Interview with Fred Locks
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There was a time when reggae music was dominated by spiritual and socially aware messages, values that have since lost impendum. It hasn’t the same appeal anymore popularly speaking even though a new generation of messengers are keeping the flag swaying in that direction. When this form of reggae music was the sound of ‘now’, Fred Locks was one of its foremost messengers. Cultural music that was as uplifting, enlightening, and vibrating then as it is now. Even more nowadays perhaps and it has stood the test of time surprisingly well, much of it. Stafford Elliott aka Fred Locks was no newcomer to the music business when he rode the charts with the now all-time classic ‘Black Star Liner’ back in 1976. He started as a member of vocal groups like The Flames in the sixties, later joined The Lyrics trio and wrote one of those great Studio One tracks ‘Hear What The Old Man Say’ back in 1968.
“COMING IN THE HARBOUR”
Fred Locks was also fronting the Creation Steppers trio at the end of the seventies before migrating to silence and musical inactivity in New York for most of the eighties. Seemingly out of nowhere he returned with an album for Phillip Smart in ’95 and a few years later a collaboration with Xterminator producer Phillip ‘Fatis’ Burrell emerged; the ‘Never Give Up’ album is arguably the Twelve Tribe singer’s strongest work so far and one of Fatis’ outstanding albums from this period. He hasn’t quite reached the heights since but Fred Locks still puts out strong vinyl material on the market for labels like Everything Natural, Blooming Productions, and Lion Vibes. And there is a lot more to expect from this somewhat overlooked singer. New recordings and a gathering of long-lost vintage tracks will come up soon, this from Mr Locks’ own quarters. My thanks to Fred for his time before rehearsals in May, ’04, Sis Denise (Love Beat) for the link-up, Donovan Phillips, Courtney Minors, Robba, Bob Schoenfeld, Ryan Moore, Michael de Koningh, and Steve Barrow.
So the Elliott family now, you grew up in a strict Catholic home.
(Chuckles) Yes. That was the religion that was introduced to most of the Caribbean people in the earlier days I guess, right.
Are you a Kingstonian?
Well, actually I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica.
That area was called Franklin Town. I left there when I was ten years old and moved to Eastern Kingston, near to the Bull Bay area, right, and I attended the Seymour Junior Secondary School. In the early days I formed a group while in Junior Secondary school, we were called The Flames. That’s different from Alton & The Flames.
Right, this is before The Lyrics.
This is before, it’s my first group, and we actually did an amateur festival at the time, among people like The Jamaicans with Tommy Cowan and, y’know, Hopeton Lewis had a group at the time. So we win second in the semi-final but in the final Jamaicans had won the whole thing, y’know. It did well.
This talent contest, it wasn’t Vere John’s talent showcase, was it?
No, it was called ‘Jamaica Amateur Music’ something. But yeah, it was like an amateur… it wasn’t really – it was more like a government thing, right. Then after leaving school like fifteen plus, I had passed scholarship for a higher school, it was a free scholarship, and I was from a large family, my mother and father had twelve of us – six boys, six girls. So, like, it wasn’t easy.
What did your father do for a living?
He worked in the electrical field, he was working with the Jamaican Public Service. Yeah.
Something he wanted you to do as well?
No, I didn’t think about doing anything like my father did. I was more into like, I did a short stint at painting course – they call it duco. I worked with some people… after leaving school I first worked at a harberdasher place where we sold cloth by the yard, I was learning that trade, yunno. After that I left and did some trade as a duco-man, a painter. That was for a very short while. So my group now from schooldays, we moved from there to different areas and we didn’t get back together. So like the following year, which was 1966 when I was just sixteen years old, we formed the group The Lyrics.
Who were the members of the Flames by the way?
With the Flames? It was my schoolmates, one was Harvey Campbell, another one Donald Allison, and Junior Harvey.
Did anyone of those continue with the music afterwards?
No, I’ve never heard of any of them going into it. You know, funny I didn’t see any of them pop up anywhere, yunno.
You didn’t meet again.
No, I saw one of them like a long time after, y’know, and he wasn’t into music really. It was like Donald, his father was like our manager, he was the man who was encouraging us and took us to the various shows an’ t’ing when we had entered the amateur festival, yunno. But after school, we all left school, went to different schools an’ t’ing, y’know. I went on to work right away, so I didn’t see them. Then as I was telling you in 1966 we formed The Lyrics.
And they, the Lyrics, consisted of?
Yeah well, the two members were Albert ‘Beenie-Bird’ Tomlinson and Delmar Campbell, we call him ‘Snore’.
All right (chuckles). So Snore migrated a short while after we started recording, we did our first recordings at Studio One. We did three songs first, and then we went on and did two more songs, and then Snore migrated to the US in 1969. So it was two years after we started recording. I and Albert continued as The Lyrics and did some songs for Randy’s, who you know is VP – Vincent Chin, yunno.
I know about one tune for Randy’s, Miss Pat. I have it somewhere here.
Which song is it?
The one that say ‘East To The Right’?
OK well, I did another song which was ‘Give Thanks’ for Randy’s, and this one called ‘East To The Right’, but somehow Randy’s put out the tune ‘East To The Right’ and call it ‘Give Thanks’. And I’ve never come up to – ‘Give Thanks’ was for Lee Perry, that was the first song we did, which was a different song from ‘East To The Right’. But every time I ask people about them they have ‘Give Thanks’, but is really ‘East To The Right’ they have, so I dunno what the next one is. But we also did a cover of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
Simon & Garfunkel.
Yeah, we did it before Jimmy London, and then the Jimmy London one was released before ours, yunno, on the same riddim.
Which label was your version on?
It was the Impact label.
Right, that’s a Randy’s subsidiary.
Yeh, it was Randy’s Impact label. Actually we did three songs for Randy’s: ‘Give Thanks’, ‘East To The Right’ and ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’. After that Albert migrated also and I was like alone and I formed a group with…
No, before Creation Steppers, this was really a duo that we called Tony & Howie – I used the name Tony, and we did one song for Mr Coxson again, this song was called ‘Fun It Up’.
News to me, never heard of.
Yeah right, it was just a one song we did. And HE migrated also (laughs)!
Ah, everybody leave.
Yes, so I was there alone again and this was when now Beenie came back from Canada where he had migrated to, and we did our own production ‘Sing Along’, the very first one before the album. And we also did two more songs. One of them was ‘A Love That Is Real’, he did one by himself. I did ‘A Love That Is Real’ and ‘Sing Along’ with him, and then he did a song which was a semi-hit for him, this song was called ‘Aily Haile’ or ‘Oily Holy’.
I have that tune, it’s on the Impact label again, but it’s credited to ‘Lyric & Bird’.
Yea, that is him. Yeh he is Bird, the ‘Beenie-Bird’.
Right. So anyhow, after all of that Beenie went back to Canada, he was just passing through for a while, and I went solo. And then in 1975 was when I did ‘Black Star Liner’ and ‘Time For Change’, which was also known as ‘The Last Days’. ‘Black Star Liner’ became a hit, ‘Last Days’ was a follow-up but it didn’t create the impact we had thought it would, y’know. I thought it was the better song but maybe it was too judgmental (chuckles).
Fred Locks in the studio, Kingston, Jamaica.
Right. Before we move too fast into the seventies, I would like to know more about the initial session for Studio One, where you cut tunes like ‘A Get It’ and the great ‘Hear What The Old Man Say’.
All right. Well, what happened is we had been going to Coxson’s studio for a period of about three months or more, trying to get an audition. And Coxson would overlook us and other people was called in there, yunno, all the time. We was in there when they called Bop & The Beltones, some other long-time artists, y’know. They would come out and say ‘Let me listen to you, wha’ yu do’, yunno, and call them. We came every day same way for a long time.
Don’t tell me he called you ‘Jackson’ (chuckles)?
Ahh, you see’t (laughs)! So anyhow, no, he didn’t call me ‘Jackson’, but one of my brethren – the one ‘Snore’, he was workin’ as a custom officer, and he had lost his job because of coming to studio so many times, yunno. And eventually Coxson said to us, he look at me and say, “Hey you, red youth! Wha’ yu do?” And I said I’m a singer, and him said “Sing!” Right (chuckles)? And I sung ‘A Get It’, and the group was backing up on harmony, and him said: “It sound good, go inside mek the band hear it”. And Jackie Mittoo write down the fore (intro), y’know. Him said, “Yeah man, I know yu big bredda, the first band”. Ca’ Jackie Mittoo had formed a band where my brother was the guitarist. The band was called The Rivals, that was before Skatalites. Yes. So Jackie Mittoo knew me and when we come in him say, “Yes my youth, come mek we hear yu song bom bom bom, it wicked an’ it tuff, yunno”. That was a ska song, ‘A Get It’. So we went on to do ‘You Make Me Sour’, which was the second song I did and it’s put on an album called ‘Rock Steady ’67’. And I did also a song called ‘Money Lover’. Yeah, all of those was released in that time. Then you know I think it’s 1968 after, not feeling too good about not getting any money for the songs we did.
Not a dime?
No, I got thirty shilling in those time for ‘A Get It’, and we never get any pay for the other two. Ca’ most time him say him can buy the song for we… from us, or give us four pennies off every copy sold, seen. So, our thirty shilling for it and there wasn’t any more to get, so we took the thirty shilling. When we did the first song we got that, but the other songs we didn’t get any money. But anyhow, Jackie Mittoo and Bob Andy came up to my area an’ we sit in and smoke some herb and some song me a sing, my older brother play the guitar, and Jackie say, “Wha’, yu still tuff my youth!”, them hear we now. That was ‘Old Man Say’ and ‘(Man Call) Girls Like Dirt’, which we gave Bob Andy the riddim to sing ‘Desperate Lover’ on, my song originated that riddim. It was when I recorded that song now, Coxson told me that he would release the song in a couple days time, I should listen out on his ‘Muzik City Presents’ programme, where he would play it on the segment on the radio. So the first day I listened to it, I heard the intro of the song and I said “Yeah”, to my mother, “this is my new song”. And then I heard Bob Andy voice come in and sang it. My brother was so cut up about it, that he went to Mr Coxson’s studio and mashed it up, and ended up in a mental institution. Beca’ police beat him up, they took him to mental institution.
Yeah, and eventually died. It was uncertain if the police killed him and throw him in the field. Yeah, that was my eldest brother. It’s a sad story, yunno.
Yeah it is, indeed.
Yeah. Anyhow that was the Coxson era, and between that we went to Randy’s, y’know, between the time that I did those five songs, went to Randy’s with Beenie-Bird and made some songs with my brethren when him come back, and do one song for Coxson. Actually it was about four songs for Coxson, Tony & Howie, but he didn’t release any other song from us, only that song, ‘Fun It Up’. And a couple other songs, ‘I Really Love You Baby’ and ‘You Should Believe Me’ and a next song, it was four songs I think we did right there. But only one was released.
But ‘Hear What The Old Man Say’ is one of my favourites of that era, who wrote it?
I wrote it. Yeah man, I was the writer in the group, most of the… well, Albert wrote ‘Sing Along’ with me, he did most of that song, I put some words into it. But I’d say it was Albert song mostly. But ‘Girls Like Dirt’ was a next song that was done, that Bob Andy used the riddim for – ‘Desperate Lover’, I and Snore penned that one. But I penned ‘A Get It’, ‘Money Lover’, ‘You Made Me Sour’, ‘Hear What The Old Man Say’, I penned it fully. I was the sole writer on those songs.
What was the inspiration for that tune, ‘Old Man Say’?
‘Old Man Say’? Yeah when we were growing up as youths y’know, and we have our first girlfriend an’ t’ing, as you know when you’re young you kinda more want to rush the girls. So it wasn’t like a direct experience with me, but I used to hear some elder men tellin’ youths seh, ‘Watch them girls an’ t’ing yunno, most a them jus’ lookin’ whe yu can give them’. Right? So I used to hear older men tellin’ youths that, they didn’t actually tell me, so it wasn’t a personal experience. But I had personal experience like that with girls, the first I get it trigger off although I wasn’t warned by any elder. But my first girlfriend that I had at seventeen – not my first girlfriend, but my first girl that I got pregnant, I was seventeen and she was sixteen, and she had an abortion, yunno, which hurted me very much. And that inspired the tune, because the said year that I start to record first in 1967 when I was just seventeen years old. So I wrote that tune from ’67. It was saying that it was so heart-rendered but I had to tell myself that I had to be strong and don’t let no woman really break my heart, yunno. You see wha’ me a say (chuckles)?
Right. But ‘Sing Along’ was self-produced though?
Yeah, Beenie was the producer on that song, he had written most of the song. Because I was like a lead singer with the group, he gave me the opportunity to be the lead singer. But there was part of the song that was not completed, I added words to the second verse, yunno. When he came with the song it was not completed, and like we made the second verse together, and then we record it. So he sing the background vocal while I did the lead.
What brought you into the music in the first place, it was your older brother who played the guitar who gave you some encouragement to do it?
Well, I grow up with a musical family. When I was growing up my father was a self-taught guitarist who used to play what you’d call classical songs on his guitar, and I was able to sing a lot of the songs he used to play. So from an early stage of about seven or eight my father recognised I could sing. So he used to take me to some bars and play his guitar, put me on his lap, and I used to sing for the people who was drinkin’ in the bar from I was seven, eight years old. And people used to pay me to do that, like his friends used to put some money in his hands and say, “Buy somet’ing for the youth”, you know (laughs)! So my brother now was very much influenced by my father’s ability to play the guitar, and without even going through any formal studies, my brother learned to play the guitar just off ear and could back me up on any tune that I wrote. I sing it to him and he would find the changes and we just started singin’ together. But my bredda mostly would play the guitar sometime and do some backin’, y’know, like vocal. But him wasn’t interested in the singin’ part of it. So after growin’ up now in the Eastern Kingston area this was when I meet Beenie and Snore who lived in the same area. My brother now and me used to sit down and sing all the time, and them come across and see me and say, “Youth, you can sing, man”. And them start back me up, beca’ by age twelve I had written my first song which was one of the songs I had entered, and I used to enter the amateur festival. I was the writer of the songs. The first song I wrote was called ‘I Live The Life I Love’, was like a girl-love song but I never recorded that song. And then one of the group members from our first group The Flames wrote a song ‘Looks Are Deceiving’, which was the song that we entered one of the amateur festivals with. So I was writing other songs now from I found out I could write. I wrote other songs and by the time we had formed the group I had already written ‘A Get It’. So we started to practice that tune with my brother playing the guitar. Along the line Beenie-Bird was to play the guitar, so when my brother wasn’t around, y’know, Beenie would play guitar and find the changes for songs that I was writing. After all of that now, when everybody migrating an’ t’ing, I was forced into a solo career.
You were a bit unsure if to pursue a ‘solo adventure’ at that time?
I didn’t even want to go solo, I had formed another group, and this is how the name ‘Fred Locks’ came about. I formed a group, using my name how I had done with Howard – Tony & Howie, I was gonna call the group ‘Tony & The Melancholics’. But by that time now I had started to dreadlocks, I was seeing the Rastafari way of life.
How did that come about again? I think I read something about you being kicked out of the house by your father when you had sighted Rasta back in ’69.
No, he didn’t kick me out before I started to grow locks. Yeah, because it’s like I was moving in a path that led me to Rastafari. Because of the music business and the people I was around, I was exposed to the teachings and I absorbed it, y’know what I’m saying? It was the right thing for me. So I was singin’ mostly… I was changin’ my direction of writing now and started to write more spiritual or protest songs, y’know. And then I was singin’ for some Rastafarian brothers, me and my group with Beenie, The Lyrics, was singin’ some of those songs. In a way I regretted we hadn’t recorded some of those kind of songs, but unfortunately they migrated. So I was left alone so I started writin’ on that… those kind of subjects, mostly more spirituality. The faith just came about like that, ’cause I was movin’ amongst some Rastaman from the eastern section of Jamaica, east of Kingston, and I was absorbing the teachings like, y’know, when we were smokin’ everybody say a lickle psalms first and hail up His Majesty an’ t’ing. So it exposed me to go into the scriptures to see where did it coincide. And then now by that time I was movin’ among some Rass now an’ one of my cousin in law, my cousin girlfriend, she could sing. She used to live in Canada and she came to Jamaica an’ decide to sight up the faith too and my cousin was dreadlock at the time, she was his wife and they were all dread, yunno. But after she started to listen to us singin’ and I realised she could sing harmony, so alongside she and another brethren named Alric, we formed this group now. I was the lead singer for Tony & The Melancholics. We sang on about two stage-shows with man like Count Ossie and Dennis Brown them, we singin’ a lickle cultural songs at a theatre called the Ramble (?) Theater.
But some youths now who was living in the area, it was in the Bull Bay area, heard us singin’ and come across and said, “Hi, them sound goodie, then wha’ the group deh named?” And me seh, “Well, Tony & The Melancholics”. And them seh, “Wha’, that no sound nice, me no like da name deh lickle Rasta youth” (giggles). So me seh, “What about Tony & The I-landcholics?” Him say, “No, me no like the name Tony, man. It no sound like a Rastaman name, yunno”. So me seh, “You, wha’ appen? Me go call meself Fred Locks” – ’cause it rhymed with dreadlocks (laughs). And him just say, “Wha’, that sound good”. That is how the name came about. Then that group never lasted too long, because my cousin was incarcerated and the brethren named Alric was trying to get to his wife, and I was so upset about it, now when she needed strength or anything. So I said no, that kinda broke up the group somewhat, ’cause we was in disagreement and disarray because of all that was happening, yunno. So I went on to be a solo act early after that, ’cause this was like about ’73/74. But actually one day a brethren said to me that this song ‘Black Star Liner’, I wrote that from 1967 actually. This was before I was inside it fully, the Rastafari faith. But this brethren come to me and said, “You is a good lickle singer, you haffe start write some different kinda song, man”. Too much love song, yunno. Him said, “Write about some Marcus Garvey t’ing, man”. The Black Star Liner. So he hummed something to me like say (sings): ‘Seven miles of Black Star Liner comin’ in the harbour’. Me say all right, so I went home and the next day I come back and tell him say, “I finished write the song”. Beca’ I was reading a lickle book about Marcus Garvey and I got some ideas from it. So although it was written from 1967 I didn’t record it until 1975! But when I recorded that song now it all happened because of a lickle youth with a tape recorder (chuckles). We were up a playfield, a football field, and watchin’ some football training. When everything was done, we was sittin’ down, and my brethren, the same brethren named Howard – we call him ‘Grapeman’, he played on the song too. He was sittin’ down with his guitar, he was able to play the guitar, and I was tellin’ him, “Bwoy, I have this lickle song here whe I try work it out ca’ me no sing it to no music yet”. So I had a cousin there who was sittin’ down beside us and he had a paint-can, an empty paint-can, an’ the brethren start to play the guitar and him start to playin’ the paint-can like a drum. There I start sing ‘Seven miles on Black Star Liner coming in the harbour…’. And there was a youth who’s name was Trevor, he was recording on this lickle cassette-recorder and I didn’t even know. So anyhow, he went and found… he went up by Mr Boothe, who was a Twelve Tribe member at the time – you’ve heard of the Twelve Tribes, right?
Yeah, so Mr Boothe was a Twelve Tribe member. But we never used to move with them because I wasn’t a Twelve Tribe member, and most Twelve Tribe members didn’t deal with other Rastafarians as such. We were kinda off-secluded, yunno.
That organisation was more like a youth movement at the time.
They were secular, if it’s not a Twelve Tribe then it’s not a Rastafarian, then you weren’t on the right track. So if they don’t know you they just pass. So anyhow, the youth just take up the cassette to Mr Boothe house and was playing it, and it sounded so clean. You know, ’cause we come across so clean and he was asking, “A who that one?” And him say, “Is a Rass down deh so, just a sing it an’ me tape it”. Seen? Ca’ him say it’s Fred Locks an’ t’ing. So by the evening I see the track – for it was normal for us to be reasoning and… them wasn’t so friendly, y’know (chuckles). And him did come check me out one day, and why? And he just said to me that, “Bwoy, I want see you, I man hear the Supreme did come with a cassette with a tune deh and him say a you sing it and bwoy, me a tell you, me is not a producer, me never produce before, but me interested in that tune ya. Me feel it’s a hit, yunno”. So him go spend some money and produce it. So him say, “I’m a Twelve Tribe member but although we no really reach, but Twelve Tribe really a deal with repatriation on that song ya, if we can relate to it then”. Because it’s a song that emphasise repatriation, so me say all right. Anyhow, first time I told him that I wouldn’t record it, ’cause I was more leaning to the Nyabinghi kind of thing. I was saying that I no really want to record that song, beca’ me go through them t’ing deh a’ready and kinda did feeling frustrated about the recording deal through the Coxson era, ca’ Randy’s wasn’t treating us much better. So anyhow, him said to me seh, “You mustn’t have a talent and bury”. You know? And when him said that now, when I went to home and thought about what the man said, I know him was right. So I went back to him and said, “Bwoy, me waan more a record the tune dem”. Ca’ me no really want bury me talent (chuckles). And he took me to the studios and that was when we record two tunes with some musicians like Bagga Walker, Pablove Black, yunno.
Albert Malawi and dem was some Twelve Tribe man. So obviously, y’know, he was a Twelve Tribe member, Boothy, so him decide to bring in Twelve Tribe musician, it was Twelve Tribe man at the time. I don’t think it was as yet named that, but they went on to become the Twelve Tribe Band, with Bagga and Pablove and most of… Ilawi was drummer. Some of the men dem like who played percussion was part of the Twelve. But we had other people on the session like Chinna Smith and my brethren Howard Roberts played the guitar too, y’know. We had three guitarists on the session rather, like Jah Jerry, Chinna Smith and Howard Roberts, alongside the rest of the Twelve Tribe brethren dem.
Jah Jerry from the Skatalites.
Yeah man, he played on ‘Black Star Liner’. Three guitarists played on that tune. Yeh. And when the session was done, Tommy Cowan who had his music company called Talent Corporation, he was in the studio after it was recorded and come and said to the producer, “A hit song this, yunno. So you must come check me, mek me handle this”. Ca’ him would a distribute it. But the producer was trying on his own to be the distributor, and he was a newcomer to the whole thing, and it wasn’t moving on fast. So after a while he went to Tommy and Tommy took up the distribution and the tune, y’know, it took off. Beca’ they had their network set, beca’ it was a t’ing wherein certain people had the payola system controlled, yunno, and dem deal with it. Is so Jamaican music has been running and still running that way up until now. You don’t pay you don’t get play, y’know (laughs)!
You either have to force them to play it or…
Yeah, or you give them some money. You have people who is giving more money so their tune get more play.
So you got some 300 Jamaican dollars for the recordings?
No, I actually got… off you mean from ‘Black Star Liner’?
No, well, for the first three months I got nine thousand dollars as payment from sales from Tommy Cowan, who was doing local distribution. We got some good payments on a regular basis every three months. It was a good seller at the time, it has been selling couple thousand copies in Jamaica. It was a good hit, yunno.
I think I read that it sold some fourteen thousand copies at the time.
It could have been that, I’m not too sure about the number. It was a big seller in Jamaica at the time, it was actually on the Top Ten. It went number one on certain reggae charts. On RJR and JBC it was number one for a while. So it was good sales and cause it to reach there.
This kick-started your solo career somewhat.
Well, it establish the name Fred Locks on a career which people in England got interested in my program and this resulted in the album ‘Black Star Liner/True Rastaman’, which a company called Vulcan from England showed interest in. But Boothe had spent his own money to produce the album, but the first payment we got was a bounce-check after they had agreed on paying us an advance of fifteen thousand pounds. When he got the check it was a bounce-check, and they in turn gave us a check for one thousand five hundred Jamaican dollars (chuckles)! So I only got five hundred Jamaican dollars from that album as an advance at the time. I got more money off the single ‘Black Star Liner’, from royalties, yunno. Anyhow, the company had declared themselves bankrupt and was not functioning anymore. So by 1978 I came to England on a tour and saw my album being distributed by a company called Phonogram, which we didn’t know anything about. When I found these people they said they made a deal with the guys from Vulcan, which was a bredda named Webster Shrowder and Junior Lincoln, those two guys. I later on met Junior Lincoln, just since when Dennis Brown died, first time meeting him. I didn’t know him before.
He used to issue Coxson’s music in the UK in the late sixties, early seventies.
I didn’t know him, y’know, but Boothe had come to England and made the agreement with him and had signed some documents, saying that the go-ahead was there for them to do it. But they didn’t deal with us fairly. I still bounced around, but Boothe got so frustrated that he had dropped out of the business. ‘Cause I did an album for him from that same time, a follow-up album, which he just released recently called ‘The Missing Link’.
Right, I saw about that.
Yeah, those songs were just from the same time as the ‘Black Star Liner’.
He simply didn’t have the finances to put it out at the time?
Well, Boothe had packed up the whole t’ing, wasn’t doing anything. And actually I was living in America and Boothe had given me those tapes. But they weren’t functional and I didn’t even thought of taking them with me to Jamaica. And Boothy now found out that you could bake the tapes and restore certain things, which he did, and brought out the album. So he had given Jet Star in the UK to deal with it, and VP was doing it in America.
But you got compensation for it I hope?
Well no, I haven’t gotten anything. He said that Jet Star made a deal with him, but he did not collect anything yet, although they released it. And maybe I think beca’ he is still living in America, I think he collected some money from VP, maybe a small sum, as an advance. But I haven’t gotten anything from that deal.
What a shame.
All the while, I see this all the time, y’know. But I’m trying to get these things straightened out. Trying to find a way to get them straightened out, those things, ’cause I was the writer for all those tracks on that album. I have to go deal with my publishing and certain things, to make sure that certain things reaches me. Yeah.
You’ve met a lot of those complications over the years, haven’t you?
Yeah, I did some tracks for Fatis on Xterminator, I did an album called ‘Never Give Up’.
OK, yes, we’re coming to that one. But there was a one-off you did for Jeff Sarge back in ’77, called ‘When O When’ for his label, you recall this song?
Yeah, I did a couple of tunes, ‘When O When’, and I did…
How did that come about? Sarge was based in New York then?
Yeah, we grew up in Jamaica on the same street. He used to live on the same street with me in Harbour View, and he came down. Before I went to America, he and a brethren called ‘Bubbles’, Johnny Goldburne, they brought me to America in ’79 for my first tour, and when I was back in Jamaica in the eighties (seventies), Jeff Sarge came down and said he wanted to do some producing with me. So we did a remake of the ‘Old Man Say’ – I don’t know if you’ve heard that one?
‘When O When’, that was at the same session. So ‘Old Man Says’ and ‘When O When’, Sly & Robbie played on those two songs, and Tommy McCook and certain man blow the horns on those two songs. It was a nice session, and Computer Paul, he was at that time a youth and I introduced him. I was the first person who got him to record. He was playing guitar, played guitar on that session. He was timid, ’cause as a youth I saw them was saying to me, “You sure this youth ready?” Me say, “Yeah man, him good, man. Him can play, yunno”. ‘Cause actually we used to sing with a band that he had formed in our area. We used to do some lickle gigs in some nightclubs during my early days, like in The Lyric days. We used to do some nightclub thing and I was in there when he formed that band. I knew he was a guitarist and could play, y’know. Yes, so that session, ‘When O When’, I think it was 1980 something.
The label has it as 1977.
Yeah, I don’t remember, it could be. Could be, could be, yes. I didn’t go to America yet. Yes, it was ’77.
When did you decide to settle down in the States? I read somewhere, it could be ‘Reggae Bloodlines’, that you were eager to go even in the mid seventies, you had relatives up there in Brooklyn for example.
It was my wife. I was married to a girl that was living in America, y’know.
And that was in the late seventies you finally migrated.
I migrated I think ’79, on and off. But I actually reside there for twelve years between ’84 to ’96. Yeah. But during the year of ’79 I got there on tour, and back and forth although my wife was living there, I wasn’t residing there. But I was going and coming on musical trips, yunno. Yeah.
What was the controversy when you made a statement in the mid seventies, I think it was an interview where you said that ‘His Majesty had possibly passed physically’. How did this affect you, what was the turnout of that stuff?
Yeah. I did not understand this fully, but now that I’ve grown older I realised I had stated it wrong, ’cause I didn’t understand it fully. ‘Cause it was a controversy surround it that even Boothe and other people went to Ethiopia, came back and said although people had said His Majesty passed, they had a decree out that He was wanted dead or alive, and this is where people came back and said that they just buried Him or someone found His bones there. So actually what I think, His Majesty being who He is, I think that no passing took place, He just left. I had to rephrase what I had said that time, because I was younger and did not have much understanding of the situation. So, I am saying that Rastafari live, yunno (chuckles). It was like, I was naive at the time. I was unstable, I was put on the spot with the question and I just answered off the top of my head what I thought at the time. Yeah, but now that I’ve gotten a charge… Hey, you’re the first person who has brought up this topic (laughs)! Yeh, you’ve gone into a lot of study! I think it’s Neville Willoughby (then at JBC) in Jamaica I was doing the interview with. Yea, was an interview that I was doing, and he asked me that. So I was saying that “Oh, He have the power to leave the flesh”, an’ t’ing. You know?
Able to do whatever.
Yeah, but it was just that I had an understanding of at the time. But further checking had proved to me that He didn’t even leave the flesh, y’know (laughs)! Yeah. ‘Cause as I said the controversy is where Haile Selassie just disappeared and nobody know what happened.
You had made a comment in the late seventies that you felt as a Twelve Tribes member, a devouted Rastaman, that even singin’ was on a vanity route, at least being involved in the music business. Were you even close as to give it up for this reason? How much was this like back and forth, like some type of inner conflict in your mind at that period?
Yeah, the reason for thinkin’ like that was like because of the hardships we were having with getting payment, and this was something I wanted to live off. And I was finding it difficult, because all the producers were actually just using, y’know.
Taking as much advantage as they could, same story.
Taking advantage of the situation. And now I was projecting the Rastafarian lifestyle through the music too. It seems like they were more promoting love songs and everything that was getting this except for Bob Marley who at the time was like the stronghold. Yeh, but after a while I looked into it as that I have… I’m not gonna let nobody really pressure me to get out of this, you understand. So I insisted on it, I stood up and stayed in it. And even when in America I was still doing recordings, like I did an album while in America for Phillip Smart.
Yes. And I was doing lickle shows now and then, but I was there trying to survive so I was doing other jobs, y’know. Because America to me didn’t understand or accepted the real authentic reggae songs, so to speak. So living in that system is… you know, today you can see the Sean Paul, Elephant Man, them more leaned to the crossover thing, because I think America want to have an input in the music. That’s why I even left and went back to Jamaica, back to the office to try and research so to speak. Because as I was saying I was feeling stagnated in America, wasn’t getting to do the songs like I’d like to. I wanted to go back to the roots and get back everything on track. Going back to Jamaica did good for me too, ’cause I did the album for Fatis, although that did not really do much for me in a sense, but it only showed that I was still in it. I start to get Caribbean tours and went to Europe for the first time ’cause people was able to locate me, ’cause Jamaica was where everybody was coming to find ‘where were you?’, y’know.
That turned out to be more of an artistic success rather than benefitting financially. But before we dig into that I would like to ask about the time with Creation Steppers. This guy Willy, one of the Steppers, had told Lol Bell-Brown for the London-based BSL ‘zine in the early nineties about your dealings with Tommy Cowan’s Talent Corporation and the group’s self-produced ‘Stormy Night’. Apparently there was the typical quirky type of handling from that distribution outlet. This tune was on your own Star Of The East label, but somehow got on Arab, or any of Tommy’s labels at the time.
Yeah, that was the next member of the group, Eric Griffiths, he was the person who actually funded the session. He was the person who actually wrote that song, we added things to it but I think he should get the credit for writing the song. I have a song named ‘Life Is Funny’. We were going to record it, me being a name-artist among the crew, we were going to record my song. Eric was going to fund the session for the ‘Life Is Funny’. On the day that we went on the beach and he came down to take us to the studio, Eric came and sing this new song (sings): ‘Have you ever been outside when the rain is falling…’. You know?
Before you continue, that is the original then, because there is a version of that by The Rolands, which is basically this guy Roland Burrell at Channel One. He covered it then? I thought that was the original.
Yeah, he did it over. This is our song, Eric wrote the song. We set out to do ‘Life Is Funny’ alone but went to the studio and record both songs. It was the first song we did as Creation Steppers. So when we did that song now, I didn’t like how the riddim is – the tempo of the riddim was slow, and I was telling Eric when we’re in the studio how I didn’t like how they were doing it slow. But this bredda named Calvin Campbell and he was called ‘Allah’, who used to play with Skatalites after Don Drummond passed, he was insisting that the tune was supposed to be rock steady. So because of that it feel so slow. When Burrell heard the song, he re-recorded it in a uptempo way, and it don’t hit beca’ we had already done that song. And when we came to England in the seventies, we were singin’ it on shows and people had known it because of our version. But this was the time when Burrell was hearing it, because it wasn’t just doing well in Jamaica but it was doing well in England, it’s like the remake becomes the hit, right. Yes. A lot of people didn’t know. Like you know the Little Roy, he wrote songs like ‘Prophecy’ and ‘Tribal War’, other people sung them and made hit with them and people thought that they all was the original writers for ‘Tribal War’, and some people think Freddie McGregor is the original writer for ‘Prophecy’. With ours it was a similar situation. So ‘Stormy Night’, Eric had only enough money to be able to press a couple of hundred copies.
Right, on Star Of The East.
Yeah, and once that was done he didn’t press any more really. I think the original sales got messed up too, y’know. Yeh, don’t know what happened to them still. That is the original version. But the only record is there as really proof.
Willy had said something about the repress on Tommy’s Arab label, they went there to collect and then Peter Tosh was present, assisting to throw them out if more was demanded from Tommy. You recall this?
I don’t remember that situation. I remember that they had given Tommy Cowan to deal with it in Jamaica, but maybe I was not present when they went there, I don’t think I was present.
Unsuccessfully, it didn’t turn out to bring them anything what they came there for.
Yeah, Tommy Cowan was either on (inaudible)… After he knew my song ‘Black Star Liner’, the first couple of times he was paying the royalties like without any problem, but after a while he was trying to dodge from us. They were doing some shady deal all the while with us (chuckles).
Willy had said ‘we’ didn’t get no credit for ‘Black Star Liner’, and what confuses me is if the Steppers were part of that album without getting any credit, I mean what’s Fred Locks and what is Steppers?
That must be some mistake right there. Willy had nothing – nothing, totally nothing – to do with ‘Black Star Liner’ album. Creation Steppers wasn’t even part of that program. We started singin’ after my album was done. We weren’t singin’ together during that time. Somebody must have misquoted Willy. Willy and Eric came as background singers for me when ‘Black Star Liner’ did well for me and Lloydie Coxsone brought us to tour the UK, they came as background singers. And we shared the stage because by that time they had done songs on that first Creation Steppers album, ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘What You’re Not Supposed To Do’ and those songs. So when we were on stage I let the people know that we were also a group, and Willy was leading some of the songs. So we did that while on tour but they had nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with the ‘Black Star Liner’ album. They didn’t sing on it, they didn’t help to write it, they weren’t there.
I could quote actually what Willy said in that article: “Fred Locks say all right, I’m gonna stop make records. I say, well, it’s true. It don’t make sense, I feel like stoppin’ also, I’ll sing for Israel, sing for the people. Beca’ it don’t make sense we making any records. Beca’ what the use of we making record? The record is sellin’ and we are not getting any money. I give up, Fred Locks give up, everybody just give up. Until this day, we – ‘we’ – still get no money for the ‘Black Star Liner’ LP'”, end of quote (BSL no. 9, 1990). That’s what he said. What’s your impression of this?
No, I think it’s a mistake, him was talking about the ‘Love & Only Love’ album. It couldn’t be ‘Black Star Liner’. I think it’s a mistake, it’s definitely a mistake. I’m sure it’s a mistake, beca’ I had known Eric before, but we never used to sing. And when I started singin’ with Willy and them, it’s after the ‘Black Star Liner’. Is when Lloydie Coxsone came to Jamaica and said he wanted to bring me up to England because of my ‘Black Star Liner’ album. And at that time now, we started to do this album for Lloydie Coxsone, ‘Love & Only Love’. I was going to do a complete album, lead-singin’ all the songs, but a falling out took place between me and Lloydie Coxsone, ’cause he was not dealing with t’ings fair. So I done four tracks, and the rest of them I was singin’ background on Willy’s, like ‘Homeward Bound’ and those songs. And a song a bredda did named Fussy Triston, ‘News Carrier’. He was from Willy them area in Rockfort, so we back him up with a background vocals too. But the whole t’ing was surrounded around me, ’cause I was the one who Lloydie had wanted to do an album with. But because I didn’t like the deal, I only sing four songs and sing background on the rest, and Lloydie put them together. ‘Cause it was like a separate album with Willy as lead singer, and one with me as lead singer, so that’s how it work out. But somebody misquoted Willy or thought he was talkin’ about the ‘Black Star Liner’ album, Willy was talkin’ about ‘Love & Only Love’. Yeah, that’s a big mistake.
So you met Lloydie in Jamaica you said?
Lloydie Coxsone was a person who was coming to Jamaica on and off, because he’s a Jamaican. But he was living in the same area like me, Harbour View, when he was in Jamaica. I knew him through his brother, his brother introduced us one time and told him I was a singer. But he used to tell us that he’d be interested in bigger artists because at that time I did not do ‘Black Star Liner’ yet, him seh he was dealing with man like Dennis Brown and Junior Delgado. So when he came back to Jamaica one time in the seventies him seh: “Me never know a yu sing as Fred Locks, man”, yunno? “Blood claat, the tune dem a gwaan good inna England”. And him want fe bring me up on a tour, which Boothy dem and the Twelve Tribe people was opposing that, beca’ they said him wanted to reap from what they sowed, y’know. And anyhow, but I said that this is my career, I want to tour, I’ve never toured before, and I wanted to come and deal with it. But it was a thing that cause us to be very angry, because Lloydie Coxsone didn’t deal with things fairly even on the tour. He tried not to pay us an’ t’ing, after the shows were successful. So that cause Willy to think like how the way he expressed, because we was saying now, like ‘Oh, this man no deal with us fair’ and blah blah, ‘we done with music t’ing’, y’know. You see wha’ me a say (chuckles)?
So me go back a Jamaica an’ then the following year me go tour America but Willy dem never leave, they stayed there, y’know, they didn’t go back to Jamaica. So that was how that group actually broke up, because Willy dem was saying that dem na going back to Jamaica, go suffer whatever a cause it it was so hard. Right. And that group broke up from then. But the only things we did was a couple songs for Lloydie and the tour of England.
‘Voice Of The Poor’ was on that album.
Yeah, ‘Voice Of The Poor’ and ‘Cuss I Cuss I’, ‘Give Jah Your Heart and Soul’ and ‘Love & Only Love’, that was my four songs that I led. Yeah. You know, Willy’s a great singer, I respect Willy. I like his songs, ‘Homeward Bound’, ‘No Further Woman’, and the tune deh tough, ‘What You’re Not Supposed To Do’, y’know. Well, he’s one of the better lead-singer. Beca’ even before we left Jamaica, when we just formed the group, he even did ‘Kill Nebuchadezzar’ for a producer called Barry who was in England too. Willy just did a remake for Jah Tubbys, which will be released soon. I also did a version of it for Blacker Dread, for an album that I just finished with Blacker Dread too. I don’t know when he’s gonna release it but I did fourteen or fifteen tracks for Blacker Dread. And I have some new songs out that I did for Gussie P. Yeah.
I saw that somewhere, yes.
‘Mission For The King’ and the flipside was ‘Weeping & Mourning’, I did two more songs out of that. I have a ten-inch, one a remake of ‘Vision Of Redemption’ and a song named ‘Collie Herbs’. So I have four songs out now on the Sip A Cup label, which is Gussie P t’ing. Two records, ten-inch, they have two songs each.
It was a long gap between the last album for Lloyd Coxsone with the Creation Steppers and the creative comeback, solo, with the Tan-Yah album ‘Culturally’, that one popped up from nowhere back in ’94 or so.
Yeah. It was an experiment, because being in America, Phillip Smart thought it necessary to sing on some of the regular riddims that people were using. And he interest me on that venture, and ‘OK’. So I made some of the songs at home, because he gave me a couple of the riddims, and then we made some in the studio. Yeah. But it was mostly cover-riddims, like the ‘Breaking Up’ riddim, ‘I’m Just A Guy’ riddim (both Alton Ellis), most of the long time Studio One, ‘Joe Frazier’ riddim. So I just said, y’know, it’s no harm done. But a lot of people said they don’t like me like that, they have me as an original artist. But it was good. Even with Fatis, it’s a similar thing. But since then I’ve done an album in Jamaica, a couple of albums. And the latest one I’ve done is with a musician called Niko. He’s the person who played the ‘Stir It Up’ riddim for Junior Kelly, who did ‘Love So Nice’?
That riddim ‘Love So Nice’, this youth Niko, he’s a young Rastafarian musician. He has his own studio in Portmore, St. Catherine area. I think all is middle house studio. So I actually did about thirty-one tracks for him. Mostly digital but he’s put in live things, because it’s working with live and pro-tools. And I just finished thirty-something songs, and we intend to bring out an album called ‘Fred Locks – The Rebirth’, which I have some love songs on it and different songs, not just reggae, yunno.
OK, time to branch out it seems, show the versatility.
Right, and he’s gonna try to shop it when it’s completed. Well, I’ve completed all the vocals and most of the background vocals was completed also. But he’s doing some overdubbing track to put some live instruments on most of them, and then he will do the mixing. So that is an album to come. I’ve done an album for Blacker Dread, most of the Blacker Dread riddims are original riddims. So it’s not the regular thing like… I’m not one of those artists who bust out through, like Beres Hammond or Luciano dem and Sizzla dem, who come on other riddims, yunno. Yeah, I like to have – the original thing is more of my thing, y’know what I’m saying?
Yep. What about this tune… I remember I picked it up back in ’96 when it was a hit somewhat, in London.
Oh, ‘Go With The Flow’?
‘Go With The Flow’, yeah.
I think that song hit pretty big in the UK.
Yeah, the reason for that is that Mr Palmer from Jet Star was distributing it. Beca’ I done an album while in America for my brethren who I mentioned before – Johnny Goldburne, them call him Bubbles. Well, we did some – I think over some thirty tracks with him, and ‘Go With The Flow’ was one of the tracks. The son plays the keyboard – Noel Alphonso, Roland Alphonso’s son, we and the son was jammin’ and that is Johnny, Johnny’s son, and he was playing some chords and I started to sing ‘go with the flow’, making it out of my head. And he called his father and say, “Wha’, Fred have a wicked new tune, should a record it”.
That’s how it came about.
It came about and him called Noel and the youth now and we going to the studio and while I was there, a brethren named Junior Jazz passed through and he’s a guitarist and a singer, and we had him playing guitar on it and the owner for the studio, he played clarinet and flute or whatever and he said he wanted to blow the horns on it, and we just did it. Everything was done one day. And I didn’t even voice the tune, it was the guy’s vocals that I had sung for the band to put the work around it. And they said it sounded good enough and they wanted to release it like that. And one was saying “Nooo, I didn’t set him up for the final vocals, let’s do it, yunno”. I said, “No, they don’t want to do it” (chuckles). It did well in Europe for me especially and after touring the Caribbean I found out that it was like a hit down there too. But now I’m going to be workin’ on a remake of some of my ‘Black Star Liner’ songs for an album with the band that I’m playing with now in England. The band is called the Fresh Band, and we’re going to pursue a project to remake some of the ‘Black Star Liner’ songs and some of the songs from the ‘Culturally’ album too and bring out an album. We have laid some, we have recorded one track so far, but I’m not going to be in England long enough to be able to do all that I want to do. But I’m gonna leave it to them to pursue the project and once I get back to England I’m gonna start doing the vocals, so that is the latest thing I’ll be doing. It’s lot’s of things in the pipeline. A lot of producers have a lot of music from me, I don’t know what they’re waiting on. But I’m going through, yunno.
There’s a few singles from way back when which you may or may not remember, like ‘Sugar Plum’ for someone called E. Messam on the Ram Jam label, you recall that one?
Yes, on the Ram Jam label.
I don’t know if them retitle a tune that I did, but I’m not certain about that. I’ve never done a tune… ‘Sugar Plum’…?
One titled ‘Redemption’ on the Mega label for Jackie Mittoo.
Yeah. Yes, I did those while in America. ‘Sugar Plum’ could’ve been done in the same time, I don’t know… maybe they just gave it that title. I didn’t know what they’re gonna do. I recorded some songs for a guy called Junior Thompson, called ‘Khadafi’. And I did one called ‘In My Bible’, ‘Nice Up The Dance’ – have you heard ‘Nice Up The Dance’?
No. That’s on the Omega label.
Yeah, is Omega label they’re on?
This guy must’ve sold out to somebody. Originally it was on the Revealers label in America, this guy Khadafi had his label there.
You and Brigadier Jerry did a combination on ‘Love and Harmony’ too.
Who produced that one?
That was Boothy. The track was actually the same track we did ‘I’ve Got A Joy’ on, and we just changed the intro. Pablove Black do a different intro on it and we did the combination, y’know. Yeah.
And ‘Watch Your Step’ for one R. Hall?
Yeah, Raymond Hall. Yes, you know these songs, man.
You had one for Delroy Francis called ‘A Place Called Africa’.
And the flipside was ‘Love More Than Money’. Yeaahhh, I would like to get them, it was a remake of the Junior Byles. I’d like to get my hand on some of those tunes.
‘Beautiful Day’ too, for Kensy.
Yeah, I did that for Kensel, Kensel from America. Yeah. Steely played on that song in his early days, Steely from Steely & Cleavie. Yeah, he was the keyboardist on that song.
And there’s one titled ‘Enemies’.
Yeesss, Jeff Sarge was the producer alongside my ex-wife. Yeah.
So Blacker Dread’s ‘Give Jah Your Heart and Soul’, is that a remake, one of the recent tracks, or his reissue of the old recording?
‘Give Jah Your Heart and Soul’? That was one of the songs that came on the Creation Steppers.
But this one came upon the Blacker Dread imprint though. Still the old one?
I don’t know if Blacka had got the permission from Lloyd. It’s not ‘Glorify The Lord’?
Not sure, or should I say I don’t know.
I just did a song for Blacker Dread called ‘Glorify The Lord’. I’m not sure that he released the song before. With me he’s got many songs before. But he was with the Lloydie Coxsone crew, so I don’t know. But ‘Give Jah Your Heart and Soul’, that came on the ‘Love & Only Love’ album.
Right. Then you had ‘Gun Court Affair’ as well.
It’s on the ‘Missing Link’ album. But Tuff Gong, Bob Marley had released that single for us when this song was just recorded, y’know. That was the only song that was released from that album, from maybe in the late seventies.
‘The Missing Link’ on a whole is hardly up to the standards set of the classic debut album ‘Black Star Liner’, but it has received some unjustified criticism in some quarters and is a much steadier piece of work than that; it’s a grower as they say. On the other hand, that debut LP is – in my humble opinion and regardless of status – a bit overrated and we find a young singer still not quite safe in how to handle the vocal styling he’d found; this came forward on the Creation Steppers effort some years later. In the late nineties we met a much more flexible voice and Locks ability bloomed to the fullness on his CD for Fatis, an album which I see as a modern roots classic by now. A superb production right through and a singer at the peak of his powers; Fred Locks has never sounded better, and although being a critical success the album failed to sell and make the noise outside of the ‘cultural circles’ it deserved. Also, worth mentioning is fine works on 7″ and 10″ format and anthologies for labels such as Blacker Dread, M Records, Sip A Cup and Uhuru. Fred Locks is, perhaps surprisingly, among those capable of adapting to modern times, without sounding less-than-convincing, and his Fatis album is very good proof of this. Even so, the name Fred Locks is what we know from the golden era of roots music and the ‘Black Star Liner’ track is an unquestionable milestone; a historical piece of music we’re talking there – you simply won’t get around it if bringing up the most important songs in reggae music of the 1970’s and it contributed to define that particular era. There is ongoing talk of making the album available again in an improved and extended form, hopefully in a not too distant future. Also, look for an upcoming anthology pre-titled ‘Rare Classics’ containing many long unavailable recordings from this highly talented singer/songwriter.
(Special mention must go to the man Carl Gayle.)