Interview with Eric ‘Monty’ Morris
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Eric ‘Monty’ Morris was one of those celebrated names on people’s lips back in the early sixties with hits like ‘Humpty Dumpty’, ‘Sammy Dead’, ‘What A Man Doeth’, ‘Penny Reel’ and ‘Money Can’t Buy Life’. ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in particular proved to be the record most remember him by, containing familiar lines of nursery rhymes which caught on the with the Jamaican audience, hungry as ever for something new and fresh on record. Prince Buster probably captured him at his best at the time, and as with most of what he recorded, too much of it remains buried in the past on records which seems as rare to find today as hens teeth, a situation which will hopefully be redressed in some way as more and more music from the good old days becomes available again. To call ‘Monty’ an overlooked name in the music is truly an understatement, the man is still to receive the true recognition he is due.
“WHAT A MAN DOETH”
As with several others from the same era, Morris did not survive the transition to the rock steady and reggae format very well, and migrated in the early seventies to the States where he still resides today, performing occasionally on oldies shows and the popular Heineken Startime showcase in Jamaica. What follows is a pretty rare discussion with one of the stalwarts of the ska era, the interview was conducted in March, 2004. My thanks to Eric, HOP Records, Bob Schoenfeld, Donovan Phillips, Michael de Koningh, Tim P, and Steve Barrow.Where did you grow up, in the countryside or in Kingston?
How did you start?
Really, what happen now, I was born and grew up, where the music… in the music scene, y’know. I started off from talent shows and all them t’ing before I really become a recording artist, what you’d say a composer of songs. I started off at talent shows.
Vere John’s talent showcase?
Yes, that was the first, that was the first kind of talent shows that they had in Jamaica where you could go and get your talent exposed, y’know. And I started from ‘Opportunity Hour’ where a man called Vere John used to have talent show in Jamaica at the Majestic Theater and, y’know, Queen Theater and all them things. I get to know all the theaters in Jamaica.
This is the mid fifties?
Oh, well… ah yeah, that was from the early fifties, yunno. Beca’ before Jamaican music start being recognised, like, those were the times when you had these legendary artists performing in them times. So I would say early fifties.
What was Vere John like? This is an overlooked figure as well.
Well, Vere John’s… I don’t think Vere John was a Jamaican, yunno, because I think he was in some form of other country. But maybe he come and see relatives in Jamaica, when he wasn’t there and keep the show going on he had his sons there doing it.
What was the presentation at those contests like, can you recall anyone you had in the same contest?
You used to have comedy and you used to have a t’ing you call pantomime, dancers, and you’d have singers. You know, you had other people do acts. People that do acts in different kind of ways, like magicians and whatever you’d call them, yunno, so it was a wide variety of t’ings. But like I’m saying, all of that is just a first stage of getting yourself in the music business. Because as you know in life everybody have a chance, y’know what I mean? Everybody get a chance to really expose themselves to what they really are. Thinking about ‘Opportunity Hour’ and telling you about that, that never really make a man fe be an artist, yunno, that is just like somebody sending somebody to school, y’know what I mean? But you learn from that, you gain from that, y’know, it’s a different t’ing. But I’m just telling you where it all started out with Vere John.
Where did you live in Kingston?
I would call them residential area, as some people would call them, y’know, suburbs, outskirt places. Near to a place they call Ambassador Theater and all those places.
What was the neighborhood?
Ah, I grew up in Kingston, Trench Town them call it. Yeah. That would be an area which part you have these people like all Bob Marley was living ’round there, and other singers like Delroy Wilson and Alton (Ellis) and all those people. That was ’round in the area, the suburbs where the kind of artists was like Higgs & Wilson and all those guys who was, y’know, recording artists. So you have a lotta artists came from them place deh. Stranger Cole and some other guys, you had Lloyd Charmers and Teddy Charmers. You know, talking about The Charmers, one of them was there first time when we went to New York to promote ska music – for Jamaican music, I think it’s his partner Lloyd Charmers – the tall one? Yeah, he was there too.
Right, we’re getting to this later on. So what prompted you to go into the music seriously?
First of all, yunno, I have to say with the talent I get I haffe give thanks to the Father fe the kinda talent I get from a youth. ‘Cause really and truly, who are anybody who really discover me that I had a talent to sing or play the ska, or do somet’ing that somebody could seh, well, this man has somet’ing inside of him that would make people happy and, y’know, the world would get some inspiration about life, is that I grow up around mostly my people dem. Is spiritual people and I always tour with them, I went with them to the country and t’ing like that. You see, any lickle spiritual background coming from my flavour, like songs I make like ‘Higher Than The Highest Mountain’, y’know what I mean, or ‘Sammy Planted A Corn’ and all dem tune deh, is because I was living ’round a type of environment. Them took me as a young man and we go up to the country and, y’know, we grow up ’round spiritual t’ing. And I take those inspiration now and building songs, yunno, and t’ings like that. But first of all I have to give thanks to the Father for the t’ings that really happen.
Who did you mingle with in those days, anyone of your friends you were kind of ‘sparring’ with who later got into the music scene?
I feel really where I started from you see is that I think I started at the very beginning where the best of Jamaican artists that you can ever t’ink about or speak about, is that, number one – the first two artist them, or the first three artist them that used to be around me – is a man named Wilfred ‘Jackie’ Edwards, I don’t know if you know about him?
Yes I do.
He sing ‘Tell Me Darling’, and another man named Owen Gray.
Yeah, and then you have this guy in Higgs & Wilson.
Yeah. And then Alton Ellis and the real… wha’ him name…? This guy a Ken Boothe, him was a artist but in my time he wasn’t really known that time, yunno, and another guy named Stranger Cole. That, dem man deh was the man I had been around. And, let me see now…
Simms & Robinson.
Simms & Robinson, and Alton’s sister could sing too, what’s her name…?
Hortense Ellis, because we all was on stage shows together. And then first and foremost too I’m not forgetting that me and Derrick, Derrick Morgan, was one of the first time artists.
When did you bump into Derrick?
You know, me and Derrick almost grow in the same neighborhood, yunno, on the same street.
No, no, we were living in the upper suburbs like from the town area, downtown Kingston. You see, it’s a area in the center of Kingston, is a area like what you call the mid center of Kingston. In Kingston you have like the centers and that is the town area. So we lived just like a couple blocks away from the town areas. So you’d call that place now – it’s like Orange Street, called Orange Street, and then we lived on Orange Lane. That was the lane coming up from Orange Street what you call ‘Beat Street’, and over on the other side now you have the park, ‘Race Course’ they call it. The park where they had the cyclists and all that, cyclists court, it was a big park area, y’know. So you had King Street, but we lived a couple block from the center of the whole town area itself. Like you have Washington and DC is the capital (where Morris now resides), and that is the town area. It’s a different suburb.
So what was the encounter with Derrick?
Oh yeah, well you see Derrick and me grew up, yunno, him become like my second heir (?) in music, beca’ him and me grow up in Orange Lane now in which… I felt that me and Derrick could a make some music together, y’know. Beca’ me and Derrick was like down by the fireplace and go play, behind Orange Street, yunno, me and Derrick was behind there knockin’ on cars, like open cars, and all dem t’ing deh, trying to get a t’ing together. Yes, there so we started it, we started it like… I think I was the one who mention to Derrick one day seh, like, “Look man, with all this talent that we’ve got, mek we try and see if we can attend one of these talent shows” – speaking is that Vere John show I’m talkin’. So, I can totally remember that, me and Derrick started out same time and do talent shows. I would say this is the late fifties, yunno, beca’ is shortly after I stopped those talent shows, then I start recording. And recording business start in Jamaica in the late fifties, and in the sixties whe you used to have first set of ska tunes used to come out. So it’s shortly after that time we left Vere John’s and start doing Jamaican ska music.
So Derrick wasn’t already recording when you met. How was he in those days?
Derrick, I want to tell you now, Derrick in business and Derrick branch out, yunno, after he leave Vere John’s Derrick branch out on his own. And it’s not totally on his own beca’ the first song me recorded is me and him record it, a tune called ‘My Nights Are Lonely’.
That was for Highlight, Little Wonder (the shop and label respectively, Highlight also released acts like Keith & Enid and Lascelles Perkins). Yeh, that man had a shop on Spanish Town Road in Jamaica, so that was where we made our first recording. Now, then Derrick branch out, Derrick do his own songs, like he do it for himself and I do mine, yunno. He was recording for Duke Reid, I was doing songs for Duke Reid too. Then, like I’m saying, when these t’ings started, I make a very important t’ing happen in Jamaica, in Jamaica music, y’know what I mean. Beca’ Jamaican music is like it become international now, right, and them calling it all kinda t’ings. Them call it – well, for dances you do t’ings, right, you have reggae, them call it reggae, and then you have ska, and y’know you have dancehall type a t’ing. But what I really say is that Jamaica music – I say I do a t’ing in Jamaica, I play a very important part in Jamaican music. Beca’ then Jamaican music never really have no like a man say, well, then y’know in calypso music everybody like calypso ca’ they can hear calypso a come from Trinidad whe yu can really say calypso a come from. Jamaica never really have say no direct music whe, y’know wha’ I mean, you have a kinda sound whe ‘this sound comes from this island’. Well, you have mento, and you have this dance them call soca and then you have a next kinda dance you call jump-up, jump-up, right, but them kinda dance there is different kinda dance. You see, ska music now, ska music is not a music whe come from China or it come from Hong Kong or it come from Britain or nutten, ska music was identically made in Jamaica. And the time when I was doing the music in Jamaica right when them discover, seh: “Young man, da music yah sound different and it sound like we na hear nutten like this, yunno”. Till them develop it up, yunno, and you have different, different style of music a come offa the same kind of music – what is ska, yunno. Is that is the time like when I make the first tune whe them call ‘Humpty Dumpty (Sat On A Wall)’, I dunno if you hear that song yet, but that song change Jamaica. When them start talk about ‘this song sound like it an American tune’, or ‘it sound like a mento’, or ‘it sound like a calypso’.
Right, that tune had that particular emphasis on the half beat in comparison to earlier Jamaican recordings, which was more like the US type of R&B, while this one had something distinctively its own.
Well, yea. Well, talking this and talking that now, when you going face up with American and talk about different style of music, you see, is that Jamaican music – ska music, right, is the riddim of it, yunno. It have the same kinda chords them like whe you would have in the American tunes from change one to a change, is what I mean from one chord to the other. But the direct sound and the beat whe it did have, is that it did have a deep down identical sound of tone. Well, I tell you from those era, from them times deh when music a start when a man say and say, well, this tune a sound like it’s a ska tune or a reggae tune or it’s a kinda blue-beat or a rockers or whatever, is right deh so it started from – is from the ska music, is right deh so everyt’ing started from.
Talking about your 1961 hit, ‘Humpty Dumpty’, where the basis of that song is nursery rhyme, how did you come up with that tune?
Ah, you see I’m a man there now, I will hear a sound, y’know what I mean, I will hear a sound whe people seh – a sound, yunno. But basically, you see, that tune ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is a tune with nursery rhyme. That tune is a directly nursery rhyme and any kid from back in my time whe go to school, an’ him never hear that tune or nobody never hear that tune, y’know what I mean, is like him teacher wasn’t teaching him right! Because that tune is a tune whe everybody grow up with, is we grow up with it from church time an’ we grow up with it an’ hearing it, still I never hear nobody put that to music yunno. Them never tek it an’ seh, well, then ‘let’s play this kind of tune in music’. This is a kind of nursery rhyme but I tek the nursery rhyme and put them in music, I build chords to them and I build all lyrics, yunno, I build melodies around them t’ing. Like ‘Oil In My Lamp’, I build melodies and I build chords ’round them. It’s just like you have to be first with the idea and seh, well, ‘look yunno, this is what the song is’ and I build the melody and the chords around it.
Anything in particular that inspired you to do it?
That tune, I remember backstage in them days you had sound, they used to have sound system days in Jamaica. Now, they mostly whe yu have now you might find discoteque, but they used to have sound system in Jamaica whe them used to have, like, people used to do mostly American music, y’know, boogie-woogie and soft blues. You know, soft music. So, like I’m saying to myself ‘let me try and see if a nursery rhyme would work good’, yunno, work very good in a Jamaican style. Not on the boogie-woogie tempo, y’know what I mean. Because it’s just pure boogie-woogie man that go a dance and a shuffle up, y’know, and t’ing like that. So I say to myself ‘let me try and see if I could do a nursery rhyme in a tempo whe is not boogie-woogie’. It might be a lickle bit slower than boogie-woogie tempo but do it and do it an’ kinda shuffle the words them, y’know. Wording the words them more, more fluently instead of just dragging them back. So that’s why I make it like that. That’s why I get intuition to make it like that, like ‘humpty dumpty sat on a wall humpty dumpty had a great ball…’, by rhyming things together. So them inspiration me get, the idea of supp’m fe build around it. Like I’m saying, man, those days in Jamaica, you had sound system days and it was a very interesting thing to see how the sounds used to operate. Beca’ when you had one sound like on one big street, and those times men had like all 10/11/18″-inch speakers in dances in those days. And people dancin’ offa the boogie-woogie stuff an’ t’ing like that, whole heap a beer a drink an’, y’know, man get high an’ t’ing like that, and jus’ a dance foreign tune. And I say, ‘no, them try somet’ing different now in this ya time’.
Oh yeah! That is the most important part about it, yunno. Because I would think to myself, y’know, the t’ings what go ’round from early, you had people feuding about or they shoutin’ about music (giggles), y’know what I mean, and some remarks I sometimes hear people saying. Not that I am telling you that I would’ve go out and tell yu seh, well, I hear a man seh, well, then ‘bwoy, this tune ya sound like a lickle simple tune’, beca’ of the lyrics of it an’ what the man is saying is not so much of a inspirational song. But like I’m saying, it don’t take too much of a inspirational stuff fe make a very good hit song, yunno. You can take somet’ing simple and mek it be a very great song to the way how you put it together, by wording and chords and the changes, y’know what I mean. ‘Cause sometimes it’s not all of a song a person like, sometimes a person can like just one verse or one line or a few lickle slurs you make, y’know what I mean. Just how you make it, you can just be the tool… the concept yunno, to how it seem to be played. Yeah.
‘Humpty Dumpty’ was recorded with Buster and ‘Drumbago’ Parks, what was the link-up there, with his band?
Yeh well, you see (giggles)… you know, if you should look on the label, maybe you would see a label called Wildbell, or Wildbells or Prince Buster, right. But Buster hear about me and Buster hear me when I was singin’ on ‘Opportunity Hour’, and probably Derrick must’ve tell him seh, well, I was really on that. And him come and look for me, come and look for me one day, check me out in my home one time and say him have a session an’ t’ing going on at Federal studio, so we come out there. But otherwise from that we had to be rehearsing too, yunno. Is not a t’ing seh, well, then because a man know you and know seh you know him, so like you really just go on an’ come ‘pon a session – I had to really go there, rehearse with the band, an’ t’ing like that. I don’t know if you ever hear about a man called Pluggy Satchmo? He’s a dancer, he used to dance with a next guy named Sparky, Sparky & Pluggy. Yeah, he used to be on ‘Opportunity Hour’, those were the man that used to be around me too. Beca’ when I was rehearsing at Queen Theater I think he was being around, went down there with Arkland Parks, the Jamaican ‘Drumbago’ man an’ t’ing like that. And we rehearse the tune ‘Humpty Dumpty’ with the piano an’ t’ing, and Drumbago listen to the song an’ say, “Yes, is the tune yunno”, an’ t’ing. So we really lay down that one really, really completely. And like I’m saying, we had to really get this stuff together. Ca’ those times is not times like now when you can just go in a studio and just do it alone, yunno, them times now every musician in one fusion with the singer. You don’t have earphones that you hear with those days, all musicians are in one room, one studio – not too much of a big studio anyway. And then you have to… is not a lot of cut you make on those music neither. Them times you hear a man run the tune one time and seh, well, ‘let’s go!’ Because you listen the music and listen the chords an’ t’ing and just tek a rehearsal and then one time you go through the music and put it on the tape. So is not a lotta like, say, three-four-five times like nowadays you can do just a lickle part, no, it had to sound right, yunno. And you cyaan jus’ go back and put your headphones ‘pon yu head and dub in yourself back again. So it’s harder work those days.
A longer process to get it together.
Yeah! I’m telling you, man, although some a the time you really have a lotta musicians in the studio. Because you would have four-five riddim instruments in the studio, and you would be like the only artist, yunno. Then again, musicians them play a great part inside of the music, because you would have a great saxophone man there or a great guitarist, yunno. And him would a really seh, well, find a riff, find a kind of melody or background to the music and seh, well, then play it and everybody fall in and harmonize with it. Is not like say a riddim play and a next man go ‘pon it everybody in a one section, the artist tek in everyt’ing.
Tell me more about the work with Drumbago, not much is known about this drummer.
Drumbago was a very musical man, yunno, although he was a drummer but he was a man who is a very musical talent ’bout him. Even playing music, him play music but him don’t play music because he is a drummer for drummings sake, y’know what I mean. That man play like him a vocalist too, like how is a man would play a kinda… like he is a vocalist, that was the t’ing ’bout that man. Beca’ if you is a artist and you’re playing with him, and him playing your music, he woulda listen the heart of your music and listen the chords of the music and listen where the music changing an’ t’ing fe play behind it. Is not just because him a drummer him a go find one beat. You know, him play a kinda melodious drumming to the music. He was exceptional, you could never find another one like him. But like I’m saying, everybody have their different style of playing.
What did you record with him for Buster, apart from ‘Humpty Dumpty’?
Drumbago? Drumbago play on most of my tunes, yunno, I think Drumbago playing on a tune named ‘Money Can’t Buy Life’. And he played in I think a tune named ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’, a known hit back then. And he play I think a tune called ‘Penny Reel’, play in that tune too. Drumbago play in a lotta tune for me, man. You have tune like ‘Seven Long Years’, and ‘What A Man Doeth’ – that was Skatalites. Him played on almost most of my songs. Yeah, Drumbago All Stars, Drumbago now is a legendary creator of Jamaican ska music. You have all them legendary man deh, you haffe call them, man. You have a next man named Jah Jerry, that is a guitarist.
Right, the Skatalites again.
Yeah, those man is legendary, identical creator of Jamaican music.
What was Drumbago like as you remember him?
Yeah, Drumbago was really… I tell you seh, about Drumbago, yunno, ’cause Drumbago used to live down in the downtown area, I know his wife. I t’ink I know that Drumbago used to ride a bicycle or whatever him used to have there. Him used to live by the water and everyt’ing, and him and a next man named Ribbs – I don’t know if you noticed him, a saxophone man.
Yeah, we just called him Ribbs but he was the one who used to do the ska tune wha’ yu hear, we’re just having him another name. But him and Drumbago was kinda like since far friends, yunno, and him and Drumbago kinda control the session whe I told you, you see Ribbs there. I can’t really remember… But fe really tell you – a very good-natured man though, I tell you. Drumbago, very good-natured type of man.
Drumbago died in ’69 – what happened to him, if you recall – an accident? I know very little.
Oh yeah, I can’t really say now what go down with Drumbago. Because I really hear them man deh pass away, and I can’t say if I heard what happened to him, yunno. I was probably touring or whatever, but I heard about it. Some of them great musicians from that time pass and you hear nutten ’bout them.
What about Don Drummond?
Oh yeah, I work with Don I think about one or two times.
What do you remember about him?
Ah, Don Drummond? Well, all I can say about that man, yunno, is one of the world’s greatest trombonists I ever really come across, it’s that is the truth, y’know what I mean. I work with Don and sing a song with Don, ‘What A Man Doeth’. Don was on that song for me and I think him played on a couple more songs for me, y’know. But that one, ‘What A Man Doeth’, that was Don Drummonds playing that trombone in it. And I met him when I was down at Duke Reid there, doing a ‘Carry Go Bring Come’ tune and all that.
Justin Hinds, superb tune.
Yeah, an’ t’ing like that. Just hum a tune behind him and if him feel that he plays a riff. You know, him is a man that is very tempered -temperamental, yunno, towards the music. Because he…
Yeah, y’know what I mean. The way him really blow him tune and he look to a man like seh, if he don’t like a tune him na go really find a good riff or blow a good solo inna it, I would say that, yunno. But he is a very temperamental type a player that. Beca’ sometime he would find that he blow a riff or blow a solo and it sound like seh, well, then from a man think seh, well, then right now you a go hear a good solo from him – a bad solo that time. Them time when you look hear a bad solo, a broken solo you never hear. And then a next time you hear in a solo, him play a lickle phrase an’ t’ing and chop it off. I think him can blow better than that, y’know. Yeah. Ca’ sometime if yu really demand wha’ him a blow, coming like what you say sound stupid, yunno. Him hold all, hold one – a hold one note, and hold it long. Just hold it like (imitates the trombone) but on a different kinda note though. Not from like whe you hear from whole heap a man. But, like I’m saying a very temperamental kind of man that. But one of the world’s greatest trombonists that, man. Apart from him life, from him lifestyle like seh, bwoy, is a man whe go in a the crazy-house more time.
Right, the Bellevue institution.
Oh yeah! ‘Cause feel like him respond to you, or respond to him, is like you na really get no real response from him – you have to figure it out yourself (laughs)!
How did you find Buster to work with?
Well, Buster was a kind of producer-type before you ever hear about Buster singin’ on record, ’cause I don’t know if you know Buster as a singer? Maybe you have heard his songs?
Yes, ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’, ‘Judge Dread’, and so on.
Yes. So I refer to him like a man who have an inspirational ’bout music too, more than tell you that he just sang those on record. Beca’ he was a great Rhythm & Blues type a person who knows about foreign music. And he had a sound, y’know, he had a big sound system in those days. So, Buster and I go back a long way, because he used a lot of the artists, he knows most of the artists and the musicians too.
What do you remember about the so called ‘sound wars’ and violence at the dances at this time, Buster got indeed his share of that?
Oh, well, to really tell you about the war, the physical war wha’ gwaan in downtown Kingston area, after I make it in Jamaica with, like, all those songs, ska tune and all that, you see is like those songs create such a, bwoy, I wouldn’t say a problem, but a changing in the music that people was wondering is what kinda strange mood of music, or what you’d call it… ‘changes’ of music. Because after a man find seh – when he found out that this music now begin to change like that, you have people who change the music, yunno, them start playing reggae music now, instead of doing the ska. Man change the music and start play reggae. They call the music reggae, by changes of the music who you would say had more instruments in the music. Instead of you have a vocalist that sing the music you’d have a group. Now, if you check the music them most of the times now, them don’t have like a whole heap a musicians again, you would have now mostly riddim. So, all a that now from those times change chords, really some serious t’ing gwaan inside of the Jamaican music, yunno. But give thanks and praise to the people dem wha’ really continue and keep it on. ‘Cause you have nuff people come with some creative kinda music an’ deejay this and that an’ it’s like them just do fe the part them haffe play inside a it. Ca’ you have this deejay man and you have that deejay man, you have different kinda deejay man – and singers, and you have man who come and some a dem gone and leave it.
Can you recall any of the deejays that Buster used?
Yeah, you have Cuttings (brother of Stranger Cole), you have Cuttings that used to sing and deejay fe Duke. And you have Lord Comic, Comic was King Edwards the Giant’s deejay, and you have Hopeton – him named King Hopeton. That was another King Edwards number one deejay, him used to be number one deejay on King Edwards’ set. Well, all Bells now, Count Bells, him used to manage him own set. You have all man like all Ickyman, like they called Ickyman wha’ used to deejay Lord Koos, and then as you know King Stitch (Stitt) already. Well, King Sporty is a next deejay whe come on there and really happen on the scene. You had U Roy, U Roy whe used to do Dickie’s Dynamic sound. Then you have Lord Comic, Sir Lord Comic the deejay, right, Lord Comic he was even the runner-up fe Ken Khouri, yunno. Lord Comic used to be out lookin’ for talents at Federal studios. Then Comic would come and look for the artists, like he comes by me and said, “Get yourself together, man, for you have a recording”. Like I’m saying, times and times go by when you might not hear of me but those days I was a fluent hit-making person. Most of the music that I made… the hit songs would be coming at Federal studios, like all them tunes like all ‘Oil In My Lamp’, when Byron Lee was there. Byron Lee I think was in Khouri studio. You have different, different musician in them times, like Baba Brooks – you ever hear about that trumpeter named Baba Brooks?
Yes, the man behind ‘Shank I Sheck’.
All right. So we gather round and then he get like a pick-up band and put together and Byron Lee was there an’ t’ing like that. So the people you see there is musician like all Frank Anderson and all those guys.
Do you know what became of people like Frank?
Oh, Frank he was a trumpeter, y’know. He was kinda versatile ’cause I think he was there in Byron Lee’s band, but I don’t know what really happened to Frank. And you know sometimes the members of the band, sometime they move to different locations and join different bands. I think he could be in Canada now, playing in different bands.
What about a man like Charlie Organaire (Cameron)?
Oh yeah, Charlie Organaire was a very great organist, yunno, ’cause he played on many tracks with me, ‘O Wee Baby Let Me Tell You How I Love You’, he played on that one for me. And he played on ‘Sammy Planted A Corn’ too, ‘Oil In My Lamp’ and all those tunes. Because, Charlie one a the time become a very important figure when you need somebody fe really mek a tune sound like a ska tune, then you have to look for Charlie. Then you have ‘Blues’, you know that man who played the string bass? He play like a string bass that time. Then you have Lloyd Brevett, this tall, long dark-skinned man play the bass. Them people are the real cornerstones in the music. You gotta have patience and be assured on that faith, is the one who have a lot faith who can stay in this t’ing and stay in it regardless of what kind of opposition they get, y’know, can really give an account of what’s happening and what’s going on. Because for real, some a the times it’s like seh, well, many people want to give up towards the kind of treatment they get from it. Sometimes financially, sometime reactions from musicians are from hard days, y’know, or from promoters, not knowing that artists have to be treated differently if you want to get the best out of them.
What about duets? You did a lot with Roy Panton, as Monty & Roy?
Ah, oh yes! I do tunes with Roy too, yunno. Let me see what tune with Roy Panton – ‘Sweetie Pie’, one tune named ‘Sweetie Pie’ and I do some other songs with him. I think Roy Panton is in Canada now. And, from Millie Small (referring to Roy & Millie) too, ’cause she really make a break in the market for this music. I heard that she was in London now.
How was competition in those days?
I wouldn’t call Jamaican music directly a competitionwise, yunno, it’s a recorded team, y’know what I mean. Because if an artist come on now, whe ya call it… in this era, right, and when you talk about certain artist in that era, you stay on the scene for about a year or two with the kinda songs them you make or this is a potential artist who can walk from one era to the other. This is a versatile artist who may change to a different style of songs, y’know, but it wasn’t like a competition t’ing. Because I would say the competition t’ing is about the producer them, the producer and the people dem whe own the record, the people dem in record industry. Because, one time in the sound days I waan tell yu, yunno, if you use a artist and you go sing for a man and that man can put out your music, beca’ him is a good artist, a producer wouldn’t like you to leave his stable and go to a next producer, right, that would cause what you would say is a conflic’ or whatever.
Right, that sort of ‘loyalty’ was expected.
Yeah. The producer have to ask himself ‘I wonder if I am treating this artist in the right and proper way?’ So all those lickle t’ings now, some of the producer deh really handle the artist dem a way, y’know what I mean. But if you know feel seh you are a very good singer or can make a couple of good hit songs, and the producer might leave that artist alone, you shouldn’t feel no way seh, well, then ‘look now, if you can’t support my stuff…’, right. Or a producer would say: ‘Bwoy, you’re not in a position whe if you want me to keep on do music with you regardless how much I care’. Or a man say: ‘You don’t pay me so much you ought to’, or ‘You can’t fight me for your needs’, and all dem t’ing deh. That is where the music really caused the artist to get locked, seh ‘I don’t feel too right’ – seh it just a gwaan like that, yunno, and some artists a think some way about some producer. No disrespect still, but talking about the t’ings that wha’ man do fe him living, because when a man look around and you don’t have another source of living, right, and dem a do music for a living and when him go get fe him money, him ask the man how well it go, is like him a go tek the record and bruk it in two. Or you and him a gwaan like you waan do him somet’ing, you and him have war, y’know what I mean. So all dem t’ing deh depend on how the producer treats the artist, if you’d call it a contest. You’d have to be recording for a day, for all a day an’ do like two, three or five songs, yunno, and then you’d get a good lickle money. Whe I’m talking about good lickle money, that it would last for a while. But if you think fe just go on a session and just do one side a tune or two songs – first time though, you’d get a chance fe do two songs, you see. When you do those two songs you a charge him stage fee, not thinkin’ about record sales or where it’s gonna take it, or whatever. Then a contract sign and all those paper, it’s like you are too involved in music, not business, so the artist would feel comfortable, if him do make a hit or not – ’cause is not all a them songs you make becomes a hit. Out of ten songs you might find one or two a dem sound good.
True. You did ‘Sammy Dead’ for Byron Lee’s Kentone label. Do you remember performing that song on stage with the Dragonaries, this was filmed in 1965 I think? On that film (titled ‘This Is Ska’ on video-release in 1989) you and Jimmy Cliff, Prince Buster, the Maytals, the Blues Busters and Stranger Cole share the stage, wherever it was. You recall this one?
Oh yes, I think that was at Sombrero that filmed, yunno – Club Sombrero, that was in Half Way Tree. They have that film show all over the world, because the purpose of that film now (or the JA-pronounced ‘flim’) they had something like a documentary going on. I was in Canada the other day and I was there when the documentary was shown. I was doing a show and they showed that documentary before the concert. But that was from back in the seventies I think.
Yeah. It was from Sombrero Club, man.
What do you feel about Byron Lee’s contribution to Jamaican music, looking back now?
Everybody have a different style in the way they play the music or do the music. Really, as a matter of fact, I look on Byron Lee band – or on he himself – not being deep down a… what you’d call it, a Jamaican ska band. Because Byron Lee that I know from when I start, they’re doing something that you’d call soca, a soca kind of band. That was the first, before I even sing with him, and he never did play it, he never really was playing no ska. When the first time that Lord Comic call me down to his studio and seh, well, he want me and Byron Lee a combine and do somet’ing, that was the first time I ever hear somebody was talkin’ about Byron Lee do ska, him do the ska music that’s going on in Jamaica, you see. And I made that song with him an’ t’ing like that, and that encourage Byron Lee so anybody would a call Byron Lee say, well, ‘Byron Lee a play ska music’. Beca’ Byron Lee and I, we all a do New York as you know in 1964.
Right, on the World’s Music Fair.
Yeah, the Music Fair.
I think it’s even ‘The New York World Fair’, that was a first taste for the world of Jamaican music.
We all represent Jamaican music with ska music.
How did that come about now, the selection of artists, and so on?
Well, I think people like Eddie Seaga and other people like the Jamaica Tourist Board, right, they was the people who sponsored that trip. And Jamaican music was really getting a hot spot in Jamaica, because the student start doing ska dance, they do ska. Byron Lee had a thing going that time because his was the number one band in Jamaica that time. You know, you had other bands like the Mighty Vikings, All Stars. Skatalites was there then, y’know, but the people around let Byron Lee have it. It was then chosen through, like, him have a lickle ska band, y’know what I mean. Versatility is really what counts in the music. A man cyaan just come an’ just, like, ‘you’re a ska-man and yu can only play one type a ska music’, y’know what I mean. It’s a great band, yunno, but I really wouldn’t call him a uptown guy, him was just inside the business and it was fe him time to get inna the ska music. Not saying that, representativewise, was the greatest one, ca’ you really have other musician out deh whe really get more to speak or talk about the business, more than him.
I guess it was a mixture of class, Rasta, prejudice, competition and the right connections that finally led them to pick Byron Lee of all people, and not the best of them all – the Skatalites, to represent the local music at this fair?
Well, like I’m saying a man make him own t’ing, choose what him want. Them don’t get the reward, them don’t get the recognition wha’ them supposed to get. They stay within them own circle so people don’t know where they are at, y’know. ‘Cause Byron Lee was fully around… I don’t know if he even had the studio then – Dynamic studio, down by Bell Road. Skatalites was just a lickle… well, I wouldn’t just say ‘lickle’, yunno, them man deh is big – great man, but I mean the circles. Them t’ing deh is must to have.
Any special anecdotes from the trip?
That was one of the greatest times that ever happen to Jamaica, yunno, to really see that Jamaica should a give a certain amount of people, including myself, to really come out of the type of environment whe really going on. ‘Cause really, inna them times is like, I mean… well, I wouldn’t go as far as politics, yunno. In those times Jamaica was kinda like in Independence time, and like I’m saying Jamaica never really had no type of music for themselves whe a person can hold on ‘pon dance an’ smile fe this music ya, like, ‘this is what I create’, y’know. A man a dance but him build boogie-woogie business an’ a gwaan like them American. You know? Man seh well, ‘Bwoy, look: this ya we haffe find somet’ing fe us own’. Ca’ after we go whey and I go whey an’ dem t’ing deh, an’ after I make certain amount of songs like ‘Humpty Dumpty’, ‘Money Can’t Buy Life’ an’ all dem songs deh yunno, man did a talk, seh, they just think seh, well, then I would a come back again and make anedda big tune like ‘Sammy Dead and Him Gone’, ‘Oil In My Lamp’, yunno. So when Byron Lee get in contact with me fe really get that song, I wouldn’t say I love the game, but is like is a search, we was trying to search fe somet’ing that Jamaica can call them own. You know, ‘this is our music’, and they put us to the World’s Fair for real an’ when we do find out and think seh, well, then man should a do whatever, them should really be done fe make the music grow. You know, this man a fight this man, this man a go get him English gal fe himself, is not a t’ing you was surrounded like them everybody was together to make the music work, yunno. Beca’ you have certain set a man go deh, and him a deal fe him t’ing identical, it never really work out. But it never really crash, it never really ’cause the music fe really die. Ca’ if you notice the Jamaican legendary and Jamaican songs still going on, you see. Some man just come inna it and leave it but it’s still going on. Man tell you directly this man go fe promote ska music, right, but it’s like, ‘Look: this man go fe him tune! This man a promote different tune’. Ca’ it’s like this gwaan like it promote a next tune, right, and then these guys a go talk about music and a seh, “Oh, I love this music, man, I would love to get to hear it more proper”. And man say, “This is my music, this is my music that I brought and create”, y’know what I mean, and not pertaining to the musicians or the artists who do it. Then the artist would feel exploited in that way, but them cyaan stop it from gwaan, y’know.
How did they respond to the music at this fair?
Oh, the people feel the music very good, yunno, beca’ this wasn’t no singin’ contest or ‘singin’ t’ing’, y’know, this was a demonstration. Like, I can remember I went in a club dancin’ and showin’ the people dem demonstration how the ska music go, stuff like that. A next man have his record holdin’ up in his hand and talkin’ to a next man, like him a showin’ the man him record, yunno, and that record had nutten to be with the World’s Fair, right. So the people dem whe a dance the music and respond to the music, it’s like wha’ kinda business is going on or the type a business people talkin’ about where a man is showin’ a man a record or a man talk about another man’s record? I leave it at that and then when I went back to Jamaica, they had we snapped at the airport an’ all of that. And they have all kinda t’ing fe talk about, because ska music went to being promote in New York. But this man was talkin’ about he wasn’t satisfied, because this man was playing his music, y’know what I mean, they thought it was a contest.
There must’ve been a lot of animosity in the music community when you went and when returning, like ‘why did this man go, why didn’t they send this man instead?’ It’s always the case anyhow, under these kind of circumstances, isn’t it?
Well, I wouldn’t say they was talkin’ about the artist ‘why this man did go’, beca’ the reason why who really went, is because of the changes of the music. Because everybody wha’ went there, yunno, I remember Lloyd Charmers, Buster was there, Miss World, and Byron Lee. And Neville Nasralla.
Neville Nasralla. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that man?
No, never heard that name.
Nasralla. Yeah, he was there demonstrate the ska.
OK. But we’re not exactly talking a jealous music scene then, in bigger terms? Good to hear, if that’s the case. It served a good purpose regardless who went, for the local scene anyhow.
Like I say, this was producers there, right. One man was there, Buster was there, producing his music. Him have a music where he is producing himself, and Byron Lee had my music so that planted a corn. So I don’t know if there’s some jealousy a gwaan between dem two man deh, but I was being caught up, I was in the midst a dem. I never really have much to say. Because whe dem was talkin’ about the records, with the recording is like dem a come fe promote we music, and this man have his music fe promote. Is like the producer dem keep that part. You know, like it’s a secret t’ing whe dem have with dem company. Like those t’ings, if what them did plan fe really do in that time fe really go there and promote Jamaican music, make them show that, y’know what I mean, then the music would a break out. But like I’m saying, some jealousy… I don’t know if there is some jealousy a gwaan between them. Them come fe promote one music, and there’s more than one music come there and was playing.
Apart from Byron on bass, who else was in the Dragonaries line-up on that trip?
Byron was the bassman, and saxophone man was a lickle short man… I remember the saxophone man very good, yunno, beca’ he used to play fe Duke Reid. And then you have Frank Anderson, trumpeter. And then you have – I don’t know if you ever hear about Arty Williams? Two of them that play (inaudible). Then guitarist now, you have Ken – Ken Lazarus. Let me see there now… no, we had the bredda called Arty Williams, keyboard player. And then you have a next… they have two trombone players there… I can’t recall them names so clearly right now, but them have some very good musicians. Yeah man, some of the best, his band was very good. Very good for the party-type, like, clubs and all that. ‘Cause at that time you used to have the Blues Busters and me, sometimes Jimmy Cliff would be around too. Jimmy Cliff would come and, y’know, Toots, the Maytals and all them guys. You have all them guys for a show, there used to be plenty.
Looking back on the purpose for that trip, you feel it was a success?
Well, I feel at the time, that is just a first door a open and when that’s provided you’re hoping as a singer that you really go through the World’s Fair and to decide to get them fe penetrate this kind of music. But I’m not telling you that I was really satisfied to how the whole t’ing worked out, y’know what I mean. Beca’ you have other people that goes around and say those t’ings they feel, think they say and don’t know what went on there.
How you mean?
Because people wasn’t paying attention to what was going on, and you have people who wasn’t sure what’s going on or do this and that. Like I say, what I’m feeling about it is that the Father open a door for me, y’know what I mean. This was a chance you get fe really go out there and prove and show the world with this music that Jamaica have something of its own, and produce it and bring it on their shores, y’know what I mean. But you have people who kill plant before it grow, kill plant before it start strive. It’s like what I’m saying, if you give the music a chance and see what becomes of it, instead of exploiting before them see what’s gonna come on, then them would see what become of the music. People go there and exploit it, plug it before they start come out. That’s why it turned out in something it wasn’t supposed to be.
You don’t sound very pleased with the whole event.
No. Up to now, you see, number one: when you come back here, yunno, man start fe being in another man’s place and seh, well, that is the man who start the t’ing, and that is the man who know how Jamaican music go, and this is the only man can play Jamaican music, right. This band is not a ska band, this man is a man whe play music fe (inaudible) and put them inside the band fe play the ska music, right. This man is a soca man a play, right, this man. This man is don’t like born to be in ska band and was never taught fe be in a ska band. Those were some kinda remarks that some man thought – this man play soca music, this man ya play soca music and this man a play ska. So all dem t’ing deh would come in like a contest. So, I’m saying that I’m very glad that the music went to this World’s Fair and we went there to promote it, and the reaction, the outcome of it, we’re pleased with the kind of connection an’ t’ing. Ca’ them never make it even known of what was happening, see. I went there and the artists promote it, but I had heard before that other people was there promoting their music instead of mine, then I would have used other t’ings to say. But like I’m saying, if a man is a soca man or man is a ska man deh, you would have a complete show to travel on. But I’ve heard this about not picking them (Skatalites) because of Rasta, y’know, from if you look a way or dress a way, the type of music deh, y’know what I mean. But the music don’t have nutten to deal with if you is a Rastafari man or if you a dreadlocks man or… from you playing the music you’re playing the music. The music is the music, right, and the man would play the music right without his Wareika muse (Rasta chanting down ‘duppy’ business, ghosts) or what him defending. It don’t have anything fe deal with the music itself, because from the music play and it play the right way and people love it – and its got music, I mean, the religion don’t have nothing fe deal with it, it don’t have no… it no exploit it, no way. I mean, whether a man is a Rastaman but really and truly, them certain man from certain band them have a lotta remarks for… no matter if it’s a ganja band or a Rastaman band or whatever. I mean, them t’ing deh would really a gwaan because it’s any man’s freedom fe really put out what him really want from inside a himself. A lot of t’ings really get mix-up, really connect with that and music, y’know. Beca’ you have other bands whe play, right, and these musicians – I’m calling them names to you, who was the original musicians from that time, right. Man such as Lloyd Brevett, Lloyd Knibbs, Jah Jerry, Roland Alphonso, Johnnie Moore, Tommy McCook, Don Drummonds, you see, these men now is men who are ska man, who is really ska man dem, yunno, Skatalites. But notwithstanding, I’m not seeing that them is the founder of ska music. The real founder of ska music is Drumbago. Yeah – Drumbago, Jah Jerry, and a man you call Blues, which way you’d have Lloyd Brevett play with him, play as a ska man too. But is man like Blues and Lloyd Brevett, and the man on piano now you woulda have ‘Easy Snappin´’ – him is the one who’s name is Theophilius Beckford, then you have Roland and Tommy McCook. Them man deh as I say back the whole a the Jamaican ska music, them man deh was there from the start.
I don’t have much in terms of information on this one, if it ever existed, but do you have any memories of an album you did for King Edwards in the mid sixties? This was supposedly out on the Black Swan label in England.
Ohh, an album? That is like a CD?
No, no – this was out in the sixties, if it ever was. But you don’t have any memory if this ever came out?
No. But I did some songs for Vincent (King) Edwards, yunno, tune like ‘Ungodly People’.
And ‘River Come Down’.
‘River Come Down’. Yeah.
‘Seek and You Will Find’, ‘Home Sweet Home’.
Yeah. And ‘Old King Cole’. I did a couple songs for Vincent Edwards an’ t’ing like that, but those songs now came out on a different label. I think I saw songs on a next album with Chris too. I think it’s Chris Blackwell press and record. But it was all with other artists too, yunno, but I never see my name come out on that album. And I was thinkin’ if Chris Blackwell had anyt’ing to deal with any music for me, seeing when he had that compilation with all the artists with all the long-time tunes dem from that era, and upon seeing it I was wondering, yunno. But maybe Chris Blackwell and King Edwards had some kind of connection there. But I have never seen that, I don’t know if you ever get to see a label called Blue Beat?
Right, the UK label?
Oh yes, that was the Blue Beat label now whe I had some songs in them early times now, through it’s like ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ and some other songs that I did from way down in the sixties. But I think it was a man by the name of (Emile) Shallit, he was like a man from Europe there, London, who do the Blue Beat label. I lose contact with him, through I was keepin’ in contact with him for a longer while before. That company a Blue Beat had different, different songs that came out, because I think Wilfred (Edwards) alone was singin’ on that label. I think Derrick was singin’ on that label too, Millie Small came out on that label. A lot of artists came out, but I don’t know if that company was still in action there – maybe they’re still there, but maybe under a different name.
I think Mr Shallit passed away.
Ohh, probably, ’cause it’s a long while. Well, I don’t know if you ever hear about this record (label), the people call it Trojan Records?
Oh yeah, they have a company them call Trojan and whatever else this company’s name (Sanctuary), but those are the people who I am fightin’ a lawsuit from my rights towards some songs they have been using, and I haven’t got any response for it but it’s supposed to come to some kinda agreement with this music. So I’m still here and I’m trying to see if my lawyer can work on it for me so I can get a good response. ‘Cause you know artists who have done music in the past an’ t’ing like that, is that contracts that haven’t been signed or contracts or people who used people proved without consent. You know, you’re supposed to get a lawyer or somebody who can seek about the music for them other places in the world. So I have a lawyer there to try and see if he can seek about my rights for me.
Hope it bears fruit for you.
I would love it to be, man, because it’s been a while since I have been on the music scene and I need to have some new product out there now. People been asking me why I haven’t some new produc’, y’know. And it’s because of lack of communications, with all of that now. Because it’s not like one of the days when you could find a good company. Somebody who decide, like, I mean you do some work and get some pay and they give you a contract and you work with them for a while, whatever, and then you could have a good contract in order to make some good music.
At the moment I haven’t seen the majority of your work from the sixties, but I know you have a vast amount of releases on 7″ single for various producers. Is there enough – from what you remember – to put together a full album release of the work for King Edwards, Buster, Pottinger or Duke Reid for example? If you could estimate, roughly, if there’s enough for an album for each one of those? I mean, I have no problem with a compilation through different producers – that’s also needed – but for each one of those, if you could estimate, is there one or several albums in the can there?
I was lookin’ at those tracks that I do on Buster’s label, yunno, Buster have a good amount of songs that I did for him. I have about twenty-seven – I can say about twenty songs, about twenty-seven songs I can see there now from Buster that could be a good album, if I wanted to, from in that era. Then we have other producers like Duke Reid, I think Reid, if he had chosen, could’ve put out a good album for me, if he decided to compile some songs together. ‘Cause up to now I do have songs that I don’t think they have released yet, they still have some songs there for me.
Your impressions of Duke Reid, Monty? You have any ‘fond’ memories of this legendary man in Jamaican show business? It’s not all bad, like what you often hear about him. I wish there could be more than ‘robber’ and ‘rip-off bwoy’ sometimes.
Oh, well, I wouldn’t say I would think of him as a producer or a promoter. Him shouldn’t be seen as a producer – first thing, I’d really say. Go ahead and be a liqour store man or whatever, y’know what I mean, but in my opinion fe dealing with artists, I can’t give you his appearance with that. Because that man he was a constable, he was an inspector, right, and the way how I see him treats artists, him and some more, is like I mean that kinda ‘ism’ they cyaan deal with people under that kinda ism. ‘Cause one a the time is like ‘look brother, if you have a t’ing the same t’ing wha’ I tell you say look, if you have a t’ing fe me, is just me alone you haffe sing for’, right. ‘You cyaan sing for no other company, yes?’ So how comes you want me to sing for your company and you cyaan provide my need of pay, pay whatever I want fe keep me going? And then it would cause me arguments. It would cause a man fe think seh, well, then a man will send a man to come look for you. Them aks you ‘look now, you sing fe this man alone’ – it might cause a conflict, a war or whatever. You see, them can only seh that to one artis’, certain set a artist now is like ‘look, you cyaan pay me for my work, me cyaan sing fe you alone’, right.
As if you could survive by singin’ for Treasure Isle only.
Oh yeah, oh yeah. One a the time is like I was trying to hitting the market kinda… not big, yunno, but I was like, everybody knows that I make some good records an’ t’ing, and I was in King Edwards’ stable – that was the sound system days. I deh so long and I have Buster around, I put Buster in a position that mek everybody say ‘rey Buster!’ And then again, I cyaan see no good response. I haffe leave from deh so an’ go, then him have the record and give to this man. I haffe go out to Edwards and just a go on try fe a live! This man don’t like that! Lickle more you go and what you’ve got fe your record is not even enough that you can eat an’ drink an’ look like you’re living. And if you should a go to a promoter an’ seh: ‘Man look, if this is what’s the business, yunno, I don’t see it’. Now on trackside I don’t see no financial business going on. What’s going on? Like you asking you would like to know if your record has been sold. ‘Here and there’. Is not a good answer! You going get some kinda, like, you don’t go too deeply fe know wha’ gwaan about your own affair, and if your mind don’t sharp then you’re the type of person who don’t know to walk away from some deep t’ing that the law might get involved with – you and that man get involved, and those are the t’ings that turn the artist away. Him might waan find out what going on with him t’ings and because him think seh, well, then this man is a type of person, him don’t go to this man. And you have some kinda producer that use them strategy on the artists.
Right. OK, that was Duke Reid, but what about your work for the late Leslie Kong? The Beverley’s stuff is mostly excellent and much overlooked as I see it.
Leslie is like all of the other producers, beca’ him search a lot of good artists. Derrick was there, Derrick Morgan was there with him and him haffe search fe good artists and all that (chuckles). Like I’m saying, in the business with them now as a producer and you as the artist fe… you’re lookin’ to get fe more work. Ca’ a man might know you as a good painter or you is a good welder or whatever work you do, you would a quickly use that man and would a show pon a t’ing an’ seh ‘we have a session’, right. But him would ask each man there, if you woulda have somebody there whe him know seh, well, then whether if you’re a hit-man or make a good tune or not, y’know, him don’t treat you the kinda way how you want to be treated. So if him seh that well then, look man I do ‘Sampson’ for you’ and you say ‘man, you haffe give me pound fe this tune ya’, or whatever, and you just come up. It don’t cause a man fe really seh, well, then bwoy right now beca’ you sing a tune for him an’ leave an’ go to a next producer, him may have a feeling through that, right. And Leslie Kong, him was a guy that seh, well look now, he was a next one a dem whe you ‘stay’, stay fe him stable all the while and him not paying you the amount of money whe you desire, y’know. Is another whe pick up one of dem the other lickle artists dem now and seh, well, then ‘stay a fe me stable’ and na give them nutten. And you as the artist go to him and seh, well, then ‘this is what I charge fe a song’, like him no waan pay fe it, yunno. Them guys deh inna the music business, I figure seh at the end of the day them going still pay. Ca’ you see most of the time you hear them woulda come ask you ‘wha’ you have for me now?’, or ‘wha’ gwaan’, y’know. And if you no sound good, if you not a hit-man and mek the record an’ it a sell, a man don’t feel like him waan pay you.
What about Nehemiah Reid? You did ‘Words of Wisdom’, ‘Suffer In The Gutter’ and ‘Words of My Mouth’ for this guy.
Nehemiah? I think a Aston, a Aston him name, man.
Aston Reid is the same, same lickle t’ing like Duke Reid. Beca’ when you hear I first record ‘Humpty Dumpty’ in those days, ‘Humpty Dumpty’ is Prince Buster and ‘Money Can’t Buy Life’. So, in those days was sound days, so when Buster would carry all that tune and aim it to Duke and him set, you see, and that tune would cause a whole disaster, whe I say uproar there where the music’s concerned, or supp’m. Duke Reid would a really call want me have me on a session, and me go to that studio with him, was a lotta times, man. I have been down at that studio with him in them times and I’m not telling you seh, well, then is I have to go through the whole session fe deal with him. Ca’ that man is a man whe you have to go up to him all the while, yunno. ‘Hey!’, an’ t’ing like that. And I wouldn’t say him draw him rifle, but you have to be careful how you really get around him.
In what way?
Well, like I can tell you personally, I can remember a time – like I tell you – when I sing fe him, any producer, yunno, I can remember one a the time, him have a lickle short guy who is workin’ down there, him call him ‘Phantomino’. Yeah, a lickle short guy. And I can get some good understanding that he had that guy work, servin’ the place, lookin’ for me, yunno. And I hear him send this man come look for me, if him try fe hurt me or kinda do me somet’ing, ’cause he work for the Duke, and I don’t sign no contract with this man.
Yeah! I just sing ‘pon a basic t’ing fe him. I don’t know how much me record a sell, I don’t know which part, this record go all ’bout inna the world and all that. But I never fear him. You know, I never fear wha’ him a gwaan with or whatever him a gwaan with. Beca’ that was my (inaudible) amongst them man deh, whatever them a come up and a gwaan with. Certain time I think I walk them out, I walk it out and seh, well, them fe leave me alone. But I hear all them t’ings deh pass through me and I never really could tell you seh, well, bwoy a man really sent, come lookin’ for me (chuckles). But I see them man deh ’round and ’round and look ‘pon me a kinda way and I see it from one studio to the other, you know. And I go amongst him and I think I went back to him and say what is the problem, ‘what was wrong?’ Bwoy, I would a say, each one teaches one. Yeah.
It’s being said you didn’t follow-up all the success in the ska era when the music changed to rock steady, that you were considered ‘old hat’ by the early reggae era. But you had a couple of successful records in that time like ‘Put On Your Best Dress’, ‘Say I’m Back, ‘Last Laugh’ – you recall those?
Oh… I saw that tune playing on the internet. I don’t know if you ever hear about Clive Tennor?
Yeah, that should be Clive Murphy of the Tennors.
Yeah, he is the one that sing ‘Ride Yu Donkey’. Yeah, I sang a couple songs for him, and he have that tune on the internet, he call it ‘Tell Them I’m Back’.
‘Say I’m Back’, yes.
‘Say I’m Back’, OK. Then again you have a tune named ‘Last Laugh’. I did that tune for Desmond Dekker, it’s just a guy who don’t want to see me – like you say – I didn’t follow-up on the scene, yunno. Those were the times when I would say a kinda treatment that you get from the promoters what was happening on the scene, to the music, and you found that music was being sent overseas and all that. And a little wha’ you would a call it… I wouldn’t follow-up because there is a certain set of artist – like I say I hear a man with him own mouth, I hear a man with them own mouth seh is ska music is Jamaica own music, is like them no like it whe I tell them no like it. Is like your own t’ing and you see no great flavour in it, or them flavour dem no like it. Yea, and I hear man talk with them own mouth, and that is somet’ing with me – I can have my own t’ing I create, right, when it’s mine until I don’t like it, y’know. I think I hold my corner is the t’ings whe if seh you a man to say: ‘Monty, him would not be around at certain times’. Yes! Certain times, but it kinda grieve me whe how the man deh treat the music, right. Is somet’ing whe you and me sit down and create, right, from Drum Street we sit down and we mek it. And you a go around and you a exploit an’ gwaan like seh, well, then me no like t’ings, me no like it. Like you a prefer tek a next man music an’ a next man t’ing and deal with it. But the t’ings whe you mek fe your own self regardless how you like it, but them man do dem whole heap a t’ing. So, if you hear somebody a seh, well, yes I would even admit to the fact I was away from the scene for a while, just for things like that.
How did you respond to the change to rock steady?
Yes, I loved it. I love rock steady and, y’know, like I’m saying as a man whe I’m not telling you seh, well, I’m versatile. I like all kinda music but then again I’m telling you seh rock steady, rock steady music is a man come inside a Jamaica. A man come inside a Jamaica and a try to change Jamaica music from wha’ it was, yunno. Still I love it because it’s a different style a t’ing that gives a different flavour. Slowing down the riddim, right, and mek it more lighter. I don’t know if you ever hear about the man Lynn Taitt?
Oh yes, guitarist extrordinarie.
Yeah, he’s a guy from Trinidad. He came here over Jamaica and when I was down at Duke Reid, he was down there at Duke Reid and then go to Leslie Kong and he go all around and play and play. And he is the one whe really try fe change this music and get it all slower, and play it with a more slower pluggin’, pluggy beat, y’know what I mean. You see them a play the tune ‘pon mostly minors now, from major chords. Them add more minor to it, like mek it with just two chords, instead of them mek it with three-four. I tell you the musical inspiration we have – them na play the tune with all four-five major chords, them play it all with two minor from one minor to the other (imitates the beat). And it a gwaan fe all half of the tunes, right through the tune dem way deh, and they call it rock steady and slow it down. So, is like I say, me change and versatile, but me na go tell you seh me a go leggo and me hate the t’ing ya, ’cause is my own. A new t’ing might come and a different beat, but me na go tell you say, me no love my t’ing wha’ me a do – me love my ska music, me love the ska music and me change and do lickle dancehall style music, right. But like I’m saying, you haffe be creative, you have to have your own style. If you born Jamaican whe you have your Jamaican beat, it’s your international beat.
Where did you get that ‘Monty’ nickname from by the way?
Oh, that was my… wha’ you call it now… my pet-name, yunno, and I just use it as a singin’ name beca’ is not really ‘Monty’ I named, is Lloyd. Is my middle-name, them just call me Monty as my pet-name. My mother call me that, so I used that as my singin’ name.
So how come you left the island in 1970, you settled in the States then, right, not Canada as I’ve seen somewhere?
Yeah, 1970 – you mean when I come to the States, right? That was a sponsored trip. I was in DC.
OK. Speaking about some later tunes you did, you did at least one tune in the mid seventies, perhaps earlier, titled ‘Hard Time In Babylon’ (for Pama) – you remember that one?
‘Hard Time In Babylon’? Yeah, that wasn’t done in the States, it was done in Jamaica, yunno, and I did an album in the States.
When was this?
Sometime in the nineties, I think 1990. ‘Cause that album deh, that was my first I do over here (done with one Michael Enkrumah).
What have you’ve been doing otherwise in the States all these years?
I was in Washington since I come here. Bwoy, I do apart from them lickle singin’ music I haffe work, yunno. I work some stuff like hotel an’ all them t’ing deh, them stuff deh.
What about this story that Max Romeo ‘discovered’ you in New York and took you down to do some of your first shows in ages at Heineken Startime in Jamaica?
Oh, that was what Max Romeo told them that he was the one who discovered me here and then brought me back from Washington, and from Washington to Jamaica. But that wasn’t me and him, it was him and my son. He was talkin’ some about Max Romeo. But it was Keith Brown, man, Keith Brown (one of the main men behind promoting the Startime concert) was the one who contacted my son and brought me back in Jamaica. And I do Heineken Startime, was good experience.
What we need now is at least a double-CD package of Eric ‘Monty’ Morris and not a release limited to a single album such as the hard to find ‘Those Youthful Years’ that former Tennors singer/producer Clive Murphy released some time back. It looks more like it was unofficial than a legit release, hopefully it will do Mr Morris some good though. There is shamefully little of his catalog available these days, I wonder who will be the first to realise a project such as compiling the best of what the man did in his heyday for us to enjoy in this time? Long overdue and well deserved is just the beginning of describing it. C’mon, someone with the right connections, seriously, involve the man on a project like this and do us all a favour in the long run by releasing this timeless music to the public once more, and make sure the man get his fair share of everything. That’s what I would call ‘a treat’. Yes mon.