Interview with Claudius Linton
The influence of Burning Spear on the music cannot be overstated. He had a tremendous impact in the mid-seventies with songs like ‘Marcus Garvey’, ‘Slavery Days’ and ‘Invasion’ to name only a few. With those, he spearheaded the cultural movement in music for several years. Spear had the sort of ‘country’ sound that opened the door for many similar singers and songwriters, such as Claudius Linton. But even though Linton might have been earlier with the type of singing Spear popularised, even influencing the man to a large extent, he couldn’t do more than figuring in Spear’s shadow regardless of the high quality of his sparse output at the time. And, as we all know by now, Spear was to become a monument in Jamaican popular music. Claudius Linton has become a highly regarded (cult) name over the years through songs like the brilliant ‘Put Your Shoulder To Jah Wheel’; minor hits like ‘Crying Time’; and especially the totally original ‘Backra Massa’; a personal favorite on the turntable for many years. But Claudius started the musical adventure at the height of the ska boom in the early 1960s. He was later to enter the Jamaican Song Festival in the early seventies with songs like ‘King Man Is Back’ as a member of the Hoffner Brothers. He was thought to be lost for the music business forever, but the other year he turned up again through an accidental meeting on the beaches of Negril. This has now produced new music and a strong compilation of his older recordings. Thanks to Claudius, Ian (Sun King), Carlton Hines, Mike Turner, Peter ‘Talking Dog’ Sharpe, Teacher & Mr. T, and Donovan Phillips.
MARCUS GARVEY DID A SHOW THEM
Let me begin by asking about your early days, were you born over in Duncan’s Bay?
Yeah, Duncan’s Bay, that’s the North Coast. That’s where I was born.
Well, it’s a family of eleven, but I only know nine out of eleven. Myself make nine out of the eleven.
What year was it?
I was born in, like, ’42.
And you grew up in and went to school over there in Duncan’s for the most part?
Yeah, I went to school there. And then I escape from the area. It was too much for a kid at the time.
Your family worked at a farm, the Georgia Farm?
Yeah, there was a farm, yes. Some of them worked at the farm.
So you couldn’t take in anymore, you ran away from home and went to Kingston?
Yes, I ran away to Kingston.
To be more specific, why did you have to do that?
To be… I ran away to town in 1957.
How did the country-boy find the life in Kingston in general, and musically speaking?
Yeah, in Kingston there was a lot of record shops all over the place, up at Orange Street. This would be the center of music, and that’s where I met Clancy Eccles. And so I get to unify directly with most of the popular singers like Ken Boothe, Stranger Cole and Toots & The Maytals. And a lot more of those playing a part in the music, Peter Tosh, The Wailers, etc.
So how was the city-life in general? The hectic city versus the country.
Well, when I was in the country I was admiring the music pace, it was a very closed spot even when I was in the country. Because, what I used to do, I select for myself to represent the music. It was like a sanitary place, they call it the ‘sanitary place’. I used to represent, like, to present the record, my 45 rpm beat record, or my LP. So I was having a really close relation to myself in the music, within the spirit of the music. And then I went to Trench Town. Then I met this young man, his name is Hemmings.
That’s him, and I settle in with him, y’know, he’s a run-away guy too. And so he (laughs)… come to town from his problem, we hardly drew… You know, we both lick head together, but he’s… He was born the 8th of December and I was born the thirty-first, so its kind of a different type a person for me totally, in a way, these kind of a ‘pirate’ person. But I relax myself and learned how to respec’ myself, so I did hold on to him. You know, with some very great respec’, to the feel of music.
So that’s when you formed the Angelic Brothers?
Yes, Angelic Brothers. So now I met this gentleman called Derrick Morgan, and he admired the way we get the sound. So he took us to a man called Baba Brooks, and Phillip Chen from Barbican, this Chinese now. Then Mr Ernest Ranglin was in the band, and Lloyd Brevett from the Skatalites, and there’s a drummer called Drumbago. And Lloyd Brevett, y’know, I work along with those gentleman at… from Johnson’s Drive-In, there’s a club in Kingston called Johnson’s Drive-In, in front of Monaton House there.
Now there was a connection to Justin Yap, the Top Deck label. How was that, how did you get treated over there?
Well, you see, I’m a young man at those time and working much harder, got the job and worked hard. But he liked me and that is before – after they kill President Kennedy at those times. But I wasn’t treated properly and I was singin’ at Bournemouth. There’s a man called Mr Carlos Malcolm and The Afro-Jamaican Rhythms. I was singin’ there with Mr Carlos Malcolm, and I sing at a place called Club Havanna with Val Bennett and these people, that was my mentor in the business. So I started out early, that’s how.
The first 45 you cut, it came out in England but not as the Angelic Brothers, apparently it was released as by the Hi-Tones.
It came out as the Hi-Tones?
(Laughs) There’s so much things happening in this business!! Yeah.
True. I guess Justin Yap had a deal with Chris Blackwell, it came out on the Island imprint at the time, so he could put it out but under a different name.
Yeah. So we gonna have some channel to Mr Chris Blackwell now. Mr Blackwell would have to find the ‘Hi-Tones’, a so we say.
But you never heard about that release before?
First I heard about it that they put it out that kind of way, and Chris Blackwell did have something to do with it, with us, because we don’t see that (chuckles). You know, with Chris Blackwell in Jamaica here, it’s only Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry did start it here. He had all the opportunity with this man, and we never had no opportunity with this man, Chris Blackwell. So now I wanna know, and I’m still alive. You really have to work on this t’ing, because Chris Blackwell, Island Records, is still alive.
Yes, but mainly involved in the resort business now, films as well.
But you wrote that song, ‘Virgins Went Out’?
What happened after the ‘Virgins Went Out’, Angelic Brothers, did you break up with Cecil?
We never break up, we went to the festival.
But that was like many years later, wasn’t it?
Well, we didn’t… Well, I did some other songs, other songs there. My partner is actually a man that really want to put his business, his energy to other things. You know, his mind is somewhere else nowadays. So, we came back together 1972 and we did ‘Kingman Is Back’. And then I – after that I did ‘Put Your Shoulder To Wheel’, and then ‘Sunshine’. And then we call it quits, y’know, because he’s not the type of man who want to just go an’ sing. While I’m humble even if I’m shelterless, I don’t care whether I am, this t’ing have to be the number one in life so I jus’ took my shoulder to that wheel.
Did you record during the later part of the 1960’s or you took a break from the music business for a couple of years, or did you record but it was never released?
Yes, I stayed away for a couple of years. And then in the late sixties, up to about ’69, I was just learning how to play the guitar, very much how to get myself for the guitar, learning. Because I was in the learning process even though I became sick and tired of how to play the guitar. Some of the times I was going off to Dynamic Sounds or Federal or Beverley’s, to see what they produced, I’m still learning and I’m singin’ underground. Because there was a guy called Al Green, which I learned a lot about. This man start singin’ for a while and then after going and study and came back, an’ it’s that kind of thing I did have up my sleeve.
So those years was basically spent to work harder on playing and writing, moulding what was to come.
Yes, I was learning. I met Peter Tosh, and Peter Tosh he had a lot of ideas for me. Peter Tosh, man. Yes, yes.
What can you remember of the early days in Trench Town?
Well, I remember seeing this guy called Alton Ellis, and Eddy Perkins (of Alton & Eddy). And Joe Higgs, Higgs & Wilson. That year we started, most of us who goes to that man’s house… ‘Cause, what he does, he take one of his mom’s kitchen for himself an’ one of the wash-houses, so we stay in that one and practice. So I used to go by a man called Lascelles Perkins and start going where Toots (Hibbert) is, and I learned a lot in Trench Town. It was a place where I learned how other guys is singin’, so it really inspired me. I respec’ Trench Town a lot. I saw all of them, all the country boys. I saw Derrick Morgan with Jimmy Cliff, just comin’ from the country. That’s where I saw Dennis Brown as a young man come down. A lot of young people, and a lot of people like ‘Horsemouth’ (Leroy Wallace), and ‘Easy Snappin” (Theophilius Beckford) and those guys. And then I find myself around Upsetters, wha’ they called Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry there, and that’s where I used to be for a while until the seventies comin’ up now. I was with all of them musicians, like Carlton Barrett from The Wailers, the drummer, I and him I remember was like a tight friend. Very good, deeply friend, always comin’ and pickin’ me up. And there was a band called the Vikings, the Vikings and Byron Lee. And then the Skatalites and Sonny Bradshaw, and I always being aroun’ all these people dem. And they always like me, ’cause I’m a country-boy. And Sonny and I (sighs)… it’s a very long story, so…
The Vikings you mentioned, could that have been the Mighty Vikings with Bobby Ellis, the trumpeter?
Yes, Bobby Ellis. And the brother who used to manage the band, a Chineyman, a Rastaman, his name’s Ken Viking, and he always pick me up and these people with status. I really find myself amongst some very uptown (middle class) people.
Did you participate in the ‘Opportunity Hour’ (sponsored by Vere John at various theatres)?
Vere Johns? No, when I jus’ came I met Mr Vere Johns. Just passed by this week, the things had closed down outta town, Palace (Theatre). I was so shocked, last night I was there and really (chuckles)… But Vere Johns was a nice man. But when you’re on that scene, Bournemouth and those places, and Club Havana, it’s just as good as workin’ at… like Mr Carlos Malcolm, he is one of the key figures in the music business and he’s a great trombonist, man.
You did something for producer Harry Mudie, ‘Open Up The Gates’, as the Hoffner Brothers. You recall that one?
Yes sir, yes sir. Yes, Hoffner Brothers, that is after the festival we did this.
Tell me what led up to the festival entry with ‘Kingman Is Back’.
Yes sir. I learned how politics is and what politics is in this world, in the world of today, and before we come to this computer technology, but I learned for myself. Because this man Bunny Lee, Bunny Lee he has Junior Byles and Derrick Morgan in the festival, so he has two entries. So this man Bunny Lee, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry and Bunny Lee, they are the two guys, y’know, as the prominent men of the t’ing. But Byron Lee had sent in Toots & The Maytals, he was not selected by the audience in the theater. Because the first round is my first time to make any appearance in the world, and Toots never had no chance in the theater that night. That night it was our night there, we break it down. That’s how they teach us now how to fake, how to go to the studio and play these t’ings, and fake while the music is playing. And we are faking… You have to do that because if they play the original things from the start, they show the audience that they win all, right through.
Like some playback thing.
Yeah, that’s what they did. They play back the records and we fake, we’re faking like we’re singin’, like we’re performing, but it wasn’t coming originally from us at that time. It was just the record playing. But at the theater, generally they had a projector with a four-track tape in there that can record the whole session of the festival. And what happened, that’s how I learned the way the society in this world is, they really mingle around and leave it a very very stylish thing. Yes.
But they had a band for the festival entries, didn’t they?
Yes, this band called Zap Pow, Dwight Pickney, those guys. But the backing band that we used in the studio, it was Soul Syndicate, Earl ‘Chinna’ Smith.
For ‘Kingman Is Back’.
Yeah. They used (George) ‘Fully’ Fullwood and ‘Santa’ (Davis), Santa on drums, Fully on bass and Chinna on guitar, and a nex’ little Chin-a (Tony Chin, rhythm guitar).
What studio was it you used?
At Federal Recording Company.
It was produced by someone called M.G. Mahtani on the Shalimar label.
Yeah, that’s right. Shalimar label, yes.
Who was this guy, Mahtani?
Well, Mahtani was one of those Indians that have jewelry store down King Street, so they decided to back us too. Beca’ we didn’t want to go with Sir Coxson. I didn’t want to go with Dynamic Sounds or Coxson and a few of these guys, Bunny Lee or these guys, so we go with Shalimar.
But did you record anything more for Shalimar?
No, I did not do that.
So what became of the Hoffner Brothers after that track?
Well, after that the group had split, this man take his way and I take my own way. And I did some recordings, a lot of songs, in the seventies, in the eighties. I’ve done a lot of songs. And you will hear them, ‘Reach Out’, this one called ‘Third World’, ‘Star Wars’ at Dynamics, I’ve been recording quite a lot of songs. But you know what happened to me? Something happened to me in the eighties, that I was so badly hurt. And there were two German ladies that take my tapes from behind my back at the house, take it from the kids, and run off with it! With my mixed down tapes, to Germany! Yes.
I see, a major setback. But after recording for Shalimar and the group split up… By the way, why did you call it the ‘Hoffner Brothers’ before anything else?
Hoffner Brothers? Well, because a guitar was given to me. There was a man called Carl Silvera, these were the Silvera brothers that used to have the Selecta Company. I was a good friend to (the late JBC host) Neville Willoughby’s sister that is married to this guy called Carl Silvera, so he find this guitar in his junk-room (giggles). So when I look at it its called ‘Hoffner Brothers’, a Hoffner guitar, so I jus’ called ourselves the Hoffner Brothers. Because that’s where I wrote the ‘Kingman Is Back’ now and get ready to go into the rehearsals and for the festival.
Everything seems to have some sort of story behind it.
It is, sir. And to be the Angelic Brothers, it was like… we both were stealing the energy coming from the sky down there to us, like the way Jonah opened his hand when he was eleven. And it’s the same thing with us where we opened our hands and that’s what we call ourseleves. And we could feel the power coming into us, the thrill of reality, so now we called ourselves the Angelic Brothers.
Did you still link with Cecil Hemmings after the group got apart?
Yeah, we met many times after that. But then I went into this family affair business, having a lot of children around me, and he didn’t have any. (Chuckles) So that was one of the things too. But we met many times after that and tried to get him back to work, but he only work when there’s any money, where he’s really in need.
Also, wasn’t Junior Byles on the same festival slot back in ’72? I seem to remember something that he was there that year.
Junior Byles? He was on the same festival too.
You remember his song?
(Silence) He sing a song… while I can’t… (sings): ‘Ooh Nanny Nanny Ooh, Ooh Nanny Nanny Ooh…’ (laughs). I forget, but I know it was for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. That was his entry.
Claudius Linton, Ocho Rios JA 1981 (Photo: Peter ‘Talking Dog’ Sharpe)
After the group was no more, you decided to try a thing on your own, and I believe you formed your own label at this time. There’s a 45 called ‘Hail A Man’…
(Laughs) That’s me, that’s me! I make my own label, y’know.
The Lion label.
I was very… but guess what happened, sir? The Chineyman, these people that own the record company, this studio and these blah blah, they had me and robbed me. Because I don’t have any connections and they have all the connections, that’s why… But I really get my own label from a guy called Jackson. Jacko Gordon, that’s a very good friend to me, he used to do all the printing for the LBC or whatever.
That track is credited to someone called W. Holder.
Holder, yes. That was a fake Rastaman, a fake Rasta, and I do it for him.
But he stood behind the production anyhow?
Yes. This song called ‘Reach Out’, I produced that one. I did producing on a lot of the songs.
But there was another title on the Lion label called ‘When I Drape You’.
Yes I, yes. For the same guy.
So then you basically had had enough of rip-offs, working with others, and formed your own company, Peacemakers, at that time?
And the Black Star imprint, or simply ‘Black Star Label’, that was another one.
Yeah, or the Black Star label. Then Ocho Rios Talent Productions start workin’ with the Black Star label, which is my label. Ocho Rios Talent Productions, they financed the label.
So you didn’t go back and forth between the city and the countryside, you had moved over from Kingston to Ocho Rios at that point?
Yes, yes, that’s right. So then I start workin’ for this man called Jack Ruby, this one ‘Chun ‘Pon Nanny’, and ‘(Reduce The) Arms Race’.
Those two came out later, in the eighties.
What did things like the early songs, ‘Hail A Man’ and ‘Let Me Dream’, did they do anything on the market at the time, or they just vanished?
That I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going on. Because, you see, I wasn’t travelling at that time, and things were very bad with us. So I didn’t even know what’s happening out there with these things. All I know that through I had my copyright and I got some royalties from PRS.
Apparently, if we continue talking the releases of some of the songs, where they ended up in the jungle called the music business. ‘Let Me Dream’ came out in England on the Grape label for instance.
And that’s me! I record ‘Let Me Dream’ for ourselves!
On the Peacemaker mark, right.
So somebody had the nerve… stole it, same old piracy.
Yeah! What label it came on?
It was on the Grape imprint. Trojan subsidiary.
(Laughs) This music business…
That period, when you recorded some of your best songs, ‘Backra Massa’, ‘Put Your Shoulder To Jah Wheel’ and ‘Crying Time’, Burning Spear was very much happening at that time, the ‘in’ sound. What was the inspiration for someone like you, ‘sharing’ the same sound so to speak, when Spear burst on the scene at that point? ‘Marcus Garvey’ in particular.
You know what happened? That’s how he got that sound… I just step back, that’s how I get my whole setback when those guys come on the scene, Culture and Burning Spear.
In what way?
But they had a meeting… Culture and Mrs Pottinger, the manager for Culture, they came to Ocho Rios to see my manager Pat Burke, to have me to sign up with the group called Culture. And they have a big problem that I should join with this group, but I did not. So these guys they would even want to slice me and all those kind of things. You know, it was a thing whe stink, I tell you. In those days it was like a big thing, with producers trying to corner you an’ these t’ings. But I know I influenced Burning Spear a lot because they only wanted one and they won away with that. There’s a man called Spain, I had this guy from Jack Ruby, he knows the full history of what happened with Jack Ruby, when I was there. Most of the time Jack Ruby called me to rehearse, they would have a tape recorder to record whatever I’m singin’ and then they going to keep the ideas for Burning Spear.
Is that true?
Yes man! Yeah man, there’s proof even when you don’t hear these t’ings from me, you hear it from guys that used to do all the business for Jack Ruby. And they’re the same guys that spend time with and record Burning Spear, it’s a long, big history.
If that’s correct then that’s a big rip-off for sure.
Yes I, yes I. But along the way of rip-offs, y’know, whatever, as a man you have to focus on the long-term working job, and you make your mind up to keep on pressing on. And you no watch what these guys do, because you’ve got ideas and energy. And you’ve got man like Ian Jones, which is a spiritual man that come to me, that shining on me and I’m shining on him, so these are the past things, those little things. We’re looking ahead, y’know.
That’s fine. I’ve been lucky to find a few of your gems, things like ‘Backra Massa’ and ‘Crying Time’, both were recorded on the same session?
No, no. I record one… There’s a lawyer (manager, mainly for Bob Marley) called Don Taylor. And I was at Joe Gibbs’ studio recording ‘Backra Massa’, and Don Taylor stopped the session, with Joe Gibbs, and said I should go down to Church Street and join the Performance Rights Society. Because they thought it was Burning Spear, a belong to the group Burning Spear, knowing that Burning Spear had tracks with Chris Blackwell. So they stop me. And I went humbly and come back and finish recording the session. Now, the next one, which is ‘Crying Time’, I’ve done that up by Randy’s.
Who played on those two sessions?
Well, I had Chinna (lead guitar), I had Easy Snappin’ (piano), Ansel Collins on keyboard, and I had this drummer called… ah…
No, no, not Horsemouth. This drummer is Johnny Clarke brother.
‘Fish’ Clarke? (Eric ‘Fish’ Clarke).
Clarke, that’s right!
He was also a singer.
(Laughs) Yeah man, ‘Fish’ Clarke. And on trombone, I always had these guys like ‘Trommie’, Trommie which I met in Trench Town too.
‘Don Drummonds Junior’ there. Yeah, good friend of the family. So we used to work together very closely (chuckles).
Tell me about the lyrics for ‘Backra Massa’. What’s ‘backra’ to begin with?
‘Backra’ is for the slave, is when the ‘backra’ is ‘back’, your back is raw. They always rip the slaves at the back, so when they hit them they said the ‘back-ra(w)’. When they hit these guys the guy said (sings): ‘Backraaaa massa, backraaaa massa, no give me them life I’m living here, ’cause when the sun goes down the moon comes around, the falling of one tribe is the rising of the other, if you see me mister Backraaaa massaaaa, no gimme them life I’m living ya, I’m gonna catch the freedom train that’s bound to Zion I would say, I’m gonna catch that freedom train Backra massa, Backraaaa massa, Backra massaaa-a-a, no give me the life I’m living ya, no gimme them life I’m living here…’. Yep.
It’s a wonderful recording, one of the best from that mid seventies period.
Who mixed the dub for it?
Yeah, you know who it is? Is Pat Kelly, this singer called Pat Kelly. I got Pat Kelly as the engineer. I said nothing, I just go in the voicing room and put the headphones on and said “Let go the riddim, sah!” So he roll the riddim an’ I know what I’m doing so I jus’ work on the riddim. So he was quite amazed to know that (chuckles)… I’m coming on jus’ like that.
So ‘Backra Massa’ came out circa ’75, and ‘Crying Time’ the following year?
Yes, then ‘Crying Time’.
What’s the story to that track?
Well, I was living in a place called Marinee Hall in Ocho Rios, and there was a Ackee tree that was in the yard there (laughs)… I climb up on this Ackee tree and I dive… Y’know, I had the lyrics from some kind of accident down there when pickin’ the Ackee. So that was the line ‘who’s gonna cry when it’s crying time’.
Then the rest of the lyrics came through, Marcus Garvey and them, whatever I add to it there. But then it was Chinna Smith, Chinna himself him play on this one, yunno. Chinna was playing at the time with Bob (Marley). So we use… the nex’ Chinna, ’cause it was two Chin-a in the band. One who was a half-Chiney, his name is Tony Chin, the one that played with (Soul Syndicate). And Horsemouth and Ansel Collins and these guys, so…
But ‘Crying Time’ sold in large quantities at the time, didn’t it?
Yes, sold a lot. It sold very much, very much. So I was kinda living good until politics run away my manager Pat Hurst, Bertie, he was a man that loved me, a very nice man, and his kids and his wife. But there’s politics in this country just like anything. So he had to run away from Jamaica and he was tryin’ to explain this to me that I should leave a place like this, but then I didn’t have any money and I’m not a person that really drink. I must tell you the truth, I’m not an artist like this that go into the wrong place tonight, I’m not going to be bust. And I’m not going to have to fret, I reserve myself and go to my bed, you understan’, sir? So I’m not an artist that, like, a guy going around to a party and drink all those bullshit. I’m a very conservative person, not really… y’know wha’ I mean? So many guys don’t like me, because I’m not a guy that’s comin’ out there to drink myself to death. My birthday is the thirty-first of December, the last day of the year, and everybody’s tellin’ me… I don’t need a drink to work.
Must’ve been a lot of work for you, taking care of running the label, record it, press it, distributing it, and not being based in Kingston can be a disadvantage too.
Yeah, there’s a man called Mr (Graeme) Goodall, he used to be at Federal Recording Company.
Australian, the engineer.
Yeah, a white man, he’s my good friend. So when I go there, go to King Tubbys, these guys used to open the door for me. Because they realised that I’m a singer and I’m trying to do things in the business, but I was kept back by a lot of the other producers and the radio stations. When I take my song dem to the lob, to the lobby in RJR and give them, they just put it under the counter. And Barry G, Neville Willoughby, those guys always play my songs.
Yeah, they do. But all Barry G, y’know, these guys… and Allan Magnus, me go to these guys and we sit down together and have a talk and have a drink. ‘Cause these guys is just word of mouth, man, because they’re lookin’ for big money, man. Big, big corn in this business, man.
It’s been blocking the way for many independent producers and artists over the years, to reach out, because of the ‘payola’.
Yes, yes. There’s a discjockey here in Jamaica in those times, he said to me that if you’ve got the best song in your hand walkin’ in this country (chuckles), and Dynamic Sounds or Sonic Sounds don’t have it, or these people, if you have a dispute with (them) then you get nowhere. And it was true.
It’s always about having the right connections, money, and if you don’t…
Yes, yes, yes, it does a lot of things. But when I have all my publishing after 1976, I did have a good connection but that manager there had to leave. Pat, Bertie, he was very nice to me and my family, and I was living good at the time when I was into this place called Molyones Garden there. But when money and politics start, it didn’t work together (chuckles).
What about the other tracks which came out on the Daniel label, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Third World’, that was in the eighties?
Yes. No, yeah, late ’80. ‘Star Wars’ was one of the tracks, yes, I put those t’ings – I record those things for myself out of my own pocket. There’s a lot of things that went down, I record a lot of songs. Because I and the musicians, we are brethren who record things, but it’s been sabotaged by the producers because they don’t get the things to play around with, so they rip it off. Yeah.
So you stopped recording for a while after ‘Crying Time’?
Yes, I stopped recording for a while.
You almost forgot to mention one of the highlights in your catalog, ‘Put Your Shoulder To Jah Wheel’.
‘Put Your Shoulder To The Wheel’. Well, that’s my motto. I record that at Channel One. That is Santa and Fully on there, that is the same Soul Syndicate band. Yeah, they record that with me, Ansel Collins too.
When did you put it out, around the same period as ‘Crying Time’?
Yes, yes, yes. After ‘Crying Time’.
Did it take off?
Well, I was making a lot of local sales for myself, hand-to-mouth business, where you can sell the tracks and make a little food for yourself. ‘Cause the bulk, it was going on with Dynamic and all these companies, them control the (radio) station and put out all kinda bullshit. And then you sink off for a while and try to learn more about the business. You see, I didn’t learn about the business part, I’m not a businessman, I’m an artist. I’m a person that – you can depend on me to create something, to put it on wax.
The business side of it can be pretty unnerving at times.
Yes, that’s what I’m saying. That’s why, believe me Iya, I don’t wanna move Jonah from the stand, I’m not moving this man from his stand. He’s got the brain to do it. And guess what, I’m in the free way in the sunshine here where the sun is shining every minute. So it’s like my brain is ticking and there’s so much happening in these countries now that you don’t need to go to the theater, y’know, you can see it out there for yourself among the people. So I’m quick at thinkin’, I’m a very thoughtful person that as soon as I’m around and I’m in here, like you see my place, you don’t know how this t’ing can be within me. I’m that kinda person, I’m quick to look within myself. Very fast.
Hoffner Brothers – Open Up The Gates
Claudius Linton – When I Drape You
Claudius Linton – Reach Out
You became Rasta from what stage in life?
Well, this spirit of Rastafari now, it’s comin’ from Trench Town. It’s the same oneness, Rastafari is just the same oneness of Christ. It’s only just the different branches, people are tellin’ you ’bout this and that, but Rastafari and the spirit of Christ is just the same oneness, it’s the same love and understanding. This is just love and inspiration. I sight it up a long, long time.
I assume Joe Higgs was pretty influential there?
Yes, that guy Joe Higgs there. Bob Marley write a lot about Joe. (Chuckles) But Joe, you see, you remember da song deh (sings): ‘Oh Manny oh, oh Manny oh, why my people don’t wanna come on home, come on hoooome, in Zion is a throne and we don’t wanna leave it alone…’. Those guys, Higgs & Wilson, at those times, really inspired us as singers, and Bob Marley was a part of the inspiration too.
What was Bob like in those days, as you remember him now?
Well, I remember Bob as a soul-man. I remember Bob not as a dread, I remember Bob as a welder. Bob is a welder, I remember Bob up by Ninth Street.
I think Bob and Desmond Dekker used to work as welders in the same place?
All right, sir. Thank you. You see Desmond now, Desmond Dekker used to have another guy in the group called Skip, I used to be a very good friend of that man. And another guy called Jackie Opel, he sing ‘Push Wood (In the Fire)’. I always have some good range, good range singers, my friend.
Big voice, superb talent that man, Opel.
Oh my God, just as the man got the right promotion he died in a car crash.
There’s that story about bumping into Bob, and he was already a big name at that point, but far from being swell-headed.
Yeah man! I’m standing at Jack Ruby’s when Bob Marley came up, stop the BMW, and we sit on the ground, on the ground at Jack Ruby’s gate. All the people wonder ‘who is this with Bob Marley?’, they don’t know that I grow up in Trench Town also with Bob Marley. (Laughs) So we sit there for quite a while because when I sing ‘Kingman Is Back’ in 1972, Bob Marley did have a record shop up by Charles Street, and Bob Marley took all my pictures, all the things that we have for the festival and put it in his record shop. Bob Marley knew me long time, and Peter Tosh. Anyway, this music is no joking business, and this is what I’ve learned, you see what I’m saying?
A seriousness and discipline about the music…
Yes sir, very much disciplined. Very much. This business, sir, is not a joke. No matter what the problem you might have personally, but when it comes down to recording in the studio and to do all the work around it, you have to forget about everything else and let it be done.
Joe Higgs, the teacher, he contributed for most of you to reach the same standard.
Yes sir, Joe Higgs was a good friend of ours, a very, very powerful person. You know where we are, where we was in the night when we first started, we have to stay outside. ‘Cause Alton (Ellis) was being there, Alton would be inside there, and Joe, Peter Tosh, Bob would be there inside. You see, where I and Hemmings, it’s so powerful, when we stay outside there’s a song that say (sings): ‘What’s your name, have I seen you before, what’s your name, is it Mary or Sue…’. So we stay outside there, and then we sing also. So when we look out and see that ‘this is how’, that’s how we become a group and start to wail all in Trench Town, and go up to Toots & The Maytals and we wail. And Delroy Wilson, those lickle guys, we call him ‘Saddlehead’, he was workin’ for Sir Coxson at that time. And Ken Boothe and Stranger Cole, that’s how I come to know all these guys who’s in the business.
‘Saddlehead’, nice name. Delroy you said?
Saddlehead, it’s Delroy Wilson. That’s what they call him.
You see, on Saturdays it would be like this: we would be racing board-horse, we made that lickle board t’ing, but all the gutters, all the drains in the gutters, the water from… So we used those gutters to race board-horse, but it was very clean at those times. Because KSAC (municipal agency) would have to clean the place up properly and every street, everywhere would have to be washed down and clean.
Delroy used to love those board-horses, didn’t he? Really into it.
Yes man, Saddlehead love it, man. I never leave those things, man. I always with them too, man, and ride them (laughs). Country-boy riding board-horse (laughter)! Oh my God, what a life to live through, sir. It is, man.
Was Delroy any sort of influence on you, vocally?
Well, yes. Delroy know me quite well and good friend, because Cecil Hemmings is at 3 Fifth Street, and he’s a Fifth Street guy like those guys from the same Trench Town area. So those guys know me well. But I have my friend them special, because Ken (Boothe) liked me very much and Clancy Eccles and all those guys. So I’m always with Toots, driving up and down in Toots’ car, because Dynamic Sounds provide him with cars in those days. So I’m always with those guys in Kingston, together y’know. I was quite happy when… before I start get a family, before I start being responsible for a woman an’ all those t’ings, I was quite happy moving with people and other musicians.
The’ business’ part of it is, perhaps, something you’d prefer to forget, but what’s the ‘best’ part of being inside of musical circles in those days, as you remember it?
Well, the best part of it from the sixties was peace and love, in Trench Town. I could leave from Trench Town and walk to King Tubby’s down in Waterhouse. That man, King Tubbys, was a very good friend of mine. Key spar, the King loved me very much. When I go down there he show me the Heptones and show me Bob Marley when they were all these young boys, pictures of them, and show me Brent Dowe (the Melodians) and all these guys. So there was something in Kingston that really inspired me so much in music that it never left my spirit as yet. You know, whenever I’m kinda weary or down and out I always think back to Trench Town. It’s true.
Do you still visit there when it’s time to go to Kingston, seeing old friends, if they’re still there?
Well, there’s no old friends along there, Toots and all those guys move away from there now, these guys (chuckles). When I was passing the road that go up there, West Road, I show Jonah that this road here, on Collie Smith Drive. I show him that drive up to Boys Town, but I would never drive up there right now. I’d never turn the car, the jeep or whatever up there, no. But I’ve been around, I’ve been around up there, and it’s really something to remember. All the different streets, the way it used to be was very nice. It used to be very very nice, I’m telling you, one o’clock, two o’clock, three o’clock at night, I could come in from Trench Town.
When Linton opens that mouth and begins to sing it tells you to better shut up and pay attention. There’s an edge to his voice, even anger, a conviction when singing that few others possess. I guess the anger, the aggression, is as true, naked and honest of who Mr Linton really is as anything. A rough life leads to a rough personality, at least on the surface. Claudius’ small output during the golden days of reggae music speaks for itself. Quality, not quantity and anything half-hearted. The recordings were one hundred percent hard-hitting. Musically, this is how you define soul to my ears. Or roots music. It was always worthy of a wider audience. Sadly that never happened. Perhaps the time is now. The ‘Roots Master’ anthology should, if anything, be proof to each and everyone what a powerful singer and songwriter he was back in the day. The new album, ‘Sign Time’, shows he hasn’t lost much of his artistic ability, but it is only a first step of what is, hopefully, to come.
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