Interview with Errol Dunkley
There has long been a fascination with singers at a child stage in worldwide popular music, Jamaica is no different. Delroy Wilson springs to mind first and foremost, no doubt the biggest child star the island has ever seen. Errol Dunkley was another teen sensation back in the mid-sixties.
“JUST A LITTLE DIFFERENT”
Dunkley was to become one of the most prolific hit-machines on the island with recordings for the late Joe Gibbs and Bunny Lee, before teaming up with Gregory Isaacs to form the African Museum label. Later he was to score a huge pop hit with a cover of John Holt’s ‘OK Fred’ in 1979. Dunkley’s catalog is huge as well and there’s enough vintage material for at least a dozen CD anthologies, or so it may seem at least. My thanks to Errol, West Indian Social Club (Hartford, CT), Carlton Hines, David Corio, Tim P, Dave Katz, and Donovan Phillips.
You started quite early, musically speaking, at around eleven years of age. How did it come about, did your parents send you for a talent contest or a neigbour knew the folks at a studio, or what?
OK. Well, I’m born in West Kingston, Jamaica. I grew up in the city, in the western part of Kingston. I attend Kingston Secondary School, Warren Hall High School. I first started recording for Prince Buster.
A tune called ‘My Queen’.
When was it?
As early as ’62? So that was ska.
Yeah, the tail end of ska, of when I start, y’know.
How did it happen in that time?
Well, I grew up with another kid called Junior English. He migrated to England like ’64. Well, he was a kid that used to like singin’ so we would often meet by my gate where I was living in Kingston, West Kingston, Jones Town. He would like – he’s a singer too, y’know wha’ I mean, he was just like a lot of other guys, teenage guys who was singin’ too. But then Junior and I get together and say that we’re gonna form our group. So Junior and I start practicin’, then we went to see Prince Buster.
Did you call the group something?
Well, we didn’t have a name (laughs)! We didn’t have a group name, but Prince Buster called us School Boys. But when we start, we recorded a song called ‘Face Gone’, ‘My Queen’. Then Junior’s parents took him to England, Junior migrated to England, and I continued singin’ on my own.
Junior, he cut a few albums for the Burning Sounds label in the 1970’s.
Yeah. Then after, I didn’t have any real success with Prince Buster.
I don’t know. (Chuckles) We didn’t have any real success. Then I started recording for Joe Gibbs.
But you had a couple of years in-between of the recordings for Buster and then Gibbs, a gap there?
Yeah, I started singin’ for Joe Gibbs when the beat change. In that time when the beat change that was like ’66 or ’67. I had a song called ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’, that was my first big song. I was like thirteen at the time, still in school.
So you came like another Delroy, a new Delroy Wilson at that point.
Yeah, Delroy was the first kid at the time.
Jamaica’s first real child star, like.
Yeah, Delroy was my influence, y’know wha’ I’m saying. He was, yeah. But he was a bigger kid than I was anyhow, at the time when I started. The beat had just changed to rock steady and I had three big songs with Joe Gibbs: ‘You’re Gonna Need Me’, ‘Please Stop Your Lying, Girl’, and ‘I’m Going Home’.
Did you see the album that was put out a couple of years back? It collected most of your work for him at that period.
Yeah, but those songs was some songs… I know the album, those songs was some songs that was never released.
But there was an album ready at that time?
Yeah, I did a lot of recording, but these recordings wasn’t an album idea, it was just recording sessions. And he would come for me at school and take me to the studio and I would sing a song, next time I wrote another song, and like that. He would give me songs to sing too.
Gibbs, a young upcoming producer at that time.
Joe Gibbs? He was a big, big, big man at the time, man (chuckles). I was the kid. It was Bunny Lee who took me to Joe Gibbs. Joe Gibbs had just started in the business, too, and his first artist was Roy Shirley.
A song called ‘Hold Them’. Then I was next, then the Pioneer(s) came along and there was quite another few artists. Junior Byles, he was with a group called… the name again…?
Versatiles! Yeah, you know it (chuckles). Then I grew up, y’know what I mean, and I started… Joe Gibbs and I fell out and I went to Studio One. I did a lot of songs at Studio One. I never had any great success.
You cut songs like ‘Get Up Now’ for Coxson.
Yes (chuckles). There’s a lot of songs that I did at Studio One that was never released.
True, and among them was, possibly, the first cut of ‘Black Cinderella’. Coxson put it out about fifteen years ago, if not more.
Was that a song… I mean, you did that one for someone else later on, but…
No, that one was licensed to Studio One.
Yeah, it was a big song, that was my big one – one of my big songs. When I started I did a lot of hit songs. ‘Cause I start workin’ for Studio One, then I never had any success at Studio One, I started workin’ for Rupie Edwards, Success Record. I did a self-production.
Was that the ‘Three In One’?
No, the ‘Three In One’ I did was all my three hit songs that I had for Joe Gibbs. At the time there was a medley t’ing going on, a lot of artists who had hit songs were doing them in medley style; Ken Boothe did, BB Seaton did, a lot of other artists did, I think Roy Shirley did too. And I did, and that was a success for that song, the ‘Three In One’ medley. Then I did another song, ‘Darling Ooh (Your Love Is Amazing)’. I recorded that song for myself, but because I was inexperienced of puttin’ out songs, I licensed it to Rupie Edwards on the Success label.
But of course he put ‘produced by Rupie’ on the label.
(Laughs) Yes, I produced that song. Rupie Edwards don’t know one thing about producin’ that song.
Who backed you on that?
Well, I was using The Wailers, Family Man. At this time they wasn’t – that time they wasn’t ‘Wailers’ yet, they were just Reggae Boys. You know, Family Man Barrett and his brother, Carlton on drums.
They played with the Hippy Boys band at that time?
(Chuckles) Same group, yeah. ‘Cause they were recording for Bunny Lee, that’s how I get to know them.
And Bunny was the connection? Did you know Bunny Lee from where you grew up too?
Yeah, Bunny Lee is from Greenwich Farm, it’s still West Kingston but the city. I lived like on the outskirt.
How did you bump into him, or vice versa?
Well, he was the one that took me to see Joe Gibbs. I bumped into him at Federal… West Indies Studio (WIRL), which is called Dynamic now. At that time it was called West Indies Studio. And the club I joined was a four-age club, so I had a letter for an audition and (chuckles)… at West Indies Studio, so when I went there to do the audition I saw Bunny Lee at the gate. So he recognised me from when I had those songs, y’know, ’cause I had hit songs, then things go bad, y’know wha’ I mean? And I was still singin’, strugglin’ same way, and my club gave me a letter now so Bunny Lee remembered me from Prince Buster. So he told me about Joe Gibbs, this man who just come in the business and lookin’ artists, so he took me there and I start singin’ for Joe Gibbs. And I had all these three successful songs. But then, I tell you that I was workin’ for Rupie, with Rupie Edwards, and I gave him two hit songs.
Errol Dunkley at Reggae Jam 2014
In about ’69?
Yeh, then Gregory (Isaacs) team up, ’cause it was Gregory who took me to Rupie Edwards, ’cause Gregory was singin’ for Rupie Edwards.
Was he singin’ with that group The Concords at that time?
Who, Gregory? I don’t know… No, he was singin’ on his own, yeah, when I first met him. He was with Rupie Edwards, so Rupie told him to bring me to do some recording for him. Gregory took me there and I did the ‘Three In One’ medley. Then I do… Gregory and I team up and we did ‘Movie Star’.
That’s when you founded the African Museum label together?
Yeah. Gregory and I, we formed the African Museum label and we did, as I said, ‘Movie Star’… We did two songs on that session; I did one and Gregory did one. Gregory’s was ‘Look Before You Leap’, but it wasn’t a big song but it was a good song anyhow. But the ‘Movie Star’ was a big, big song. We pressed that song ourselves.
How come you both, pretty young at the time, that you set out to produce independently? It’s so much more of a struggle to carry it on your own shoulders, at that level.
Yeah, but you see, at the time we wasn’t gettin’ any justice from the producers. So we decided we’re gonna do our own thing. Either we license it to a producer or we press it and put it out ourselves. So that’s what we did.
You got a lot of support by the local sounds?
Yeah, yeah. Because at the time we had a lot of jukebox, and jukebox people would buy a lot of records. They would buy all a thousand of ‘Movie Star’, ’cause one man will have a thousand jukebox all over the country, some man have five-hundred, some have three. So our record was selling, it’s not like now (chuckles).
(Chuckles) I know what you mean.
Yeah, ’cause we sold quietly over sixty thousand of ‘Movie Star’ at that time (chuckles). Then after ‘Movie Star’ Gregory and I went back in the studio and I did ‘The Love Is Amazing’ – ‘Darling Ooh (Your Love Is Amazing)’, and I licensed it to Rupie Edwards. Yeah, that was a success. And Gregory did a song on the same session called ‘My Only Lover’. Then he and I kinda split up.
Had you set up the shop too, or you only had the label together?
No, we had an office on Orange Street, it wasn’t a shop. It was just an office where we have like a distribution center. Like, where we had our stock and distribute our records from.
Why did you split up?
You just had to focus more on yourself at that point.
Yeah, you understan’. So I went in the studio and I did a song called – no, I recorded a song, ‘Black Cinderella’ for this producer called Jimmy Radway.
‘One Foot Jimmy’.
Yeah, ‘One Foot Jimmy’. He wrote the song, he wrote ‘Black Cinderella’, but he wrote it like a poem. So I had was to add additional lines to it, yunno, like to get the musical measures right – ‘four beats to the bar’ t’ing. So I had was to fix up the song and we did it, and it was a big, big, big song. (Chuckles) At the time I had three big song after the ‘Three In One’ medley: ‘Your Love Is Amazing’, ‘Movie Star’, and ‘Cinderella’. Then I did another recording for myself called ‘You’ll Never Know’, which I licensed to Sonia Pottinger.
Which became the album eventually, ‘Darling Ooh’?
Yes. And I did another – there was two songs on the album that I produced and licensed to her, ‘Ooh Wee Baby I Love You’ and ‘You’ll Never Know’. That was my first album.
That album is now regarded as something of a masterpiece, a standout from the early reggae era, even today.
Yeah, my very first album.
Released in ’72.
Yes. Then I did some recordings for Bunny Lee.
But, what did Mrs Pottinger do with this album, did you have any control of it? It was issued in England on the Trojan/Attack imprint at the time.
Yeah, I didn’t have any control over that, it was Sonia Pottinger who licensed it to Trojan.
Sounds like a familiar thing again…
(Chuckles) You bet!
(Chuckles) But did you find out about it later or the news came quickly down to your quarters?
Years after (laughs)! When I went to London I get to realise that, that this company released it. They were only paying her and she wasn’t paying me.
Someone got pretty pissed off for some reason…
Who did you employ for the sessions for most of the album?
Same musicians I use all the time, Family Man, his brother, Touter (Bernard Harvey) on keyboard, I would use like Hux Brown on guitar.
Where was the sessions, what studio?
Well, we used like Dynamic Sounds, which is called… Yeah, Dynamic Sounds, that’s what it was called from those times. That’s in the seventies, in the sixties it was like West Indies Studio. In the seventies Byron Lee buy it out, he would claim Dynamic. So I did some recordings at Dynamic and I did some recording at Randy’s studio, Randy’s had a studio at the time. That’s what people call ‘VP’.
Yeah, ca’ they’re the one who used to have that store in Downtown Kingston, the record store was one of the main record stores in the business. It was one of the biggest t’ing I’d tell you (chuckles). That was a shop that used to be ever so packed with people buying records. I migrated since then. I went to work for Bunny Lee, I did some songs, and I had a contrac’ with a company – Shelly Recording Company in London, after I went to London. And I did an album called ‘Sit & Cry’.
So that was the second album project.
Yeah. Well, ‘Sit & Cry’ album I did in England.
Why migrate at a time when you had success with your music in Jamaica, why leave it at that point?
You see, the reason I migrated… it was all this political warfare, political war between rival parties.
JLP against PNP.
Yeah, ’cause I born and grow where all this is happening, I just couldn’t stand it, y’know.
It was like a ‘pressure cooker’.
You bet. (Chuckles) So I migrated to England. But I keep going home and going back to England, I keep in and out. ‘Cause I did a few songs in England, a lot of songs. I had a song called ‘A Lickle Way Different’, that was my first big song in England.
But that album for Count Shelly, ‘Sit Down & Cry’, was that something you produced yourself or was that his production?
No, that was produced by Shelly. They sent for musicians from Jamaica, like Gladstone Anderson (piano), Jackie Jackson (bass), Hux Brown, just sent for the whole outfit. And we did that album in England, with strings and all of that (chuckles).
Did you like the strings at the time?
Yeah, ’cause it was a new thing. ‘Cause John Holt had just had ‘One Thousand Volts of Holt’ with some strings, so it was like a new thing, reggae with strings.
More suitable for BBC airplay.
Yeah, something new, adding more things to the music.
But in that way you kinda undermine the rawness, the ‘grassroots’ approach, the roughness of the dancehall music, watering it down to a pretty anonymous level, even if it’s ‘new’.
The music? Yeah, I understan’. But we were trying to get to a wider audience, a wider set of fans.
It was a good relationship with Shelly, production-wise and otherwise?
Same thing again.
Yeah, but it wasn’t big and successful, it’s just that it’s been selling same way over the years, even now.
So it’s still in print, didn’t know that.
Who’s putting it out, Shelly or someone else?
Haven’t seen it. I would assume he changed the cover art and stuff.
Yes, yes, his eighties label.
Before we go further, tell me more about Radway, the one legged man. He’s such a highly regarded producer these days, but he didn’t stay in business for too long, did he?
No (chuckles). Well, I did two songs for him and he recorded Leroy Smart too, and he did another song with Hortense Ellis, ‘Hell & Sorrow’. ‘Mother Liza’ with Leroy Smart too, ‘Hell & Sorrow’ with Hortense. But those songs was originally for me to sing, but because I didn’t get treated good on the ‘Black Cinderella’, I decided I wasn’t gonna sing those songs. So he bring in Leroy Smart and give him one, Hortense get one (chuckles). Then after that as I told you, we went to England and I did this album for Shelly. And it wasn’t a big thing but Shelly and I fall out, because we had an agreement. But he would have the album for England and Europe, and I would have the album for the United States. At that moment I was workin’ with Brad’s Record, Brad die now in New York.
Brad’s Record… Yeah, yeah, that’s it. Osbourne, that’s his surname. Tad work with him, Tad’s Record?
Tad Dawkins, yes.
Tad used to be the man with Brad. Now Tad’s doing his own thing. Yes, so after I had the album, when I did that album for Shelly, I went to the States to give it to Brad to release it. And when I get there, there was (chuckles)… a lot of foolishness, Brad tellin’ me that. Shelly send the album, a lot of it, press it in England and send a lot of it over to the States to this guy called Winston Jones. So I was really upset. So when I went back to England I asked him “Wha’ kinda t’ing is dat?!” Me and him have a deal, and he go against it, y’know wha’ I mean.
Typical reggae runnings.
So I stopped workin’ with Shelly, we fall out. So I did a song with this group called Matumbi, Dennis Bovell?
Yes, yes, ‘Blackbeard’… not so bearded anymore though.
They liked the first album I did, that same Sonia Pottinger, and I had a song on it called ‘Every Man Do His T’ing A Lickle Way Different’ (the classic ‘A Little Way Different’), and they made over the riddim and asked me if I would sing it. So I said, well, then I would listen it… ‘Sound up to date, I’ll voice it’. ‘Cause I never really like to work on the riddim tracks them in England, y’know (chuckles).
There was… You see, the riddim dem that make in Jamaica, they have a different kinda blend to it. Probably it is the sunshine, y’know (laughs)!
Ca’ they use the same musicians them they use in Jamaica, same engineer, same type a studio, but you can’t get the sound.
And maybe the herb is stronger too…
That’s right (laughs)! So I was very choosy with the riddims them that I sing on.
So you felt a bit ‘uneasy’ with what they accomplished in the studios of London.
Yeah, true, true. Well, this riddim was exceptional, that’s why I sung the song again.
I believe he put it out again recently on an Arawak twelve-inch.
Not sure if it’s available anymore.
Yes. So we did the song with the same kinda deal that I had with Shelly, so I gave it to Channel One, Jo Jo (Hookim) at the time. And he released it in New York. Dennis Bovell gave it to Arawak in England, and it was a successful song. Then I went home and I did… I went back to Jamaica and I did an album, and I had a song on it called ‘OK Fred’.
That album, ‘Profile of Errol Dunkley’.
Yeah, so I licensed it to Shelly. And Warner Brothers… After Shelly and I fall out I still (laughs)… you know what I mean?
Why did you go back there again?
Well, he was the one who heard the song and offered me a good thing.
It wasn’t the Shelly imprint any longer, now he ran Third World, the shop and label.
Yeah, he told me that I must give the song to nobody, at the time he was in America. So I told him that “Listen, I jus’ spend a lotta money making this album, and I need certain things”. So he say I mustn’t give the song to nobody, so I wait till he came and – ca’ the song was released in Jamaica, and it came to England on import. And it was just going like that.
And ‘OK Fred’ was originally a John Holt tune for Studio One.
Ah, yeah. John did it, but it was an album track. And I did it as an album track too. But Dennis Bovell saw the power in the song, do the riddim again and I voiced it, and it was a big song – went number one in England in the reggae charts. And it did good in Africa too, and Europe. So I went home and I did this album, and I found a hit on it, ‘OK Fred’.
A pretty fantastic album too, very consistent productionwise, the ‘OK Fred/Profile of Errol Dunkley’.
Think so, yeah. ‘OK Fred’ album. That album is still selling unto today.
It ended up in France on the Celluloid label as well.
Yes, I licensed the album to Celluloid Musical Communication. I did license it to them, like.
But are you still…
They put it out but they haven’t sent me no statement, no royalty statement for years. For years I haven’t received a penny from these people. Yeah. But anyhow, I gave it to Shelly, then Warner Brothers phone Shelly up and said they can put it in the British chart. So I licensed it. I told Shelly to go ahead, because he couldn’t do it without my consent, so he did. And the song…
… took off.
Yeah, just like that.
I saw the video for it, it’s available on the web now, the filmed version of the tune.
Yeah, but I haven’t got no copy, nothing. There’s so much work I did in Europe, ’cause when I was workin’ with Celluloid they did a lot of good work, I did a lot of radio interviews, TV, and papers, like.
The whole promo kit.
Yah. From Luxemburg, Monte Carlo, south of France, Rome, as far as Rome. I did the national TV in Rome (Italy).
It became a big pop hit in Europe anyway, no doubt helped by that campaign.
Yeah (chuckles). But I never did any live concerts in France.
At the time probably the company that I was workin’ with, Celluloid, they wasn’t comfortable with that. They were just sellin’ records and gettin’ me exposed.
But on the same album you did – at the time it must’ve been a hit somewhat, too, ‘Rush Me No Badness’?
Yeah (laughs)! Those was like a twelve-inch 45, a 12″-inch single.
One pressing on D. Brown’s DEB label.
Yes, that a Dennis Brown, he was workin’ with Castro Brown. And they had DEB Music so I licensed that song and the other song, ’cause those were two songs that I released before the ‘OK Fred’. Those were songs that was recorded before ‘OK Fred’.
I think it was a deejay featured on that discomix version too?
Forgotten if Dillinger toasted the track.
No, it wasn’t Dillinger. Who was it again…? Ranking Dread!
Good deejay, when he wasn’t into something else.
(Chuckles) Yeh, Ranking Dread.
But Ranking Dread was on the cut of ‘Stop Your Gun Shooting’ for Tapper Zukie’s Stars label as well?
Yea, quite a few songs during them times. Some of dem I don’t even remember (chuckles).
That must be one of your best periods, around that album, ‘Profile’, so the late seventies.
Yes, ’79 and ’80, up to ’85. And after, I had other hit songs like ‘Happiness Forgets’, that song come after ‘OK Fred’ in England, big song. I had another big song called ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’.
That was a cover of the Stylistics’ original.
Yes, Stylistics song I did over (sings): ‘Betcha by golly wow…’, and the other one, ‘Happiness’ (sings): ‘Happiness forgets what loneliness remembers…’ (chuckles). That was another one too. Those two songs were made in England. Three hit songs I had in England and those three songs that’s made there (chuckles).
How about that for irony.
As I tell you I was afraid of the English riddims, y’know.
But did you see any reward from all this?
Oh, nothing! Just the average hand-to-mouth. But ‘OK Fred’, I was benefitting from ‘OK Fred’, I made some good money from that. ‘OK Fred’ is still one of my biggest songs until now.
This same album, ‘Profile’, a lot of it was made in Channel One, you went over there a lot for your own productions in those days, didn’t you? A favorite studio, like.
It was the best in those times anyhow. Who did you rely on and work closely with, it was Ossie Hibbert, the keyboardist?
Ossie Hibbert, yea, Bunny Lee. ‘Cause Bunny Lee was like the producer, y’know, he was producin’ all those songs for those riddims, for Jo Jo, right. Jo Jo of Channel One, that was it.
You sort of depended on Ossie for arrangements and stuff?
Ossie, he knows the business. And he plays the instruments, he plays the keyboard.
I believe he was mixing engineer as well, or simply engineered the sessions.
Yeah, mixing at Channel One. He was like all-around, y’know wha’ I mean (chuckles). And he and Sly & Robbie, they were like good friends. ‘OK Fred’ was done by Robbie Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar.
Moving up to the early eighties now, you cut an album for the Lovella label, ‘Militant Man’.
That was self-produced. The album, I gave the tape, the album, the tracks, to Koos?
Yes, and he went to America with it and his father steal the tape, and he pressed the record and put it out. Yeah, that’s what they did. And up to this day I haven’t received a penny from that album. All the tracks are mine. I produce it, I finance it, I pay my musicians to do my things, and the studio.
Reggae: the rip-off game.
Yeh, that’s true, but since that I don’t deal with them.
That album had great songs like ‘You’ve Been Bad’ and a few other good shots.
(Chuckles) Most… they’re all original songs.
So you’re not in possession of the master anymore?
Let’s say you’ll find the album again, would you give it a reissue? Copy it, run it through a computer and clean it up nicely.
If I would put it out again?
What I’m really interested in, I waan find a distributor. ‘Cause at the moment I’ve got a lot of young artists that I’m workin’ on in Jamaica, along with myself. I’ve got so much music. But I need a good distributor, someone I can trust, and say ‘Listen, put these tunes out, let’s make something’.
What did you work with during the rest of the 1980’s?
The rest of the 1980’s, the remainder of the eighties?
I was just makin’ songs and not puttin’ them out. Because it’s like I wasn’t seeing what I was workin’ on at the time, y’know. So I was like not doing much recording, doing a lot of tours because I was like every year in the late eighties, I was like going to Germany. There was this female discjockey called Sister Ann, she used to keep concerts like every year in Germany, so she would send for me. And people would send for me in Jamaica, I would go to Jamaica and do some shows. I would go to Miami – this is the late eighties comin’ in to the nineties, and all through the nineties. Because you see, the thing was, what I realised in the late eighties was that the people dem in the western part of the world was kinda forgetting who was Errol Dunkley. ‘Who is Errol Dunkley?’, y’know. So I decided that I was gonna have to concentrate more now on America, ’cause England is my place. ‘Cause, like, they was sending for me from Jamaica to England for the last three years, for New Year’s Eve concerts. First I went with Half Pint and Thriller U, then the next year they bring me back with… let me see… they bring me back with Ken Boothe and Pat Kelly, the three of us is here now. The same three of us was here before last, I mean three years ago in England. Then the next year they bring me back again alongside Sugar Minott and Eric Donaldson. So I was mostly penetrating on that side, on the western side. I realised that all I had was to come back home. I went back home and I did an album for Studio One. Mr Dodd released it before he died.
‘Love Is Amazing’.
Yeh, ‘Love Is Amazing’.
You used to have a record shop in London.
That was like in 1985.
That was when you worked with the Natty Congo label?
When I had the ‘Happiness Forgets’, yeah.
Did you record a lot there?
That was just a one-off thing. A producer hear the song and like it. He was my friend, like.
Trevor Bow, from the Sons of Jah.
He died now though, you know that?
That happened in Jamaica.
There’s a recent album for Tapper Zukie too.
Tapper Zukie and I own that album, it’s called ‘Selective Songs’. They’re all cover songs. It’s a good album but Mr Palmer ain’t doing any work with it.
There’s usually a serious lack of promotion behind those albums.
That’s right. He just put it out, if it sells it sells. If anybody come near and see it they’ll buy it, if they don’t see it they don’t know ’bout it. That’s foolishness, man.
They’re supposed to do their part in promoting it properly, setting up interviews, spreading the message and so on, to make sure it receives the exposure.
Yeah. Record companies supposed to guarantee you that, guarantee the artists that.
But apart from Celluloid, have you ever experienced that from anyone else you have worked with, like really getting behind the record?
No. I’ve never had (chuckles)… I had a contrac’ with a big company, but what I did, I kinda tie up all my business now. You know, I’ve got all my things covered. I’m getting my publishing, my publishing rights, I’m getting my performance rights. All of my songs now is under one shelter, Sanctuary. ‘Cause I license about three albums to Creole Records, and those other songs that other people license to Trojan, like Bunny Lee and Sonia Pottinger, Sanctuary bought the ‘rights’ to all of that stuff. But what Sanctuary do is like they just put compilation albums and they’re all sellin’ like five or three hundred thousand, six hundred thousand (chuckles). That’s good going, ’cause reggae never used to sell like that. And you see Sanctuary now, they have their co-op, their reggae corner in all the big major shops.
So you have a fair deal for their compilation of some of your stuff, the Trojan ‘OK Fred’ anthology?
Yeah, I get my royalty statement from Sanctuary.
Good to hear.
Beca’ what they used to do, they used to pay like producers, and the producers like what I told you before, they don’t pay us. So what I had was to do to go to England. They had about sixty-eight songs of my songs that I self-produced, songs that is part-produced and songs that I did for other producers. So I had was to show them what’s mine and what’s what. So I showed them to make sure that my royalty doesn’t go out to the producers, it comes straight to me. I just tied that up jus’ about two years ago, this year make it three years ago. But Sanctuary, they’re not payin’ you for records that sold before they buy out these companies, like Trojan, they’re payin’ you from the time they took over.
You’ve been incredibly prolific and productive over the years. Do you think it would be a possibility for you to gather many of the obscure singles you did, along with the more established tracks, and compile them so we have them preserved on some kind of anthology for the future?
I’ve got a CD that I’m pressing at the time, at the moment now it’s called ‘Errol Dunkley: Greatest Hits’, you probably see it?
Where I’m on the cover, you can see some mountains behind me. Check it out, it’s got eleven number one songs on it. All hit songs; ‘OK Fred’ is on it, ‘Black Cinderella’, ‘Movie Star’, ‘You’ll Never Know’.
There’s so many of your past records which hasn’t come out again, things that has stood the test of time very, very well. You should be able to take those recordings and put it out on your own. More and more vintage artists are doing that now, preserving things that would probably be lost to obscurity forever, otherwise. Do you think you could do that? It’s a big project but should be well worth it.
Yeah, yeah. Sure. After x amount of time the songs are the artist’s own again, like after every ten years these songs are (chuckles)… yeeeaaars ago.
I think the source for it would be to find some serious collector out there, that goes for most of the artists I’d assume, for assisting with finding the right stuff.
Yeah, that would…
A lot of that music deserves to be heard again, and people can’t find the 45’s anymore.
True, true. I’ve got Penthouse… My label is called Ghetto Vibes, yunno. I’ve got Penthouse distributing, Penthouse have three songs… Penthouse in Jamaica, Germain?
Donovan Germain, yes.
They’ve got three of my songs on 45; ‘Lickle Way Different’, ‘Movie Star’, and ‘OK Fred’ again. I press it on 45 again on my label, Ghetto Vibes. But I wanna get a good distributing company in Europe, or England.
You have several good labels out there now for vintage music, Pressure Sounds, Makasound, Blood & Fire, all doing a proper presentation of the music the way it should be. Perhaps that could be an idea for an album of your older stuff? It’s in the same vein as classic soul or rock or jazz albums from that era, the sixties or the seventies, the treatment they’ve got over the past ten years – a very decent job to say the least.
I’d like to know them.
But you like the idea?
Yeah man, if they’re clean, yes.
Same for albums like ‘Profile’, ‘Sit & Cry’, and even ‘Militant Man’.
They need to be on CD.
Scout them and clean them up.
That’s what I need to do. When I get to New York I will go look it up.
It’s good to have a back catalog out there.
And they’re mine, because ‘Militant Man’ and most of those songs are owned by me. I spend my money back in the studio.
An obvious question would be next how you look on the music today.
On the music today? It’s different from my time (chuckles).
Today it’s really, really different. Because they’re tryin’ to create but I don’t think they’re taking the right road, y’know. You have some young artists who will survive as long as us, but those are the ones who took the right track. Like Luciano, y’know wha’ I mean, people who sings. Those who’s singin’ good songs with good melody and music with good changes, good arrangement. ‘Cause most of the songs they’re making now, it’s just a drum and bass t’ing. It’s all empty riddim, with just some effects (chuckles). Those music ain’t gonna live, we know that. Because people ain’t even buying those records, I tell you that, it’s just a ‘popularity’ thing. The sound system, they play it, y’know, so they’re the ones who is supporting the foolishness. All dem anti-gay thing (chuckles). But I’m not into that. My thing is authentic reggae.
The classic music.
That’s right, and I ain’t gonna change that. I’m not gonna follow the young artists.
Maintain your own thing instead.
I’ve got my own thing, I’ve got my own market, and I’m always working at home and abroad. It’s just last week, Saturday, I was given an award in Jamaica. Me, Barrington Levy, and Sanchez – ‘Living Legends’ (chuckles). Yeah, that’s what they gave me. Mega-Jam gave me a trophy, an award. I remember sailing down the Riviera too, 1985, when I had ‘OK Fred’. It went number one in the French chart. And I was given an award, sailing down the Riviera (laughs). Eddy Grant was there too.
Was it as late as ’85? Wasn’t it more like ’80 or the year before?
No, by the time it hit France.
It was like ’85.
What did the Coxson album do for you?
This one now? Oh, well, it’s like this album is just to show the fans that I’m still workin’. It wasn’t a great success but probably it’ll develop. It’s just that Mr Dodd put out a portion of albums, my own included too. He called them ‘Studio One: 50th Anniversary Record’. He died shortly after. That’s how it goes.
You recorded some songs for the Black Spider label in the UK too, David Jahson’s imprint.
Yeah, that was before I went back home. Not anything outstanding happened there, it was just something to do, y’know, you try something and it never works.
But you did a nice recut of ‘Stop Your Gun Shooting’ anyhow, the ‘Skylarking’ riddim. Your son is involved in producing now, isn’t he? Producing hip-hop.
He’s doing fine. He’s a rapper, yeah. And I have another son, but he’s a Jamaican deejay (chuckles). None a dem sings. The Jamaican deejay one, he can sing, but he prefer to deejay.
Like almost everyone else if they’re young in Jamaica now.
It’s like it’s easier. You don’t have to learn chords, and you don’t have to learn measures and all of these things, and timing.
So if that’s bad for the music, what’s the future?
No, it’s still vocals. All the vocalists dem is still doing good, ’cause we’ve got some good new young artists who’s singin’ good songs, like this yout’ called Richie Spice, you’ve got another one called I Wayne. They’re taking the right trend. ‘Cause most of the riddims dem that they are singin’ on, they’re cover riddims. Some of dem are Studio One riddim.
A classic rhythm is a classic rhythm, Studio One, Treasure Isle, ‘Heavenless’ or whatever, but it’s not gonna take the music further.
No, they need to start creating. But when you create a new riddim in Jamaica now, nobody wanna hear it. But I’m not for Jamaica market, I tell you that, ’cause my record don’t sell in Jamaica. And it’s always deejay, chatty mouth t’ing, a lotta noise.
Is reggae music overshadowed by ‘the Bob Marley syndrome’? Rock music didn’t face the same consequence when Elvis died, perhaps what has been created of ‘Bob’s legacy’ has meant some suffering for reggae music in the end.
Yeah. Because you see, Bob was like the reggae symbol, people listen Bob and they listen us too. They buy Bob record and they buy our own too. So, I don’t think the music died with Bob, yunno, it could never be. It’s just that the youths of today, they have a new trend. ‘Cause right now it’s like it shares now the elderly music, that is we, then you’ve got the kid music, that is the young deejays, Sizzla and all of dem. We used to have one music for everybody, and now it’s like a two music thing. But I’ll be concentrating more on production. Yeah, I wanna produce some young artists.
Who are you working with now?
For example I’ve got a yout’ called Cutty Corn, I did a song with him called ‘Colour TV’. It’s on 45, I sold a few on export from Jamaica. And I’ve got another song with Frisco Kid, same riddim. And I’ve got a song with me and my son on the same riddim, where I’m singin’ and he’s deejaying in combination.
What’s his name?
His name is Devon Diamond, so he call himself. But the next one you know now, he call himself Champagne!
He’s doing good, because he’s producing himself too. ‘Cause he always said that, there’s things that he grew up and saw me doing, ’cause I used to take him to the studio. So he grew up in it, and he’s doing fine. I’m proud of him. And I’m workin’ with another yout’ called Matic too, Lion King, quite a few.
There’s a vast amount of recordings that Errol should be digging up from obscurity and let the public get the chance to hear and enjoy again. The Trojan anthology is just ‘almost’ satisfactory selection-wise, there’s so much more from his forty year long career to make use of. Maybe we’ll get the chance to hear some of it one day. Take for example the discomix of ‘Nuh Rush Me No Badness’; the extended cut of ‘Stop Your Gun Shooting’ featuring a deejay slot by the late Ranking Dread; ‘Train To Zion’ which was a ‘rockers’ update of ‘Train To Skaville’ circa ’75; the original version of ‘Repatriation’; the Militant Barry-produced ‘Praise Jah All The Time’, and so on. There is also an overlooked EP on Black Joy circa 1980 with extended versions of some of the greatest recordings I’ve ever heard by the man. None of this is available at present to my knowledge.
Dunkley’s sweet, fragile voice has always been one of the most enjoyable in Jamaican music. It is a voice he has used to perfection on some of the most solid recordings from as far back as the short-lived rock steady era, the early reggae period, the rough roots era from Randy’s Studio 17 or the rockers out of Channel One, the lovers rock out of the English quarters and even some nice cuts in the digital development of the music. He’s been through it all and there’s some excellent sides to be found for those of you out there who are still unfamiliar with Dunkley’s work. Unfortunately most of his albums have been difficult to track down for certain periods. Even the rock steady recordings on the Joe Gibbs ‘Please Stop Your Lying’ CD is getting scarce now. This will have to change. But I’m confident that it will, if not sooner then definitely a little later. Every reggae household should own the ‘Darling Ooh’ album in any case which should be in print up to now. That is a masterful piece of work and arguably Dunkley’s best moment on record so far, perhaps even a bit ahead of its time (’73) with those deep deep rhythms by the Wailers’ instrumental section, and closely followed by the Channel One set ‘Profile of Errol Dunkley’. Timeless stuff.