Interview with Al Campbell
There’s countless excellent Jamaican singers who put out an impressive body of work during the golden era but still didn’t quite make it. I would count Al Campbell to one of those in that ‘category’. He has never failed to impress with a steady stream of consistency in his ever growing catalog of music, but something has held him back over the years from getting the breakthrough of wider recognition he so rightly deserves. What the reason for that is, is nothing but a mystery. Al teamed up with producer Phil Pratt in the early seventies and got his break with ‘Gee Baby’ in 1976, a massive tune in Britain in particular, but had previously done his first records for Studio One as a member of the short-lived group, The Thrillers. Hits for Bunny Lee followed, and soon Al had set up his own production company while still recording for a number of smaller and bigger labels. Al is still recording and performing. Recently his twenty-year-old ‘National Front’ rhythm got revived for a series of versions. My thanks to Al, Angela, Trish (Roots Rockers Promotions), Carlton Hines, and Donovan Phillips.
BAPTISE THEM WITH MUSIC
Like so many others you started out singin’ in church in Jamaica, that’s how you got more involved in music, wasn’t it?
Yeah, my father was a preacher in a church. And then I think him was a police officer first and then him leave and turned a preacher. So him find out seh him have so much command over people…
And people always a listen to him. So if a man a badman an’ do all type a t’ing, my father jus’ see him an’ seh, “Watcha, don’t mek I reach station before yu!” (Chuckles) You know?
So I guess me father seh, “Bwoy, me na like the curse so I feel seh the best t’ing to do is open up a church”, so him jus’ get inna the church business (chuckles).
Hope he didn’t use the batton in church though.
No, no, him use the bible (laughs)!
OK, good (chuckles).
Easy. So him used to do rallies. They had a lickle community center lodged… where they keep rallies an’ t’ing, and we use to go up there an’ sing. And somebody said: “Five shilling, put him up!”, and a next man get up an’ say: “Ten shilling, tek him off!” You know, in order to make money for the… to build up a center, up a top of Delacree Lane. Yeah, number twenty. So him and Mr Nolety them an’ Mr Hines, all the big man dem, them come together and raise funds. And we used to, like, sing to raise funds at that church. But when I used to go to school now I used to, like, every Friday we have a concert and my friend them they would boost me, they say “All the while I hear yu singin’, singin’, bwoy, time fe get out an’ sing now, yunno” (chuckles). And them call up my name, I would go out there an’ start sing. I would sing a song name ‘Up On The Roof’ (sings): ‘When this whole world start gettin’ you down and people are just too much for you to take, up on the rooooof, I climb my way up to the top of the stairs and all my fears just drift, drifting to space, on the roof is the only place I know where you go up to let your feelings go…’ – you know dem tune deh? The Drifters.
The Drifters, classic.
Yeah, an’ pitched through Elvis Presley a sing (chuckles), an’ the people dem say ‘Yeeess’! Even the teacher love me an’ say, “Bwoy, yu can surely sing, I’m gonna get yu on the choir”. But you know, me always been a roamer, anywhere it do with music, musically, leave me away. And inna the area where I live, you have all the top singers them. You have Winston Samuels, he was the original ‘Saddlehead’ with Delroy Wilson – them name Delroy Wilson after him. And you have Lascelles Perkins an’ all dem big artis’ deh used to be living around my area. And Dillinger, Trinity, Clint Eastwood, U Brown, Ranking Trevor, Big Joe, Ranking Joe, all them deejay, everybody would stay in the Waterhouse, my same area. And Michael Prophet as well, you have a whole heap a singer, an’ we grew when the young one dem come up an’ everyt’ing. Well, when Fatis just start record Sanchez, I mean, him used to come call me. I mean, I used to siddung an’ mek sure seh Sanchez a sing ‘pon key an’ all dem t’ings. And then Luciano again, a Luciano an’ Mikey Spice an’ Lady Saw, New Name did have them, Castro Brown, an’ have them only. Every day them come an’ come an’ me a tell yu seh, Castro record dem, yunno, dem going be some big star, future star. And Castro, him record them, yes, but him never really put that trust inna dem, him jus’ deal with the race horses an’ dem t’ing deh. Soon everyt’ing get locked down.
Then you tried your luck with a vocal group, that was the best option in those days, to be a part of a harmony group, wasn’t it?
Well, hear how it go now. It’s like you have The Royals round Cockburn Pen, you have The Tartans, which is the Royal Rasses, which later reform an’ call it Royal Rasses, an’ you have Earth & Stone them, and you have Cultural Roots. Brooksy (Hubert Brooks, Cultural Roots’ founder), me and him go school together. And you have Jammys, me an’ Jammys go school together, but Jammys was a bigger man for me still. So you have a musical area. So we used to like challenge one another, we go round Cockburn Pen School an’ start sing for the girls them. So anyway, I go round a the school in the evening an’ start sing some song an’ the girls them run come up to me an’ say ‘Ohh, yes, this is so and so’. Ossie, me friend who used to sing in The Linkers, which became the Meditations later, Ossie (chuckles), Ansel (Cridland), and a bredda name Beriel, an’ the bredda name Donald too, him used to sing with them as well. So any time I go near an’ start sing all the crowd them crowd round me, so Ossie never like it. So Ossie say, “Watcha, don’t come back over here come sing”, an’ bad me up (chuckles). So me say, “All right”, mek him believe an’ go ‘way. So one evening now me go over there early before them an’ start sing, an’ Ossie come an’ see me an’ punch me inna me eye (laughs)!
Knock me out an’, y’know, fling some stone off a me, an’ then ’bout two week after me an’ him turn back friend again (chuckles).
Yeah. Until me form my group now with a youth name Maurice, him used to carry me. Morris, him live ‘pon my lane. Him used to carry me everywhere him go, an’ mek we sing for people. He was like our manager, but him never know ’bout the business neither (laughs)! Him carry we ‘pon a couple shows an’ t’ing, an’ then after that me form with Sweet Pea, Blacka, an’ Bozzy. Bozzy now him used to live down a George’s Lane with Militant Barry dem, him live inna him yard. Me a go dung there a Sunday time fe rehearsal, an’ they were singin’ a long time an’ couldn’t record, nobody no record them. So when me a team up with them so an’ we go to Coxson.
That was The Thrillers?
Yeah, I’m talkin’ the Thrillers now, we go to Coxson an’ we sing ‘Heart For Sale’, ‘Don’t Run Away’ an’ ‘The Last Dance Is Over’.
What was their name before they teamed up with you?
I say the name, yunno, them name the Linkers ca’ is the the same man dem, Linkers, Meditations dem. But Danny (Clarke) an’ Son-Ites (Winston Watson) neva use to inna it, there’s just some different man. Them used to sing with a bredda name Louis an’ a yout’ name Dillie, but the two bredda dem, dem choose two bad bwoy. An’ the music baptise them but dem stray an’ go back inna the bad business, an’ I think the two a dem get the life sentence. After the Thrillers dem an’ t’ing, the group split up, ca’ dem record one song for Phil Pratt name ‘I’m Restless’ (released on the late Blondel Calnek’s Caltone label), an’ it neva mek it. But I just continue, I start sing with Ernest (Wilson) an’ Freddie McGregor now.
Yeah, not the Clarendonians, just Ernest by himself, an’ him is a member of the Clarendonians, an’ Freddie which… him an’ Freddie used to sing together as Fitzy & Freddie, them sing ‘Why Did You Do It’ an’ dem tune deh.
Right, great song.
An’ Freddie sing ‘Hey Girl, No Bother Me’. An’ me an’ him get together an’ we start rehearse two tune now, ‘Deep Down In My Heart’, an’ a next song. But when the recording, we neva get fe go a the studio. So then Ernest mother was the lady whe produce that one, ca’ she put some money back inna her son, an’ the song never hit. But we split up again from deh so, an’ Freddie go back a the country, Ernest and him. An’ me now go dung Huddersfield Lane now, start spar with my cousin them, but me never know me an’ him are cousin, me an’ him was schoolfriend (chuckles). Me never trace the family-line an’ really see him an’ me related, but me find seh dem yout’ ya, dem love singin’ with me an’ them treat me like blood. Me got to find out in the later part me an’ him are family, so… So we jus’ keep it that way deh. An’ then ‘Socks’ now, Prince Lincoln, who lead the Royal Rasses, we did name Negus Children. An’ we do that rehearse an’ me go dung deh an’ motivate him back, ca’ he was a nex’ dangerous man too, yunno. We baptise him with the music an’ convert him over, an’ tell ‘im seh “Watcha, hear wha’ yu have to do now, jus’ go back a Coxson an’ sing two tune, no matter the money him a deal with, because as long as yu keep the name deh fresh”. So him go up deh an’ sing two tune fe Coxson, an’ then me an’ him start rehearse now an’ them mek a lickle money, Cedric (Myton) an’ him mek some money an’ decide to go inna the studio. So the ‘Humanity’ album come about now, with me an’ him an’ Cedric, an’ a yout’ name Cap, an’ a yout’ name Johnny Kool. But through me an’ Cedric belong… me seh to them me na give up my solo career fe sing way out, right out with them. But if somebody want me fe come tour with them an’ me na do anyt’ing as Al Campbell, we go with them still. But me couldn’t really tek it, full time. So Cedric tell ‘im the same t’ing, ca’ Cedric have the Congos, so y’know we work an’ sing. Me sing ’bout three album me sing, with not even a penny. Now, when the money start mek now Socks start switch an’ come a Englan’, an’ come live. An’ the other day him woman, she didn’t even know the music dem mek, dem use fe mek it ‘pon hungry belly. You hear them sing good, when God a give people gift Him na give it in a richman house, Him goin’ a poorman house an’ tek out woman back dung hill an’ mek it be a prince among princes. So he an’ Socks come from the west, Socks na act so grateful. The first money him get, Socks go buy a big house. And him end up lose the house ’cause him na get… ca’ then the man Errol Thompson (the late radio DJ) lose him life over it. Me really bitter about this, beca’ the good woman whe him live with a put out an LP whe Socks play an’ other people sing harmony, she pay nobody no money. Yeh, beca’ one day a yout’ hear it, the yout’ go to him an’ the yout’ seh, “Wha’ ‘appen, all me see is me sing inna the tune”, an’ him pass some remarks. When him see me him say a different t’ing, him haffe jus’ deal with me straight. A so me na too inna him, me come a Englan’ an’ stay but me never too spar with him again. Yeah, because some bitterness deh inna the bag. I forgive the whole a dem still with them corruption an’ them wickedness whe dem do me, but still yu a survive same way. Every man must know that there’s a God, ca’ people jus’ eat an’ drink an’ sleep, an’ dem na say a prayer. Them don’t remember that God exist, but me know God exist. And as Bob Marley say: ‘The rain a fall from one man house top, when it fall it fall ‘pon every house top’.
The whole process of creating music at Studio One, what can you say about that? Compared to what’s it like today, what is significant and important to point out regarding the approach then which has gone missing today?
Studio One, the music create a your yard before you go a Studio One, because maybe my music have enough… Right now me do the baddest tune ever come out of Studio One, and it’s ‘Hi Fashion’, a my tune. Yeah, an’ nuff man come sing ‘pon the riddim an’ sing an’ do other t’ings, but me a the creator fe that. It’s like ‘Your Love’ me a sing ‘pon, we a create that from we yard. When me go inna the studio we have the melody an’ everyt’ing in a way deh, an’ we jus’ sing it to the musician dem. Yea, an’ we sing it to Jackie Mittoo an’ Jackie Mittoo say “This yout’ ya a know music”. Me cyaan read the music, but with the melody me can stay ‘pon key an’ me know me can tell you whe fe play, and the changes dem an’ everyt’ing. And Vin Gordon (trombonist) is a man whe me an’ him always siddung ‘pon stool outside an’ ‘im give me nuff praise all the while. When me an’ him deh-deh him say “Bwoy, dat lickle yout’ deh a yout’ whe gifted”. Vin Gordon up to this day, me an’ him good friends still same way.
Listening to a track on Studio One like ‘Take A Ride’, credited to Al Campbell, it just doesn’t sound like your voice at all.
No, it’s not – that tune deh, is not really me a sing that tune deh, yunno, but me sing a version of it still, for Mr Dodd.
So is that another guy in the Thrillers who took the lead on that track?
No, is a bredda name Alan, I think the name’s Alan. And some of the names get mixed up.
Right, a different Al Campbell altogether.
Yeah. Everybody try fe tek me name, even UB40 dem try fe tek me name too. A whole heap a man, and a nex’ bredda now try fe tek the name a’ready. Yeah, beca’ dem love my name, but it cyaan work. When me hear dem a tek me name me jus’ come back an’ sing two tune an’ kill ‘im.
So that is definitely not your voice on ‘Take A Ride’ and ‘Expensive Love’.
No, no, a no me, a no me. Yeah, an’ me no waan no man a t’ink dat. But me come ‘pon a flipside of ‘Real Rock’, ‘Don’t Run Away’. The original press, 1967. The first recording me do for Coxson name ‘Heart For Sale’.
What became of it, did it do anything for you?
No, no, him never release it. And the first studio me record was Treasure Isle, anywhere, ‘Freedom, Justice & Equality’, with me an’ Junior Menz from the Techniques.
Did you have a name for that duo?
No (chuckles), a jus’ Al Campbell, or Alan Jr I think.
After the Thrillers broke up now, that was when you hooked up with the Royal Rasses as you mentioned before, or was there something in-between?
After Trillers broke up, me an’ Freddie…
Ah yes, Fitzy & Freddie.
Yeah, an’ me an’ Freddie sing ’bout an album of tune for Coxson deh. And then me sing also for Coxson as Underground Vegetable, Freedom Singers, me sing on a various artists, all type a name. Yeah, a so Mr Dodd make some name.
Just make it up, hiding it from the artists.
Yea, jus’ make up a name as we go along. Ironside, we are Ironside, we’re all ’bout, we’re everyt’ing.
It’s just ‘Jackson, do a tune fe me nuh’, eh?
Yeh, him just start seh ‘Jackson’ (chuckles), him call every man ‘Jackson’. ‘Hail Jackson’ (laughs). Before Mr Dodd died we go back an’ finish up an album for him, right, but that was the best day… An’ so Mr Dodd call me, him seh “Al, which pon yu deh?” So me say, bwoy, “Yeh, me no come round here”, so me say no, an’ him seh “No man, come round ya!” So, bwoy, me near beside him. Yeh, ca’ me humble, me still clean, you see. Yeh, when we small a Mr Dodd send we out fe go buy a drink of rum an’ everyt’ing, him na send no big man, yunno. Him jus’ send lickle bwoy a do it, him na trust no big man dem fe buy dem t’ings (laughs)! But me now, Mr Dodd always ask me, “Wha’ happen to the change?” An’ me say, “No Mr Dodd, yu cyaan send me out an’ deal ‘pon the change” (chuckles). So I think with me and Mr Dodd… Mr Dodd, me deal with him like a man, ca’ when me small them thought like I was a big man. Me jus’ deal with him like on a man to man level, one to one, an’ me never have no fear fe him like the nex’ man dem. Yeh, beca’ one time Ken Boothe an’ the whole a dem would go by the side, Burning Spear a send me up inna the tree, mango tree, fe pick some mango.
The backyard there you mean?
Yeh, right on the side… they have a big no. 11 tree an’ they have a lickle tree they call the ‘Christmas mango’, ca’ that tree ongle right ‘pon Christmas time. So when it comes to Christmas or we suppose to wait for our lickle bonus (chuckles), an’ dem boost we an’ send we up inna the tree, an’ me go ‘pon the house top. So me see a big ripe mango an’ me go towards fe pick it, an’ Mr Dodd run out with two brick inna him hand.
An’ I was inna the tree, so Mr Dodd say “Al, come, wha’ yu do onna the house top?” You know when rain fall the whole a the place become slippery, me no remember fe check the t’ing when me go on that. Ca’ him a protec’ him t’ing, so me say “Sorry, Mr Dodd”. So when me come outta the tree him catch me an’ hug me up, an’ then him say, “No, hear wha’ happen. Don’t go back up deh so, man, beca’ when yu come deh it suppose fe leak an’ dem change the house tile an’ t’ing”, so me say, “Sorry, Mr Dodd, me na go up there”. So Mr Dodd say, “A who send yu up deh?” (Chuckles) An’ me jus’ point ‘pon the whole a dem man beside the tree: “A them send me up deh!” (Laughs) Yeh, all a dem, Delroy meet me up the evening…
Some memories there.
hat about the bands you used to play with in the seventies, like the Mighty Cloud Band for instance?
Yeah, me used to play with Mighty Cloud, me an’ Ernest Wilson’s bredda, Leonard Wilson.
And the leader for that band was George McLean, also known as Bobby Mack.
Yeah. George McLean, ‘Bobby Mack’, yeh. Me used to sing with the band, vocalist, an’ one day we’re going to the studio an’ I was always bangin’ the piano. So when I going to the studio in the morning now, the keyboard player never turn up. So when the keyboard player never turn up, them call me an’ seh, “Al, come here. All the while I hear yu bangin’ the piano, come now an’ ting, see if yu can hold this riddim ya for me”. So me say, “Well, me is a one-hand player, yunno, me cyaan play with two hand”. So him seh all right. So, him show me the key an’ how the intro start an’ the firs’ song whe we play is a tune like ‘If yu waan hear the duppy laugh, come a riverside Sunday morning…’. And the song was a number one in a Jamaica for weeks!
That was this guy called Levi Williams.
Yeh, ‘Duppy Jamboree’. An’ me play an instrumental with Don D. Jr. Yeah, an’ a nex’ tune, Leonard Wilson, ‘Searching For A Home’. We end up playin’ ‘pon the tune. So me haffe play the piano two time, put ‘pon one bang an’ then we fe put ‘pon a nex’ bang ‘pon the nex’ track (laughs).
(Chuckles) I see. But that was a nice band, very rootsy or country-ish/country-fied. Also, he had his own imprint, Bobby Mack, the Mighty Cloud label, and a shop bearing the same name.
Yeah, Mighty Cloud. We used to play like every night. Third World used to be playing over by Tit For Tat, an’ we used to play by Neptune Lounge an’ sometime we play ‘pon El Rancho. And sometime Sly (Dunbar) dem used to play, Skin Flesh & Bones used to play ‘pon El Rancho as well, too. An’ the whole a we – ca’ Red Hills Road comes like Hollywood…
The club strip at the time.
Yeah, club strip, all the Go-Go club, everyt’ing.
But you never cut an album’s worth of songs for Mighty Cloud? How long did you stay with them?
I was like a couple years well, yunno.
You only sang, never played like guitar or something?
No, I was just a singer for the band.
Who else played in that band?
A bredda name Lance play bass, and Prince Campbell, who is a relative of mine, I think him ought to anyway (chuckles). Campbell was an Alpha, an’ GT Taylor was the MC as well, too.
The radio man?
Yeh, radio man, GT Taylor. Ca’ him sing a lickle one tune now and again, that’s wha’ him can manage (chuckles). You know, dem time deh, man never hold dung money dem time, it’s just fe popularity an’…
Recognition, for fun, etc.
Yeah, an’ get two girl an’ all dem t’ing deh.
Come fe see them play, man (chuckles).
Right. But what became of Bobby Mack, he left for New York City I heard?
After a time him turned Christian.
An’ him own hardware over by Langston Road, Rollington Town. I used to like pass him now an’ again, but for a good while now I don’t come down there.
But he’s not in JA anymore.
I don’t think they are, I think the whole a dem migrate. Ca’ he was living right at Wareika, over a place name Range (a community bearing that name from the time as an army firing range, now known mainly as Norman Gardens) at the foot of Wareika Hill. Ca’ when we used to be in the band, like, a lot of singers was scared to go over there.
I used to, like, I don’t care, I just go over there inna the back… When me inside the backyard rehearsin’, you see like the man dem ‘pon the hill with them M16 (American rifle) an’ dem SLR (a rifle used by the JA army) an’ dem gun, an’ dem a request tune like it’s a jukebox (laughs)!
An’ the cop, a dem use to say, “Yo, gimme a ‘Party Time’ deh!” An’ me say, “Bwoy, me no rehearse dat, yunno!” An’ him seh, “Wha’! No man, nex’ week yu bettah rehearse it, yunno, an’ come!” (laughs).
OK, quickly. But was that pretty much the same band, later on you changed the name to the Pacesetters?
Yeh, the same band, we changed the name to Pacesetters, an’ then we, like, used to play with head Bim Lewis Production.
Bim & Bam.
Yeah, Bim & Bam, they had a play name ‘The Son of Genocide’, an’ we used to like play the club scene an’ be the background for the whole t’ing when you’re hearing it, the musical, we used to back up the whole show. Yeah, it was good. And I like come out in the club scene, the MC call me out, “Prince, yu haffe go out an’ sing two song”, y’know, an’ after dem dancin’ in the club, club scene, and it was good. And we liked to – all the Jamaican top TV program we come on, come on ‘Count Down’, ‘Where It’s At’, ‘Ring Ding’, we come on everyt’ing. So it’s like we cover all a dem t’ing deh, all a the hotel scene dem, ca’ we play everywhere. All the high school fest dem we play…
Montego Bay, etc.
Yeah. Montego Bay, all over, all over – everywhere.
So that’s where you honed your skills so to speak.
Yeah man, we can hold we own everywhere.
I spoke to Keith Poppin the other day…
Yeah, Keith Poppin a me bwoy, man (laughs).
He said he first encountered you working in Phil Pratt’s record store, how did you first bump into Pratt?
Well, when I leave Downbeat… I was up by Coxson, an’ Ernest dem leave Coxson, I mean jus’ leave with them too. The other day Coxson ask why I left, an’ I say me na know! All now I don’t know (chuckles). Through me an’ Ernest dem are friends an’ them leave Coxson, me jus’ left with them, an’ Heptones leave Coxson, me just left. Me jus’ left with everybody, but Coxson say I should stay, “You shouldn’t leave with them, should a stay an’ build up, ca’ with me in that time you should’ve built up yourself bigger”.
But you didn’t get any money for it so why should you stay?
No, well, me an’ Mr Dodd now, me an’ him is different, yunno. An’ I na go tell Mr Dodd to give me money, ca’ that man na give we money. Sometime Mr Dodd pay me all fe stay home, when him see too much. An’ me a go show the soft side a him to the man dem whe never wonder… him pay me all fe stay home, so him seh “Come here!” Him give me 5… no, 2.50 pound, a 5 dollar. “For 5 dollar, don’t come check me this week, check me nex’ week” (chuckles). And by the time it daylight (laughs)! When Mr Dodd a reach up to the studio, a me open up the gate fe ‘im an’ let him in. Him seh, “Jackson, is yu yesterday me give some money an’ seh to come check me nex’ week”. I say, “Yes Mr Dodd, but is school holiday today an’ me cyaan stay home”. An’ it come that him laugh, an’ him say, “Go aroun’ to Mr Morris (engineer Sylvan Morris) an’ tell him fe give you four tune ‘pon a dub-plate an’ go write some new lyrics ‘pon it”. It goin’ like him want fe get rid of me, yunno. So when me go round deh now, an’ tek the dub-plate now with the tune, by the nex’ day me write the four tune by the night an’ come back the nex’ mornin’ fe voice them. (Laughs) So him seh, “Jackson, a yu again?” So me say yeah. An’ him say, “Yu finish yu t’ing?” So me say, “Yeah, me finished with it, me fe sing it”. So him seh, “Wha’?” An’ him scratch his head an’ ‘Bwoy, me cyaan get rid of this man’, so him jus’ send me go round fe voice them. An’ inna them time deh, you get ten pound a side, inna that time deh. If you waan reach fe the royalty yu a fe go wait fe t’ree months after the tune release, an’ when you know the tune deh released you’ve got too much artists an’ too much competition with them artists deh so, an’ them only bother go with the bes’ tune. You understan’ me? So anyway, when we used to deh-deh now, we get forty pound, an’ plus we sing harmony we get thirty shilling a side, fe harmony. An’ sometime you a clock all twenty pound fe the week through so much harmony we sing, right (chuckles). An’ sometime Mr Dodd a fe owe me, ca’ I don’t t’ink him hand me too much money at one time, so “All right, me give you fifteen pound this week an’ nex’ week if you do no more work you have the money dem”. So me say all right fe that. An’ when me go home my father get – dem time deh a still servant, a get two pound, I t’ink 2. 50 pound or the highest them a get is 3 pound a week. An’ when me go ‘way with all forty or sixty pound me (inaudible) my father.
So, Pratt now.
Yeah, after me leave that me a go dung a Pratt now an’…
Circa ’75 or ’76?
No man, earlier than that, man, inna the early seventies.
About ’70. ‘Bout ’70, 1970. Phil Pratt now, me leave Coxson an’ dung Orange Street an’ hang out at Bunny Lee shop an’ me say “Pratt…”- no, me see Henry, a youth when me jus’ start sing, Henry is a Ranny Williams… the comedian’s nephew, he was a bodyguard for Duke Reid. So him is a man me spar with all the while. An’ from me a lickle bwoy, the big man dem company me a keep, an’ them man deh protec’ me ‘pon the road, ca’ dem a Spanglers too an’ dem a badman, too, but no man a do me nutten. But when me say ‘badman’, that mean seh dem a go… dem no trouble people, but if you come ‘pon them turf you have fe ‘ave respec’ an’ dem t’ing deh. So anyway, Henry… Phil Pratt say he build him a riddim, ca’ through he did leave Duke Reid too. Ca’ he did deh ‘mongst Duke Reid too an’ did na sing too heavy, so him seh, bwoy, him a branch out too. So him seh, “Wha’ ‘appen, Al?” Me say, “Nutten”. So him seh, “Bwoy, me ‘ave a riddim here, yunno, ‘Artibella’ riddim, an’ me waan yu voice a tune ‘pon it for me”. So me say, “Yeah man, no problem”. So me an’ him a go dung a Randy’s an’ – me an’ him an’ Pratt, an’ me put on the lead voice ‘pon it, ‘im an’ Pratt ‘pon the harmony. Ca’ Pratt sing too, yunno. (Sings): ‘Rastaaaa…’, ‘im an’ Henry. It come out an’ it start sell, start sell hard an’ Pratt seh, “Bwoy, you know wha’ ‘appen, Henry, me keep da yout’ deh, yunno”. So when Pratt find me as a yout’ who can read an’ all a dem sup’m deh an’ ting, ca’ ‘im ‘ave a salesman an’ the salesman couldn’t read, so him aks me fe the salesman job. An’ me had jus’ left school too, an’ him seh, “You know wha’ ‘appen? Me a go try a lickle t’ing”, an’ me say ‘Yeah, me work with him’. An’ me start the salesman work an’ me start sell record hard till him ‘ave an office. Phantom, he use to bodyguard Michael Manley, Phantom dem keep a spot dung a Orange Street, an’ him ply a shop dung deh, an’ him seh “Bwoy, I no trust nobody put inna the shop, beca’ dem a thief. Only the hungry man me a trust”. So me did like the salesman beca’ me deh ‘pon the road an’ me go everywhere, everybody see me, but inna the shop nobody na go see me. An’ me did waan go tek him, so him try a couple man before me, a yout’ name Bunny who use to work fe Coxson too, an’ dem end up thief ‘im an’ t’ing. An’ him find out, and him seh “Bwoy, dem thief all dem bwoy, yu haffe go ‘pon it”. So me now, me seh bwoy, if me a go inna the office me go get a man an’ train him, an’ teach him the rudiment vibes. So me train Bingy Bunny, Eric Lamont that play with the Roots Radics?
Yeah, me train him fe be a salesman (chuckles), but me teach him fe – ca’ Pratt did ‘ave a guitar dung deh, an’ when him really come in we siddung an’ a jam together, an’ me start teach him fe play the guitar. An’ the man turn one a the wickedest guitarists inna Jamaica.
Yeah, every one of my song dem him play ‘pon it.
And Bingy was in the Morwells harmony trio as well, founding member.
Yeah, in the Morwells, after that the bredda a Morwell. Ca’ through him was a good guitarist the more them a use him. All me inna the Morwells, ca’ them did have me a train them (chuckles).
Yeah, but me no bother with them. Me sing with Heptones too, yunno. Me sing a whole two albums with the Heptones, the album whe Count Shelly put out ‘pon Third World (the UK based label in the 1970’s), them have me a sing harmony in a dem deh, me an’ Naggo (Morris). Ca’ Naggo cyaan sing harmony so good, so me an’ Earl (Morgan), yeah, an’ Barry (Llewellyn).
What really became of Naggo?
Him deh a Jamaica there somewhere, wha’ they call it…? Figurine an’ dem sup’m him a do.
Nobody hear about him nowadays, he did some good solo shots apart from the Heptones.
So, a so the Phil Pratt t’ing come ’bout now.
‘Gee Baby’ was the first song that hit for Pratt?
No, me sing some tune whe dem big dung a Jamaica before that still, yunno. But first international hit whe it sell a whole heap a thousand, it could a go in the British chart. Ca’ the man dem present it whe it sell 75 000 it sell, when it sell over 10 000 it can go in the British chart. And ‘Where Were You’ was the firs’ big hit, it sell a whole heap. An’ when me come a Englan’ an’ come fe the royalty now, the man Mr Coke say “Bwoy, it stick whe everyt’ing is, an’ me put it out”.
Mr Coke, was that the Jama label (actually the Magnet imprint was owned by Mr Coke)?
I dunno, I don’t remember, maybe. Well, after me come dung an’ seek money now, Pratt come runnin’ to him, seh bwoy, when me go fe money him waan we fe work again, an’ me say me na inna that, a show me a whole TV an’ a whole fridge. Yeah, dem people deh, sometime some artists bitter with people an’ don’t deal with certain people again, they wonder why. Ca’ these guys, sometime them know you a ‘ave somet’ing with the tune, like even ‘Gee Baby’, yunno. Or when me in the studio a record the song, Pratt come in an’ stop it an say, “Wha’ kinda idiot tune you a sing?”
Yeah, so me say, “Bwoy, through nobody else never turn up fe come a the session, not Poppins dem an’ nobody never turn up through something”… a me alone deh-deh, him seh me na go – the session a get flop, but so ‘im say “All right, gwaan, do it, do it”. An’ the only tune that a save ‘im, same tune come back three times, from 1972 it go number one fe thirteen weeks, an’ it come back as yet inna the eighties an’ go inna the top ten, an’ then inna the nineties, early nineties, it come re-release again an’ go straight inna the top ten again. An’ the same ol’ t’ing, an’ press, press, press, it sell an’ go back. So, that’s why them say ‘The stone that the builder refuse will be the head corner stone’.
Yeh, sometime you ‘ave a lickle artis’ round here, an’ one day the lickle artis’ dem a get big.
A few of the early tracks you did for Pratt, they were cut at the Black Ark?
Yeah, we record some a dem at Black Ark too.
Like ‘Take These Shackles’.
Yeah, ‘Shackles’, and one named ‘Three Babylon’. Me have two, two tune ‘pon the same riddim. ‘Three Babylon’, ‘Go A Zion Fe Go Ride Natty Dread Bandwagon’, an’ one called ‘One By One They All Fall Down’, ‘pon the same riddim.
You voiced them over at the Ark?
Yeah. Everyt’ing voice an’ record over there.
How do you remember the scene over there?
Black Ark was lovely. Scratch a the most talented producer, beca’ you know why? Beca’ Scratch is an artist also, an’ him know whe an artis’ want. You see how Bob Marley – a fe him style, Bob Marley tek him style an’ reach big, yunno. An’ whe him get da sound now is Scratch. Ca’ Scratch tell yu one t’ing, him say “Al, inna this business yu cyaan jus’ sound one way. You have a nice voice an’ yu sing nice, but yu cyaan jus’ sing straight so a gwaan, yu ‘ave to have sup’m to distinguish it whe people dem can hear it. An’ some sound, yu ‘ave to sound wild!” (chuckles). You cyaan sound too samey. But Scratch know ’bout the music business more than many a the man dem. Some a dem is just a financer.
Yeah, them start with a lickle money an’ the musician an’ artis’ really a do the work to tell you the truth, nobody else, dem nuh know one t’ing whe dem a do. More than them come book some studio an’ dem go ‘Bwoy, go rehearse, me soon come back’, an’ gone an’ left a few yards. An’ when you do it you no get no credit fe the work whe you do, ca’ dem say dem a producer. An’ you put dem ‘pon top an’ dem cyaan even know A from B.
But Pratt was more an artist than many others though.
Yeah, Pratt was an artis’ too…
You feel he gave you something, coaching you, assisting you creatively?
No sah, when me a go fe Pratt me already learn from the greatest dem inna the business. Me learn from Junior Menz from the Techniques, him a true musician, an’ me learned from Ernest Wilson who is very good. When me go a Pratt, yunno, me go there ready to record, me no fresh inna the business.
Late Night Blues
But then after Pratt and the LP you did for him you left there and went to Bunny Lee, you felt he could break you bigger?
No, no, no, nothin’ like that. How it go now, me go ‘mongst Bunny Lee. He did ‘ave a yout’ name Gungo a work with him, a salesman an’ Gungo inna him shop. But when Bunny Lee go a foreign an’ come back, the shop eat dung an’ gone dung to zero an’ no money no deh-deh. An’ when Pratt come from foreign, Pratt seh a whole heap a money when me run Pratt business, him come back an’ see money. Ca’ Pratt go an’ live a Englan’ fe ’bout six months an’ come back, an’ when him come back him come back without not even a penny. An’ when him come an’ look an’ him just see how much money it deh ya; every bill paid, records sell, everyt’ing, an’ everyt’ing up to date. Him know seh the business run good, so Bunny Lee want a man like that round ‘im. So Bunny Lee now, me start spar with Bunny Lee dem ca’ Bunny Lee an’ my sister dem used to go a school, yunno, Greenwich Farm School, so me start spar with Bunny Lee dem now after a time. Ca’ you know when an artis’ expec’ certain t’ings fe gwaan, an’ him see nutten no gwaan fe him much. Beca’ artists, yunno, me tell yu ’bout artists: Artists are one of the most ungrateful people dem yu can find (laughs)!
Ca’ when you spend ‘pon them an’ when they see somebody can get dem a better deal, them gone left you. Yes, fe real (chuckles).
But some a dem all right, dem a bear it out with you. Like me, me have patience with people. When it’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten t’ings, me jus’ think seh, well, no better na come for you, so me leave you.
But anyway, me leave…
Pratt, and Pat Kelly come check me one day, me an’ Pat Kelly go dung a Tubbys or Bunny Lee there an’ some work a deh-deh, an’ a jump out. So Bunny Lee liked when me deh-deh, ca’ when him gone t’ings run good too. An’ we do the whole a the Lovers Rock series dem, me an’ Pat Kelly siddung an’ me write out the song dem, the foreign song dem, an’ lay the riddim tracks whe supposed to be on some a dem. A so me get ‘Late Night Blues’ an’ dem tune deh, ca’ Bunny Lee say, “Jus’ take some riddim offa it then”. An’ me an’ Pat Kelly do an album, an’ Bunny Lee tek the album an’ carry come sell it, jus’ three different people him sell it to. Yeh, him sell it to Trojan, him sell it to Rohit, an’ sell it to a nex’ company. An’ me an’ Pat Kelly do it for ourselves, is our lickle t’ing that. So, a the truth, the truth cyaan hide, yunno. If a man vex him waan vex, but a truth.
There was several albums at that time, ‘Ain’t That Loving You’ for Bunny, ‘Loving Moods Of Al Campbell’ and…
Yeah, my t’ing dem deh.
So he wanted to have you more as a Lovers Rock singer than the cultural material you got your name with for Pratt?
No, no. Him have nutten to do with it, me a tell you.
But at least more than doing the social content of your previous recordings.
Bunny Lee, the tune me do for Bunny Lee now, ‘Everybody Need Love’, yunno, an’ ‘No Man Is An Island’, but them two tune me never sing for Bunny Lee. The nex’ tune is not Bunny Lee tune, is me an’ Pat Kelly. Is not Bunny take me an’ shape me as an artis’, me already mek it when Bunny Lee find me, a hit a’ready. No shape me as an artis’. Bunny Lee boost Johnny Clarke an’ dem man deh.
Yes. Then there was the ‘Mr Music Man’ album on the Hit Sound label.
Yeah, me an’ U Brown, U Brown an’ me that now again. Me an’ him on that ‘Mr Music Man’.
I see. Wasn’t it you and him producing the ‘Rainy Days’ album?
No man, ‘Mr Music Man’ come first, an’ then the ‘Rainy Days’ is a different album. A two album me an’ U Brown do, ‘Mr Music Man’ an’ ‘Rainy Days’.
I think many regard your ‘Rainy Days’ album as one of the most solid albums so far.
Is two album me an’ him have, yunno, an’ then me start different… Then we do ‘Tribute To Coxson’, the LP deh?
Yeah man, them tune ya more terrible right ya now.
But do you personally rate ‘Rainy Days’ in this time as one of your better productions?
Yeah, it was a good album, with ‘No Children A Cry’ an’ dem tune ‘pon it, dem tune deh buss inna Jamaica an’ mek me live ‘pon a heights fe a good while inna the dancehall, ca’ when you come a the dancehall prime time, sometime artists come a dancehall an’ hear my song dem an’ a pure war an’ fight, an’ fight the deejay dem an’ say “Mighty tune yu a play deh so”. All over the world, that time Ranking Joe, U Roy an’ dem man deh, U Brown too, an’ Trinity dem an’ Dillinger hold the mic in the dance, a my selection dem call for. Brigadier Jerry ‘pon Jah Love, dem draw Al Campbell an’ turn over sound.
So U Brown was in the main responsible for the production on it, how do you feel about his abilities?
Well, to tell you the truth, yunno, U Brown nuh know nutten ’bout producing, is really Sly dem, a me an’ Sly dem. A me produce that t’ing, is just that some people put their name ‘pon it, an’ through dem form a lickle… A me no have no money either, ca’ through Sly – Sly woman an’ him a kinda half-sister, so dem use fe give him some time in the studio, even Jo Jo (Hookim) sometime, an’ we work ‘pon it. Him come to me an’ say, “Bwoy, man do somet’ing”. An’ him did have riddim an’ dem t’ing deh, him mek album fe Virgin, him did sign with Virgin (the album ‘Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’ on Front Line). An’ him use me, a use him use me, an’ him sell all me tune to everybody. Yeah, an’ give me a pocket dollar, pocket the money.
And Crucial Bunny mixed that record.
Yeah, Crucial Bunny.
Also known as Bunny Tom Tom.
Bunny Tom Tom, you know ’bout him.
What happened to him?
Him deh a Miami, yunno, me get some work fe him when me deh ‘mongst Skeng Don one time (late eighties), a next t’ing that really (chuckles).
You cut an LP for Linval Thompson, ‘Diamonds’.
Well, dem time deh when it come about, Linval no know ’bout production. Him jus’ mek some money a New York an’ come, is me an’ Trinity. A really Trinity was him henchman, an’ Trinity did draw me. An’ when him come a Englan’ an’ nutten a gwaan fe him, an’ me go back a Jamaica an’ mek ‘La La La I Love You’ me voice, an’ mek ‘Diamonds’ dem an’ t’ing, an’ come to me an’ license. An’ from deh so him na look back. But when the money start makin’ them no remember nobody, all a dem, a so dem stay. You deh ‘pon dem face an’ nutten a gwaan fe dem but when money start mek dem buy the biggest car an’ the biggest jewellery them reach for, so therefore… you know? But is me do all a the work dem.
It went down pretty fast in the studio in those days, sometimes way too fast… Like for instance this LP ‘More Al Campbell: Showcase’ on the Ethnic label.
Yeah, ‘Down In A Babylon’ an’ dem tune deh, man.
Sounds like a rush job to my ears.
It wasn’t supposed to be no LP, yunno, jus’ some single me did do.
There’s no consistency over the album.
No, is because it’s not an LP, I just do that through bad mind through me a tell yu ’bout how some people stay. A company call me now at the time deh fe sign me up an’ do some album deal with me, him now hear ’bout it an’ run behind me back with that, an’ it never work. An’ the company shoulda wait, ca’ them a say, bwoy, who an’ who have an LP with me, an’ them tellin’ everybody. An’ me never mention him ca’ him never have no LP with me, all me do is couple 45.
Just trying to capitalise on that.
Yeah, yeah, an’ mash up the whole t’ing.
But ‘Down In A Babylon’ was a good track though.
Then after this you hooked up with D. Brown and Castro Brown for the ‘Showcase’ LP on his DEB label.
You know how that come about? ‘Junjo’ Lawes, him there a Jamaica an’ him come check me fe voice some tune. So me tell him seh me voice the tune but him haffe give me a cut of it fe myself. So me voice five tune, an’ Junjo have his share fe Jamaica, an’ me an’ him have America, Canada, and me have Englan’. So when me come over ya me give Castro Brown fe release an’ put it out. And it go number one, straight a number one it go! Yeah, and you see how much people me bring inna the business, me bring Junjo Lawes in the business. Me is one a the man who bring him inna the business. An’ Jacob Miller again, me take him from school an’ carry him come dung to Coxson. Roman Stewart again, a me, same t’ing. Meditations an’ we, Meditations come to me an’ sing ‘Woman Is Like A Shadow’ an’ Pratt fe record the tune with the man, an’ Pratt a grown, grown, grown with the man. So me jus’ tell Meditations seh, “Watcha, hear this, it look like Pratt no really ready fe that tune, yu haffe deh a Channel One”. Me send them a Jo Jo an’ them go by Channel One an’ Channel One tek the tune. And everyone know that that is the baddest tune Channel One ever put out. So me as an artis’ on a whole, me know each tune an’ me know everyt’ing ’bout music. Nuff man a tek credit an’ talk some bullshit an’ talk as if dem a do it, dem know nutten ’bout music. When you check those people, dem a joker. Yeah man, fe real, man. But we a the man though.
Right. So what about shows in those days, did you have a proper management set up, were you able to work overseas?
Yeah, me work anywhere me feel like, but sometime nuff man don’t want to pay the right money. So me have some friend who would a tell them seh “Bwoy, no man can rob my friend, yunno”. So more time them no waan fe even bother with me, ca’ through dem know them cyaan trick you.
There’s so much albums if we look back on your most fruitful period of the late seventies and up to the mid eighties. Like ‘Late Night Blues’ on the JB label, who was behind JB?
JB is a bredda name Junior Boot, him use to do somet’ing with Duke Reid – not the Duke Reid of Treasure Isle, but…
The late Charles Reid, yes, ‘Duke Reid International’.
That one, yeah. The Duke Reid whe live a Englan’. Him used to buy some car-parts an’ sell a Jamaica, an’ him record Keith Poppins an’ the whole a dem artists deh. Well, Duke Reid come to me an’ ask me fe sing two tune fe him, an’ me deh a Jamaica an’ nutten a gwaan, so me name him a money an’ t’ink seh him na go pay me, me name a big money an’ him fe come give me the money an’ me go voice the tune deh. An’ him come back again an’ me see it is an LP him did a look, so me swingin’ (chuckles). Ca’ me is a man who like too common ’bout the place. An’ so JB put out the ‘Like You Girl’, an’ it run whey! An’ when me come a Englan’ now me go meet JB, that time me come with ‘Late Night Blues’. An’ me start playin’ with Soferno B sound an’ Big Youth dem, Shabba Youth, an’ dem yout’ deh from Brixton. We later tek Soferno B sound an’ build a sound name Stereograph, which was one of the baddest sound inna Englan’. That sound deh kill every top sound, all Shaka, it kill Jah Shaka, we beat up Coxsone (Sir Coxsone Outernational), we beat up Quaker City, we beat up a sound from dung a Birmingham way, name Earthquake. We beat all of the bad sound when we go over the channel an’ meet them, ca’ guess wha’? We had all a the bad dub-plate dem, ca’ when we go a Tubbys a night-time round deh, we jus’ cut off every tune.
For JB you had the ‘Working Man’ album, the mighty ‘Jah Love’ was on it for example.
Yeah, well, a me produce the whole of them t’ing deh, a my t’ing dem.
It was in conjunction with Sly & Robbie again?
Yes, Sly & Robbie, Ansel Collins, Tarzan (Nelson) play ‘pon some, Ossie (Hibbert) play ‘pon some, all a the best. When me a use musician in any way, a the best musician me use, me no use cheap musician. One – seh me use Roots Radics fe play a t’ing deh, an album deh, ‘The Other Side Of Love’, which Greensleeves put out.
I did read a review somewhere when that album came out, you know what the writer called you?
‘Reggae’s Perry Como’.
OK, but that’s good, that’s good.
Ca’ me like Perry Como. Perry Como is one of my favorite singers too.
OK, but that LP was more on a Lovers Rock tip.
Yeah, is Lovers Rock but it was tough still. You have some good tune ‘pon it, it have some reality tune ‘pon it too, a tune name ‘We’re Living In the Land of the Living (And the Living Is Fine)’, ‘we ain’t got no money but we’ve got love’. Yeah, is a reality.
But Greensleeves haven’t even put it out again, I wonder why.
No, me a go put it out meself. I need a clean copy an’ me a go run it through a computer an’ clean the scratches offa it an’ t’ing.
Yeah, that’s good to hear. Please do.
Keep it in the same way an’ release it back.
Good, good. How did you find it to produce on your own, it was something you did from early on, didn’t you? By the way, before I forget, there was one guy called ‘Al Campbell’ who operated a label called Addis Ababa in the mid seventies, is that you? He produced people like Earl Zero, Jimmy Dean, etc.
OK. No, no, no.
A different Al Campbell then.
Yeah. Is a nex’ man a copy me name, ca’ through me sing couple tune an’ nobody never hear from me, every man claim to the name ‘Al Campbell’. Yeah, an’ yu have a nex’ one name Al & The Vibrators, nex’ singers that again, a nex’ Al Campbell that again too. The whole a dem use me name. An’ then UB40 now come with the same t’ing, but is ‘Ali Campbell’ an’ a come near, seh ‘Nah man, don’t come near’.
(Chuckles) Capitalise, eh?
Yeah, them waan come ride offa me. Let me show you how some a dem people stay. Them sing over back every man tune, right, an’ my tune is the baddest Lovers Rock tune ever, ‘Gee Baby’ a the baddest Lovers Rock tune that ever, no man no sing it over back (chuckles). Yeh, dem no sing over ‘Blood & Fire’, a only one tune out deh. Me a watch dem still, a fight dem a give me a fight, yunno. But me deh ya a fight dem same way.
Back to the producing, who did you start to work with when entering the production field?
Well, me start out with… I think me produce one U Brown, Trinity, me produce Junior Pumpkin, Pat Kelly, an’ Lacksley Castell – me a the firs’ one a produce Lacksley Castell, an’ a yout’ name Saddle Dread. Yeah, do a tune name ‘Please Officer’. An’ record Tamlins, Mighty Diamonds, Dennis Brown, Beres Hammond, all a the bad artists dem, Michael Prophet, Junior Reid, Don Carlos, me record everybody. Those me work with.
You did some records for the Washington-based Live & Learn label too in the mid eighties.
Yeah, a me produce the whole a dem tune, all a dem.
What happened to Delroy Wright, owner for that label?
Well, them man deh a Washington, yunno. Them have some money so dem could do some LP.
People just come and go anyway.
Yeh, an’ true me left so that’s why dem cyaan come further, ca’ it wasn’t both a dem, it was me.
Ah, I see.
Me is the man that set everyt’ing straight.
But I noticed he put together two of your albums on a 2-for-1 CD, ‘Fence Too Tall’ and ‘Forward Natty’ and had it as ‘Natty Too Tall’.
Yeah, an’ no give me no money. Keep the money to himself.
Yeah, the whole a dem, that’s how them stay. Ungrateful.
But you cut some nice dancehall style albums just before the digital revolution came on the scene in the mid eighties, like ‘Freedom Street’ and ‘Bad Boy’.
Although those two haven’t been available for a long time now, something should be done about that.
I know, I need a copy of them to put them out, same as them is.
Definitely. Where do you find inspiration to write songs in this time? I mean, you’ve done so much work, not only for yourself but also written songs for others over the years. And the output of singles is astonishing, there’s so much of it. How do you find the inspiration to…
It’s a inborn t’ing, man. From me go inna the studio me can jus’ do all two-three tune right then and there. When me come to work… A seh them say me is a marital man, a work the whole day, an’ the amount of work that we get done them never know seh a we have it inna we could a do it.
What do you write about these days? You have a notebook constantly at hand?
Yeah man, even this morning me get up and write some cultural tune, me write everytime. Culture, love, all type a tune, everyt’ing going to what a gwaan now. Everyt’ing, you have to write what’s going on around you, inna your life an’ people lives, an’ jus’ imagine yourself that you’re in a man’s shadow.
Are the best days for reggae music over now?
No man, the best days is yet to come, man. The music come right back round now, you see it. Buju Banton come with a new tune deh, seh come like the dancehall t’ing switch back to the original t’ing right now.
I mean, the dancehall style is not even a reggae beat anymore, it has branched out to its own beat, bashment, which is good in a sense. It’s an evolutionary process, but reggae itself has taken a setback.
No, but it come back now, yunno.
Sounds more like a Pocomania type of beat.
Yeah, some joke business. It come back now, Buju Banton change it now. It comes right back to the original rub a dub dance now. Me talk to all Super Cat yesterday, an’ him say, “See it, Al? The music come right back inna we fort so we ‘ave fe utilize it now”. People say them tired of them Pocomania ‘bom bom bom bom’, a no music that. Is an unfinished t’ing that, no melody, jus’ ‘bom bom bom’. Me wonder if the buying public is deaf or wha’?
(Chuckles) Right, who knows.
(Laughs) Yeah man, fe real, man. It come back ya now with a whole heap a t’ing… When you listen to my new album, a radioman call me an’ tell me seh, “Al, bwoy me haffe say this to you. Your new album, ’24/7′, is one of the bes’ album I ever hear from so long”, an’ him seh him go ‘pon the radio station an’ tell everybody fe go get a copy because this album, your mother can buy it, your father, your kids, sister, anybody, a baby can go buy it an’ listen to it, is a song fe everybody on it. A the firs’ album whe the radioman play every track right through till the album finish.
Yeah man, fe real. So, we need more t’ings like this, the other artists must come together an’ jus’ do some good music whe the public can…
Relate to. Them lickle ‘bom bom’ an’ ‘Gal how yu fat’ an’ all dem sup’m, we no waan deal with them t’ing deh.
You have seen so many changes and shifts in trends over the years, why do you think that that kind of music is so popular among the younger crowd nowadays?
Hear this now, the yout’ them buy whe them hear, yunno. Ca’ if you see a radioman go ‘pon the radio an’ play that every day, eventually even you get used to it an’ start sing it. Yes, so the radioman dem need to come together an’ have a meeting an’ jus’ say, “You know wha’? We get some of the derogatory music out of the business an’ play some good music an’ everybody will listen to them acts”. Even myself, sometime me hear some tune an’ me never like it from first, but when me hear them every day constantly me end up a hook dem. Them gone with a nex’ side with their music ya. Ca’ when the baby a baby-young an’ yu a teach them fe talk, him a go repeat back the words them whe yu teach them. A so the music business go. Ca’ if it’s a music I think you should a listen to, yunno, you have to make sure it have to be pure an’ clean.
Children live what they learn.
Yeah. So, radioman dem have to start play good music. Sometime I wonder if some a the radioman dem a tone-deaf, dem nuh know a tune never last when them a play that. First time you used to have some radio panel whe sit down and pick your song dem, nowadays any rubbish can play, ca’ if you have money you give it to him an’ the bwoy play this, him a go play it.
There’s the constant problem with payola down there.
Yeah, that me a tell you.
There’s been a steady stream of singles from you even in the nineties, like the work for General Lee’s Hi Power, Fat Eyes you cut ‘Hard Times’ for, a pretty nice tune. Wasn’t that a remake?
No, no. Only thing is it was a remix, ca’ me sing it for Live & Learn firs’.
Good Fat Eyes cut anyhow.
Yeah, Fat Eyes, tough. Ca’ the nex’ one with the LP, it never come off. Yeh, so it jus’ ‘pon a 45.
Then there was the Xterminator album, Fatis got you to sing over some of his strong, strong rhythms.
Yeh, Fatis’ album, but that was – Fatis put out half of the album, half of the album that, yunno. Him save back half of the tune dem.
So there could be like a second album there?
No, a one album me do for Fatis an’ him save back half, me nuh know wha’ him a plan.
When did you set up your own Reggae Road imprint, what’s been out on it so far?
Yeah, my t’ing. Me set it up…?
Mid nineties? I recall a 45 from that period, hadn’t seen it before that.
No man, even before that.
So what have you…
Yeh, ’bout the nineties, the nineties.
I’m aware of a few compilations on it, only. Like the ’22 Karat Gold’.
Yeh, the ‘Karat Gold’, an’ one or two.
‘Roots & Culture’ was another.
‘Roots & Culture’, ‘Tribute To Coxsone’, ‘Higher Heights’. Then there was… wha’ it name again…? (Chuckles) A couple a dem…
‘Deeper Roots’, yeah.
Regarding distribution and so forth, do you think it’s satisfying the way things are going for you, do you reach out with the product?
Well, Jet Star a distribute for me still, but Jet Star dem na go all out with me, you understan’ me? Them jus’ have my t’ing as my t’ing, still I have to do it myself ca’ when you go in a record shop an’ you look ‘pon the shelf you see no Al Campbell ‘pon the shelf, ca’ my tune deh is a tune whe people waan go buy.
When you look back on all the stuff you have in your catalog, what do you think could be put out again from it? I mean, people want the original albums with the original artwork and so on, and no overdubs and strange remixing. But there’s the ‘Showcase’ and ‘Working Man’ and ‘Rainy Days’ or ‘Late Night Blues’ albums, lots of good stuff to choose from. Do you think you could put them out again?
Yeah man, me waan put them out again too, because as soon as me find some man whe ‘ave a clean copy of the album an’ me can show back the jacket dem an’ t’ing, ca’ public need to know dem t’ings, them music deh. Ca’ that music a good music.
Yes, that music has stood the test of time very well, and I mean, some people regard your ‘Rainy Days’ and ‘Late Night Blues’ albums as classics, so they should always be available in some form.
Who could’ve guessed at the time, but that music has proven to be timeless.
What’s coming up for you, the future?
Well, I dunno ’bout the future, the future reveals itself. Ca’ nobody know what the future can reach, you only can hope (laughs)!
So we have a lot of hopes for the future then, to put it so.
So there we have it again, yet another artist who’s status is not where it should be. Al Campbell deserves more. Maybe it’s just a question of time before the masses will recognise what true musical talent is made of, and Al embodies that. A singer’s singer, and musicians’ musician. He knows and has learned the craft of songwriting from inside out, from top to bottom. And, of course, there’s that voice. It’s a delicate but warm instrument he possesses and has attracted our attention for more than thirty years now. Regarding what’s missing from his back catalog, it’s a lot. There is a wealth of uncollected songs out there, songs we only have on formats such as the seven and twelve-inch single. He should dig deeper into this and release it on CD. But still, you can’t complain too much about this because Al has taken care of his past recordings in a pretty decent way. Just check a CD like ‘Roots & Culture’, a massive set of some of the best cultural music ever recorded in Jamaica. He also did a nice CD set of his softer material in ’22 Karat Gold’.
But there are albums like the ‘Rainy Days’, ‘Showcase’ and ‘Late Night Blues’ to name only three, all strong strong LP’s. Will they ever come out again in its original form, with added bonus tracks such as discomixes and songs from the same period which never came on an album. Maybe it’s a dream, but I will keep on dreaming. Not to mention his Pratt period, an album cover like ‘No More Running’ has to be seen to be believed! What an outfit! And the music contained therein is, again, of a very high quality. His output during the 1980’s had some serious moments, but much of it is currently unavailable. Al’s set for Xterminator was another stormer, but overlooked. Do yourself a favour if you haven’t checked out his past work, pick up his compilations for a start, why not begin with ‘Roots & Culture’. You will be in for a treat.
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