Lloyd ‘Bulwackie’ Barnes interview

by Jul 21, 2021Articles, Interview


Published: Small Axe 2001 | More Axe 2 2010
Reporter: Ray Hurford & Colin Moore
Copyright:  2021 – Ray Hurford

Lloyd Barnes

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I used to hang around at Treasure Isle with Prince Buster. Although I used to listen to plenty of Studio One, I used to go anywhere that Coxsone used to go; you had King Stitt and Count Matchuki. I grow up on Studio One and Treasure Isle.


What year was this?
It had to be ’64/’65, I went to America in 1967.

We know about the tune that you done with Prince Buster.
There was two, one was called ‘While I Was Walking’.

How old were you when you voiced that tune?
I’m not sure, I used to hang with Stranger Cole as well, and Ken Boothe. They used to sing together.

What was it like in the Ska/Rock Steady days in Jamaica?
It was a lot different from now, the Skatalites were like a real big band. They used to play out on a Sunday. The sound system was the thing, Studio One, which is Coxsone; Treasure Isle was Duke Reid. Then you have Prince Buster, Prince Buster, and me; we used to get along real good, cause I was a friend with Stranger and Gladdy. Stranger Cole did a lot for me, Joe White was there at the time.

Did you record anything for Duke Reid?
No, I just used to hang around there. I went to a lot of Skatalites sessions.

Lloyd Barnes - 1996 (Photo: Ray Hurford)

Lloyd Barnes – 1996 (Photo: Ray Hurford)

Were you hoping to be a singer yourself?
I wasn’t thinking so much of singing, I was around good singers. At one time I thought of playing the keyboard. I know the keyboard.

You left Jamaica in 1967. Was it with your parents or just on your own?
It was strange because I was going to come to England.

Once you got into the music, how did you acquire the name ‘Wackies’?
We used to have gangs, and I used to be a ‘Bull Wackie’ boy. The only difference was that we wasn’t street fighting. The name ‘Wacky’ really comes from ‘Cocky’. It was like saying ‘Cocky Boys’. Then the name just stick.

Who was around in New York, when you got there?
You mean in the music… You had another sound system. When I started out, I started out with a sound system. We used to ride the transit.

Ride the transit with a sound system! How did you do that!
We had a lot of people. Then the sound got to big. There was another sound called ‘Quaker’. It was hard for a sound. You had a soul sound called ‘Soul Seekers’. We all used to play together. Those days people who used to come from Jamaica, would bring me the latest music.

You were playing Rock Steady/Reggae?
Yeah, we was playing that. We started to play dub plates from Treasure Isle. Different cuts. Then it became very violent, it was too much.

Even in the early seventies?
Yeah, I play a dance where I had to pick out bullets from the speakers. After that, I decided that to give it up.

When was that?
About ‘73. It was then that we built a basement studio.

Who were you working with then Lloyd?
At that time it was, like me and Munchie Jackson. We used to work with Ken Boothe. Munchie had Little Roy. We started doing stuff like ‘Tribal War’, ‘Prophecy’.

They were actually recorded at the Wackies studio?
Everything was mixed there, but we recorded some of the stuff at Upsetter’s studio.

So the connection with Scratch goes back a long way.


Who were the musicians working at Wackies then?
Well, there was a group called Reckless Breed. You had a next group called… Two brothers the Sylvesters, one played drum, one played bass. Then there was a group called Itopia. They was with The Congos, They went to Europe and America with The Congos, and ended up getting stuck in America. So they wind up, everyone wind up at Wackies.

The Wackies sound is unique, is there a secret to it?
Everything is personal identity. You hear something, and you trust it. You can go anywhere and get a basic sound, but if you make something different. Then it’s ahead of its time. You make tune, and then ten years later, everybody want it. When I was selling it…

What sort of studio equipment did you have then?
I used to use one inch tape, eight track, and 1/4 quarter tape on four track at the same time. It was big Ampex machine.

What was the size of the studio?
About 10×12 feet. We had a drum booth built in there.

You always got a very good drum sound.
We had a special booth built, We use a certain kind of padding for the top, and aluminium foil, it reflected the sound, it was a good sound.

Bass, now, well we didn’t EQ it.

Did you have any special techniques for getting that bass sound?
Well, we use a DI Box.

Now that you have moved to Jamaica, have you taken all the studio equipment with you?
The tape machine is in a museum, Les Paul’s Museum. This is where the machine came from originally. He came to my studio a couple of times. When the first sampler came out, he was curious. Since I was involved with the Japanese I had this machine really early. He really wanted to see what it could do, cause he still could play.

You were into dub at a very early stage. You were one of the first people outside of Jamaica, who were making it.
Well the thing is, when your expressing yourself as an engineer, you have to be individual, even today we use tape delay, rather than a digital delay. Just a two track machine. You don’t calculate it like a number, if you do that, you wind up with something without feeling. It’s more like an instrument if you use a tape delay. I still have a Moog Synthesiser, the sound is… I wouldn’t make the same music I made in America, in Jamaica. A lot of good music is made in Jamaica, a lot of good music is made in England. It’s hard to make certain sounds in Jamaica if you’re working in a commercial studio. The atmosphere don’t allow it, people don’t have the time. It’s very hard to get people to relax. When we was working, we would stop. We had made a basic rhythm track. I know what I want. It doesn’t make sense for me to want to mix. Most time, when a rhythm is made the singer sing his song, there is no arrangement to accompany it. He’s only really singing on top of a rhythm track.

With regards to the amount of music you have released, just how big is the Wackies catalogue?
The last time I checked, it was 87 albums.

Released or just on tape?
Some of them have only been released in Japan, by Tachyon. The cost of manufacturing in Japan is so expensive; those records never made it to the rest of the world. Albums like ‘Horace Andy sings Bob Marley’.

How did the connection between Wackies and Sugar Minott come about?
Sometime around 1979, was when it started. ‘Sometime Girl’ by Sugar, came out in 1979. It wasn’t released here in the UK till about 1981. We did some really interesting things together. The stuff we did together would have been hard to do with someone else. He’s a good friend.

The Wackies New York operation is that now come to an end?
Yes, and no. We are still working there; I overdub and voice stuff there. The only place I can and mix now is ‘Dougie’s’. I just can’t go into a room and mix, I have my only fx that I like to use. We are setting up to work in Jamaica.

One of the last things that I heard from Wackies, was the album with Scratch – ‘Satan Kicks The Bucket’. Was that one of last New York albums?
No, quite a lot was done after that. No one’s heard it, but it’s there. Jackie Mittoo and me worked for about 18 months, making tracks and overdubbing.

So what made you want to go back to Jamaica, and build a new studio?
At this point in time, I think I can do more in Jamaica than in New York. You have people like Luicano coming up, and I want to be a part of that.

A lot of the people you have worked with, Sugar, Clive Hunt, is at the forefront of the music… Yet both are part of the ragga/dancehall scene and the roots scene.
We have all sorts of music to come, we are not just going to stop at just drum and bass. To me the dancehall is something else, it more like machine to play the drum.

What studios are you working at in Jamaica now? “Scorpio. Music Works,” How do you find working there?
It’s alright, I can’t get to use them as much as I need, you know.

Do you prefer analogue sound to digital?
For certain stuff, because they both express different things. With analogue everytime you touch it you will get a different sound. With digital it’s the same sound everytime. It’s hard to create something with just numbers.

The horn sound at Wackies is great; Jerry Johnson is a great sax player. Are you still working with him?
To record that is different, we spend time recording that. We go track by track. Jerry Johnson is a really talented musician. He plays more than one saxophone and clarinet; he might express himself with three different reed instruments in one song. We then use a keyboard to accommodate parts that the horn might be playing. Then we call in Tom – Kevin Bachelor. I love working with those guys, because I love horns.

That Wackies horn sound is very similar to a New Orleans horn sound.
I think I influenced them from the sound system. How we used to play the sound we used to play, deep bass and high tops and move the music around for entertainment.

Going back to the New York operation. You’ve mentioned Munchie Jackson, Dougie’s and Major Little. Did you do a lot of work together?
Yeah, well. Well we were all kinda living together. We used to make music right throughout the night. Some nights it was like a constant shift, between us. Even today, it’s easy to work with these people. Jerry Harris used to play rhythm guitar with Reckless Breed or Jerry Hitler, as he was known then. Jerry Johnson, was practising at that time, and was really young. He has Jamaican parents, but is an American kid. They are dedicated men; they have studied the music. Some of these guys they have grown up around me, and they couldn’t play anything. Now they can play all kinds of instruments. Wackies was like a school to them. They used to practice harmonies, keyboards. This is why the music was different. It wasn’t just coming in to record, and then come out. It was like hanging together, type of thing. It was a respect that one guy could work, and the other guy would keep quiet. You could be there when I’m working but you have to have the discipline… It’s hard to concentrate on what someone is doing, if someone is talking to you.

What other producers have passed through Wackies?
A lot of them used to release stuff through Brad Osbourne/Clocktower, so I used to do all the Clocktower work. The stuff we do with Scratch and Bunny Lee, when he closed his business at night, he head up to my place. He used to try and make his stuff a little different. Like he would probably get a tape from Bunny Lee. We would overdub percussion. The same tune in England would be different to the Clocktower one.

‘Maka Dub’ sounds like a Wackies album?
I did all the overdubbing on that. I used to do Brad’s work…. People used to be scared to record in America.

Why’s that?
Well they say, it wasn’t Jamaica, but to me I was recording the music, not the country. Now I live to see even Studio One have a studio in America.

Have you ever worked with Coxsone?
No, I can’t say I have. I’ve been there for a few hours.

How about King Tubby, any connections there?
He was my favourite engineer. When you play something, that’s melody and feel the engineer will hear it and express it he. It makes it sound much better. King Tubby was that kind of person; I listen to lot of his stuff. He was a real genius. Right now, there is no one that is doing like him. This is the thing. This is why we have to have a production studio; I can’t go and do the same thing as everyone else. We can’t make another Tubby’s, but it’s important for the music. You can’t present the music one way all the time. I listen to a lot of music, all kinds of music.

Another very important engineer is Andy Capp/Lynford Anderson. Do you know him?
Who used to work with Bob Marley? Errol Brown, was the engineer at Tuff Gong? When they tour live? I know whom you mean. We used to do some work together. In reggae music, you have engineer that is engineer for the sound, and then engineer who is experimental. It’s hard to be both. A production engineer is… This is how Dougie, got a chance to express themselves.

What is the story behind the recording of Junior Delahay’s ‘Rent Man’?
Laughs, that is one for Junior. Even today we try different things, we don’t record the vocal through the board. We are always looking for something different. I really wasn’t competing with the people in Jamaica.

How are the Chosen Brothers these days?
(Laughs) I know there are at least three CDs available now? Yeah, What happened is that 2 of them are released in Japan. I did some work for Tachyon. I did nine shows in eight different cities. Normally I don’t do that. I enjoyed it. Musicians have more respect for you if they know… if they consider you to be a musician. It makes a big difference, because a lot of producers, when they are in the studio they sit reading a book! They don’t know what’s going on, I can’t work like that.

What is the purpose of your visit to the UK now?
Well, everywhere I go now everyone want Wackies. It get to a point where although I would want to introduce some of the new stuff, we are concentrating now on making sure they get what they are asking for. I want to introduce some new stuff. We will be releasing CDs and LPs, ’cause some people have switched over to CDs. We are working on mastering stuff for CD. We will be releasing singles in Jamaica.

I enjoyed the music you did with Frankie Jones, Coozie Mellors and Mortie Butler will you are releasing anymore ‘Dancehall’ music?
Yeah, What happened with a lot of stuff was that when my good friend Jackie Mittoo died, it was like… that when I really stop, took a real break. For a while I couldn’t do anything. We were working together for about l8 months straight, and then he died. I just chill out, we had so many plans. The main musician I work with now is Carl Wright, he’s really a drummer, but he plays all the instruments. He’s very very dedicated; he’ll work all day and night. He has the patience. He’s Wackies at heart.

How about Jerry Johnson, anything new from him?

We have a new album from him, he’s playing keyboards now, He’s extended himself. Good musician, good personality. What you hear in Jerry Johnson music, that’s Jerry Johnson. Everywhere I go, I get asked about Jerry Johnson.

Where are you building the new Wackies studio in Jamaica?
Kingston, right now I’m working with Sugar Minott at Youth Promotion. I did some vocals there.