Interview with Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee Part 2
In part 2 of the interview Bunny Lee talks about King Tubby, trends, his own studio and other studios, the flying cymbals and the tickler, the Wailers, Soul Syndicate, Aggrovators, and much more.
“STRAIGHT FROM STRIKER’S HEAD”
What do you recall as being the very first dub album, was it ‘Aquarius Dub’?
Nah man, ‘Roots of Dub’ by King Tubbys! Tune will sell like 45 whe introduce dat. Tubbys mek a tune, mix a dub an’ play a version an’ put behind a tune name’ ‘Roots of Dub’ – I mean ‘Psalms of Dub’ fe a guy name’ (Carlton) Patterson, an’ the tune become a hit. Every time you go Randy’s (record store) an’ dem hear ‘do do wup do do wup do do wup chek chek’, an’ people like tek offa de dub. So you start put the dub dem ‘pon the record. Some a the dub dem people like it even more than the vocal. I rememba I do a Johnny Clarke vocal an’ I never liked the riddim, how I do it, beca’ when me deh ya a man seh a finger with the control now an’ tek it off, man, an’ the tune jus’ stop. Then Miss Pat seh “Bwoy, Bunny, yu cyaan do a t’ing like dat, people dem waan de one whe de tune come out with”. So me haffe go cut it back ‘pon a record, y’understan’, an’ transfer it an’ put it ‘pon a tape. Because is jus’ a t’ing me try, yunno, an’ it come out dat way, when dem machine ya a trouble de control room – but the people dem love it. Come like ‘Have Some Mercy’ with Delroy Wilson; Niney a trouble de control an’ it come out like seh… (imitates a specific ‘cut up’ sound in the studio). It’s like dem t’ings deh.
Trends can often start from mistakes.
Yeah man, nuff mistake. Look how much tune a mek from my mistake. When Derrick Morgan ‘ave a tune, we do the riddim at Duke Reid an’ Roland (Alphonso) up by Coxson studio an’ me go up deh, an’ seh “Rol’, me waan do a instrumental”, an’ Roland seh “Bwoy, yu waan carry the riddim back?” An’ me seh “No, Rolie, we a do it ‘pon the spot – vibes!” An’ Derrick say ‘Here comes Roland solo with one thousand tons of megaton – hook mammy an’ reggae now!’ An’ Roland start ‘panaana panaana’ an’ Derrick beside him a dance an’ a split an’… One a de time the engineer stop it, me seh, “How come Mr (Sylvan) Morris, wha’ yu stop it for?” Him seh, “Bwoy…”, an’ me seh, “No stop nutten wha’ me a do until me tell yu seh fe stop it!” Tek it down wha’ we a do again an’ fe Derrick a mek a mistake inna it an’ me jus’ signal to ‘im an’ seh “Continue!” Up to now man a dance to mistake. Derrick was like – the way him should a say ‘What the farmer said to the potato; I plant yu now an’ dig yu later’.
But Roland a bubble! So me jus’ tek it, an’ when de tune come out, man… a hit! Roland Alphonso bigges’ hit! All a dem big tune wha’ him do fe Coxson never sell like ‘Everybody Need Love’, the version a it; ‘One Thousand Tons of Megaton’. Yu rememba dat tune?
Any time yu see it you listen it an’ yu hear the mistake wha’ Derrick make, an’ me jus’ mek it go through…
…and you called it ‘style’.
Yeah man, every spoil is a ‘style’. Nuff tune me do dat, man, an’ me tell the engineer “Don’t stop it, mek it go on!”
Another thing I’d like to hear about is, when you had so much hits, success over a longer period, why didn’t you reach the level of building your own studio back in, say, the mid seventies?
A me buy Joe Gibbs’ firs’ studio, me lock up dat fe ’bout fourteen or fifteen years. ‘Cause me use’ to work ’round a Tubbys. If me work a Tubbys yu ‘ave a crowd a go follow me, any studio when me deh-deh a crowd there, yunno.
Because there was talk in the mid 1970s that Vulcan Records and Phonogram, they ‘almost’ invested in a studio for you back in ’76 or so?
No man, Eddy Grant mek dem wind up Vulcan Record when Trojan mash up. Somebody sign me name seh dem give me twenty thousand, right, fe buy a studio, equipment, an’ nutten never go so. An’ me tell Eddy Grant, an’ Eddy Grant go down deh an’ him know the boss an’ him wind up Vulcan with… That was Junior Lincoln an’ Webster Shrowder. Them guys deh a crook, man, dem guys deh was fe themself, yunno. An’ dem put out some big LP an’ some good t’ings. Me start a company name’ Klik, Pama Record, Jamaica Sound Record, yu name it.
Joe Sinclair ran Klik, after he left Trojan and their bankruptsy in ’75?
Joe Sinclair? Was a man name’ Larry Sevitt own it (Jamaica Sound), it was the man whe use’ to check it.
So that never materialised in the seventies. But you did actually get a studio together in the eighties, like you said.
Yeah man, me had a studio from inna the seventies, beca’ Joe Gibbs’ firs’ studio, a me did buy it. But as I say, I never bother. I did sell Channel One the machine. I never bother beca’ through me ‘ave Tubbys’ studio an’ if me did start me own studio, the crowd… Because ‘Scratch’ did start a studio, Larry Sevitt bought two board; one fe me an’ one fe ‘Scratch’. Me mek him buy the one fe ‘Scratch’ so ‘Scratch’ start him studio, E.T. a set it up. An’ up to now ‘Scratch’ don’t give Larry Sevitt a tune yet.
Did you use the Black Ark in those days for your own productions?
No, sometime me test it out, but me ‘ave my own studio so me never need fe do it (there). An’ Tubbys’ studio. Every studio inna Jamaica a me seh me waan use it, yunno. Me get it, beca’ if me a use your studio the crowd gwaan come. This man an’ man goin’ (to) come.
Would you say the success of Channel One ‘destroyed’ Randy’s (studio) which led to their permanent stay in America?
No, everybody have them own sound. When me start use Channel One, Jo Jo look him own sound until him go America an’ find it. Beca’ him ‘ave some parametric equalizer an’ Syd Bucknor at the time never use’ them. Me do tune at Channel One, yunno, like ‘Living In the Footsteps of Another Man’, dem tune deh sound good but another sound deh Jo Jo did want. Jo Jo find wha’ him want now an’ Jo Jo brother’ now come an’ do dem t’ing. Randy’s did ‘ave dem own sound, Joe Gibbs did have him own sound; when him have a studio now him start put in parametric equalizer beca’ E.T. was a smarter engineer. The parametric use’ to bring out the bottom; the bass more inna the tune, an’ the drum sound. Ca’ Joe Gibbs did get the board whe we use’ to use down a Dynamic, down a the bottom studio, an’ E.T. get parametric an’ grow up with it, so Joe Gibbs’ studio sound like Channel One.
The various patterns you introduced on your labels at the time, sounds like ‘flying cymbals’ and ‘ticklers’, this was partly inspired by, for instance, listening to American studio musicians, drummers from, say, Philadelphia International?
No, actually I tell Sly fe play that firs’, yunno. ‘Flying cymbal’ deh ’round a long time, a guy name’ Winston Grennan. Even ‘Take Five’, if yu listen ‘pon the hi-hat (imitates the sound). But through me deh a eat chicken-wing me jus’ started ‘flyers’. It’s jus’ – the name can do a t’ing, yunno, so everybody… all one time Carly, Carlton Barrett, Bob (Marley) haffe send him out beca’ ‘flyers’, flying cymbal a kill everybody. Carly come an’ when him play ‘Gorgon’, me seh “Carly, yu haffe play ‘flyers’ today, yunno” (giggles). So him seh “Wha’ so name’, Mr Lee?” An’ me say what, an’ me tell Santa (Davis) show ‘im. An’ when me do ‘Gorgon’ (Cornel Campbell); ‘Gorgon’, a him play dat, y’know, him an’ a guy name’ Bagga Walker, play the bass. So it was jus’ a name. But dem make dat kinda t’ing deh out, beca’ even Sly play a’ready ‘pon a tune name’ ‘Here I Am (Baby)’, with a guy named Al Brown. But it never ‘ave no name, we come with the name ‘flyers’ an’ put the guitar on top of it fe match it ‘chengeh chengeh’, with Tony Chin, an’ create a different t’ing deh so. An’ when me carry it up a Tubbys now an’ mix it an’ pass it through the… a t’ing with the board, a high-pass filter; different sound yu get again, it gone to a different dimension. So the whole t’ing jus’ tek off. And then tweeters did jus’ a come in ‘pon sound system, so it sound nice through the tweeter ‘phwwhhh phwwwhh’. So it’s the separation with the tweeters. Then the ‘tickler’ come in now with somet’ing near like dat. A me jus’ name’ a nex’ t’ing named the ‘ticklers’, me seh to Santa “Why yu tickle the hi-hat?” Like all ‘bram pah…’ – ‘My Guiding Star’, the hi-hat, an’ pass it through a filter. Different sound, so me jus’ call it the ‘tickler’, ca’ I ‘ave been experimentin’. Beca’ Studio One sound never jus’ stay so, yunno, Morris experiment with (Eric) Frater through a kinda reverb back whe yu get the feedback, the guitar ‘teckeh teckeh’ – when yu touch the guitar it go ‘eteckeh eteckeh’, y’understan’, you get a after effec’. A that was the Studio One engineer, a him shoulda name’ ‘Studio One’. Him was the sound, when him leave Coxson an’ go Harry J, the crowd go with ‘im an’ go Harry J studio. Even back then, him a go mek it work. Beca’ Morris was the man whe dem work with in the studio. Coxson use’ to out an’ do business an’ t’ing. Coxson would come in a evening time an’ listen wha’ Morris an’ the musician dem do an’ selec’ which tune him a go put out as release. But basically when most a dem tune a mek Coxson no deh-deh. Coxson use’ to get some Santa Mango (Mongo Santamaria) record an’ give Roland an’ Jackie Mittoo dem to play over an’ dem copy them an’ give them different name inna the dancehall. All ‘Exodus’, a Dizzy Gillespie tune. ‘Something Special’, him sound play them an’ (Count) Matchuki the deejay seh ‘This is something special!’ All ‘Sir Coxson’s Hop’, a no so the tune name’, but Matchuki jus’ call a foreign tune ‘paaahh daa dap ta dap daaah’ an’ seh ‘This is called ‘Sir Coxson’s Hop’!’ An’ them scratch off the name offa the record, so yu jus’ haffe know it by that.
How come you got Bob and The Wailers to record ‘Mr Chatterbox’ back in the early seventies, was that the only track you cut with them? You must’ve had more in that session?
No man, me got plenty more tracks. Them is down Dynamic, me a go find them. When me deh a run West Indies Record, me use’ to give them studio time. When Bunny Wailers deh a jail an’ Bob an’ (Mortimer) Planno come dung deh a night-time, me use’ to mek dem record; some fe dem an’ some fe me. Then all when Scratch – me ‘ave John Holt an’ dem man deh when dem an’ Scratch come back, me seh “It better yu go record with Scratch, yunno”, an’ dem seh “Chicken Scratch!”, an’ me seh “Yeah man, a me spar!” So dem start record ‘mongst Scratch. All Brad dem ‘ave a whole heap a Bob Marley song, but through him dead now (shot in NYC in the early eighties) dem either thief back the tape or Brad so-called wife sell dem. Ca’ when Bob deh a America an’ deh a Delaware me mek Brad bring ‘im up an’ put ‘im in a place name’ Two Sixteen Hotel fe all a week, an’ a pure recording dat, yunno! Sometime when Peter (Tosh) dem an’ t’ing start travel now dem come up deh an’ some a dem put on some harmony. All Brad mek Tyrone Evans from the Paragons harmonize it, y’understan’. So Bob ‘ave nuff nuff tune. Is only dem fe find it, dem last treasures deh.
Nuff tune, man.
Bunny Lee & King Tubby with the Waterhouse Posse (Photographer unknown)
Can you recall what the song was about, ‘Mr Chatterbox’, who was it directed at?
Ahhh, up a Niney.
(Laughs) That’s it, yeah.
Niney me an’ Bob did make it off, man.
There was some conflict in the air at that time.
Yeah, Niney did start some foolish argument, an’ me an’ Bob jus’ mek the tune. ‘Mr Chatterbox, how long will you live…’. ‘Always to receive an’ never to give, always carry news all aroun’ the place’. Up to now a dat Niney a do.
I think the story goes that there was an incident with Niney at Bob’s record shop, and that’s where Niney got beaten up for something…
…outta my record shop.
It was your shop? OK.
Yeah. No, we did ‘ave contac’. You see, Mr Rae – Bunny Rae – did ‘ave this pressing plant, so if a record press in deh, we use’ to get all the firs’ twenty-five before the owner. A me use’ to share record with Bob, so when Bob put dem record in his shop, it don’t release’ there yet till it release’. So somebody in a the shop a play this Niney tune ‘Blood & Fire’, an’ Niney pass it ’round an’ Bob a hear it. So the person tell ‘im seh ‘Aks Bunny Lee, beca’ Bunny Lee carry it come deh’. So when Niney come inna my shop now ‘uuhhheeeuuuhhh’ an’ Bob come on an’ seh “A our, Striker!”, an’ me tell ‘im seh “It Niney”. Dem seh “Niney a thief!” an’ them start mek noise, so Bob dem beat ‘im up. An’ him buss him nose an’ the man seh (switches to a complaining voice) “Bwoy, see the blood ya now an’…” – typical Niney.
So we mek the tune.
And speaking of typical conflicts within the business, you directed your feelings toward certain characters you came into clinch with, deals which didn’t work out, whatever, and you had like ‘straight to…’ someone’s head on the flip of the singles.
‘Straight To Channel One Head’… you motivate people by doing that. ‘Straight To The Boy U Roy Head’, ‘Straight To The Boy Big Youth Head’ an’, y’know, when a man see that him seh ‘Bwoy…’ – we mek a tune an’ release it one time when Channel One a bad name’ ‘Channel One Crash’, seh ‘Jo Jo better sing Chiney language an’ sell it inna Hong Kong’. An’ de yout’ dem love’ it, dem buy the record! A man seh ‘You no hear seh Channel One crash’, people like dem kinda t’ing deh, man. Teasin’, you haffe motivate people fe get them back inna the record shop or get them interested inna t’ing.
And the story goes that you only played your own products in your record shop (‘Bunny Lee’s Record City’)?
No man. Aeehh, that use’ to carry dung plenty sound an’ plenty t’ing. Me sell everybody record, man. My wife use’ to bring the records, all ‘Satta Massa Gana’ – you know how long she use’ to tek it? From the guy dem box-box an’ sell it till… ‘Satta Massa Gana’ jus’ tek off, man jus’ seh “Wha’ yu a talk to? Satta, bwoy!” An’ Tippatone, dem tek it up, y’know. Spangler’ gang tek it up, ‘Satta’, an’ the nex’ t’ing yu know ‘Satta’ is a classic all now. They ‘ave a scene ya – when the tune deh jus’ mek, man, them couldn’t sell it. A my record shop, my wife keep box under the counter an’ the time she a sell our records, she sell one an’ when dem come dem get dem money till them start, y’understan’.
I would like to go back to the time when you started to use a fresh, young band named the Soul Syndicate, when you took a chance on them, when was it?
No man, dem good. Me use’ to listen dem a night-time, a me carry Chinna a go put Chinna inna da band deh, yunno. Chinna use’ to mek him guitar ‘pon a sardine-pan an’ a play. Me give Chinna a guitar an’ put ‘im inna dat band. Me carry the whole band! Ca’ wha’ me use’ to do inna the ol’ days now, through me couldn’t afford, like, the big guys dem wha’ dem want, yunno, me find out how much the band play out fe a night, a club hire’ the whole band. Some a dem use’ to work, so you mek arrangement when everybody can be there. An’ then you jus’ do your t’ing, you jus’ record dem. Call ‘Can’t Explain’, ‘Too Late (Shall Be Your Cry)’ an’ all dem Twinkle Brothers tune, a Soul Syndicate band play two track record, we jus’ carry the whole band go studio. An’ it work out, cheaper fe me da way deh more than fe pay the thirty shilling a side. An’ dem was underdog an’ dem waan get good, so every man glad fe see ‘imself ‘pon a record, too.
And most of them came from Greenwich Farm in those days?
Yeah man, Greenwich Farm, Soul Syndicate band… till them leave, so Fully (Fullwood) leave an’ go rent a place at Delamere Avenue an’ the yout’ dem stay together right on until dem go California an’ all ’bout.
But you renamed them the ‘Aggrovators’ for your productions. It was basically the Syndicate we’re talking or you added various people so it wasn’t the ‘normal’ Soul Syndicate to speak of?
No man, Aggrovators was anybody whe me use’ now. Because me start use Sly & Robbie, Santa & Robbie. My set of musician, a guy up from even Eddy Grant from The Equals, me had a friend, him dead the other day name’ Larry Lawrence (of the Ethnic, Reggae and Ethnic Fight imprints), him use’ to travel with dem man an’ them use’ to say “Oh, that’s aggro, man!” “Say Eddy, wha’ ‘aggro’ mean?” Him say “Oh, giving me trouble, man. Larry, your friend, is causin’ me aggro”. So me like the name, yunno. Me go dung, me start call my group The Aggrovators. Then me start put the musician dem name wha’ play ‘pon the tune, an’ let the people know is not me a play it. Ca’ you use’ to ‘ave ‘Joe Gibbs & The Professionals’, an’ Joe Gibbs cyaan play even a shaker in time. Joe Gibbs try singin’ an’ him couldn’t sing. Drumbago (the late drummer Arkland Parks) say him sound like a goat.
So, me start put the guys dem name, Santa, me hail Santa ‘pon drums, Fully bass, an’ people start get fe know ’bout dem guys. An’ better now, I start put dem picture ‘pon the back of the LP. So these guys start get recognition. Ca’ what the Aggrovators was like, sometime you go studio an’ you ‘ave Ansel Collins an’ a guy name’ Tarzan (Errol Nelson) I t’ink, it come like a percent of Aggrovators was like Family Man an’ him brother, Carly, with Glen Adams. Them become the Upsetters now, too. Roland Alphonso & The Upsetters was a band Roland did ‘ave, but Scratch like it an’ call them fe ‘im band dem, the Upsetters. An’ you did ‘ave a guy name’ Lynford Anderson, him ‘ave a label name’ Upset, him was the big engineer at the time.
Yes, Andy Capp. Him produce some great songs, too. Him was a genius, him use’ to work at the radio station as an engineer up deh an’ leave an’ come a West Indies Record. Then him an’ Byron go America when Byron get Dynamic from the receiver, an’ buy the board. A him an’ Byron did go buy da board deh, from Atlantic. Byron use’ to put out Atlantic Record inna Jamaica, yunno. So when him get the studio an’ t’ing an’ get bigger, West Indies use’ to distribute fe ‘im now an’ Dynamic Sound start ‘ave them own press an’ t’ing now, so the res’ is history. Beca’ Diana Ross an’ – no, not Diana Ross, wha’ the girl deh from Atlantic…? Aretha Franklin, they’re bad! She was the A-star, yu know that?
Sure. Now, I would like to know more about this exchange of rhythms at the time, you sort of came up with this thing, perhaps started it, to ‘lend out’ rhythms to other small producers such as Niney or Lloydie Slim. How come, how did it start?
Yeah man. A man me deh ‘mongst, a me start Niney as salesman, man, an’ start give everybody dem start. Is that me a tell yu, no money, you give Niney – Niney ‘ave somet’ing him want, a riddim, or him waan… You mek ‘im go inna studio an’ mek a riddim too an’ you give ‘im a cut offa it, a me give Lee Perry dem, man. ‘Prisoner of Love’ by Dave Barker, a my Slim Smith riddim me give ‘im, man. Me an’ Scratch a run a session now, Scratch couldn’t pay the big league musician no more, so me tell Scratch ‘Me ‘ave a session today’. Me do the firs’ part – or him do the first part, an’ we use’ the same tape. We use’ one anedda riddim wha’ Scratch mek or wha’ me make, it look… we use’ to live good dem days deh. One banana an’ everybody a eat it.
(Laughs) Yes. If I just drop a few names you worked with back in those days, what was the potential you saw in them, how they could fit in the best with the changing market, and so on…
Ah, I use’ to like listenin’ to Clyde McPhatter (the late lead singer of The Drifters) an’ Curtis Mayfield, because dem use’ to play ‘pon the house dances dem, yunno, Ben E. King an’ all a dem guys deh. Firs’ time I hear Slim Smith a sing inna the Techniques (half-singing) ‘Tellin’ lies…’, an’ me say to Derrick Morgan… “Bwoy, Keithy, da yout’ deh sound like the nex’ big thing, if me tek it over it could become a big hit”. Yeah man, me say to Derrick, ‘Da guy deh a sound like Clyde McPhatter’.
What was Slim like to work with?
Slim Smith a one of Jamaica greates’ singer all now. You never ‘ave a nex’ Slim Smith – him irreplacable.
What made him so great in your opinion?
Some man jus’ born great. Look how much years him dead now an’ you put on a Slim Smith record… Look ‘pon ‘(My) Conversation’, da riddim deh go on an’ go on. Every time yu hear ‘Conversation’ it come like yu jus’ mek it.
Yes. All the big company dem an’ everybody do over dat tune, an’ the big singers dem. Is Slim Smith tease Dennis Brown fe play guitar an’ all dat too, yunno. Slim Smith an’ Delroy Wilson, those was no ordinary singer, those guys use’ to phrase! Delroy Wilson was a nex’ great singer, great artis’ deh. Dem two singers deh teach Dennis Brown, yunno, that’s why Dennis Brown grow up ‘mongst dem. That’s why Dennis Brown was so versatile.
Where does Cornel Campbell fit in here?
Cornel Campbell – out a sight singer, too. Great! Him coulda come like Slim Smith success, him a sing before Slim Smith too, yunno. Him use’ to selec’ fe Coxson. Cornel Campbell good too. Dave Barker! Lloyd Parks. But, as I say, Slim Smith stand up in dat group, as a singer. Pat Kelly, wha’ yu say inna dat falsetto an’ that Sam Cooke or Curtis Mayfield. When Curtis Mayfield hear Slim Smith sing ‘is tune, man, Curtis said, “Damn, this guy is good! This guy sounds like me”.
What about Horace Andy?
Horace Andy a good singer, too. I see ‘im the other day, good singer. All a the singer dem good. Errol Dunkley, I find Errol Dunkley as a yout’ an’ carry ‘im go to Joe Gibbs. You have many good singer. Alton was good, great inna him class. John Holt ‘ave a voice yu cyaan hide. Ken Boothe – yu name dem, man. Jackie Wilfred Edwards, one of the greates’ singer come outta Jamaica. Owen Gray is like a blues blaster from the olden days, like Rosco Gordon an’ dat… Owen Gray, he is still aroun’. You ‘ave Winston Francis, yu ‘ave some great singers come outta Jamaica. But as I say, Derrick Morgan come up, him was like me teacher, yunno, when me jus’ a start my session, me an’ him use’ to walk. Derrick an’ Prince Buster. An’ I say “Bwoy, me a go come like Buster when I start produce”. Because I use’ to inna de studio when ‘im produce, Buster a produce ‘im t’ing. Him come with him t’ing an’ him write him song round the mike an’ ‘im do. Prince Buster know wha’ him want! Him start a whole heap a trend too. Start clap all him hand inna de tune until it could become a reality. Lascelles Perkins, one a de firs’ superstar from Trench Town. Bob Marley dem an’ everybody look up to him, Alton. Great, Lascelles Perkins, him still alive, ’bout seventy odd now.
Talking musicians, how about Val Bennett?
Aaahhh!! Ahhh, dat man did great, man. Val Bennett! Roland Alphonso an’ all those cats inna him band too, yunno. Val Bennett is de man whe yu say was, like, the father of all dem guys deh. Val Bennett now, is him play all ‘Alcapone Don’t Talk’ (simply ‘Al Capone (Guns Don’t Argue)’ by Buster All Stars) fe Prince Buster, yu know dat?
And I think (King) Sporty do the talkin’ (raises his voice) ‘Al Capone guns don’t argue!’ Val Bennett an’ King Sporty a de deejay. But through Buster have the name dem time deh it jus’ continue goin’ in a de British chart too. Shallit jus’ put out – anyt’ing he find with Derrick Morgan name or Buster ‘pon it, plenty a the old singer dem get stifled because a only people know ’bout Derrick Morgan an’ Prince Buster. Because dem name on the record it’s gonna sell, any Blue Beat. Yeah.
Who were some of the artists you really wanted to work with, but it never materialised?
Well, you ‘ave some a dem, yunno. When dem ‘ave no manners, me never record dem. But me record with almos’ all a dem. Jackie Edwards himself was a gentleman until him leave this eart’.
The Nat ‘King’ Cole of Jamaica.
Yes, an’ by himself. Me record all Lord Creator, too. You name de singers dem, man.
I heard you wanted to work with the Maytals, but it never happened.
No, no, no, no, me never… Derrick Morgan turned down the Maytals, right. I was always a competitor on the Maytals, with all Derrick Morgan an’ the Festival Ten an’ all dem songs. Maytals to me was like a group of Pocomania songs, or singer. Well, Chris Blackwell think Toots a one of the greates’ singer in the world all now. Yes.
How come you cut so much ‘oldies’ material with Johnny Clarke at the time?
Yeah man. Beca’ people want dem type a tune deh, an’ couldn’t get, like, dem slow R & B t’ing. That put him to be a household name, the big people buy dem type a music. Cornel Campbell, him do a few. Hortense Ellis. John Holt do a album like dat too name’ ‘My Desire’. The people dem want dem sixties R & B an’ couldn’t get them, so I find dem an’ do them over. I think dem immortalise plenty a dem at the time, even Jackie Edwards do an album name’ ‘Come To Me Softly’. Fe big people, Christmas time, dem record deh did sell, man. Ossie Scott, ‘My Way’ an’ ‘Wonderful Sound of Ossie Scott’ (meaning ‘The Supreme Sounds of…’ LP), those music like some Perez Prado tune, ‘Patsy’ (meaning ‘Patricia’) an’ ‘Cherry’, ‘Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White’ (two of the biggest crossover hits by Prado in the mid 1950s) an’ all dem tune deh. You never hear da Ossie Scott album deh?
‘Portrait of My Love’. Yeah man, dem song deh sell inna Canada an’ America wide. An’ if man hear seh Johnny Clarke an’ dat a Jamaican singer a do it, man, dem buy it.
Looking back, do you feel now, with some perspective on it, that you over-recorded Johnny, over-exposed him?
No man. Me still ‘ave tune with Johnny Clarke an’ Cornel dem to come out, an’ John Holt. You ‘ave some ‘hostage’ whe yu haffe hold. You cyaan record too much.
What about the series of reissues through Ravensquire in Birmingham in the mid nineties, Brian, this realised some long lost classics on vinyl again, but then they stopped. It was a lot more that should’ve been pressed at the time.
No, Coxson son (Stephen ‘Coxson Jr.’ Dodd) me did give them fe put out, a fe ‘im t’ing deh, Junior Dodd an’ him friend dem, from Birmingham.
Ca’ Third World (Records) was one of the strong company up ‘ere too, yunno, Count Shelly’s.
Right, with the (original) Live & Love subsidiary.
Yeah, Live & Love an’ all dem t’ing deh, ‘im ‘ave a portion of record, him had from one to ten album inna the chart one time, all was Bunny Lee stuff, too.
Albums like ‘Straight To Babylon Chest’, ‘Dreadlocks In Jamaica’…
‘Strictly Rockers In A Dread Land’… do you think those albums could come out again? Because they sort of came and went, and they still stand up well, quality-wise, up to these times.
Yeah man! People askin’ for them but some a dem, I cyaan find the tape. I put them out same way, man, or I put them ‘pon CD, dem sell, man. You know where I can find them? You ‘ave a guy name’ Dr. Buster (Dynamite) from Holland, he use’ to find plenty o’ dem t’ings deh, like all some Doreen Shaeffer album.
Correct, there was a bunch of great compilations of your sixties era on the Jamaican Gold label, but they’re deleted now.
Yeah. No, no, the backer did die, yu see. A guy name’ Rupie did back Dr. Buster, he pass away, so… That label would be a force to reckon with.
Definitely. Now, I would like to ask you about a matter which has been pretty controversial and widely criticised in various circles – it simply should be left intact as it is – and perhaps welcomed by others, to give it a fresher feel, the idea to remix sixties and seventies material. What is your feel about this, does it ‘enhance’ or polish the material, or what is the attitude there?
No, well, some a dem like Kingston Sound (a subsidiary of Jamaican Recordings) t’ing, yunno, is freshly t’ing with the whole tape. Some a dem is from Tubbys’ era an’ some a dem… yu cyaan find the tape. So these people like old time music, so they jus’ ‘ave a different version of it from the master.
But the whole issue of ‘distorting’ original recordings, that you shouldn’t put your fingers on something vital enough as it is?
Some a dem original mix now, you cyaan get it. A man get a mix, different mix of a tune an’ put it out. So some o’ dem original mix deh now, dem been contracted to Pama or Trojan, yu don’t want to give Tom the same t’ing whe Trojan ‘ave. Say, yu ‘ave a different mix offa it, y’understan’, that’s why you ‘ave different style. Is the same riddim, so a man play the original one, dem play the other one an’ play all three cut’. Beca’ if you mix a version, no care how yu good, you cyaan get it the same way, unless yu copy it ‘pon a tape an’ put up dat tape, but you haffe do it over. Now probably yu can store it inna you’ computer same way. But in those days yu didn’t have no computer. Most o’ dem tape dem disintigrate or yu ‘ave to get it from record an’ clean it up an’ use it.
Bunny Lee with Third World’s Cat Coore – Reggae Geel 2013 (Photo: Teacher)
Bunny Lee with Sanchez and others – Reggae Geel 2014 (Photo: Teacher)
By the way, what became of the documentary which was supposed to come out a couple of years back, I believe it was produced in England?
Don’t know it specifically. This was supposedly a small production company doing it and it was articles at the time published about it forthcoming, but nothing has materialised since.
Who did it? You ‘ave one on Channel 4, yunno, it name’ ‘Deep Roots Reggae’ with me an’ Lee Perry dem (Howard Johnson’s historic ‘Deep Roots Music’ series from 1982).
Ah, yes, but this one was a different documentary, they had new footage of you, new interviews with various people you had worked with over the years, and so on.
Oh, it was a guy deh name’ Smogg, filmed (or ‘flimed’, Jamaican pronounciation) somet’ing an’ try fe sell it an’ put ‘pon the internet, I never bother. We did stop him, man. ‘Cause some guy ongle waan de sunshine fe ‘imself, the sun ray’ fe ‘im own stuff alone.
(Laughs) Yeah. Will you ever write a book, ever thought of writing a biography of your life and times within the music?
We ‘ave a t’ing a come out, yunno, with some tune an’ somet’ing. The Kingston Sound people, me gi’ dem a lickle t’ing, yu haffe give dem a lickle story to dem. Me deh ‘pon flim an’ a talk an’ a talk ’bout some record shop an’ all a dem t’ing deh, so…
So there is something concrete coming, that’s good news.
Yeah. But you have the real t’ing soon, it might come soon. You cyaan jus’ get up an’ go give it so, yu haffe get some money fe it, innit.
Yes, and a decent deal.
But you should really make an effort in putting together a biography.
Yeah, me ‘ave this story come right up from orchestra dance come up. Me a 69 nex’ year, so me can tell you ’bout Coxson, Duke Reid an’ Prince Buster an’ all a dem guys deh, more than anybody. Tell you ’bout Bob Marley dem more than… yunno?
Ca’ plenty man, dem never know Bunny Wailers did go serve time in prison. Yu did know?
Did read it somewhere, the authorities caught him smoking a little something and put him behind bars for a year or so, late sixties.
How do you see the future of the Jamaican music industry with all the downloading, how can people make a living from it now, from a Jamaican perspective?
I see dem a clean it up, yunno. The government dem a make some effort, so it soon come in now an’ the big company dem waan get the t’ing. Because monopoly, Universal waan keep everyt’ing, beca’ right now me an’ dem at loggerhead’. Beca’ dem waan me fe sign the whole o’ my t’ing fe lickle or nutten, an’ me na do it. Me haffe keep my t’ings dem.
Of course. How do you store and preserve your archive of tapes?
Me still ‘ave plenty t’ings ‘pon tape fe come out, whe I ‘ave some ‘pon harddrive computer, is nuff of it. If you see my store-room of tape, man, you’d be surprised, ca’ me suppose’ to ‘ave more album than Coxson an’ Duke Reid put together. Ca’ even a company a Jamaica a put out somet’ing fe me, y’know wha’ I mean? Him name’ Cap, Lucas (meaning the Reggae Box Project, Cap Calcini). Some vintage 45s all ’bout, yunno.
How do you decide now what will be the most suitable to put out on reissue, what’s the process?
People a aks me dem an’ yu ‘ave some tune a sell ‘pon the internet fe a big sum o’ money. The poor man cyaan get it, so sometime yu haffe bus’ the collector dem bubble, jus’ reissue dem.
And make it more accessible.
Yes. Ca’ you ‘ave some tune a sell ‘pon the internet fe all two or three thousand American dollars. You release dat now an’ you’d ‘ave a seller, but de collector dem no like it.
A big question, obviously, but how would you like to be remembered after all those years of involvement in Jamaican music? I mean, producers has always been a controversial subject, not the least among artists and musicians, for being ripped, treated unjust or underpaid, whatever, but…
Well, hold on. Some of de guys dem that we ‘ave, Coxson dem, them never get pay enough so them couldn’t pay no artist’. I don’t feel Coxson or Duke Reid or Beverley’s dem carry dung no artis’. Some a dem artis’ ya a greedy too. Ca’ when dem start dem start release all Coxson an’ Duke Reid tune dem fe themself an’ expec’ the man dem fe pay dem. When the man dem fe get a deal, the tune dem out. So, some a dem artist’, yunno, dem cry a whole heap all de while an’ when de man dem deal with them, Coxson dem use’ dem money an’ invest inna de business. Ca’ I an’ Delroy talk one day, I say “Delroy, every week yu mother come to Coxson fe money, an’ him send yu go high-school, him haffe pay de t’ing. Them man a businessman, when the time come him a go draw out back him money, so him no thief yu”. Y’understan’? “You go look for Coxson an’ apologise, man, ca’ dem t’ing deh hurt. When yu do so, other people no waan do nutten with you ca’ dem see yu as ungrateful”. So, is a mix of situation’, yeah?
But people will always look back on those days as the biggest rip-off in the history of the music.
Yeah, but in those days the producer dem never ‘ave no pay, no pay fe get neither, dem jus’ tek out fe dem record. Them owe money whe dem… go sell. Mek record an’ sell, an’ pay the artist. Dem days deh a musician get thirty shilling a side, or even less too, right, an’ a singer get probably twenty pound fe a song. The producer haffe go cut stamper an’ probably him lose, da t’ing… it was a game of chances. Probably fe a man a make it him call in de singer, an’ him seh “Bwoy, de tune sell more than expected”, so a nex’ fifty pound or a next… y’understan’? An’ dem days deh fifty pound was big money too, come in like five hundred thousand (JA dollars) ya now. Them days deh was cheap days. So it was a mix, yu hear suh. Sometime me jus’ use’ to do my t’ing. How me use’ to do my t’ing now; if yu a swing, you carry de whole everybody there. Me no rate no man over no man. If Johnny Clarke a swing, him haffe carry Cornel Campbell an’ everybody inna my organisation, right. When Cornel time come him haffe do the same t’ing. If yu cyaan do dat you leave an’ go somewhere else. One hand wash the other. You have a time when me use’ to pay all Peter Tosh dem twenty pound a week, yunno. When Bob deh a Delaware, a me dem man did deh ‘mongst, but then Peter Tosh use’ to sing harmony. Me never record him as a singer, beca’ me no rate him over Derrick Morgan. Derrick Morgan can do anyt’ing whe Peter Tosh can do better. Me use’ to use him as a instrumentalis’; a guitaris’, or organis’, or harmony singer. Me use’ to pay dem guys twenty pound a week – a me, or we. Me haffe bus’ me shirt a daytime fe sell all record under-price’. Every Friday a man go home with twenty pound inna him pocket. So, is a hard game. It never use’ to ‘appen so. When t’ings start look up now that’s why me deh a fe give Total Sound my t’ing. Every week the artis’ dem go an’ get a good money an’ put inna dem pocket.
You feel that people shouldn’t complain so much.
Yes. Because sometime you give a man a tune or a riddim fe ‘im go sell an’ tek the history offa you, beca’ if you a carry everybody, Pama tell me one day, “Bunny, yu cyaan help everybody, if yu do that”, y’understan’.
How come you sort of withdrew from the scene, at least not quite as prolific, when ‘Sleng Teng’ and the digital wave hit Jamaica?
No, that time I was in England. Me ‘ave version of dem t’ing deh, me have machine music now, yunno. Me have ‘Sleng Teng’ too, the same guy whe play it back fe Tubbys use’ to do that t’ing inna the machine (for me). Da riddim deh come in a Casio machine, yu know that?
But is that I tell yu now, a name again. The guy jus’ sing a tune ‘Under me sleng teng’, an’ the dance the hype. Jammys dub in a ska guitar an’ a ska piano, but a no ‘im mek it – it come inna the machine. The riddim deh a’ready, that. So me always a do my t’ing, that’s why my music dem stand out until now.
The deal you landed with Virgin Records for Johnny Clarke, what became of it – it was that album, and that was it?
No, two album fe Johnny Clarke…
Sorry! Two, of course.
An’ three album with I Roy.
But you never got enough, or a substantial, long-term deal with those guys?
No. Me prefer deal with Shelly, de lickle man whe can do more fe you.
So Shelly was optimal?
Yeah man, ca’ yu cyaan see dem. Virgin an’ Island – not even Island, Chris dem did a’right, an’ Trojan dem, right. When dem people a come in… Shelly was a man whe ‘ave ambition an’ start listen an’ put out the music, him was more in touch beca’ him was a sound system man. Shelly did come an’ tek over from all a dem man, but through bad management an’ him finance’ an’ t’ing… Yeah man, Shelly was with the music, him was a Count Shelly now with him sound system.
It was a massive amount of releases of your product on his Third World imprint between, say, ’75 to ’79.
Yeah. It come in like fifty-fifty partner, but Shelly did pack up an’ gone back to Jamaica.
I thought he left London for New York?
Yes, but him pack up de business inna New York. Them shot him up deh an’ him jus’ fed up, Shelly kinda retire’. Him do a few t’ings at him house inna Jamaica, but that’s it.
What are your immediate plans, what are you working on to put out at present, if you could reveal some of it?
I ‘ave new t’ings too, yunno, plenty t’ings. But at the moment I lookin’ whe de business goin’, I don’t waan invest so much money fe put out a CD or somet’ing, a man copy it an’ have it inna de market a sell an’ all dat, so…
Seems like a better idea to put out reissues on vinyl now.
Yeah, well, I ‘ave a lotta vinyl a reissue from Jamaica, from said company, Cap. Lucas, a guy name’ Lucas a do it. Him jus’ reissue plenty o’ de t’ings dem.
What do you miss the most about the older days, things that don’t really exist so much, if at all, in the business today?
Well, yu haffe jus’ change with the time, yunno. To me, me no miss nutten, yu jus’ carry on. You jus’ strengthen yu fe better days, same way. Ca’ me no ‘ave no complaints more than get me t’ings done. The ongle complaint me ‘ave now is to get me t’ings back from Trojan an’ dem guys.
You have been in touch with Universal about it?
Yeah man! Them no own my t’ing, my t’ing up now, me in a de process a gettin’ back all o’ my stuff an’ waan dem delete’. The t’ing dem whe dem ‘ave ‘pon different compilation, me want dem fe tek it off, ’cause dem no pay anybody. Trojan out o’ order, dem send a man to Niney with a lickle contrac’ fe ten years, fe MY catalogue, whe it’s suppose’ to be the bigges’ inna reggae business ya right now. Come like dem waan gi’ thirty thousand pound, dat bugging me, man! Me give them family that, ca’ me is not a lickle ‘ungry man, whe dem t’ink. Yeah. Me ‘ave my publisher a look out fe my t’ings with them…
Willi Williams, Bunny Lee & Dennis Alcapone outside the Caribbean Club, Green Lanes, London – August 2004. (Photo: David Corio)
A living and now legendary encyclopedia of Jamaican music history, Edward O’ Sullivan Lee. His catalogue of treasures has never stopped being put to good use over the years. But there is arguably not the most interesting productions currently being released through his own Striker Lee operation. What about things like the elusive 7″ ‘Don’t Touch I Dread’ by Barrington Spence or even the singer’s ‘Tears On My Pillow’ album? There are at least three albums on Third World by the great U Brown which Bunny has neglected up to now. His often overlooked early eighties output of Jackie Edwards’ ‘King of the Ghetto’ album, or Johnny Clarke’s ‘I Man Come Again’ – worthy of a reissue? Obscurities like the albums ‘Satta & Praise Jah’ by the late (Jah) Frankie Jones, or the mysterious Prince Ras Murray’s ‘Militant Dread’, what became of those? There’s Trinity’s ‘Uptown Girl’, I Roy’s ‘Godfather’ and ‘Can’t Conquer Rasta’, Dillinger’s ‘Talkin’ Blues’ and Ronnie Davis’ ‘Hard Times’, solid albums from the late seventies which should and must come out again in its original shape and form. Striker had the good taste of finding Roy Shirley’s great take on the immortal ‘Drum Song’ rhythm a couple of years back, ‘Israelites Leave Babylon’, and putting it out on 7″ once again. Even what sounds like guide vocals and outtakes has found its way to the seven-inch format over the past ten years, such as Johnny Clarke’s ‘Every Knee Shall Bow’ (circa ’75, a couple of years before the more known version on Clocktower came out coupled with a great U Roy toast on 12″) and an improvised vocal take to Jah Stitch’s ‘Greedy Girl’, ‘A Man Like Me’. What’s more in the vaults? ‘Creation of Dub’ was the latest project through his association with the controversial Jamaican Recordings/Kingston Sounds imprint this year. The remixes he’s put out on said label are perhaps the sad part of the story and I choose to leave them without further comment. Now, what we are waiting on are the biography of the man known affectionately as Striker, either in book form or perhaps in oral form, much in the same vein as Soul Jazz did to Coxson Dodd for the ‘Studio One Story’ DVD. Will this ever happen?
For those newcomers to Bunny Lee’s catalogue of releases I suggest an investigation of the defunct Blood & Fire label’s high quality CD compilations such as ‘If Deejay Was Your Trade’, an excellent look at his productions of Big Joe (where is the reissue of the man’s ‘Keep Rocking & Swinging’ by the way?), I Roy, Prince Far I, Jah Stitch and Dillinger, among others. Lee and master engineer King Tubby worked closely together, check out ‘Dub Gone Crazy’, ‘Dub Like Dirt’ and ‘Dub Gone 2 Crazy’ for three superb examples of the art of dub – arguably Striker’s hottest rhythms in the hands and imagination of the late great dubmaster himself, King Tubby. These proved to be some of the biggest sellers for the label, proof – if anything – that Bunny Lee’s popularity hasn’t died down over the years and that music produced, obviously, under limited circumstances to reach the market as quickly as possible, at the time; it hasn’t done any ‘harm’ to what is now looked upon as, in many cases, timeless productions. He had the ear for creativity, longevity, music for the excitement of the moment and for a longer stretch of time where it doesn’t fear time at all. If anything, isn’t that a great legacy of one of the most dominant forces in Jamaican music over the (soon) past forty-five years.