out, every day. Actually every day we meet and rehearse, the whole day. We jus’ cook, cook an’ eat, rehearse, then smoke herb (laughs).
Then when evening come we jus’ split up, yunno. When night come we just split up, and just seh ‘Tomorrow, we meet again!’ And it was just nice (laughs).
Just music, music, it take up most of the day.
Music, music. And Porti is the one, Glasford Manning is the one that got like an acoustic guitar, so he’s the one who plays the guitar.
Tell me more about Porti, he’s an obscure figure from this period but he surely deserves more attention from past work with the Jewels and some solo recordings as well. He was older than the rest of Time Unlimited, and he used to sing at Studio One in the sixties from what I know.
Yeah, I think so. Yeh, you know Jamaican music is so tough on certain musician, y’know, when you record you get more exploited. And then now, the producers, when them realise artists who got a little more knowledge in the business, they give them more exploitation because they know that ‘Alright, yes, aha!’ They want to record artists but don’t give them anyt’ing, yunno. When you realise as I say when them songs end up in Europe, when you realise that them make a lot of money off your head, and you don’t make one cent. That is really how the music industry in Jamaica is brought up, yunno.
Rip-off, strictly rip-off, y’know. Yeah man.
How did you find Porti, would you say he was the creative force or leader for the group?
Yeah, well, he and Junior Delgado was the two lead singers for Time Unlimited at that time. So, Junior Delgado left the group.
Why did he leave, because Scratch talked him into it, to go solo?
As I say they do an album for Scratch, but he was so forceful, yunno, pertaining to the business, right, and eager to make his name. And Scratch didn’t like his attitude because he was too forceful.
So Scratch shelved the album?
And would you say Scratch had any part of this, that he broke up from the group and branched off on his own?
I think so, he start to hook up with Dennis Brown. So is like he say for himself that is a way for him now to get a break, instead of being with the group, hookin’ up with Dennis Brown – that is the adventure for him to get that break, so him jus’ split. Then now, we as Hugh Marshall, Glasford, Jah Youth… is Orville Smith, right, but we call him ‘Jah Youth’, and as I say that’s how we start to rehearse together as Time Unlimited. I hook up with them and them say alright, we’re gonna work as Time Unlimited. At the same time I’m working as a solo artist, but still keep it as a member. That is how we went to Scratch, ’74. Right. That is how we did that song called ‘Hound Dog’, it don’t release in Jamaica but it could be that he release that in England. So we did that song as Time Unlimited, ‘Hound Dog’, and I did the solo song called ‘Raindrops’. That day when I record that song and sang the vocal to that solo song ‘Raindrops’, Scratch was so impressed that he said, “You know what? Go back in the studio, and deejay!” Right? So, I do a singin’ vocal and a deejay vocal on the same riddim, my riddim, it’s an original riddim, right, and I don’t know what happened to those songs.
Who played on that riddim?
You know what? I think – I forget the musician them but I know that, I think… Nah, I don’t really remember the musicians name, y’know.
Could Watty Burnett have played on it, he stepped in quite a few times in those days to replace on various instruments, that’s what he told me at least.
From the Congos? Yeah, but he wasn’t playing instrument. Because the Congos were jus’ Watty, Shanti Roy and Cedric, so they were doing their own t’ing. Shanti Roy were mostly the one who play guitar, yunno, when they’re rehearsing, when them sing is Shanti the one who play the acoustic guitar. But they don’t really rehearse at Scratch, they mostly rehearse over at Shanti house, y’know.
Where was that?
We call that ‘Rebel Park’, in St. Catherine, and Cedric (Myton) were living in Duhaney Park. They mostly do rehearsal at Shanti house. So, after that I take a break again because the attitude was so (laughs).. you know? Like, they start to get so… upset and peeny-weeny like – too much. Hugh Marshall say he’s splittin’, he can’t take no more of the tribulation and exploitation, what’s going on. Alright, after that we get back to rehearsing since Hugh Marshall split. In ’77 I head back to Scratch, y’know.
Did you have a regular job around this time to…
No, no. No job. Our minds were just concentrating on singin’. I was just – one of my favorite things I do, like a hobby, do fishening. Not just fresh water fishening, river, not the ocean. Just catch fish, and some of the time we catch so many fish we sell some of it. Make some money, buy some herb, buy some food, an’ just cook some food and have herbs to smoke, and jus’ live. In ’77 as I say I head back to Scratch.
So there was a couple of years gap before you decided to try again at the Ark. How did that come about, had you left Time Unlimited at this point?
I was out of the group at that time.
What about some Time Unlimited songs like ‘Give Me Love’ with Delgado, ‘Unfaithful’, ‘2000 Years’, that one was on Chinna’s High Times label anyway.
‘2000 Years’? Yeah, that is me, Donovan Joseph, and Orville. That song was written by Donovan Joseph, that come as a Time Unlimited song. But the first song that come back as Time Unlimited is ‘Nature In Love’, is actually Frankie Paul do the whistling in the beginning of that song. Back in 1980 we go to Sly (Dunbar) and take audition, and we record a song for Sly. That song is written by I, it’s called ‘Living In A Jamdown’. And that song, I don’t know if he release it in England or Europe, but he didn’t release it in Jamaica. I wrote it and I lead-sing that song. After we record that song Sly said, “This is a number one song”, only to hear from Sly later on that the song was protesting. And at that time he didn’t like what was going on in Jamaica pertaining to the politically… you know? So he say he was afraid to release that song. And I don’t see where that song was protesting and it is no gains that is pertaining to his music career as a producer. Is only a part of exploiting again.
What about a Time Unlimited tune for Scratch called ‘African Sound’ – or alternatively titled ‘Rastaman Going Back Home’, that was on the Upsetter label.
Well, that is a… oh, I don’t know, I don’t know anyt’ing about that song. So maybe it’s the Junior Delgado time.
Probably. Another single was ‘One Road’ on the Africa label.
Yeah, that is our song, we produce that song. That is in the eighties we produce that song.
Plus there’s ‘Win My Love’ for Joe Gibbs.
‘Win My Love’! That, we record that song before we go to High Times, right. Because, how we get to Joe Gibbs you see, I brethren, that is the one who influence me pertaining to recording business, and Ronald Williams that is my closest brethren who influence me to the music business, as an artist. He is the one who do that for me, him say, “Hugo, yunno, you have the talent to go into the recording business”. But he was working with Joe Gibbs, right, he was like a bodyguard for Joe Gibbs, alright, but somet’ing happened and he was charged for murder. He go to prison and he was sentenced to hang, but he appeal with the appeal, right. So when he appeal with the appeal is like he did nine years and Joe Gibbs do some paperwork for him and he come out. So when he comes out he is the one now, because Joe Gibbs make a studio now – he did have a studio in Duhaney Park before, but he move his studio to Retirement Crescent. And my brethren now is the one who take us to Joe Gibbs as Time Unlimited and we record that song even though he didn’t release it in Jamaica. That’s another part of exploitation.
But someone told you that he had it pressed…?
In Europe. We only got a slight idea that he release it in Europe. Never really know strong about it, just a slight idea. So you people in Europe (chuckles) get more information more time than us.
How did you find Errol T and Joe Gibbs to work with?
Well, as I say my brethren Ronald Williams – I call him ‘Biggie’, and he just take us and Errol say, “Record these guys”, that is what he tell Errol, just to record them, and Errol jus’ record us. It was an original riddim.
Who backed you on that song, Lloyd Parks and the rest of the Professionals?
Yeah, Lloyd Parks and those, because at that time Culture was the top act, at that time.
But while recording for Rupie’s Success label, were you a part of the group when ‘Run Baldhead’ was recorded?
No, that was Glasford Manning, Junior Delgado, Orville Smith and Hugh Marshall.
So what made you split from the group in the mid seventies, was there any fight about musical direction or leadership, or what was the cause for it?
No fight, no fight, it’s just because of tribulation. Nutten about fight, just tribulation and exploitation. I figure I better do somet’ing, some solo t’ing (chuckles) to see if I can make a break. Because if we have to get back together again, then it so happened, yunno.
Even if you were out of the picture, did the Time Unlimited continue?
Yeah, but not rehearsing that much. So we haffe get together as Time Unlimited with Orville Smith and Donovan Joseph, and the group already have a name out there. And we were rehearsing the tunes every day because Chinna (Smith) was tellin’ us that it have to be real tight when recording, so we rehearse every day, rehearse every morning in Trench Town before Chinna go on tour. And Chinna say, “Alright, you know what? Orville Smith as the founding member and three a you as brethren is going solo, so jus’ organise and get back together as Time Unlimited”. So we come back together as Time Unlimited.
Did you know Chinna from before?
I think the firs’ time I meet Chinna is not Scratch, is Channel One. But no, I think is Scratch, in the seventies, like ’77 going up, yeah, I think is Scratch. And ‘Reggae Music’, Chinna don’t really play on ‘Reggae Music’. But musician on ‘Reggae Music’ was Ernie Ranglin, Winston Wright. Yeah, I can remember – the only musician that I don’t remember, ‘cos Ernest Ranglin play the riddim, for the guitarist who play lead on that song, I don’t remember that musician. Ernie Ranglin, Boris Gardiner play bass, Sly play drum, Keith Sterling. I think Keith Sterling play on that song.
How did that session come about again, what led up to it?
As I say ’74 I went to Scratch, so he know that I already record for him.
Yeah, ‘Raindrops’. When I record that for him he say, “Hugo, you gonna make it big”, that him say to me, yunno. And as I say it’s exploitation again. In ’77 now, it jus’ give me a good feeling, seh ‘You know what, I already record a song for Scratch, so I’m heading back to Scratch’. As a solo artist, right, that is the reason why I head back to Scratch. And me say ‘Alright, I’m gonna do somet’ing with him’. So, that’s how me do ‘Reggae Music’.
How did you find the work at the Ark?
It’s nice, you got space. The studio was at his home, right, so when you go to Scratch, Scratch have a vibes, yunno, he has just a nice vibes when it comes to record. It jus’ give you a good feeling. Even though you might find him a rip-off, he might be plannin’ a rip-off, but he give you a good feeling. And there’s a lot of other musician all waiting at Scratch, at his studio, sitting down for the whole day, making a lot of jokes an’ t’ings like that, yunno. So, it was a good feeling, recording for Scratch. And you’ve got space, you can smoke your herb free an’ t’ing like that. So it was nice, nuff time to work on whatever. So, if he plan to do like five or six or ten tracks for the day, he jus’ call in the musician them and eat food, smoke herb an’ lay riddim tracks. Its just with a good spirit.
Was ‘Reggae Music’ the only track you recorded at that session, or you did more that never came out?
No, that is the only track that I record, ‘Reggae Music’, at that time. Nothing else. ‘Raindrops’ and ‘Reggae Music’ is the only two tracks I do solo for Scratch.
That song was released along with ‘Rastaman Train’ on a Black Art 12″ with Raphael Green and a deejay slot by Dr Alimantado. Who was Raphael Green, can you recall him? A very nice vocal on that track.
Yeah, Raphael Green is a guy from the parish of Clarendon, yunno. So, he himself is like he want to be in the recording business as a singer, and it was so tough getting into the business. But, he is like, driving away from Clarendon to Kingston is the best opportunity for him to get to Scratch, that’s how we meet.
Was ‘Rastaman Train’ cut at the same session as your song?
No, not on the same session, that record on a different session when I wasn’t there.
Did you spend a lot of time at the Ark even after that tune was out, to get the chance to do some more solo tunes – you never did any session work there for other songs?
No. No, no, and I did a song too before that and I’ve got to tell you the truth – I don’t even remember the name a that song, I record that song for Jacob Miller. That is when – I don’t know if you have any idea about Talent Corporation?
Sure, the agency owned by Tommy Cowan and Warrick Lyn.
Yeah, Tommy Cowan and Talent Corporation. That time Inner Circle were distributed by Talent Corporation, right, that time too I think Talent Corp. was distributing for Bob Marley. That is the time when I record a song for them. It’s Horsemouth playing drums on that song, ‘Teardrops’, ca’ he was playing with them at that time, Inner Circle. I don’t know if them release that song because we come to a confrontation. They’re supposed to release that song, and when I realise I can’t hear anything about it I go to them and try to find out what happened. They were acting up (?) and we come to a confrontation, and that is how Robert Shakespeare – at this time he was there, ‘cos Talent Corp. them days there was a lot of musician hangin’ out. It was a big, like a big open lan’, big space uptown. So a lot of musician was hanging out there, play dominoes and t’ings like that. So, Robert Shakespeare now, he hear us talkin’ about the song, and my confrontation with them about my song, and listen wha’ being said. I think that is the reason why no one want to release the song, that long after the confrontation I record that song for Taxi. Is like he remember that confrontation and realise ‘Oh, it was the guy!’ Them going to some kind of argument, seh ‘You know what? We nah go release the song’, for (chuckles) the Taxi label is between him and Sly. But, that song a go come out on my next album. And I’m gonna release ‘Reggae Music’, with a new vibes, yunno. Yeah, we gonna re-record it.
Did you know that Trojan put out the original ‘Reggae Music’ on a 12″ in the UK a while back?
Yes, last year.
Yeah?! And guess what? Guess what happen here, Heartbeat put it out.
Yeah. Heartbeat put it out on a compilation CD, the name of the CD is ‘Bafflin’ Smoke Signal’. Yeah, Heartbeat put it out. So you see what’s going on in the business! Behind your back (laughs). But we gonna re-record it, this time you’re gonna hear a different flavour, man, with Istan Black & The Sweets.
Did you approach Heartbeat about the inclusion of your song?
Not yet, we’re working on it still. But we have our CD as Istan Black & The Sweets called ‘Fatal Struggle’, it’s distributed by a independent company here in the US called Little Fish Records. Finally those songs are registered. I get the opportunity now to credit those songs, and now they are published by BMI.
Would you call those recordings at the Ark as the high-point of what you’ve done so far?
Yeah (laughs)! ‘Cos that is the original, yunno. It’s a good feel, it’s a high-point, it’s the original. But we have advanced more now, y’know. Sound more unique now, yeah, soundwise, vibeswise – sounding more better, y’know.
You were still in touch with the Time Unlimited while being solo, Porti, and them?
Yeah. But as I say Porti was in the Jewels and he was in Port Antonio, that’s Portland, at Leggo Beast’s farm, yunno. He bought that place at the same time he had his studio, late eighties.
I think the last release by Porti was in ’86 for Trevor Douglas (Leggo Beast), or thereabouts.
Yeah? I didn’t see him that often because he moved out to Portland, and Orville moved to England.
When did he migrate there?
After we do ‘Modelling’. He meet this English girl, the girl come to Jamaica an’ that girl jus’ love him off and he just married the girl and settled in England. He go to England and get around four kids, and then something happened, and he had to leave back to Jamaica.
And he’s still there now? He recorded a few songs for the Riz label while in England as far as I can recall.
Yeah, he’s in Jamaica.
And what became of Donovan Joseph, he’s still there with Chinna?
No, I don’t think so. He has his solo career but he hooked up with Bertram Brown.
Freedom Sounds, Greenwich Farm.
Yeah. He’s still with Bertram Brown, and that album was release late 2002, the Time Unlimited album, name ‘Devil’s Angel’, it release late 2002. ‘Cos is my mother bring my album up for me, they give my mother the album to bring up. Is when I get it, I realised, yunno.
What label? When was this recorded and who took care of production?
Live Wire. It record like around in the eighties by Hartnel Henry (aka Sky High), he is from Duhaney Park. He and Donovan Joseph used to go to school together so he want to put some money into the business. He loved what we were doing. He say he want to do some product, y’know, our album was the first thing he do as a producer. Drummer I think it was Benbow, Tony Asher, Chris Meredith, Harry T and Chinna, guitar. I think Chinna play on it too. Those are some of the musician that are on it. Chinna now he is a very serious musician, and anyt’ing he play on he want to do it very, very, very perfect. That is Chinna. Even though he is a busy man, always on the move. When he get a little time, he go into production, yunno. But he is very serious, and whenever he carry acts to the studio he don’t spend a lot of time with artists in the studio, becaue when he have to book studio the artists have to be right at it, focused, don’t waste time. So that is a great attitude, so you’ve got to be ready. Well prepared, you’ve got to be ready.
Tell me a bit about the inspiration for ‘Garvey Inspiration’? This was a great 7″ for High Times back in ’92.
Yeah, hear what now: Chinna jus’ come with like a line, a headline, I think it was in a Jamaica newspaper, somet’ing about Garvey. And Chinna just come and say – I don’t know, one or two or more of us artists was at the (High Times) store. When him come and seh, “Hugo, just write something, do something about Garvey ca’ is the Garvey inspiration”. He jus’ want me to write somet’ing about Garvey, and that is how it jus’ come up. He just hit me and want me to do it, I just “Alright Chinna, I come up with somet’ing”. Then I just put some ideas together, yunno, I just get lyrics together and work out the melody myself, and then now like around two days after that I get back to Chinna and seh, “Is what I come up with, wanna listen to it?”, and him say alright, him love what him hear. I don’t know what they get that from, but a lot of people relate that song to Black Uhuru, y’know, like saying ‘Ohhh, that song sound like a Black Uhuru’. Original, a Jah vibes that, Almighty vibes. Donovan Joseph was responsible for a lot that going on into High Times at that time, right, so he kinda give himself some credit for production of that song. It was Leggo studio we did that. I think Chris (Meredith) play on it too, play bass. I believe is Squiddley (Cole) program the drums, I think Chinna and Asher play on it. ‘Cos Asher was High Times musician at that time. I did another solo track for High Times that release, and he put it on a compilation CD with Frankie Paul and Sugar Minott and some more artists, called ‘I Love You’. That was at Chris Stanley studio, at Music Mountain. That song now, the back-up vocal is Nadine Sutherland, Tom Arland and Erica. Then in the nineties I did ‘Ruff Justice’ for Shanti Roy, ‘cos Shanti Roy now that is where we mostly hang out, that is in St. Catherine, Rebel Park. That is where Donovan Joseph live, and Donovan and Shanti Roy live very close. Now my mom has a house next to door to them, there we eat at Shanti Roy’s house, we cook and eat and smoke herb together. Is I who create that Kotoko label for Shanti too. I recorded twelve songs for New Name Records, I don’t know if Castro Brown release any of those songs. Castro wanted me to sign a contract and I didn’t love the offer, I said no I’m not doing it. New Name was the firs’ digital studio made in Jamaica, and I and Wayne Wade were the first two artists to record in that studio. I jus’ didn’t like the offer. Then they moved from the spot to another spot, and get Lady Saw and Luciano, right, ‘cos I think he didn’t really break out Luciano, yunno, on the New Name label. Before, somehow Fatis sign up with Luciano, Luciano was with Castro Brown, and I jus’ stop. I just step off, went to the country area way down in St. Elisabeth, I just kinda cool off. I go to Kingston like two days a week, but not for recording, just for the racetrack, yunno. Hooked up with the racehorse trainers them to get some money for my kids them, I just go to the tracks, check my trainers brethren them to find out what them plannin’ to win with, and jus’ go on the road, get some guys to gamble some money on it and just make some money.
That was at Caymanas Park.
Yeah, that is what I earned off to support my family.
Time Unlimited (2019)
On returning to Jamaica on a short visit a few years later, Hugo hooked up with Chinna again and cut an album at Squiddley Cole’s studio, this is apparently one of a few projects to be released shortly. I hope it does well, but ‘nothing ever happens before the time’ as it is said somewhere. The third volume in Heartbeat’s excellent ‘Upsetter Shop’ series, ‘Bafflin’ Smoke Signal’, had him as one ‘Hugh’ Blackwood but is, of course, none other than the subject of this interview. I truly hope the company come to their senses and give the man his share and stop avoiding those who created the songs which make up their products. The true credit and compensation is long overdue as I would say.
As far as I know, Chinna has kept ‘Garvey Inspiration’ in print over the years and it is a most recommended purchase with its cross-pollination of binghi and raggamuffin rhythm patterns. Our man turns in one of his stronger vocal performances on this piece of music as well; listen and you’ll hear. ‘Ruff Justice’ (Kotoko) might not be one of Congo Ashanti Roy’s best shots in the producer’s chair and it turned out to be Hugo’s last JA single when leaving for the States some time after this recording. Another wish I need to express is to see a wider distribution for the Time Unlimited effort, music like that should always be more than locally (JA) available. Perhaps that will change futurewise. Meanwhile, keep an eye on what the group will produce on American soil, it might just be right up your ‘cultural alley’. Food for thought, medicine for your hips. Let the conscious reggae music keep on playing – Itinually.
Time Unlimited – Nature In Love (High Music – 1982)
Hugo Blackwood & Dr Alimantado – Reggae Music (Upsetter Disco – 1977)
Istan Black & The Sweets – Kettle A Kuss Pot (Lost Ark Music – 2013)