Hustling from the Heart: Guitar Legend Dwight Pinkney (The Interview)
Dwight Pinkney is a Jamaican guitar legend whose contributions to music, especially reggae — for more than six decades already — will reverberate throughout history, influencing generations of artists, forever. With assistance from Selecta Jerry, host of the very popular and respected reggae radio show called “Sounds of the Caribbean,” or “SOTC” for short, as well as legendary singer Keith Rowe — the original founding host of SOTC — I was blessed to interview Dwight for over 100 minutes via “Zoom” at the tail-end of last year (on December 30, 2001).
HUSTLING FROM THE HEART: GUITAR LEGEND DWIGHT PINKNEY (THE INTERVIEW)
What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. Embedded throughout are select links to Dwight’s music, album cover images, and exclusive pictures. At the end, there is a link to the entire video of the interview on YouTube.
Dwight’s daughter, Kerice: Hi there.
Kerice: Give us just one second [adjusting computer]. Dwight Pinkney: Hello.
Greetings, my brother. Yes, Stephen.
Yes, it’s such a pleasure to talk to you. How are you doing?
Just a second — (Kerice: No, you can go on now.) I’m good.
What part of Jamaica are you “zooming” in from?
Okay. Cool man. Cool. And I know it’s about 3 p.m. there, and it’s noon here in Los Angeles. And it’s very weird because it never rains in Los Angeles, usually, but it’s pouring right now — we’re having a lot of rain.
(Laughing) I think that’s better than the fire —
That is the truth, man. That’s very true. Now I’m recording you on several devices, Dwight. So if you see me looking down or fidgeting a little bit, it could be because of that. And if for some reason — I hope not — but if our screen were to freeze, we’ll just give it a little bit [of time] to try and unfreeze, and if something bad happens, I’ll just call you back and we’ll try it again, pick up where we left off.
Kerice: You’re hearing him okay and all that, right?
Yes, everything is good. I can hear Dwight. I can see you guys. And I’m just so happy to get this opportunity, Dwight. You know, I hope it’s okay for me to just say: It’s such an honor to connect with a legend like yourself — someone who has contributed so much, I think, over close to sixty years now to reggae music. And so for me to have this opportunity to speak with you, and for you to take the time, I just want to really thank you.
You’re welcome. My pleasure.
Thank you and I just want to let the people who will later listen [to] or read the interview know that I am so excited to ask [you] about a few different subjects. I of course want to talk to you about this spectacular, new, 8-track solo album [of yours] called “Knockout” —
I’ve been listening to [it] — it’s been on my music player as I told you. On repeat. And I love the album, so I have a number of questions about it. But I also, because, you know, when I get a chance to talk to somebody — a foundational reggae musician [like] yourself, I want to [also] ask you a few questions about your childhood, and your coming-of-age. And also, you have such an extensive discography, there’d be no way I could ask you about all of the hit songs — (laughing)
— but I want to try to ask you about a few. And of course, because you have played with so many legendary figures in reggae, I would be a fool — for lack of a better way of saying it — to not ask you about some of the memories about some of the legends you have toured and recorded with. People like Bob Marley —
— like Bunny Wailer —
And Gregory Isaacs, too —
Right. Israel Vibration.
Yeah, Israel Vibration, the list goes on and on. And just to put it on the record, too, you know I really want to try to cover — like I [said] there’s so much of a breadth of work for you, but you of course were a founding member, or a very influential, important component of several very important bands in Jamaican music history. And of course these include “The Sharks —”
And the “Roots Radics” —
— who dominated reggae music — I will say that — in the 1980s, 90s, and perhaps, even beyond. And then, of course, time permitting, you know, there’s the “Distinguished Personalities Band” or “D.P. Band,” which I know you started. And then you have your whole award-winning solo career —
— this is all just to say: there’s a lot to try and cover and I know you don’t have all day. So I’m gonna try to talk a little bit fast and give you a chance to say, you know, speak your mind —
Now online, Dwight, I found two different release dates for that new album, “Knockout.” There’s a March 2021 [release date listed], and then there’s also [an] October 2021 [release date that’s listed] —
— though I thought that later date might just have been when it got released to iTunes and other streaming services. But since I’m talking to you, can you tell me, when did the album first come out?
Well, it was like a pre-release—that first date.
I see, in March, yes.
It was like a pre-release. Experimental pre-release.
Yeah that’s what you mentioned before we connected today. And I wanted to ask you about that. So you wanted to maybe just test the waters with the album a little bit?
Yeah, um, from what point of view would you like me to touch the waters? Like from the musician’s [point of view], or from what angle?
Well when you say you released it as an “experimental” [album], what do you mean by that?
Okay. Well actually we were experimenting to find [a] suitable, satisfying distributor for the album.
VP Records is of course a giant distributor of reggae music, so you know, that’s not bad — that seems like a good move?Ah-ha. Yes, and I was just about to ask you this—now this album came out on the Aqua-Gem label, but it’s being distributed by VP Records, is that correct?
Yeah, yeah, that’s the official state [of things].
Yes, and my co-producer, Clive Davidson, he produces — he works with VP Records.
Okay, I see the connection.
So that’s the connection there.
Now honestly, like I [said], I’ve been listening to the album — [and] I’m not just trying to puff you up, man, because I listen to a lot of reggae music, so I wouldn’t do that to you. But you know, I think that every reggae listener should have this album in their collection. And honestly, I was kind of surprised listening to it that it hasn’t gotten the kinda buzz that I think it deserves — as good as it is. How difficult has it been to try and get the word out, and promote the album given the pandemic, and you know, what we’re going through right now in the world?
Yeah it’s been very difficult because, as you know, the focus is not on music as much as health these days — (laughing)
— and life. So that was one of the reasons for the experiment[al] release of “Knockout” in March 2021] (laughing).
I see what you’re saying, yeah. Now this album “Knockout,” it has, of course, some great reggae vibes on it. But of course — I think — when I listen to it, it also has a very jazzy feel to it, and it also seems to have, it kinda [is] infused with a lot of different cultural influences. Would you agree?
I agree with you, because you know “variety is the spice of life,” as we say. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah man, that’s true.
And you know, as a musician, I play a lot of different styles over the years.
That comes out in my recordings.
For sure, I would agree with that.
You know it just depends on the mood at the moment — and the vibes. The vibes around. That brings out specific moods and approaches to the melodies, but basically I consider myself a melody writer. (Laughing)
Well those are great melodies on this album, for sure.
Yeah a melody writer over being a guitarist. (Laughing)
Interesting. Very interesting.
What happens — what happens, you know, Stephen, I started out singing first.
Wow. In the church?
Church, yeah! My mother was a church lady. So she used to take me to church, and make sure that I’m in church when I was a kid, like between 3 years [old] before I even reach double figures —
In Jamaica, we have a “kiddies” church service called “Sunday School.” I don’t know if where you are from —
For sure. There are things just like that at my wife’s church, too.
Yeah, so Sunday School. My mother used to have me going to three different Sunday Schools on a Sunday.
Just to keep me out of trouble (laughing).
Oh man, that’s a lot of school.
I had to go to the early morning one, which is about 9 o’clock, Sunday School. And then the after lunch — lunchtime one, which is about 1 o’clock, Sunday School again. And then 3 o’clock — so I was living from Sunday School to Sunday School on Sundays. (Laughing)
Wow, that’s a lot of religion.
I have a secret to tell you (laughing). I went to Sunday School so much that I, in Jamaica, we have a word that’s called “sculling” — I don’t know if you know what that is? That means you skip class.
Or you skip school.
Say the word again.
“Scull.” Like, for pronunciation purposes, “S-C-U-L-L.”
Ah, I see. I’ve never heard that before.
When a kid hides away from school or classes, we say he “sculls” school.
Oh man, see, this is why it’s so good to talk to somebody who can tell me what some of these words mean. Because I would never know, man.
So I went to Sunday school so much that I sculled the twelve o’clock one (laughing). I went to “Bird Bush” [where lots of birds would be milling around feeding on fruits and plants, and nesting]. Shoot birds. (Laughing) Mango trees — we used to go and raid the mangoes. And run up and down and mess up our clothes. And when you get home (indicating getting a beating)—
(Laughing) You get in trouble. Hey, because you talked about the beautiful mango trees, and you know, I’m very jealous of you being in Jamaica. As beautiful as it normally is in Los Angeles, man, I have a special love — I love being in Jamaica. So when I look around — one of the things about that album, “Knockout,” [that] I wanted to ask you about is: One of the great tracks on “Knockout” is a track which I think you released maybe two years earlier —
— I think it’s the second track on the album, it’s called “Cobraman Bounce.”
Yeah. And that track is awesome. It’s very jazzy and a cool song, and the reason why I thought about it just know [is] because you were talking about Jamaica. [And] you have a video — there’s an official video that folks —
— that I think everybody should pull up on their YouTube, right?
And they can check it out. This “Cobraman Bounce” video — I tried to tell people, man, I don’t care if you’re having a bad day, watch “Cobraman Bounce” because you’re gonna immediately feel better.
That is an awesome video and is that — the scenery — I assume that’s Jamaica [in the music video]?
Some parts. Many parts of it.
But if you notice later on —
— at the end, we ended up in New York (laughing).
(Laughing) In New York City! I saw that.
It was like a reflection of touring, you know?
Wow. I saw that and I was going to confirm with you that — that was gonna be my next question. To make sure that we were looking at New York City at the end of the [music] video [for “Cobraman Bounce”]. So yeah, I’m glad that you said that it was. Now like I [said] it’s a very cool video, and one other thing about the video I wanted to ask, too, is it seems like you’re playing a very distinctive kind of looking guitar. And I don’t know anything — Dwight, I wish I had any music skill —
(Laughing) I have it right here [holding up guitar].
It’s a Steinberger.
And I don’t know anything about guitars, but it seems like the one that you have in the video is a little bit smaller than the normal guitar —
[Holding up guitar] Yeah, you see, much smaller.
Yeah. It’s much smaller. So what did you call that [guitar]?
It’s a Steinberger. These guitars were specifically designed to accommodate traveling musicians.
Wow, [because] they’re so easy to carry —
Yeah and you can get it [to fit] into the aircraft compartment — the [carry-on] luggage compartment.
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, wow.
Because the guitars are so personal that some of the airlines, if you leave it to them, you might get your guitar damaged, you know?
Yeah I bet you will never let them check your guitar — you’ll probably hold [your] guitar [close to your chest], and say, “No, you can’t!” (laughing)
[Clutching guitar] Whenever I’m traveling, whenever I’m on the go, this is the guitar that I use, yeah. I’ve got some more guitars, but that’s the traveler.
And how important, Dwight, how important is the construction of a guitar to the sound that the guitar ultimately produces — how important is that?
(Smiling, grabs right ear lobe) You see this thing here?
(Laughing) Yes. Wow.
This is one of the main secrets. (Laughing) Not the only secret, but the main secret to the sound. Because it’s really a fantastic effort, a fantastic accomplishment to get the sound that you want from a guitar. You have to deal with electronic amplification, equalization, and you know, it’s not just like an acoustic guitar where that’s the sound you gonna get (gesturing if playing a chord on a guitar) — when you play an acoustic guitar without any electronics. You know, that’s the sound of that guitar. But an electric guitar, now, you have the access [and the ability] to alter the intonation and the sound, depending on the acoustics and the environment. And the amplifiers — to what you’re hearing in your head. You start from — (grabbing right ear lobe) if you’re not hearing (laughing), you don’t know when you’re in the dark. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Oh man, you’re gonna get lost quickly. So, hey, I’m glad I asked you about that. Now I want — I do have some more questions about [your new album] “Knockout,” but if it’s okay, I want to circle back to them towards the end, because what I want to do is switch up for a minute, and switch gears — [to] try to clear up a few facts. Because you know, you can read a lot of things online and sometimes you can’t believe everything you read.
(Nodding) That’s true.
So sometimes I like to try and check out some of these things that I read when I — especially about a reggae legend like yourself, and just make sure it’s accurate. So I understand you were born in Manchester Parish in Jamaica, but that you moved to Kingston fairly early on as a youth. Is that true?
That’s true. (Dwight’s cell phone rings, he answers it briefly, says he’s busy, and ends the call.) I’m sorry.
No, no, no worries. I’m glad you confirmed that part, at least, is accurate. When did you and your family move to Kingston?
Okay, my mother was my mother and father. (Laughing)
I see. Hey Dwight, I have the same thing — I have the same thing.
A priest once told me that, “Oh, so you’re one of the guys that your mother fathered you?” It’s deep, but you can read between the lines. (Laughing) My mother fathered me, so when I was like three years old — I was born in Manchester. But [my mom] got a job in Kingston, and then she took me to Kingston.
And I want to ask, what kind of work did your mom do? What kind of job did she get?
She was a “helper.” She was a helper and she was learning [to be] a dressmaker. So she took me to Kingston. I had some aunts in Kingston, so we stayed from one aunt to the other aunt. Until she got settled. So I grew up in Kingston, and as a youth I started out at Swallow Field School. That’s in Constant Spring. Close by her workplace. Then I went to Russell School; that’s in the Maxfield Avenue area.
Yeah, I read about that, that’s near Channel One [Studios], of course, right?
Yeah it’s above Channel One. And then I want to Trenchtown School, which is in Trenchtown, as you know. And finally, I went to St. Andrew Technical High School. Which is at Spanish Town Road, at the bottom of Maxfield Avenue.
Now Dwight, in a fairly recent interview that you gave — I think it was a radio interview — you mentioned that you had an uncle who played the violin. Is this true?
Yes. I had an uncle, his name was John. So we called him “Uncle John.” So when I was in the country, in the formative years, up to when I was three years old [when] I came to Kingston with my mom, I always recall my uncle, he went on farm work — you know farm-working in the [United] States? So a lot of the rural people used to go farm-working, and then they’d bring back radios and gramophones and stuff like that. I remember he went [to do] farm work and brought back a gramophone — do you know what a gramophone is?
I have only seen one a couple of times, man—in pictures. (Laughing)
Do you remember those cars that you see in the movies that you had to go and crank up at the front?
I’ve seen that, too, in pictures. (Laughing)
That’s how the gramophone used to operate. You had to wind it up. So [my uncle] brought back a gramophone and a violin.
All from the United States?
Yes. So he used to practice — he wasn’t a trained musician or anything. He used his ear to practice the violin. So on weekends —
Why did he decide to buy [a] violin?
I guess he just loved the violin. I was just a little baby. (Laughing)
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. Go ahead.
He used to play on Sunday evenings after church and stuff. He sat on the front porch with his violin, and we all would gather around and watch him fiddling on his violin. We called it [a] “fiddle” at that time, we never used to call it [a] “violin.”
You were very young then?
Yeah, so I guess that’s where I got my musical influence from. Initially. And then the church did the rest. Because I used to live in church. (Laughing)
With someone who has such a [great] musical ability as yours I always try to explore this a little bit, too, and just make sure — but, in addition to your uncle, who played the violin, was there anyone else in your family who was a skilled musician or singer?
No. The only person I know — I know am related to, is [legendary guitarist] Ernie Ranglin.
Like far cousins, like 5th or 4th cousins. (Laughing)
And he [was] a genius, so somewhere along the way a little of it spilled my way, not much. (Laughing)
(Laughing) I would beg to differ. I’m so glad that I asked you about that. Now, as a youth, I know that you have said before that you began on some handmade instruments that you were playing in bands, and [that] you were doing all kinds of gigs with. And one thing I want to ask about that [is]: Did your mom and your aunts — what did they think about you’re getting so interested in music and eventually saying, you know, this is what I’m gonna do with all of these bands? What was their reaction? Did they encourage you or discourage you?
Okay. All positive, but let me step back a bit. It’s not exactly how you’re spelling it out a while ago.
Because remember, as I told you, I was a singer before.
So most of what I did was singing. They used to encourage me, the family. They used to encourage me because they said I had a beautiful voice. Even my teacher at school, when I was like twelve years old, they had a Christmas concert, and I sang for the “breaking up,” and when I was finished, the teacher said: “Wow. I think we’re going to hear you on the radio one day, Dwight.”
That’s awesome. What was the song you sang, “Breaking Up?”
Yeah, yeah, “Breaking Up” is like the last day of school — when you have a class concert or something.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
At the Trenchtown School —
But the song itself was called “Breaking Up?”
No, no, no.
Oh, I see.
“Breaking Up” is like —
That’s just [what they call] the last day of school [in Jamaica]?
The last day before the holidays.
I see. I see. I see. That is what they call it in Jamaica. I didn’t know that.
Yes. But my family, they always encouraged me. And I can remember getting money — they used to give [me] some coins, you know?
I think you had a band — I read somewhere —
I’m coming up to that. The history of the first band I had when I was about fourteen—fifteen, that band, I called it “The Sharks.”
But wasn’t there a band even before that, “The Mighty —
No. There was no band before that.
So I read somewhere — just to ask you about it — because I read this, that when you were 12, you had a band called “The Mighty Cleos.” No?
That’s — that’s — “The Cleos!?” (Laughing) That was really when I — I had a group. A singing group called “The Mighty Cleos.”
And then we were influenced by “The Beatles.”
That is when we started making all our own instruments, because we were so poor, we couldn’t afford to purchase [them]. The Mighty Cleos merged into The Sharks. As a matter of fact, the same priest that I was telling you about, he renamed us “The Sharks.”
So it’s the same group —
Now I’m sorry, I may have missed this when you said this earlier, who named “The Sharks?”
It was a priest, [a] Catholic priest —
Is his name “Father Dunstan?” ‘Cause I was gonna ask you about it.
(Laughing and nodding head) Exactly, that’s the person.
Isn’t he the same priest that — I was gonna ask you, I’m still gonna ask you, I might ask now, I guess — isn’t he the same priest who took you to Studio One?
(Laughing) Exactly, that’s the same priest.
So he named The Sharks. Why did he — and I want to ask — I’m so glad you said that because I want to ask — I was gonna ask you, but I guess I should ask Father Dunstan. I was gonna [ask]: “Why did he name it — the group — “The Sharks?” Why “The Sharks?”
Well, I don’t quite know but I think maybe because “The Sharks” was more aggressive [sounding]. And in terms of The Mighty Cleos — we were called ourselves “The Might Cleos” — we were called “The Mighty Cleos” because there was a terrible hurricane that passed through Jamaica —
— and it was called “Cleo.”
Nobody knows this, Dwight! I’m so happy I asked this. I’m so happy I asked you to tell me the story.
(Laughing) Yeah, so we named ourselves the “Cleos,” but [Father Dunstan] said, [change it to] “The Sharks.”
“The Sharks” is better. Now you’ve said often — and you just said a moment ago — that [The Sharks] patterned [themselves] after The Beatles, that you liked The Beatles. Why did you like The Beatles? I guess everybody likes The Beatles, but why did you guys like The Beatles so much?
Alright, the reason — this is the reasoning behind it. Because we were a singing group. [And] in that time era — that timespan — you had singing groups patterning themselves off of foreign groups. Like The Wailers would pattern themselves off of The Impressions. [Curtis] Mayfield and The Impressions. You had a group with “Mr. Yes-Indeed!” — Tom Cowan — it was called “The Jamaicans.” You had a bunch of trios and duets. Like “The Blues Busters” was a duet. And “Higgs & Wilson” was a duet. So you had a lot of groups. So we wanted to be different. And The Beatles were, just around that time, taking over the world.
Exploding. So we said, hmm, if we were to play instruments while we were singing — that’s when we were “The Mighty Cleos,” you know — we could be the Jamaican Beatles — the Jamaican version of The Beatles; so we decided there and then that we’re going to learn to play instruments and sing as well. And so we did. Each one of us — like there was four of us: Myself with Lloyd Robinson — not the popular singer that sings “Cuss-Cuss,” but [the] drummer. The reason why he was selected to pursue the drums was because he was from a “Poco” yard. You know what is “Poco?”
Um, I’m not sure if I know.
“Poco” is a kinda religious cultish thing, but not really a demonic cult. More a religious —
I have heard something before called “Pocomania.” No?
“Pocomania,” yeah. That’s a complete slur — “pocomania.” (Laughing)
(Laughing) I didn’t mean to say a slur — oh no, Dwight, but, I’ve heard that before.
(Laughing) Yeah man. So he lived in a home where they had pocomania services. And he was close to the drum, because the drum [is] a vital part of their ceremonies.
Makes sense. [That] [t]hat’s how you chose him.
A friend of mine got a guitar for a birthday present. He let me [use it] one time, and then he took it back. So I decided, well, I’m just gonna have to make my [own] guitar.
Make it yourself?
Yeah (laughing). And the drummer, well, together we had to collaborate and make a drum set. But this drum set — trap set — we went around in the darkness of the night and stole the garbage bins. From our community. And that’s where we got the frame for the drums. And then we went to the “Coronation Market” that’s downtown and bought goat skin. You know goat skin?
Yeah. To cover the — to go over the drums.
Yeah and then we got the other fandangles from the hardware store — like the nuts and bolts. And we created the drum. And even our first cymbal, it was zinc. You know zinc that they use on the roof?
We cut it up — made it into [our] first cymbal. When we were finished, we painted it —
Oh, wow, so people couldn’t really tell [the difference]?
We painted it, and, you know, we adapted to these [homemade] “instruments” very quickly. The bass player, Alfred Crossley, he did just like what I did.
Carved out his own bass [guitar]?
Yes. The only person [in The Sharks] that didn’t make his own instrument was the keyboard player — [whose instrument] was really a melodica player.
What was the keyboard player’s name?
Danny McFarlane. He’s not popular now, but he was a very good musician. He used to live in a yard with a church. So he used to play the piano in the church. But the piano — you couldn’t carry it around, you know?
Yeah, it’s not portable. Well I was so impressed when I read that you guys had made your own instruments, because, you know, with these homemade instruments you guys recorded all of these number one hit songs at Studio One.
Well, some of them — not all the instruments in the studio — we used to [play] “live,” on the road, and we had our own instruments. Even our first TV show that we got, [we played] our own homemade instruments. But once we got into the studio, there were instruments lying around that were much better than what we had, you know? (Laughing) Some of the stuff, like apart from one of the drummers or so, we’d use it in the studio, but like even the guitar in the studio, there was a good guitar in there — at Coxsone’s. And I remember I borrowed the guitar, like when I was doing the sessions that included “Put It On” with “The Wailers.” If you listen to the guitar with the tremolo [that has the whammy bar], with the one bar as the introduction, and throughout the song, that was Coxsone’s guitar that I borrowed then for that song.
I want to ask about that — that was going to be one of my [next] questions — with that guitar — so, let me just back it up a minute, and say, you guys had been brought — let me ask you the question I wanted to ask you about Father Dunstan. Because I read an article — I believe it was in the Gleaner or the [Jamaica] Observer — that Father Dunstan actually brought you over to Studio One and said to Coxone, “These guys are good, you should listen to them” — is that what happened?
Yeah exactly, because we used to perform at Father Dunstan’s church. We were a part of the — some of us were a part of the CYO, that’s the Catholic Youth Organization. And the reason is because they had a lot of parties — socials you [could] call it (laughing), [and] there’d be a lot of girls and stuff around, you know? (Laughing)
(Laughing) That’s a good reason to be a part of an organization.
Yeah and we did a lot of field trips all over the place, so whenever there was any celebration or anything like that at the church, our band used to play. So we —
That’s how he knew you guys were good. And I guess he was a music-lover, he must have —
— and he must have known about Studio One. And decided to walk you guys [over there to audition].
I think, if he wasn’t a priest, he would have been a promoter or a manager. Because he discovered people like Bob Weston, a very great Jamaican singer; Howard Butler, keyboard player — he actually took him and did the Ed Sullivan Show in America; so he used to be very closely attached to entertainment and the music. Even when we started our band, he used to try to help us by getting us jobs at various functions, and even at hotels.
Did he — did Father Dunstan live long enough to see that you became a professional musician, and [that] it [all] worked out.
Yes, he did, but he migrated back to New York. But [I] tried to keep in touch through other members [of the band] who were closer to him, you know? I want to tell you, you know, The Sharks rose so fast that while we were at Coxsone’s — we didn’t spend a long time there, but we made a big impact on the local music scene with number one [hit songs] —
— like with Ken Boothe, the Gaylads —
— Bob Marley, you name them, you know? So we were there for — we spent maybe about a month or so —
When you did “Put it On” — I just want to go back to that for a second. Of course it’s a great Bob Marley and The Wailers — and Bunny and Peter — tune. A famous one I think — I know. I was so curious, had you—you say that that was an electric guitar that was in the studio?
Before that day — [when] Bunny, and Peter, and Bob walked in, and you guys recorded the song, did you get a chance to practice on the electric guitar?
(Laughing and shaking head) No.
(Laughing) Oh no, you didn’t even get a — wow!
I didn’t get to practice on any electric guitar [before that] but the one that I made.
Wow! That’s so amazing.
See when you’re a kid, you’re very experimental, you know? (Laughing) Come like these kids nowadays with the computer, you know, and just utilize it; they are so adventurous.
Did you — did any of you guys in The Sharks have any idea when you did “Put It On” with Bob, and Bunny, and Peter — did you have any idea, to use a Jamaican term, that they were gonna “buss” so big? Did you know?
Well we always dreamed, whatever it would be, that it would take us to a higher level. But not in our wildest dream could we visualize that reggae music could reach the heights that it has reached. But even with our homemade instruments, when we were playing at Christmas parties and stuff —
— and the reaction that we always seemed to be getting was so positive that we — I personally knew that there [was] something [there], you know? Sky is the limit! We didn’t know the sky would be so high (Laughing).
That’s true, and I’m glad it is. Now Dwight, I have to ask, because like many people, my entrance into reggae music was through Bob Marley. And so I have to ask: Was the recording “Put It On” that you did with Bob, is that your fondest, best memory of hanging around Bob? Or when you think about Bob Marley, [are] there some different memories that you could possibly share, that you know, that you recall? About being with “The Skipper,” as they used to call him.
Yeah, well, for sure. I didn’t have a whole lot to do with Bob Marley. I [have] much more, what you’d call memories of interacting with Bunny Wailer.
And I’m gonna ask you about those next. (Laughing)
But for the time that I can remember being in touch with Bob Marley, I always remember that he always remembered (laughing, pretending to be Bob): “Dem youth here would have been The Wailers band, you know, if dem never go away.” Because at the peak of [The Sharks’] recording at Coxsone’s, a hotel manager had come from Freeport, Grand Bahamas, and said he wasn’t going to leave Jamaica without us. So we got our — we didn’t have any passport or anything, and within days, it took like three or four days, they were able to get [us] passports and outfit[s] and everything. And contract sign-up.
And The Sharks —
The Sharks swam out to the Bahamas (Laughing).
(Laughing) The Sharks swam out to the Bahamas, and my understanding is — and this was after — just for everybody’s [understanding] — I know you know — but after you guys were on a dynamite trajectory at Studio One —
— you had recorded all these number one hits songs [including] “Put It On,” and then, suddenly, you know, you went to the Bahamas as a group, as you were saying, and you had a residency for I think almost close to two years?
Right. That’s correct.
And I was so curious about this, because one question I wanted to ask is, I know that how in the past you’ve talked about how, you know, first of all, it was a very lucrative thing. That you guys were able to make some money as musicians —
— and also, you got a lot of practice time, and so you got a lot out of it. But I want to still ask: Do you, in hindsight though, have a kind of regret in any way, that you did take the residency [in the Bahamas], instead of staying on that [red-hot] trajectory that you were on with the Sharks at Studio One?
[Smiling and shaking head]
Because after you went to the Bahamas, The Sharks broke up?
Yeah, when we came back to Jamaica, we broke up. But no regrets. No regrets. Everything was for a reason.
Right. Because then you would [go on] to meet Mike Williams, I believe —
When we came back to Jamaica. Just to finish off, I can say — are you hearing me still?
Yes, I am.
Okay. I can say [that my] next crucial encounter with Bob was — we were playing — this is later on, after he made his name, and you know, things were happening for him. I can remember that he said — he used to hire us sometimes [to play] sessions. And he used to pay us — that is Zap Pow now, not The Sharks.
Bob would hire Zap Pow for sessions?
Yes. And he would pay us like three times what the regular producers were paying.
He would pay us three times that amount. That’s how he treated musicians. That is why he was so blessed. Because he always tried to uplift the musicians.
Thank you so much for telling me.
Yeah man. When you worked for Bob, you’d know you were gonna get three times the amount regular producers dem paid. If they paid $1,000 per track, he’d pay $3,000. So he was a very kind person. Very, very kind. When you worked for [Bob], you’d put your heart into it because he [wasn’t] holding back with the cash.
Respect — that’s so nice. I’m so glad that you told this story. Now, I know, like you said, with Bunny Wailer now, you guys, I believe, I either heard or read in an interview where you talked about how you and Bunny were actually schoolmates [together]. And you played marbles, and you played other childhood games. Before you even associated together in music? True?
(Nodding and smiling) That’s true. We used to make kites, and we used to meet up in our wayward boyish style in Jamaica.
Yeah — Earl Sixteen — I heard you tell this [story once before in an interview and] it reminds me of something I think Earl Sixteen — I recently interviewed [legendary] singer Earl Sixteen and he said there was a game [when he was growing up in Jamaica] when it rained where you would make boats — and you would race boats, and I think [I read] that you did that, too — with Bunny [Wailer].
(Laughing) Yeah, we used to race — we called them “boat-horses” — “boat horses.” We used to cut out little pieces of board. When it rains and the gutter water comes down along the road — street-side — and while it’s raining, or after it just finished raining, we the boys used to go —
(Laughing) If you were right now in Los Angeles, man, it’s raining where I am right now—we could race some boats right now.
(Laughing) We could race some boat-horses there now!
Wow. Cool!Yeah. But with Bunny [Wailer] now, of course many of the reggae aficionados—the people who know their music — will know that you recorded many tracks with Bunny, including hit songs like “Cool Runnings.” And you played on [Bunny’s] albums like “Rock N’ Groove.” And “Jah B” as [Bunny Wailer] is often called, he died not long ago, very sadly, you know — we lost him. What would you say is one of your fondest memories — you know, I know there’s probably so many to choose from. But, when you think about Bunny Wailer, what do you think about?
One of my fondest memories with Bunny is selling out Madison Square Garden [in New York City].
Because he did it as a single artist. You know there was a release in the newspaper there [that said]: “How could a foreigner from the third world come and sell out Madison Square Garden!? That’s unheard of, you know!?” (Laughing) One of my [other] great memories with Bunny — [I have] so many as I said — another one was in Los Angeles, your area. When he did his first [solo] tour I think it was. And he had three different backing bands. He had [legendary drummer] Sly [Dunbar] and [late legendary bassist] Robbie [Shakespeare], [the] Roots Radics, and, he had [the] Solomonic Orchestra. As backing bands! (Laughing)
(Laughing) That’s not a bad lineup at all.
(Laughing) Yeah. So that was fantastic as well. And his “Youth Consciousness” show in Jamaica was also a classic. Because it was a great review — forward thinking review of what presenting a cultural reggae show was supposed to look like.
Wow. I wish I could have seen that.
Yeah, and I haven’t been able to see it on any —
Footage? I would love to see some video of that if it exists.
Yeah, because, he had dancers lined up — [three] male dancers, [and three] female dancers. Doing exotic dancing during the performance. It was a great, great [show] — that was really a highlight in reggae.
Wow, that sounds awesome. Hey Dwight, before I forget, because we talked briefly about your Bahamian residency [with The Sharks] that you had, and because I asked you this before the interview — and so you probably knew I was gonna ask you something about it. But there’s this movie online — you know you have a number of credits [for performing] in different films, and one of them is a movie named “Smile Orange.”
“Smile Orange,” yes.
And so I asked you about the film because I watched it, and I kept looking throughout the film [wondering] which [one of these characters is Dwight]? At one point I thought you were a lifeguard — I told — I said (Laughing): “Maybe that’s Dwight.” So why don’t you tell — or I’ll just ask you now what I asked you before, which is —
(Laughing) Let me tell you the story.
The only part I played in that film [was] being a part of the band — [the] Zap Pow band, which was [in the film] in the background [during] a club scene [at the] “Tit for Tat” club. There was a — they shot a scene there. And they had the band, Zap Pow, set up and play in the background. So (laughing), it wasn’t like I was a star or a featured performer.
But still you’re in the movie. And I thought it was a very, very interesting movie —
Yeah that was one of the biggest movies that came out of Jamaica — “Smile Orange,” yes.
And I think people will — maybe after they listen to this interview, they may — it’s available on YouTube, you can actually watch the entire film. And so people will now probably go back and see, “Hey, can I see Zap Pow in one of the nightclub scenes playing —”
“— and see if Dwight Pinkney is there?” But I want to ask two things about that film. So the film, you know, it really kind of explores some of the colonialism, and the racism, and the classism, and kind of, the underbelly of the tourist scene—at the hotels and the resorts in the Caribbean — [particularly] in Jamaica.
And you know I find this fascinating because, you know, I often think about these things as a tourist myself in Jamaica, watching how the people interact with both the people who are at these resorts and so forth, and so I have to ask you because, you yourself were playing — you had this residency [at one point with “The Sharks”] — and so I thought it was so fascinating that you were in [that] film. When you did your [Bahamian] residency, did you also see some of that ugliness, you know, did you observe some of it?
Fortunately, for me, I didn’t have any of those bad experiences. I’m trying to think how come I didn’t have to go through some of that stuff? I guess — I guess — I was lucky. (Laughing)
Hey, hey, you can’t knock that. There’s nothing wrong with that.
And personally I wouldn’t be tolerating some of what I see happening, you know?
Yeah. I think the movie remains relevant today.
Yes, that’s why I say maybe I was lucky, or maybe — I don’t know, I can’t explain, but —
The music in the movie — because, of course, Zap Pow is in there, but the music in the film itself — the score — is so great. And then I realized, after I watched the movie, why it’s so great. Because the [musical score for the film] is by a jazz legend whose name is Melba Liston.
And I understand that Melba Liston was — at some point, I know I am jumping all over, but at some point I’m gonna ask about how when — I haven’t even gotten to Zap Pow, but at some point, I’m gonna ask, towards the end of Zap Pow, when Zap Pow disbanded, how you went to the Jamaican School of Music —
(Nodding head and smiling.)
And I know — so I’ll get there — I’m gonna ask a few questions, because I do have some questions about that, but I know that Melba Liston was one of your tutors there. And I was curious, was that how you got the role in the film?
(Laughing) No! No, she was one of my tutors at the “Edna Manley School of Music.” But that’s not — I didn’t get a personal role in the film. I was just a part of a band. (Laughing).
Yeah. I know. I just thought it was so interesting the connection that you had [to that film]. I want to move just for a second, there’s one other Sharks song [that] I have to ask about because it’s so important. It’s a very important song in your discography. And of course you know that I’m gonna be asking you about the song “How Could I Live.”
Which is a song that you wrote. And a song that has been famously covered by just about everybody, but also, very importantly, by Dennis Brown. And you have said before, I believe, that this [song, “How Could I Live,”] is one of your greatest compositions; I believe there’s a quote where you said that, and you know I believe you’ve even credited that composition — that song — with [being] one of the reasons why you were awarded, in 2014, the Order of Distinction by the Jamaican government, a giant honor.
Where the prime minister — there’s a picture of you [online] getting your award.
So I want to ask about that song. And I was curious whether Dennis Brown — did you ever talk to him about that song[, “How Could I Live”]? And did he ever thank you? You know, did he ever say, “Hey Dwight, you know, thanks for the song, man?” (Laughing)
No, but you know, Dennis Brown [was] a great soul. I knew him from when he was likkle — [had] just come into the music, you know? But we didn’t really talk about the song because what a lot of people don’t realize is, in Jamaica, when the producers produce a song — produce an artist — the artist hardly has any say as to the production. After he goes into the studio — back in those days, right?
Like Joe Gibbs was the producer. And he produced the song — he wasn’t — I don’t — he wasn’t even in the studio when the song was being recorded by Dennis Brown, okay? It was Lloyd Parks and Willie Lindo and those guys — “Bubbler” [(Franklyn Waugh)], and Bo Peep. And the engineer, Chunny [also known as Oswald Palmer]. We call him Chunny — Chunny introduced the song to Dennis Brown. But Chunny didn’t even know the history of the song because that song was done from 1966 — the original Sharks recording. But it was put on — Coxsone had placed it upon the flip side of a song by —
(Nodding) Marcia Griffiths. And Jeff Dixon. And Jeff Dixon was working on the radio. And their song was called “Words.” Right? So nobody —
Nobody knew about it?
— nobody wanted to turn over [the record].
They didn’t know about it.
So their [song] got all the play. But on the flip side of it now, you had “How Could I Live.” That old Sharks original. So Chunny introduced it to Dennis Brown.
The Sharks – How Could I Live
Dennis Brown – How Could I Leave
That’s how he found out about it.
And none of them probably knew that that was my [song] —
Wow, yeah, interesting.
And the producer, Joe Gibbs — [“producer”] just from a financial point of view — he wasn’t doing the research to find out. Like someone doing the research to find out who is the writer.
[And] [w]ho is the one who owns it, who is the one who made the song.
All they used to do is make a version, or adapt it.
Right, and now suddenly, it’s a whole new song.
Yeah, so poor Dennis now, Dennis sing the song, and the song started taking off. And then I said, wait, “How come nobody come talk to me about my song?” (Laughing)
(Laughing) You know what’s funny? You know what’s funny? Because I just realized talking to you — like I [said], I recently interviewed Earl Sixteen, [and] the same thing happened to him. The same thing. Because he has a song called “Malcolm X.”
And Dennis Brown came and he blew up the song. And Earl Sixteen, his version of the song is pretty well-known, too, but — so Dennis, covered a lot of people’s songs.
And then blew them up. Did you ever get to back Dennis when he was singing that song?
No, no, Lloyd Parks did all the backing for Dennis onstage, but I’ve recorded other songs with Dennis, you know. Lots of other songs with him.
I was just curious because I know you spent a lot of time playing and working with Dennis [Brown]. So I was curious if somehow you ended up onstage [with him], and he’s singing “How Could I Live” — nah, that would be Lloyd Parks.
Now I noticed about Dennis Brown — I noticed that the third track on your new album, “Knockout,” which, [as] I’ve been saying, is a fantastic album, is called “Tribute to Matador.” And it’s a very, very chill, laid back tune. And I didn’t even realize at first that this track — that’s on [your] new album — is actually a tribute to Dennis Brown. And then when I researched, and looked a little further, I saw that there was an instrumental — that this is actually an instrumental from a Dennis Brown song — I think, I want to confirm with you — but Dennis Brown has a song called “Things in Life —”
That’s it, yeah.
— which was released on the Matador [record label] —
— so I was like, “Oh! This is how he came up with this!” (Laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah, let me give you a little history about the creation of this “Knockout” album.
You see that song you mentioned, “Cobraman Bounce?”
Okay, that was like the first track that was done towards this album. My friend, Clive Davidson, he works at VP Records, right?
He — from time to time he asked me to do guitar tracks for him. So he sent this track, and [he] wanted me to do guitar on it. So when I did the track, I noticed that the singer that was being used on the “Cobraman Bounce,” [the] original, was a good friend of mine called Winston Francis.
Oh — okay. Yeah.
And we grew up in that same pre-musician era, as kids running along Maxfield Avenue and Waltham Park Road. So, very good friend of mine. But we used to call him “Cobraman.”
Wow that’s how that track got its name! Cool.
When I just started amateur singing, I entered a competition at the Carib Theatre called “A Star Is Born.” Sonny Bradshaw was like the orchestra — the backing band.
And I won my first round. And went on to my second round. [Then, final round now], Winston Francis — he won his first round and was there as well. I did my original song called “I Will Accept You As You Are” — haven’t recorded it [yet] (laughing).
That’s so cool. Now every time when I listen to the “Cobraman Bounce” — now I know. Because I was gonna ask you, how did you name [the song] that? (Laughing)
He did a song called — he had a group — his song was called “Tammy.” That’s a popular song, “Tammy,” right? But his voice was so sweet that “I Will Accept You As You Are” and me didn’t have a chance (laughing). He beat me in the competition.
So that’s initially where we clashed musically.
We have been friends ever since, you know, all through the years coming up, and he has turned out [to be] an extraordinarily great artist.
Well you know I had forgotten that I wanted to ask you how that song was named; I’m glad you told me. Dwight, what I want to make sure I do is ask about Zap Pow — I have to move on to Zap Pow a bit because I have to be — and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t as familiar with Zap Pow as I should be. And before I interviewed you today, I spent some time going back and listening, and I think, and from what I’ve read too, it kinda jibes, it kinda coincides with what I read. Which is that, I think that, and you tell me what you think about this: I think that Zap Pow is a band that — whose recognition is only growing. [And] [i]t’s only now that people are really seeing, wow, these tunes were so fresh!
(Nodding and smiling) Uh-huh.
I mean, ‘cause you could listen to some of these songs today, and [they] sound cutting edge.
Exactly Stephen. Because Zap Pow, as some of us in the music business say, was way ahead of our time. Right?
Yeah, I think that’s so.
When The Sharks were disbanded in 1969, myself and Michael Williams were kinda kicking with a band called “Untouchables.” That was a hotel band. And it was led by Winston Turner. Great trumpeter from the Carlos Malcolm band — he was the bandleader. So he had me [playing] guitar, and I had Mikey — as Mikey was [a] bass player. So we used to be like roomies, Mikey and myself. We were [playing] at the Hilton Hotel as [the] resident band in Ochos Rios.
So you guys were good friends?
Yeah man, and we knew each other from Maxfield Avenue days. So we decided that we love the recording side of this business. And when you’re on the North Coast as we call it, the hotel area, you get to play for tourists every night. But the music just disappears (laughing). But in recording, the recording lasts for —
So we decided, you know what, we’re going to form a band. And go back to Kingston and reside.
Who decided that the band should be called “Zap Pow?”
Because [the name] “Zap Pow,” when you listen to it — I swear I tried to [research] to see if someone has asked you this before, but I couldn’t find it, and I want to ask, because “Zap Pow” sounds almost like a comic book [(imitating someone punching someone else)] — like a “Zap” [(imitating throwing a punch)] — “Pow” [(imitating throwing another punch)]!
So how did Michael Williams decide that —
Yeah he said, when I queried him about the “Zap Pow” thing, he said, “We want action, man, we want impact.”
“We want energy!”
Laughing) Yeah, I like that.
He was a very futuristic thinker, you know?
Respect. Now unfortunately he passed away, I believe — in 2005.
Yeah, he passed away in the 90s.
If you know a magazine — you’re in the business, so you should know the magazine which was called “Reggae Report?”
Yes! I know [it] — I’m familiar [with it].
That’s his brain child.
Oh, I didn’t know that —
Great innovator, Michael Williams. So we decided to form this band. We called it “Zap Pow,” then we came back to Kingston. And then we started gathering—I think Madden was the first guy that we took in — David Madden, trumpeter.
[And] Glenn DeCosta for the saxophone, right?
Yeah they used to be at camp together, that’s David and Glenn —
They were friends —
Yeah, they used to play in the military band.
Oh, I see, okay.
So we took them in, and we had a drummer called Danny Mowatt. He was the son of the great Taddy Mowatt, [who] was a great bass player.
And now you had a number of drummers, I think, because later, Max Edwards was a drummer [for Zap Pow], right?
Yeah, yeah — right. What happened as time went on, we used to change personnel.
[Zap Pow] had a lot of vocalists because I know you had, correct me if I’m wrong, Bunny Rugs at one point, [and then, also,] you had —
One time Jacob Miller was singing, with us you know? (Laughing) We did a tour with Jacob Miller. We’ve done a show with Bunny Rugs —
And, of course, [Zap Pow] also had Beres Hammond —
Beres Hammond was the final vocalist that we had.
So you had a number of vocalists. Now is it accurate that the first song that Zap Pow released was this beautiful song, [it’s] so dreamy — this instrumental track that’s called “Mystic Mood” —
Yeah “Mystic Mood”—
Was that the first track [Zap Pow] released?
That’s the first song we recorded.
Wow because that song is so awesome! I have to ask about [that] song, because I was listening to it a lot. Now I understand the song was written by David Madden, is that true?
The melody of the song.
Was written by David Madden?
Yeah, but the arrangement of the song—
That’s your arrangement?
Yeah, on the piano licks — the piano riff and stuff —
I did all of that[, the chord progression including that original piano riff]. And the dialogue section —
Yeah! I was gonna ask — that’s you!?
That’s me. That’s my composition as well.
So let me make sure that everybody who’s listening to [or later reading] this interview at home understands. Because in “Mystic Mood”— it’s mostly an instrumental song — it’s a beautiful, very dreamy song, and then you get into the song, and halfway through, suddenly, there’s a monologue — there’s a speaker. And that speaker — is you! Right?
Yeah. (Nodding and laughing)
Yeah. (Laughing) And it’s amazing, because I listen to it, that song, it’s like the perfect slow-dance song. Like if you’re at a dance and you want to have — if I was the D.J., if I was a D.J. and it was like — I had to decide, okay, I have one last song to play at a dance — that’s the song I’m gonna pick! (Laughing)
Because there’s no better song for that kind of situation. I want to also ask about [another] song which I know is another signature song of Zap Pow, which is, of course, “This is Reggae Music.” Which I think is a song you co-wrote, and I think it features Michael Williams on the vocal?
And this song, too, you can listen to it now, and I swear, it sounds like it was made the other day. It’s so fresh.
(Nodding) Yeah man, you see what happened there, Steve, we were not just musicians, we were the producers of [this] music — all those songs you’re talking about. Personal producer, musician, finance everything, the arranger, you know, so we took pride in every stage of the production.
That’s why it’s so tight. It’s so tight.
And we made sure, like even, we had a song called “Sweet Lovin’ Love” —
— we rehearsed that song — we went to the country and rehearsed that song before we went to the studios with it, you know?
Wow, yeah, so you guys really made sure that the standard of what you were —
It was like a hustling thing — from the heart. Everything coming from the heart. And then the chemistry that we had was untouchable. Third World used to come and sit in front of us —
And watch —
— on the grandstand for most of our concerts when they were available, you know? So it was like we were the teachers. We were like the original show group in Jamaica, Zap Pow.
And there’s a verse just to take it back —
But guess what? I’m sorry, I have to stick in this part —
You know why Zap Pow isn’t as popular — [why] I didn’t get the recognition?
No, please tell me.
There was no — none of this (smiling) — in those times.
No video. So no one knew is what you’re saying, no one knew how —
Just like people immediately [around] —
It was more [a] local thing?
Yeah, so most of the stuff that we did, which was so great —
— [wasn’t] being exposed.
You guys were even signed at one point to Island Records.
Which is a giant, you know, record label; of course, because Bob Marley —
Yeah and even Chris Blackwell himself said what this package has. Because we were communicable.
It was internationally ready-made. For world movement. That’s Zap Pow.
Yeah, well it [was] a fantastic band, and I hope that people that listen to or watch this interview will go back and pull up some Zap Pow stuff —
Zap Pow stuff and hear —
— and listen to it, and you’ll be blown away. Now — and I’m about to of course ask about the Roots Radics, but before I get to the Roots Radics, because of course, I have to ask about the Roots Radics, but before I get to the Roots Radics, I need to ask about the moment that we touched on where you went to the [Jamaican] School of Music.
Yeah. Can I just stick in a last thing about Zap Pow before we move on?
Oh please, oh please, please Dwight.
Okay, you hear the song that Junior Gong did — [his] first big hit?
Um, yeah, “Welcome to Jamrock?”
Yeah, you hear that bass line [on that tune]?
That bass line, doesn’t it come from “This is Reggae Music?”
You hear [that] song [by] Protoje, “Bubblin’?”
Which song of his — oh, “Blood Money?”
Try and listen to Protoje’s “Bubblin’” — yeah, that’s one of my compositions that Zap Pow did [being sampled].
Nice, I have to go back and listen to that.
[Have] you hear[d] Collie Buddz’s “Come Around?”
I don’t know that one; I’ll have to go listen to that one.
Them songs, Zap Pow [made] —
Zap Pow – This Is Reggae Music
Damian Marley – Welcome To Jamrock
Zap Pow – Bubblin’ Over
Protoje – Bubblin’
Zap pow – Last War
Collie Buddz – Come Around
So Zap Pow, the artists —
— [artists are] sampling.
Yeah, people are using your guys stuff in the current —
So Zap Pow was big ahead of our time, but (laughing) better late than never.
I’m glad I discovered [Zap Pow]. Now I think you’ve said before that, because people didn’t realize that Zap Pow was how good it was, that unfortunately, the financial returns weren’t like you wanted — and that’s when you took a year — that’s what I wanted to make sure I ask you about, because I was very curious about this. I know that you went to this — it was called at that time “The Jamaican School of Music.” And I wanted to ask, did you — because you were there, and you received this formalized music training — we discussed people like Melba Liston and people who were there. And I think you would later teach at the school a little bit yourself, too. But when you went back — and now I’m going to get to the Roots Radics — and you started to go back, and you were playing [professionally]. Because so many Jamaican musicians who I have interviewed and seen play are self-taught musicians — mostly self-taught musicians. Did — when you came back into recording, and you’re trying to incorporate some of what you had learned through the formal instruction into this kinda roots-raw material, did you get any kind of blowback, any kinda, you know, “Hey, hey man,” from any of the old school musicians? Or were they very accepting?
(Laughing) No, no. Alright, I didn’t get any blowback, because I was a street musician before I went to school.
So they knew, they knew —
We could relate.
— they knew you were cool — they knew you were cool.
And the encouragement was [reflected] in the end product. Because, I can remember when I went to Channel One [Recording Studios] in the early days, right, and the engineer — the musicians knew me, but, like the engineer didn’t know me —
— or didn’t know of me or anything. So I can distinctly remember when we were recording, and when we were listening back, he used to turn down my track.
Oh wow, I didn’t know that.Wow. (Laughing)
(Laughing) But I noticed it started gradually getting (laughing) louder, session after session, until I had to be the one to tell him turn my track down. (Laughing) So that was one funny aspect of the whole thing. Going to the [Jamaican] School of Music, I must big up, before we go any further, my teacher, first and foremost, Melba Liston. [Then] Peter Ashbourne — he was the one who played the solo piano — took the solo on [Zap Pow’s] “Mystic Mood.”
The original riff which I arranged was done by Aubrey Adams.
Yeah, the late great Aubrey Adams. (Imitating riff) I gave him that riff to play in my arrangement for “Mystic Mood.”
Did you, when you were at the Jamaican School for Music, did you learn or did you already know how to read music?
I had an idea [of how to do it]. But I actually learned more accurately, fluently —
How to read music?
Yeah, and how to write, and especially, how to arrange. Arrangement is a whole different — [it’s] a new ball game. In terms of — let me put it this way: If you’re making a lemonade, and you put too much sugar —
— or too much lime in it —
You’re gonna mess it up.
— mess it up. So you have to know the right —
The right balance.
— the right balance. So that was one of the great secrets of arranging that I learned.
Would you recommend to a young musician today that they should try to get some formalized music training?
Definitely, definitely, definitely. But they should also listen — listen to everything.
Now Dwight, like I say, you are, and continue to be, and have been for a long time, a key component of the Roots Radics legendary band, that as I said earlier, dominated reggae music — and still is a name to contend with, and always will be. And as I shared with you [before this interview], about a year ago I had the great honor to interview [Errol] Flabba [Holt], too —
And so I have nothing but the greatest respect for the Roots Radics. And of course the Radics, they backed all of the biggest names in reggae, including Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Bunny Wailer — just to name a few. I mean the list — as I told Flabba when I [interviewed] him, I said “We could be here all day, we don’t even have time to list all the names of the people —
(Laughing) That’s true.
— that the Radics played with. But I want to focus for a minute, selfishly, [on Gregory Isaacs]. Because Gregory Isaacs is one of my favorite singers. And then, in particular, [I want to focus briefly on his hit song] “Night Nurse,” which has to be one of my all-time favorite songs. Do you have any — do you remember when you guys recorded that, and did you realize when you recorded it that this song was going to be so giant?
No, no, no. We knew that the song was great. We didn’t know where it would go, right? Because we were doing an album, so the focus was on the album, but because of the chemistry that we shared as [a] band —
You know, in those days, they’d say, “If you want a hit you have to go for the Roots Radics. Or Sly [Dunbar] and Robbie [Shakespeare].
Those were the [top] bands.
One or the other.
Yeah, so all the artists, all the producers, everybody used to bring their act to the Roots Radics. So Flabba and Gregory were very close, right? So we had been doing recordings with Gregory before we did the “Night Nurse” album [with him]. And most of them went [to] number one in Jamaica. Songs like “Front Door” and, you know, “Number One,” and “Top Ten.” So when we were doing the “Night Nurse” album, it was just like —
All the other ones! Oh man! (Laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah, another one.
(Laughing) Oh man, you guys were making so many hits.
The chemistry was there which [we] always had in the studio, you know? Sometimes it sound[ed] like Flabba and [Style] Scott is like [having a] war. [And] that war brings out an extra special energy, and force, and drive in the music that [was] remarkable.
Dwight, Gregory Isaacs, you know, he seemed like such a — I watched another movie that you have a credit in, “Land of Look Behind” —
— and there’s some raw footage of Gregory Isaacs in that film. It’s so amazing to watch. And then of course, I guess, I just have such an appreciation for Gregory Isaacs’ work. I want to ask, because you worked with him, what can you say about Gregory Isaacs, you know, what is a fond memory that you have [of him]? And also, what is something that people don’t really know about Gregory Isaacs that maybe they should?
Alright, Gregory Isaacs [was] one of the kindest souls that you can meet. Like I was saying about Bob [Marley], can say almost the same thing about Gregory. He paid his musicians dem well. More than what the regular people paid.
He took care of them?
Yeah he took care of them. And he [was] always funny, you know? (Laughing) You just have to love Gregory. Don’t care what him do, you have to love him because he [was] so funny, and he [said] the darndest things. (Laughing)
Things that would make you laugh? (Laughing)
(Laughing) Yeah. We were on the plane one day going to, I think it was Hawaii, and Gregory — the flight attendant told Gregory [buckle] your seatbelt [and] him just throw his shirt over it.
(Laughing) Wow that is so funny.
Later on [we] ordered — what did [we] order — some sausage or something (laughing). Something like that. So Gregory look on us and say, because you know Rastaman don’t eat certain things: “I’m gonna tell Selassie! I’m gonna tell Selassie.” (Laughing)
(Laughing) Oh my gosh, that’s so funny.
He was so funny to be around — everything him say. [And] very intelligent, you know? Very intelligent.
Yeah. I’m so glad that I asked. Dwight, as you know, prior to our interview today, I asked reggae fans on social media, if they had any questions that they thought I should ask you today. And of course, there were plenty of good submissions. And I told’em I would try and do some of them justice — not all of them, because we don’t have all day. You have to go, and I want to thank you for being so generous with your time — we’re almost at the end. And I want to thank you again, but there are two people who asked questions [I want to put to you]. The first comes from a very knowledgeable reggae lover, a person who goes by the name of “Brigadier Lion” on Twitter. And he wants to know: “Do you think that the Roots Radics created the 80s sound of Jamaica, and what role did producer Junjo Lawes play to achieve the Radics’ unique style?”
Okay, well, the first part of his question is that the Radics created a signature sound of Jamaica in the 80s —
— no doubt about that. The role that Junjo Lawes played was not a musical role as such. It was more of a financing role, because he used to book the studios and bring the artists. He located the artists. And brought them to the studio. Once he brought them to the studio, everything else was left to the Radics.
He had no impact on the actual creation of the music?
No impact at all on the production. Just finding the artists, and financing the production. He wasn’t like a person who would come into the studio and say, “I want this or I want that style” — all of that was left on Flabba and us guys. To produce, conduct, arrange, and play the music.
Now Dwight, not to go too much down a rabbit hole, but I’m gonna ask now just to say, because there is no way I can ask you all the questions today that I would like to. So I’m hoping, my hope is Dwight, that [at] some point, maybe toward the end of [this] year, 2022, you know, maybe we’ll be able to have another conversation. So that maybe I can ask you some of the questions [I didn’t get a chance to today]. I only asked you — there’s so many questions [left]. I didn’t even ask about one of your whole bands, you know, the “D.P. Band.” [There] are so many questions to ask [you]. Maybe at a future point down the road, we’ll be able to do a Part 2 of the interview?
(Nodding) Yeah, we can.
Thank you so much for being agreeable to that. Let me ask this other question of this other person who goes by the name of “Paolo Dell’Anno” [on Twitter]. [Paolo] asked a very interesting question I thought: “What artists did you want to play or collaborate with during your very lengthy career, but that you were unable to?” [Artists] you wish you could have played with, but that you didn’t get a chance to?
Boy that’s a tough one. There are so many artists that (laughing) — you know? I don’t have a special — as long as, you know, they are on the same vibes level, anyone would be good. Because I don’t really do this for the glory of men.
Respect — yeah.
I do it for the glory of the Father. So any artist that is on the same wavelength —
You’ll collaborate with?
— I’ll collaborate with them as long as it’s possible. But I have no regrets so far, because I’ve worked with so many artists —
— playing the guitar for them, just like collaborating with them in a way, even if they are vocalists, you know what I mean? So —
Respect. So much respect for that. Now Dwight before we wrap up today’s interview, I just want to briefly return to [your new] album “Knockout,” and I want to ask you about this track number 7, which is another one of my favorite tracks on the album. And it’s a song that’s called “Tribute to Harry.” Which I understand is a tribute to Harry Belafonte?
And I want to ask, what was the genesis, what was it that made you come up with that very cool track. Why did you want to include this tribute to Harry Belafonte on the new album?
Well, the reason is, just to add variety, number one. And honor a great Jamaican musician —
— number two. Yeah man. And those songs are songs that [people] have grown up with on the hotel scene —
Everyone loves those songs.
Yes, so I thought it was fitting, you know?
Yeah for sure, for sure.
To modernize them and offer them [again] in my style to the people.
Man, it’s wicked. It’s so wicked, Dwight. Now in addition to “Knockout,” Dwight, are there any additional music projects that your fans around the world — of which you have very many — that they should be on the lookout for, from you, in 2022, or beyond? Is there anything you can tell people about [concerning], you know, Dwight Pinkney going forward?
Yes, I can’t predict exactly what it will be, but I’ll be working for sure —
— and as soon as it’s ready, you’ll get it.
Respect. Now finally, Dwight, I’m gonna let you get the final word in a moment. But I want to let you know that after we hang up today, first of all, I’ll be in touch with you. Soon. About the publication and some of the details, a few other things about this interview — so, we’ll be in touch as we have been. And Dwight, my second-to-last question—which they call “the penultimate” — the penultimate question I have for you is: What message do you have, what kind of final message do you want to share with all of your fans around the world? You know many people have been deprived of hearing from the great legends, because people haven’t been touring, people stuck in their houses, and the world is going through a very tough time. What do you want all the Dwight Pinkney fans to know?
I’d like you all to know that: Don’t give up. Life goes on although it’s altered in some form. But keep the faith. And do what you can do to help others along the way —
— you’ll find a lot of joy in that.
Oh man, that’s so well said. And my very last question for you today, Dwight, before we hang up, and again, I want to say now because I want to give you the last word, and then we’ll say our goodbyes: Just thank you again, Dwight. Massive respect. You know I want you to stay safe — we’re losing so many reggae legends these days, left and right the reggae legends [are leaving us]. We don’t want to lose you. So we want you to stay healthy and stay safe. Keep making all this great music that you’re doing. I hope you’ll keep putting out this music because, like I said, “Knockout,” man, it knocked me out. I keep playing it, and every time I play it, it’s only better.
(Laughing) Thank you.
And so my last question, before we say goodbye — for today —
— is this Dwight: How would you like your career, and your very distinguished legacy in the history of reggae to be remembered? How would you like folks to remember Dwight Pinkney, you know, his contribution to reggae?
Well I’d like people to remember me as someone who did it from my heart. Money wasn’t my priority. But soul satisfaction was more my priority. And connecting with others. Adding a little joy in their lives was my priority. So that’s how I’d like them to remember me. As a friend. A musical friend who tried to uplift them with music.
Thank you so much, Dwight.
You’re welcome, Stephen.
Dwight, we’ll be in touch, and stay safe, and we’ll talk. Thank you so much, man.
‘Nuff respect, ‘nuff respect.
‘Nuff respect. Bless up, Dwight. Bye-bye, my friend.
Bye-bye, take care. Thank you for having me.