Interview with Dave Robinson
There might be a few of you out there who have seen the name Dave Robinson when scanning through lists filled with rare records from the seventies era, the so-called ‘golden’ period of Jamaican music. Not much is known about this particular singer apart from having minor hits in the late seventies such as ‘Chaga Chaga Warrior’ and ‘Chant To Jah’, the latter which he made his debut with in 1975. When Blood & Fire issued a CD with productions from the house of JA Man including Dave’s ‘My Homeland’, it told us about the singer currently residing in the United States and slowly beginning to record again, music that is seeking the ‘right’ outlet currently.
It turned out Dave was a close spar of Dennis Brown from early years in Kingston and later moved along with the Mighty Diamonds recording for the trio’s Bad Gong label, of which ‘Pay The Price’ long has been a favourite spin on my turntable with its ‘gentle’ and smooth arrangement. ‘Chaga Warrior’ was also a (Bunny) Diamonds production, his best moment on vinyl so far in my opinion. Like many others, moving to the States meant a slow down to his career and nothing much has been heard from him in the last twenty years, apart from a 12″ for Trevor Douglas’ Leggo Sounds label circa 1986. Nowadays he is based in New York City and is in the early stage of giving the world the second coming of Dave Robinson, or was it a different name from that one perhaps…? Read on.
Thanks to Dave (for staying in that day in January, ’04), Manzie, Steve Barrow, Mr Phillips, and Bob Schoenfeld.
How did you grow up, what’s the details? Your background, Dave.
I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on the 27th of September, 1956, and I grew up in Western Kingston. At the time when I was born my mother was living at Maxfield Park, that’s near to Channel One, on Swettenham Road. When I left Swettenham Road I was like about four or five years old. Then we moved to Rollington Town, moved to Rollington Town and spent a few years over there…
Where’s that? Is that the eastern part of Kingston?
Yeah, the east, eastern Kingston. I moved from western to eastern Kingston. I was in Rollington Town a few years and I left, I went to Rockfort. And that’s further in Western Kingston, and further Eastern Kingston, in Rennock Lodge, that area, and I was going to Rennock Clarke School. When I left Rennock Lodge I went to Callabar Primary. I go to another private school called Millwalk Prep School, that’s before (Boris?) Gardiner was on Duke Street. And a school called New Hope, on North Street and James Street at the top. Also went to Cockburn Pen School – that’s a primary. My last school that I went to was Gaynestead High, that’s up by Cunningham Drive near to the stadium. I spent like three years at that high school, and from that school that’s when I did my first number one song. The producer Harry J – sorry, Dickie Wong – came to me and said, “Dave, I’m having a problem with Dennis singing this song” – which is Dennis Brown, he wrote the song but they were arguing about the money to do it, the money he was asking at the time. Dickie Wong didn’t want to pay him that money, and Dickie Wong is the producer of the Tit For Tat label in those days, in the seventies. And that stable was real hot then. They had Al Brown, ‘Here I Am Baby’, they had ‘Shaving Cream’ (Fabulous Five), they had ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’ by Dave Robinson, which – when I did it, like three months after they told me that ‘Dave, you’ve got the number one song in New York’. And Ken Williams (a then pretty influential figure, and radio jock, on the NY scene) came to Jamaica and said that he needed me and the Diamonds, to do somet’ing. The chart was like, Dave Robinson in the number one slot, Diamonds in two, three and four, that’s the chart, the chart was like that. I was in the number one for eight weeks, and I drop back to seven and then I go back to one. And then after that in the year ’76 from when we come, like May, we did like a couple of gigs. Then I went back to Jamaica, and I come again at the end of that summer, I came with the Maytones, did some more concerts in New York City, and I went back to Jamaica. In Jamaica I did some more recordings, then I went to Europe. I went to London with Tyrone Taylor…
Before you go over the history too fast, I would like to know how the music started for you.
We were in Orange Street, a place that they call ‘Big Yard’, on the corner of North Street and Orange Street, close to Dennis Brown, we grow together in the same yard where him and his mother was, grow up with everybody. He grow there, he was going to Central Branch (All Age) School at the time, and we used to rehearse at the back of the yard.
Orange Street was nicknamed ‘Beat Street’ in those days, right? The music strip.
Right, right. As I was saying now, we used to rehearse together and then because I was so close to Dennis Brown we used to wear each others clothes, y’know. He said, “Dave, I’m gonna take you to the studio”. So I wrote a song named ‘Chant To Jah’ and we went to Randy’s, that was my first recording.
‘Chant To Jah’?
Yeah. That was like ’73, I think ’73 (more likely circa two years after, also released on London’s Morpheus label at the time)… And from there I start recording more and more songs, and up to now I think I might have like five albums, but they wasn’t completed. The ones that I had and was completed, the producer get killed and all that, y’know.
Who was that?
His name was Bird, he sponsored a lot of us up in America, like in ’84, y’know. We did some concerts, like he’d bring the Roots Radics, but he died down in Jamaica, like about ’89 I think it was, or ’88. So I had a lot of unfinished work I was doing, like this one I’m doing now, I make sure that this goes through. And after ‘Chant To Jah’, as I was saying I started recordin’ more one-one songs, people come to me and say they like how I sound. So I started…
Who produced that particular track, ‘Chant To Jah’?
It was – producer was Dennis Brown, but the musicians was Lloyd Parks, I think it was, and Skully – the earlier musician them, because it was live music then. We record it at Randy’s, it was my first recording.
How did you meet Dennis for the first time, it’s when your family moved into this yard, where they lived – the Brown family, or you knew him long before that?
No. He was living in that yard but we hang out together in Kingston, we grew up when he was like the boy wonder.
In the late sixties, when Dennis recorded for Coxson and travelled with Derrick Harriott around the island, singing with the Falcons and all that.
Right, the late sixties, we grew up together like a family, y’know. I was living in that neighbourhood, I was living on Church Street then so I would just walk on North Street. It was Church Street, Love Lane, King Street, Chancery Lane, then Orange Street – ‘Beat Street’. I would just walk on North Street, like five blocks, and I would be over there. That’s where I hang out, spend all my time over there.
Would you recall how you linked with Dennis?
In those days he was the boy wonder singin’ with Byron Lee, them time I used to go to country with him. But when we grew in the yard, then I was introduced – I knew D. Brown from then, we start hangin’ out, we do a lotta rehearsal together. Even a lot of his songs that he did, a lot of the songs that he did, like, I was the only one he could be rehearsin’ with. I would be singin’ one of his old songs and he would go: ‘Oh Dave, you remember that one! Man, I don’t remember nutten ’bout that one’, y’know. It’s the same t’ing with me right now, I sing so many singles I don’t remember them all! You know, I could recall a few of them well, like ‘Black Man Dance’, ‘Chant To Jah’, and one named ‘Pay The Price’ I did with the Diamonds. Also ‘Black Man Dance’ with the back-up vocal was the Mighty Diamonds too, and I did one named ‘Rainbow’, I did one for Junjo called ‘Ruby & Diamond’.
We’re getting to this later. For composing, did you get to master the guitar, or you was never taught an instrument at this time to compose with?
No. Dennis was trying to show me but the songs I write is like this: I would get the inspiration, which comes from God, right? OK, the inspiration, He puts this in me and when I write and start to sing, it automatically comes with the melody. So it’s easy for me to write, just like now I just finished writing two songs. I’ve been at them but I just rewrite them just now, it was very easy for me. And the music, when I go into the studio, even in those days when I go to the studio, I could just sing to the musicians, that’s how they used to do it. You sing it to the musician then they get the key you sing it, and that was it. It was very easy then, they would pick it up and seh, like, ‘I bet you don’t know that’. For instance, I was number one in New York here, it was an A minor song, like a A minor to a D minor, y’know, and Dennis was telling me, “Dave, that’s a A minor D minor”. Anytime I wrote a song in A minor D minor, it always hit! But when I recorded it, it’s like three months after when Dickie get back to me and said, “Dave, it’s going good in New York”, and that was it.
Before entering the recording field, you never took part in a group, no experience with a harmony group as such?
Yeah, well, at the Big Yard, Peter, at the Big Yard now, is a yard weh all the singers used to hang out. You name it: Delroy Wilson, Horace Andy, all a them used to come there and hang out, and they would have the guitar under the steps, and they would sing. And any time Dennis Brown would start singin’ I would join the man. I’m gonna sing this one, he wanna hear a song, on Orange Street, the Beat Street. North Street and Orange Street corner, that’s where Dennis grew up. I would say: “Dennis, I want to sing, you wanna hear a song?” And then I had start to write my own lickle songs, y’know, like ‘Chant To Jah’. Even with ‘Chant To Jah’, Dennis Brown did a different version deh called ‘Lately Girl’ on the same track. Yeah, he did somet’ing on that track too.
So Dennis decided to produce you when he heard that song, ‘Chant To Jah’, or you asked him to give it a try?
Yes, he said that he’s going to record me. I did a couple songs for him.
So he produced it and Dickie put it out on his Tit For Tat label, I believe it was on Wong’s label?
No. That was on the Randy’s label, ‘Chant To Jah’. Yeah, but ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’ was on the Tit For Tat label, and at that time it was like a bandwagon cut I did for Tit For Tat, in the seventies. They had like ‘Shaving Cream’, that was a monster hit on the road. I don’t remember the singer but it was a big monster hit for the Tit For Tat label. And they had Al Brown, ‘Here I Am Baby’, that was another big number one. But that stable was doing very well at that time, Tit For Tat on Red Hills Road.
Tell me more about Dickie Wong, the owner for Tit For Tat. He’s not that well known outside of Jamaica, but he had quite a few releases on that label, and the club was a popular place as well.
Right, I think he lives in Toronto now. He’s up in Toronto there.
I believe he was behind the Dickie’s Dynamic sound system as well, where U Roy was resident DJ for a time.
No, I don’t know about his sound, no. I don’t know.
But he was behind the famous club on Red Hills Road anyway.
Yeah, yeah. The club was Tit For Tat on Red Hills Road, I performed in that club. It was uptown Kingston.
What was the band he used?
Skin Flesh & Bones was the name of the band, Sly and Robbie. It was Sly & Robbie, Skin Flesh & Bones…
And Lloyd Parks too.
What was Dickie like?
Dickie was a real nice person. He was just straight with his music, he said, “Well, I want this…”. They came to my school and got me to do ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’ to put the vocals on, and when I went I was still in high school – I was seventeen I think I was, they came and got me at school and say, “Dave, we need you to come around the corner and such a time we go to King Tubbys, can you go?” I said OK, and I took two cut to be sure. Two cuts of that song, and after the second cut Dickie said, “That’s it, I think this one is good enough”. And after a couple months it was booming over in New York, I was in the number one slot. Eight weeks.
But you never sang permanently with a harmony group at any point in time anyhow.
No, I met the Diamonds after I did ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’ and we toured to New York together, and they said, “Dave, you good yunno, we gonna do some songs with you when we go home”, y’know. That’s how I start record with the Diamonds.
In ’76 the co-operation started?
Yes, ’76 or ’77. ‘Chaga Chaga Warrior’, that was a hit song in Jamaica which the Diamonds produced, I did that in 1982.
Must’ve been earlier, like late seventies. To my ears at least, I would guess circa ’77.
Eh? No. ‘Chaga Warrior’ was right there in the 1982 elections, just after election. That song was a song that cool the pace down because it mad what was happening, the political war and all that. And it was long after I did that song when I found out that ‘Chaga Warrior’ meant tribally, is tribal – fighting against their own brothers, that’s what it meant. I found out after I researched, I found out who was the Chaga Warrior. It went to number four on the Top Ten in Jamaica. Yeah, it was in the Top Ten, number four. ‘Chaga’ means African tribesmen, that fight their own brothers, tribal war, and at the time when I did it that was going on in Jamaica, so it was right there what was happening then. And the people take on to it when it was playing on the radio, that’s just after I did the Festival song, that was just after ‘Celebrate’.
And ‘Celebrate’ was done for Dynamic’s Jaguar imprint. Who produced it?
Yeah, ‘Celebrate’ was – that was produced by Dean Fraser, that was Dean Fraser and a girl by the name Marcia Widall, she wrote it. And Dean seh, “Well, we’re gonna make Dave sing this one, I think Dave would sing it”.
When was this, in ’82?
That was 1982, the festival was 1982. And even though I lost in the competition, the people’s protest was in the newspaper that the song that won shouldn’t win. His name was – the Astronauts won that year, with ‘Mek We Jam’ (the temporarily Sam Carty-led group also won in ’81 with ‘Festival Jam Rock’, a record they cut for Roderick ‘Blackbeard’ Sinclair of Nura label fame), and the people was protestin’ and say that that wasn’t a song for the children, ‘Mek We Jam’. And I had the festival song which was ‘Celebrate’, its singin’ about the festive season and all that. So, they didn’t like the song that won.
What happened next after your session with Dickie Wong and Dennis, there was one 7″ titled ‘Everyone Is Crying’ on the Merritone label, is that the same time period?
Yeah. And even that guy, he died up here in New York too, the producer Al Small. He had died up here too, something happened…
‘Al Small’? Never heard about him, no.
Al Small, yeah. That’s the producer’s name, he was a kinda quiet guy that goes to the studio and do some good songs.
You hung out a lot at Chancery Lane in this period too, I wouldn’t be surprised if you did (laughs)?
Yeah, right, that’s where all the singers used to be. So from the bottom of Chancery Lane by Randy’s then we would go up to Big Yard, and say we will do some rehearsal and then we’d go up there. But all the singers used to be in Chancery Lane. That’s how it started, all the singers were there, y’know. And then when I did ‘Chaga Warrior’ I was in Big Yard that day too, and the Diamonds pulled up at the gate an’ I was up on the step and they said, “Dave, Dave, come here, come here!” So I run down the steps and they say, “Listen man, we a go studio right now!” So I said, “What! How I gonna record a studio an’ not even know the words to the song?!” And they said they had it written out and said, “Come, let’s go”. We went to Channel One, and that was it. ‘Chaga Warrior’ was a hit, that’s when I start record with the Diamonds. I was the only one that could lead the Mighty Diamonds outside of the original Diamonds. I was the only one that they say, ‘I want you to lead this one, I want you to lead that one’. I was the only one, like ‘Black Man Dance’, it was them behind it too.
I doubt they were recorded in any other period than the late seventies, tunes like ‘Pay The Price’ or ‘Chaga Chaga Warrior’ doesn’t come across as being from the early eighties period. Are you sure?
I’m sure, early eighties. And I’m sure about ‘Celebrate’, because that was a Festival song and that was in ’82, and I did ‘Chaga Warrior’ after that. I did ‘Chaga Warrior’, then we went back to studio and we did ‘Pay The Price’ and we did the ‘Rainbow’ (sings the chorus). I did that one for Diamonds too, I know.
Who was behind that Bad Gong label, this was formed between you and the Diamonds?
Which label? Oh, Bad Gong? Yea, that was Bunny Diamond’s idea, that was Bunny, yeah. Bunny’s company, Bad Gong.
And the songwriting credits was to ‘Fitzroy Simpson’, which is Bunny Diamond, for your songs. So he wrote them, or just took your credit?
Yeah, that’s Bunny, that’s the short one, yeah. He write them, he wrote ‘Chaga Warrior’, he wrote ‘Pay The Price’ too. ‘Rainbow’ was an adapted song, it was an old Studio One (originally a solo cut on Studio One by Wentworth Vernal, the ‘second half’ of the Termites). They said they want me to do that one, so I did.
Did you record like a full album with the Diamonds producing?
No. The amount of singles I have right now over my career, is more like five albums. Yeah, the amount of singles, and I don’t remember all a them, I had one named ‘Redemption Time’ with them too. I did a lot of songs.
That was for Clancy Eccles?
No, that ‘Redemption Time’ was for a kid up in London, he lives in London. His name is Marty, Martin.
The label has it as produced by ‘W. Carmen’. And Clancy Eccles, New Beat was his label.
Can you recall ‘It’s All Your Fault’ on the D’Aguliar label, for Dennis Brown and one ‘A. Smith’?
Yeah, yeah, the D’Aguliar Sound. Yeh, you see the songs like that now, you hear I didn’t remember them – it’s so much songs, y’know. ‘It’s All Your Fault’ was late seventies too. I can’t remember him, it’s a long – can’t remember who was ‘A. Smith’.
Did you get to perform around JA or was it mainly recordings for you?
Yeah, I did some shows, I did some nice shows too. Like, the Diamonds had a show they kept in the Sheraton Ballroom (since renamed Wyndham Hotel, a popular New Kingston concert spot). This was like (long pause)… in the end of ’82 or early ’83, we had a big show in Sheraton Ballroom and that too was sold out. That was a good show, I did a few gigs in Jamaica. But the most shows I did was when we were in the Festival, them gigs. We start from Westmoreland coming all the way up. I was there doing all the shows down coming up, and when we did the final they put it on the TV.
How did you end up doing something like the Jamaica Song Festival?
It was not planned. Yeah, Dean Fraser just came and looked for me and that’s my luck in music. Like the two songs I’ve had that hit, ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’ and ‘Chaga Chaga Warrior’, them two songs is songs that they just called me and say, ‘Dave, we want you to do this’, and then I jus’ do them, and that was it.
Back to the mid seventies again where you hooked up with Derrick Harriott, cutting tunes like ‘Native Woman’ for him. Harriott was a good producer, this is on a rootsier tip than usual for Derrick.
‘Native Woman’, yeah. It was just one a them inspirations, y’know, I don’t remember if there was anyone special. And at that time too, Dennis Brown was around Derrick Harriott at the same time that he did the ‘Concentration’ and all them songs, ‘Tribulation’, that was the same time. I was in the field, the same thing when going to studio with D. Brown and then Derrick say, “Dave, I want you to do one for me, or two, yeah?” And that’s how I did that one. I can’t really remember the – can’t recall the inspiration, ‘Native Woman’. Could be a love song though, but I don’t remember.
It is. Did you know that that tune ended up on a French CD? It’s been out for a few years now, with various Harriott productions.
French? No. OK, is a lot of things that happen in my career that I don’t know about. And Merritone back in the seventies, ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’ was like an anthem, I just ‘scrubbed’ the Merritone club and the disco that plays the song, it just goes like an anthem. Up to now with all them years gone by and he would still play it at nights. Whenever he is playing out, he is always playing it like an anthem, Winston Blake.
Yeah, Merritone. Amazing that he still plays out there after all these years. The longest running disco of all in Jamaica.
Yeah, he still plays. He plays New York too.
The longest running sound JA ever had, from the fifties up to now. Talk about persistence, you gotta respect that.
Ever, ever! He’s a legend here.
Your work with Manzie and Hollett’s JA Man label now, this is where a small portion of your work can be readily available nowadays, out of all the unavailable records, or should I say ‘easily obtainable at present’, with ‘My Homeland’ among the selections. Did you know Manzie from before this came about?
It’s the same thing like being in Chancery Lane where all the singers at, and he comes forth and say, “Dave, I want we to do a lickle t’ing together”, or whatever, and we’d reason out the money he would pay me. Those days wasn’t much money doing recording, even if we didn’t have a big name we’d work something out, and I did a few songs for Manzie.
Yes, ‘My Homeland’ wasn’t the only one. The other one escapes me…
No, I did one called ‘Jah Know’. Yeah, I did a couple of songs for Manzie.
Was there any concrete plans to put together an album in the seventies, for any of those you worked with apart from Dickie Wong or the Diamonds, like Dennis, Manzie or Derrick Harriott?
Yeah, I was always doing work on it like it reach halfway and then somet’ing happen, we didn’t get to finish it up. But, this present album I’m working on is not plain, y’know, ‘cos when an artist is aware, like coming off a layoff, he build his repertoire and could come back with a new name but when the music buying public hear your songs they could tell it’s not a – weh you’d call a ‘amateur’, right, they could know that its professional music. That’s why I’m saying that I will change my name to ‘David Shupah’, and ‘Shupah’ is Nigerian, it means ‘moon’, understand? Then it’s ‘Dave Moon’ (laughs), in English, yeah. But Shupah is Nigerian.
I think it could be a drawback to switch from your original name, to be honest…
You think so?
Yeah. Well, it could be.
You think I should keep my original name?
For some reason I believe it’s the better option, because…
I’m already known as that?
Well, that name is out there still, like on the CD’s containing some of your work, I think it’s better to keep it and see how it takes off, to begin with.
Right. But what I’m saying, if the song is a monster and it’s out and it gets played on the air by this name David Shupah, but the song is so bad but ‘Who is David Shupah?’ But the credit on the record itself, like on my label – my label is called Shanty Records, right, and I would have songs written by ‘D. Robinson’, and then songs written by ‘David Shupah’. But I will think about it, I really and truly think that I want to change it, y’know.
You did a tune for the Flag Man label titled ‘Song My Mother Used To Sing’. This was for (deejay turned producer) Trinity, I believe it was his record label at the time.
Flag Man? Yeah. That’s a song – you know how much time I tried to remember that song coming from school, and D. Brown come up and tell me he just did it! That song is a song which – I was on TV with that song, like ‘Where It’s At’. Like, they had a t’ing on Saturdays like what they have over here in America that…
Like a Jamaican equivalent of the ‘Soul Train’ show, Don Cornelius style.
Yeah, but it was called on JBC-TV ‘Where It’s At’, and ‘Song My Mother Used To Sing’, that was one of the monsters. That was a D. Brown song, you know that too, right? I re-recorded it.
Was that a suggestion from Dennis?
No, I loved the song and I said I would do it and he said, “Go ahead if you like it like that way deh”, y’know. It was selling back then too.
Gregory Isaacs at Chancery Lane – 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
You got the offer from Trinity to record for him at Chancery Lane again, that wouldn’t be a wild guess (laughs).
It’s like one big family down at Chancery Lane, y’know, everybody knows everybody. And I remember one time when even Gregory Isaacs used to give me money and said, “Dave, go buy some fish”. And the fish them name ‘Bam’, and I would roast them on the sink. Like five – ten – twenty pounds we’d buy, Big Youth, all of us the singers used to just come and eat, drink the beer, y’know. And yeah, we used to have fun back then. And then on the wall down the Lane, all the singers’ names used to be on the wall. You know, Chancery Lane, everybody’s name was on the wall.
Like, everyone wrote their own name on it, having their own graffiti there.
Right. No! We had a painter who did it, we had somebody did it, with colour. Yeh, somebody did it and put every singer’s name on the wall.
Is it still there?
I don’t know, I haven’t been there since 1982.
Must be a lot of memorable things you went through in those days.
Oh yeah. There’s so much things, like some of the songs you call, like ‘Song My Mother Used To Sing’ on Flag Man, and you know somet’ing? If I should come to Jamaica tomorrow and get the songs an’ put all them songs together, that’s a monster album too with all them old songs. Yea, all you’ve gotta do is just remix them, that’s it.
‘Remix them’ – in what way? Recutting them, or you mean clean them up? I hope you don’t mean some out-of -place overdubs and that stuff, which just spoils the whole thing in my opinion. There’s numerous examples of this type of mishandling or ‘tampered with’ foolishness out there. I say ‘leave it’, you cannot possibly add anything to it – now, that will simply destroy the listening experience. You won’t do that, will you?
Yeah, no. Yeah, clean them up a little bit, give them a different mix, that’s it.
If you would, try to keep it as it was.
Yeah, you should hear ‘I Bet You Don’t Know’, the one I’ve got now that’s recorded now, the new one. Nice, y’know. I’ve got ‘Put Your Head On My Shoulder’, is another old song (sings the chorus). Remember that song, a real old one? That was Paul Anka, he lives in Canada, he’s a Canadian. Then I record ‘Get Along’, the one that the Melodians did (sings the chorus). Then I did one crossover too.
What about your stuff for the late Junjo Lawes? ‘Ruby & Diamonds’ came out in ’79 for him.
I was just one a them kids that used to be around all of them singers and then when them hear my work weh I just start record and them just said, “Bwoy, Dave, you nice yunno!” And then everybody want me to work with them and I used to be at the studio with Junjo an’ Barrington Levy, we’d be on the same session and all that. We used to record at Channel One, me and Barrington Levy, used to record on the same session. It was fun, it was fun.
What was that studio like to work at? Channel One had a tough area, the notorious Maxfield Avenue area. Were you comfortable there still?
Yes! Yeah, good point, good point. ‘Cos one time I was going to school too an’ I was going up to Tubbys to do some recording. I think I was doing ‘Redemption Time’ an’ – I don’t remember, but I was doing two songs for somebody and they came and got me and took me up there and that time it was some politics time and… oh maaan!! I was coming back from the studio and they stopped me, man! A lot of gunman, they stopped me, right. And they asked me, “Where you coming from?” I said, “I’m coming from studio, me name Dave Robinson yunno”. And they aks me like seh, “A whe you live?” I said I live downtown at such and such and such. And one in the crowd was dark and then one in that crowd seh, “Yeah mon, Dave. A Dave Robinson, mon. A singer, mon, singer”. You know (laughs)! That’s how I got away, man! Those days it was tight, man! It was political war all that, man. I was just a young kid going to school and going to studio and as I was coming back I run into those guys, man. It was… wooow!!
Then the pulse went way up (laughs).
Yeah, yeah. When I tell them… one a them in the crowd…
You were at gunpoint by these people or what?
No, but they had it and them didn’t point it at me but somebody in the crowd… When I said: ‘My name is Dave Robinson’, and then one a them said: “Sing!” And I sing like one verse, y’know (laughs)! Sing like one line for them and then one a them at the back say, “Yeah mon, a him, mon! Him one a the singers , mon”. Yea, I was going to King Tubbys that night.
Tubbys was surrounded by a heavy area too – Waterhouse, Dromelie Avenue.
Yeah. I don’t remember but the neighbourhood was wild! In those days the neighbourhood was really wild.
What’s your recollections of Tubbys?
Oh, it was nice ‘cos he had his t’ing, it wasn’t a big studio, it was really small, but his sound! Voicing and mixing facility. But I think the best studio I worked though was Channel One. Maxfield Avenue, that’s where I grew up, that’s where I came from when my mother had me. The first place she was living at was there, Swettenham Road. Swettenham was just a few blocks from Channel One studio, down the street. Was close to Spanish Town Road.
I suppose we move up to the early eighties for this one, when you did ‘On the Rocks’ for Dennis’ Yvonne’s Special label.
Yvonne’s Special… ‘On the Rocks’, yeah. Well, ‘On the Rocks’ wasn’t really produced by Dennis Brown, it was produced by (the late) Junior Delgado. He gave it to Dennis Brown to distribute. Yvonne’s Special, right, that was Dennis Brown’s wife, Yvonne. Was early eighties, like ’81 when Bob Marley had died, I think it was.
Then this Love Linch tune ‘I Can’t Stand It’ for Delgado, must’ve been cut at the same session?
Yeah. ‘I Can’t Stand It’ was for Delgado and ‘On The Rocks’ was for D. Brown, you had it right, yeah. And it was distributed by Dynamic Sounds that time.
So what became of those songs, did they take off or most of them died a slow death?
No, I think they sell mostly over there in Europe. They was playing in Jamaica but they wasn’t selling like they were supposed to, but in Europe they was selling.
You wrote those songs on the spot, or at least much of it, or how did it work? Like with ‘Black Man Dance’, you didn’t go around with a notebook full of lyrics at the time, did you (chuckles)?
No, I would just write it. Like, I get that inspiration and I would just write, would just write my songs. And it don’t take me real long, y’know. Some people write twenty songs a day, I just don’t get up every day and seh then I’m gonna write five song, or write six songs, I just write my songs when I get the inspiration. That’s how my songs get so solid, I don’t just get up and say ‘I’m gonna write a song’, I don’t do that. It come through spiritually, the inspiration.
The right circumstances.
Right, and these songs are different from all my prior songs. I sung good songs before but these songs I love them more, I think they are more stronger than the songs I did before.
You had one for Clocktower in New York too, ‘Freedom Chant’. Did you know that ‘Chant To Jah’ was reissued a while ago on a 7″ on that particular label, Clocktower?
‘Chant To Jah’ – is the same song I did for Dennis Brown, but in New York that was Brad (Osbourne) producing it. He owned the Clocktower label, him and D. Brown did some agreement and they put it out in New York and they changed the name to ‘Freedom Chant’, but it’s the same song – ‘Chant To Jah’. And it was a different cut they was releasing up in New York, a different cut from what was out in Jamaica. I had two different vocals on them, we did two cuts in the studio. He keep one for Jamaica and do the other one for New York, Dennis. When I came to New York I went up by Brad’s studio and I was in the record store and they played it and I see the name and then, ‘Oh, that gotta be D. Brown’. And then he told me, “Yeah, it’s out in New York on the Clocktower label”. It’s a lot of things that they do that the artists, a lot of the artists don’t know what’s going on in Europe, they just stay down there in Jamaica and they don’t get to know what’s going on. I need to register these new songs too, I need to write to these people that they can send me some papers, some forms, and have them for copyright. Is a lot of things I don’t know, like it reissued. Wow! Is a lot of things I don’t know about.
What was that tour like, the one you did with Tyrone Taylor?
It was nice, it was fun, I did some recording there in London too. We did a couple songs for the crew who sponsored us, y’know.
Who was that?
His name was Alphonso Fox, he was the leader for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Yeh, he was living there in Ladbroke Grove. They took me and Tyrone Taylor, we did a couple shows. We went to London, up in Leeds. Not all of them was great still, but we did about three shows. The one up in Leeds wasn’t that crowded but the ones in London was alright, ‘cos Leeds was really country. Man, I can’t really remember the name of the band, this was 1983… It was a pick-up band, it was different, different musicians.
‘Prophecy’ was another song for Lizzy you did at the time too.
Who? ‘Dizzy’? Oh, Lizzy… Yeah, there’s so many songs that I don’t remember, I did so many. Right now for real I’m really concentrating on my new project I’m writing for, it got to come out good, got to come out good.
I hope you maintain that level of consciousness in the new songs, the same consciousness most of your vintage songs were rooted in.
Yeah, and you see the changes we were going through then – tribulation, make you kinda write them tribulation songs. Like even when the Diamonds gave me ‘Chaga Chaga Warrior’, it was because of what was going on, and then it was at the right time we did it, that’s why it was a hit.
And ‘Black Man Dance’ for Gregory was…
Yeah, I did one too for Clive Hunt named ‘Dub Dance’, it was on the Ruff & Tuff label, it was an album named ‘Ruff & Tuff ‘ and that one was released in Europe a long time ago – years. It was a various artis’, y’know. It was a dancehall song too, because I sing ‘Them don’t want I and I to survive and lick down downpression’. Clive Hunt, yeah, Clive Hunt is a great musician, he produced that one. Great arranger, Clive Hunt, he was the one that arranged ‘Foul Play’ for Dennis Brown, the ‘Foul Play’ album. And I hear Clive Hunt is asking for me now too, but he is in and out of the States. He works with a lot of big people, too.
Has there been any offers during the nineties to record in New York, or you’ve just been hiding, just out of it all, giving the business a rest?
A lot of people try to get me to do like dancehall specials and all that, I tell them no, is jus’ some people say, “Come and rap”, and I seh no, I’m not a rapper, I’m a vocalist. ‘Cos I’m in it so long and I didn’t get paid well and so I’m gonna do a good project now and see what will happen, y’know. Out of six I’m telling you I have at least two monster hits out of six, I know that. I’m trying to get thirteen songs on this CD. I sing a lot of good songs without the backing behind it, the financing backing behind it like the producers. And then you have all the brethren like it, but it’s not selling. But back then I was just happy being played on the radio, ‘cos I was just starting. I was feeling good hearing my song on the radio, I was on tv sometime and all that. Yeah, compensation, right now he gave me a payment recently from Blood & Fire, a statement, and the statement is saying like ‘2000 – 2003’, right. And the last statement I got from them people in London they send it directly to my ex-wives account, it was 1999. So what about ‘2000 – 2001′? He is telling me he pay me for 2000 to 2003, so what happened with the nineties? What happened up to 2000? Or 2001, he missed two payments… Anyhow, I have to call them and find out what’s going on. A lot of things is going on behind the artists back, like that Derrick Harriott thing in French country – I don’t know nutten ’bout that. And I don’t live in Jamaica no more so, y’know, is a lot of things they do. They never tell you either. Never. You gotta find out.
Who do you work with on this new project?
Well, so far I have four tracks weh I did with a dread named Barry Dread, but I have the rights to go and get them from him. They have my songs, I have them on tape. But that’s the start, I have four. Three with him and one with a guy named Cuttin’ Edge, it’s called ‘Love Axe’, and that’s the title to the album, ‘Love Axe’, right. That song is a crossover, it’s not reggae. I have one with computer and a live one. I think the live one is like a Billboard hit. You know, that kinda song, a simple, simple song. Simple like A B C, y’know. It’s just one crossover, try to do something different. If you’re an artist you can’t sing one kind of song every day. You gotta sing a song that somebody can say, ‘Damn! Dave, that sound different on this track’, y’know. That’s what I’m working on right now, building my repertoire. I know I’ve got stronger songs now. I learned that it’s not the big, big writing, is what you’re saying if it’s the positive, what you’re writing about. If the message is in the music, then they could understand what you’re saying, what you’re getting across.
Chaga Chaga Warrior
As mentioned in my introduction to this article, the last record of note (as well as the last up to now) by Dave Robinson came out circa ’86 through Leggo Beast’s JA based label entitled ‘Have To Get Thru’; it did little in terms of wider circulation at the time and after that things went quiet, partly because of his new residence and, probably, a lack of focus on most things music and, just as likely, a difficulty in getting a decent opportunity to record. I guess our man has been biding his time since then. ‘Chant To Jah’ appeared on a Clocktower repress in the late nineties and a further pressing of the same was re-released a couple of years back through Emmanuel Music in the UK. The latter ‘edition’ seems to be still in print and is well worth an investigation, fine roots music from the era as it is. We’ll just have to wait and see what the man comes up with regarding the ‘new’ recordings he has done over the past few years. If there’s any interested parties then we could be in for a treat, but they have to pop up first to make things moving for Mr Robinson. Right now it’s difficult for the vintage artists to come back strong on the market when so much concentration and investment goes into the jump-up music, the youthman style, the bashment or hardcore, whatever you’d call it – it is music that has moved on from the same old formula. We’re not knocking that though. But please, Mr Money Man, reconsider if you could; there’s simply more than one side to the coin and as such vintage music has its place in the competition as well. I get the feeling that it is the most lasting of the two, even if, financially, it doesn’t fill your pocket as fast as the other choice. Money speaks the most in a lot of ways, but it is far from all.
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