Augustus Pablo: Tales Of Pablo (Interview)

by Nov 1, 2021Articles, Interview

Augustus Pablo Interview


Published: More Axe (1987)
Reporters: Ray Hurford & Colin Moore
Copyright:  2021 – Ray Hurford

Augustus Pablo

Where were you born Pablo?
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, St Andrew.

And you grew up in Kingston?

We know you attended Kingston College with Clive Chin and Tyrone Downie, and that you learned to play the in Church (after hours). When did all this occur?
In the sixties, late sixties.


How did you come to work with Herman Chin Loy?
I went to Herman Chin Loy, I used to play the melodica before. So he was the one who really carry me into the studio first, you know.

Were you given a melodica by a young girl in the shop?
No, not in the shop. She was my friend and she just lent me the melodica, she was at school and she used to play it at school, ’cause they used to use the melodica to teach music lesson.

Did you take the melodica to Herman’s shop, or did he just find out you were playing the melodica?
No, he asked me if I could play it, I had it in my hand. He said he was looking for a new sound. So he asked me if I could play, and I said yes. So he invite me to Randy’s studio the next day.

For an audition?
No, not an audition, we went into the studio just to play, ’cause that’s how we do it. We just make music.

That was your first session then?

Who was with you on that first session? Or were you just playing over rhythms?
It was just rhythm made already with Familyman and Carly. I just blow on them. I just create some melodies and just blow on them.

The records from these sessions that we know about in this country are ‘East Of The River Nile’, ‘Invasion’ and ‘Duck It Up’ or is it ‘Buck It Up’, do you know that one? It was released on the Creole label.
Are you sure it is me?

I don’t know, I’ve never heard it. I just know of it, along with ‘Iggy Iggy’, along with the others I’ve mentioned. But I don’t think we got ‘Iggy’ in the UK. When were the records recorded, ’71?
Between ’71 and ’72. Coming from the early seventies. I can’t remember the exact time.

Did they sell well for you and Herman?
Well, I don’t really know if they sell or not, ’cause I didn’t produce them. So I couldn’t know, they’re not going to tell you the truth. At the time I was just playing music. I wasn’t following up those things. Some of them sold, some of them just mediocre.

The first LP you were on for Aquarius was ‘Aquarius Dub’. That was a lot of your work on that album, wasn’t there?
First LP?

The ‘Aquarius Dub’ album?
Well, that wasn’t my album.

But you are on the album playing keyboards?

It sounds like you’re playing on most of the tracks.
Well, those times I was playing for him as a studio musician, with the Now Generation band. It was them half the time, to do those recordings, ’cause he also produce the Chosen Few and a couple of other groups, the Tamlins. At the time they weren’t the Tamlins yet. It was just him alone, the lead singer of the Tamlins.

Junior Moore?
Junior just do one or two tunes. The full lead singer Carlton, the leader of the group is Carlton Smith.

What studio did you use to record those sessions for Herman? He didn’t have his own studio then, did he?
We used to use various studios like everyone else – Randy’s.., depending on what he wanted to do.

Was there a long gap between working with Herman and then working with Clive Chin?
It was afterwards, Herman had went away. And Clive had asked me to come up and play a song for him.

Before we get into that, I meant to ask you about your recordings for Coxsone at Studio One?
Yeah, that was before everything, you know. I went there for an audition. I don’t really know what he do with those songs still. But it was some organ that I played at that time.

Did you record many songs?
No, just about two, ‘Moving Away’ rhythm and a next rhythm, and he didn’t put it out.

Going back to Clive. The story on that, found on the reissue of the album ‘This Is Augustus Pablo’ on Heartbeat, is that Clive recorded Dennis Wright on the ‘Java’ rhythm, and you were standing in the hallway of Randy’s…
What’s the story again?

Clive was recording Dennis Wright, who I believe is now in charge of Blue Mountain…
Well, he was in charge of it, but I just see him in England, he is not in charge of it, he’s working freelance now. But all the same, he was supposed to sing on the song. I and him and Clive went to school together, so that’s how we got together. And he was going to Canada, and Clive said that he didn’t like the voice that he put on the song. So he was saying he want someone else to go on the rhythm except me. We got together with the Chosen Few, he got the Chosen Few to do the start of the song.

So you weren’t standing out in the hallway to do the song?
No, you couldn’t stand out in the hallway in Randy’s!

When you recorded ‘Java’, it was for many people the beginning of the ‘Far East’ sound. We know about Don Drummond’s early work on the sound. Were you inspired by Don’s work or was it something else?
I listen to instrumentalists, not only Don Drummond, was part of it, and Tommy McCook, John Dizzy Moore, he play in the Skatalites also, Jackie Mittoo inspired me too. The ‘Far East’ sound, it came from the Father still. I came to do a different works, just like everybody do their works, I come to do a different works.

The ‘Far East’ sound is all played in the minor chords?
It depends on how you create it still. Most of the time it’s in the minor chords.

How about your ‘Classical Style’? Was that developed from listening to other music?
Well, I listen to the other music, but I don’t follow them still. I just come to play the music and help who I can along the way. It’s the inspiration of the Father, it might be hard to believe, but it’s just like the days of King David, every man get an inspiration from the Father, or a gift. It’s just like now, the same thing, people might feel that’s different, but it’s the same. People who have those gifts in those times, they are here now with the Father. But this is the revelation time, just like the Bible tell you. I’m only speaking what is already written. Everyone just think that reggae music is just reggae. And people say this and that about reggae music, but people don’t really understand the full power of what is behind reggae music. If they understand it, they would be more humble and humble themselves and give praises to the Father in the same way. Reggae music is just there and everyone is exploiting it, and doing what they can with it. You see a man who say he is going to give you a helping hand. Till you try and make a move and go out deh and when they see it go out deh everyone is run coming and – “Oh yes, I want to give you this and I want to want to give you that.” So why them not start with the starting with us and help us along the way? There is a whole heap of things to speak about with reggae music.

Have you come across a lot of exploitation?
I come through it in the past. That’s why I own everything that I have now. Some people just keep on recording for producers. I have to do everything for myself.

Did you have much to do with the ‘Java’ LP that Clive put out?
No, not really, I played piano or melodica. I played on some of the sessions, but not all of them still.

After working with Clive you started the Rockers label. That was the name of your brother’s sound system, wasn’t it?
Yeah, yeah, Garth started it. He was the one who made up the name. They exploit that name too a lot. The film ‘Rockers’. I was supposed to be the one to do the theme song for it. But when I saw things, it never looked too right, I just go up to the hills and just cool off.

What was the first release on the Rockers label?
It was ‘Skanking Easy’, then ‘Frozen Soul’, El Rockers’…

You picked up a lot of Studio One rhythms then?
Well, I loved those songs from a long time, so I just do over some of them.

There is a lot of criticism of that now, recutting other people’s songs. How do you view that?
Well, the world is free still to do what you want. It just depend on how you got about it still. Everyone has to live. Some man will want to do another man’s tune, not because he can’t help himself. More he do it to survive. So, I don’t want to really criticise of put down a man still. Everybody doing over one rhythm a hundred time, that not really irie still. The music now just get to a stage where it get stagnant now. It just pon one level. When I come up with the Junior Delgado LP. David Rodigan and other people say it’s the best music to come out of Jamaica for a long time. Dancehall is for a time. The music can always be played in the dance hall. You have a phase going around now when the real one are cool. A lot of gimmicks are not too irie, the people just stay at one level.”

Who was the first artist you produced?
Really, Paul Whiteman and a youth named Jah T.

Jah T?
Yeah, a deejay, a Rasta youth.

We’ve never seen that many deejays on your label?
I don’t really deal in too much deejays. I project the singing music and the instrumentals. I mean I have Jah Bull, a deejay. I have some music with him on an album, but I don’t put it out yet. I will be releasing a tune with him and Carlton Hines.

A great singer and songwriter.
I have a tune by himself, it’s a lovers rock that I’m going to put out. And I have music with Tetrack too.

Is that an LP?
I don’t really have a new LP right now. But that can be done at any time. He writes for my company. When I go back to Jamaica, I’m going to do an LP with them certain other things.

Micko McKenzie, Jah Bull & Augustus Pablo 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

Micko McKenzie, Jah Bull  & Augustus Pablo – 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

You’ve worked with a lot of people over the years. You’ve some nice records with the Heptones, people who were involved in the early era of the music. Would you like to work with the Heptones again?
Well, I left them in New York and they wanted to do some work. But the Heptones are not the real Heptones. Leroy Heptone is not there. They wanted to do two music for me, they were rehearsing two of my songs. Before I left New York. I have my plans man, but plans take money and my plans are expensive. I try to just work and work hard for that. I don’t sell herb, I don’t sell drugs. So I just have to make my money through the music. I just go stage by stage, and I don’t waste my time. I don’t try to get myself too regular, Jah teach me a next way. I’m not in the studio every day. I don’t burn out a lot of energy that way. I turn it into myself and the works. I still burn out a lot of energy yesterday with the youths. For I have a lot of youths to deal with all over. I don’t burn out myself playing out rhythms. Everyone hearing my music, it sound fresh and new.

How do you feel about the use of machines and the keyboard bass and drum? It would be good to see you working with those machines?
But I’m working, it’s just because you don’t know what’s going on man. Put on a dubplate man, ’cause the man doesn’t know what is going on. You see this music, I’ve been doing it for years. My music come from way ahead of time. Twelve years or fifteen years ahead of time. So when the time come now, it catch up to it and time is now”

Your last LP ‘Rising Sun’ there was no mention of the use of drum machines, although some of the rhythms did sound computerized.
Well, all of them is bass, bass guitar, but the drum, I use the drummer from Jah Malla – Noel Alphonso (also credited on the album are Sly Dunbar and Basil ‘Benbow’ Creary) and play two songs especially that way… Simmonds drum. But you see, these songs were originally created by the drum machine. That’s why you might hear that sound. Some of them, all of them song you hear was created by a drum machine, over the years – everyone.

So, then the drum played over the top of them?
No, no you have to understand how I do music. When I say the original one was done… that was done in my house – original tape. That means you don’t hear the original tape, you hear the second cut. Then I go into the studio and get the drummer to play the same exact sound. That’s why it sound that way, it will sound like a drum machine because I get him to play back the same sound. Jah Malla’s drummer. But it’s an ordinary Simmonds drum him use, but through the drum is a very… You have to know the drum machine to play it back the same way – play back the sound, he listens and studies it and every drum roll I can get on a drum machine, he can do it.”

The tune on the Alligator LP ‘King David’s Melody’ was that the first time you worked with a drum machine?
Oh, ‘The Old Kent Road’. That was a do-over, I just did.

But was that the first time you had worked with a drum machine?
No man, I’ve been working with a drum machine for years and years, rhythm box for years. The first time Joan Higgins came to Jamaica, she is the proof of that. She see me do these things.

Was that the first released?
Well, that was the first released that way. But I did give Joan Higgins a disco, one time I recorded in St.Mary in a school when I was living in St.Mary. And I gave it to her to release it on a disco. And she released it up here. It didn’t sell that much but it was released.

What was the title of that one?
That one was ‘Hot Milk’, I did it over, recorded it and carried it to Harry J studio, and mixed it.

And that was the ’80s?
The ’80s man, when Hugh Mundell was around and everyone.


What happened to Hugh Mundell must have deeply affected you. Being one of your closest brethren.
Yeah, Hugh was ahead of his time. But sometime you have to check your pace. If you’re moving too fast you’re not checking out what’s going on. You have to, you just can’t keep on working, working. You have to have time to go back into yourself, and deal with the Father, check out the next step or the next move.

Did you ever record with an LP with Lee Perry?
I did some tracks with him, you know. I don’t know if it’s fully an album, but it’s near to an album and it could be an album.

Only ‘Vibrate On’ was ever released.
But he put out a next tune called ‘Lava’ – Daddy Kool put it out.

Daddy Kool put out a version of ‘Java’ called ‘Lava’?
Yeah, he called it ‘Lava’ on the flipside is ‘Rainbow Country’ one of those Bob Marley songs. I’ve got a copy and I’m checking about it now, on my rights. One I did through my Father is set up a publishing company for me, years ago, and Joan came to teach me a lot more about publishing. One thing I know I did good was to publish all these songs. That I did in my name. So, now I’m getting the reapings from these. I didn’t get it the first time, but I’m a long-term planner.

Did Island put out ‘King Tubby Meets The Rockers Uptown’ single without your permission?
Not really without my permission, I did it through Herman Chin Loy, and Herman Chin Loy tricked me really. It’s not really Island’s fault. I don’t blame Island really, ’cause they didn’t know how to correspond with me, and Herman Chin Loy know where to find me, I clear that up that already, that’s all cleared up, that’s the past, cleared up years ago.

On the theme of LP’s recorded, did you record an LP for Wackies?
I didn’t do an LP with Wackies. That album was just music I did for two producers. And they just put two tunes together and two together until they form an album. And they name the album three different names… ‘Thriller’, ‘Pablo Nuh Jester’, and ‘Dubbing In Africa’, the same album. They just keep changing the name, different jacket.

So what tracks did you actually play on?
I did ‘Pablo Nah Jester’ and I did about four or five songs on that album.

‘Pablo Nuh Jester’ was originally done for Leonard Chin?
Yeah, he a man called Mosso (?), Mosso they called him. I did one for him ‘Pablo In Red’. Something like that, and a next one, and put other songs on the album. I didn’t play those songs.

You don’t know who because some people have always wondered if it had something to do with you?
I don’t play the trombone.

How about some of the early singles. The one you did for Douglas Booth ‘Tales Of Pablo’. That was a very inventive tune. Did you arrange that one?
No, he had the rhythm. I just play on it for him.

Did you have a lot of involvement in the ‘The Harder Shade Of Black’ LP?
Was my name on it? I used to help out everyone in dem times. I used to arrange everybody’s music.

That album was the first time people heard you playing the clavinet extensively.
But a lot of people don’t like changes though. You put changes to them, and them say this and that. And then five years later they realise the changes were right. I don’t really follow no one. I just try to create in everything I do, in every move I make. Not only music alone, in everything I do. I create songs daily unto my Father and sing unto Him. People don’t hear these songs, but in time they will hear a lot.

The ‘East Of The River Nile’ album contains some really special tracks featuring the string synth. ‘Addis Ababa’ on the album is a beautiful piece of music. How did you create that?
That was done at Lee Perry’s studio. It was Upsetter, he did that, he ran it through a phaser.

So you were working a lot with Lee Perry then?
I was in his studio every day. I used to help him out a lot, you see. That’s how I get to do these Hugh Mundell songs (the ‘Africa Must Be Free By 1983’ LP was playing in the background). A lot of those was recorded in his studio. I get some time from him, free time.

In 1979 you released the Tetrack LP. Was that a successful LP for you?
Well, when I put out music, I don’t have no aim or try to reach something. I have an aim to make my music good, even if one record sell, it’s gone out. I’ve done my work. That’s what I’ve come to do, put out messages. I don’t say I won’t record a lovers rock. People have to understand the way the music go. When I want to change, everybody says (Pablo switches to a complaining voice) “Why him do that, he shouldn’t do that.” But I don’t feel they have the right to speak to anyone that way. Some look on it for kicks, some look on it to reap off of it, some look on it,,, seek spirituality. You have all different kind of ways. So you have to penetrate which way you want to penetrate.”

I think what you brought to the music is continuous innovation on a number of different keyboards including melodica – which some people run down.
The instrument now, everybody portraying it as nothing, but the instrument itself is something because – it’s just like a keyboard, the same scales, and notes. An ordinary piano wouldn’t carry the same frequency, but it’s the same there. It’s just that it’s a blowing instrument. And music travel within the wind and no one can hold it or catch it. It’s just like the breeze, can anyone catch the breeze or touch the sun? It’s just like the music. It’s really with these things come from within – any instruments me touch, it’s the same sound me going to get. When I play the synthesizer, they say they don’t know how I got the sound of it. Everyone say play it this way, follow the manual, don’t do this and dat and dat. And everyone listen to how the American sound and they just follow. When they hear me play the synthesizer, it have them upset and confused. But it’s just the sound within me. It just depend on what I’m meditating on. Everybody check to put out a different kind of sound. But I just put out what I feel within me, no one influence me and tell me that and that.

Have you got a favourite melodica, because there is a range of melodicas?
Well, the original one that I used to play, they’ve stopped making it now in Germany. Recently I saw someone with a new one. But they stopped making them, all the same, years ago. My original one is in Jamaica, it loses air. So I’m going to get it fixed up. I should have carried it with me still. Just go to Germany, carry it to the company, and let them fix it. But I have a new one that they gave me, a bigger one. I have two of them, leave one in Jamaica and just travel with one.

So we’re going to be getting new sound from you then?
Well, it’s been playing a long time. I just don’t get it the other day. I get a new one through someone I know in Germany, they bring it over for me. So I keep getting them. I went to Japan the other day. Did a tour in Japan, just two shows. We did a big festival and the next show were it me alone. Sugar Minott, Frankie Paul, Sister Carol, and Tenor Saw was on the big show. They treat us like kings and queens. They’re different down in Japan. They’re way ahead of everyone. They understand what’s going on more. My music fit with them.”

It brings together the African culture and the Asian.
On the first show when I played you have seven Japanese people with their melodicas playing too. They gave me a melodica, all different kinds. They gave me a flute, an ancient flute, and ancient books. They say these books correspond with my music – the ancient artworks of Japan.

Have you ever wanted to play other forms of wind instruments, like the clarinet?
Well, I was learning the clarinet when I was smaller, but I just put it down still.

Is it a complicated instrument to learn?
It kinda hard still, but I can conquer it still. Tyrone Downie used to play it good. He teach me too, He used to play it in the school band.

Is there anyone who you’ve never worked with, who you would like to work with?
I might be working with Johnny Osbourne, I don’t know yet. When I reach Jamaica, I’ll find out.

Who’s Barry Reid?
He is a new singer I have. He lives in MoBay. When I was living in MoBay, he was one of the youth I used to sit in with and rehearse, him have a nice voice. When I have the time I’ll go back and gather them together and arrange some music with them.

How about Norris Reid?
He’s in America, he have a band in America, too.

He’s not with the Viceroys anymore?
He’s by himself, with a group, a band, he’s the lead singer.

Over here a similar figure to yourself is Jah Shaka. Have you any plans to work with him?
I take in his sound.

Winston, Pablo’s friend, who helpfully arranged the interview, then shows us a dubplate with Pablo and Shaka written on the label.
Shaka played percussion on the song. I listen his sound, Shaka play his sound the way I used to play my sound in Jamaica. The only thing is that he play too much rhythms. He must play more vocals, that’s what I’m telling him. But he play his sound like I used to play my sound. Hugh Mundell used to play it, ‘Rockers International’.

As far as you playing on sound systems, the first instance heard of it was when you played on Barry G – David Rodigan session that was broadcast over here. Is that the first you did that?
No man, that’s what’s I’m telling you. If you knew the history of me, you would know that. I’ve been playing sound from King Tubby’s time. And I used on my sound ‘Rockers International’.

You actually played melodica on your sound?
So, why not. That’s where I started I play on Tubby’s sound, I play on all kind of sound.

People don’t know this Pablo?
People don’t know it? It’s so simple, you don’t follow the history. I’ve been playing sound for years. I used to make special for Tubby’s you know, ‘Spanglers Clap’ and all these things. Nobody hear about these musics. People are wishing me to build back my sound in Jamaica, and I’ll get Jah Bull to run it. We are the original sound people. Jah Bull used to run a sound name ‘Emperor Marcus’, that was when Tubby’s and all them sound were playing. Jah Bull, he was a selector so he knows these things. I’m going to build back my sound now, and show them what sound is… and Tubby’s will be helping me.

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