Interview with Sam Carty

by Aug 12, 2021Articles, Interview

Sam Carty

“BROTHER MAN”

When: March 2004
Where: Kingston, Jamaica
Reporter: Peter I
Copyright:  2021 – Peter I

Sam Carty

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I once read a liner note that the subject of this article was something of an ‘enigma’, wherein so little information has been available about this obscure singer throughout the years for a variety of reasons. For Jamaicans he is probably best remembered for entering the annual Song Festival as lead singer with the Astronauts, where the group won with the classic ‘Festival Jam Rock’ back in 1981. But even though this was pretty lightweight as most Festival entries tends to be – which is just its tradition anyway, I’m pretty sure that true reggae believers – call them ‘purists’ or whatever – would rather see the early Lee Perry-produced songs at the Black Ark studio such as ‘Brother Man’, ‘I Don’t Mind’ and perhaps ‘Life Is A Flower’ being mentioned upfront when this man pops up among the ‘lost’ names of vintage reggae music.

“BROTHER MAN”

He’s also the uncredited voice on ‘Bird In Hand’, a track sung in original Hindi found on Lee Perry’s seminal ‘Return Of The Super Ape’ LP. Personally though, my introduction to Sam Carty was the great Fabulous Five-backed ‘Everybody Something’ for producer Dickie Wong’s Tit For Tat label, issued circa 1975, and every bit as satisfactory of the ‘country reggae’ sound as you could ever hope to hear. This song, unfortunately long out of print but should be the subject of a reissue one of these days, has been a regular 7″ on my turntable for many years and, to me, still stands out as one of the best efforts this man has come up with, and they are several by now. Sam has his base in Kingston, Jamaica and I linked up with him in March, 2004. My thanks to Sam, Spydaman, Samuel Morgan, Michael Turner, Bob Schoenfeld, Dave Katz, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.

You’re born in Kingston?
No, I was born in Clarendon, but I went to school in three parishes – in Clarendon, in St. Elizabeth, and in Portland. Also Mandeville, that’s in another parish – Manchester. And then I went to university in Kingston. So, I’ve been educated all over the country (chuckles).

What did you read at the university?
At university? Oh, I study in English literature. Of course, because of music I did not complete my degree, but I was well into the second year when I abandoned the course. But before all of that I did a (inaudible) certificate from a teachers college, a Diploma in Education, in Mandeville. So I’m still a qualified teacher.

You continued to teach when the music took more space at the time?
No, I did not teach for long, yunno, I did not teach for very long at all. I graduated as a teacher in 1979, and I taught for two years, and went to university for almost two years. But I must say that before I became trained as teacher, I did teach for more than two years as a pre-trained teacher, right, but it all began with just teaching, y’know (chuckles).

So when did you decide to go fully into the music?
Well, let me say that I have been involved in the music business since the seventies, but never on a full-time basis.

A ‘serious, dedicated hobby’, so to speak?
Yes, I guess you could say so, but it’s more than a hobby, really. Because of the assessment and evaluation of other people and so to the kind of contribution I could make musically, I would not say that it was a hobby. It’s really a mission, but it’s just that I had to be doing other things at the same time. For example, I had a family to take care of – children, I had other businesses which I also do. Because you know sometimes when you wait for the big break in music so much time can go by without any cashflow.

Dyana & Sam Carty

Dyana & Sam Carty

Of course.
So it’s for that reason now that I have to be engaging all sorts of other businesses, y’know. But most of the entertainers who really make it I really realised big time, some of them go through terrible, terrible hardship, y’know. In some cases their marriages break up to who them is married because of the… You know, as a music journalist you know that the music money is somet’ing that you have to wait on, right, is not like when you have a regular job that you collect a weekly salary or a monthly salary, it’s kind of different. So, I was not really prepared – because I was in a job and had children, I was not prepared to make that total sacrifice, it could not have worked for me. I have always been encouraged to go full-time into the music, I think I am just about to do that right now, and that is why I am also doing some production. Apart from my own musical career, as a writer and as performer, I am also doing some production in tandem with Empress Dyana. ‘Empress Dyana’ is my new wife (chuckles).

What year did you start out, would this have been sometime in ’73 or the year after?
Yes, my first recording was actually with Lee’Scratch’ Perry, yunno. That was in the seventies, it was round about the time when Junior Byles had the big hit ‘Curly Locks’. Because I was brought to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry by Junior Byles, he was a very good friend of mine.

Would that be ’73 or thereabouts?
No, no, it was a bit later than that. It could’ve been about ’74/75. ‘Cause, yeah, I remember teaching in the country for a while before I came back to the city and it was in the early part of being a teacher, so it could’ve been, yeah, ’74/75 that I had done a song which Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, released on the Pisces label.

Yes, that’s the ‘Brother Man’ track, right.
‘Brother Man’, OK. Great!

There is a list of most of the releases bearing your name, not sure if all of them are properly credited, but ‘Brother Man’ was your debut record of those then.
‘Brother Man’ was my first release, yes. It was the first time I went on wax, it’s round about in the mid seventies. Yeah.

I haven’t heard that track as yet, what’s the lyrical content there? And how do you remember working at the Ark, being your first ever session?
Well, as a first time recording experience it was so exciting. The session was lovely, people like Benbow – you know who is Benbow?

The drummer.
Yes, right. Benbow played and the Silvertones on harmony, the harmonies that is really on that song was done by the Silvertones. They just happened to have been on the compound at the time, and that’s how it went. You know, we just felt a vibe an’ Scratch was very excited by the sound – by my sound, and he said that he was making comparison with Johnny Nash at the time. Of course I always thought of developing my own styling.

Well, you certainly have a somewhat peculiar, very natively Jamaican, high-pitched, distinct ‘country-styled’ type of vocal style as I hear it, at least on the early recordings.
Yes, oh yes it is. I guess foremost what Perry was talking about at the time was originality. Yes. Because nowadays, you see, it’s been a transition. As I sing, my style of writing, my subject matter, my singin’ style, it’s all been a transition. Because I have now a vast musical experience, you know, starting from that period of time up ’til now, so today the comparison I would’ve made maybe would be Beres Hammond, y’know. People hear my music now and they think that it’s a Beres Hammond recording, that sort of thing. So I am able to do whatever I want to do with my voice. Just like you play an instrument the way you want it to sound, you get what you want from the instrument. So the voice being the first instrument – I can do whatever I want to do with it. But not astray, ‘Brother Man’ lyrical content at the time was fightin’ social oppression, which is better today than even then. You know, sometimes when me a get frustrated and wonder if the mission is worth it, y’know, to preach against social oppression, economic depravation, and eradication of people, right, but there as I say that the mission is still worth it. I have written a lot of songs in that regard. I wrote some of the most emphatic songs for example in the eighties against the proliferation of gun violence in this country. You might recall ‘International Slackness’?

Yes, on the Astronauts’ album.
Right, which to some extent I think I was targeted for that song. You know, because it was not only against gun violence which was at that time becoming a too integral part of the culture of Jamaica, but it also comes with the political culture, and that also is in the process of evolution. So as the politics got more and more corrupt, so is the proliferation of the violence associated with that culture. So ‘Brother Man’ there was the start of all of that. I am writing nowadays, apart from still writing about social oppression and economic depravation, I am writing a lot of lovers rock songs. Because people – I have been repudiated by some to say ‘Why don’t you sing some love songs also? I mean, I know you’re a protest singer’, right, ‘but why don’t you also sing some love songs?’ And I have discovered – and I am leading my audience, you see – I have discovered that they are very excited by how I present the lovers rock songs. So for some time I will be, on the Empress Dyana label, releasing more lovers rock songs. There’s one producer who has completed an album for me now, which he is getting ready to unleash the songs. I don’t know if you know Blackbeard?

The brother to Tapper Zukie?
Tapper Zukie’s brother, yes. Right.

But, on the subject of projecting a social comment, there is at least to me a certain difference of social comment today in the reggae and – perhaps I’m wrong – how it was back then, where today the social comment are imbedded more so in a spiritual context compared to a direct addressing of whatever issue it was in the past, that is my perception anyway. How do you see the change, and has that also affected your repertoire?
I would not say that it has changed, right. But what I am actually doing is putting some integration – integrating lovers rock with the protest mission, ’cause that is used for the wider market. The big leaps of the market that is also useful, because you have a better affection of the audience that is really hooked on the lovers rock. So while they’re listening to the lovers rock you also get the feel of social consciousness, y’know. So it’s not that one is replacing the other, no.

What is your perception about this wave of politically affiliated messages in the music, starting – basically – from the early seventies on? Who was in the main pushing it, what brought this forward so to speak and why did it grow in numbers of songs released at the time?
How come? Because don’t forget at the time we were just, what, ten or twelve years into independence, right, and I guess people were kind of more watchful as to the direction that people’s gonna go, y’know, just being independent. I would like to put that into quotation mark though, as ‘independent’ country, right. So people were a lot more watchful. But we had seen the society degenerate. We had seen growth to some extent but we had seen tremendous degenerating in terms of the entire social fabric, y’know, how people relate to each other. The extent of which people use the word ‘respect’ for example, but more and more we see the display of so much disrespect. So, it’s not that I feel that they’re commenting less, and commenting with less social depth, it’s not that. It’s just that you have to market the protest music, but you also have to market love songs. Let’s take for example in the case of Burning Spear, I have never really heard Burning Spear sing any lovers rock type song. You know, I doubt it very much, I don’t know how he would sound performing that. But he aired the theme on Garvey, and the Garvey-ism, and as far as I’m concerned, sometimes he could really have greater length of content in his work. But, I guess, a man’s limitations are a man’s idea of how him get inspired – he can’t get it done again, you see. But I know my own capabilities, and because I can flex I am quite versatile. I can do whatever I want to do with the pen, and I can also do whatever I want to do with my voice. And I also play rhythm, the lead guitar and the bass guitar, so a person can dictate to the sounds that I want, I can do musical arrangements, y’know. So because of this gift I am inclined to do I haven’t been in doubt of all of this, and I can do whatever I choose to do.

Sam Carty & The Astronauts in Dynamic Sound studio

Sam Carty & The Astronauts in Dynamic Sound studio

What became of ‘Brother Man’ when it was released?
‘Brother Man’, it was not promoted, because I don’t even recall that someone heard it on the radio. No promotion was behind it, and I don’t know for what reason. So in a sense it wasn’t even properly released. You know, the truth is even I wish I could get a hold of a copy. It wasn’t properly released, no promotional stuff at all. But it was played on jukeboxes and on sound systems, but you know (for) the proper promotion it has to be on the airwaves, and that did not happen.

Did Perry tell you if that was released overseas? I sort of doubt it.
The thing is that… no, I don’t know. But he would not tell us. At that time you wouldn’t be so much aware of what it meant to have your song properly published, that kind of thing, y’know. It’s quite different now. So I would imagine that Perry might have released many songs and then did not appraise the artist as to the publishing. So that is – all of that I would imagine go to his credit.

But ‘Brother Man’ wasn’t the only song you cut in that first session, there’s a few other tunes as well.
Yes, well…

‘I Don’t Mind’ and ‘Life Is A Flower’ were, I imagine, the other tracks, they’ve got that early Ark sound.
Um, OK (chuckles)… I doubt it was the same session but some of the recording that I’ve done at the Black Ark studio, believe me, I have totally forgotten about, because I did not leave even with a tape recording of some of those songs. And as you know there was a fire at Lee Perry’s studio at a particular point in time. Because when I decided that I was going to give the music a break and go to college, I had begun an album at the Black Ark studio. You know, I never…

Really?
Yes, I had begun an album with ‘Scratch’ Perry, he even gave me advance money of the album, y’know. And I kinda noticed that when I returned there after some time there was an aura changing, the aura was changing. I just felt on a whole that everything was falling apart. Sometimes I would go by the gate and see some hard faces around there, made me kinda scared. And I was a lickle country boy who was not so sure about so many things, particularly the… you know (chuckles)? So, I got scared sometimes so I kind of drift in the distance.

Lee 'Scratch' Perry

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

How did you find working with Perry in general?
Yes, he was so creative, such a creative person. And I think he too was kind of (chuckles)… I don’t know, maybe it was protection of works at that time, I don’t know how aware he was of the music protection and copyright stuff or if he manipulate either of the rest of us, so that he could make a channel of everything to his back. I really cannot make any modest judgement out of that, I do not think I am a judge or that I can judge, you understan’? But, yes, he had seemed to me to be a very kind-hearted person at the time, y’know. When he recognised the talent, immediately he said he wanted an album, and he went through that and gave me advance money of the album, and all of that. But in terms of the appropriate step to protect your work, the copyright and that sort of thing, I didn’t know so much about that then. Like, at that time we just wanted publicity, any of us were in it for the publicity. We found that – and this is true of many other artists, yunno – Freddie McGregor, all of them, it was only after some time that we started looking into the business aspect of it, the intellectual property aspect of it, y’know, that still happen to many artists today, still. Any Jamaican artist who just want to go for the bust, he just want the bust, right, but they do not look into the business aspect of it. They do not look into the protection of rights sort of thing, but that is not where I am concerned anymore.

From what you can remember, tell me some about the other Ark songs, ‘I Don’t Mind’ and ‘Life Is A Flower’.
‘I Don’t Mind’, I don’t know if that is the title…? The other thing too is that you sing a song for example and sometimes the producer would end up giving the title for a song.

At this point I haven’t heard the song, but it seems as if the lyrics are something like ‘on the verge of desperation’, from what I’ve been able to learn anyway (quoting from ‘People Funny Boy’, the Perry biography which will be revised and republished in September of ’06).
And that was for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry? Well, I heard it was not released, that I was advised about.

These two songs were included on the late Dennis Harris’ DIP label, on his ‘DIP Presents The Upsetter’ LP in the UK, circa 1975.
OK, but you do not have a copy of that album?

No, it’s very rare nowadays. But this album is actually reissued on CD in England and it is extended and now retitled ‘Black Arkives’ on – I assume it is – Pauline Morrison’s Justice League imprint. This is where you will find ‘Life Is A Flower’ and ‘I Don’t Mind’.
(Silence) ‘Life Is A Flower’…? ‘Honeycomb’ – yes, yes, yes! Right. Tyrone Taylor had wanted to do a cover of that song.

Which one again?
‘Life Is A Flower’, but ‘Honeycomb’ is the title. Yes! The title of that song was actually ‘Honeycomb’!! ‘Honeycomb, yes, but he gave it a different title – perhaps for obscurity, or for manipulation. I’ve never come across those works, and I was not aware of the release. So you see that what I said earlier on, about the manipulation of what the artists does not know to the advantage of the producer for his own gain? You see that what I am actually saying to you is not totally false, right?

Yes, I know what you mean.
Because I never knew about that release. I never knew of the release of the ‘Black Arkives’ album, and I never knew either that I had a song on the album. So I would imagine that the other song which he might’ve put out on another collection, which to this day I am not aware of. But I guess it’s…

Yes, actually the ‘Brother Man’ track ended up on a CD as far away as Australia, the compilation’s titled ‘Truth & Wizdom’ on the Ascension label, and I believe this was in the mid nineties sometime. One of the selections is ‘Brother Man’ on there.
‘Truth & Wizdom’? I am really, really grateful for this. You know, because you see, Peter, now that I am working with Empress Dyana, I am gonna do my publishing from Miami. I am gonna get my publishing company registered in Miami, so that all of these things – because I don’t think is the only one who was granted. All of these original songs from which I am not benefitting, to which I have the rights, I’m gonna put them under my publishing arrangement so that I not only can trade but chase them wherever they are being sold or publicised, but I can also reap the benefits of getting its proper publishing credit, y’know. So yes, I’m very grateful for all of this, thanks to you.

Right, glad to be of help. What’s the background to that song, ‘Life Is A Flower’?
Actually, that song was about the second song that I wrote. At that time – I tell you what, I think that could’ve been recorded even before ‘Brother Man’, because the social protest bug had not yet bit me. That was so innocent. I mean, after high school I sat at my veranda in the country, after I just began to play the guitar, and I wrote the very first song in my life – ‘If I See Tomorrow’ (sings): ‘I don’t know if the sun will rise, I don’t know if I’ll be around tomorrow…’ (which is in fact the same song Perry titled ‘I Don’t Mind’), right. And shortly after that I wrote ‘Honeycomb’. So those were songs that were just born out of a very innocent experience, lovely appreciation of the country and appreciation for life, y’know, appreciation for the total environment. I had not yet hit the city, so most of the injustices that I was not familiar with, that I later became familiar with, I was not aware of as a country boy. Yes.

Did you do anything else for Perry apart from those three songs we’ve spoken about, before you moved on to someone else?
I’ve done a cover of Engelbert Humperdinck, ‘Pretty Ribbons’, yes. But I never heard the release of that either.

So this is pretty much what was done of the album you had started with Perry?
Yeah, could’ve been three or four songs. Could’ve been three or four.

And then you ceased working with Perry when nothing came out of it.
Yeah, nothing was coming out of it, that was the first thing. The side-effect that it gave me – yeah, he paid me an advance to do the album, but it was not a great deal of money. But it had thrown a direction that at least he was willing to pay something for your talent. But like I indicated to you earlier on, I felt the aura at the studio before the collapse, because it was in fact a collapse that came, yunno. The aura that I was feeling did not convince me that anything positive or anything great was gonna happen from that environment. Because I was growing up with a very strong, spiritual force and very strong spiritual convictions, and what I saw happening there did not convince me that it was a good thing to stick around too much. Because I was seeing insanity, which people want to robberise or use duppyisms and say its eccentricity, right, I did not think so at the time. I believed that if I had stuck around and with the enthusiasm, youthful enthusiasm, to want to make the big break, that if I had not let my spirituality hold me injec’ then possibly I might’ve gone through that insanity, or some other negative route by continued involvement in what was happening. The aura alone was enough, it spoke to me and it said that I should get away and that I should get back to academia. That was when I went and taught for two years again in the country, preachin’ and teaching. And then I went to Church Teacher of College in Mandeville to be formally trained as a teacher.

But before this, you must’ve checked Dickie Wong at Tit For Tat? ‘Everybody Something’ was done, which came out in 1975 I believe it was?
‘Everybody Something’, yes, yes! ‘Everybody Something’ was a Festival Song entry, my very first Festival Song entry to the competition. Well, it was not selected for the final six in the original form in which it was written, it was not in the final six. But the members of the Fabulous Five band who backed the show, right… well, most of those that was selected in the final six were artists who were already established, y’know, the artists who already had a name. But I was not yet an established artist, I was looking a break. So my song was not in the final six. But I remember the guitarist from the Fabulous Five – Junior, he was also very excited by how I sounded. And Fabulous Five was on contract at the time with Dickie Wong, who operated a nightclub on Red Hills Road.

Tit For Tat.
Yes, and Dickie Wong was the manager for Fabulous Five – I think it was two bands that he managing at the time, and Fabulous Five was one of them. So Junior kind of brought me to the stable and asked me to write some other lyrics that related to festivities in Jamaica, to write some of the lyrics that I heard they did. And ‘Everybody Something’ was the result.

I think compared to the usual lightweight Festival stuff – which it is pretty much about anyhow, a song like ‘Everybody Something’ stands out with its conscious theme, and the rhythm is deeper than most of the stuff in that bag. To me at least it’s a standout, rootsier, more earthy.
Right, thank you. Yes, many other people thought so, and it received quite a bit of airplay too, yunno. As a matter of fact, that was the song that actually started getting the attention for me, right, because it was my first song that was actually played on radio. And it was kinda paving the way for other things. But like I said I really had the urge to get back into academia. And then at the time Dickie Wong was all forgetting a’ready, I recorded two other songs for Dickie Wong: ‘Reuben Rastaman’ and ‘Grow Dem Higher’.

Did they come out?
I don’t know, because he left Jamaica and I have not seen him or heard anything of him since then.

I’m not a hundred percent sure but I think I heard something that he went to Canada and settled down there.
Yes, it might be, it might be Canada. But he left the country and I haven’t seen or heard anything of him since then. I guess people move on (chuckles).

Sure. What was Dickie like? As far as I can understand he was one of the major players in the music scene back in those days.
He’s a Chinese man. But I remember at the time when I was recording for him, he had asked me to go to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, to get what he called a release. Of course I was on contract with ‘Scratch’ Perry, but Dickie Wong said that he was not taking any chances. So that he asked Lee’Scratch’Perry to write a note to say that I was released from any contract obligations with him, y’know. But shortly after that… yes, while I was actually doing preachin’ and teaching in country was when I returned to do the two recordings for Dickie Wong. Yet he had booked the session for Retirement Crescent at Joe Gibbs’ studio, and I went and did the two songs. Then sometime after that he left the island and I’ve not heard of him since.

I suppose it was sold, but did the Tit For Tat nighclub continue with new owners or what became of it?
The nightclub? No, I don’t think it did, yunno. It was the Tit For Tat club which also was his recording label – Tit For Tat. No, I don’t think so.

That was a pretty central place for live music in Kingston at the time, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was, it was at the time. But what has happened, some of the areas in Kingston after some time because of the political violence and because of the change in the disposed social fabric, some areas that used to be good entertainment spots that used to attract a lot of people, after some time they did not attract people anymore because of the growing violence an’ things like that. But the Turntable Club seems to have survived all of that work over a period of time, until only quite recently.

Winston 'Merritone' Blake

Winston ‘Merritone’ Blake

Turntable Club, that’s Winston Blake and his brothers.
Winston Blake, Merritone, yes. Right. But he’s not there anymore, yunno. He’s now at Liguanea at the one weh called Waterfalls, you know the Waterfalls, right?

No, no.
Well, the Waterfalls is now where the Golden Judge on Western used to be, and that’s where Winston Blake plays. Yes. And you know his wife, Cynthia Schloss?

Yes, she used to sing too.
Right, yes. But she died some years ago. Yes, so like I was explaining sometimes the change and detoriation of some particular sections of the city. ‘Cause, for example, as you know the Channel One recording studio.

Maxfield Avenue, Whitfield Town area.
Right, right. It was one of the best studios, yunno, it had a lot of different sounds there, it was creating real waves all over the world. But then again the social degradation, eventually that studio had to close. Too much things was happening at that spot. So the things that bothers myself and others has been more or less the cork that could happen to you, certain things that happened weren’t right. We actually seen them happen and it came to me that the politicians although they are for some reason – they cannot think straight. I don’t know what it is that is overtaking them but you know it’s all… I’m not trying to paint a totally negative picture of this country, because this country has tremendous potential, right. And if it’s gonna break, it has to overcome all of this, right. But they do not heed the warning, they do not heed the warning of the musicians, y’know. They will pretend although they hear the voices but they keep on doing the same thing, and they keep on mis-leading and mis-governing.

Would you look back on the work you did for Perry at the Black Ark as the greatest achivements of the career, so far? I mean ‘artistically speaking’ regarding the Ark, not saleswise, then the Festival entry had a much greater impact obviously.
Yes, you could say – I wouldn’t say though it was the high-point, no. Because at Byron Lee, when I did my time with the Astronauts, I led them for over a year – you know of that involvement, do you?

Yes, we’re coming to this later on.
Yes, OK. But now what you might want to deter was the high-point with Lee’Scratch’ Perry, you see, was the youthful exuberance on my part where I was experiencing this thing for the first time, and so it all feel so exciting to me having been a little country bwoy who was aspiring to get a break in music. After recognition, really and truly feeling that I had a mission and I still feel that way, and it is still happening. It will reach the actual crescendo, I have no doubt at all about that. But you’d term it as the possible ‘high-point’ because of the enthusiasm at the time, until the breaking ground. Yes, it was the breaking ground.

Sam Carty

Sam Carty

Compared to other studios, what was your impressions of the Ark as you look back?
I had seen other studios which were owned by more… maybe more (inaudible) at the time, right, and I would not expect that every studio would look the same way, no. Because I had been at Harry J’s studio, I had seen what the inside of it was like, right, but I had heard the sound that was coming out of the Black Ark studio before I reach there with Junior Byles. So by the time I reached there I saw that he had separated area for his engineering room, and he had his drum-house – the house for the drums – for the drum-set, and so on. And for voicing and where musicians would lay the tracks, and the voicing was… Yes, it seemed like a proper studio to me. You know, it was not as big as the others, but the sound that was coming out of that studio was so powerful, to some extent kind of absorbed many of the others. For example, it was out of Federal – Federal Records, and that is the studio that Black Ark was overshadowing, all of those. Yep. Of course he had to go to one of these people to do his mastering, he didn’t have mastering equipment. But his sound, his musical creativity, was such that you couldn’t have ignored him.

And you took part when he mixed your stuff?
Oh yes, oh yes. It was fun, y’know, it was work but it was more fun. Maybe that’s how everything came out sounding the way it did. And a lot of smoking too, over the studio a whole lot of smoking.

(Laughs)
(Laughs) And you know, Scratch at that time, when I met him first he was just experimenting with marijuana. But by the time everything kinda grew, like he was getting into more cash, he was getting bigger in the business and all of that. And Junior Byles had had a big hit with ‘Curly Locks’, and other songs that Scratch was releasing. Scratch was releasing albums, he was going off to England and getting big payment on albums which he didn’t tell anybody about, and he had bought his very elaborate car, which at that time was very elaborate attached – Bode & Charga (?). At that time, that would be more or less like what a (inaudible) would be like now. OK, so having been a man who never had a whole lot of material and all of this, we realised that the economic circumstances were changing. So, Scratch was heavily into smokin’ as well – very much. I noticed that he used to bring his meal inside the engineering room, and he used to be drinkin’ Red Label wine, and smokin’ spliff after spliff, that he would barely eat his food, y’know. Yes. And that pointed to me that there was something that wasn’t right about that. So that when I left for a couple months, after some time I didn’t show there for a couple of months, and I went back and I realised the changes in the aura – as I indicated before in this interview, right. But I realised the changes in the aura. I said, ‘No, I don’t think if I’m gonna be involved here it will only have to be on a temporary involvement, it cannot be on a full-time basis’. Because there is too much things that I do not want to be entitled to, or drawn into.

Seems like you didn’t exactly feel too comfortable being around the place.
Right. There was something with the environment that clashed with my spirituality, right. And even though I would experiment a little with smoking also, I would not smoke to that degree. Because I believe that if you would smoke too much and if you drank too much alcohol along with smokin’, then it’s gonna damage you, y’know, so I was precaucius. And then incidentally I went on, I went back to my academics, and I went back into physical training. And I went on to excel at that level going to college to make records in, like, one of the meters, and long-jump, triple-jump. A little bit of the high-school effect, the high-school education was still within me, so I still wanted to compete at that level as to succeed as an athlete as well as (chuckles)… to be involved in music. It was a lot I could do, I was never one to realise my potential and try to work on it, any area that I realised I possessed, y’know.

What about the Astronauts now, was this together with Donald Wright who wrote the Festival Song winner ‘Born Jamaican’ for 1979?
Right, OK. But I didn’t even know them at that time, at that time I was in college. That time I was on scholarship from college, but I came back to the city and I did two… the pantomime – you know the pantomime, which was the theatre? Right, I auditioned for and got the lead role in that pantomime, with Oliver Samuels and the rest of them. And the lead role that I got was by virtue of my ability, OK? And so I started getting lots of spiritual leads, good reviews, and so on. But what I do, what I really still wanted was not theater, but I wanted to make a mark in music. So I entered the Festival Song competition, back in ’81. I entered the song ‘Festival Jam Rock’ – you know that song, right?

It became a big hit at that time.
OK, right. I entered the competition, and because I was still not a popular name, they had said yes I could perform my song in the final, I could perform my songs on the road-shows, but the requirement was that it would be better if I had like a group that was already established, to go along with me. So I had a meeting with the Astronauts and they agreed they would be a back-up group. But for performance I could do it alone, and on the shows. So there was a jackle between Sonic Sounds and Dynamic Sounds, because Astronauts were already recording for Dynamic Sounds – and you know they are two brothers, the owner of Sonic Sounds and Dynamic Sounds they are two brothers, right?

Neville at Sonic Sounds and Byron Lee at Dynamic, yes.
Yes, Neville Lee at Sonic Sounds and Byron Lee at Dynamic Sounds. So Blackbeard (Sinclair) now, that is how Blackbeard was in the picture, because Blackbeard was already involved with Astronauts on a production level. So that the banner was that I was gonna perform the song with the Astronauts now and Blackbeard came into the picture, and Blackbeard said, OK, he was having some differences with Neville Lee at the time and, y’know, and he said, “I’m gonna tape this song for Dynamic Sound”. So, that’s how it come we went to Dynamic Sound and it was recorded there, and everything was managed by Byron Lee. The moment the song was released (chuckles)… it’s like it just throw away like wildfire.

And there was an album made at this time.
Yes, they were so excited by that so Byron Lee suggest that we should do like an album, like an album of material with the Astronauts.

And the original title for the album was…?
Well, the album was released with two titles, yunno. It was released as ‘International Slackness’, right, as the title track on one account, and the other account as ‘Stand United’. So until this day, it’s still being sold from two jackets. If you go to Dynamic Sounds right now you are able to get the album either as ‘International Slackness’ as a collection, or ‘Stand United’ as a collection.

There’s one track I heard previously by the Astronauts titled ‘Drunk & Disorderly’, do you know about that song? It’s early eighties I think, nice track.
‘Drunk & Disorderly’? I don’t know about that. Possibly. You’ve seen that released somewhere?

No, I have it on tape only.
Yes. Well it’s quite possible, yes. Because it’s a thing that is popular in the music business, yunno, where producers have artists record stuff and everybody leave the studio, and the producer go and do whatever he want to do with the material, and he don’t give the artists the courtesy of saying what is happening with the song. So a whole lot of brothers have seen this in the music in Jamaica over the years, and it has caused a lot of differences, it has caused violence, it has caused all sorts of negative repercussions. But I’m always keeping away from anything that is potentially violent, anything that is potentially dirty, or where my integrity or dignity would be at stake. I’m always distancing myself from that kind of environment, that’s the way I was brought up, yunno.

Looking back on it, how important was the Song Festival to use as a vehicle to boost your career back then, and is it still looked upon as an important source for getting a break in the business? And can it be ‘harmful’ in the long run to attend such an event for the rest of your career, to be labelled as a pretty lightweight artist without much else to offer? I kinda doubt it has any impact now.
It was more important before, it was more important before because of the hope that people had about what was going to happen with our independence. OK, I must pay that very emphatically: it was very, very important. The enthusiasm that people had about, the potential of what was gonna happen to this nation after Independence. Because as you know the Festival Song competition was held to coincide with the Independence celebration – you know that, right?

Yep.
Right. So initially it was important. It means practically nothing now, and I would feel although I was regressing at that stage in my career and as a person if I enter that competition. So if I decide that I would approach several times to win entries, I refused. I’ve refused. Because it does not mean now what it meant earlier, right. And also it has become very, very political. Belatently political, so that you have to write a song now that is overtly and offer political lyrics in order to win. Of course, after it’s all done, writing a song like that, you are left looking like a politician, not like an artist. So there’s no way that I would be involved in anything like that, being a true artist. And as you are familiar with my works, I have never written a song that is happening, to say that it’s just a song for Jamaica and just for the festivities. I’m not capable of that, the songs that I write are meant wider than that. Even though if you lookin’ over the impact to coincide with enhancing the spirit of the celebration, so the artist believes that they can go further, so to that extent I would not even contemplate any involvement in any such thing. So if they would suggest this, I’m not interested.

There are a bunch of singles bearing your name, and I would like you to clarify if this is you or if it’s bogus, such as ‘Be Yourself’ on the Soul label to begin with?
‘Be Yourself’ on the Soul label? No. ‘Be Yourself’…?

Yes. And there’s another one on Soul called ‘Rich Man Poor Man’, or WIRL.
Soul label? ‘Rich Man Poor Man’…? Like I said, some of the songs sometimes, it might’ve been titled by the producer, or a song might even have been pirated and given a title by the people who pirated the song, right. The ‘Soul’ label I have never ever heard of, and it’s the first time I am hearing of myself, any material of mine being released on any such label. And I do not have any songs I have copy – that I have copyrighted – by the title of ‘Be Yourself’, or ‘Rich Man Poor Man’. But for the fact that nobody would attribute to you work that you did not do, then I would say that it might’ve been a song that I’ve recorded for some producer, possibly Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, possibly Dickie Wong, possibly Byron Lee, which they give a different title and release anonymously on a label without informing. Thanks very much for the information.

You did one for Tuff Gong called ‘Feeling Sweet’ on the 56 Hope Road label.
Right. ‘Feeling Sweet’ actually was my production, yunno. Right. But when I recorded…

When was it released?
One year after ‘Festival Jam Rock’.

’82 then.
’82, yes. And ‘Feeling Sweet’ was my production, it was recorded at Tuff Gong studio up at 56 Hope Road. And Rita Marley had given consent for it to be released on the 56 Hope Road label. Because at that time I did not have a label of my own, and I was at the university at that time.

What about ‘Forever & Always’ on the Yvonne’s imprint?
‘Forever & Always’? Never heard of it. ‘Forever & Always’…? ‘Yvonne’s’? Never heard of that label either. But all of this is so interesting, because it has happened to so many artists but, y’know (chuckles)… they were either pirated or released on other titles without them being informed. And I suspected that it was happening to me but to this day I did not know that it was happening to that extent.

There’s ‘So So Ginal’ on the Nura label. It’s on the LP, Nura is Blackbeard’s label I believe.
‘So So Ginal’, yes. ‘So So Ginal’ was also one of the songs on the album done for Dynamic Sounds. Yes.

‘What A Day’ for GG’s, does it ring a bell?
‘What A Day’…? A Sam Carty performance?

I suppose so.
‘What A Day’? (Laughs) Never heard of that one at all! I don’t know how GG’s has my material, y’know. I would love to hear that song. I have never really… no, never heard of that title. And I never even knew that any song of mine was put out on GG’s label.

So you never worked for Alvin Ranglin (GG’s)?
No. He done a master for me at one point, but he had expressed an interest in working with me which I was not interested in – so I did not follow up on it. So I do not know how come this song come out on for me with my voice on his label, unless he got it from some other producer to release, or something like that. I really don’t know if it happened that way. It’s no possibility that the system from which you required this, that it would be a mistake?

This is listed in a singles discography, so I don’t know how valid this info is – I haven’t heard most of those titles. It is fully possible that it could be fake, using your name to make it sell for a lesser known act, but it could also possibly be one of your recordings.
Yes, because I don’t know of any other artist named Sam Carty (chuckles). Like I indicated…

Blackbeard

Blackbeard

What is the majority of your stuff done for, it’s Blackbeard, Perry, and so on – others you haven’t mentioned?
I recorded with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, with Dickie Wong, with Byron Lee, I’ve done my own production, Blackbeard. But a lot of the material I’ve done with Blackbeard have not been… they were not completed, some needed overdubbing, some needed additional harmonies, and so on. So, I don’t know if he did complete any of those works. I’m gonna ask him, I don’t know if he completed any of those works and released them in England. Because that’s how they work in the market, without informing you. I will find out later from him today when I call him.

(Chuckles) You better do.
(Laughs) That’s true! We have some work to do here, because you know… it’s really interesting.

What’s the reason for the ‘break up’ with the Astronauts? And what did you do after this, if you could summarize what you have done the past twenty years or so?
OK, the fusion with the Astronauts was not intended to be a permanent situation. I did not want it so because they were doing mainly a different type of music. When the album with Astronauts came out as ‘Stand United’, or ‘International Slackness’, it was singing background vocals for Sam Carty. It was the first time the Astronauts were really going extensively into reggae. Because the Astronauts were mainly doing a different type of music, more like soca music, the soca-calypso type music, right. So there was kind of a contrast and many people did not believe that that kind of fusion did very well because of the leaning the Astronauts had towards the soca, which I have never ever performed – a soca song, and it’s not a genre of music that I do. I appreciate it but not as a performer, but as a listener. Yes. So what I’ve done after the Astronauts was, well, doing my own production. ‘Feeling Sweet’ was the first of those. I released ‘Rise & Come’, it was a song I released after Hurricane Gilbert. I was not even in the country when the hurricane blew, y’know, I was in Antigua. And in Antigua I wrote the song ‘Rise & Come’, which I’m getting ready to re-release. It was not properly released, I did not have the finance to promote it. I’m in a better position now to promote it than what I had at that time. But it was released in the Caribbean, and in about three to four weeks it became one of the most requested songs on GEM Radio in Montserrat. And it was quite popular in the Eastern Caribbean – ‘Rise & Come’ the title of that song was. Basically for some time especially during the later part of the eighties through to the early part of the nineties, I really did not sing much and distanced myself from music. Because I had seen the rise of the deejays and the proliferation of slackness, it became a period of isolation which I went through from the local music, was actually engendered by what I saw as a pollution or what I could say as a kind of degeneration of the whole purpose of the mission of the music in the Jamaican context. I have a role model in people like, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Bunny Wailer, Peter Tosh, Beres Hammond, y’know.

Hard to go wrong with those kind of role models (chuckles).
I know that. Thank you very much. And I should also have indicated that Ernie Smith was one of my mentors as a songwriter, Ernie Smith?

Right, ‘Pitta Patta’.
Yes… right! And more, many, many more. Yes. And Grub Cooper who influenced my interest in the importance of musical arrangements.

Grub Cooper of Fabulous Five fame.
Grub Cooper of Fab Five, yes. The way he move his chords and arrangements overall, y’know, and he was a source of real influence. But what happened too was like I saw the rise of the deejays, from Yellowman coming up, and what has come out of most of the deejays over that period of time was by and large negative and destructive. And I’m not saying that some were not very, very positive, right, but I also saw – and it’s still happening today – a proliferation of artists who preach nothing but violence, who preach nothing but the use of the gun against his brother or his sister. I could see the fusion of the gun-psyche creeping into the music like a spiritual malais, right, that was gonna be to afford to compromise the purity and the potential of reggae music. So I had stepped back for a while, maybe that was the time that I should have really stayed in line and kept the positive music in the ears of the people, y’know. But that accompanied with the fact that I did not find that financially rewarding, because people were trying to use me. Those things became deterents and I really isolated myself from reggae music for some time. But that isolation was not without the persistence, the persistent request by many people in the fraternity for me to return. They would come to me for example and say, “You know, I think you are doing yourself a disservice by not being in the music right now. Don’t you see that all that is happening now is negative, so you see now all the young deejays are taking over and it’s also negative and so destructive. We need a man like you come back with the positive vibe, yunno”. And I would say, “You know, one of these days, I’ll think about it”. Producers would come to me, wanting to work with me, but I lacked the enthusiasm for some time, believe me my brother. Because it seemed to me like a perversion of what was really the real mission that the legacy that Marley, Cliff, and all of these great people, the trail that they had blazed, it seemed to me that it had been compromised to filthiness, to all negativity, to hurt and pain, y’know, and the dancehall. Take for example the song ‘Rise & Come’, actually it was not (inaudible) the situation of spiritual degradation, and staying at a distance in Antigua, I visualised exactly why there was a storm at the time, and what worse could possibly happen if people did not steer away from all the negative and destructive trends that were taking over. So ‘Rise & Come’ was actually saying that it is a prodigal country. You know the story of the prodigal, right, the son who went away from his father’s teaching, who went on all the negative ventures – it’s one of the allegories of the bible. So I see the country as a country that has a mission. It is a country that has a vital role in prophecy, right, but a spiritual element, a spiritual malais that’s questing, and all of the wrong things were happening to compromise that mission. So I stayed at a distance and I wrote the song ‘Rise & Come’, to say that we have to turn away from all of those negative parts of which we had embarked, otherwise greater destruction would come upon the land. We must never forget our history, we must never forget for example what happened at Port Royal when it was (chuckles)… considered the richest and wickedest to be on earth. Well, without spirituality it’s really no prosperity, no material wealth without spirituality.

Although it’s gladdening that a lot of the foundational values has ‘returned’ to the forefront of the music, a lot of it is overshadowed by the vast amount of negativity and questionable aspects that the dancehall scene represents at this time.
Oh yes, oh yes! I have now productions with Luciano and Anthony B on the Empress Dyana label, and I made my return on a riddim I got from Blackbeard, a lovers rock: ‘Love Would Never Be The Same’. It has really opened up a whole new horizon now, but it’s really in the lovers rock idiom. So you noticed I got an artist like Luciano to work with, and I intend in the future to be sharing some of my material with Luciano, for him to perform them. He’s a very good friend of mine, and a very clean and positive artist. Yeah. Anthony B’s inclusion was just by virtue of the fact that I wanted to work with a deejay and he was the one that Spydaman my good friend, he controlled the thing. Anthony B has some positive messages also in his songs, but I’m not too impressed with what he has done on this particular riddim, because it’s not one of the more positive things you can expect from an artist like him, y’know. But, right – it’s returning, yes you’re right, it’s returning.

If you could point at which direction you aim at right now, what’s ahead for you now?
My own production to some extent, there’s another producer – I should mention Leslie Miles, Leslie Miles has been a journalist in this country for over thirty years, and he is my proliferation partner. He is one of the persons that I was fortunate to meet, and he used to say that I could bring the music in Jamaica to another level, so he would not leave me at all. He would call me, he would visit me, he would keep on my case for me to get back into the music, so he’s been my partner in my proliferation. So there’s an art of a bandleader – you might have heard of the Riddim Kings band?

Yes, I’ve seen them about sixteen years ago. Tight band.
Yeah, the Riddim Kings band that used to be a touring band with many artists, Bunny Williams… between Leslie Miles and Bunny Williams we produced another album in a studio in Spanish Town. So actually, as far as other producers are concerned right now, I have completed two albums which I am waiting to release. But we will be issuing one or two singles from them first. So, working with Blackbeard, working with Bunny Williams, my own productions. I released my song also in England, the one that I produced myself, and the kind of reviews indicated to me that, yes, things are really looking good, prospects are great. And I should not hold back, I should just keep going at this point. And Empress Diana, she’s a part of my production team, a very good person, so together we will be working on the impact that Sam Carty can make with this music. We’re not holding back.

I certainly hope he’s not, holding back that is. Some of these performers has languished in obscurity for far too long, even though the past ten years has opened up a lot of doors that vintage artists had a difficult time to pass through not too long ago. It is especially gladdening that someone like Sam Carty has been able to reactivate his career where others from the same era has left the scene altogether; there is a potential unfulfilled somewhere about his music, one album (‘International Slackness’) hardly speaks volumes for what he is capable of, and his songwriting and development in general should be more than interesting to follow in the coming years. He appeared on the Blackbeard-produced ‘Marcus Garvey Riddim’ (Cousin) album some time ago with ‘City of Justice’ alongside people like Bunny Brown, Jimmy Riley, Ruddy Thomas and Bunny Rugs amongst others, and there is a Blackbeard-produced CD of original Carty compositions to come later this year, prospective title is ‘Invasion 1’, so look out for that.

It turned out that one of his first recordings (‘Life Is A Flower’) was included recently on a widely circulated French compilation titled ‘Nova Classics Vol. 3’, something he hasn’t been – unexpectedly is hardly the case here – compensated properly for, just like the inclusion of his songs on the Ascension and Justice League labels. What about some justice? Otherwise, Sam is to be found performing at as well as supporting the board of members at the Kingston-based JAVAA organisation in benefit of vintage Jamaican music. JAVAA, which was adopted by a local entrepreneur last year, moved their operation to better facilities at Oakton Park, Half Way Tree and are now hosting shows where obscure but classic and/or long lost names in the music appears once again for the first time in years in many cases. Now, how about a nice reissue of the ‘International Slackness’ album to CD, this is very needed of this eighties LP classic. I hope we can expect that sometime soon. From what I’ve been able to see and hear so far, the future prospects looks bright for this particular artist. It’s about time you check him out too.

I certainly hope he’s not, holding back that is. Some of these performers has languished in obscurity for far too long, even though the past ten years has opened up a lot of doors that vintage artists had a difficult time to pass through not too long ago. It is especially gladdening that someone like Sam Carty has been able to reactivate his career where others from the same era has left the scene altogether; there is a potential unfulfilled somewhere about his music, one album (‘International Slackness’) hardly speaks volumes for what he is capable of, and his songwriting and development in general should be more than interesting to follow in the coming years. He appeared on the Blackbeard-produced ‘Marcus Garvey Riddim’ (Cousin) album some time ago with ‘City of Justice’ alongside people like Bunny Brown, Jimmy Riley, Ruddy Thomas and Bunny Rugs amongst others, and there is a Blackbeard-produced CD of original Carty compositions to come later this year, prospective title is ‘Invasion 1’, so look out for that.

It turned out that one of his first recordings (‘Life Is A Flower’) was included recently on a widely circulated French compilation titled ‘Nova Classics Vol. 3’, something he hasn’t been – unexpectedly is hardly the case here – compensated properly for, just like the inclusion of his songs on the Ascension and Justice League labels. What about some justice? Otherwise, Sam is to be found performing at as well as supporting the board of members at the Kingston-based JAVAA organisation in benefit of vintage Jamaican music. JAVAA, which was adopted by a local entrepreneur last year, moved their operation to better facilities at Oakton Park, Half Way Tree and are now hosting shows where obscure but classic and/or long lost names in the music appears once again for the first time in years in many cases. Now, how about a nice reissue of the ‘International Slackness’ album to CD, this is very needed of this eighties LP classic. I hope we can expect that sometime soon. From what I’ve been able to see and hear so far, the future prospects looks bright for this particular artist. It’s about time you check him out too.