Norris Reid interview
Pick a great obscure name in Jamaican music and sooner or later you have to come up with Norris Reid. Norris’ work with the late Augustus Pablo is best known for tracks such as the monumental ‘Entrance To Jah World’, ‘Black Force’ over the classic ‘Cassava Piece’ rhythm, and ‘Give Jah the Praises’, a Pablo take on the immortal ‘Satta’ rhythm.
He also did a stint as member of the Viceroys in the early eighties, singing on their biggest hit ‘Heart Made of Stone’, before leaving Jamaica for the States. Since then he has been quiet, even rumoured to be dead for many years. He isn’t, it turned out Norris had settled down in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of all places. My thanks to Norris, Bubbles, Carlton Hines, Jean Suff, Robyn, Tim P, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.
There was a nice piece in the now defunct Reggae Quarterly magazine some 22 years back or so about you, but nothing much has been written so far. You’re born and raised in Falmouth, that’s on the Jamaican North Coast anyhow?
You didn’t spend too many years over there, did you?
I leave Falmouth I think in about 1971.
The singing, where did that come from?
Well I start to sing basically from out of church, that was the kinda thing I grew up in, y’know. Family thing, church, and then in 1975 I did my first recording, July 1975, about the 9th of July, somewhere about there. It was on a label called Roots, I drew that one also (chuckles).
It was a song called ‘I Know’?
Who played on that one?
That song, you know it was ‘Family Man’ Barrett dem, it was like the Wailers, partly y’know. Family Man on bass, Carlton on drums. It was the Wailers before Bob Marley stopped them from playing for people. It was like from the early – the track was for some producer that I met, yunno.
So it wasn’t you who took care of production.
No, it was a guy named Linton Williamson, known as ‘Bob Soul’.
Yeah, Bobby Soul.
I think he did something with the Righteous Flames, a 45 or so.
No, he used to hang with them. (Chuckles) Basically all of us used to hang together, I don’t think he usually sing with them, but all of us used to hang at the same place, hang out together. That’s why Winston Jarrett, ‘Flames’, he was there too. But that’s the guy who put out my first single.
Bobby Soul then.
By the name of The Blenders at the time. But I wrote that song, I was the lead singer for that song also. That was my only single with the group, y’know.
Which one, ‘I Know’?
Oh, so actually by the Blenders, it was more or less a group effort then, not you solo and backed up by that group?
Yeah, I wrote that and I did the lead singin’. I did the lead vocal on that also, but that was the only song that came out with us. Then I move on to other things.
But when did you join up with the Blenders? That group was formed by a guy called Bertram Saunders, right?
Yeah, that’s right.
What was the link-up there?
Oh, when I met them it was like he was one of my first close brethren, yunno (chuckles). He was the one who actually hook me up with them, Bobby Soul y’know.
Where in Kingston was it?
Just below Bob Marley’s shop at 127 King Street, that’s where Bob Marley had his record store, above that building where Bob Marley used to have his shop, where Keith Hudson, Billy Hutch – Bill Hutchinson, you heard about him?
I think I have heard a tune by him, yes.
Yeah, he was there, all of us on the same building, all of there. Billy Hutch, Bob Marley was below us in the building, his store, Keith Hudson, and everything. But like a section where all of us meet on a regular basis. So that’s how, George now, he used to work around the corner from there, at his store. That’s a clothing store. So everybody just meet there, kind of a meeting place for everybody.
You had like a regular, daily job working with radios and TV’s and all that stuff?
Yes, I used to work at this place called Jamaica Cabinet, we make TV and stereo cases, just the cases y’know. Like just a piece of woodwork t’ing, make the cases for those t’ings. It wasn’t anything electrical, it was just woodwork.
Then there was a 45 titled ‘Poverty’ as well, on a label named The Ram.
Yes, I did that song, and I did it for a guy named Errol Cuffe.
Tell me more about that song.
(Sighs) Oh, through the hard living, y’know, that I was going through, man (chuckles).
The rough life, I was going through some hard times. Still going through it, but in those days it was even much rougher. And I wrote that song, he produced that song, and I haven’t heard that song since it came out (laughs)! I don’t hear anything about it since. And that’s the guy – I did ‘Got To Return’, he was the guy who got me hooked up with this guy name Lynn.
Mr Lynn, yeah.
Yeah, and I haven’t heard from him, I don’t get any pay for all them tunes. I don’t get no money for all them songs, man.
He had the Lucky Star label.
Lucky Star, yeah. I don’t get no money for them shit, man. (Chuckles) So, no money or anything and I heard them songs did well, but I haven’t heard anything about them since. Just strugglin’ to get my money all along. Rockers International, ‘Heart Made of Stone’, all them songs, I get no money. ‘We Must Unite’ album, ‘Brethren & Sistren’ (both albums by the Viceroys on Trojan and CSA respectively), I don’t get no money offa those shit, man! I don’t know, I just try to figure out what the hell is going on!
It’s tough. What happened after the 45s for Mr Lynn and the Blenders and everything?
Since then, I heard Dennis Brown and all them guys came back from England, Junior Delgado and all them guys told me those songs did very well up in England and all those places. That’s what I know about those songs, and I haven’t received a penny. That was that, that’s about what I heard about it and nothin’ further.
What did you do for the rest of the seventies, musically speaking?
I just draw the labels and so forth, y’know. I designed record labels for a lot of singers over the years.
Can you recall anything specifically?
(Chuckles) Oh, a lotta guys, man. I did so much… Abeng, there was a label named Abeng that I did. I did another one named Fisherman… Uh, wow, there’s so much I did I can’t recall so much.
Do you remember some of the producers?
This guy name – he used to sing in a group name Blackstones? Yeah, a guy from the group name Blackstones that he asked me to the design a label. Abeng, that was one of the labels I remember doing also. I did so many labels I can’t even remember them (chuckles). You know, producers, ca’ that was just – people come about “Can you do a label for me?” “Yeah”. So that’s how I used to make a little money here and there. If I’m not doing a track I do the design for record labels. Flyers, I do a lotta flyers for the big dancehall sets, Killimanjaro, Ruler Tone, all them stuff.
That was more or less what you made your living from, as an artist, designing, and so on?
Yeah, designing and so forth.
You have a diploma too, any training in that field?
No, I’m more like self-taught. I never really get much schooling or on that level. I was more into to try and develop my skill on my own.
That’s where the bread came from.
Well, music was really what I set out to do, but it got so hard that the music wasn’t that together, trying to survive. Between the both of them, what really help me to go through this harsh business, that’s what I think. To have food on my table, if it was for these producers, man, I would be dead a’ready for hunger, y’know (chuckles). But through the love of the music I just keep doing it.
How come you ended up at (Augustus) Pablo’s place, was that through the connection with Tetrack, Carlton Hines?
Yeah, Carlton Hines.
How did that come about?
I met him at this school called Excelsior High School in Kingston. One day I went over there, my brother lived in the same area, so I went over there. This guy ‘Bubbler’, Franklin Waul, he used to play with We the People Band, he used to live down the street from me. So he used to have his band at school, the school reggae band he played in, and we used to hang together on my street. So one day we went over to Excelsior, that’s where Carlton Hines (founder of the Tetrack vocal group) attend school. So I was playin’ my guitar and he came up and, y’know, that’s where we started to talk and he liked what he heard. And he told me he’s singin’ in a group they called Tetrack, me say “Mmmm”, and he said they sing for Augustus Pablo, so I say “Wow, man.” He said “It would be nice to hook you up with Pablo, because you sound good”. Me said all right. So one day I was walkin’ down the street and he was passing and he saw me and Pablo was doing some rehearsal at his place, for he (Carlton) wanted to bring me to Pablo and let him hear you. And I did a rehearsal with Pablo the same day and he liked what he heard. Then he said OK, he had some riddims that he want me to sing over. ‘Give Jah the Praise’, ‘Entrance To Jah World’ an’ all them songs was – ‘Give Jah the Praise’ was the first song I did for Pablo.
What was the rhythm for that one again?
‘Give Jah Praise’? It was ‘Satta’ I think, yunno.
What was your first impressions of Pablo?
Pablo was well-known at that time. From like ‘Java’, when he did those songs with Randy’s Records he was out there big time, y’know. Pablo was really out there at the time.
What year could this have been, like 1980 or thereabouts?
I think that was like… 1977.
Oh, that early?
I think about ’77, yunno, or ’78, when I did that song. Within that time, yeah.
What did you feel about Pablo’s music at the time?
At the time when I first met him? Well, I was always wanting to meet him, yunno. Because before I went to Kingston I always heard about Pablo and I always liked his music, ‘Java’ and all them songs, before I met him, so I felt there could be a good connection, a good hook-up. I was happy to be in the company of Pablo at the time. Because I know him was a good producer then, he produce Hugh Mundell and all them guys, Tetrack and so forth. He was doing real good.
It was a stable he had there, like a commune of artists, wasn’t it?
It was a whole stable of singers them (chuckles), Pablo had a whole barrage of singers and people around him all the time.
Where was his base for rehearsal and so on?
I used to go up in Lindsey Close, up by Havendale, that’s where I used to hang with Pablo. First, the first rehearsal I did was up at Tangerine Place, up Constant Spring, off Half Way Tree Road area. And we move up to Havendale, that’s where we do most of the rehearsals. And up in Mona Heights, Mona? Up by Mona Campus area. And we used to move around. Pablo liked to live close to the rivers and all of that.
Right, he used to have a meditation spot at the river.
Did you write together with the other artists?
If I wrote a lot of songs? I did most of my own writing, and then Carlton, he was the guy who started to write for me, long before he started to write for Dennis (Brown) and Gregory (Isaacs). Yeah, like ‘Roots and Vine’, on that album, I think he wrote three or four songs on that album.
That was the first album release in your name, when was ‘Roots and Vine’ recorded?
That album came out about…
’87 if I’m not mistaken.
Yeah, something… ’87?
Positive, about that time. I remember a review at that time.
Yeah. But I did that album… I start that album about 1980. Late ’79, early ’80 I started that album and it wasn’t put out until about that time.
Why was it held back for so long?
Pablo had so many singers at the time and he was just putting out certain singers before he would get to me (chuckles). I dunno, I was in Canada when that album came out really.
Yeah, I was in Canada.
How did you end up there?
Wow, in Canada now – I end up there because my sister live up in Canada, and I went up there and met some friends that I knew from Jamaica. I used to hang with them in Toronto, and then I heard the album came out. I didn’t know, I think Sis Bunny Brissett send it to me from New York, somewhere from there. I think she was the one who sent it to me there, that’s how I found out that it came out. And I haven’t seen Pablo since. Since I left Jamaica I spoke to him once when I was in New York, from Sister Bunny’s house, and he told me that the album is doing good. But he also told me that ‘Give Jah Praise’ was the album that really did well up there in Europe. I was supposed to get some money for it, he say it sold very good. He said he’s trying to get my things together, but after that he died like four months after. (Chuckles) Yeah, he died shortly after. I didn’t get that taken care of also. It was another setback again, financially.
I actually bumped into Pablo in London back in ’96, in May I think it was, I recall seeing him with that album, ‘Give Jah the Praise’, when it was just released. So it was put out around that time.
‘Give Jah Praise’?
But ‘Give Jah the Praise’ was in fact your real debut album, but he held it back…
All those songs on that album, I did all them songs long before ‘Roots and Vine’, yunno.
Yes, with ‘Black Force’ and so on.
I think he produce ‘Roots and Vine’ first. And then put that one after.
Strange sequence for those albums, but gladly the second came out at least.
It was a better album, was a better selling album also.
Do you have any special anecdote, a cherished memory, what do you remember the most about working with Pablo?
Pablo now is a great guy, man. I just miss him, I miss him a lot. If he was around my thing would be together. My music, my finances would be much better. He’s a good guy, ca’ he’s a guy who care about people. One thing about Pablo, he cares about people and he want to help people. That’s one good thing about him. He’s a spiritual guy, a great guy to be around.
Did he coach you about songwriting and the singing aspect as well?
No. When I went to Pablo he already saw the ability in my music, that I could handle whatever, he gave me that responsibility. Him always have confidence in what I can do. Him always trust me, trust my judgement, “OK, go ahead”, yunno. If I feel like having a certain type of musician playing for me, he didn’t stop me from getting the musicians that I want to work with. If I want Sly & Robbie to play he say OK, if I want ten guys to play he’d finance that, y’know (chuckles). So he would give me that type of freedom to deal with it. He also give me a lot of riddims from King Tubby’s and all them type of… you know?
You got paid?
He gave me some money within that time, advancement, y’know, which at the time was OK. I was going through some stuff so, hey, whatever I got at that time was appreciated. But nutten much… not too much, nutten much but it was appreciated.
Did any of the songs, while you still lived in Jamaica, make any sort of impact on the sound system circuit, etc, did you notice anything?
No, I never heard about that. Well, Dennis Brown as I said, they came back and they told me that they heard this song name ‘Entrance of Jah World’, and it entered the charts up there at number four. Somewhere in Europe it went to number one, that’s what I heard about that song. First time I ever heard anything about a Pablo song making any type of impact on a international level. That was the first song I heard about. First I heard about was ‘Got To Return’, they told me about that. But of the Pablo recordings, that was the first song I heard about, ‘Entrance of Jah World’, that entered the chart. Ca’ Junior Delgado say “Even Norris Reid get…” – ca’ he’s normally with Dennis, he heard about me, but when we finally met he was like “Ah, you have a song that’s doing real good up in Europe”. Me say “Yeah?”, he say “‘Entrance of Jah World’, yunno”, and showed me the paper too, that kind of… the chart. Yeah, when it entered the chart at number four, and then went to number one. That’s all I can say about that, ca’ I haven’t got any money out of all of that. It did well but I get no money at all, man. I don’t know.
What’s the inspiration for ‘Entrance of Jah World’, that’s the song which more or less made your name on a wider scale?
Well, that song, ‘Entrance of Jah World’ – ‘Entrance of Jah world showeth light, forget about your struggle and strife…’, it was like a spiritual – I was going through a thing where I know one day it’s gonna be over with, the problems y’know. I’m still trustin’ that also, but that was basically the struggle I was going through, that I write those type of songs.
A reflection of the times.
Yeah, that I was going through some hard times and having hope that one day it’s gonna be over with. I was lookin’ towards – it was a spiritual outlook, yunno.
I have a personal memory of that song, something I always think of when I hear it. I was walking through the field of a festival in Brighton, England, the same year I met Pablo, and I was passing by a vendor somewhere, and through his speakers, with maximum volume, really cranked up, and that song was played at that moment.
(Chuckles) You know that that’s probably the second song I think I record for Pablo? After ‘Give Jah Praise’, ‘Entrance of Jah World’, and then… I think ‘I Feel It’, or ‘Reggae Feeling’…?
That’s another good shot, ‘Feel Good’.
That was like the third song, and then ‘Protect Them’ and all them songs.
Right, Pablo named it ‘Feel Good’ though, the one you referred to as ‘Reggae Feeling’. I wondered since I saw the title why it was named ‘Feel Good’, because it sounds more like it’s called…
‘Reggae Feeling’, eh?
Yes, ‘Reggae Feeling’, or even ‘This Feeling’.
(Chuckles) Sometime you give a guy the title and sometime them put whatever they feel like, if it make a better impact with that title, I don’t know. But more likely ‘Reggae Feeling’, or ‘This Feeling’. But sometimes you give a guy a title how you want the title but it still end up… Like ‘Entrance of Jah World’, some I saw as ‘Entrance To Jah Word’ and all of that, ‘Entrance of Jah Work’ sometimes.
My perception of the whole Pablo stable is more of a group of guys who didn’t seek money, fame and success first and foremost, music came first and to develop as a songwriter, etc. Of course you’d want compensation and succeed in wider terms, but here it feels like it was more about the creativity itself more than anything, like being commercially ‘accessible’. I mean, Pablo was never a big selling producer like Joe Gibbs, Channel One, or Bunny Lee at that time.
Yes, yes. Pablo was – I think I was moving in the right direction at the time, because he would let you know about performance rights and certain t’ing. He had this set up in that kind of way, to get your money and all of that stuff, he wasn’t trying to hide anything from you in that sense, no. So, that was one of the things I liked about him, he’s tryin’ to let you know about the business as well. Most producers doesn’t want you to, y’know, let you know about your rights, things that you are supposed to get. That’s what I really like about Pablo, he’s tryin’ to let you know about the business at the same time.
Did you do any harmony work for people like Hugh Mundell, Delroy Williams and the other artists surrounding Pablo at the time?
I did some harmony for Hugh Mundell, like… Yea! What that album name again…? One of the last album I think he did…
No, I think…
‘Time & Place’?
‘Time & Place’, that’s it. That’s it. I did about two or three songs, I was on that album. As well as – I did some background work for Pablo on that album that came out with ‘Java’, one of the albums where he redid ‘Java’…? Yeah, with Mundell, I did some background on that also. He spelled my name again like ‘Morris Reid’ or something…
(Chuckles) Mistakes happen. How do you remember Mundell now?
A great guy, man. I saw him that day when he died, man. He gave me his last single, a 45 – it was a Disco 45 they called it them times, he and Junior Reid was drivin’ up the street and I was walkin’ down the street and I heard somebody that blow the horn, yunno, the car horn, and when I was lookin’ in the car it was Hugh Mundell and Junior Reid at the stoplight. And I go and meet them by the shop, Pablo’s shop, it was like a block away I was from the shop. And I run back to the shop behind the car and he opened the back of the truck and they was just comin’ from the press, from the recordin’ press, and he gave me that 45, a song name ‘Good Looking’… it was that 45. And he told me he was goin’ up this street to see this guy, about some guy who broke into his house on the same day, I think it was Grants Pen Road, and he was gonna go and see this guy to get back his stuff from the guy who broke into and took stuff from out of his house. So he said “See you later”, drove off, Junior and Hugh Mundell, and he died like a couple of hours after that, man. That was the last time… and that was the last single that he released, man. He just said “See ya later”, and I never see him again. I went home and the next mornin’ one of the first things my friend told me was that he pass, I said “What!?” I was shocked, I just left him in that afternoon. It wasn’t long after he left me, like a couple of hours. Like ‘wow’. But he was a great guy, man. A really good guy, nice guy.
So it was some rude boy he went for, and that proved to be fatal.
No, it was a guy who broke into his house and the guy had been to jail who broke into his house, and the guy’s brother tried to tell Hugh Mundell that “Hey, you gotta release my brother, man, ’cause my brother didn’t do this”, he didn’t do this and that, and Hugh Mundell turned him in. And Mundell, he’s a guy like – he’s a rough guy ca’ he grow up in the ghetto also. He come from a family like – his dad is a lawyer and all of that, but he grew up around certain… you know what I’m sayin’? In the ghetto he know what’s up, yunno. He don’t take any bullshit.
Had to be tough.
Yeah, so the guy was like… ‘I’m not gonna release the brother’, unless he give back my stuff or get my stuff back, y’know. Then he and the guy get into this kind of conversation, like cursin’ at each other, and some kinda words pass that wasn’t too kind. So, I guess the guy say what he said again, yunno, like ‘I’m gonna shoot you’ or something, stuff like that, and I guess Hugh Mundell said like ‘Go ahead then’, he pay that guy no mind. And Mundell stop the car, or reverse the car I heard, and said what he said to the guy again, and the guy came up with his gun and shot him. And then him step on the gas and go crash the car somewhere up the street, he got shot in his head. Junior Reid told me that, ca’ he was in the car.
Right, Reid was in the backseat of the car and Mundell’s wife was sitting beside him in the front with their infant son.
Mmm. Ca’ when Junior Reid did his first song, I and Mundell was in the studio when Junior Reid did his first song, he was like the first coach for him. It was like ‘Little Junior Reid’ then, it was Junior but ‘Little Junior’ Reid (chuckles), before all of that. Lacksley Castell and all them guys, yunno.
You remember him too.
Lacksley Castell? (Chuckles) Yeah man, that was our little boy, that was our lickle friend. Yeah, that was Hugh Mundell’s lickle new thing he was tryin’ to bring, as well as Junior Reid. The guys was his friends also, that he was tryin’ to bring to the business also.
What do you recall of Castell?
He was a great singer, if he was around he would be doing real good. He had a lot of potential about him, growing up around Pablo, around myself, he had a lot of people who could bring him to that level. He was a good singer, man. Lacksley Castell, man, I will always remember Lacksley Castell. I have some pictures with him and Rockers All Stars.
What happened to Lacksley again, I think he passed from a disease?
I think it was a liver problem, it was like him had a problem with his liver. It’s like him swell up sometime and, that was his problem I heard, that he die from. Like a fist liver.
He must have been only around 20, 21 years of age when he died in ’83?
Yeah, very young, very young. I don’t even know if he was in his twenties yet when he died, I don’t think he was even twenty, really. Ca’ when Hugh Mundell died he was only 23 or 24 years old. Yeah, and he was much a bigger guy than him, than them guys, yunno.
Back to Pablo again. Do you think he get the right credits today, or do people tend to overlook his contributions, especially from a Jamaican perspective?
No, I don’t think he get too much credit in Jamaica that he really deserve. Maybe because in Jamaica at the time he wasn’t tryin’ to go with the dancehall style, he was lookin’ more at the spiritual side of it. Pablo was more like he was tryin’ to enforce that, y’know, the spiritual theme in the music, to get it on a spiritual level. But most people was just on a different level. So at one point the real message music was like at a backseat for a while.
Right, the dancehall style had no space or time for that stuff.
How did you feel about that personally?
It’s music on a certain level, but Jamaican music is a message thing, Jamaican music is based on a message, that’s the real thing about Jamaican music. That’s where the real thing, the reality of Jamaican music is all about, the message in the music. But most time people just – some producer just don’t care about the message anymore, them just about money, money, money, y’know, and they don’t care what the guy is sayin’ really, they’re just talkin’ oh, I can make a million dollar offa this in no time. So, it took over real big time, but just for a while. Spiritual roots, it will come back to that real message. After a while dancehall took over big time, but that’s how some people look at it. They don’t look at the message, most people don’t want to hear any message, man, they just want the dancehall. Which is good, but it’s the message that have to be in it. It wouldn’t be too bad, but most of it don’t have no message. It just lighter. When you do music you have to just say something that can live, y’know.
Music that is spiritually useful and uplifting for other people.
I guess that’s Pablo in a nutshell, what he was about.
Yeah, that was what Pablo was about, message y’know. Spiritual, t’ing like that. Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, he was like those people, they got it accepted. Real, y’know wha’ I’m sayin’? Pablo was no fake when it comes to music. Pablo always want some singer who had a spiritual side. If you’re a dancehall singer, he don’t care too much about that. You know, he’s a producer but him don’t really… you know?
Had to be something that made sense of the day to day reality for the people down there?
Yeah, that lives. That was our point, people have to get back to the spiritual sound. If you do it it lives longer and you know what you’re doing, it’s living and it will live forever, no matter how long it’s still gonna live. It’s gonna be the right thing. Pablo no really like doin’ the dancehall too much, he want the spiritual aspect of it.
Norris Reid at Orange Street, Kingston 1982 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
When was the stint in the Viceroys again, this was after you started to work for Pablo, wasn’t it? How did you join them?
How I hook up with them guys?
Yeah, that was like ’79/’80?
Yeah. I went down to Chancery Lane, they call it Idler’s Rest.
Yes, Idler’s, ca’ I used to live down there too, yunno. But I never really know them, but I was introduced to them by… I don’t remember who, and they took me to this bar and was playing this song, one of the songs that was done by Coxson’s, Studio One. But at the time they was tryin’ to find a third member. I was playin’ my guitar and them say ‘oh’. But I was singin’ for Pablo before that. So they say ‘OK, you sound good’, and I would be a good addition to the group. Because at the time it was Neville Ingram (lead singer) and Wesley Tinglin, one original from the original Viceroys, which is Wesley Tinglin at the time. Him have this other friend, Neville Ingram, who wanted to sing with him also. And then I came along as the third member, there we formed a new unit, the new Viceroys, y’know. And we did ‘Heart Made of Stone’ for Sly & Robbie – actually we start an album with Sly & Robbie, and that was the only song they released. It did well also.
So you never got to finish all the tracks for the album?
No, we did three songs, and that was the only one that was released. We started the album and did three tracks towards an album. But the album… I don’t know what went down, man. All of a sudden everything just stopped, yunno. When that song came out Linval Thompson came from England and heard the song in England, that it did well, and he came down to Tinglin, if we could do an album for him. I guess Greensleeves, Trojan, one a dem companies want an album from us an’ so forth, and we did the album ‘We Must Unite’ for Linval Thompson. And I heard it did well again in England. A big hit again, and he came back again and him want the ‘Brethren & Sistren’ album. It was an even bigger hit I heard. Then, I guess, Sly & Robbie was mad, because they figure more or less Linval Thompson was riding off of their success, y’know. So I guess a whole lotta stuff went down and everything kinda just stand still from there with Sly & Robbie and us. But we na get no money from ‘Heart Made of Stone’, we don’t get no money from ‘We Must Unite’, all them albums sell. All them songs I did was like… y’know what I’m sayin’?
Right. You did ‘Rise In the Strength of Jah’ and ‘The Intelligence of Her Mind’ on the ‘We Must Unite’ album for example.
Yeah, and three of our songs is on a Wailing Souls album, which I dunno how the hell it get on it!
The Wailing Souls’ album?
Yea, it’s a Wailing Souls album out there with three of the Viceroys’ songs, with my song ‘Rise In the Strength of Jah’, and they call it ‘Jah Jah’, something like that.
You know what I’m sayin’. I don’t get no money. I dunno how it ended up on the album, as the Wailing Souls.
Yeah, there’s a Wailing Souls album that came out in the nineties with our songs.
I think I saw something on a Trojan CD. Did you know that ‘We Must Unite’ is out in France on CD now?
Is it? The Wailing Soul album name ‘Face The Devil’, that’s the name of the album.
Ah, that’s it.
‘Face The Devil’, yeah. And we have three songs on it, tracks ten, eleven and twelve is ours I think. ‘Time Is Important’, ‘Come Closer’, and ‘Jah Jah’, which is ‘Rise In the Strength of Jah’. It’s my song, I sung vocally on that on the Wailing Souls’ album ‘Face The Devil’. They did it like some bonus tracks or something like that. It’s a Trojan compilation.
‘We Must Unite’ was out on Trojan from the start, 1982.
It’s out in France again anyhow.
Then I’m on this other Trojan compilation again with other singers, with ‘Rise In the Strength of Jah’. I didn’t get no money from that again, y’know wha’ I’m sayin’ (chuckles)? It’s on a Trojan compact disc, a double CD, they put it out.
So things didn’t progress for the Viceroys, it stood still?
We never really travel internationally, we never get any tour on a international level. We never do a tour in Jamaica, but we used to do a show here and there. We do shows and all of that, but nothin’ happen financially or on an international level. All I know is that my songs are selling and I can’t get no money on a international level, that’s all I can say. My songs are sellin’ on other people’s albums and all them stuff, and I can’t get no money from nutten, man!
What about this track ‘Shaddai Children’, that was another Viceroys single on the Victorious Steppers label.
I did the lead vocal on that. I did that lead vocal.
Produced by a certain Ras Levi.
Albert Bailey. Ras Levi. Yea, he wrote that song. It did well too, it did well in Jamaica. I still get no money offa that song (chuckles). I get no money from nothin’! All these songs I did, I don’t know what’s going on, man.
It’s easy to get fed up when you don’t reach anywhere, money-wise and otherwise.
I get fed up in a sense, on a level, but it never really kill my spirit, yunno. I still record again, I just keep doin’ what I have to do. But I know that one day if I keep workin’ it’s gonna happen. It will happen, so I never let them really get the best of me on that level. As I say, if you do the work it’s out there, and if you’re doin’ good people hear it and people will know what it’s about.
But did you ever approach any other producer while being solo with Pablo, or someone asked you to do some stuff for them? Like with someone like Bunny Lee, things that never got released.
Yeah, Channel One. I did some music for Channel One that’s never been released. I did like an album and a half, it’s never been released. You know, I’ve never heard them songs since I did them in the studio. As a matter of fact, David Kingston (aka Lord Selector, once host for a Toronto radio show called ‘Reggae Showcase’) have one song that he got from Channel One when he came down to Jamaica, when he went to Jamaica to do some shopping or interviews, somethin’ like that. That song named ‘Same Speed’, I was in Canada and he played it on his radio show and we did an interview on a station, CKLN, that’s the only and last time I heard that song played anywhere, y’know. Channel One, they have an album and a half that I did that I’ve never heard again. So I know I’ve got a lot of singles and so forth that could be released, but I haven’t heard anything.
Produced with the Roots Radics?
Yeah. All them songs, most of them songs are riddims that I sing over, that I put my voice on. But I’ve never – at the time it was the band that was playin’, the studio band there too, that did a lot of recordings for Channel One. But it was Roots Rock Band then, it wasn’t Roots Radics. It was Roots Rock, Gregory Isaacs changed the name to Roots Radics after he started to tour with ‘Nigh Nurse’ and all of that.
Who produced your songs there?
The tracks that I did for Channel One? Joseph Hookim, the owner, Jo Jo. Yeah, it was Channel One production, they are the ones responsible for those tracks. But I don’t hear anything, but I know that I did that amount of songs.
So one and a half albums in the can there, interesting.
Yeah, haven’t heard anything. Same thing again, that’s about it (chuckles).
Yes. How come you left for the States in about 1985 then, to Pittsburgh?
Well, there was this girl that came from Pittsburgh to Jamaica, and we met down there through a friend. At the hotel scene, they was playing in a steel band. I had friends who played in the band and I went down for a few days in the country where I’m from, that’s where I met her. They came there on the North Coast at the Holiday Hotel, and we hook up. I guess she came back and tried to find me again, I was in Kingston then. She came to one of my friends and found out where I was, and then we start to talk. We got married and then I moved up there with her, to Pittsburgh. We’ve been married ever since.
Some twenty years, not bad.
But it don’t do me no great justice being here anyway, y’know wha’ I’m sayin’? I just going through a hell more than anything else.
I think Pablo mentioned sometime in the late eighties that you had a band over there at that time.
Yeah, I used to sing with this band they called The SWAMMP Band.
Sound Wisdom And Many Musical Powers, that’s what it means.
Yes, Sound Wisdom And Many Musical Powers, it was like one of the best unsigned bands in America at the time, best unsigned reggae band. All Jamaican, yunno. They’re from the North Coast where I’m from also, they used to chill out at the beach hotel and all of that in Jamaica. So when I first came here I hooked up with them, real good band, man. Most of the members are still here, most of them are still livin’ in Pittsburgh.
Who played what in the group?
The names of the guys? Well, you had a guy name Lloyd Willoughby, ‘Cookie’, he used to play with the Twinkle Brothers also. And a guy named Errol Francis, Patrick Smith which is Chinna Smith’s first cousin. And then you have a guy name Wayne Buckam, we call him ‘Skibbo’ (chuckles). There’s myself, you have a guy name… man…? He was a part of the band, but when I came he left shortly after, he’s one of the guys who play keyboards. But that was a great band, man. And you have a guy name Delroy Pratt, called him ‘Zap’. He was keyboardist also. But over the years you have a few changes. Richie Burr, he used to play bass with Jimmy Cliff, he came to town and started play the bass for us, too. And a guy name Devon Green, I and him went to school back home in Jamaica. So over the years we had a few changes also.
Did you record with them?
No, I didn’t do any record with them, but they did a song before I came, ‘Storm’, before I joined them. Cookie, he was lead vocal on that song, but I wasn’t on that recording at all, man.
What was the repertoire like?
They had a lot of original songs also, but yeah, we did a lot of cover songs also. More like a show band.
You played out regularly, at a local club?
Yeah, on a regular basis in the most popular, biggest club. We were like the first real reggae band in Pittsburgh, that people usually pack the place. Lines and everything, long lines outside (chuckles). It was a club where most of the top artists – when they come in town – where they play at, y’know. That was like one of our regular spots, at a club they call Pyramid that sold out every time. We travel around the United States a lot, maybe not everywhere but we travel, we did a lot of travelling.
For how long did you stay in that band?
Wow, I stay with them from like ’85 until about ’87. Something like that, or maybe ’88.
What happened after that?
There was some other lickle local bands that I tried to make a living in, just to keep my vibes some kind of way. But it wasn’t too good anyhow, it was just for survival (chuckles). Just to survive, to do some stuff.
How and when did this rumour start that you are dead? If so it seems like I’m actually talking to a ghost right now…
(Chuckles) There was this guy that came in town, they had the Sunsplash. It was a Sunsplash that came into town at the time when that was happening, the Wailing Souls was on tour and they saw me and like, ‘wow’, and this guy who was I think part of the tour with them from out of West Virginia area, and he saw me, like “Norris Reid! I thought you was supposed to be dead!!”
(Laughs) Like, “What!?” “What, I think I’m lookin’ at a ghost!”, or something like that. “What are you talkin’ about?” He said, “I’ve got this article that say you are dead”. You know what I’m sayin’, man? So he say, “You are supposed to be dead since 1992”. Like, “What!?” Then he said he’s gonna send it to me, y’know, send the article that mention that. I say, “Oh”. Then he did, it was from Heartbeat Records. I guess Heartbeat put out some songs with the Viceroys, an album, somethin’ like that, and…
Yes, Studio One material (the CD ‘Ya Ho’).
Yeah. Then I saw it and, like, “Wow, I’m dead since 1992!” (chuckles). That was when I first heard about it, and it was like, ‘oh’.
Must have been a shock for you, pretty devastating for someone who is still trying to stay in the business and to hear that…
Yeah, because I was like, ‘Who on earth would ever feed them such information’, y’know. Must try and figure out where the hell that came from. So I don’t know why I don’t get any call, I don’t know why my music business so stagnant, I don’t know if that is causing it over the years, people think I’m dead, y’know what I’m sayin’? Nobody contact me about anything musically, y’know. So, I don’t know if that might have a lot to do with what’s going on with my stagnant vibes.
Right. It definitely was damaging to your career, to even have such misinformation printed in the first place.
Have you tried with some legal action on that, or at least demanding a public apology?
I’m tryin’ to figure out what’s going on on that level. And I’ve got that article and it’s Heartbeat Records, that’s the company that put that out. I dunno where they get that from. But they say I was dead, but they never say cause of death. But that’s where it came from. I think I still have some papers, if I search through my papers I still have that.
That was the last people in general heard about you. Have you made an attempt to record anything in Jamaica since the eighties?
Yea, I want to go back home and do some work. But I have ended up in some shit, I’m still going through it right at this moment.
So it is blocking some progress right now?
Yeah, whenever time I get myself together so I can move back, when I can leave Pittsburgh to back home to take care of certain things, so I can go to England and try to take care of some things, then that’s what I try to do. But as for now I’m kinda stuck really. I have some things to take care of first. But that is my intention, after I get some things out of the way, then the world will see Norris Reid once again officially and hear about me. But I’m alive and well (laughs).
I can hear that.
Yeah, you can tell the world I’m alive and well, I will come out there again.
Have you recorded any songs at all in Pittsburgh over the years?
I did some things in the studio with one of the SWAMMP Band members, Patrick Smith, I did some songs and I didn’t put anything out, really. I just kinda try to do some songs and hopefully one day I can put some out and get them going. They might have to remix and put in some other things. I have some ideas that I laid down, I’m hoping to put them out some time when I get the chance, to finance it some kinda way. I would like to do that.
But you haven’t received any offers to record from somewhere else in the States so far?
No, I haven’t received any offers. But Pittsburgh is a place like it’s really… behind, y’know.
OK, could be a lot better then regarding reggae?
Yeah, is like the worst place when it comes to reggae fe really try to hook up with reggae. As a reggae artist you don’t wanna be here. If you wanna make anything out of it you can’t, it’s dead! Pittsburgh when it comes to the reggae scene, they don’t promote it in Pittsburgh. No promotion, it’s like… Reggae artists na really comin’ here anymore, y’know wha’ I’m sayin’? They’re not even passin’ through. When I first came, reggae singers used to come through, Culture, Burning Spear, you name it, (Mighty) Diamonds, all of them guys, I used to sing and open up for them, most of them guys when they come to town. But something happened, man, everything just dead, everything just stopped. It seems like they’re scared of the reggae or the message or something.
If I’m not mistaken, about twenty some years ago, I think Congo Ashanti Roy and Sis Bunny Brissett used to have a record shop over in Pittsburgh.
I used to work with ‘Shanti, yes. I lick some drums for him and all of that when I worked with ‘Shanti, yunno. And Sister Bunny, they used to have a band. I used to play drums, ca’ I play drums too.
I did some recordings, man. I did a couple of tracks with Horace Andy and all of that.
At Channel One, y’know. He’s the one who really introduced me to Channel One, actually. He was the one who turned me on to them and let me start recording for Channel One.
I see. But Ashanti Roy was residing in Pittsburgh during the late eighties, I think they put out some records from there as well.
(Chuckles) That’s my boy. Yeah, ‘Shanti Roy, I and him and Sister Bunny used to hook up for days and sing together, we used to work together from when I hook up with them. ‘Fish’ Clarke used to play drums for them too, Johnny Clarke’s brother. Yea, Eric ‘Fish’ Clarke used to be in town for a minute also.
What became of all the Rockers International artists, are you still in touch with people like Delroy Williams, Ricky Grant, Barry ‘Candyman’ Reid, and so on?
Yeah, I’m still in contact with Carlton Hines and so forth. When I go to New York to meet my mom and dad, my brother live in New York also, Bertram, so when I go I see Carlton Hines on a regular basis.
I think Carlton have a restaurant over in Queens, right?
He used to, but he don’t have it anymore. He’s concentrating more – he’s got a studio in Jamaica now, he and his brother, Jimmy Hines, and they’re doing some production. I supposed to be on that work, doing some work with them too. Yeah, but he and Sister Bunny is doing some work, I guess not too long ago they went to Jamaica to do some work, a couple of weeks ago. But, yeah, we decided to do some work, when everything get straightened out on my part.
That’s very good to hear.
Yea, we keep in contact, man. That’s my boy, that’s my real brethren, man. I spoke with Delroy Williams and Ricky Grant a few times at his restaurant before he closed it down, yunno. We still meet, we still hook up, ca’ everybody still hook up with everybody. We still talk and everybody know everybody.
How do you view the music scene in Jamaica now compared to what you had down there when you worked for Pablo and so forth, it has changed a lot and it have to change, evolve, but if you put it into some kind of perspective?
Everything is commercialized right now, music is commercialized big time, more than ever. To cross the boundaries I think maybe that’s why people are doing it like that, but I guess that’s where the new guys are right now. It’s a different era, the younger singers them, it’s like they’re not singin’ on a spiritual level too much, it’s like it’s just big time commercialized. They don’t think or care too much about the message anymore. They’re more about the money now, y’know what I’m saying?
It’s more about the business and image than projecting something more substantial regarding the whole content of the music, whatever?
Yeah, the real thing, the real thing is not there anymore. I understand people want to get across, but the message got to be in the music, man. If you want to keep the music, if you wanna keep Jamaican music to a certain standard or on a certain level, that’s the way I look at it, to keep it a certain way, y’know, spiritually, you have to keep the message in the music. It’s no joke. That’s why I’ve been working over the years for certain producers, certain people over the years. That’s the approach, that’s where Jamaican music is comin’ from, is struggle, it’s a struggle and you have to make people understand that. It’s not just about certain things to say, it’s about the struggle that we’re livin’ in, it’s real. That’s the way I was brought into it, to keep it real. To get across people say it a certain kinda way, but Jah have his own, y’know wha’ I’m saying?
Yes. So what does the future hold for you, it’s the work with Carlton Hines to come, anything else you would like to do?
I would like to go back to Jamaica to do some recording, see if I can get back on the charts and all of that. I spoke with Junior Reid when he came to Pittsburgh and he say “Why don’t you go back to Jamaica and do some work” and so forth, Sugar Minott and all them guys came in town over the years, came in Pittsburgh over the years. But it’s just I haven’t got the opportunity to go back home yet. But yeah, Carlton Hines have his studio in Jamaica with his brother and want to do some work, like for Pablo, like the artists from Pablo’s stable, we’ll do some things to remember Pablo, y’know. But we don’t get to do that yet, but we still have that in mind, the Rockers artists getting together to do something, Delroy, myself, Ricky Grant, Sister Bunny, Tetrack, we’d like to do something.
A nice tribute if so.
Like in memory of Pablo and all of that.
I dunno, we’re talkin’ about it.
Are you still in touch with Pablo’s family?
No, I’m not in touch with his family, I’m not in contact with his family at all.
But they should have some compensation for you.
They know they have some money for me. All of them, the people in England, Trojan, people who handled Pablo’s business over the years, them know that they don’t pay me no money. All of them know that they owe Norris Reid big time. I have the albums and I don’t get a penny, I can’t get a cent! They know they owe me, they know they have something. So they can’t tell me they don’t owe me no money, all of them! There are some guys who know what’s going on with my money, y’know what I’m saying? So, I hope they’re ready to pay me, because somebody gotta pay me, they better be ready when I come. A day is gonna come when somebody better have something to tell me about my money.
You certainly deserve some kind of compensation at some point.
Yeah man, I still hope, because they know they don’t pay me. (Chuckles) Bottomline, bottomline is: I don’t get pay at Channel One, Trojan, all of them who have my songs, all of them guys owe me money. Everyone of them, Linval Thompson, you name them, all of them owe me money.
Any final message for those who picked up your records over the years and wondered what happened to you, if you really passed away or if you still worked in the shadows of the music business, which you obviously did, what can you say to them?
Yeah, sometime I wonder why people put rumours like I’m dead, if they don’t wanna pay me or them don’t want to – like they want to cut all ties and try to not let people get in touch with what’s going on. But I have a message for them: Norris Reid is alive and well, through the power of Jah you can’t keep a good man down, no matter how long it takes. Who Jah bless no man curse. So, I’ll be back, I will be back. The world will see Norris Reid officially, I’ll be coming and will be out again. Maybe everything is for a reason. Jah know all the reasons, Jah have all the answers for all of this, yunno. I’m just taking it day by day, one day at a time, and hopefully Jah will keep those people alive that owe me so I can’t get my stuff together. All who owe me, I hope Jah keep them alive and well until I get my things together. Nothing is in vain, no matter what. Even if I don’t get any money, my work is not in vain, because I’m singin’ for Jah. And when I sing for Jah, y’know, that’s the greatest reward. I will always sing for Jah, I’m not gonna sing for some lickle guys who just want to make a couple dollars offa me. ‘Cause a lotta guys, them get rich today and poor tomorrow, so it’s not about the money, really. ‘Cause here I am, I see a lotta guys gone before Norris Reid, and I’m still around. So, I’m blessed, I consider myself blessed. So, I’m sayin’ to the world: Norris Reid is alive and well, and I’ll be back. They can’t keep a good man down, no matter how they try.
Norris Reid Selection – Live Set Paris plus 11 tracks
Norris was always one of the most interesting singers on the late Augustus Pablo’s roster during the late seventies and early eighties. Not only was he blessed with a delicate, beautiful voice, but he had lyrics good enough to offer a dynamic package of reggae singing/songwriting of the golden age of Jamaican music. ‘Roots and Vine’ didn’t cause much excitement at the time of its release back in 1987, partly because of bad promotion, but it was a promising debut album with the feeling that he had stronger material in the can. Which was, of course, very true. Pablo proved that with ‘Give Jah The Praises’; a stronger album release from 1996 wasn’t to be seen or heard, at least not on the revival front. Again it could have done much better, and Norris wasn’t brought in to promote the material. Instead the public was left in the mystery of a supposed ‘dead’ artist, a still persistent rumour by that time. A real shame it had to be that way, and a true loss for Norris himself with such a good opportunity to ride the waves of appreciation this album was getting. But that was then. The future belongs to Norris and he decides what to do with it. The opportunities are still there. He has the ability to reach beyond the level where he’s been for so many years.