Interview with Charley Organaire

by Jul 7, 2021Articles, Interview

Charley Organaire

“HARMONICA SHUFFLE”

When: About 2007
Where: Chicago IL
Reporter: Peter I
Copyright:  2021 – Peter I

Charley Organaire

Harmonica is one of those instruments which hasn’t exactly been overused in Jamaican music at least, which is a pity indeed. The blind singer/instrumentalist Roy Richards was a pioneer in the sixties on the harmonica but Charles Cameron, more known as ‘Charley Organaire’, was probably the first to use it extensively on Kingston recording sessions in the early 1960’s. Charley’s name has sometimes popped up during the past thirty years when foundation artists has been asked who backed them, and it’s a shame he isn’t more widely known to the general public for his efforts in those times. Organaire turned to self-production from early on, releasing songs like the great double-sider ‘Little Holiday’/’Little Village’, both substantial hits at the time. He is still recording, and can be found on stage frequently in Chicago these days. My thanks to Charley, Carlton Hines, Teacher & Mr T, and Donovan Phillips.

“HARMONICA SHUFFLE”

Give me a little background from your early days.
Well, I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. My entrance into the music is actually from about age five. And it was one of my neighbours actually… Mr Randolph, he played the harmonica, actually played the harmonica and the guitar. And I got turned on to the harmonica. And the other thing, my mom sung all the time, so there’s no way I could get away from it. So I performed in my neighborhood, I mean churches, and they have political parties. So they had different areas where they had meetings and stuff and I would sing and play in those places. And that was from childhood, from about that time.

What did Mr Randolph teach you from that stage?
Actually he didn’t neither, y’know, he didn’t actually taught me anything, I just picked it up because I was turned on by the way they play the harmonica. They play it very well at the time. Back in those days you’d find a lot of guys playing guitars and singin’, for a hobby. Because there was no other stuff like television and all that stuff. So by seeing him and hearing him play the harmonica I got turned on to it. So my mom bought me a little plastic one, and that was it from then on.

Roy Richards

Roy Richards

Unique in a way at the time in Jamaica, I guess, not a very popular instrument and not used to an extent in the music either.
Well, actually there were other harmonica players. I mean, I think maybe why I’m more recognised than they are is because of recordings, that might be. But there was a guy, a blind guy, an old blind guy, his name was Lenny, and he was excellent. He used to play the diatonic harmonica, diatonic tones. And I know he died a long time ago. Then there was another guy, his name was Milton Dawes, now he plays chromatic harmonica, so I played the diatonic harmonica till I saw Milton Dawes, then I switched to the chromatic ’cause I like the way it goes to the semi-notes, like the black keys. So then Roy Richards came on the scene.

Oh yes, almost forgot him.
Right. So that’s about it that I know of, that play harmonica in Jamaica.

You lent an ear to American blues at that time, not the R&B but the actual Mississippi type blues stuff?
In those days American music was popular in Jamaica. We did, we had like Stanley Motta and they did some recordings like that.

Mainly mento though.
But, yeah, we listened to a lot of the New Orleans Rhythm & Blues, the American music was popular, country music was played in Jamaica. We had one radio station.

RJR, before JBC came on?
RJR, played everything.

Then there was the Rediffusion.
Oh, same RJR. They had like – the Rediffusion was more or less like a speaker, just a box, all you have to do is turn it on, y’know. It was RJR, you would tune in to that one, just play that one. It came from RJR actually, the Rediffusion. So we would rent that box, it was for rental, and it would play from early in the morning till I think early in the evening.

So the first serious experience musically speaking was when you toured the island as a member of a group, like singin’ in country clubs?
Well, OK. It was from my school, the Boys Town School in Kingston, one of the directors, his name was Bailey, so he brought Vere Johns into Boys Town – Vere Johns was a talent scout, actually he did a lot of shows all over Kingston in the theaters and at the RJR radio station. So actually a little history on that: Alton Ellis and I was on the first show that we did at Boys Town, Alton Ellis was dancing. He wasn’t even singin’ yet, he was dancin’ at the time. I came first playing the harmonica and he came second, dancing. He danced with another guy name Brenton, I didn’t even know I knew (chuckles)… But anyway, so from there Mr Bailey would take us to various country clubs, Caymanas Country Club, just numerous country clubs all over the island. And had us performing. I mean, not just myself, there was a guy name Ben O’ Leary, Carlos Sinclair, Roy Martin, so he just took us all over to perform.

And after that was when you entered the Vere Johns show?
That was when I entered the Vere Johns, so I would perform in the theaters in Kingston. The Ambassador Theatre in Trench Town, from there to the Palace Theatre, Gaiety Theatre, the Majestic Theatre, Kings Theatre, I was just performing on all them theatres.

The capacity in general was up to five hundred, max, at those theatres?
Oh no, the Ambassador Theatre took probably I would say about eight hundred, about a thousand people.

Ah, big thing.
If not more, this was a big theatre. Yeah. And so, Palace also would hold quite a bit (hawking). The others, like you had the Ward Theatre also, which I performed on, but that wasn’t for Vere John, that was on the shows. That was one of the old, old theaters, from back in the… I would say from maybe when Spain controlled Jamaica, or in the early years of British rule, when that theater was built. That was for, like, not just movies, but it was like a real theater.

Bim & Bam

Bim & Bam

So tell me a little about Bim & Bam, the comedians, they had like a revue at the time. You worked for them when they started out.
Right. Bim & Bam was one of the people, I mean one of the teams that would perform at the Ward Theatre, when they did shows all over the island, not just the Ward Theatre, they had like the Carib Theatre, that was like one of the main theaters where they had different performances. And so I performed with Bim & Bam in Kingston and other places on the island, that was a great team, I mean a huge team. There’s comedy, there’s music – everything, all in one. Yeah.

You had like a prepsel man and you had people who would make ‘balance’ numbers on bicycle, right?
OK. That was more on the Vere Johns type of stuff.

I see.
Yeah. Bim & Bam now is more like they would – let me see if I could see… just trying to see one of our sitcoms, comedy, y’know, them type of stuff they would do. And so I remember one of the shows I was involved in, it was called ‘The Case of the Big-Headed Walking Stick’.

(Chuckles)
And this was all about a car, but it wasn’t really… it was pertaining to women and a runaround sexual situation. Yeah. But the ‘Big-Headed Walking Stick’, ‘changing the gears’ and them type of stuff. So my part in that, I was the witness, eye-witness, and I was the private-detective.

(Chuckles) Would like to see the script for that one.
Oh man, believe you me! When I got that part, it took me about three weeks before I could get serious, when I came out I would laugh during the performance. I mean, it was a whole lotta laughter in this during their performances. And there was this wife called Chloe, and, oh man, I tell you (chuckles)… great, great show.

What became of Bim & Bam later on?
They eventually died. Bam died and then later on Bim died and I think Chloe died also.

In the 1960s?
In the seventies. Yeah, because they died when I left – I left Jamaica 1976, so they died while I was here. So they died from about ’76, ’77, ’78.

I think where both Bim & Bam and Vere Johns is concerned, they don’t get the credit they deserve for being formative in the early part of the Jamaican entertainment industry. So something should be manifested through the authorities to memorise their contributions, don’t you think? That’s the least you could ask for.
Right, and also there’s Ranny Williams and Louise Bennett, a comedy team (hosting a popular radio program in those times).

There should be some kind of museum or something to display their works in Jamaica, to show the rest of the world how important they were to shape what later became the industry it now is.
You know something, now that you say that, because when you talk about doing something like that, it takes quite a bit of finances. But that’s a good idea, to kind of doing something in their name, in their names y’know.

As a tribute, and to collect memorabilia that hasn’t been visible for the outside world before, to show where things came from.
Right, a tribute. You know, that’s great. It would be a good idea. I mean, not only in Jamaica, but in New York, wherever.

Yes.
Those people, I mean, without them there wouldn’t be us.

And they gave you your start, created the scene.
Right (chuckles).

Tower Tornados

In the sixties, the Tower Isle Hotel in Ocho Rios was one of the brightest entertainment spots at Jamaica’s North Coast and its reputation grew considerably from September 1968 when the Tower Tornados took over the bandstand on the Plantation Terrace. Although that band consisted of a young group of musicians, they all had considerable experience with both small combos and big bands, which at the time made the Tower Tornados the most versatile group in Jamaica. The Tower Tornados were Lloyd Robinson (drums, vocals), Freddie Butler (piano, organ), Ainsley Morris (bass), Maximilian Burton (lead guitar), and Charley Organaire (drums, congos, harmonica, vocals).

So the first recording session, how did it come about? This was soon after the Bim & Bam experience?
Yeah, this is after… no, this is during Bim & Bam.

With Prince Buster and Bobby Aitken.
Yeah. He and I got together, and we did this recording ‘Never Never’. And that was for Prince Buster, actually we recorded it for Prince Buster. So Bobby wrote the song, I did the riff on the harmonica, and that just took off like hot bread. And from then on I became a steady studio musician, not only for Prince Buster but for Duke Reid, Coxson, for Beverley’s, for Tip Top, King Edwards, you name it. Just anybody who goes into the studio, I had to be there also.

How did you like the recording scene at such a young age?
I was in my teens now. Oh, I was excited, y’know, I think most musicians or artists who start performing at that age, that’s something new. It wasn’t probably like now, it was new to us, recording in Jamaica, it was something new to us. I mean, you hear yourself on the radio (chuckles)…

Prince Buster

Prince Buster

Just excitement.
Different, different DJ’s play your songs.

Charlie Babcock, ‘the cool fool with the live jive’?
Charlie Babcock, Radcliffe Butler, chuh, you name it, man. All these guys, yeah.

But it wasn’t a question of monetary reasons for your artistic interest, at least not in those days.
Well, the music, the only thing about it now, because I think – I stopped recording for some producers for a certain time.

Why?
It was a little disrespec’ from just by the way how they handle the situation. I mean, you’re recording but you’ll have to wait for your money. You know, you go to get your money but you’ll have to wait until the next day and still don’t get it, probably a couple more days. Sometimes a cheque’s a (is not?) bounce an’ them type of stuff.

The typical delay.
Right, so I kinda got paid off and took a break from it. Actually I did a couple more recordings after for myself (chuckles). So, that’s how I got out on the recording scene at that time. Then I performed with various bands all over the island, I played with Sonny Bradshaw, I played with a guy named Trenton Smith, I played with a whole lotta different people. Mr Carlos Malcolm & The Afro-Jamaicans, I did recording actually for Byron Lee, but Byron Lee was someone I played with also. But I did quit the recording scene because of the way they handled the business, how it end up towards us.

Milking you dry.
Yeah. Every now and again you’d find a half-decent person and you’d do something for him, they’d pay you right away, or whatever promise then they would come through . But then, during that time also I must tell you that I started my own producing too along with… I did some things with Bobby Aitken, I did some things on my own.

And that was when you formed the Organaire’s label.
The label, the Organaire’s label, actually I do that from…

’64/’65?
Yeah! It was before ’65, I think even about ’62. I was always singin’ about ’60 now but it was about ’62 when I did the first recording.

That you even managed to finance such sessions at that point is interesting, to do all that independently.
Well, the thing is that whatever money I collected for recordings…

That was put away.
Yeah, because I was on a lot of sessions, just about – I would be in the studio from, say, nine o’ clock or ten o’ clock until probably three the next morning, recording for different people.

Oh boy.
Because I have to tell you that recording in those days were like between nine in the morning and five, we’d do like fifteen songs.

Graeme Goodall & Byron Lee

Graeme Goodall & Byron Lee

Ouch!
Yeah, fifteen cuts from that time. The only guy – there was a guy, the engineer was a guy name Graeme Goodall, that was at the first studio, a two-track studio (Federal). So, like the artist would come in, rehearse that song, musicians learned the song immediately, and just like that (chuckles). One time you’d listen, next time it’s recording. Every now and again it might take us two cuts, but for the most part one cut is down, it’s done. That’s how it was.

Is that because of, mainly, financial reasons, as if the producers didn’t want to try a different feel by doing more cuts, or the musicians didn’t want to…
Spend the time?

Yeah.
No.

Or you felt you would ‘lose’ the feel for that particular song if you tried it more than once?
No, the thing is – which is amazing (chuckles) – because I don’t even know if I could do what I did then! (Laughs) The thing is that once it’s done it’s done, and it’s good.

True.
Like I say, the engineer would say ‘that’s it’. Put that red light on, record it, and we listen to it, and it’s good. And that’s it. Most of the stuff that we did was just superb, superb. Yeah.

You didn’t even have to rehearse much, it was one or two times and then it’s time for recording, like you said.
One or two rehearsals, and I think the most of it was based upon memory, to remember that progression. And then they work out an introduction for the song, so usually – well, most of the songs, the pattern is the introduction, the verses, the bridge, verse, solo, back to the bridge, verse, and out to the end. So there’s always – music is structured like that pretty much (hawking), so you don’t want to do two verses and the bridge is coming up, y’know, next verse is similar to the… so it was that easy.

I see (laughs)!
(Chuckles) Heh! It was that easy, amazing though when I left the studio and I started doing shows in the hotels and all that, because I did a lot in the hotels, various hotels, Playboy (in Ocho Rios) and all that. But I was expecting bands to do the same and it wasn’t the same, took them a little longer (laughs)!

OK.
Oh, yeah. I mean, these musicians, we all had that photographic memory from each song we did at that time. The guy sang it down, and basically, another thing is that structures is not that far off. Yea, it wasn’t far off.

I can imagine that it was basically, with those bands, the Skatalites congregation of musicians you played with, it was based around them. How can you remember so many of the musicians, overall, that so many producers…
Well, so many producers is right, but the thing is, it’s basically the same musicians.

Yes, and it was based on pretty much the same gathering of musicians, playing for several producers, doing so much of the session work for so little, normally it means a lot of stress, pressure, you kinda get emptied through that procedure. How do you remember that ‘feel’ among musicians at the time, working under those conditions?
Well, OK. I know what you’re saying, and when we started out first, it wasn’t that bad. Because, then, it was a new thing for us, and the excitement when we just started. But as time progressed and you realise some of these people are just taking advantage, then that’s where the stress comes in. And then, like you say, it wasn’t the Skatalites, because it started out with different, different musicians. You know, you had a guy like Drumbago (Arkland Parks), that’s one of the earlier musicians I played with. From P-son, there’s Gigi, different, different drummers, different horn players.

Charley Organaire

Charley Organaire

Aubrey Adams, organist.
Aubrey Adams, right. Heh, you know ’bout them. And then as it goes along – well, I know that the Skatalites, I mean like Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, the horn players, they had always been there. ‘Dizzy Johnny’ (Moore), Don Drummonds, they were always there. But the name ‘The Skatalites’ as such was formed a little bit later, there’s just a group of musicians with Lloyd Brevett, Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Dizzy Johnny, Don Drummonds, Sterling and the rest of them, that group form back in about ’65 (actually circa ’63) from what I remember, and I think the reason for them to actually forming that group was because Byron Lee band was getting most of the credit for the music, because they were more of a society band than we, and they were sent to represent us in New York, when they were sending the musicians from Jamaica to introduce the ska music.

Right, at the World’s Fair.
They were actually getting the credit for it. So that’s how the Skatalites actually formed, it came out to show them that that is not true (chuckles).

So you had your own label up and running at this time. How did you get that name by the way, ‘Organaire’?
Oh, Organaire. (Chuckles) OK, I was recording for Prince Buster, and there was a guy, he was a woodwork guy, built chairs and furniture, furniture making guy, and he always called me ‘Organaire’ ’cause I play the harmonica. You know, in Jamaica the common name for it is ‘mouth organ’, so he always called me ‘Organaire’. So when I decided to do my recording I thought of that name when I (giggles) switch from Cameron to Organaire. Yeah, so that’s how that came about. So then I used Organaire, my label, and all them type of stuff, but this furniture guy was the one who give me that name (laughs). Ca’ I don’t remember his name but I’m picturing him now, y’know, that’s how Organaire came about.

What was the first tune you put on your own label, was that ‘Little Holiday’?
No, first tune was ‘London Town’, slow song. (Sings) ‘Now that you are so far, so far away…’. Yeah, a slow song I did. It was because of this young lady that left me – that I was in love with – why I wrote that song.

(Chuckles)
(Chuckles) Then after that I did ‘Jamaica’, the one I did on this new CD, the remake, ‘Sweet Jamaica’.

‘Sweet Jamaica’, yes.
I did – actually a song I don’t remember well, a song named… it’s called ‘Let Me Go’ (sings): ‘Let me go…’. Yeah, I don’t really remember that one. And this guy just played this song I told you about, it’s called ‘Troubles’, it was a recording I did early. ‘Elusive Baby’, that went I think number one on RJR, or number two. And then I did… what else now…?

‘Since You’ve Been Gone’?
‘Little Village’, yeah. That was done in Jamaica.

Ah, I see.
Yeah, the original version was recorded I think in 1965. The other side of that was called ‘Little Holiday’. Then after that I recorded ‘Your Sweet Love’. Somebody brought that, one of the English charts, back to Jamaica and showed me where it was, it was number two at the time in England. I didn’t release it up there, but somebody else did, it was on another label.

Who did the horn arrangement for ‘Little Holiday’ by the way? That kinda stands out, beautiful stuff.
I did my own arrangement.

Must be some of the most sophisticated arrangements in Jamaican music I’ve ever heard, so smooth.
It’s all my arrangement. You know, as a matter of fact, a lot of the riffs in a lot of those recordings that we did, like ‘Humpty Dumpty’ (Eric Morris), ‘Rough & Tough’ (Stranger Cole) and all of those, I did the arrangements to the riffs, quite a few of them. Yeah.

Where on earth did you get the inspiration for the arrangement to ‘Little Holiday’? I mean, it doesn’t remind me of either R&B or jazz, more like some muzak, ‘dinner music’, but superbly incorporated with the ska beat in the bottom of it all.
Well, it came out of jazz I’d say, because we’re influenced by all types of rhythms, all types of different musics, we’re influenced by country, jazz, blues, latin. Because Cuban stuff, the latin music was very popular in Jamaica. When I say latin, originally Jamaica was latin, ’cause Jamaica played mento and stuff like that. But we did a lot of Cuban music, and we also played a lot of music from merengue and all them type of stuff, Santo Domingo, so we played everything in Jamaica. It’s kinda easy to just come up with ideas, you have all these different types of music in your head. It’s like I try to tell musicians I’m workin’ with presently here in Chicago, that it’s kinda good to play everything, because then you can come up with ideas.

Versatility.
Right, like other people wonder ‘Where did he get that from?’, y’know, it comes as if I’m listening to some Chinese music, it’s like I listen to everything. We have Indian music in Jamaica too.

Right, you can incorporate a little pattern from this and that and still make it working fine and make it accessible, not just ‘ethnic’.
Exactly. Exactly, because that is how pretty much the… especially lately, this is how most music is being formed. Because it’s like a little from this and a little from that, a little from each place.

So you left the recording scene there in the later sixties and joined a band to go to Belize, that’s what you did?
Right, when I left from that recording scene I started playing with Carlos Malcolm & The Afro-Jamaicans, that was one of the top bands on the island, pretty much the best, in my view, it was the top band at the time. And then it was between Byron Lee and that band at the time on the island, that time Skatalites was still in the studio, they didn’t come on the road until… and they came out and took over. So I played with Carlos Malcolm & The Afro-Jamaicans and played with various groups, Trenton Spence, in various country clubs and clubs all over the country, Montego Bay, various parts of the island. Then I joined up with Sonny Bradshaw, that’s the band I went on tour to Belize with. So we went to Belize, that was 1968. We went back 1969, we went to – we had a tour through the States and Canada, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Hamilton.

What did you play in that band, still harmonica, or switched to something else?
Well, I sang and played harmonica.

Have you played anything else apart from harmonica?
More like congas, bongos, that type of stuff. And whenever I write I use keyboards to write my music, ’cause I can play the progressions and all them type of stuff, but I am not really a fluent player. If I was to do a concert on piano I couldn’t do it.

What did you do for most of the seventies before you migrated?
Most of the seventies I worked in the hotels.

Did you play anything with Richard Ace in those hotels?
Oh, Richard Ace was one of the musicians in the studio. Actually he was one without credit. (Chuckles) Richard Ace was one of the main pianists. It was Theophilius Beckford, then Richard Ace. And between both of them, they did most of the recordings, and Jackie Mittoo came in a little bit later, then Gladstone (Anderson) and all the others came in. But Richard Ace did so many, all those Toots, early Toots & The Maytals, that’s Richard Ace. But he didn’t get any credit. Between him and Theophilius Beckford.

Theophilus Beckford

Theophilus Beckford

I think you cut one tune for Theophilius Beckford called ‘Go Home’, but released on Beverley’s.
Oh, if it was on the Beverley’s label then it was for Beverley’s.

OK, but he’s listed as producer anyhow.
Oh, Theophilius Beckford as producer?

Yeah.
Well, unless I did it for him… But I mean, how did it get on the Beverley’s label? I played for so many different, different folks, I wouldn’t even remember a fraction of them with the stuff I did.

There was one you cut for Vincent Chin at Randy’s in the early sixties, ‘Royal Charley’.
Right, Randy’s Chin. I just spoke to the son not long ago and he reminded me, ca’ he didn’t know what it was.

OK, you mean Clive Chin.
Clive Chin, so I kinda got in touch with him. He had looked on my site and said “Oops, I know who you are, ’cause we have a recording of you called ‘Royal Charley'”, and blah blah blah. But I did more than just that for him, I did quite a bit of instrumentals. But you record for them, they just pay you for the side you recorded and you hear nothing more about it.

I saw that Trojan had a compilation CD of Theophilius Beckford’s ska and shuffle productions from his King Pioneer label, I believe your name appeared with a few tracks on that. Came out a couple of years ago.
OK. I haven’t heard it.

Haven’t got it myself though, but there’s two CD’s with his material and I believe you’re on both.
Well, actually a friend of mine, when I went up to… before I went to England he did a study for me and brought a chart with some stuff, he says “Man, here’s some of your recordings”. But it was Trojan who put it out… not on Trojan, the other one that took over from Trojan…?

You mean Sanctuary?
Sanctuary, right. So when I went up there, y’know, there’s this guy, a lawyer from France that was pretty much fighting for us…

Andre Bertrand?
Yeah, or the one who dealt with the lawyer. So I went to Sanctuary and from there to this manager of Dennis Alcapone, which – he made a list of some of the stuff that they put out for us. So I don’t know what’s going on with that at this point. And I know they were trying to pay off to many people for what they’ve put out, Sanctuary.

I don’t think artists should expect too much, but at least some compensation would be justified and in its rightful place.
Right, right, right. But I tell you, at one time I was getting calls from just about everybody, from Florida, all these different DJ’s, and they’re quizzing me on who played this and who played that and the name of the musicians, some of them I could not remember, and in the meantime they were playing a lot of instrumentals for me. You know, like I say, even now some of these people, like Prince Buster, they don’t give any justice to any of the musicians… Coxson before he passed, he didn’t, man. They just used us and they didn’t recognise our talent or our contribution.

Bob Marley (Chicago 1975)

Bob Marley (Chicago 1975)

They were in many ways equal to slave masters, had you down at the studio milking you dry of all your talent and abilities, then rewarding your work with peanuts, more or less.
Exactly. They could’ve got a lot more. But I mean, for example, Bob Marley, I mean it was Island Records who put Bob Marley on the map pretty much, right. Yet he was a Studio One artist, he was one who did quite a bit of his recordings for Studio One, so Studio One could’ve done the same thing that Island Records did. But they were just concerned about the little they could grab, like fast, and that was about it. Yeah

You ever linked up with Bob when he passed by Chicago on tours in the seventies?
I went to see him when he came to Chicago. Man, when these people come here, a guy like Bob, you don’t get much time (chuckles). The amount of people! The amount of people that surrounds him, y’know, you can only say “Man, what’s up? Hello!” boom, boom, boom. That’s about it.

(Chuckles)
Yeah. I mean, Bob Marley was so hot, so popular when he got here. I mean, when he was alive, man, everybody just… everybody want to talk with the man, everybody want to see Bob. I mean, just a few got backstage, it’s still a lot, y’know.

Then you migrated in the mid seventies and settled in Chicago, you had family over there?
No, no. I guess people get adventurous… I mean, all this music comes from Chicago, Lou Rawls, all of them, and every now and again they come on television and you see all of these lights and these nightclubs, that’s what kinda got me turned on. So I said, man, I need to branch out and check some place. That time I was promised a nightclub I would perform in, at the time it didn’t turn out the way the guy said. But I came to Chicago, man, I pretty much… I’ve been here since (chuckles).

You stuck there.
(Laughs) Yes! I got stuck. I got into a trade, ’cause I also paint, that’s my trade. As a matter of fact, I did that in Jamaica too. Because I’m one who believe in try and get as much as you can out of… you know, if one thing isn’t working then you can bounce at the other. I got here and I got into the Painters Union, I’m still in it. Actually I’m retiring now from the trade, but I’ve been in the Union since ’79.

So what became of your musical life now based in Chicago, you played in clubs mostly, on weekends, like?
Well, the first thing I did when I came here I think I did a couple of performances in the Playboy area, they had a club there. Then I would do shows in different clubs and different places. In the latin clubs, I did quite a bit in the latin clubs; the Cubans, the Mexicans, the Puerto Ricans, Dominica, whatever, I did quite a bit in those clubs, and also the American clubs. Then I put my band together. I’ve been playing with them for some time. My band is called Charles Cameron & The Sunshine Festival, we would perform all over Chicago, and various parts of the country sometimes.

It surely took some time before you finally got an album together and released in your own name, ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, this was the first one, ever? Released ’97.
Right.

So you didn’t put anything out during the 1980s?
No. Actually, I did like various cuts and stuff during the eighties and then compiled, finally I just decide I’m gonna finish up this album, which I did. Because the cost is quite a bit too, the studio and all that kind of stuff.

I was quite surprised of the dancehall flavour throughout this album, but I guess it’s a question of being up to date and current, and try something new?
Which one?

‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’, to my ears it’s such a distinct… I would hardly call it ‘hardcore dancehall’ out of Jamaica, but it bears strong resemblance of it and coloring of the eighties dancehall style. That’s just my impression.
It’s different.

It is, definitely.
Well, the thing is, for me, I always believe in doing something different and what it takes of letting it go further than something limited, so I always make myself a little bit different than what is there. Yep.

And there’s a new album just out as well, ‘Friends’.
‘Friends’ is the new album. And ‘Friends’ has some of my old cuts that… ‘Little Holiday’, that was the flipside of ‘Little Village’ back then, and the next one is ‘Sweet Jamaica’, and ‘Your Sweet Love’, both are some of my old cuts. I re-record them.

So you work with Steve Bradley and Charlie Hunt on this record.
The guys who perform with me?

Right.
One of them play the trombone, yeah. The other members, like Randy, Randy’s been with me for almost… for over twenty-five years, Mike for about twenty. Yeah. You know, various musicians on the album, we made it at different times.

How is the scene over in Chicago for Jamaican music? Or should I say vintage reggae.
It is a little quiet now, it’s not like how it used to be. But there was more excitement here like nine or twelve years ago. The mayor kinda made it a little more conservative than it used to be, so there’s less nightclubs for reggae music. It’s not as popular as it used to be, but I guess eventually we have to just try and make it right.

What about trying to track down a lot of the songs you don’t have anymore in your own possession, a lot of the original sixties and seventies recordings from Jamaica, and try to…
You mean with my own recordings?

Yes, your own stuff and perhaps some from other producers, I believe these are now back in your hands, the rights to it, and so forth. Why not collect those and put them together for a compilation CD? It’s not been done so far. It’s about time the public gets to hear the quality of that music.
Yes, that’s my next goal. I will actually do some of that. ‘Cause, especially like that guy who did that song I recorded and I didn’t even remember it (chuckles), so I’m actually trying to go over there. I mean, he’s in Florida, so I’m gonna get there and visit him and see if I can get those old records together, burn some CD-r’s off those recordings that he has.

But you did a reissue on the Organaire label for ‘Little Village’ on 45 some years ago, didn’t you?
Yeah. That was in ’65 I did that.

Do you have the mastertape for that song still?
No. You know what? Studio One, which is Coxson, he actually bought it from me for about five years, and he still have the master for it. It don’t make no difference, because with the technology now I can copy the records to CD and give it the same mix, and so on. But he had the master. The tape, no, I don’t know where the tape is, but he has the stamper that I used for the plant.

When did you put it out on a 45 again?
No, it’s on my CD, I didn’t put it out on a 45. But he did, I think he re-released it. Because I spoke to one of the DJ’s in Jamaica and he told me a guy was gettin’ ready to put out that song, even though now that would’ve been illegal. Because the contract that I had then, which I probably could put my hands on, was for five years. So that would be from 1965 to ’70, after that he shouldn’t even touch it (chuckles).

(Chuckles)
You know how it goes.

But that single came out not too long ago on the Organaires label.
They still put it out on the Organaires label. I think it would be – somebody put it up that it’s on the Coxsone label. They put it on a Studio One too.

Mine is on the Organaire anyway, looks cheapishly done.
The Organaire, yes.

How did you find out about this?
I saw it on the… it’s on the computer. Yeah, if you typing ‘Studio One’ and typing ‘Little Village’, it will come.

But you cut some tunes for a guy called Willie Francis before you left Jamaica?
Yes.

One called ‘African Melody’.
Right, right. He was a good buddy of mine, we were like touring partners.

‘Quadrille’ and ‘Salaam’ was other titles.
Right, right. And I did quite a bit for Bobby Aitken too. Yeah, those I don’t even remember, ’cause they was (chuckles)… Yeah.

What do you hope to achieve futurewise, would you like to reach Europe?
Well, I mean I’m trying to see if I can get a little bit more recognition wherever, Europe, Latin America, China, the Orient, wherever. Because now the music is widely spread, it’s all over. Everybody knows. So many people are into reggae music. It’s in Africa, it’s in different continents, all different continents are involved somewhat in our music. So I’m trying to see if I can reach out to places even here, in America y’know. There’s a guy who bought one of my recordings and he was crazy about it, he bought ‘Little Village’, and he was from Argentina. So it’s people from all over. I’m trying to see if I can reach out to as many people as I can. In March I’m 65, I’m still pretty strong, I try to take care of myself. As far as health and exercise, food and all that, I’m doing very good.

A shame that so many from that era didn’t take care of themselves very well, they lived a hard life, on the edge. There’s a reason for it, naturally, but it has consequences.
It still just people. Because even now, the generation we have now, thirty year olds are like seventy.

Right.
They just drink too much rum, too much bad habits, and bad attitude. I think all of that comprise your attitude towards life and towards your neighbors, who are the neighbors you come across, y’know. My life, I just enjoy each moment with each and every individual.

Being bitter about things, how it was, it just kills your energy. A waste of time.
(Chuckles) Exactly. It puts your energy in the wrong place.

Yes.
So I’m trying to stay on the upbeat as much as possible, and I think a whole lot of being a musician, also, that helps too. Then I don’t get into that drink too much, too much drinking stuff, smokin’ this and that. So my health and my food, my diet, I keep it decent. I get up in the morning, I do my sit-ups, I do my stretches, and so I’m in pretty good shape.

Sounds like it.
Oh, yeah. But still, it don’t mean a thing. No matter what kind of shape you’re in, today, you don’t know what the shape is tomorrow.

True.
(Chuckles)

Age takes its toll anyhow.
Yeah! And people eat spinach and die, y’know. Can you imagine, spinach.

That’s just how it is.
Right, that’s just how it is. So you could still live to the hundred and have good health. You know, George Burns, up to the very last minute he was still performing, and he stayed pretty good. And there were others, and some of us still didn’t make it over fifty, some didn’t make it to thirty. I guess it’s what’s in the cart too.

Hopefully what’s in the cart for Charley will be the recognition he should’ve gotten a long time ago, at least on a wider scale. ‘I’ll Never Stop Loving You’ and ‘Friends’ are both, perhaps as expected, solid efforts and should give him the attention he deserves. They are modern, catchy, sophisticated and, naturally, very ‘mature’ records from an artist coming of age. They’ll serve him well. But it is only one phase represented of his recorded work out there, the second is missing. The vintage music, his first recordings for himself and for several other producers, this is among the best ska from the era and as such should be preserved on an entire album for eternity, but nothing is out there presently. If ever a compilation CD comes out it should be a high-quality product and most welcome in each and every Jamaican music fan’s record library.

Charley Organaire