Cool, Conscious, and Constantly Cutting Edge: Earl Sixteen (The Interview)

by Dec 19, 2021Articles, Interview

Earl Sixteen 2021 Interview

“COOL, CONSCIOUS, AND CONSTANTLY CUTTING EDGE: EARL SIXTEEN (THE INTERVIEW)”

When: September 1, 2021
Where: Los Angeles CA/London UK (via Zoom)
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Copyright:  2021 – Stephen Cooper

Earl Sixteen

Cool, conscious, and constantly cutting edge, Earl Sixteen has, with inimitable style, recorded more than 20 solo albums and well over 1000 songs in a singing career that spans half a century.

Introspective, unabashedly observant, independent, and humble, Earl Sixteen is also one of the nicest legends in music. Being a colossal Earl Sixteen fan and a student of reggae, and knowing that Earl Sixteen has collaborated at some point – or at a minimum crossed paths – with virtually every famous producer and musician in the history of reggae, I thanked my lucky stars, God, and my friend, legendary sound engineer Scientist (who made the introduction), when Earl Sixteen agreed to be interviewed by me via Zoom on September 1.

COOL, CONSCIOUS, AND CONSTANTLY CUTTING EDGE: EARL SIXTEEN (THE INTERVIEW)

What follows is a transcript of the 120-minute interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. Also, please note, while the interview was videotaped – and has been published in its entirety on YouTube – additional valuable content is interspersed throughout this transcript, including reproductions of album covers, rare (and in some instances, never before published) photographs, and, select links to a portion of Earl Sixteen’s extensive discography.

Are you sure you’re not muted?
Oh shit.

Oh, I hear you! I can hear you!
Yeah man. Ah, good. Fantastic! Fantastic! (Laughing)

(Laughing) Oh man, I was getting worried, Earl.
Sorry about that man. I’m not very – technologically [inclined]-

(Laughing) I’m not either.
-my kids do that; that’s my children’s stuff.

Well I can’t blame it on- I’m just not very good with computers. But the pandemic, you know, has forced us to communicate this way more and more.
Yeah, because during the pandemic, I was busy writing songs and voicing tunes and doing dubplates -(lighting spliff).

I just want to say, first of all, Earl, greetings and good tidings, and I want to thank you so much for taking the time to do this; it’s really an honor to speak with a singer of your stature. I’ve been listening to your music for the entire month, but really today I’ve been grooving to – you have enough albums I mean, over 20 or so-
Oh my goodness, yeah.

-so there’s enough music for me to choose from. I’ve been grooving all day to your music, and I really want to also thank you because I know it’s getting late where you are; as I know you know, I’m in Los Angeles, in “La-La-Land”-
What time is it there, man?

It’s about 2 pm [in Los Angeles].
(re-lighting spliff) Yeah.

So I know it’s getting later there [where you are], about 10 pm [in London now]-
Is the weather good in L.A.?

It’s actually a little overcast today, which never happens, you know, usually the sun is almost [always] out, but it’s been overcast today.
At least you don’t have the forest fires and all that kind of stuff happening around.

Not around us. Up north-in Northern California. In Southern California, we’re okay for right now, but you know, I’m always watching the news.
Give thanks. Yeah man.

Yeah man, we give thanks-
You’re cool man. You’re cool, you’re cool. I used to run up around, run up and down all them areas back in the day. I used to run up and down with a brethren called – You know “Sunset Boulevard?” – Ital Joe and dem. Prince Ital Joe and all these guys, you know?

Earl Sixteen & Stephen Cooper via Zoom

Earl Sixteen and Stephen Cooper doing the interview via Zoom

Did you ever perform [at] the Dub Club in Los Angeles?
No. Funny enough, the Dub Club, I was invited, but I think during that time, I had some problems with my passport, my visas and stuff like that, and traveling. Yeah, but I think my brethren Michael Prophet came and did that show.

Yeah, there’s actually – that might be the show he did with Scientist that people – it’s on YouTube-
(Smoking spliff) Uh-huh. Yeah man.

-and people still watch that show.
Straight up – straight love, oh man, rest in peace [Michael Prophet].

You said you were coming back from work and it made me think, it made me want to ask you whether, you know, whether you had a gig or show you were referring to, or whether you were in the studio recording. If you don’t mind me asking, what was the work that you had going on earlier – earlier today?
Oh today? Today I was just freelancing. I was working at Peloton. A company called Peloton, you know? I make bikes. I build bikes, and build treadmills and stuff.

Okay.
I freelance without being an artist, and a producer, and a recorder. I’m spending my time being something different. Building up the health and the intelligence of the people.

Respect.
I’m working at a company called Peloton at the moment, you know.

Lots of people have been using that company, and especially during the pandemic those have been-
Oh man, yeah, yeah, yeah. But, you know, I’m self-employed. So I free up myself, man.

I was curious because there’s not much going on here in L.A. in regards to reggae concerts, and festivals, or shows. Because of the pandemic. I was so lucky because the other day, Scientist invited me to the studio. And it was the first time I’d seen live music in months-
Okay, a live recording? Wicked!

(Scientist) had the Soul Syndicate there.
You’re joking!? You mean George [Fully Fullwood] and Santa [Davis] and all [them]?

Yeah, Santa, Tony [Chin], Fully Fullwood-
Wow!

I have a bunch of footage, so I’m gonna be working on a piece (incorporating all of it).
Fantastic! I’d love to see that.

And at some point I’ll send you that footage, Earl.
Yes, please, Steve. Oh my goodness.

Earl "Chinna" Smith

Earl “Chinna” Smith

They’re reuniting, the Soul Syndicate, and working on some new music [and] new rhythms.
Yes, yes, yes. They need to bring [Earl] Chinna [Smith] [up from Jamaica]. Chinna is still around; Chinna is still with us.

Do you know, I was actually so lucky to interview Chinna right before the pandemic started – right in his yard?
(Smoking spliff) Oh yeah, inna de yard.

(Laughing) Yeah in his yard. So I would love to see Chinna, and they did actually bring – Tony Chin told me that a few years ago they actually had some guy who goes by the name of “Bushman,” he actually flew Chinna up [to the United States from Jamaica]; [the Soul Syndicate] recorded an album in the studio for him, and then he disappeared with all of the master recordings.
Oh fricking – that’s disgusting. That’s the normal thing in reggae music, yeah man.

So it’s cool to see them in the studio again. By the way, is it okay for me to call you “Earl,” or should I call you “Mr. Sixteen?” What do you prefer?
(re-lighting spliff) No, Steve, come on Steve Cooper, man. (smoking spliff). Earl [is] my name. Funny enough, right, my friend was putting out an album recently – in New York actually. And he said to me, “Earl, listen, it’s time for me to stop calling you ‘Earl Sixteen.’ So what is the new name that I can call you?” And I said, “Just call me ‘Ras Earl’ or ‘Dread.’ And he said, “Nah, nah, man, I’m gonna call you ‘Jack Earl'” or something like that. And I’m thinking, I wonder if I’d still have my fans after I change my name?

I don’t think you can change it. I don’t think you can change it after you’ve had it for so long-
I have to, Steve, I’m changing it. I have to change up di thing, man.

Wow.
Now I’m putting out – I’m hoping – looking forward to put[ting] out an album called “The Early Years.”

Cool.
Stuff that I did with Mikey Dread, [King] Tubby’s, Channel One and stuff. On my label which is called Merge Productions. You know I’m covering my stuff, covering my ass, covering my back or whatever you call it.

Nice.
So all these tunes I never get money from-

You’re gonna start to try-
Yeah man, on Merge Productions. My label has been pumping around. I did a lot of stuff with a lot of artists, you know? Roy Cousins, Augustus Pablo, and dem on there. But I don’t overdo my thing, you know? I don’t over-push my [biography]. ‘Cause I know what it is. But you know I just want to keep my name active on Spotify and whatever (laughing)-

Earl Sixteen, Toronto 1986 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

Earl Sixteen, Toronto 1986 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

Earl, if it’s okay with you, I want to “push your [biography].” Because you have such a [historic] discography, when I-
(Laughing) What are you doing, Steve? Come’on man!

When I listen to your music, man, it brings me so much joy. And seriously, a man like yourself who’s voiced literally over 1000 recorded tunes, [and] like I said [earlier] you have over 20 solo albums. You’ve collaborated with just about every famous producer and musician in reggae during a career that spans nearly half a century. Now I want to ask more-and I’ll ask you a bit later about more about what you’re doing now musically – like you just mentioned, you’re going to be putting out a new album of some of your early works. I want all the reggae fans to know about some of the new musical projects that you’re involved in.
(Smoking spliff) Yes, Steve.

But before we get there, if it’s okay Earl, I’d like to start with some of your “early runnings.” and ask you to clarify some biographical information. And also I want to-
Yeah on Wikipedia you’re talking about, huh? You’re going back to Wikipedia? (laughing)

Earl Sixteen

Earl Sixteen

Yeah there’s some stuff on Wikipedia I want to clarify, but also beyond that. Because you’ve done some interviews, for example, that I know about, with – and I would just recommend to all the people who are Earl Sixteen fans, they should go check out, there’s an interview that was done in 1992. By David Katz – Lee Scratch Perry’s biographer – and Ray Hurford-
(Nodding) David Katz. Ray Hurford-

-[later published by] Reggae-Vibes[.com], where I write.
Yes, when I first came to England.

Yeah, [in] 1992. It’s a very, very comprehensive interview and every Earl Sixteen fan should definitely check out that interview.
[It was] [a]mazing. Fantastic.

But I do want to clarify a few things, if it’s okay, about some of those early tunes that were so historic. To just clarify a few things about your history. I know from my research, in some of the interviews that you have given, that you began singing in earnest at about 13 years old, hanging out in the area of Waltham Park Road in Kingston[, Jamaica,]-
Yes.

-not far from the area known as Halfway Tree.
Yes.

Which I know about because I know that’s close to where Chinna lives.
Yes and we used to have “Skateland” up there, it’s called Skateland, yeah. The first live – in Halfway Tree, we used to do a thing called The Skateland. Where we used to go skating-

Wow.
Skateland was one of the first places that recorded a live reggae album in Jamaica – [it was] a live dancehall actually. A live dancehall. Live in the dance. With – it was Skateland [in] Halfway Tree with a sound called Volcano versus Gemini versus Killamanjaro, it was a crazy – Skateland, it was a place we’d go to skate all the time.

So it was a roller skate-
It was a live album with Eek-A-Mouse and a lot of them-

-let me ask: So it was a roller skating park that had a sound system, then?
Yes, it was a roller skating park with a sound system-it was. Yeah man.

Wow, that would be cool.
I’m going way back. We’re talking about way back in the ’80s, you see? (Laughing)

Skateland Entrance (Photo: Beth Lesser -1987)

Skateland Entrance (Photo: Beth Lesser -1987)

That is so cool. And also that area is known as – that we’re talking about – that area’s also known as Kingston 11, if I’m not mistaken. Is that true?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, no, it’s Kingston. It’s like the middle class of Kingston – the middle, not the middle, Halfway Tree is like – you call, “Uptown,” you see?

Yeah.
Like if you go Halfway Tree, you go Crossroads, and you go from leave Crossroads, you go into a place called Slipe Pen Road, you’re going into a different area of Kingston; Kingston is just the capital of St. Andrews, you see? It’s a capital of [the] country; it’s a city.

And where you grew up, and at the time you were growing up, I think you’ve described, it was like a musical hub, that you had-
Oh God, yes. Yeah man.

-a ton of record stores, and dance halls, and sound systems-
Oh fantastic. Yeah man.

And everybody who was famous, or everybody who was about to be famous in reggae – I think you’ve said – was growing up in that area. I mean, you had Sugar Minott, you had Dennis Brown, right?
For sure, for sure. Because during that era, especially my time, like when I started – when I left school, or ran away from school – after I finished working with Winston McAnuff on a song called “Malcolm X,” Winston went on to Excelsior, a different school; I went to a school called St. Andrew’s Technical. I didn’t last long in that school because it was a big – you know, I like to play sports, I have to play football, I have to play cricket and stuff. And then I ended up going to a football match in a place called Tivoli Gardens. I can’t remember – there’s a football field called Tivoli Gardens in Jamaica. And you know we’d always go there after school in the evenings, to play football and stuff. But because where I came from – I came from a place called Waltham Park Road which is a big like – you know, you have “The Crips” and “The Bloods?”

Yeah.
So, you know in California you have that kind of attitude. But in Jamaica we [had] that same attitude where if you come up during a certain area, don’t care how skilled and how good you are, you’re not allowed to come to this area (laughing). So I ended up getting beat up, you know, boxed down after the football, man. I had to run for my life. I was in school, man.

But when you were in school you were also singing in the choir as well-
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

-and weren’t you singing in school-
Yeah. I was singing in a group. We made a group called The Flaming Phonics. We had a group called The Flaming Phonics, man. Like a singing group and stuff… it’s just that, at that time, [in] that era in Jamaica, you know, late ’70s going to ’80[s], singing groups [were] really popular in Jamaica. Like we had The Heptones, we had so much groups that, you know – Chosen Few, we had people like-

The Mighty Diamonds.
Burning Spear, yeah, Burning Spear was a group, you know? You had The Mighty Diamonds, you had The Wailers, you know-

Yeah.
It’s a group, you know, there’s like four or five guys-

Can I ask, Earl, I don’t mean to interrupt, but can I ask: What did your parents do for a living?
My parents? My mom was a nurse, and my dad was an airline engineer – a plane engineer.

I’m sorry-your dad was a what [kind of] engineer?
He used to work at the airlines – at the airports.

Oh okay, wow. At Kingston International Airport? [Or] in Ochos Rios?
In Kingston, in Kingston – the airport in Kingston. But my mom, yeah – my parents wasn’t really, you know, the thing about us was, growing up as kids, we didn’t really follow our parents’ work. Because your mom would say, “Look, you have to stay in school. When you finish school you have to become this and become that” and stuff. But during the era of – after 1966 when Jamaica became independent – we decided to, well not “we” but I personally decided, I said “Boy, maybe I should stick with my parents and listen to what they’re saying.” But the whole amalgamation of the whole Kingston – of Jamaica – was getting a little bit, you know, more independent. So we said, look, we’re gonna get independence from colonialism. That’s what we’re going to do, we’re gonna try to take it. So I started following around, messing around with all kinds of people and stuff. My parents kept kicking me out and bringing me back home-

Steve Vibronics

Steve Vibronics

And I definitely want to follow up on that because it’s something I’ve asked many reggae stars-about their family support for their music, or their lack of support-but before I get there, I just want to ask you, because I heard you-I think I mentioned to you that I listened to your interview on Steve Vibronics’s ‘Life and Dub’ Podcast-
Oh yeah, Vibronics, yeah man.

And you mentioned – kind of in passing – something I want to follow up on, just ask you about. Because you mentioned on that podcast that your dad used to make his own guitars. You said: “He wasn’t a guitarist; he was just hanging around musicians.”
Yeah.

And when I heard you say that I wanted to follow up and ask you – your dad used to make guitars!? How did he do that?
No he used to make – in Jamaica we used to make, we make skates, we make roller blading skates, we make – you know, [in] Jamaica, dem times, we used to – my dad used to make – it’s called a banjo, Steve.

Yeah.
But we used to use the bamboo string to – the fishing line. And we make – we connect the wires to like a coconut or something like that – and just something, something to send me to sleep, to send the kids to sleep. So he would make all these kinds of string instruments-

That’s amazing. That’s amazing.
And he would just play – like a fishing line, you know a fishing line?

Yeah.
So we used those fishing lines and we string them up with you know some bamboo or calabash or something.

And you said he used to, your dad also used to hang out with musicians. What musicians would your dad hang out with?
Oh man, nah, nah, nah. I don’t think my dad was really a musician like that. He was just a man that had skills, you know? He was skillful with his arms and stuff, he made a lot of things. He was the first guy that I’d ever seen bring [a] Jaguar engine in like 1970 or something – he was rebuilding – you know my dad was a mechanic?

I see.
He built all kinds of engines.

Was there anyone though – I guess I always ask of someone who’s got such a talent like yours – for singing – was there anyone in your extended family who was a singer, or was [anyone in your family] involved in music at all before you came along – was there anyone in your extended family that was an artist?
Steve, to tell you the truth, to be honest, Steve, I think I am the only Rastaman in my family – in my generation. Because my grandmother was a woman called “Bogle”-

Yeah.
-you know, like, I’m a Bogle child, I’m a Bogle – my grandmother is called “Rittynella Bogle.”

After Paul Bogle? You’re talking about-
That’s right, you said it. So I am one of the only [one of my] generation that locks up and things like that, you know? A-Bogle, mi name. And dance around and tell the truth in mi a-tunes. (Laughing) No, but I don’t really know. The whole generation, the whole tribalistic thing – in Jamaica, everybody go to church-

You’ve mentioned in a number of interviews and you mentioned just a moment ago, how your mom, and I think your aunt who you were living with at one point as well-
Yeah.

-neither of them were happy with your decision to be a musician, and they threw you out of the house-
Oh yeah, man.

And I think at one point you said that your aunt had you locked out of the house, and sometimes you’d have to sleep in the foul chicken coop?
Yeah man. Where you know about that? How you know about that thing there? (Laughing)

(Laughing) I did my research, Earl.
Yes, sir.

Alexander Bustamante

Alexander Bustamante

And so I wanted to ask you – because like I said, there have been a lot of reggae stars who have had the same situation happen – and for different reasons, though, I’ve found in asking. I usually try to follow up and find out, well, why did your mom and your aunt, you know, what was it about being a singer, or being a reggae [singer], that they didn’t like? Was it because, you know, it went against their Christian conservatism? Or was it because they didn’t think you could make a career, economically, that you couldn’t support yourself from it? Or was it an uptown [versus] downtown situation? What was the reason why they didn’t support you?
Well I think the main thing about that was that, in the Caribbean, we kinda never really acknowledged that Africa is a foundational place. We didn’t really see Africa as a motherland. Because the Caribbean is controlled by colonials, you know, the Americans, the Russians, the Cubans, you know, everyone controls Jamaica. So at the time, like my parent’s house always had a picture of Christ or a picture of the prime minister at the time. At the time when I was growing up, it was a man called “Bustamante.” The main – in the front room, in the living room, or in the dining room, you know – so when I [was] growing up on Waltham Park Road, the biggest picture in the house was a picture of [Alexander] Bustamante. And then you have a picture of a white guy – Christ. So the first time mi bring a Bob Marley album inna my momma’s house, I say, “Mom, you see this poster? This poster is gonna be…” [And then she said:] “Take down your picture there.” She said, “What are you doing with that Rasta boy inna the room!?” I said, “Mom, this is Bob Marley, mom.” (laughing)

Earl, you tried to put up a Bob Marley poster in your mom’s house?
No, in my room – yeah, in my room, in my mom’s house. And then she said, “Take down that picture there!” But the thing was, the whole situation was, we had to fight for certain instigations. Instigate the system that – it’s not just about the Caribbean and Jamaica or, you know, ghetto living. Because ghetto is a worldwide thing.

That’s true.
Yeah man. It’s a Bogle thing mi a – tell you about. You have to talk about the Bogle thing. Because after a while, when you grow up and become a teenager, when you become – when you’re going through certain years, depending on where you’re living, and who your friends are – who you hang out with.

Yeah.
Initially you’re gonna start learning about yourself, and learning about your history, and where you’re coming from.

Before I change to a different subject, the last thing I wanted to ask about your family was did they – did your mom and your aunt, for example, did there ever come a time where, after you’d been such a successful singer for so long – I don’t know if they are still alive, or how long they lived – you know, were they able to see your success as a singer? And were they able to acknowledge you made the right choice by becoming a singer?
Not really, because you know, the thing about it was that, you know, Jamaica is a very Christian, Catholic, ordinary [place], and all that kinda stuff, you know? Jamaica is a place [where], it’s either you’re good or you’re bad. So because I was not Christian, [and] I wasn’t part of the Catholic system, my parents just were not interested in [me] anymore. They gave up on me. They gave up on me [a] long time [ago]. But the thing about it, you know, is my mom became proud because, you know, after a while I put out a whole heap of tunes. She realized my work with Studio One, because Studio One – you have to understand, Steve, Studio One records was not really acknowledged in Jamaica during the ’70s and stuff. They didn’t really acknowledge Studio One records. They didn’t acknowledge reggae music on the whole. On the radio and stuff, it wasn’t acknowledged. But, we were still doing stuff you know, like going to sound systems or, you know, stuff was coming out – was playing in the pubs, in the bars, and the jukeboxes – my records were selling like crazy on the jukeboxes.

And before you started recording [professionally], I think you mentioned a few minutes earlier that your skills really started to flourish when you formed that group, The Flaming Phonics – I love that name The Flaming Phonics. And I wanted to ask you about a man who appears to have been a very pivotal influence in your life about that time period when you were still very young, a music teacher, a man by the name of Donald Hossack.
Donald Hossack.

I read [that] at one point you were actually living with him, and I wondered whether this was because your family wasn’t supporting you?
(Lighting and smoking spliff) No, no, no, Steve, don’t get it wrong, don’t get it twisted.

Oh. Okay.
You see, my aunt who I used to live with, I used to live at #4 Oakland Avenue. You see, we used to feed all [the] children around the place and ting. My auntie used to have a restaurant on Waltham Park Road. Donald Hossack was my music teacher while I was at my secondary school, which was St. Peter Claver. It was a Catholic school.

That’s where [legendary drummer] Santa Davis went! That same school. Santa Davis went to that same school, I think.
And you know [who also went there], the guy who plays saxophone, his name is Dean Fraser.

Oh yeah! He went to the same school!?
Donald Hossack was a music teacher at that school – St. Peter Claver. Donald decided that he liked my voice because I used to sing – because you know in the mornings we used to do stuff –
when you go to school, ’cause it was a what do you call it? I think, I’m sure, that school was a Catholic kind of school. But anyway, Steve, yeah, Donald Hossack was the first guy that wrote that tune for me called, um….

“Love Is a Feeling.”
Yeah.

And I wanted to ask about that, because, you know, because there are two things about Donald Hossack from reading about you and your career-
I used to go to his house. Because he used to live near to where I live, right? He used to live on Chisolm Avenue. And I used to go around to his house every evening and – ’cause he played the piano. And he was like, “Earl, listen, you have to listen to these chords.” And I’m like, “Donald, can we just go and burn two spliffs around the corner?” ‘Cause Donald was a very strict kind of guy, you know what I mean? (Laughing) He was like very strict and shit. I was like, “Come’on Donald, come down to the yard, you know, my auntie will cook you some food.” But Donald was crazy (smiling).

And he’s the one who – first of all, the thing that I read about him was that, didn’t he encourage you to enter that talent contest that you won at the Bohemia night club-
(Laughing) Oh God, yeah, what do you know about that, Stephen? What do you know about the Bohemia Club?

I know about that. And that was the contest that you entered, and you beat out Michael Rose and Junior Moore from the Tamlins, and I think you won-
(Breaking into song) I think I was singing a tune called “Peek-A-Boo”-

Yes. And I want to ask you about that actually – I have a few questions about “Peek-A-Boo” – but I’m going to hold them for a second because I want to come back to [it].
You see, the thing about that club, the live [band] – the band was called “Skin, Flesh & Bones,” I think it was called.

That’s Sly Dunbar’s band!
You know. Listen to me good: It used to be every, I can’t remember whether it was Wednesday night or [on] the weekend, but they used to have a “talent concert” where they used to have to rehearse and stuff. And I was thinking – ’cause I’d never sang with a band before, you know what I mean? And, um, yeah, but that was a great interesting thing – it was wicked man!

And is it accurate that Donald Hossack encouraged you to enter that contest?
Oh yeah, it’s true. Donald Hossack, yeah.

The other thing I read-
He was a great piano player, man. Fantastic. He used to write music. He showed me, he showed me – he writes his stuff, and he’d say, “Earl, listen, this is what you’re going to sing when you go to Coxsone’s studio tonight, or tomorrow.” And he’d write like all the chords and stuff, and I’m thinking, Donald where’s the lyrics? (Laughing) Show me the lyrics! Donald would write a whole fucking book full of songs!

And that [included] the [first] song that you took to Coxsone that you were talking about, “Love Is a Feeling.”
“Love Is a Feeling,” yeah, yeah, yeah. (Smoking spliff)

Coxsone Dodd

Coxsone Dodd

So he initially took you – my understanding of that is that he initially took you over to Coxsone’s studio – you may have been in your school uniform, and the song that he initially wrote was so long that Coxsone said, “You need to shorten it up. And Earl, you go take these records” – he gave you a bunch of 45s and told you to go practice [singing] on the “B” side.
(Laughing) Of course, yeah, yeah, yeah. [Coxsone said], “Make it short and spicy.” Because in those days the records were like 2 minutes, or 3 minutes long – like the “A” side of a record. And you know, you just want to do a nice vocal, a nice punchline, a nice chorus-

Let me-
I didn’t – we didn’t think that – (laughing) Donald was always writing, writing stuff.

And ultimately Coxsone was cool with you because he gave you a bunch of records to practice on-
He did. He did. Amazing!

Yeah.
I mean I’d never had so much – because in my home, my parents only had like a gramophone at the time. They had a couple of LPs – you know, a couple of Jim Reeves (laughing), a couple of Harry Belafonte [records], you know what I mean? Some [“Mighty”] Sparrow and whatever. But I had to hide and play [my] records on the turntable in my room.

So your family wouldn’t see you or hear you playing them?
They didn’t want to hear that kind of stuff – they didn’t want to hear that Studio One stuff. (Laughing) (Lighting a new spliff)

You must have been excited to get all of those records from Coxsone? That was quite a boon when he gave you all those to practice [singing] on and [to] listen to? You must have been pretty excited?
Oh man, listen, not even Donald [Hossack] – when I went to Donald, I said, “Donald, listen, can I listen to the records at your house?” He goes, “Boy, Earl, listen, my mom’s gonna to go to sleep soon, I can’t play these kinda records in my home.” But the thing about it, that area we were growing up in, Steve, was a very vibrant area. Because we used to have like every, almost every night of the week, the sound system was playing on the road and stuff. So I was really interested to carry on and follow through, but I hated my music class, man. That’s one of the first subjects in school that I hated.

You didn’t like your music class? How come?
Well one of my first teachers – she was boring, man.

She was boring?
Yeah my first music teacher was so boring, man, that I fell asleep all the time. And she kicked me out of the class. [She’d say:] “Earl, get out of the class. You’re sleeping.”

I wanted to ask you, because I realized I passed by it, but actually when I was doing the research [in preparation to interview you, I realized] it’s kind of an important question. When you won that talent contest – going back to the Bohemia nightclub – that was a pretty big moment that sort of catapulted you into fame. You sang “Peek-A-Boo,” and I heard you in a number of interviews talk about that song “Peek-A-Boo.” And I know that you said – and I could be really wrong about this – but I just wanted to let you know, because I looked into it a little bit. And “Peek-A-Boo”-
Yeah Steve.

Roy Cousins

Roy Cousins

-“Peek-A-Boo,” first of all, I really like the song “Peek-A-Boo.” I didn’t know about it – and then I realized that you actually ended up putting that on one of your albums, “Special Request,” in 1999, one of the tracks is “Peek-A-Boo.” So you ended up recording the song professionally later, after you won that contest as a kid-
Yeah man, mi brethren called Earl Cunningham, Earl Cunningham did the backing vocals. We went together to the studio to voice that tune for a brethren called Roy Cousins, from The Royals. Roy Cousins was a singer that recorded some albums for Studio One. And [he was in a band called] The Royals. So yeah, he came to Jamaica and he said, “Earl I’ve got some studio time booked at Harry J’s Studio, and I’d love to voice a tune or two with you and stuff.” So you know after I finished voicing a couple of tunes for myself and for Alphonso Bailey and stuff, Roy said, “Well look” – ’cause [during] dem times, I was ready to pounce, I was ready to work for Studio One, you know what I’m saying? I think I voiced a few tunes for Roy before we end up doing an album, you know?

But the reason why I just wanted to focus on “Peek-A-Boo” for a second is because you mentioned it a number of times, and I looked it up; it seems you’ve said [“Peek-A-Boo” is] a Chi-Lites song, but I don’t think it is. I think it’s a Stylistics song. Unless the Chi-Lites have a version of it-
Well it might be The Stylistics. Yeah The Stylistics. The thing about it, at that point in my career, I had a very like, what you could call, my voice was a little bit – it was kinda young, you know what I’m saying? I had a very crisp falsetto. It’s called a falsetto, you know?

Yeah. You have one of the best falsettos I’m aware of.
We used to practice at home, on the street, like at night. Like, you know, when we was kids and stuff. We used to get a little break from home, you know, chores – [like] putting the chicken in [or] putting the goat back in his feed. We’d come back out and we’d start practicing. That’s what we used to do as youth. You’d come back out on the street in the ’70s in Jamaica to stay under the street lights and just sing and talk about what’s in the news or whatever – you see what mi a-say?

Yeah, for sure. I mentioned Hossack-
Donald Hossack, God bless him, wicked brother.

Is he still alive, and are you in touch with him still?
I haven’t spoken to Donald for like, I don’t know, for a long time. Donald was cool. Donald was like – he’s probably the headmaster in some school somewhere or something.

Another man who was, I think, influential in your life and in your music career that you’ve mentioned is Boris Gardiner. And you joined the Boris Gardiner What’s Happening Band after you won that contest-
Yes, sir.

Later on, after about a year, you ended up joining the Boris Gardiner Happening band?
I did, I did. (Laughing) I got lucky because the thing about it now was, after we formed the group, The Flaming Phonics, we ended up doing a few concerts and stuff, we ended up as a group – it was the four of us. So because we had auditioned for Duke Reid, we auditioned with Aquarius record label, in the studio, you know, we were doing a lot of auditions and stuff. And then we ended up recording the tune. So we had a tune called “Hey Baby.” It was Chin Loy-[producer] Herman Chin Loy who actually put out [that tune] for me. I have to give thanks to Herman fi do that.

And that was Aquarius Records?
Aquarius Records, [on] their label, yeah, yeah, yeah. So when that record came out – because I was hanging around some guys, I was hanging around people like Hugh Mundell, and [trumpeter] David Madden, and Skill-

[Alan] Skill Cole, yeah.
So we was coming around, you know, I was hanging around some people and then Boris said, “Yeah, you guys were the ones who put out that tune ‘Hey Baby’?” So I said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” But the thing was, Tinga Stewart was the lead singer for [Boris Gardiner’s] band; he did about three festival songs which were hit-hit-hit, after hit. Tinga was like the ‘Hit Factory’ at the time. So Tinga ended up leaving the band.

Boris Gardiner

Boris Gardiner

You’ve described Boris Gardiner as being a consummate musician – somebody who could write music, play music, he was a musician who you learned a lot from, fair to say?
Boris was – Boris is the Chief of Staff, one of the chief musicians that I’ve ever worked with. Boris was a bass player – he was a phenomenon, man. ‘Cause I was still a teenager, man, when I met up with those guys. ‘Cause when they found me, I was still on the street with Jah Youth dem and ting, and I ride up and down [from] place to place. But we had a group. The Flaming Phonics was doing a lot of schools – you know, how’d you’d call it, like – balls and stuff. We started to perform in Excelsior schools, you know, we went to “Holy Child”-

So you were making a name for yourself with the Flaming Phonics. Boris though, Boris was getting booked by people like Lee Scratch Perry, right? He was being booked – as a professional. So when you joined Boris, he was really like a mentor to you?
(Laughing) Oh God, yeah, man. For sure, for sure, for sure. Boris was – I learned a lot from that whole segment of my life, you know?

And I wanted to ask about that segment of your life, also, particularly Earl, because that’s also from what I understand – and I want to make sure that all the reggae fans know – I only know this from reading an interview that you did with Angus Taylor for reggaeville[.com].
Angus Taylor? Oh yeah, yeah Steve.

The genesis of your name – of your stage name, Earl Sixteen-
(Laughing) Oh crap-

My understanding, let me see if I’m accurate: Boris Gardiner’s band, when you started to join them – you were apprenticing with them – they said, “Hey listen: You’re trying to act like a big man, but you’re only sixteen. So we’re gonna call you ‘Earl Sixteen’ just to keep you humble.” Is that accurate?
(Laughing) Steve. Nah, nah, for real, for real. The thing was, I wasn’t really launching – I wasn’t thinking about getting involved in the music that deep. Because I still had my mom, and my parents saying: “This music ting not good for [you], Earl. We not gonna have this. You know you can’t be coming back home and things like that every night, saying, ‘Where is the money, you know?” (Laughing)

But I want to ask, but that nickname, and the reason why I want to focus on the nickname is because, you know, I’ve asked other musicians about this. Like for example, earlier this year I interviewed Flabba Holt-
You interviewed Flabba?

-and Flabba – I interviewed Flabba, and Flabba told me something he’d never told anyone else before: Which is how he got his nickname “Flabba.” He told me that his brother named him Flabba because he ate too many dumplings one day – he ate up all the dumplings, so [his brother] called him “Flabba.” (Laughing)
You’re talking [about] Errol Holt! (Smoking spliff, laughing)

The thing about it is, Earl, what I see with a lot of Jamaican musicians, I mean, in Jamaica, when they give you a nickname, it cuts to the core-
It sticks. It sticks for life, man.

But how did you – I guess what I was curious about, how did you realize at such a young age – if I was sixteen my initial reaction would be, “I’m not gonna call myself “Earl Sixteen,” you’re messing with me. How did you know, how did you decide, you know what? I’m gonna use that as my stage name. What persuaded you to use that as your stage name?
Steve, you see during that time, during that period there, I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t really think, you know, because that was kind of like [an] ‘uprising time’ for I and I. Because when I connected with Boris, I ended up meeting some guys from the “Twelve Tribes of Israel” – I’m telling you from an early age. From 1976. I realized that there was this big movement [that] was starting next door to Boris’s house. Because Boris was living in a place called Whitehall Avenue – No, it wasn’t Whitehall Avenue. Where Boris was living – it’s uptown, but it was still in the ghetto, you see what me a-say?

Yeah.
I came from a place called Selassie Drive, you know? And when I was about nine years old, when King Selassie came to Jamaica, in 1966, right?

Yeah.
I was there [to] see when he came off the plane – or helicopter.

You were at the airport?
No, no, not at the airport. He came to buy a piece of land. Which was owned by a man called Mr. Artie. Artie was the father of Lawrence Roe. Mr. Artie owned a whole lot of land in the area where we grew up, you know? You see what me a-say? But the thing about it now, [it] never really penetrated at sixteen years old, because, true, you see where you’re coming from – you have to grow up quick. Not even young, but you have to be smart, quick, and fast. You know what I mean? I might get stabbed, or a man might rush you for no reason. Or if he take away [my] marble[s], yeah. [Or] if you win him inna skating-board competition. Because we used to do competitions, and we’d skate down the road like a bike race. (Laughing) We used to do all kinds of stupid things. Like Eek-A-Mouse, [I] used to remember dem things, like when the rain fall, we make some little boards out of matchsticks or lollipop sticks. And we’d make a boat out of paper. But funny enough, you’re right you know, Steve, I never realized that name would stick with me for so long, you know? But I was cool – I was alright with it.

Suns of Dub tour 2017 in Europe, Earl Sixteen with Ras Jammy, Thomas Evers, Addis Pablo, Bammy, and Alpheus, (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen

Suns of Dub tour 2017 in Europe, Earl Sixteen with Ras Jammy, Thomas Evers, Addis Pablo, Bammy, and Alpheus (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

You became comfortable with it pretty quick – eventually, you said [to yourself], “You know what? I’m Earl Sixteen.”
(Smiling) Yeah, you know, I’m glad you mentioned that. Because now I’m gonna change my name – I’m gonna have to do a Prince. (Laughing)

(Laughing) Oh man, oh man. I want to turn now, for a moment, to hands-down one of your most famous songs. You mentioned it a little bit earlier. It’s a song that continues to be very powerful. Especially in these times. The song “Malcolm X” which I believe first came out in 1975. And this was a song written by your friend, as you mentioned, singer [and] songwriter, Winston McAnuff. And in a number of interviews you have told the story about how you and Winston went to Joe Gibbs’s studio after school one time, and engineer Earl Thompson eventually chose your version of the song over McAnuff’s. And then, eventually, McAnuff and you would go on to record “Malcolm X” – not only for Joe Gibbs, but also for the producer-singer Derrick Harriott and – you also sang that song for Derrick Harriott as well-
And truthfully I never wanted to – they never released the tune for us, you know?

Joe Gibbs never released the tune?
Nah, because the thing about it now was: We were young. There was me, Winston, and Frankie “Bubbler.” Franklyn Waugh.

Franklyn Waugh.
“Bubbler” is his name. Bubbler and I used to go to the same school, Excelsior School. We used to practice that tune there, every day, in the auditorium at the school, you know? We used to practice it after school, we’d go and practice it before we’d go to the studio. And then the musicians would say, “Hey, you guys need to take that to the studio, man.” But the thing about it was when we actually went to the studio, [we’d] come in our school uniforms, and they’d say, “These kids!” And they’d run us out a couple of times, man. You know we didn’t actually venture into it at the same, you know like – they run us out, but we keep coming back, we keep coming back. So Winston [McAnuff] – I used to love Winston, I used to follow him. And [so I said]: “Winston, you up now. I support [your] thing. Everything [you] a-say brethren, come on, let’s do it.” And you know, Franklyn [“Bubbler” Waugh] would come with us. So when Errol Thompson first heard the tune, him say: “Yeah man, that tune there – bwoy!” So they encouraged us to do it. And [Errol] said, “We need a different singer, you know.” And Winston said to me, “Earl, you try it then.” And I did my best, man. It wasn’t good enough. Eventually dem put Dennis Brown pon it. (Laughing)

Dennis Brown, Toronto ON 1987 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

Dennis Brown, Toronto ON 1987 (Photo: Beth Lesser)

And I wanted to ask about this. I have to ask you about this. I’ve listened to all the [different] versions of “Malcolm X,” and I know that Dennis Brown – I believe – Dennis Brown-
He killed it. Him mash it up.

-he was only maybe two years older than you.
(Lighting new spliff) Yeah man.

And you and Winston were friends with Dennis Brown – you were friends with Dennis?
Yeah! Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, man.

I guess what I wanted to ask you about this [is]: Were either you or Winston, were either of you upset at all with Dennis? [Upset] [t]hat Dennis had gone and voiced the song for Joe Gibbs-
No, no, no. You see, at that point in our career – true artists, you cannot get upset with. Dennis Brown and Alton Ellis. Alton Ellis and Dennis Brown [were] like the top singers in Jamaica at the time. Now you probably have like Luciano, or Beres Hammond, or whatever. But [in] those days, Dennis was like – not even Bob Marley, man – I’m telling you now. Dennis was the local – the local hero, more or less. But you know back like a country singer. Dennis was our country local singer, yeah. Our country singer. (Laughing)

When I interviewed Sister Carol she said exactly the same thing. She talked about how much the people-
Yeah man, he was a country singer. Because he was like – but then Dennis was just a local, he wasn’t popular [yet] internationally. Like Lee [Scratch] Perry. Lee Perry wasn’t popular overseas [at the time], but he was big in Jamaica.

But even though Dennis was so popular – but Earl, even though Dennis was so popular, and you guys revered him and thought he was a great singer, you and Winston-
Nah, nah, my problem was with the producer. Fucking-

Joe Gibbs?
Because we were looking at it like, “Yeah, [now] we can buy some new school uniforms.” (Laughing)

(Laughing) But eventually you did get the success [with the song “Malcolm X”] with Derrick Harriott, because everyone knows that version-
Oh yeah.

-of “Malcolm X” which is so powerful.
Yeah Derrick did us a good job. [We] [w]ent back to the studio and recorded [it] again at Federal [Records]. At [[Ken] Khouri’s. With Sly and Robbie and the whole thing, man.

But I want to ask, too – for all the reggae fans – I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you this question. Because like you said, you spent such a significant period of time growing up with Dennis Brown. And you know, people like [legendary guitarist] Tony Chin have even told me that Dennis Brown, still even today, isn’t treated right in Jamaica, you know, not like he should be. And I guess I just wanted to focus on Dennis Brown for a moment, and ask you because you spent so much time with him when you were younger: Are there any personal memories that you have, Earl, that you think about, when someone mentions Dennis Brown – what is your best, happiest memory of hanging out with Dennis Brown when you were younger?
Well, to be fair, Dennis was – when we [were] younger and Dennis was still up and running, Dennis invited me to a show, right, [at] Madison Square Gardens. In 1986 I think it was. I was in New York, I was touring with [Lord] Sassafrass, and a few [other] people. And Dennis – I was living – I was spending some time in Harlem or something. And I realized that Bunny Wailer was doing a show [at] [Madison Square] Garden. [And so I said:] “Shit, Sassa, look, let’s go.” Me and Sassafrass, and Echo Minott – but Echo didn’t want to come. So I said, “Man I’m going around to see Bunny Wailer.” But I didn’t have no ticket because Madison Square Garden at that time, the ticket was like twenty-five U.S. dollars. It was very kind of kosher. But I was very grateful to see that. But when I went down there, as soon as we got to the venue, I saw Dennis [Brown], and I said: “Dennis-” I don’t think Dennis was [scheduled to perform] on the show. Because Freddie McGregor was there, a few guys [were] there. And I said “Dennis-” I had a couple brethren with me, you know. And I said. “Dennis, I want to come see the show tonight.” And Dennis said, “You see this pass mi a-give you?” (gesturing as if there was pass around his neck). “Make sure you take it off, and come in and bring back my pass.” And Steve, you see that pass, man, when mi get the pass now, because Dennis went in, and he gave me the pass… I’ll never forget that, Steve.

This is maybe unfair, but let me ask you: Are there any particular Dennis Brown songs that you just love? He has so many, but are there any favorite Dennis Brown songs that you have?
Oh yeah, man. One of my favorite is “Changing Times.” To me the baddest album Dennis ever did was with Derrick Harriott, man.

Which one?
The album is – he did only one album with Derrick Harriott.

Okay, well I’ll find it. I’ll have to look it up.
“No Man Is an Island” I think it was called. No, no – that’s Studio One. No, he did an album with Derrick now. (Singing) “Now that the change has come…” So it was like, you know, they had harmonies, they had instruments – they had horns. They had live recording, the whole thing was-

So Dennis Brown’s album with Derrick Harriott is one-
It’s called “Concentration” [“Super Reggae & Soul Hits”] – that album is called.

Nice. Cool.
Yeah man. Dennis was the boss. Dennis was the general.

And Winston I believe lives in France. Are you still [in touch] with Winston McAnuff at all?
Yeah man, yeah man, yeah man. We’re family, man.

Cool.
Winston just built a mansion in Jamaica. And have some [Mercedes] Benz and all kinda car-

As we were finalizing plans for today’s interview, one of the most, as we mentioned [earlier in this interview], one of the most famous reggae producers – one of the biggest legends in music, Lee “Scratch” Perry, he passed away at the age of 85. And my understanding is that after you parted ways with Boris Gardiner, and as your involvement with Rasta grew deeper, you recorded several songs with Scratch at his Black Ark Studio.
Yes, we did. Yes, we did. Yes, we did.

And I wanted to ask about one of those songs which I just love: the song “Freedom.” Which you recorded with Scratch in 1977. And like I [said], I just love this song “Freedom.” I could listen to it again, and again, and again, and never-
(Laughing) Nah man, I’ll tell you now, that one is the most played song on – there used to be a Saturday morning program in Jamaica, right, called – Errol Thompson was like a radio D.J. – it’s called “E.T.-E.T. Saturday Morning” or something, I can’t remember. But he was a radio personality, you know? And so E.T., E.T. used to play the dub. He used to play [it] every single time on his radio show – it was annoying, man. His dub was so disgusting.

And I think when you listen to it – you can listen to “Malcolm X”-there are a couple of versions on YouTube. There’s one that definitely has the dub – you listen to the first version and then-
Yeah, yeah, the dub part.

Now anyone who reads this interview should definitely go and listen to “Freedom.” A few questions about “Freedom”-
Yes, Steve.

Who wrote the song?
That song was written by me and a brethren called Clive Jefferies, and the next brethren, called Dalton Browne.

Okay, cool.
Yeah Dalton Browne. And Clive. Because you see that was when the whole Flaming Phonics was disintegrating. Because the group – when we started our group called “The Flaming Phonics,” there became a group called the Brownie Bunch, the Brownie boys. Because we used to hang out together – well, not hang out. We used to try to make some classical – some good music.

You would collaborate? You would collaborate together?
Exactly. We’d try to collaborate because we were all school kids (at the time).

So I’m sorry, and I just want to make sure I get it right – because I love this song, “Freedom.” Say again the names of the guys who helped to write the song?
Dalton Browne. And a guy called Clive Jefferies. And Kenneth Hamilton. Dalton is the man who was singing, “Now! Now! Now!”

I wanted to ask you about that – I’m glad you said that because one of my questions for you, and it may have just been my imagination, but I was curious, I thought that I heard, I was listening closely, and I was like, wait a minute, is that Scratch saying “Now!?”
(Laughing) Ah, nah, that’s Dalton B.

Do you remember – I know you recorded a couple of songs for Scratch – but do you remember, in the studio, when you recorded that super-dope song “Freedom,” do you remember Scratch being in the studio? And do you remember what his participation was? How did he help you to sing those songs for him, including “Freedom?”
Basically, the whole thing about that era was [that] it was a very interesting time in the whole transition from ska. But it was a different vibe, you know, compared to like King Tubby’s, or you know Johnny Clarke, or – it was just a different era. The whole segment of recording at Black Ark was like, we just thought that, you know, we was doing a different segment of realizing our black [identity]. You had a tune called “Traveling,” you know, the Congos was coming out, a whole lot of things were coming out of the studios at that time.

But I guess what I am trying to focus on is Lee Scratch Perry for a minute, and how – because so many people have talked about how he was such a great producer. And “Freedom,” like I [said], it’s got – now that I know about the song, you know, that’s like one of my top songs. I love the song, and so I was so curious about-
You see the guys that played it, man, was Albert Malawi and John – it was amazing! The musicians was steeped – it was Albert [and] Mikey Richards – it was a crazy, crazy, crazy session. And the thing about that, those tunes, most of the songs – the Black Ark Studio was really happening. It was happening a long time; it was thousands of songs that we were doing, man. Before Scratch became the way he was. We was just hustling. We was just cooking food, smoking weed, and you know, just boil some dumplings on the corner and stuff; keeping the thing going, you see what me a-say? Yeah man.

Albert Malawi

Albert Malawi

And [Scratch] had the inspiration-
No, listen: The boss is the boss. Yeah man.

Albert Malawi, I think they called him “Ilawi Malawi” Johnson, he was [doing] the drumming on “Freedom,”-
Oh man, gorgeous thing. Oh Jeez and peas.

The drumming on “Freedom” is super-wicked!
Terrible!

And a lot of people don’t know, he is Hempress Sativa’s father.
Yeah Malawi is, what you call them guys, the song – he was the selector.

For the Jah Love Sound System, right?
Brigadier Jerry and them. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah but that tune – that was a significant production. But like me, myself, I used to I was one of the guys that used to work – like I said, when you got incorporated with The Brownie [Bunch], you know, it was back when Clevie and then Steely – Steely was the man who first played on my tune called “Man Making Plan.” That’s the first song that Steely ever recorded.

Wow.
But it was cool, it was cool, it was cool. Because we had to-

What were your thoughts when you heard that Scratch had passed away – what were your thoughts about Scratch passing away, and his legacy?
My thought was just that Scratch has just gone down the river. And we have to make sure the water is clear. Clear up the water because Scratch is coming. (Laughing) Keep the river clear!

(Laughing) Wow. That’s poetic. That is very poetic. In addition to Scratch Perry, you recorded songs for so many famous producers. The list includes: Joe Gibbs, Derrick Harriott, Coxsone Dodd. And it also includes Mikey Dread, Augustus Pablo, Errol Morgan, Linval Thompson, Gussie P., Yabby You, Mad Professor, Nick Manasseh, and the list goes on and on. I want to mention also, you know, Roberto Sánchez -there’s not enough time in this interview for me to really get into it, but the album that you did [with him], “Natty Farming,” from 2014-
(Singing) “Doing a likkle farming. And planting.” (Laughing)

(Laughing) You have to propagate the land. You have to propagate-
(Smoking spliff) Yes, sir. Because the thing about it, Steve, we had to try and incorporate – because the whole system, after Bob Marley died, right, after Bob died, they said that reggae was going to be dead. But when reggae dies with Bob Marley, the next singer that became [big] was Shabba Ranks, Buju Banton, Sizzla. Reggae became alive again. But different set of, you know, different from the whole, you know, Joseph Hill, and different from that whole section of-

It wasn’t as much roots anymore?
It wasn’t roots anymore. It became to be like a sound system – well not like a sound system, but you know, because it just changed. It changed. So then, you know, for us to maintain that Caribbean history – that history that we had before Colombus came to Jamaica. But you know, me personally, I’m just a part of that. I just intend to try and keep the history alive, keep the culture alive-

Earl 16 Natty Farming

I mentioned [producer-musician] Roberto Sanchez a minute ago. I wanted to ask you: When you worked on that album “Natty Farming” [with him], which again is a great album, did you actually go to Spain – did you work in Spain at his studio, or did you just collaborate with him from where you are?
No, I was traveling; I was traveling long before that to a place called the “Basque Country.” The Basque Country is a country in Spain that is like – they have a different kind of mentality – you know, it’s like the Maroons in Jamaica. The Maroons have their own thing and the Basque culture have their own thing. You see what me a-say? So I was doing that. I tried there – I traveled to the Basque Country; the first time I went was with Inyaki and Yabby You and them to the Basque Country. When we meet Roberto, Roberto was a part of the musicians dem. He was just putting his band together. So yeah, you know, we do freedom fighting and whatever we can call it, we call it “climate changing.” We just climb everything. We climatize. Mi acclimatize myself. You hear what me a-say, Steve?

For sure. Did Roberto Sanchez, did his studio band, the Lone Ark Riddim Force, did they play on that “Natty Farming” [album]?
Yeah man, yeah man, yeah man. Bad, bad, bad, man. Yeah man, that was so interesting. Because a lot of the – I think they took some of the drum tracks – from some old Channel One – like the drum patterns and stuff – they got them live-

Yeah, they make it sound just like that era.
They added everything else, man. These guys are good, man. I can’t say nothing bad about them, because I literally saw them starting to play with us with in – the band was called the BDF Band, Basque Dub Foundation Band. They started playing with us, they started playing with me-

Can I ask Earl, because you worked with all those good producers – all those producers I named – it seems like you would be an excellent person to ask this question to: If you had to give advice to someone who want[s] to be a producer, a young guy [or girl] who wants to be a producer in the music business, what’s the best advice that you could give as to what are the skills that you have to possess, the qualities, the things that you do to make you a good producer?
Well it depends, you know, because if you decide to make like I think, reggae has [what’s] thought to be an optional, I don’t know, like a system or whatever. Where it’s gotta be like – but if you want to make some trap music or if you want to make some reggaeton, you want to make hip hop, it’s always good. You can do it on your phone, you can do it on your iPhone. You can do it in the studio – whatever. But with reggae, it’s always essential to have live instruments, you know? Live instruments, as much and as live as you can. With people actually playing – or I don’t know. Nowadays you can cheat, you can get some Sly and Robbie drum plays, some Santana on guitars from a CD download and stuff. (Laughing) You know what I’m saying. But it all depends. It all depends-

But you still-
How much can you afford to build the track or stuff – most of us now, that’s not what we do. We just build a riddim from a – from a phone. I can build a riddim on my phone and just call up Steve, and say: “Hey Steve, do a chant on my riddim, please.” No man, Steve, but it’s good, it’s good, you know, we give thanks. The problem is that, the originals, you know it’s all live. If you’re going to see a band live play, a lot of the artists now that [are] performing, I noticed, they’re using backing tracks now while they sing. Even some of the famous rappers – they’re using their own voices to rap along with it.

Mikey Dread backstage at Reggae Geel 2006 (Photo: Teacher)

Mikey Dread (Photo: Teacher)

We were talking about producers and I wanted to mention Mikey Dread for a minute, if it’s okay. Because Mikey Dread-your songs on what I think is one of your top albums, “Reggae Sound,” [were] produced by Mikey Dread. And it was not long I think before you relocated to the U.K. Before you went to London, you came out with album “Reggae Sound,” and there’s a pair of songs – I mean I really dig the whole album (“Reggae Sound”) – it’s such a great album, but there’s two songs on it I just love. I just want to mention them: “Lovers Delight” – the song “Lovers Delight.” I mean the falsetto on that song “Lovers Delight” – which is a bonus track- [is so incredible!].
That’s a tune that we [remade that was originally] called “Rocker’s Delight.” It’s on Mikey’s album called [“Beyond World War III”]. Mikey did an album called [“Beyond World War III”] and he had a version called “Rockers Delight” [on it] which was a big tune in England.

Well “Lovers Delight,” the falsetto on that is so – spectacular.
You’re funny. You’re giving jokes, man. (Laughing)

(Laughing) No, no, it’s incredible. And then “Poor Man” – I wanted to ask about “Poor Man”-
(Singing) “Lover’s delight-“

Yeah that’s the one. But I also want to mention the song-
(Singing) “It’s the poor man.” Yeah man, dem tunes there-

“Poor Man” has some of the saddest lyrics I think I’ve ever heard. You sing, “I’m just a poor man, living in frustration, I got no friends, I’m just a suffering man.”
Yeah. (Smoking spliff)

How did you come up with those lyrics – make them, you know, they’re so sad, but then, you know, you make it sound so sweet but, what was going on to inspire those lyrics?
(Smoking spliff) No because, you know, those times we were running through some very dark [times]. Because for me to voice that tune, right, I had to channel from my yard which was in Waltham Park Road. And I had to travel through like three different, I can say like villages, not villages but – to get to King Tubby’s, right, you have to go through about three different gullies – not gullies, but – because I use to take mini-buses, right? I would take mini-buses from my house [on] Waltham Park [Road]. But to get to Tubby’s, bro, let me tell you now, you have to go across a gully, you have to go across a ridge to go to Tubby’s, and late at night because Mikey [Dread] would always wait until him finish work, and him say: “Earl, yeah, you going to the studio, tonight? And I’m like, “Oh shit. I’m gonna have to go to Waterhouse,” and mi coming up, because, it’s kinda like, I don’t know, it’s kinda like Israel and Palestine or something. I don’t know how I can explain it to you. It’s like you’re not allowed in certain areas.

King Tubby (Photo: John Williams)

King Tubby (Photo: John Williams)

Were you scared going to Tubby’s?
I fucking pissed in my pants, man. Every single time. Because the thing about Tubby’s area, Tubby’s area was a labourite [area]. And I came from a PNP area.

Yeah. They didn’t want to see you. Yeah.
So as soon as dem see me, they say, “That boy. Where he come from? What’s he doing around here?” And I’m like, “Oh shit.” (Laughing) So I was always lucky to end up at the studio at a certain time, you know?

Very much like Hugh Mundell who you mentioned a little while back who passed away, who died way too early, way too young, Mikey Dread also passed away way too young. You know he was a really fabulous producer who not enough is said about-
Yes sir.

-and I wondered do you have any – what do you miss most about Mikey Dread and about working with him?
Oh Mikey was a vibrant innovator, man. Mikey was always coming up with some great jingles, Mikey had – he was very brilliant initiating stuff for radio. Media stuff. Mikey was a very “media” person. Mikey was one of the first men that – David Rodigan invited him to Europe. David Rodigan was very amused that Mikey had these kinda radio jingles that was cute-cute, cute, cute. Mikey was a classic, man. You know, so that’s how we do, Steve. Mikey Dread was a good brethren.

And Mikey Dread was basically responsible for you going to the U.K. as well? I mean he brought you there initially on tour-
No he wasn’t. No, no, Mikey did bring Edi Fitzroy, [and] Mikey [brought] a few [other] artists before me. Mikey never brought me to England, man. I came to England with Kenneth Livingston. I was invited to England by certain people. But no Mikey did try to bring me [to England]. Mikey Dread was a fantastic guy. But yeah, yeah, it’s just one of them things, you know what I’m saying?

And around that same time period, Earl, right I think it’s before you left to go to the U.K. It was in 1981, you sang a stunning track called “Live Together.” Which folks can listen to on YouTube – someone uploaded the Greensleeves 45 – you know that song, “Live Together?”
Yeah man, yeah man. I did it with Linval Thompson.

Yeah. It’s a peace anthem, I mean the song, like you said it was produced by Linval Thompson, [and] backed by the Roots Radics – Flabba and company whom I mentioned [earlier].
Yeah man.

And it’s mixed – that song – by the legendary Scientist.
Scientist, yeah of course.

And with so many legends involved in that one track – I mean, you have Scientist, you have Linval Thompson, you have yourself, you have the Roots Radics, I mean there was no question that that track was going to be so crucial. But I was just curious, is this also a song “Living Together,” is that a song that you wrote? Did you write that song?
No, ’cause like I said to you, Steve, the thing about it, we went through a very difficult period when we was living amongst Seaga and Michael Manley. Which was two great guys, two great people, because I can also remember people like Bigga Ford, I can also remember people like Alphonso Walker, people who benefit our stuff, you know? Benefit to us, you know? But the thing about it, it was kind of a politics thing in the Caribbean. So you become like your own cousin, or your own family. Like my house used to have a picture of a labourite, or whatever you call it. There was a picture in my house all the time, in my grannie’s house where mi a-grow up, you know-my auntie’s house [I mean,] not mi grannie, my grannie never used to have no picture in her house. But my auntie’s house used to have a picture of, you know, certain people. But the thing about it, I never use to grow up like that. I didn’t go as a political person, you know, like I’m gonna defend this, I’m gonna defend this guy, and defend that guy and stuff. But it was one of dem things where we was forced to become like enemies.

That song “Live Together” is kinda like, hey, we need to all unite. It’s basically a plea-
Yeah man, yeah man, yeah man. That’s why – there’s a bretheren called Chester, right? Chester, and Leon was his brother, Leon and Chester dem. Leon was one of the foundational guys I used to work with [with] [Joseph] “Jo Jo” Hoo Kim. The man used to build riddims, just building up Channel One. And building Channel One all the time. All the time. Build it, build it, build it. And then Leon had all kinda riddims and stuff-

You’re saying his name is – I’m sorry but I want to make sure – you’re saying his name is “Leon?” What’s the last name?
I can’t remember Leon’s last name, but Leon dem use to make a whole heap of riddims. And then what he used to do, because he used to build – because when Channel One get started, right, they was building riddims all through the night. Sly, myself – all kind of people. Building riddims. In those times Barry Brown and dem was recording, and all kinds of people [like] Sugar Minott. Doing all kinds of recordings. But eventually, you know, I realized that now, the thing that happened was, you know, Chester made so much effort to put out some of those tunes. Up to this day, Chester died, you know? In Brazil. And never get to manifest his final project. So you see, it’s two brothers, but it’s just that we wasn’t living together, you know? That tune is called “Living Together.” I want to put that out. I’m gonna release that [song] again, man.

Scientist at work

Scientist at work

I hope you do. Because it’s such a wicked song.
I may have to talk to Linval.

I sent that song – I sent that tune to Scientist the other day. I said, “Hey, I’m gonna ask Earl about this tune because you mixed it. And I listened to it and it’s such a wicked tune.” Do you remember working with Scientist at that time? I guess this must have been at Studio One-Not Studio One, I mean Channel One. At Channel One, I think. Is that where that song was recorded, at Channel One?
No, at Tubby’s, Tubby’s, Tubby’s.

And what do you remember about Scientist – working with Scientist during that time? Scientist was so young then but it seems like he was still very much in control in the studio.
The thing about it was Tubby’s was always a man that was innovative, Tubby’s would always be, you know, close by. So anytime Tubby’s come in the studio and Scientist [was there, he’d say], “Listen, tweak that one, touch that one.” You see, any time you see Tubby’s come in the studio and touch the machine, that tune is going to be a hit song. I’m telling you! Now Scientist was young and ting but we used to support [him]. We used to be there with Scientist. The majority of the songs that Yabby You recorded was with Scientist.

When I listen to those tunes back from the ’80s, I don’t think that there’s a better sound engineer than Scientist. I mean those songs are so wicked. And the mixes are so tight.
Yeah, yeah, we did our best man. We was like the second generation or the third generation from the whole studio innovation thing. Because, to be fair, I think before Tubby’s, there was Coxsone-

Treasure Isle [with] Duke Reid, oh you’re frozen a bit…(the video connection freezes briefly)…hopefully you’ll come back.
(The video connection returns….) But before that, on another level, you’d probably say, like Dynamics Records, and Federal, Federal Records. You’d say Harry J and stuff like that. But talking about engineers and stuff, you know, it was interesting. The whole innovation, you know.

We were talking about how when you moved in the ’80s, you relocated to the United Kingdom. You had children [there in the U.K.], and there’s a reggae radio DJ who’s in Nairobi, he’s in Nairobi, Kenya. And he’s a big fan of yours.
I like this.

He’s known as Rapcha. R-A-P-C-H-A. And he asked me specifically to ask you about your stint at Ariwa Records [in the U.K.], working with Mad Professor, on one of your most-loved albums, “Babylon Walls.”
Yeah.

Can you speak a bit about what it’s like to work with Mad Professor as compared to someone else? What’s it like to work with Mad Professor?
Very, very interesting. Very innovative. Because the thing about Mad Prof, Mad Professor is always incorporating the songs from the Caribbean. The songs from – I don’t know – the continent. So the thing about it, for me to be working with him was very interesting because when I started working with Prof, he’d just finished working with a guy called Jah Shaka, a man called Jah Shaka, you know? Prof was just building up his thing and working him thing, and getting him thing together and getting tight. Because the U.K. sound for reggae is not as fundamental, but live-wise Prof was trying to incorporate the whole live recording and blah, blah, blah. So when I started doing the albums with Prof, it was recorded live.

[Like] “Babylon Walls?”
“Babylon Walls” was recorded, yeah, with all the musicians in the studio and ting like that. All the musicians performing together in one room. Not just a computer ting. You understand what me a-say?

Yeah. I do. There’s another reggae radio host and D.J. This time he’s a fan of yours in Kampala, Uganda, and he goes by the name of “Blaze.”
(Laughing) Yeah?

And he messaged me [on Twitter] when he found out I was going to be interviewing you, and he said, quote: “Can you please ask – I’d like to know the differences between the Jamaican and U.K. reggae scene, especially with all of Earl Sixteen’s experiences.” And you started to talk about this a little bit, just a second ago, but he really wanted you to focus on what’s different between Jamaica and the U.K. [when it comes to] reggae?
Well basically because, to be honest, we don’t have a reggae scene any more in Jamaica. I don’t think there is that kind of energy happening apart from – like I did an album recently called “The Fittest” with some guys at Tuff Gong Studios. And it was cool, it was good, you know it went alright, but the thing about live recordings – for reggae music I’m talking about, in the U.K., it’s getting a little more, you know, technology moves on. So, for me, I haven’t been doing a lot of recordings in the U.K. So I’ve been doing a lot of tracks for producers from France, for producers from, I don’t know, Croatia. I just recorded a song for some guys from Miami. So they’re building their tracks off of different energies, different areas. The last album I did was really good, the last track I did was with a guy called David [with] Zion I Kings Records. Fantastic musicians, man! I mean the rhythm tracks are amazing. They’ve got really a good vibe. But the thing is for us to really differentiate between Jamaica and the U.K., there’s not much to split. (Laughing) Because everyone’s kinda working on the internet stuff lately – the internet part.

So it’s not so different right now?
It’s not so different right now, because we’re all using the same [technology].

When was the last time that you went to Jamaica?
I haven’t been to Jamaica in a long time, man.

You still have family and friends there though, right?
I hope so. (Laughing) I hope I still have friends and family in Kenya, too. And in Africa, too. And in California, too, Steve. How is Roger Steffens, man? You know, Roger?

Roger Steffens, yeah, I’m actually going to be talking to Roger soon. He-
I’ve been to his house; I’ve spent some time with Roger. Have you seen his garage?

Yeah, his Bob Marley [archives] – all his stuff!? Oh man, he showed me – he gave me a tour early on when I moved to California; he invited me to his house and I saw the reggae archives. All that stuff should be in Jamaica.
Yeah man, yeah man, Steve-

Hey Earl, I don’t want to ask too many more questions, I know that it’s getting late for you over there and I don’t want to impose on you too much longer-
No man, no man, no man, you’re cool, you’re cool.

I do have a few more questions, but I hope that some time, at a later date, maybe we can pick up on some of the music we don’t cover today.
Yeah Steve.

I want to start my last series of questions by asking about two other giants in reggae that we lost this year, Bunny Wailer and U-Roy. Starting with U-Roy, there are these two wonderful songs that you sang on your 2011 album, “The Fittest.” About the pitfalls and problems with the music business. Despite all the nastiness in the music business, you make it sound really sweet. It’s track 9 on the album – the track is called “This Yah Business.” And then it’s immediately followed by the next track on the album, I think it’s track 10, it’s an awesome track, it’s called the “12 Inch Rockers Version.” And it’s the same tune, but it features U-Roy. And it just takes it to a whole different level. And I wanted to ask you, you know, if you remember working on that song with U-Roy – the “12 Inch Rockers Version” on your album “The Fittest” – and how did you end up collaborating with U-Roy on that song? Did you just call him up and say, “Hey, I have this song I want you to work on?
No, no, no, that track was supposed to be done with Big Youth. But Big Youth said, “Boy, listen Earl, you have to pay me 1,000 U.S. dollars, you know, to sing on the track.” So I said: “Bwoy, blood clot.” That Big Youth. (Laughing) But it wasn’t a money thing, you know, we was just trying to do it. That’s why I really appreciated that Daddy U-Roy [collaborated with us.] Because he gave us a good price that we could work with. Because the album was almost nominated for a Grammy [award], man – “The Fittest,” a good album. I come with a few tracks on that album, I come with a wicked tune: (Singing) “Now that the change has come…” But the same producers was producing a singer from Israel Vibration [who] was called, he passed away now [Apple Gabriel], you know, his name [producers] was Jah Solid Rock, you know?

In the Netherlands?
From the Netherlands, exactly. But that song was wicked, man, that song, “This Yah Business.”

Yeah, super, super sweet song. The song with U-Roy, he basically is-
[He] [t]ouched it up nice.

-he’s listing all the greats in reggae, you know all the great musicians and groups in reggae U-Roy is talking about, and basically saying, “we need some more music like this.” It’s a great song. It’s really, really great. Earlier this year also, Earl, you released a tribute track that was dedicated to Bunny Wailer, who tragically passed. It’s a nice track, it’s called “Don Dada.” And everyone should check that out. And despite having done some research, I wasn’t sure, but did you ever get the chance to record any songs with any of the original Wailers? With Bunny, or Peter, or Bob? Did you ever record any songs with them? [Or even just] individually?
No, no, no. I used to rehearse with Bob though.

Where would you rehearse with them?
Island House. Island House is where Tuff Gong studio is now.

And between Bunny, and Peter, and Bob, who did you know the best? Who did you talk to the most?
I used to run around with Peter and stuff. [But] I think I spoke to Bob the most. They used to send us to get ice cream for the kids. [He would say:] “Boys, my kids need some food. Go and get me some food.” And then he would give us a bundle of money and we’d go and get that.

Earl 16 (Photo: Teacher)

Earl 16 (Photo: Teacher)

So you remember going to get food for Bob and whoever was hanging around?
No, no, no. Just for Bob’s kids.

Just for Bob’s kids?
No, we used to cook for Bob, man.

What’s your best memory of Bob?
My best memory of Skipper was him coming to a dance that we was performing at the studio at the University of the West Indies, in Papine. And he brought a dub to it, to play for us, called “Rainbow Country.”

Wow. I love that song, “Rainbow Country.”
That’s the first time that tune ever played, you know? In the university. We used to have a hall to play-

An auditorium?
An auditorium. Yeah it was a sound called Jah Love International, [it] was playing there every Friday night.

And Bob came in and played “Rainbow Country?”
Bob bring a dub plate, [a] vinyl dub. Because in Jamaica at those times, right, they never used to play Bob Marley music on the radio, you know? But that was very interesting because that time Bob came and he brought so much drink that I’ve never seen so much drink before. You know, in those days, in the late ’70s, before Sugar Minott sing a song called “Buy Out The Bar,” Bob Marley was the first one we see (laughing). The boy go and buy cases and cases and cases of Heineken and [other] beer. Bob went crazy then. And he don’t drink, he drink-I think Bob had one little Guinness or something.

So it was more for everyone else?
He just wanted to “make sure you play my tune.” That’s all he wanted. (Laughing) Ilawi was the selector, so he’d say, “Hey Malawi, make sure you play that tune there. Before me leave here tonight.” And Bob would have about twenty gunmen beside him. (Laughing)

(Laughing) So Bob would put the pressure on?
Yeah man, Bob used to put a lot of pressure pon dem.

Now Earl, there’s only two more questions I have for you, honestly. Two or three. And again I want to thank you so much for being so patient with me. And for all this time you’ve spent with me. The reggae fans [will] love to hear [and/or read] all of this. Now the [next] question I want to ask comes from Selecta Jerry. He’s the host of the very popular reggae radio show called “Sounds of the Caribbean” And Selecta Jerry asked me specifically to ask you, quote: “Please ask Mr. Sixteen about the new “Jacqueline” riddim, and how he sings the title track in Hugh Mundell style.”
Yeah man, that’s a good tune, isn’t it? No man, “Jacqueline” tune was from Gaffa Blue, some guys in the U.K. here. Because I did a track before that, it was called “None of Jah Jah Children.” Which was a very interesting version of the Ras Michael copy of “None of Jah Jah Children.” So I did a tune on that one called “Freedom” and “Fight for Freedom.” Which was good, that was a good rendition as well. But it was, you know, taken from that same “None of Jah Jah Children.” But this next one, [this] “Jacqueline” riddim, which was so immaculate, the way dem recorded it.

Earl Sixteen (Photographer: unknown)

Earl Sixteen (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

Earl Sixteen – Jacqueline

Aba Ariginal – Tribute To Junjo Lawes

Yeah. It’s on YouTube, [so] folks can listen to it [there]. There’s like a 15-minute version of the “Jacqueline” riddim.
It’s a wicked tune.

Hugh Mundell was, what I’ve read, and I don’t know if this is true or not, but is it accurate that Hugh Mundell, before he passed away, was somebody who really got you into Rasta? That he kinda was one of the people who talked to you about Rastafari?
(Smoking spliff) Yeah man. I and I, we trod a long way, man. Mundell was a very interesting youth. Was very nice. Was [into] arts [and] crafts – crafty youth. He used to make stuff from bamboo leaves, he’d make a lot of hammocks and stuff.

He was a craftsman?
A craftsman, yeah. So he could make, he used to make a lot of leather purses, you know, passport purses, and stuff like that. Mundell was very crafty.

Hugh Mundell

Hugh Mundell

And it sounds like he was also very spiritual?
Yeah, Mundell was a reader. We all read, man. Mundell was the first man mi see with a thing called tobacco-leaf spliff. So Mundell would take – in Jamaica, we have the tobacco leaf. Jamaica have some of the strongest tobacco, you know that? Jamaica cigars dem is very expensive.

I’m not sure I did know that, but I’ll believe you, yeah.
Jamaican cigars [are] almost as strong, and almost as expensive as Cuban cigars.

Wow. I didn’t know that.
Well, Mundell now – we used to go on the river, in some bushes, and pick the leaf and a-make them dry. And then before them get dry and crispy. So before rizla was selling, because rizla-leaf used to sell in Jamaica for like two dollars for a leaf. Now we can buy a rizla for five dollars or whatever. But the whole leaf. If you buy one cigarette-you could buy a cigarette, or you could buy, you know. But we used to make a spliff from banana leaf [and] all kinda thing. But it used to come with some tobacco leaf. And I said, “Wow, bretheren.” And now, you see dem spliffs there, Steve? (indicating his own spliffs)

Yeah.
When you roll a spliff in a tobacco leaf, right, you’re right for the whole night. You feel nice for the whole night after the whole day, you know? It was very unique. Mundell was a very unique youth. But yeah man, I mean-

I also mentioned Selecta Jerry, he – I didn’t even know about the “Jacqueline” riddim until he told me about it, and I went to go look at, and you know, there’s so much new music when I went to go look. You’re consistently, Earl, you’re consistently putting out new music. I mean it can be hard to keep up with you because you have so many new projects to come out. I mean, for example-
Mi can’t keep up with mi-self. (Laughing)

I know you have another release that came out. I think it’s a digital release from Dub Propulsion Records out of California. It’s called “Upful Vibes.” It’s a collaboration of sorts that you did with Ras Gabriel?
Oh man, that was during the lockdown time, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s interesting. No, no, because it was very depressing for us, you know, for the past 18 months, or I don’t know, the past 2 years, man. So [with] that riddim, I thought about doing something like that, hoping that we’d be able to return back to something-something normal, you know? I haven’t even listened to that tune yet. It’s released?

Yeah. You can listen to it. Reggae-Vibes[.com] put it on [their website] – they actually reviewed it very favorably – they wrote an article about it. I’ll send it to you.
Yeah, send it to me please.

I’ll send it to you. And then, Earl, are there any new music projects on the horizon, you know, music that you want to let all your fans, and you know, the music-loving world, just everybody – what should they be aware of about the projects that you’re working on for the rest of this year, and going into next year?
Basically now, I’m virtually, just-

Earl Sixteen, Leroy Mafia, Megumi Mesaku (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

Earl Sixteen, Leroy Mafia, Megumi Mesaku (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

You mentioned you were gonna put out an album of your old music, right?
Yeah, that’s gonna happen. That’s gonna happen. But the thing is now because of the whole situation with [the U.K.] going through the “Brexit,” so, we’ve got issues with selling records back and forth through customs and stuff like that. So then that’s kinda put the pressure on all the pressing plants in the U.K. Because we used to press – I use to press in the plants like, you know, I used to be able to press in Germany, Croatia – not Croatia – the Czech Republic. The Czech Republic was very good quality pressing and stuff. But for now, because of the whole Brexit thing that’s happening in Europe now, so we have to wait to do all the pressing in the U.K. So there’s a lot of backlog. Backlog of stuff because, you know, through the pandemic and all of that. And then a lot of the major record labels, they’re starting to repress like older, old dead and buried stuff, they’re pressing – you know, when everybody dies, like the Rolling Stones now. I’m sure they’re gonna be pressing – and I think, basically, vinyl is getting a little bit interesting again. Because we went through an era where vinyl wasn’t that great, it was CDs, CDs wasn’t that great, then we come to downloading or online and all of that. But then, people are going back to vinyl. Which is what reggae is – reggae is mainly a vinyl thing. You see what I’m saying? This is reggae. We deal with [the] roots, you know? But for me now, I’ve got a new showcase that just came out on I think Spotify, with myself, Johnny Osbourne, Jennifer Lara, it’s like a nostalgic kind of thing that we just released. Yeah man, I’m there man. It’s just me. It’s Earl Sixteen, man. In 2022, I won’t be “Sixteen” no more, so you might not see me anymore. I might go sleep with Scratch or something. (Laughing)

(Laughing) Oh man, please don’t say that. No, no, no, we need to hold on to our reggae legends. We need our reggae legends to stay healthy.
We give thanks. We give thanks for life, man. I’m really grateful, Steve, I’m really grateful, I’m just saying that because, you know, I was so close to Mr. Perry. And then when – and even the whole reggae scene, you know? The roots scene. So it’s difficult now because even for us to travel and, you know, keep moving and stuff, it’s gonna take a while. I haven’t been to America, I can’t remember since the last time. I haven’t been to tour in America for a long time.

It’s sad because I would love to see you perform. And if I ever make it to the U.K. again, I’m gonna search you out. I’m gonna find out where you are.
Alright, Steve. Because I’ve got some shows coming up in Spain. In Holland. I’m never around England, man, unless you come in for a football match. Or a cricket match or something. (Laughing) Just tell me. Tell me when you come. (Laughing)

(Laughing) I’ll let you know well ahead of time. And Earl, just please stay in touch with me. I would like to talk to you again. There’s so much music-
Oh yeah.

Blackboard Jungle Sound, Earl Sixteen, and Mad Professor (courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

Blackboard Jungle Sound, Earl Sixteen, and Mad Professor (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

-there’s so much music I still haven’t asked you about. For example, I’ll just mention, I don’t have a question [now] for you about it – but just to tell you how much I love the song, but you did that cover of Simply Red’s “Holding Back the Years.”
Oh wow.

And that song, your cover of it – I love it! I mean it’s just-
Amazing though. That was a good tune, man. That was a good tune. Yeah man.

It was a good tune.
We did alright with that one because the thing about it, back in the days, we could get away with doing covers and stuff. You know, covering a track here and there and stuff. Nowadays, you can’t do it. You have to pay – you have to talk to the publishers and stuff like that.

You have to get a lot more approvals. [There’s] [a] lot more red tape?
Yes, sir. But you see, with that track, you know, it was a great track because the thing about the singer of that song, he was the one that built [the] Blood & Fire label. He was so interested in reggae music that he invested in it. He did a cover of Gregory Isaac’s “Night Nurse” which went #1 for him.

Earl Sixteen  (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

Earl Sixteen (Photo courtesy of Earl Sixteen)

Simply Red did? The guy Simply Red.
Yes, he did. Simply Red. And he also did a very wicked cover of a Dennis Brown tune, you know, and Simply Red, he invested in reggae. He put in his effort. It’s like a couple of guys over in the U.K., they kinda invested in it. So what I did, I did a cover of “Holding Back the Years,” I didn’t know what I was doing but then, you know, I got into problems because – I didn’t put myself on the record because obviously I knew it was a popular song, but-

It’s a lovely tune.
I’m grateful, man.

Next time when we chat, I will ask you more about that, and Earl, when we hang up, when we say goodbye, I’m gonna give you – I’m gonna message you some more information about the publication of this interview.
Yes, yes.

I’m gonna send you some messages, but before we say our final, official goodbyes for today, for right now, is there any last message, any last message that you want to share with all of the many, many, many people who, you know, love your music around the world – all the Earl Sixteen fans. Do you have a message that you want to tell them?
Well the thing is that, I and I are grateful. We give thanks for what we’ve been able to do, in this time, [and] from the past. And into the future. And you don’t know, I support the roots and culture for the people of the world. We’ve gotta become to be a part of the diamond league, you know? We’re in the top league now, we’ve come to be the real league.

Reggae is? Yeah.
Reggae is the major league. So we’re grateful for that, you know, like the Bob Marley [album] is still, Bob Marley’s “Legend” is still the hardest thing for them to try and move from the top 100.

Yeah, they can’t move it.
I know. But you know I’m really grateful to be able to link up with you, Stephen. And yeah man, I miss California, man, I want to come-

Hey Earl, you have an invitation anytime you want. When you come to California, please let me know.
Ah yes, Steve. Yeah man, yeah man.

You come to my house. I will take care of you.
Big up to the whole Dub Club crew. Big up to Scientist. Big up to all the crew from New York – East, West, North, and South. Yeah man, and take care, take care Stephen.

Respect, Earl, we’ll be in touch, my friend. Stay safe, my brother.
God bless, man. Thank you very much.

Bless.
One love.

One love.

No copyright infringement of photos used in this article intended.
If you are the owner or his/her legal representative of a photo and you want us to remove it, please contact us and it will be removed asap.