Songbird of Sufferation: Winston Jarrett, Man of the Ghetto (The Interview)

by May 9, 2022Articles, Interview

Winston Jarrett

When: March 20, 2022
Where: Los Angeles CA / Seattle WA (via Zoom)
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Footage: Stephen Cooper – Edited by Teacher@ReggaeVibes
Photos: Courtesy of Winston Jarrett unless otherwise stated
Copyright:  2022 – Stephen Cooper

On March 20, 2022, I interviewed eighty-one-year-old reggae singer Winston Jarrett—for over two hours via Zoom—about his life as a: pioneer and elder statesman of the music, a “True Born African,” a gifted spokesman for the poor, and truly, a “Man of the Ghetto.”
An unquestionably legendary artist, it’s baffling and upsetting the Jamaican government—or really any entity charged with honoring the legacy of reggae performers—has yet to recognize Jarrett for his over six decades of musical contributions. Jarrett and I spoke about this, his childhood, some of the highlights of his incredible career, Rastafari, and many, many other subjects of interest to reggae fans.

What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. Throughout are select links to Winston Jarrett’s music, album cover images, exclusive pictures, and more. At the end, there’s a link to the entire video of the interview on YouTube.

(Patsy Jarrett) Hello.

(Patsy Jarrett) Hi. Winston’s coming, hold on.

(Patsy Jarrett) Turn that light on, Winston. (Winston appears, and turns a nearby lamp on.) There you go.

Greetings, Winston!
Yeah man, how you doing?

I’m doing well. Are you hearing me, and are you seeing me okay?
Yeah man, live and direct man.

Alright. I’m very, very excited and I just want to—if it’s okay with you, I want to start off by saying, you know, thank you so much for taking the time to do the interview, Winston, it’s just an honor to be able to speak with you.
You’re welcome every time.

Thank you so much. You know, music lovers all over the world, they know already, but I’m glad to remind them, by way of introduction, just to say that: Winston Jarrett is a legendary Jamaican singer—a pioneer of rocksteady with “Alton Ellis & The Flames,” and then, after that, with “Winston Jarrett & The Righteous Flames.” And then, of course, with all of your solo work—over so many years. You have a career that’s filled with albums—I think there’s over twenty albums from what I can tell, from researching.
Right. Right.

And just so many hit songs. And if you don’t mind my asking, just to confirm, Winston, you’ve been doing this, you’ve been singing professionally now for over sixty years now—is that true?
Right. That’s right.

And if you don’t mind my further asking, Winston, you don’t have to answer, but I would love to know—just to confirm—later this year, you’re gonna turn 82 years strong, am I wrong?
You’re right on line, man, you’re very right. (Laughing)

Well at some point, maybe today, I’m gonna ask you for some tips on, you know, how—as you know, I think I’m still kinda young—I’m getting older unfortunately every year, and it’s starting to show, but I’m gonna ask you later maybe for some tips, so you can tell everyone how you keep it going so strong for all this time. And I know—as I’m gonna be asking you about later—that you’re still getting up on stage, and you’re still thrilling the people [with your voice]. At 82 years—gonna be later this year—strong. So [I] have to ask you some questions later about how you do that. But Winston, there’s so much ground to try to cover—I do think that it makes sense to start out with the beginning, and some of your early childhood days in Jamaica. Because you know, you can read a lot of things, and sometimes not everything you read is correct. So sometimes I like to just try to confirm some things. And I know I read that you were born in Lime Tree Gardens, which is a place in St. Ann’s Parish in Jamaica—which I know is the same parish, I believe, [where] Bob Marley was also born. Is that true?
You’re perfectly right, man. So, you know, Lime Tree Gardens [is] one of the parishes that’s really blessed so to speak, you know—from Bob Marley, myself, and a lot of other great people. Marcus Mosiah Garvey, you know. Winston Rodney—“Burning Spear.”

Yeah, yeah, the great Burning Spear. Let me ask since you mentioned—I wasn’t gonna ask this, but since you mentioned Marcus Mosiah Garvey—I was just curious—I’ll just ask now—do you have any thoughts about, you know, earl[ier] this year, during Black History Month—which was just last month in the United States. You know, we have this month we call “Black History Month”—Black history, as we know, continues all year round, but last month there was a lot of news—or at least there was some news about how Marcus Garvey’s son, and also the country of Jamiaca were, you know, trying to again convince the United States government—specifically President Biden, that he should pardon Marcus Garvey or exonerate—pardon, exonerate, however you want to call it, for his mail fraud conviction, that he still has on the books here in the United States; he still has—Marcus Garvey has a felony mail fraud conviction on the books here in the United States. And Jamaica, and Marcus Garvey’s son, who I believe now is eighty-seven-years old—he’s a professor—have been trying for a number of administrations—presidential administrations, to say that the United States government should post—they call it “posthumously” (you know, when somebody has passed away) pardon or clear [his] record. Do you have any thoughts about that? And why hasn’t President Biden—do you think that President Biden should go ahead and do that?
Well all things are possible when it comes to truths and rights, you know? People don’t really want to hear the truths about their history that was really happening in those days. And they say—I think, my knowledge is really open for that.

Selassie Is The Chapel

Fear Not

True Born African


Winston Jarrett & Righteous Flames (1977)
Yeah well I think the history has shown that the only reason Marcus Garvey has that felony conviction is because the F.B.I. Director Edgar Hoover was a racist. And he didn’t like the fact that Marcus Garvey was such a strong, powerful, Black leader in the United States, you know, talking about a back-to-Africa movement. And that he was gonna do everything he could, in his power, which was to use the full weight of the U.S. government to go after Marcus Garvey. And I just think it’s a shame that our government hasn’t done anything to rectify the situation. They should at least—they should have already done it—but during the lifetime of Marcus Garvey’s son, I would think that they would do that. I didn’t mean to bring it up, but since you mentioned Marcus Garvey, I just wanted to say that. Now, Winston, I know in many interviews you have said that your mom took you to live in Kinston when you were about five or six years old—so that she could work as a housekeeper for a white family there in Kingston. And that you were raised there, starting in Kingston, from the time that you were five to six years old. Is that accurate?
Right. You’re perfectly right. That was what was really happening at that time. I was very young, you know, and she was working at 16 Balmore Avenue in [the] Halfway Tree area at the time. So that’s why I go to the Halfway Tree school—right there. And I have to leave school to come by her workplace to get lunch. The three of us: me and my brothers, Martin and Gilbert. We’d have to come there and get our lunch and go back to school. Because it was very close, so you [could] just walk, you don’t have to take no bus. Just a couple blocks away from where the school is. In the center of Halfway Tree. I grow up in a different area, that is where my mother used to live at: 54 Lyndhurst Road, Kingston 5. Not far from where she was working. And then my bigger brother, Loyed, he was living down in Trenchtown. He’s the first one out of the six [of us siblings]. So, we’d have to go back and forth down in Trenchtown, and you know—but after we stopped going to school, that’s where I was really living, permanently, in Trenchtown. At 24 4th Street—I can remember the yard, [an] old government yard. Built by the prime minister at that time.

Was that Bustamente?
Yes. It was Bustamente, yes.

In an interview that you did a long time ago with a reggae historian, a guy by the name of David Katz—he writes a lot about Lee Scratch Perry—who by the way, today would have been Lee Scratch Perry’s—it’s his earthstrong today—it’s his birthday today. Lee Scratch Perry. Unfortunately, we lost him, of course.
Yeah, I never know it was his birthday today. Give thanks for that—that upliftment, yes.

Yeah. So David Katz, he did this interview with you that he wrote up in a book, and, in the interview he quotes you, and this is what he said that you said: He said [that] you said to him: “I really grew up in a Christian family, Church of God, where everybody clapped hands and praised God, read your Bible two times a day to drive vampire away.” And so I wanted to ask you because I read that, was singing in church, was that your first experience really singing in public?
Well, it’s not really like that. I was very young at that time—very young. And that is really true, I did say that to Mr. Katz. But [what was] really happening, we only sing in the church at Sunday school. And there was two Sunday schools I’d have to go [to]—that one in Jonestown, with Pastor Bent. And the other one was on Lyndhurst Road, where I lived. There was a white lady who’d come there every Sunday, only on Sunday, and lead Sunday school. Because in the yard was like a ghetto yard, you know? The parents of those kids in there was very poor. So when you come into a community that is very poor, you have to make sure that you the parents have to grow your kids at that time. And let them know that there is a Heavenly God. And you not to grow unruly, and grow up like an anti-Christ. So people must grow dem kids—you know the teaching that you gonna get [as a kid] will never depart from you.

And you will grow to be a man or a woman as a child growing up. When you’re coming up into the world, you know that you must put God first in your life.

Respect. Respect. Respect, Winston.
So, you know, you can grow and get that respect from the masses. And from God himself. So you can grow to be somebody. That people respect you. [Because] you’re growing up to know that you’re not going to steal, you’re not going to take up the gun like now these youth—who want to first take up gun before they learn a trade. And you can grow decent. Get a good job coming out of school, so you can be a good person, so to speak.

Thank you for saying that.
I go that ways, you know? What I learn from mi mother and also mi father, good people will guide you, too, along the way because your mother and your father alone cannot do it.

You gotta have someone to back your parents. Keep watch on you so you grow up good, and you don’t get involved—

[With the] [b]ad people?
—with the bad people.

True. Now Winston, in that same interview that you gave [to] David Katz, you also said, quote: “My father was a deacon in the church, but Sundays, in the dining room, he would put those 78s on the gramophone. And that’s where I get all my ideas from.” And so when I read that, I wanted to ask you: What kind of records was your dad putting on the gramophone and playing at that time—whe[n] you were getting these ideas?
Well that is really, really true, that’s what really happened inna my life. Growing up with mi dad in St. Ann’s, you know? Gramophone is a, you know, when you’re a kid and the first time you ever watch a gramophone built by RCA Victor, with that long [needle], like it’s an arm—

I’ve only seen it in a picture—I told—[legendary guitarist] Dwight Pinkney recently—[he] asked me if I ever saw a gramophone, and I said, only in a picture.
Well, my father—I saw it myself with mi eyes. My eyes. And that’s why I can tell the story now, that people can really understand. In those “colonial days” so to speak, when things was really hard, hard on people’s lifestyles. To see your father playing a gramophone with the needle. You have a small little box with the needle all inside of it. And him take it out, because every time him play it, [him] put in the needle. And he played it on that 78. And it just kept bumping and bumping, and jumping up. But it not scratching. It’s just the way that it played. And then now, every time the needle get blunt, mi have to take it out and throw it away. Put in a new one.

Wow, that’s a lot of work.
Yeah, that’s a lot of work, but the music was so good—

What were you listening to?
You know, those singers like—in my head now [I can’t] really call the names of the—you see me, because some [did it] instrumentally. Like some of them, maybe Fats Domino, [and] some entertainers that [go] way back. To remember the names of them now in my head—

Was it a combination of Jamaican and also American music—
No, no, no, no. Not Jamaican music. Just American music—all American. So—it was—[the] experience for me at that time—maybe I was just about five-six [years old].

Winston Jarrett 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
Did anyone else in your family, either your father, your mother, anyone in your extended family, too, was anyone a singer, too, like you? Did anyone [sing] professionally or play an instrument—
No, no, no, no. Not at all.

You were the only one that had that musical talent?
That dream. For me it was just a dream. You know, because I remember in Kingston—my mother was, you know—I remember like one of my brothers, mi brother that follow me, he steal maybe one shilling. You know, he said he find it in the yard, but at the same time it was not like that. So mi mother was very upset about it. Figure out that—but I feel—we was coming from church one night, and we saw a man was into a dark corner where his car break down. And he said he lost his key for the car. And was stumbling there. Asked us to help him look for it. And we find it, and give [it to] him. And I think he gave us two shillings. And then now, at that time, my mother was standing there watching. And when we get that money now—she didn’t really see him give us the money, but we, you know, as a kid, you put it in your pocket, and the next day now, when you go home you hide it under [the] house [floorboard]. Because we couldn’t make your mother see it, you know? And then now, we share it up. Like mi give mi brother like four pence, and mi get two pence, and then another brother get a fifth extra pence. And then when you go to school now, we can buy snowball. Or you know, go to a bakery, and buy some stale “toto” we call it—some cake. “Toto.” So you get two and a half, you know, for mi lunch because my mother couldn’t afford to give me more than [a] penny. One penny for your lunch, so you go to school and buy a “penny lunch.” The government set it up that way.

Wow, those are some olden days. Winston—did they—even though none of your family had that same dream of music as you, did they encourage you, your mother and your father, and your brothers and sister? Did they say, did they think it was a good idea, when you started to sing, and be in your yard, when you met up with Alton Ellis (as I am about to ask you a lot of questions about)? When you started to get into music, did your family think—did they say, you know, encourage you [that] that could be a good idea to pursue as a career even? Did they think that was a good idea?
Well, the question that you’re asking, you know, is more than one question—[and so there’s more than one] answer to that.

Remember when I told you I was—my mother was taking us to jail. Because she figured out that money, that we steal it. We didn’t really stole it. I told you how we come by it.

But she believed we stole it, and she was carrying us to the Halfway Tree police station to make the police lock me up for the night.

Wow! That’s tough love.
Yeah but when we was going on up the road, she asked me what mi want to be when mi grow up, you know?

I told her, “Mom, I want to sing.” She said, “You really want to do that?” I said: “Yes, mama.” But the second question now, when I grow up in Trenchtown, in the 24 4th Street [area], there was a good friend of mine there named “Gussie.” I remember him say to me, when Alton Ellis and Eddie was singing together as Alton and Eddie—

—and Eddie Parks leave and come to America, here, to turn [into a] fireman.

Didn’t he—I heard you tell this story—
Sorry. I gonna come back to you—

Yeah, go ahead.
And then now, he was crying, Alton was crying, and Gussie said, “Why don’t you go to Alton Ellis and ask him to form [a new] group?” So I really went to him, and put it to him, and him said “yes.” But he come back three weeks after—I think—and he told me “yes”; he agreed to do that. So I’m coming to the question you asked now—see people in the yard really was complaining about—they weren’t complaining, they was happy, they was really happy to know that Alton Ellis come back and said, “yes.” So we formed the group[, “Alton Ellis & The Flames”]. People in the yard did really like us, happy to know that we have the group. And we’re gonna sing. And they encouraged us to really go forward with it. Like you’re asking the question now? So I think I—I gave an answer to what you’re [asking].

Winston Jarrett
Yeah, for sure. Now I read, and you said earlier, you know, that, I believe, you lived on 4th Street. And that’s the Jonestown section of Kingston. Is that true?
No, no, no. No. Jonestown is a different area. Just the border—a likkle border in between there—Jonestown and Trenchtown. So you can just walk up the road and go over to Jonestown, and come back.

They’re close?
They’re very, very close. Yes.

And where is that in relation to—I’ve heard you talk before about “Tivoli Gardens” and “Back-O-Wall.” Where are those places—in relation?
Well what you call the “inner city”—inner city of Kingston—downtown. Like you’re going to the seaside. You will find that area. Spanish Town Road. Darling Street. Matches Lane. And Milk Lane. All those areas are near downtown. So in that area now and Spanish Town Road, and Ebenezer Lane, right there, you find that area they call “Back-O-Wall.” Now [the former prime minister, Edward] Seaga, in his time, he changed the name to “Tivoli Gardens.” And he demolished all those little tattoo—we call them “tattoo,” poor peoples’ house[s]. And mek up a better house. A house for the people. So that’s where you get that area you call “Back-O-Wall,” and “Ackee Walk.”

Thank you for that—I so appreciate that. Now when you became friends with Alton Ellis, and you met him in that yard, he was already locally famous, right? He was already singing as you said, I think, with Eddie Perkins. But they were already locally famous, true?
Yes! They were really famous, so to speak, at that time. Because they were recording and doing all those songs—I think one of the songs (goes like this, singing): “If I had a pair of wings over the prison walls, I’d fly, until I found that one I love, somewhere, Muriel.” That song—it’s not ska and it’s not reggae. Soul. Soul music.

Is that the song, Winston, is that the song [called] “Muriel?”

They sang that for Coxsone, didn’t they?
Yes, yes, they sing it for Coxsone.

Now, Eddie Perkins, when he left, and then you, as you say, you approach Alton Ellis, and you asked him about forming a group together. And then you, and him, and [Edgar] “Egger” Gordon, who I believe is also known as “Baby Gee”—
Right. Right.

—that you guys—can you tell the story of how it is—I understand you approach[ed] Alton Ellis after his singing partner goes to the U.S., you know, and you asked him whether he wanted to form a group with you. And then the group forms. Is that the story of how Alton [Ellis] & the Flames begins?
It’s not him ask me to form—it’s me ask him to form the group—you know, if he could think it over. For us to come together and form the group. And him said, “yes.” Not right away. A couple of weeks after that, he come back and give me the answer.

He thought about it for a little while?
He thought about it before, yes.

Right away though you guys scored some giant hits. I mean you had some tunes that were amazing number one hit songs; at the end of the ska into rocksteady era, you had these songs like: “Cry Tough,” “Girl I’ve Got a Date,” “Dance Crasher,” “The Preacher,” “Rocksteady”—
“Duke of Earl,” “Ain’t That Loving You,” and “Why Birds Folllow the Spring”—

—all of them were number one hit songs.

And all of those songs are so wicked to this day. They were giant hits. They were giant hits in their time, but I want to focus for just a second, Winston, on one of them for a quick moment. Because I’ve listened to it so many times. The song “Cry Tough.” And people can google it up on YouTube, and they can listen to the original 45–that was recorded at Treasure Isle, for Duke Reid, of course. And if you do look it up, you’ll see that Alton, and you, and Baby Gee, were backed by the legends Lynn Taitt, Tommy McCook—and “The Supersonics”—
You’re perfectly right.

And I was listening to it—the song—and undoubtedly, you know, because the musicians are so good, it’s such an amazing song; but also, the lyrics to the song [are exceptional]. I figured out that, you know, when I listened to it, it’s the lyrics really that make that song for me, anyway, in my opinion, such a genius song and so special. I mean, at the time, you guys were so young. You were these young virile men, but you’re singing the song where you’re cautioning the listener. You’re saying, you know, you’re getting older, you’re getting slower. And you’re demanding to know, given that the listener, the man who’s getting older and slower—how can he feel that he is tougher than the world? And he’s just “Crying Tough.”
Well, you know, how that song—to put that lyric together—because, in Trenchtown we were living amongst the good, the bad, and the ugly. And then now you have some guys down there who really is very bad. You know, sometimes you see them do some things, man. It make your heart move. Why some people really cherish badness? There was a guy there—you had a theater named “The Ambassador Theatre” was there, too. We used to go there, Ken Booth, me, and Alton [Ellis]. And Bunny and Scully. A lot of us used to go to that theater because we couldn’t watch movie[s] inside of our homes at that time. You had to go to the theater there to watch movie[s], you know?

There wasn’t a Netflix?
No. And then now, at that time, there you find out that there was a guy there named “Little Roy.” Was a bad guy, you know? Like he’d come out of [a] movie [and] he’d kill a man same time. Right there, coming out of the theater. And then now, we write that song after him.

“How can a man be tough, tougher than the world?” And if he’s tough, he’s against the world.

Wow! That song is really about him—in a way?
It is about him, yes.

Wow, Winston, that’s such a—that’s so—I didn’t—I was so curious about it. You know, despite the fact that you guys had all these hit songs together, it’s so curious to me, and I have to ask you about it: You know Alton [Ellis] & The Flames, the group only lasted, for I believe, like two and a half years before Alton went to the United Kingdom—to the U.K. And I was curious, I want to ask you: Why, if you guys were so successful, why did Alton decide to—you guys were “knocking it out of the park” every song. So why did he decide to go the U.K., and leave the group like that?
Well I’m gonna give you the truth from mi heart. My heart speak, you know, [it’s] nothing about me. It’s what mi heart tell me right now. I was thinking of that, too: Why him leave? It’s only him that could tell you, but I could give you close to that answer [on] why him leave.

Winston Jarrett & Righteous Flames
It’s because most artists, not him alone, leave. I am here, too, right now, speaking to you. People ask me the same question: Why I leave Jamaica and come here [to the United States]? But my experience and for me, I would tell you that we’d love our career[s] to go further—in life. You know, because, if stars is the limit? And Jamaica is a very small country. You know, how far you think you can go with your career in Jamaica?

That makes a lot of sense, Winston.
You know we want to put it to another level. And then now I think that’s what [Alton Ellis] really wanted. Because, you know, you’re not getting no good response from the people. Also, you’re not getting paid for your work—which is one of the main things.

And the exploitation. The infringement. And the copyright [violations]. Those things are happening, you know? In a small country like Jamaica. Even the government don’t really give you no honor. Good people. Good people is just good people. And it’s when you find good people—what I find out now—that people only use you. They use you, and they’re not giving you no credit. No respect. No honor. If you come up and be successful, they can use you until they refuse you.

And they will suck you dry and spit you out. Like a vampire. You know you’re not getting no honor that you’re supposed to get. The respect. Good people—because when you find good people, they think they should cherish you.

Respect. Winston, did—when—I know you’ve had many, many years to think on this. And you know, Alton Ellis passed away, I believe around 2008. And so, you know, lots of time has passed since those days when you guys were singing as a group together for that period of time when you had those hits. But did—when that happened—when [Alton Ellis] left to the U.K. and you guys broke up as a group, was it, did you all have bad feelings? Or was everything cool, you know? Were you able to maintain the friendship, or was there a rift because [Alton Ellis] left the group like that?
Well there is so much question and answer—you ask that question, but there is so many answers to be answered in that same question that you ask. You know, people ask a lot of time that question—[they] ask me that. But if you really look—all the groups—all the groups that were singing at that time, the same thing happened.

Yeah, they break up.
They break up. Even in America. The Impressions. Curtis Mayfield—all those people. They break up. You wonder why they break up, but you know when you are poor and you want to make rich, success in life. When you are down, you know you would make—get some flour and make some dumplings. And you would put it in the fire, because you cannot cook, because you don’t have what it takes to cook. You know, like chicken, or fish, or some vegetables. You don’t have that. You don’t have the money to do that. So you’d just make the flour and put it in the fire—make [a] wood-fire and roast it. And when it roast[s], you scrape it, you know, take off that burn, and then we would sit together and we’d eat. You’d share it. Because I see that, too, with Bob Marley & The Wailers. And most poor people do that. As a friend and family together. You sit down and you drink some water, and you praise God. Because you don’t have what it takes to cook or put on a good pot of food and eat. So when the time comes around that money start to—you’re earning good money now, people want to get greedy. We get envious. And, you know, you don’t want to share no more. You take everything for yourself. And you go away, and you say, okay, you’re not singing with the group no more, and you disappear. You go to another country. We’re gonna sit and cry and remember back on those days, those good old days. Which is the past time. And you shed tears. Because it hurts so much. You know that togetherness is not there anymore. That bad mind come in, and you know, envy and greed. And you want to bite off more than you can chew.

Well I know I opened up a can of words by asking that, but you know, it was just—when I listen to the music and [get] curious about it—about how a group like that, you know, could have put out so many hit songs—
It’s sad when I remember those times, you know? And remember how people, human beings, we are all—a lot of us—don’t stay that way. Like I said, it’s very good when you can bring out the best in a person.

Respect. Can I ask, Winston, another thing that I read doing research for today, to try to interview you as best as I [can], I saw this—I read it in a number of different sources—but they’re really weren’t many details at all about it. And so I want to confirm this and also ask you, if it’s true, to tell the story about it. Which is—everywhere I look—or a couple of places I looked, it said that Jimmy Cliff taught you to play the guitar. This is often brought up early in a biography about you, but no details about it. Is—did Jimmy Cliff teach you to play the guitar? And if he did, can you tell the story about it?
It’s not like that. What really happened now, I was going—there was a barber shop down on Spanish Town Road. You know, he passed away many years [ago] now, so to speak, Father bless him soul. We call him “Barber,” because he was a barber trimming. Jimmy Cliff used to go and [get] trim[med] there. Also mi self at that time.

Same barber?
Yes, and he was a good friend of mine. Very good friend. He was into the music business, too. And he used to sing.

The barber did?
Yes! And when you go in the shop you see a whole heap of 45s—small records, tied on a string, all over inside.

Wow. So he loved music?
Yes, he loved music! He used to sing, you know. And that’s where I go, and we sit down and we talk about music and all them stuff. And Jimmy Cliff used to come there, and just sit down, and him was playing his guitar a lot, you know? And I was there, and [that was] the first time I hear a man play a guitar in all of my life. And I admired him. So I said to myself: Oh my God. I feel everything going through my bones. And I said, oh my God. I wish I could play the guitar, you know? And that’s how—that inspiration come to me—

From watching him?
—to watch him, and you know—so Alton Ellis, he had his guitar, and I asked him to show me some chords. And him show me like a ‘G,’ ‘A minor,’ and ‘D flat.’ ‘C Sharp.’ ‘D Minor.’ You know, dem type of tings?

I’m not a musician, but I know vaguely—I know a little what you’re saying.
That’s right. And that’s how—I give you that answer to that question that you’re asking—

You did—
—it’s not really Jimmy Cliff that was really teach[ing] me—

It was the inspiration—
—I admired him—I admired him for that. And I respect him. As an early artist, because I used to go and watch him perform, too, with the Skatalites band.

The Harder They Come
Another thing—in the same places, Winston, that people have written, and I want to see if it’s true or not, is that you appeared, you had a role in the movie “The Harder They Come” that starred Jimmy Cliff.
Right, right.

Were you in the movie?
Yes. Yes. But a lot of people don’t know, because I didn’t take no major part in it. They didn’t give me no major part. Lee “Scratch” Perry—it was when I was singing for him. When I was doing the movie in Jamaica at that time. And they give him a big part in it to have. But he turned it down. And him told me that, man, he going to make me go.

But when I go to Dynamic Sound [Studios] at that time, they didn’t give it to me. They give it to Jimmy Riley. To stand at the door. That’s when Jimmy Cliff comes—only him could pass through—somebody very important who gonna take a part in the movie. They give it to Jimmy Riley to take that part, to stand at the door as a doorman. Me now, they pushed me and mixed me around some crowd right at the glass—on the inside there singing. And then now mi gonna look right through the glass to watch—like me looking at Toots. And I was among some others—some crowds—some other people, too. So to spot me is almost to see mi hat, and the clothes that I was in. To identify me.

I’m gonna be watching—Winston, later, after the interview, I’m gonna be watching the movie—
So that is the part that they give me to play in the movie. So people wouldn’t really recognize—oh, you see Winston Jarrett?—you’d have to know me.

I’m gonna be watching the movie later to try to see you, Winston (Laughing). I’m gonna try and spot you out.
(Laughing) But you know, I was really pissed off. I’ll tell you the truth, because you know, I didn’t want to have a direct spot—the doorman, you know? But it didn’t happen like that.

Winston, I want to talk about—for a minute—about, and I think, I sent you a link before the interview, but I want to talk about the hit song “True Born African.” For a bit. Is it correct that “True Born African” is a song that you first wrote when you were singing with Alton Ellis?
No, no. It’s not like that. How I get that song—there was an engineer called [Norman] ‘Syd’ Bucknor, he used to call Coxsone “uncle.” And he was an engineer at Studio One [at] first. And he leave, and he go to Harry J [Studios]. And then he leave Harry J, and he go to Channel One. He leave Channel One, and he end up at Dynamic Sounds.

Wow. He went to a lot of studios.
Yeah, but when he was at Studio One he told me that he wanted to do some songs. But he cannot do it there, because Coxsone not gonna allow him to do that. But when he started to work at Dynamic Sounds, he called me again, and say he’d like me to come and do two songs for him. And him gonna want “The Slickers”—the group named “The Slickers”—they come and they do two songs also. The same day. And then now, I wrote that song—

“True Born African?”
Yes, “True Born African.” And I just recently now that I’m living in America, I find that Syd Bucknor did leave Dynamic and go to England and live [there] all the rest of his life; he passed away there. And he look like he give Alton Ellis the same song.

And yesterday, I was right on this [indicating his cell phone]—you sent it on this. I was on my phone here listening to it. “True Born African.” Alton Ellis was singing it, too.

Yeah! That’s why—
And I never know that.

Yeah. And so I listened to that, and I wanted to ask about that. And then, you know, I sent you a—that link to—which I hope that people who read or listen to this interview—I hope that they will go look up on YouTube—there’s a 45 of “True Born African”; it’s on the RCA label, that you arranged and produced with Aston “Family Man” Barrett (who everyone knows, or most people know, [was] Bob Marley’s legendary bass player). And I was so excited when I saw that, Winston, that I sent that link—with that song—to Aston Barrett, Jr.—to Family Man’s son—because—
Wow! Wow!

Because I’ve interviewed him before—I know him. And I said, when I talk to Winston, I have to ask him about how he got together with your dad, in 1973, and they produced—they put out this version of “True Born African.”
Wow! I’m gonna tell you the story. I’m gonna tell you the story now.

Listen to me carefully. There was a good friend of mine named Brent Clarke. I don’t know—I never hear nobody call his name.

He’s on the 45—his name is on that 45!
Yeah? Brent Clarke, he’s a good friend of mine. He was [a] road manager for Bob Marley. In the early days. And he has a brother, too, named Sebastian Clarke. He live[s] in England. But Brent Clarke come to Jamaica, and when he come to Jamaica, I was along with him—every day. We’d sit down and we’d smoke herb, and we’d eat together. And he said to me, “Do you want to do some songs?” I said I would be happy for that because at that time I’m not making no money at all—nothing. And you know, in the music business you have to suffer. Sometimes it’s not even all about money. ‘Cause you’re not gonna get it. But I don’t care nothing about that, I just want to do some music.

All my life I go through hard times, but because I love music, it’s coming straight from the heart. Mi no want to have some lyrics—you want to put [in] your lyrics [expressions] of the sufferation, and write about it, and put it into music. So that’s how I—“Family Man” Aston Barrett [and] his bredda, the drummer, [played with] “The Hippie Boys.”

The old band, “The Hippie Boys”—they used to back me in the early days. Most of the records if you look pon them—that’s how—before Bob Marley get famous. ‘Nuff people talk about Bob Marley because he’s rich now. And he’s famous. At that time, it wasn’t like that. ‘Nuff people didn’t want to hear Bob Marley—they say him too revolutionary. Because they was dealing with R&B [and] soul music—American music and all that stuff. But at that time? I loved Bob Marley. I love him, I love him, I love him—I love him like how you love Jesus. And I used to walk and sell hi[s] music—people don’t want—only one or two people buy it. Dem say it too revolutionary. Yeah? Some people don’t want to hear about truths and rights, you know?

Winston Jarrett & Righteous Flames
That’s for sure. That’s true, Winston.
When it comes to truth and rights—

—people don’t want to hear about truths and rights.
No, no, no. They only want to hear about something—

And not for the poor.
Right. Dem just want to hear about some negative things that no—no got no way.

You know, so, some hype-up tings, some devil tings and all dem stuff.

But me? I love those type of music. I love them—[and] that’s why I sing it, too.

We love you for it.
Yes, and when I do that song, “True Born African,” I sing it over for Brent Clarke—up by Randy’s studio. And “The Slickers”—

—“Johnny Too Bad”—that song?

Dem do it on the same session.

At Dynamics Sound [Studios]. With Syd Bucknor. But I lick over the “True Born African” at Randy’s for Brent Clarke. With “Family Man” and The Wailers. And he told me that he gonna put it out—that album—he said he wanted to make my career—step up my career—because he loved me. And he told me that he going to put it out—try and release [it]—him have a friend at RCA Victor. And RCA Victor gonna put out the album. But he passed away after that. And I was very sad. To know that he passed away. And it’s years after that I realized that that man passed away.

I want to ask a little bit more about the lyrics of “True Born African,” Winston. And I have a particular, specific question I need to ask about the lyrics. But before I do, I wanted to ask, incidentally, did you know, I just happened to find out when I was looking a little bit into the song—that the late Daddy U-Roy released an album in 1991 that goes by the same name, “True Born African,” that was produced by Mad Professor. Did you know that? That he has an album—a whole album, and a song even, that’s called “True Born African?” The song, I listened to it, it’s completely different than your song. But, you know, the concept is obviously, you know, must have been taken from you? So I was just curious if you knew about that album?
I—that’s the first I’m hearing it from the horse’s mouth. I never know about that. But what I would say, in Jamaica, when you speak about Africa, it’s a universal thing. The ghetto side of people know the fact that we all come from Africa. And through [Marcus] Mosiah Garvey. And for me, just for me, a man like Martin Luther King. People respect those people. And there was a man in Jamaica named Mortimo Planno—

Yeah! I’m gonna ask you about him.
I grew amongst him. [He’s the one that influenced me to be a] Rastaman [and grow] my natty dread. From 1972. I used to come amongst him. Daily! I even knew him when he was sick in “Scotch Yard” in the country part there—I used to go down there and visit him. And he was teaching at the university in Kingston. He [did] that as a hobby. Every day he [would] teach. About His Majesty—and he teach and speak about Africa—he teach Bob Marley about that. He said to Bob Marley he cannot do it by himself. He need help. To spread the gospel, and spread the word about Ethiopia. His Majesty come to Jamaica [in] 1966. So Africa is a part of us all, you know? Repatriation—there is so much things about Africa. The good part of life and where we’re from, and where we belong, and who we are—you know? So, to speak about Africa is a blessing.

So that song [that] you’re talking about—[of] U-Roy’s [and] Mad Professor in England? That to me—just to me, not you or nobody—to me, that is just a normal thing. That is just a normal thing. But you know, my song “True Born African,” dem say you’re not to look back or you’ll turn [into a] pillar of salt. But where Africa is concerned, for me and for many people—thousands—millions of people, speaking about Africa is your history. It’s our history.

So can I ask—because I agree with you 100 percent, Winston—but the lyrical question—I told you there was a lyrical question that’s burning inside me I have to ask you. And I don’t know if I sent you this, but it sounds like you listened to it. That Alton Ellis—if you google up “Alton [Ellis] & The Flames,” there’s [indeed] a “True Born African” version sung by “Alton Ellis & The Flames,” right? And then, you can google up your version, like the one produced by Family Man, and one thing that was very curious to me when I listened to it closely, was the very beginning of the song. And the version that is by “Alton & The Flames,” it begins: “Tell St. Peter I’m at Africa’s gate, I’m coming home though I may be late.”
That is from my song. That part is coming from the same song that I sing and wrote.

Winston Jarrett & Righteous Flames
And your song begins, “Tell Selassie I…”
Well it’s the same thing. I call Selassie I in the second cut that I did for Brent Clarke.

So [the beginning of the song] changes from St. Peter to Selassie I?
Well when I say “Tell St. Peter,” it’s His Majesty I’m talking about.

Oh. Okay.
Yeah. But I say St. Peter’s in Africa’s place—

Oh, okay.
But it is His Majesty I’m talking about. Same way. But I do it—the lyrics—change the lyrics—just a shade different—just a shade likkle different.

If you have knowledge about what Africa is all about—that’s what I’m talking about. That’s what I’m singing about. So, Alton Ellis now, he have a—I don’t know. Because he died. We all gonna die one day. Some gone before. But we’re all gonna go one day.

When God’s ready for us.

That song was really carrying the feelings inna mi heart, and inna mi soul. Because you must [leave] all judgment onto God. To the Father Himself. But I’m just saying, words speaking, at that time, that man didn’t really have no—he didn’t have no—I would just cut it short and say, he didn’t have no love in him heart. For me, personally. Him have a grudge, you know, because—

Alton did?
Yes. People have grudge in dem heart, ‘cause you know they don’t want to you to reach—be succesful. It’s all about him. It’s all about him. He didn’t have that love for me. Because you see, I judge people by how you talk. And I judge you [on] your actions.

And his actions where mi is concerned wasn’t uplifting to me.

I can understand.
Yeah. We are all coming from that barrel. We come like a barrel of crabs—[like] crabs into a barrel. And when one come out, they don’t want to see no other crab[s] come out. They want to push you down and break off one of your [feet]. So you don’t come out.

That’s brutal. Can I ask, Winston, going back to, as you said “True Born African” and talking about Africa—you know, it’s such a profound song. And to me it’s profound in the way that Junior Byles’s song, “A Place Called Africa,” is so profound—the way that you’re singing about Africa. And later, in “True Born African,” in your song, you sing, “Tell Selassie I, tell him that I’m doing well, in spite of living in hell.” And when I hear that lyric, I’m imagining—when I listen to the song, when I’m listening to that lyric, I’m imagining like, the hell of Babylon.
Right. Right!

Or maybe like a colonial plantation, almost?
Right. Right! That’s how we are living in the ghetto in Jamaica.

Yeah? Like I said: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

You know. If you know what that meant?

Yeah. Yeah!
But the sufferation, man, is like a load you carrying—you know Jesus carried that cross?

You know, and he said the same thing that he go through, you have to go through it, too? We all have to, you know? But, I was dying. You’re born poor, man, but that don’t mean to say you fi dead poor.

And I’m hoping, and I’m praying, for one day to come, that I can put down that heavy load—of sufferation.

It’s not a good thing.

I hear you.
To no man. You understand?

I do. Winston, it makes sense to talk also so much about “True Born African,” because when I go through and I listen to—look at your albums, and all your body of work, over all these years, it’s clear that your Rastafarian—your beliefs and your lifestyle, your Rasta beliefs and lifestyle, they dominate so much of your musical catalogue. I’m thinking of songs like “Fear Not the Almighty Dread,” “Solid Foundation”—too many songs really to mention. But it makes sense that they named the documentary [that, “True Born African,” a documentary] that I hope that people will watch about you. [It’s] a documentary about your life that a man by the name of Nick Nakis—I think he’s a friend of yours from Seattle, who you met. He was so moved by your stories that—are you still there?
Yeah, man.

True Born African documentary
Okay. He made this documentary that was narrated by Roger Steffens, another reggae historian, about your life. That film is called “True Born African.” And I want to ask you a question about an interview that the filmmaker—that guy, Mr. [Nicholas] Nakis—gave. He had a quote, and I want to ask you a little bit about it—because it goes toward some of the things we’re talking about. He said, quote: “There had been a draught in Jamaica for months. And shortly after the plane which carried Haile Selassie [I] touched down, it rained. All these people were treating this like it was an event of great religious significance. Like something out of the Bible. That turned a lot of these guys into Rastafarians. It was Winston’s own moment of conversion.” That’s what he said to the interviewer.
Right, right.

And I wanted to just ask about it, and [see] if his description about what he’s saying about how it is that you became a Rasta, is that accurate? He’s saying that when Selassie’s plane touched down in Jamaica, that it began to rain, and that, because of that event, many people were then suddenly convinced that, you know, Selassie [I] [was] the living God. And that that was also your moment of conversion, too. Is that accurate?
I would say it’s really accurate. It’s really accurate after the fact. Because there were so many things happening, that that’s why them say (singing): “Oh, it’s a long story.” There is so much things happening, in Jamaica and in the world, even right now it’s how the world is running. It make you sad. People life messed up! Children crying. Father—mother and father, dying. Children dying. It’s sad. It’s past sadness. For some, it’s more than us [can] bear. Because God did speak that already from the Bible. I’m a Bible man, you know? Like Bob Marley. I believe in God so much that I love him—I put him first inna my life. And I know that a lot of people like me do, too. You know?

But at that time, man, people didn’t really know who His Majesty was. When I say “was”—look like. So when them saw him, it became like a miracle happening. Well, you know, when Jesus was on Earth, a lot of miracles [were] happening at that time. And it’s still happening now today. Because I was with Mortimo Planno—

You were at the airport when—
I was at the airport, that’s what I’m telling you—the story—and that’s what Nicholas was writing about, what I told him. You know, the history can’t erase, and it can’t wipe out clean. So who some people feel they can turn back the hands of time—it’s sad for them. It’s so—it’s past sadness. Because history stand[s] predominate—it stand[s] like a stone that cannot be moved. Immortal. And immortal. Many people cried when they [saw] His Majesty [in] 1966 at the airport. I was small. Under Mortimo Planno’s wing, like I told you before. He said: “My likkle son, if you want to be with me, you have to do and learn the right thing. Listen to what I’m saying to you my likkle son. Put on your knotty dread. Wear your natty dreads. I was small you see, because I was like Zacchius. If you read the Bible about Zacchius, he was a very short likkle man—I do that song, “Come Down—

“Come Down Zacchius.”
—Zacchius.” Yes, all those things coming from the Bible. That’s how I write that song, too, from the Bible.

Winston, there are different mansions—at least I know just from reading about this stuff—not personally, but just from reading about it. There are different mansions of Rastafari—there’s the Nyabinghi, there’s the Bobo [dreads], there’s the Twelve Tribes[, and more]. When you were becoming a Rasta, and being influenced in that direction—and you were with Mortimo Planno learning these things—was there a particular mansion of Rastafari that you were studying [to be] a part of?
Well like I said, I go amongst the good, the bad, and the ugly, you know?

And even right now you have different versions of the Bible?

People water it down. People release Bible that is according to—if [you don’t] speak English, they put it into different languages. So people can read and learn. They don’t put it in English alone.

Well the same way with the Rastafari—you have [many different types.] You have Bobo dreads, and you have Ethiopians—

Yeah, lots of different ones.

Yeah? You get the message?

And then you have some people you call “Rent-A-Dread.”

Wow. “Rent-A-Dread,” huh?

What’s the “Rent-A-Dread,” I have to ask?
You don’t know what Rent-A-Dread is?

(Laughing) No.
Oh dear, man. When you go to Montego Bay in Jamaica and white people come, dem say dem not coming into Kingston, dem going to Montego Bay. And them go all different parts down there in Montego Bay. And the first thing they start to walk up and down inna the area—tell them go to Negril! When them go to Negril, dem say some likkle man look like me. But dem love white people. Because they know, them know they gonna get them food. White people gonna—

Give money.
You see them selling all kinda stuff.

100 percent, right.
Yes. And tourists buy them. To support them, so they can eat food. And dem love the white people, so dem say to the white woman: “Boy you look fat, you know?” And: “I’m married to you. And if you want to take me for your boyfriend. And carry me come a-America. And carry me a-go a Germany. And carry me a-England.” And nuff people do that. ‘Cause them look good—to all. You know? Dem love Black man because [they’re] coming from slavery. Their teeth white and pretty. You look good to do what she wants you to do. And she carry you away. But when she carry you away, and you carry her to this land, dem start to handle her bad. To make she look shame. By doing a lot of things that she never expected them to do. Until them ship dem back a-Jamaica. Because dem attitude is so, so bad. That she cannot believe that dem really do a thing like that. So they call dem “Rent-A-Dread.”

Dem a rent dem only for a moment, then the next moment them haffi ship dem home back where they belong.

Winston Jarrett & Righteous Flames
Wow, Winston, you just blew my mind. I didn’t know that, wow.
You learn now? You get the message?

Yeah man. Yeah, I did. And hey, Winston, I want to ask, because you know we’re talking about—before I leave the subject—of Rasta in Jamaica—do you think that the Jamaican government has done enough to respect—and protect—the rights, and the cultural heritage of Rastas? And, if you don’t think that they have done enough, what do you think they should do?
I would have to hold a meeting.

Hold a meeting?

Too many things—
Because there is so much—it’s a big question that you’re asking!

I know.
Because, you see, that question mix-up amongst politics. Or in Jamaica, the Rastaman call it “folly-tricks.”

Folly-tricks. Because Politics can mix up with ism and schism.

But make the world not right.

Because there’s so much evil. Corruption.

Governments? The head for the people—the Prime Minister? He is not the government. The people are the government.

Nice. Respect.
The people appointed him, and election run. And him win the majority. Not the minority, like how you hear dem a-talk. Rule—the majority rule and speak for the people. The people employ the Prime Minister, [and] put him in the house of parliament fi run the country for the people. By the people. For the people, by the people.

Yeah. When it comes to the Rastaman, dem say it’s not an organization; it’s not like that. It’s a cult. Of what we believe in: The Imperial Majesty Selassie I is the first. King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. Remember, the “King,” don’t have no ‘s.’ “Kings” mean[s] more than one. Get it.

“King,” ‘k’-‘i’-‘n’-‘g,’ stand[s] for one.

‘K’-‘i’-‘n’-‘g’-‘s’ stand[s] for more than one.

Singular versus plural.

There’s a big difference.
There’s a big difference. And these people don’t get it. “Kings” with the ‘s’—gods of the earth. That’s why we Rastamen worship one god. Only one, no more. When Jesus was on earth, walking in Jerusalem, his Majesty was there with him, amongst priests, lots of priests. And prophets. And scientists. Going to school. And Jesus, that’s why him say: “A new name shall be called. And his name shall be His Imperial Majesty.” [Which] means King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Conquering Ruler. Jesus—[what] my brain tell me, I don’t ask nobody this. But my teaching, what mi get, tell me that—only coming from my mouth, not nobody else; I don’t know if anybody else gonna say the same thing like what mi say.

But Jesus transformed himself onto His Majesty. That’s why we don’t leave Jesus out of nothing. They’re the same spirit.

Wow. That’s so interesting. That’s so interesting to think about, Winston.
We don’t leave out him, because if you leave him out you’re gonna have a big problem.

Winston, because also, you mentioned how Mortimo Planno and Bob Marley were friends, and how Mortimo was a spirtual influence and teacher to Bob, I want to ask, you know, I know you were older than Bob Marley was, but, were you and Bob friends? Did you also have a friendship with Bob Marley when you were growing up in Trenchtown?
I told you already, and I will tell you again. We were living in the same community. Me and Bob Marley go to the same studio—Studio One with Coxsone Clement Dodd.

And were you friends?
Of course.

But I just tell you, if you grow up in the same community you must be brethrens. Him sing and mi sing—same way. I was singing before him. But there is another prophet gonna come. Which is Bob Marley. You know? And we were around the same teacher, Mortimo Planno. Bob Marley was around him, too, as a student so-to-speak. And Mortimo Planno write the song, giving him “Selassie is the Chapel.”

Did you and Bob ever have a chance to colloborate or sing together on any songs?
No, no. But I put out a tune named “Slaving in Babylon.” If you go to research, you can find that online. And that song? He did want me to give him to put pon his label. And I said, “No, I don’t want nothing to come in-between [us]. You stay do your thing, and mek me do my thing. Mi alright doing what mi doing.” And him alright doing what him doing. But a man said to me, he said, I don’t think that is right, I should [have] give[n] that to [Bob Marley]. To put pon him label. But at that time, things wasn’t going right. You know?

Yeah. The name of the song was “Slaving in Babylon,” you said?
“Slaving in Babylon,” written by me. Mi produce it, too.

So I put it out on my label. I design[ed] a label, and put it out by myself. And I distributed it by myself.

You know, I always ask people who have personal experiences with Bob Marley [about them]. I’ve always asked, because, you know, Bob Marley is one of the reasons why I got into reggae music to begin with. Because when I was younger, I had a man in my life who was from Haiti. And he played a lot of Bob Marley records when I was growing up. So, I always had a big love for Bob Marley. And so, whenever I interview someone who actually knew him and was friends with him, I always ask the question, what is a fond memory—or a good memory, a personal memory that you have about being with Bob [Marley]? Something that you remember, that you think about [concerning] your friendship with him.
You see mi born [in] September [of] 1940. 14th of September. Mi, mi don’t believe in beg[ging from] people. I would die first. You hear me?

I would die—

Before you’d beg.
—before mi beg. Because, I feel if I beg, I’m not gonna get nothing. By begging. And I like to say I have a one dollar inna my pocket. My one dollar, mi stretch it as far as it can go. Anyway it cut, it pop off. It can’t go no further. ‘Cause a dollar is just a dollar. And when [mi] finish, mi stand by my own ground. I’m not gonna steal. I’m not going to disrespect people. But if you give it to me honestly, if you say “Winston Jarrett, take this,” it’s a different thing, I will take it.

And I respect you for that. And if I can work it out or do something, I will do it. Bob Marley is a man, mi no beg him. But mi love him. Mi love him so much that mi no wanna beg him. Because one time, I do that, one time already. And him tell me—him run me. Him tell me, say, he never expect that from me, because mi a-sing with Alton Ellis. And mi a singer, too. So him say, why him should a-give mi no money? And me didn’t need it so bad, at the time, because there was a big thing inna di country a-gwaan inna Jamaica where business people—capitalists—a run out of the country. And nothing ever a-gwaan for poor people. Man a-run left all him house, come out of their house, and left it, and people just a-go there and capture their house. You understand? At the time, it’s a crowd over Tuff Gong. Long [line on] Spanish Town Road, where people in a desperate position [lined up] to go beg [Bob Marley]. And I don’t think him help everybody, but him help the majority. And through that, people [took advantage] of him. So, mi love him, mi love him so much that mi stand my ground. But speaking with the music, I learn[ed] a lot from him. Because him lyrics speak enough where I think every man should respect that.

You understand. But Peter Tosh, and Bunny Wailer, and Bob Marley, used to rehearse in di same yard mi a-live in. The same yard. What mi talking a-go down inna history. So we perform and do recording—just the recording—at the same studio—Coxsone’s studio, 13 Brentford Road, Kingston. So what more would you want [to know]? Mi sit down close with them. And how close we grow up. Musically, because I say—because Bob Marley’s name is rich, and dem can hustle off of him.

Yeah. That’s unfortunate.
And it’s all about what a man can give—or what you can earn off [of] a man.

Tribute To Bob Marley
Winston, you did a tribute album in 1994—in 1994, you released an album, I tried to find it but actually it’s very hard to find online. I tried various streaming services to see if I could pull it up, [but] I was only able to pull up a few different tunes from the album. But it was [I can tell] a very, very cool album—this tribute album [to Bob Marley]—I can see the album cover. There’s a picture of you on the cover, you have like a wide-brim hat [on] on the cover. And I want to ask you about the album for a couple of reasons—and why I was trying to pull it up—because I saw that there were a couple of legendary musicians who performed on this album. Because I saw that there was drummer Santa Davis, that Flabba Holt (bassist), and China Smith (guitarist), all those legends participated in this tribute album. And then I read, when I was doing the research about the album, trying to find it, and I want to ask you about this, because I couldn’t find—I wasn’t sure. It said that, on the tribute album, that there was Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer—and that they were featured on the album. Now I know that Peter Tosh—he [was] dead by then, because [it] was 1994 when you released the album. But maybe you had some lyrics that you used—I just want to ask: Is Bunny Wailer on that album, on that tribute album?
No, no, Bunny Wailer wasn’t really on it. What I really did—what you’re talking to me [about] was a field marshal. A field-marshal hat.

Coming from—His Majesty used to wear it.

Oh yeah, the hat, yeah.
Yeah, a field-marshal [hat].

Yeah, okay, anyway, I wish I could have found that album.
I don’t think you would find it. You know why?

I never [got] around to releas[ing] it in Jamaica. I was in England coming off of a tour—in Europe at the time—and I stopped off inna England for only three days. And I didn’t really want to release it, [and] I never [got] around to [doing] that. So I gave it to one of my friends. He passed away. And [before that] I [had] asked him to release it in England. And he did. And now I think I get a couple of copies of it. I have one right here now.

You do? Wow. That’s probably worth a lot of money, Winston.
Yes. Because I tell you how I really love Bob Marley. I love him because of his works. And then now, him, and Mortimo Planno, Bunny Wailer, and Peter Tosh, was at the airport when His Majesty come to Jamaica [in] 1966. When the plane touched [down], we were out there, millions of people from all over Jamaica [including] some Rastamen you never see before—in all of your life—those Rastamen you wouldn’t see them, because they [were] living in the mountains, in the country part. But when His Majesty come to Jamaica, every man from [every] walk of life were at the airport to meet him. And greet him. And when His Majesty come, we see the plane, we’re all waiting. The whole place was blocked. Every sidewalk, crevice, and corner was packed. I was a little boy. Some people up in a tree. Some climbed the posts. Some get on some building tops. I was a little boy, so no one see me. But I goes into a truck—a big truck—come to the airport with a lot of Rastamen. But mi was a little boy there, so dem big and dem tall, and all that stuff, so none of dem see me—because I was like Zacchius.

So when the plane touched down, the sun was hot, hot [that] day—I can’t forget [it]. But I just see 150 white doves. I don’t know where they [were] coming from—if it’s out of the plane, or where dem coming from, but dem just start to fly.

And then the plane touched down. And when the plane touched down, Mortimo Planno was the first man to go up there to represent all the rasses dem from Jamaica, as the head of the Ethiopian Rastafari movements. And dem open the plane, and then all the government [officials] and prime ministers, and heads of governments come and represent him. And carry him up by the Governor’s house. King’s House. And then His Majesty wept—he wept when he see all the rasses. Because to me, I think he was thinking about education. The people of Jamaica are educated, but when him find out the majority of the people didn’t really—I think he come to help all those people to develop a better lifestyle. Because, you know, Rastaman was in Africa, too. It’s not Jamaica alone. But when he see dem, he wept because they—

The poverty.
Because [of the] poverty. And it’s poverty why him wept. And him come to give them some money to help dem and ting. Build schools and all dem tings. But I think he [gave] the money to the government of Jamaica, fi help them. Build a school, you know? So he wept, and that’s why he wept. So inna the documentary [(“True Born African”)], you find that [it] talks about the history of what did really take place. And His Majesty wept. I feel it was the poverty why him wept when him see them, you know?

Hey Winston, already we’ve been talking for a very long time. I want to thank you for being so generous with your time. And I only have a few final questions for today. Only because I know we can’t talk all night long—[although] I kinda want to. But I’m hoping that you’d maybe be willing, maybe in the future, we [could maybe] do this again. Because there are so many other songs and parts of history that I would like to ask you about [yet]. And there are some things I won’t be able to ask you about today; [so] I’m hoping maybe in the future you might be willing to talk to me a little bit more—so we can get a little bit more if it. Would you do that—in the future?
I would say “Yes,” because you see, when it comes to truth and rights, I have to enlighten and let the people, and let the world know—

Thank you.
—the history of the music industry itself. And what you really go through with the producers dem.

Who are “reducers.”
“Reducers” I call them, because dem reduce down di music from what it was. And put it in a different concept that not really right for the world. Technology come in and change everything. Back then it was manual. Everything was going manual. And that’s why the recording was so good.

And for me, back then—I mean I’ll always like that music that you made. And Bob Marley made. And Bunny [Wailer] made. And all those real foundational reggae singers back in the 70s, in the early days of reggae. For me, that was the top of the music. And I want to just bring up one other album of yours, just in these last few minutes that we have. And this is another one of those albums that I feel fits in with those times. It’s the kind of album where you listen, and you can hear the [mastery of the] live musicians. And it’s such a good album: your “Man of the Ghetto” [album]. It’s just an incredible album that you put out. I think it was around 1978 or ’79. And it features musicians like Sly & Robbie, Ansel Collins, Gladstone Anderson, [and more]. When we next connect, Winston, when we next have a talk, I’d like to ask you many more questions about the songs on that album. But for today, concerning the album name, and title track “Man of the Ghetto,” would you agree that a big part of your musical legacy—a big part of your whole sixty year-plus musical career has been, kind of being a spokesman for the ghetto? For the poor? And for the people who are struggling with sufferation and poverty? Hasn’t that been a huge part of your music?
Well you ask so much very good questions that I can’t—I have to think, you know, because you is one of those type of people, guys who really ask good questions that uplift me, you know?

Thank you. Respect.
Mi is a man—that’s why they call me “Man of the Ghetto.” Because really, I am a man of the ghetto. Some people feel say then, music business, or my music career was [for] people who come from Beverley Hills. The rich. And I want to let them know, it’s nothing like that. That’s why you see the poverty, and the poorness, and the sufferation that we go through? I put it inna di music. That’s why they call me “Man of the Ghetto.” I had that album produced by me! You see the good thing about it—I just want[ed] to do some good works so my work shall be glorified. Which is the Father in Heaven. And when you do something good, it stands out. And it come like a stone that cannot be moved. It’s like as solid as the Rock of Gibraltar.

Respect, it’s true, and that album, that album, and many of your albums, Winston, they will live on, like you say, like the Rock of Gibraltar. And I know you’re constantly making music. For example, you know, I know just doing some research that, in 2019, you released a 12-track album called “Words of Wisdom.” And even very recently, as I mentioned earlier, you’ve been performing, in my neck of the woods, in California; I was very heartbroken, as you know, very sad, not to be able to see you. I thought I was gonna be able to come and see you live. And I’m still hoping, you know, my friend Scientist [also known as Hopeton Brown]—the great legendary [sound engineer] Scientist—has told me that maybe, they might be able to do some shows [with you soon] like you did with the Soul Syndicate, recently. He’s hoping to get some shows [with you] closer to San Diego, and maybe in Los Angeles. And I can tell you, if he does, I’ll be in the front row, you’ll see me—

—I’ll have three different cameras.
(Laughing) I really love you, man, I tell you the truth. But you see, I want to just big up Jeff Allgrove [with] Right Vibes Productions. I really love him[, too]. Because you see him take up my career and want to put it to another level, you know? And he told me that he was going to do all those things from long time ago. And he just come to fulfill me. And Santa Davis, and the Soul Syndicate, and Scientist, we are all coming from Jamaica. Back in the days. And you know, if you look pon nuff of my albums, I don’t leave out those guys—those musicians. And I always like to work with the best! Because only the best is good enough.

Respect. Yes!
You know, in all of my career, I’m coming from those same musicians. From Duke Reid days. With Coxsone days, with Jackie Mittoo, and the whole of those men—the “Soul Vendors”—so [many] good musicians I work[ed] with—all of my songs dem. And God Bless, nuff of them pass on and gone. [May their] [s]oul[s] rest in peace. You see the history? I told you awhile ago, it cannot erase. Neither can it wipe away easily, you know? Because glorify onto the Father in Zion—Mount Zion—onto the Father—onto all these good people, man. And as I said, good people is just good people. And you see, good people, I think you should honor them. Don’t ride pon their back and try to use them. And take us like a “user-er.” You know, it’s not a good feeling, man. It’s not a good thing. Exalt the people dem that is good—and respect them—honor them. You know, nobody ever give me nothing like no honor. You know [they tell you] that people will wait until you’re dead to call you—and give you something good you can put pon your wall; and when you’re dead and gone, a man can see it. Nothing—nobody ever give Winston Jarrett—no government—Babsy Grange—Babsy Grange—and none of dem. Not even inna Jamaica. ‘Nuff people will call my name might be they might not know me—and it’s sad.

Winston & Larry McDonald (Photo courtesy of Jeff Algrove)
Winston, it’s a shame, I can’t tell you, I feel so bad to hear that, because—and I have asked so many different artists about this, including Sly Dunbar—when I interviewed Sly Dunbar, I asked him about how there’s so many people, so many artists who, like yourself, have been forgotten by the Jamaican government. And the people who are supposed to be honoring the culture—and where, you know, the music has come from. And so it hurts my heart, and what I do want to say to you, though, as your fan, is that your music—I wish I could give you something to put up by your wall. But you should know that your music is burning in the hearts of so many people. That is a bigger honor than any honor that a government could give you—that the fans have the music—your music, beating in our hearts. And that will always be true. From generation to generation.
I know it’s true you’re talkin’ man, because—let me tell you about that. If I ever sit down and fi tell you about that what you’re saying, it gonna take me fifteen years or more. When I come to America here, I find out the way dem exploit me. Coming from all of mi music—they call me all kinda names. Dem piss me off! Dem call me “T-Man” and “T-Bone Steak.” Dem call me “Adam and Eve.” Dem call me all kinda—they [don’t] put all the credits pon mi records. Dem say a foreign troop a-sing over. Dem do me some tings—with Lee Scratch Perry. And Prince Buster, Downbeat [Records]—the whole of ‘em. I don’t get no honor, no respect. Exploitation, infringement—there is everything that they do me. Pon mi music. And mi a-tell you—but, you see mi voice, mi voice can’t change, a one Winston Jarrett voice. And when dem do all dem tings, a man still know Winston Jarrett a-sing, you know?

You see mi wife, Patsy Jarrett, I can tell you, she’s my backbone.

Winston, I want to give you the final word before we hang up. But first, before I give you the final word, before we hang up, I just want to sincerely thank you. It’s such an honor to speak with you. And I hope that we’ll speak again. Maybe I’ll see you perform live soon. And I hope that you’ll stay safe. I hope that you’ll continue to make, you know, this soulful music—spiritual music—that’s so important to so many people. And I’ll say, just speaking for myself, to me, your music is so important. And so I just want to thank you for it. And for this time. And my final question, Winston—of course, you and I will talk, you know, we’ll send some messages later, and we’ll be in touch. But my final question before we hang up this official interview is: What is the final message, the final message that you’d like to share today, to all the Winston Jarrett fans, the people all over the world who will read or watch this interview, what would you like to say to them? About anything. About your career, or about your legacy, or whatever you’d like to convey to all your fans.
I want to—again I’m gonna say this. I give thanks to Jeff Allgrove, man. Right Vibes Productions in California—Moe’s Alley. I love him. I love Jeff from mi heart. And my wife love him, too. But what I want to tell the world, you know, before I end, I see one of my songs dem put out inna England named “Zion I Love You.” It’s on the Lee Scratch Perry label. Dem release—somebody release it back inna England, and I just see it pon the media—social media. Dem put it out there and talk about how it’s one of the greatest songs that they ever do, you know? I thank God for that still, but I think I’m gonna call the guy pon the phone inna England—send him a message. Because it’s one of my brederens named “Yogo Man” call me—and say him see it, and was talking about it. And call the guy inna England and mi say, “Watch out, man. I don’t know who give you the rights to do that? Without contacting me before you do that? You release mi album, I mean mi 45, and you don’t expect—[wait until I give you] my ‘okay,’ and then mi tell you how much money mi want. Because mi no sign no contract with no producer inna Jamaica. Up till now. Nowhere! So all those rights belong to me. And you should contact me before you do that.” They tell me that, “No, it’s Lee Scratch Perry’s tune,” and anything with the publishing a-go back to Lee Scratch Perry. And I say, “Yeah, that’s how you do it!?” Him say, “Yes.” And I say, I did want a lawyer. ‘Cause I didn’t have no lawyer up until now. I say: “Deal with him! Deal with him!” Up until now, it don’t happen. And it’s not the first [time]—I see dem put out my tunes dem all about inna England, and all about inna Europe—without my consent. Same way. And they put out “Fear Not [the Almighty Dread]” pon Studio One same way. So I just want to let the world know that.

I’m glad you mentioned it, Winston, and you know Scientist and I are often talking about—and I know you know, that the same thing happened to him—to Scientist with Greensleeves and VP Records—where they basically stole his music. And he hasn’t gotten compensated. And so this is an issue that I’ve often talked about with him and with other artists, too. And maybe when we do our next interview, I would very much like to talk to you about some of the music that you feel that people have not properly compensated you for. And also, not properly attributed—you know, giving you the proper credit for. And also when we talk next time, let’s talk a little bit more about the failure to honor artists like yourself and so many other people—who made the music what it is.
Yeah man, because you see, all of my career, in my lifetime, it’s what dem do with me. No money from Studio One. This guy named “Nighthawk” record—that same album you were talking about—nothing from him. Nothing at all. Not even zinc. This guy in England, [as it concerns my] “Wise Man” album? Same thing. They have another album inna England—put out an album with me—and no money. Nothing. Not even zinc. You see?

“Not even zinc.”
You see how tics live pon dog? Like leaches!

Wow. Parasites?

Bloodsuckers. All of these people—some people I don’t even know where dem come from. If it’s Mars or whatever hell dem belong, or come from. I don’t even know them—some of them. Some of them, you know, they do the same thing, they don’t care. Winston Jarrett? They say mi dead. You hear them talk, they say mi dead.

Well, Winston, you’re not dead, and you’re very much alive. We hope—we want to keep you that—
They want to see mi dead because they don’t want to see no lawyer come after them.

And dem pee up all the money [they should be giving me]. Don’t even own a bicycle. Not even a tricycle! You understand!? I have to pay my bills, too, you understand? And my life, belongs to Jah. And so inna my life, I put Jah first. But me a-tell all of dem people out there in the world, if you can’t be good, be careful. And I’m waiting. I’m waiting. For the world to change. Right now, I am waiting for the world to change.

Well, I hope it does, Winston, I hope it does, and let’s—
You see my fans dem?

I have to big them up because dem support me. And love me. For the music that mi deliver. And why me do that, is a message mi give them like food for thought. For many, many years. And that’s what’s keeping them alive. And I am so thankful for you.

I’m so thankful for you, Winston, and if we were together I would be able to give you the big fist bump. Thank you so much. But we’ll talk—I’m sure we’re gonna see each other again. I know that God/Jah will put us together in the same room at some point.
(Laughing) Yeah man, it’s not the end of the world, man. And it’s not the end of the day. We’re going to do more things, man. Because Jah is into the mix.

Thank you so much, Winston. And tell your wife, Patsy, I say thank you. And we’ll talk again, okay?
Yeah, she says “Thank you very much.”

(Waving) Winston, thank you so much and we’ll talk soon. Take care my friend.
Okay. One love and Jah guide and protect you and your family.

Thank you. You too. Bye-bye, Winston.
Thank you. Bye-bye. Thank you, man.


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