Earl 16 interview Part 1
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The following is probably the most comprehensive interview ever done with Earl Sixteen. At the same time, it is probably one of the best “hard-core in-depth” style of interviews ever done with a reggae artist. The interview with Earl Sixteen took place in the Autumn of 1992 in London UK. The original piece can be found in “More Axe 8: Mud Cannot Settle Without Water”.
RH = Ray Hurford
DK = Dave Katz
RH: How did Earl Sixteen get into the music business?
Basically, I started out on the street corner, under the light post, with all the boys, hanging out at night. I started out at Waltham Park Road, where I grew up, in Kingston, Jamaica. At the age of about 13, I started getting into like, Chi-Lites music, ’cause in Jamaica we’ve got a big influence of American music. I kind of started to listen to a lot of soul American stuff, James Brown music, and all this and all that. Usually, after like doing my… ’cause you know, I lived with my Auntie at the time. On Saturdays, I used to turn up the radio and do my housework, and listen to the radio, and in the nights, when we get out on the streets, sometimes I’d be singing, “Trash man didn’t get no trash today,” like “People Makes the World Go Round”. The guys kind of liked how my voice kind of sounded, ’cause I used to try to sing exactly like the actual records.
In those days, the good old days, everybody was into singing like Dennis Brown. Dennis Brown at that time was like one of the most influential artists, he was really progressive at that time, he was young still. All the school boys and kids who liked music, we used to like always try to pack on Dennis Brown, because he’s like a role model for us. So I kind of started out with that, but I was more like singing falsetto, like Pavarotti kind of stuff. Afterwards, after that, they had Vere Johns, talent contests going on in night clubs around Kingston. There was one at the Turntable Club, there was one at the Vere Johns, and there was one at the Bohemia Club, which was closer to me in Half Way Tree.
One of the guys who used to hang out with us, Donald Hossack, he used to teach music like keyboards, piano. He encouraged me to enter one of the talent contests. During that time I was still going to Church and singing now and again on the choir, and I started doing solo stuff, out from the choir, just singing songs all on my own, because I had this really unique kind of voice and all the people liked my voice. I was in the Church, but I wanted to get involved in some of the Chi-Lites stuff, some of the soul stuff, because the parties were happening, you get the girls and all that. I went to try and get an audition for the talent contest; I was about 14, 15 then, still going to high school.
When I went and did the auditions, it turned out that I got picked in the audition, then went to the heats and I reached up to the finals. In this final, there was like Michael Rose, Junior Moore from the Tamlins, there was myself, there was a girl called Joy White, she’s brilliant, I still love her, and there was another girl, I think it was Sabrina Williams. There was about six of us in the final, that’s a big night. Anyway, I kind of scraped through, I was biting my nails, but I made sure that I did my homework. I practised this tune 24 hours a day, “Peek a Boo,” one by the Chi-Lites, it was a big song in Jamaica so a lot of people knew it. When I did it, I ended up winning the 25 dollars (on) boxing day, I was too small to drink the beers so I had to give them all away (laughs), but after that I started getting the buzz, I started getting addicted to it. I like how the crowd cheers me, so when I left high school, I passed my exams, and I was meant to go to Commercial High School, which is like a college, St. Andrew Technical. I started going there, but I was really involved in the music, I wanted to form a group. I actually had formed a group called the Flaming Phonics. We were doing school barbecues, school fetes, playing in auditoriums around the country, like Calabar, mainly the high schools, Holy Child Girl’s School.
The Flaming Phonics consisted of Paul Powell, second from me, he did baritone. Then there was Kenneth Hamilton, who did a semi-baritone, and then there was a brethren called Alan Polack who is the spitting image of Roy Cousins, he’s got thick lensed glasses and all that, he was a brilliant falsetto. His falsetto was much higher than mine, a bit like Derrick Lara, really high pitched and good. We had that group really sowed up, we were doing a lot of shows. We ended up working with Big Youth, because these were the top groups at the time, Mighty Diamonds, Burning Spear before he had locks, and Dennis Brown. We used to do a lot of shows around the country. What happened now, we didn’t really actually get into recording, we couldn’t get it right, the recording stuff. I was going to school, Kenneth was going to school as well, and Polak was working, and Paul is like the odd one out. After doing a couple of shows and that, I dropped out of high school, because this was it, I wanted to be a star. My mum kicked me out, so I was on my own. I goes, let’s go and try to get a recording done. I remember us going to work with Duke Reid in the early stages, before I left school.
We tried, Sundays was audition days at Treasure Isle, we went down there, Duke kind of liked one of the songs. We tried to start recording, and Duke started letting off gun shots, and me and the rest of the guys got kind of worried. We laid the rhythm track, but we didn’t get ’round to voicing it, because we didn’t want to go back to voice it. We ended up working with Herman Chin-Loy from Aquarius Records. We did that “Hey Baby” track I think that was the first recording that I actually did as a solo, as an individual; that was like one of the first recordings I did with a group and then. Jamaica wasn’t really ready for that, they wasn’t really ready for four guys like a Four Tops kind of thing, they were into U Roy stuff and King Stitt. We kind of split up, Paul went away, Polak went to America, so I went solo. But just before I went solo, we did a show once, Flaming Phonics, Tyrone Taylor was on the package, Burning Spear, and Boris Gardiner, we did a show in Spanish Town. Boris Gardiner kind of wanted, he was looking for a lead singer for the band, because Tinga Stewart won the festival that year, which was ’74, and he was planning to leave to do some shows in Canada for the Jamaican Culture Department, they had festivals they had to go away to.
Boris was really impressed with my lead singing with the group, so after that show, he said to me, “Would you be interested in…” The group was kind of faltering at that time anyway, we were getting a bit on each other’s nerves, so I jumped at the idea of getting involved in working with a road band, getting on the road, I really wanted to do that. With Boris now, I started going up to Boris, to do my little auditions, Tinga Stewart gave me a few tips, and it was really strenuous. You had to do all the current songs in the charts. You had to do the Calypsos, the Soul, the Reggae, because a road band is like cabaret stuff. I really like it though because Boris was a proper musician who could write the lyrics, write the music for the piano the drums, the bass, the guitar… I was really impressed with him, and I kind of fell in love with the whole scene, the instruments, equipment, and I suppose he kind of liked the way I …
I was living in the ghetto at the time. Boris was kind of middle class. So I used to go up there every day, go up to rehearsals. I was staying with my Aunt at the time, and then she started locking me out, I had to sleep around the back sometimes in the fowl coop, but at the end of the day, I was happy doing it. When I started, like ’75, Boris goes, “All right, good. You sound as if you’re ready now. We’re going to Canada for 3 months.” I just went with Boris. There was me, Boris Gardiner, Errol Walker, who was like the 3 main singers, apart from Keith Sterling who was playing keyboards, we had Willie Lindo on guitar, and we had Paul Douglas on drums and Arkus Bella (?) playing lead, and that was a band. I tell you, that was some of the best time, I was so thrilled being involved and these guys were like stalwart musicians. Scratch used to come up to book them to do studio sessions, they were like regular session musicians as well. I was like a star, I’d made it. But, with Boris now, I started getting influenced into going into the Rastafarianism. Boris was playing some of the major balls, we used to do when the government had campaigns and we used to open, play the music, like big politic stuff, it was really getting political, and we used to do Nurse’s ball, like police, officer’s ball, so Boris wanted a clear image, because everybody used to dress one suit, big flare bottom pants, no back pocket, these Cariba suits, really too snobbish kind of thing for me.
I started getting involved in Hugh Mundell, because he lived right next to Boris Gardiner, Hugh, and there was some Twelve Tribes brethren who lived further down the road who started Jah Love sound system, he was called Jah Wolf… but he got killed. He was the original one who started Jah Love… Boris was a couple of doors away, so I used to go over there and hang out with them, ’cause they had the best fruits, the best herb, and exercise a lot, it was nice, I liked the atmosphere in there. I started getting involved in this “chapter a day” stuff, “Gadman” business; Boris didn’t want to know about that, he goes, “We have to keep certain image, ’cause we’re working.” I started growing my locks.
One stage, I think it was about ’78, ’79, I met a couple people through Boris like Lee Perry, and Mikey Dread, I’d met these guys along the way. I thought, well, I might as well give Boris a break. I didn’t really want to leave, but at the end of the day, he fired me. He paid me off. What happened was, they had a big ball at the, Oceana Hotel, it was a nurse’s ball, and Boris goes to me, “You have trim your hair, you have to be clean for this gig.” Anyway, I just went up there with my stretch-foot trousers, my Clarkes, looking good, with my tam on my head, and I left a couple of locks hanging out. When I went in, I was late as well, so when I went in, the band had already started, reaching the stage I could see the people going “Huhnnnngh?!” Because everybody was dressed up, like the gowns, the long floral gowns. It was a proper formal kind of dance, a formal ball, and I was in my rough-neck pants, and my cuffs, this plain kind of things. After that gig, Boris went, “I’m sorry, you have to go, we probably won’t get this job again.” Like the promoter think that we’re trying to get involved in some Rasta, some Ras Michael or something. At the end of the day, when I left the band, I was kind of involved, so I went straight away to Lee Perry, did a couple tracks with him…
RH: What about Derrick Harriott? Does he fit into the picture before Lee Perry or after?
Definitely, Derrick Harriott was before… After I did the music with Flaming Phonics, before I got really involved with Boris, in the space of about two years or so… we were still going to school, I was still going to school, and I had this school mate called Winston MacAnuff. He wrote “Malcolm X”, and he wrote a couple of songs like “Dreadlocks Unite”, and “Charmaine”, he wrote about five songs. Winston was actually the one who got involved with Derrick… Before that as well, the first solo recording that I did was for a guy called Phonso, his label is called Globe International.
RH: Little Lenny done a tune for him.
That was actually the first recording, solo, called “Leggo Off Of That”. I did it over for Roy Cousins, called… I can’t remember. That was my first song. But after that, I got involved with Derrick Harriott, right after that. Because Winston had laid some rhythm tracks with Derrick. Winston MacAnuff, we was going to the same school, it was like a Junior High School. We were in the same class, and he was like a brilliant guy, he had all his A-levels. He got involved with Derrick, and he laid about four rhythm tracks with Derrick. He couldn’t voice the songs, he wasn’t really a singer. At the time, his voice wasn’t really up to standard, so he asked me to follow him into the studio one day, me, him and Franklyn Waul, “Bubbler”. Winston had already laid some tracks at Joe Gibbs, so we did “Malcolm X” first there. When we went, Winston was trying to voice a tune, he was trying to prove to us that he could do it.
At the end of the day, Errol Thompson, the engineer, goes “Winston, I don’t think you’re going to make it.” (Laughs). So Winston goes, “All right then, fuck it, Earl, go on and try it.” I went and, Errol liked how I did it. We told him that we’d like Franklyn to get in on the action, so that was the first song that Franklyn actually recorded, the overdubs (hums keyboard line). We kind of made it like a little group together. After we did that recording for Joe Gibbs, a couple months, years afterwards, we didn’t hear it come out. So, we went to Derrick Harriott, we said, well Derrick, we’ve got this tune and it’s a good tune, we want to get it out, and he liked it, the “Malcolm X”, so we did it for him as well. When we did it for Derrick, we did a couple of other songs. I did “Charmaine” and “Dreadlocks Unite”, you now, they all came out. When Derrick went to press “Malcolm X” now, we find out that Joe Gibbs actually was pressing “Malcolm X” on a white label, only for export, so it kind of cramped out thing, and Derrick got upset with us, so we never got any money from either of them. Derrick went ahead and pressed his anyway, ’cause he was doing the harmonies, there was Sly and Robbie playing on it, it was more updated compared to Joe Gibbs’ one. Derrick’s song came out, got a couple of air plays, sold a couple thousand copies of it. That was my first royalty I got for a record, which was 30 dollars. I was grateful for it, my first record I could take home to my mother and go “Yeah!” It was a fairly good stuff, but from Derrick now, I kind of got involved with the Boris Gardiner Happening. Then, I started working for Scratch.
Earl 16, Toronto 1986 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
DK: Because of the Boris Gardiner connection, you ended up…
Getting involved, meeting Scratch and all that, and knowing him.
DK: You said you did a few tunes for him?
Yeah, I did a couple. I did one called “What’s Happening In The World”…”Do Good,” it’s called. I did “Cheating”, I did “Bird In The Hand”, and I did “Freedom”, four songs I did.
DK: “Bird In Hand”, is that the same…?
He’s got the rhythm on the Ape, “Return of the Super Ape”, that’s my rhythm track on those, the vocal never came out. “Do Good”, I don’t know what he did with that track, it never came out either. I voiced one called “White Belly Rats” as well. I voiced that, and then Perry went a voiced it (himself), but he’s got a cut of my voice on it as well.
DK: Did he write the lyrics, or did you have a hand in the lyrics?
I think it was actually done by Max Romeo originally, but he and Max kind of… after the “War In A Babylon” album, they had a big conflict between each other, so he wanted to get rid of all the stuff that he had left. So, he just called in people to do the songs that he had done with Max.
RH: What about the other tracks, did you write them?
Well, “Bird In The Hand”, I wrote that, but “Black People’s Freedom” was written by a friend called Criter Free (?), he’s working in Japan now, and “Bird In The Hand” was written by Fitzroy Martin, he plays saxophone, and he wrote another song that I did on the Boris Gardiner album called “Sledgehammer”, called “I Need Some One To Love”. He wrote a couple songs for me because he used to be in the band as well with Boris. But “Bird In The Hand”, unfortunately I can’t really remember the lyrics. We actually laid the track with Dalton Browne, that was actually the first time that Steely came to the studio as well, we first brought him, Steely, Albert Malawi who, he used to play in sound system, but he’s a drummer, and Dalton Browne, that’s the musicians that we used for that session, and we did four songs all at once. We did “Cheating” was played by Boris Gardiner, and “Bird In The Hand”, those two were played by Boris Gardiner, but “Give Black People Freedom” and “Do Good (And Good Will Follow You)” was played by Albert and them lot.
DK: “Cheating” was issued with two different mixes.
Well, I don’t know about the mixes, but I know it was released on two different labels. It was released by Federal first, when it first came out it was on the Wild Flower label which was being controlled by Federal, and then when I went to Belgium last year, I got a copy of it from Tropical Sounds who has closed down now, Robert (Kuijpers) gave me a copy with a different label on it, but I think the mixes might have been different, I think the original blue label, the Wild Flower label, was a different mix.
DK: When you were working with Scratch, how did you find him to be at this time?
Well, at the time I was working with Scratch, it was like working with Studio One, because after that, I ended up at Studio One (but we’ll get to that…) There was like so much people wanted to work with Perry at the time so I had to be waiting around for days and weeks. I met so much people there, like the Congos was doing their album at the same time, and we had the African group, some guys from Africa who wanted Lee Perry to produce their album, there was Bunny Ruggs who had just come back, Bunny Clarke as we know him, he just came back from America before he started to get dreadlocks, and he wanted to do some work, he did a couple of songs. We ended up doing backing tracks for a lot of Yabby You stuff, people used to book the studio otherwise. Because I was there night and day, practically lived in the place, when there was a session going on, I probably ended up doing backing vocals. The tracks that I can remember that we actually did was “Chant Down Babylon Kingdom” which was done by Yabby You, that was me and Bunny Ruggs when he just came back, at Black Ark studio, in Washington Gardens. There was one called “Travelling”, it was done by Debra (Keese), “Travelling To Mount Zion”, I did the… I’ve re-voiced that for (Black ) Scorpio because, I was there when she was doing it. I was supposed to do it, but, Scratch kind of fancied her and thing, he wanted to sweet this girl when he seen her…
DK: So who wrote the lyrics for that?
It was us, it was Perry and her and me, Bunny, we just kind of pitched in and did it but she actually did it so fucking… it was like an orthodox, really mystical how she did it. I haven’t really heard that… I heard it once, Bob Brookes has a copy it, I know that because I heard him play it, but I did it on Scorpio label, a long time ago. I just hung out in the studio all the time, Heptones come and did “Party Time” album, and “Black Man Redemption”, Bob Marley, but I was there working with Perry, kind of like a part of the family, I was really happy to just be around, because I knew that something great was happening, until Perry started drinking too much rum, and smoking at the same time. And then there was this old, elder dreadlocks who used to come across and preach a lot, and he used to get on top of Perry’s nerves. I don’t know what happened, Perry kind of chipped out and tripped, he went on this trip, like he was getting like focally rich, he was getting really rich, like companies used to come from America, and would want to film the studio and Perry would take their money and kick them out, literally. Then there was the bad boys called Spanglers, who was coming up for money every day, they wanted weekly paid protection money, and Perry didn’t need that, so at the end of the day, Perry just… He was just building up the studio, because we just had a guy called Jah Wise who did artwork, he does artwork, he came and painted up the studio, painted it all nice, did some nice stuff, leading right into the Ark; Perry just tripped out and started making x on all the a’s and e’s… and they just burnt the place down. But that was a great loss, Black Ark was a great loss, because it could have been like another Studio One, the sound, it was new and it was happening, reggae. We had, when “Police & Thieves” went to number 1 in England, and sold a million copies, it was like, boy, yeah! That’s it.
RH: There was Earl George around at the time, wasn’t there?
Yeah, Earl George, George Faith was working, there was like Meditations came and did a couple of stuff, it was like buzzing, and I was there all the time. I never had anything else to do.
RH: What about Augustus Pablo? He was in and out a lot around that time as well.
Yeah, well Pablo, I met Pablo through Hugh Mundell. Everything that I did was through Boris, Boris Gardiner’s like, he’s really like a great person. Because where we lived at the time, Mundell and all these guys lived around him, and there was all these producers coming up to get him to do sessions, because he was one of like the best. Apart from Lloyd Parks, Boris could write the music, and he could read it, so he had no problem. You just hum the note to him and he could play it, he could go to the rest of the guys “It’s a C to D” or whatever, so he was like essential, he was needed for most of the sessions, so he was getting a lot of jobs, and I was there. He used to introduce me to the guys because he wasn’t producing for himself.
He was writing mostly, him and his brother, because they had “Everyday Living Style” a very big track. Boris first sung it, and then Big Youth took it up. After working with Perry, I kind of got really into smoking the raw weed, going really ital, that’s when I starting hanging out with Pablo, ’cause Pablo was really into the ital stuff, but he was busy working with Hugh Mundell, Delroy Williams, he was working with Norris Reid, Tetrack, so I had to wait again, but I wanted to do it, so I didn’t mind. Up ’til now, I’ve only done two songs for Augustus Pablo, “Changing World” and “(Rastaman Is A) Peaceful Man” which was produced by Pablo, but we did it for a guy called Maxwell Lynch, which was a various artists album released in America. It was my song but Pablo arranged it.
RH: What was the other song that come out on a Cha Cha album, done at Channel One around ’79 or ’80?
I think that was “Children Lies”, I did that with Heptones. The original track was done, produced by Earl Morgan. I met Heptones through Perry as well at the studio, he got some rhythms which he’d acquired from Lloyd Parkes and a couple people, and he was coming to England and he said, “If we do a couple songs, we could try to get a deal for you and make some money”. I did that “Children Lies”, then I did an album for them as well, which was released by Vista Sounds, “Shining Star”, that was done by Earl Morgan as well. Between the time when I left Boris just before I got involved with Mikey Dread, Heptones, Coxsone and all that…
DK: I want to ask you about the Mikey Dread connection.
I got involved with Mikey about 1980. Mikey was on the radio, he was working from 12 til 2 (AM), he was playing “Right Now” (aka “Black People Freedom”) which was a big song, it got a lot a airplay in Jamaica, ET-there’s a guy called ET, used to work on Saturday mornings, he died, he was a DJ, and he used to play it every Saturday morning. Mikey was playing it a lot as well, so Mikey kind of found me, ’cause I used to hang out at Aquarius during the day in Half Way Tree, and I think the first track I did with Mikey was, it was a song that Mikey was DJing and I was singing, I think it was about some airplane stuff or something… I can’t remember it. Anyway, the song came out, and Mikey liked the feedback that he got, so he goes, he’s got a label in England, he told me it was Rough Trade. He goes to me, if I did the album he could get a deal for the album and I’d obviously get some money so we started working and I did “Reggae Sounds”, and I did “Jah Jah…” I started working on an album, some tracks.
He put out a couple singles off the album in Jamaica which didn’t really come out too good because they weren’t really ready for Mikey Dread’s stuff. He was working at Tubbys, and Tubbys stuff was like, Mikey was trying to update it, using soul with a lot of guitars, it was heavy. It wasn’t really ready for Jamaica but it was working in England. Because he was an engineer on the radio station, he used to help Tubbs to mix as well, putting his ideas as well, so it was totally DATC stuff, Dread at the Controls stuff, it was different. It was kind of working so I thought, yeah, I might as well do the album. I did the album, and then at the end of the day, I don’t think he actually got a deal with, he got a deal with some company called Stick Records, which was I think affiliated with Fashion, so the album was actually released through Fashion. He wanted to take me to England in ’83; after the album I came up, but because I never got enough money from him, I told him I didn’t want to go, so he came up with Edi Fitzroy, because at the time he working with Edi Fitzroy as well.
RH: He did a little tour, didn’t he?
I was supposed to come on that, but I took my passport back from him, because he had my passport for ages. I just took it back and goes, “Nuh, I don’t want to go to England”. In the end, Edi never talked to him from that. When Edi came back to Jamaica, he never spoke to Mikey ever since, so I kind of felt chuffed that I didn’t go. They had problems on the road. After I did the album with Mikey, I started hanging out with Junjo Lawes; I was with Yabby You and all that…
RH: Did you do any work with Youth Promotion?
I think I did do a song with Sugar (Minott), I don’t think it was ever released though. I did some songs for Sugar, but they weren’t released, they never came out. He did put out a couple on various artists stuff, I did about 3 or 4 songs with Sugar, that was about it. But before I got involved with Sugar, that was a later stage. After the Mikey Dread stuff, I started working with Pablo, between Pablo and Yabby You, because I was doing backing vocals for Yabby. Through I used to hang out at Tubbys with Mikey Dread I met Yabby You again, so I used to do backing vocals, ’til I ended up, I did a vocal for him on a song called “Keep On Coming”, it’s an old time song, but just we changed the lyrics, and a couple more tracks but they’ve not been released. He goes to be that he’s got a couple on DAT’s and two tracks, so he’s going to try to work out, see if we can finish up an album which I really want to do, because Yabby’s a good producer. But I mainly did backing vocals for Yabby in those days. With Yabby we did “Deliver Me”, the whole of that album, there was me and Tony Tuff, and Richard MacDonald that did the backing vocals for that album. Then there were some tracks we did at Aquarius which he hasn’t put out yet.
RH: You’ve got a credit on Richie MacDonald’s album.
Yeah, he did that for, Alvin Ranglin was it, GG’s? Oh, Aquarius… yeah that was me and Beres Hammond I think on that for Richie. It was actually me and Beres. Going back to that time, we were the first, me and Beres Hammond, when Carlene Davis first came back to Jamaica, because she was living in Canada, when she came back and started getting involved in music, me and Beres were actually the first ones who took her like, teaching her. She had the voice, but she didn’t have the know how to sing on reggae, she was more like doing night club stuff in Canada, and she wasn’t really a reggae singer, but she was doing some songs for Herman, and me and Beres took about a week to get her really toned up, really tune her into like singing on the reggae tracks, I can’t really remember the songs.
RH: Did you do any songs for Herman Chin-Loy at the time?
No, not solo stuff, I can’t really remember recording for Herman, solo stuff. I did songs for Karl Pitterson who was actually the engineer during that time, there was Karl and there was Stanley, he’s working with Island now, he’s called… he’s an engineer.
RH: Is that the same Karl Pitterson who owns the Black and White label?
I don’t know if he’s got a label like that, but I know that Karl Pitterson, he was the one who was doing some of the stuff with Bob Marley, he went to Compass Point to set up the studio, when Chris first built that studio, Chris Blackwell. I did “Love And Happiness” for Karl, but that was in Aquarius; I didn’t actually do anything for Herman because Herman wasn’t really producing at the time, he had the record shop and he was more into that than the studio, he was into booking it out. After doing the stuffs with Yabby, the backing vocals and all of that, then I started hanging out with Pablo. Because I had to be waiting around to get ’round to doing a song for Pablo, I just went to Studio One, because, why I had to go to Studio One, I wanted to do some tunes for Junjo, because Junjo was like, kicking ’82, ’83, he was really stinging. I used to go to the studios at night time, Channel One and all that, I even ended up doing a few songs for Jo Jo Hoo Kim, the proprietor of Channel One, but I didn’t really do any songs for Junjo, but I was there with him. We kind of grew up together, because I come from the same place, Waltham Park Road, Junjo comes from the same place. He used to even ask me to go to the studio to mix off a couple of tracks, give me the money, and I’d pay the studio time; Barnabas would mix them, because he knows what Junjo wants. So I just pay him the money, wait around, when the mix finish, then I’ll take… Working with Junjo, then Linval Thompson came along and I did a few songs for Linval, because he had a bit of a spare time on his hands, because Junjo was busy. Most of the producers I wanted to work with, they were too busy for me. So, I did a couple songs with Linval, “Trial And Crosses”, “Black Man Time”, I think those were the two songs I did for him, and they were released, two Cha Cha records over here.
RH: Linval’s a great producer, he knows what he’s doing.
Yeah, definitely, I’ll give him credit for that, because he did a couple good Barry Browns as well, and himself. After that, I didn’t really feel satisfied so, I thought well, yeah, I’m going to go and do some work with Studio One because working with Channel One, I got to find out that all the tracks that Channel One them do was Studio One’s tracks, they made them over, so I goes, boy, I don’t think I should really work on a copy when I can work on the actual stuff. That same geezer that influenced me to start doing music, Donald Hussack, my school mate from long time during school days, Donald wrote a song for me and he goes, “Let’s go down to Coxsone one Sunday and see if he would be interested in it”. This song had about ten verses, it was like a book it was so long. So we waited around a couple of Sundays, waited around until Coxsone noticed us sitting under the tree, called us in and says, “What are guys waiting for, what do you want?” So we goes, “Well, we got this song, and we think it’s a big hit tune, we’d like you to hear it”. He goes, “All right, go into it”. So I’m there singing the song out, I reach about three verses and he goes “All right, all right, where’s the chorus in the song? You haven’t got a punch line”. I goes “Wait, wait, the chorus is coming”. He goes, “You have to re-write that song, you’re wasting my time. Go back, re-write the song, make it shorter, put some choruses in it, and I’ll tell you what, I like your voice” and he gave me about ten seven inches. He goes, “What you should do, listen to these versions, and when you listen to them, you write some songs because you could sing on the rhythm, I’ve got the rhythm, I’ve got the rights to the rhythm and all that”. So I goes, boy, yes, great! I was really happy, after a couple months of waiting, I got to him, and I got some free records, I could sell them if I want (laughs). I went home, I practised up.
The “Love Is A Feeling” which is the first song that I voiced for him, there was a controversy going on over that song because that tune, I did the harmonies with Calvin Scott and Richie MacDonald; Calvin Scott wrote the lyrics, and he record it for himself at Harry J. He used the Wailers band, which was really great, I tell you the rhythm track was so good. At the end of the day, when they finished recording the song, Calvin took the two inch tape, him and Richie probably must have spent the money, they shared the studio time, anyway, they had a problem about who’s going to release the song, they wanted Herman to release it or get someone to release it. Richie wanted his money back, Calvin wanted his money back, I think they must have wiped the tape, or burnt the tape up, because they had a fight. I goes boy, I’m not making that tune go to waste, so I just practice it on the rhythm, practice it and practice it, because “Fight It To The Top” rhythm was one of the famous rhythms in Jamaica, nobody had really had any other covers of it at the time. I goes all right, that’s the rhythm I’m going to use. I went back, and I said to Coxsone, “Well look, I have…” what’s this song called? (Hums bass riff).
RH: “Peanut Vendor”.
“Peanut Vendor”, that one; I had about three of them when I went back. He goes “Right, so you’re ready now?” I goes, “Yeah”. He goes, “All right, show me the tune that you got”. So I goes, “All right then, I’ve got this one: (sings) I need a love that is real…” and I was trying to (hums bass line). He goes, “All right man, I know the rhythm already”. I went into the studio same day, straight away, he says “Go down and sit down and wait”, ’cause there were tons of people waiting, there were always tons of people waiting outside for Coxsone. I went in and after about couple hours he came and put on the tape, and I just voiced it, and from I voiced that tune, about two weeks time, Coxsone presses it. When that happened, when Coxsone pressed that record, that’s one of the greatest things that even happened for me. Guys were there that did songs for years that never came out, they keep coming back, “Coxsone a fuckery, old man and thing” and all kind of things like that, and he just started to deal with me like straight up. He goes like “Here’s six hundred dollars 16, take this little money and keep it, put in your pocket”. I signed a publishing deal for him, I made a mistake. I signed a contract for him to release, the publishing. I was young, I wanted to get on the Studio One label, and I’d do anything to get on that label.
RH: That “Peanut Vendor” tune mashed up the dance.
You’re telling me! When I came to England first, in ’85, I could sing that tune alone, I didn’t have to sing another tune, everybody wanted to hear that tune, “You just sing that tune and you get any money you want”. When I did that now, well, Coxsone went away. When he comes back, he goes to me “Earl, I’ve never told anybody this, but you see that song, ‘Love Is A Feeling’, I pressed it ’til my hands were weak. I run out of labels trying to press that tune”. I know, man tell me that Coxsone don’t tell no one how much he presses, he don’t tell them nothing, you just get a little money from him and him say, “All right, boy, there you go, this is my money for my studio time”. When he told me that, he gave me a thousand dollars. I goes, “Yes man, I think I’m going to make it in the music business”. He goes, “Look, go and pick all the seven inches you want out of there”, so each time I go to Studio One I’m coming out with a couple of dollars in my pocket, sometimes he’ll give me a watch; because in Brentford Road he used to have a shop beside the studio, and he’d sell records, tapes, cassettes, car stereos, radios, watches, because he used to travel all the time, so anything I want, he’d give it to me from I did “Love Is A Feeling”. I did an album for him.
RH: There’s two sides to him, isn’t there? There’s a side where he’s ruthless with people, and then there’s the other side.
I know that. When I first started going up to the studio, about ’81, ’82, I met Roy Cousins at that same studio. Hanging out with Dodd, he was different to me. All the people said, “Boy, you don’t want to get involved with him, you don’t want to work with him”. But he was treating me different, and I couldn’t understand it.
DK: Why do think that is? Just because of the tune, or…?
I think it was because of that tune, because he was looking for someone to really do something on that rhythm. Then, I was bubbling, when I voiced it, I did all my harmonies, and I did them straight up, solid. When I was finished with the song, it was a solid song, I did the backing harmonies, and I made it sound good, because I had so much practice with Richie, I was working with Boris…
RH: But you must have been a bit disappointed with the album.
Yes, when the album came out, it came out as a showcase. He had about 8 songs on it. There was a couple of versions, and I didn’t like the choice of the songs. The songs that I did, I can’t even remember most of them, but I’m telling you, I know for a fact that he’s got a better album. I did about 21 songs in all for Coxsone. He put out “Musical…”, there was one on a Various Artists.
RH: You did “Dub Street” with Johnny Osbourne.
Yeah, “Dub Street”. Then there’s the album, I think it’s got about 5 or 6, but I know he’s got 17, or between 15 and 16 (unreleased).
RH: He did exactly the same with Willi Williams.
He’s got them there now to put out, but what happened is, whenever I see Dodd, whenever I see Sir D., he’d say to me, “Look, come in. Those songs that you did, you need to do some building up on them”, because over the years, the sound changes, and he wants to try and keep up with the times.
RH: Even so, if he’d put out an album of quality at the time…
What happened is, I think he kind of wanted me to be around him every day, he wanted me to be there all the time, because I went to America in about ’86. I went down to the Studio them times, I went to do backing vocals on, he was working with Bagga (Walker) and Clevie, Cleveland Browne at the time, they were doing over dubs, drums and bass, on most of the old stuff, he transferred it from 2 track to 16 track, originally most of those songs were done on 1 track, with everybody one time, and then the voice on one track. He was transferring them. Most of those tapes that I voiced on, he wanted to come in, because he had transferred them, to do backing vocals, and try and build them up, but he still hasn’t done anything with them, he’s still got them there. Each time I see him, he always bring me to the studio and lets me hear what we’ve got. I think he really wants to do another album, but I have to go and look for him, I have to look him up. I don’t think he wants to work without me being there. We’ve got that kind of, because we both drink a lot as well, as soon as he sees me he goes, “What happen, Jackson? Want a taste?” with like a big huge bottle of vodka.