Barry York: Walking down Memory Lane (Interview)
Barry York, the artistic director for Canada-based “Circulation Productions/Circulation Music-Records (Les Productions Circulation)”, is a singer, songwriter, musician, composer, arranger, producer, digital technologist. A former teen musical child star with The Creations – Lloyd Daley’s Matador & Joe Gibbs’ Amalgamated – he has worked with almost everyone who has made positive musical contributions to reggae dancehall music and culture within his generation realms and otherwise.
WALKING DOWN MEMORY LANE
Barry York was born in Kingston, Jamaica, (real name initials B.Y.B.) right on the border that separates Greenwich Farm and Withfield Town, a few zips away. The only separation between Trench Town and (the 2 barrows) the other communities mentioned is a main street called Maxfield Avenue. Maxfield Avenue is to Kingston 10, 11, 12, and 13 what Broadway is to The Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens, NY-USA. While Barry was attending Greenwich Town Primary School along with John Holt, Pat Kelly, and also members of The Wailing Souls (among others), who at the time were living in Trench Town, Barry started feeling the musical hormones. In those days Sound Systems like Sir Coxson’s Down Beat was clashing with other sound systems, and along with DJ’s like King Stitt and Count Machuki would rule Dancehall. Those were the days of Ska, Rocksteady, and the rude boys skanking.
Trench Town in those days was a nice place and somewhat similar to Harlem, NY (the hood). Because of the way of life, it was like a breeding ground for talents of all kinds, especially musical artists who were searching for a way to survive in and out of the hood, and to rise above. Trench Town was between or surrounded by similar communities like Jones Town, Denham Town, and Hanna Town, where there was also a multitude of talents that would just come together musically as a vocal group or a band. The vibes were so nice in Trench Town that every chance Barry got to just zip over to the neighbourhood, or surrounding communities, even cutting school to go, he would visit. His grandmother, a strict disciplinarian, would apply all kinds of punishment, but that did not stop Barry from going where the musical vibes were and that’s where he wanted to be.
Financial mismanagement on the part of Barry’s grandmother led to the selling of their home at 21 West Avenue and a rental unit at 21 Seaview Avenue. After paying off debts, there was only enough money to purchase a small dwelling at 18 Greenwich Street, in Trench Town. As faith would have it, a natural transformation was made, Barry ended up living in Trench Town! For his siblings, it might have been a disappointment, but for Barry, it was cool because that was where the musical vibes were flowing. Music and more music, and because the people in Trench Town were more down to earth in comparison to the uptown folks, Barry felt the close vibes and started getting more involved musically.
While attending primary school Barry would jam and rehearse musical harmonies with John Holt and Pat Kelly (among others) at lunch time or after school. After getting home, he would be in the middle of the musical happenings in the neighbourhood. Up the street were Toots & The Maytals, Gladstone Anderson, Stranger Cole, Copland Forbes, Scully Simms, among others. Also living next door to Barry was a young Tabby “Diamond” Shaw and Bunny Diamond, who at the time seemed to be only interested in playing marbles, cricket, and soccer with Barry and co. Living not far away, unknown to Barry at that time, right there in Trench Town, was Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and Junior Braithwaite along with the other Wailers’ Posse.
After practicing or rehearsing the latest R&B songs of almost every famous American artist such as The Drifters, Otis Redding, Curtis Mayfield, Jerry Butler, Sam Cooke, and the Ska Rock Steady songs of Alton Ellis, Derrick Morgan, Bob Andy, The Paragons, Jackie Opel, Owen Gray, and The Gaylads, the idea of the recording studio and how a song was recorded was starting to appeal to Barry.
The recording studio awareness came about because of Gladstone “Gladdy” Anderson (piano player) who would ride his bicycle past Barry’s house (yard) to go to his tailor shop just down the road. Glady was one of Duke Reid’s main session keyboard players. Duke Reid was the owner of Treasure Isle Recording Studio, located in Bond Street. After school Barry would visit Glady in his tailor shop, just to hear stories of who was recording, etc. Glady told Barry fascinating stories about the inside of a recording studio, the vibes, and things about the Duke’s Treasure Isle Studio, Coxson’s Studio One, and other studios.
Barry York & Vern Maytone
THE DISCOVERY OF DUKE REID’S FAMOUS TREASURE ISLE RECORDING STUDIO.
After finding out the location of these studios from Gladdy, Barry along with other members of his singing posse, would go and hang out outside and around the studio just to see who was going in and out and to catch the vibes. This alone was enough to make them just get a natural high. The first studio Barry and his posse visited was Duke Reid. Barry says: “The Duke was a funny man, a tall and thick black man, who always had his gun in a hip holster like a cowboy, for real! His business was part wholesale liquor store, there were always plenty of bottles on the sidewalk outside, and part recording studio. He had built the studio on top of the roof of his two storey building. Yeah man, and painted it green! Every Sunday the Duke would have auditions. Glady, Theophilus “Snapping” Beckford, or Winston Wright would be the keyboard players and main selectors. All the hopefuls would have to form a line outside the building, waiting to hear the call for ‘next’ from the Duke. The only way you could go upstairs to audition, was having the Duke listen to you first and then tell you to go upstairs. Once on the roof, you would be amazed because the roof was made up of the studio, a hang out area, and pigeon coops, not to mention the bird droppings!”
By this time Barry had gotten used to the Duke and him wearing his gun at his side and was a regular visitor to Treasure Isle Recording studio. After numerous tries to cut a record at Treasure Isle, Barry was getting tired of the “come again next week” from the Duke’s selectors, after the Duke himself had sent Barry and The Creations upstairs after listening to their song. Barry and The Creations were never able to get a record cut at Treasure Isle.
After finishing primary school Barry attended a Jamaican Technical School because his grandmother would not stand for him not to be learning a trade. In spite of all her discipline and putting her feet down to make him continue his education, like learning a trade, or otherwise, she never discouraged him from pursuing his musical goals. However, she made it clear that, as long as he is under her roof, he will make his priorities of going to church, learning a trade, or going to university was first and all his musical intentions and ambitions were secondary.
Trench Town Primary School was not far away from Barry’s home (yard). One day while playing cricket and football on the school grounds, Barry met Bob Marley. Barry describes Bob as “…a little brown skin youth who although he was older than I was, it never seemed that way because I was always a tall youth.” Barry continues… “Bob had nice ways, he loved to play soccer and while dribbling the ball, he would always be singing. He never said much but he always had an exercise book rolled up in his back pocket. He told me, that was where he kept his lyrics.”
One day they had a pick up match and Barry was on Bob’s team, up and down the playfield Bob was singing while dribbling the ball. After the game, they chatted, he told Barry that he liked singing and music and that he lived down the road, past the roundabout, close to the Animal Protection Center, behind a fire brigade station right in front of The Maypen Cemetery. Bob invited Barry to come to hang out and sing along if he wanted to, but Barry never went, because it just never happened that way. Bob had also told Barry about Coxson, who is the owner of the famous Studio One, and a Chinese man (Chinaman) called Leslie Kong, the owner of Beverley’s Recording Studio, who Bob had heard about, or visited.
The Creations – Bad Name
Barry York – Who Will She Be
The Creations – Searching So Long
Trench Town was starting to get turbulent and because Barry was hanging out with rude boys, his grandmother was getting kinda worried. She decided to sell the house in Trench Town. After selling the house they relocated to Waltham Park Road. Already living in the neighbourhood at the time was Neville O. Livingston, aka Bunny Wailer. Bunny’s father Taddy, his brother Carl, and his sister Shirley were neighbours to Barry. Bunny and Barry became friends.
THE DISCOVERY OF COXSON’S FAMOUS STUDIO ONE RECORDING STUDIO
Barry and Bunny were like blood brothers. The new neighbourhood of Waltham Park Road might not be as musical as Trench Town, but it was happening there too. Bunny and Barry were, as destiny would have it, both born on April 10. They had similar passions for music, all the latest clothes, parties, girls, and soccer and were always in competition with each other. Bunny was no rastaman then. Bunny and Barry were always in competition as to who was the best singer. Bunny told Barry that his singing partners were living in Trench Town, where he used to live, which came as a surprise to Barry.
Bunny told Barry his singing partners were Robbie, Peter, and Junior. Now, although Barry had already met Robert (Bob) Marley, he had no way of knowing that the Robert Marley he had met, as Bob, was the same Robbie Bunny was talking about. Every evening along with Bunny and another member of the Creations, Ossie Henry, who is also a friend of Bunny, Barry would go over to Trench Town to meet Bob, Peter, and Junior to sing and rehearse.
Barry recalls… “At the time there were no Rastaman in the group, no one even played an instrument. Peter was just learning to strum the guitar. As a matter a fact, Bob, Bunny, and Peter were trying to come up with a name for their group. We use to sit under a tree, I’m not sure if it was a plum tree or an ackee tree, but we use to sit on a wooden bench or anything we could put our behinds on. The Creations members were always coming and going, so Bob said, “Barry, why don’t you join us?” but they never had any name, so I kinda decided to do the solo thing until I could find another partner to join with me and Ossie. In those days, it was in style to have no less than three members in a group. Plus I was more of a lead singer and since Bob was already the lead singer for the group he was always trying to teach me harmony but I was only interested in being a lead singer, so I did not graduate in the harmony department.”
“One evening after rehearsal, all the members of the group Bob, Peter, Bunny, and Junior were presenting names that they came up with for the group, they finally came up with the Wailers. I told them I didn’t like the name because it was not pretty enough for me, I like pretty group names. Bunny said to me, “That’s alright man, we are going to wail (we a go wail).” When we were not rehearsing in Bob’s yard in Trench Town, Bob, Peter, and Junior would come up to Waltham Park Road to Bunny’s yard to do so, but if there was too much noise going on, or the little back room behind Bunny’s fathers’ business place was being used, we all would rehearse in my yard. When the name The Wailers came about we started visiting studios. Coxson’s Studio One and Beverley’s were the main studios that we would visit. The fact that we were well rehearsed and were writing songs, showed that both the Creations and the Wailers had their musical things together. The Wailers were always rehearsing ‘Simmer Down’, ‘Hurts to be Alone’, ‘Lonesome Feeling’, and ‘What’s new Pussycat’. They would also do their Curtis Mayfield and the Impression thing. The Creations were more into the music of The Drifters and the Platters.”
“We went around daily trying to get the opportunity to cut a record. We were like brothers. We never had no money, not even bus fare to go anywhere, we would have to meet at Bob’s house, a one room, board house behind the fire brigade station. Peter was living across the street in the Government Project with his Aunt. The one who had the most money would share it up, so we all could have bus fare to take the bus. If not, we all would walk from where Bob lived all the way uptown, to Studio One or Beverley’s. I use to love going to Studio One because it was really happening there. Everyone who was a super star, wanna be or has been would hang there. Bob Andy, Larry Marshal, The Heptones, Jackie Mittoo, Ken Boothe, The Gaylads, The Skatalites everything was happening at Studio One. Plus if you were hungry, you could pick some black mangos off the tree. Studio One had a big black mango tree in the middle of the driveway. Now, you would have to be careful, because Mr. Dodd was a strict man when it came to his place and his mango tree.”
“The vibes at Studio One was so happening that, just being there could make you feel like a super star. Going to Beverley’s was also nice too, because although it was not Studio One, it was where Derrick Morgan, Desmond Decker and the Aces use to hangout. Derrick was cool, he was a super star, always dressed in his top hat, white gloves and walking cane. Across the street from Beverley’s was Success, Rupie Edwards’ place, if you go up Orange street, just make a left, and there was Prince Buster. Randy’s Records, who is now VP Records in the US, was located at Parade and Chancy Lane.”
Barry continues… “After ‘Simmer Down’ was recorded it not only became our anthem, it was an inspiration for us. We use to sing it morning, noon, and night. After a while, The Creations made an attempt to record for Studio One, but it never happened. So, The Creations recorded for Lloyd Daley’s Matador Records. The first song we did was ‘Bad Name’, the flipside of Little Roy’s ‘Bongo Nyah’ a monster hit that held up the Jamaican chart for over six weeks. Meanwhile, we were still hanging and rehearsing with the Wailers, who by this time were seriously wailing. Even with the success of ‘Simmer Down’, things were still not a bed of roses, I think that was when Bob went to live in a little room on the premises of Studio One. We use to hang out there daily. I had no problem going in and out of Studio One, because of my association with The Wailing Wailers, plus the Studio One gateman, Dudley Sibley and Bob were close, so we all became friends. To this day, Dudley and myself are still associated.”
The Wailers were doing their thing, so was the Creations. The Wailers went on doing what they did best… wail. The Creations went on to cut a few more sides for Matador, then, when Joe Gibbs started his thing on the Amalgamated Label, The Creations along with Errol Dunkley, Winston Jarrett and the Righteous Flames were the first artists to record on the Amalgamated label, that became known as Joe Gibbs.
“The funds that were paid to us to record a song, was just pocket money. As a matter of fact, we were not even aware of publishing or any other rights. We just did music, because it was a way of life etc. After a while, growing up was getting serious, because we were now teenagers, so the needs were getting bigger. I think Bunny was still going to Camper Down College, I was still attending Technical Institute, studying. After a while, we just started loosing interest in the school thing, and that’s when our parents started to cut off funding. So, with things getting kinda stiff, money problems and things started. My grandmother decided since I was no longer interested in anything but singing, it was time to ship me abroad to my parents.”
MEETING SLY DUNBAR
Before Barry left Jamaica he had met Sly Dunbar. “He was just a wanna be like myself. The only difference was that I had already made my debut as a recording artist, he was an upcoming drummer. We became members of a band called the Yardbrooms, yeah mon, The Yardbrooms. Sly was the drummer, I was the lead singer for the band. The owner of the band, never believed in Sly as a drummer, but I knew he was wicked, so we had a show in a complex on Waltham Park Road, right in between my yard and Bunny’s yard. I told the owner if Sly was not going to be the drummer, I would not perform. So, they let him play. We mash up the place with niceness, so I was the first artist that Sly Dunbar back up on stage, for real. He was wicked. From then on, we became friends.”
“Because Gladstone Anderson and I was in business operating a small record shop on Maxfield Avenue close to Channel One, Gladdy took me to Perry Studio, where I met Boris Gardiner among others. Bob Marley’s mother was recording some gospel for Perry that day. Perry had weed leaves on the line with clothes pin pinning them up like clothes on the line. Nuffffffffff weed. However, when I use to visit Perry’s shop on Charles Street Perry just started going to the UK, and I use to be with Jah Lloyd, because Jah Lloyd and I was talking business.”
“When I left Jamaica, the Wailers were still wailing. I went up to Canada, it was strange because of the seasons, plus snow! When I got to Canada, no one could pronounce Reggae. I had no choice but to go back to school while still holding down a day job. I had to do Adult Education in order to get a high school diploma, Canadian Standard. I started Pre University, where I studied Mechanical Technology. I also spent 4 years in the Armed Forces (Air, Land, and Sea). I never completed the 3 years needed to graduate as a mechanical tech., but with 2 years completed, I went to work for the Canadian Government at Canadian National in the engineering department as a Stationary Engineer. After awhile, I decided to study Business-Communication/Media and achievied my BA in Communications. Radio and Television announcing, journalism, administration, representation etc.”
At this time Reggae music was starting to surface in Canada. “I toured and performed for a while, but I discovered ‘behind the scenes of the music business’. I produced my first record that sold like hot bread. Then from there I started learning another trade. Being the man behind the scene. After setting up Circulation Productions (Les Productions Circulation) Circulation Music-Records/Media Co., it all came together. I was working part-time as a Communication Specialist with a Media company, also part-time as an A & R rep. for various Major and Independent record labels. I was also working as musical liaison for a few major companies helping to build their reggae music catalogue. After learning the ins and out of the business, I decide to just do my own thing. Build Circulation. I made sure I got the rights to all my compositions and published them with Circulation Music Publishing.”
“While in Canada, I did not stay in contact with Bob, Bunny, Peter, and Junior. Before the Original Wailers split, they came up to Canada, the only show that they ever did in Canada. Again as faith would have it, the show was kept in Montreal, my city, the University of Montreal Complex. I attended the show, and reunited with them. We all were back stage, along with Rudy ‘Long Story’ Mills, David Madden, etc. We started taking pictures. After taking nuff pictures we then decided to take some of me, Bob, Bunny, and Peter, but the film finished. That’s why I don’t have any picture of all of us together. I only have of Peter and myself and Bunny and myself. After their Montreal appearance, I read about the split of the group among other things.”
“Some time not long after the Original Wailers split, I started going back to Jamaica every year, because I was getting homesick. I linked up with Bunny and Peter. Again we started to vibe musically. Bunny was getting his ‘Blackheart Man’ album out there along with his Solomonic Productions, while Peter was trying to launch his Intel-Diplo (H.I.M) Label. I also hooked up with Sly. Then they were the Revolutionaries. It was Ranchie, Douggie, Lloyd Parks, and a mix up session thing. Robbie then was still no Sly & Robbie as yet. It was after Sly say to me, “Barry we going to do this and that, what you want us to do?” They were still playing for $40 and $50 Jamaican dollars a side. Channel One was $30 or $40 an hour.”
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