Interview with Musical Youth frontman Dennis Seaton
Where: Birmingham UK / Los Angeles CA (via Zoom)
When: December 27, 2022
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos: Courtesy of Eyela Laghaie (Scientist w/ Stephen Cooper), Dennis Seaton, and the respective record companies (labels/sleeves)
Copyright: 2023 – Stephen Cooper
Musical Youth Frontman Dennis Seaton: “Our whole ethos was to encourage other youth to play music.” (The Interview)
Musical Youth skyrocketed to fame—and acclaim—arguably as fast, or faster, than any reggae band. Unquestionably their hit song “Pass the Dutchie” was one of the most successful singles worldwide in the early 1980s. That massive tune (and its iconic music video), together with their spectacular debut album “Youth of Today,” garnered them a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist—before reggae artists were being officially recognized at mainstream music award shows.
When the band visited Michael Jackson at his house in Los Angeles—while recording “Different Style!,” their sophomore album, sadly the band’s last studio album in its original composition—talk amongst the Jacksons was that “Musical Youth was perhaps the British answer to the Jackson 5.”
Despite their young age and lack of longevity as a band (at its peak), Musical Youth were no novelty act. Instead they were an extremely talented set of highly skilled musicians, rigorously schooled by Freddie Waite, Sr.—a former member of the legendary Jamaican singing group “The Techniques.”
Musical Youth frontman Dennis Seaton—now 55 with four children of his own—might no longer be a “youth” in the classic sense of the word. However, his verve, his vigor, and his vested passion for the band and the power of its music, is unchanged.
On December 27th of last year, I was scheduled to interview—via Zoom— Seaton as well as Musical Youth keyboardist Michael Grant—with whom Seaton has reunited and released a third Musical Youth album, “When Reggae Was King.” Due to inclement weather Michael was unable to participate. Dennis and I nevertheless ploughed ahead, and the resulting two-hour reasoning is the most comprehensive interview of Musical Youth’s lead singer currently in existence.
What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity and space considerations. Embedded in the transcript are links to Musical Youth’s music, exclusive images and photos, and more. Also, there’s a link to the entire video of the interview, available on YouTube.
Hey Dennis! How are you?
I’m good. [I’m just getting] back from the cinemas with my daughter.
Awesome. Awesome. And do you think that Michael is going to be—
Well he said if he can get on, because he’s had problems with the weather.
Okay. Well we’ll hope that he joins. Do you think that we should—should we wait, or should we just start, do you think?
Hold on. Let me see where he is [tapping on smartphone]. He said—because he’s only just got his power back on this morning.
He sent me some photos of all the snow around his house.
Yeah there’s bad, cold weather going through here [in] the U.S. as well.
Yeah, yeah. So he said, “Look, the power’s just come on. But it’s going to snow again later. If you don’t hear from me, it’s ‘cause I’ve got no power.”
Okay. Well then, if you don’t mind, and if you think it’s okay—
Yeah it’ll be fine.
—and if you don’t think Michael will be offended, I think what we’ll do Dennis, is start.
Yeah that’s fine.
And we’ll hope he joins us.
Yeah. One second. Let me sort out my drink.
Sure. Take your time. And I also just want to make sure that you can see me—
I can see you.
I can see you, and I can hear you. Let me just get a bit of ice. One second.
Sure. And I have you recording on a number of different devices. Which is most assuredly a good thing, because I had a technical issue at one point in one of my last interviews. And if for some reason, we should have any technical difficulties, I’ll just re-connect with you right away.
[From off of camera] Are you talking to me, Stephen?
Yes. I was just letting you know, if we have any technical difficulties, I’ll just re-connect with you right away—
Yeah. That’s no problem.
I don’t think it should happen. I think everything is going to be irie. Are you zooming in from Birmingham [,England,] Dennis?
It’s wet. It’s not as cold as where Michael is. But it’s wet.
Where is Michael exactly?
He’s in a place called Ontario, Canada.
Oh, okay. Very good. Now I want to officially thank you, Dennis. For taking the time to do the interview—
Not a problem.
I want to confess to you upfront that as a student of reggae, and also a reggae historian—of sorts—that my knowledge of British Reggae—and the British reggae scene, could really stand for an upgrade. And so it’s a joy to connect with you, Dennis.
(Laughing) No problem.
That said, when earlier this year, my good friend, the legendary sound engineer and dub pioneer, Scientist—
—many people also know him as Hopeton Brown. He suggested that I really should consider trying to interview Musical Youth—[and] I immediately, Dennis—
—like many people who grew up in the 80s—
—as I did—my mind immediately leaped to the song “Pass the Dutchie.” And then I immediately thought of that very famous Musical Youth video—the Musical Youth video for “Pass the Dutchie.” Which anyone can and should immediately [watch on YouTube]—if they haven’t already. I’m sure many people who are watching [or reading] this will have already—but if you haven’t, please, immediately go and google up the Musical Youth. I think it’s probably been viewed millions and millions of times.
—to just say, in the last few months, Dennis, since we scheduled the interview, and you know, [we] got in touch to begin with, I’ve really tried to become a student of Musical Youth. And of the band’s history. And of your music—as best as I can—far beyond “Pass the Dutchie.” As massive of a hit as that [song] is. And always will be. And one of the things that was a real eye-opener for me, Dennis, that I would recommend to every reggae fan—to every music fan—who happens to catch this interview, and doesn’t know about this already: On your musical streamer there’s a very good Musical Youth anthology—
And the reason why I say this is because sometimes you can’t find—it’s not necessarily the easiest thing—you can find the “Youth of Today” album—
—which was a giant album. But the “Different Style!” [album]—it may be hard to find all those tracks. And the anthology is something people should really check out. Released in ’94 on the “One Way” record label. And it has most if not all of the songs [from] Musical Youth’s first two albums on it—not all of them.
And it’s wicked. It’s quickly become one of my favorite LPs, Dennis, to listen to. I mean I am just wowed by it. When I listen to it, I don’t know if anyone has ever made this comparison, but I think, this is like a British-Jamaican Jackson 5.
(Laughing) Almost—almost. Almost.
The only thing with us and the Jackson 5 is they could dance and move. We played instruments. But I wasn’t a very good dancer, as my daughter tells me.
Wow. Well I don’t know. I am just so blown away when I listen to the talent on that [anthology]. And I want to mention, too, I will certainly be asking about it, that I’ve also listened closely—I’m sure [Musical Youth keyboardist] Michael [Grant], you know, if he were listening—later if he himself catches the interview, too—
—will be pleased to hear—that I’ve listened closely, also, to “When Reggae Was King.” The album that you and Michael—
Good. The last [“Musical Youth”] album.
—released just last year, I believe. Maybe it was in 2020?
Yeah. Released it in America last year.
Yeah. And it has some very, very cool songs [on it] I’m gonna ask about. But of course, long before we can get to “When Reggae Was King”—
—before we discuss the present day iteration of Musical Youth—which consists only of yourself and—
—we have to go back to the beginning when Musical Youth first began.
I believe in the late 1970s. I think around 1979? Is that accurate?
Okay. Now my understanding is, Dennis, that Musical Youth was really started by Michael’s father, George Grant, and also, Frederick Waite, Sr. And, that they were friends in Jamaica before they came to the U.K.?
I don’t know if they were friends in Jamaica—I never heard that before. But Fred was teaching Kelvin [Grant] guitar. And Kelvin was 8 at the time. And Michael was 10. And Michael was having piano lessons—classical. But then he heard—and he’ll tell you himself—and you’ve probably seen it. That he’d just heard [Bob Marley’s] “Exodus” album. And it blew him away. And that was it for him then. He was reggae music all the way. (Laughing)
Wow. Yeah. And Frederick Waite, Sr., he was a member of the Jamaican singing group “The Techniques,” before he migrated to the U.K. Is that true?
That’s very true. Yes, The Techniques was his group.
Was George—you know—The Techniques [were] a professional Jamaican singing group. Was George Grant—you know, I was gonna ask Michael, but since [he’s not here], you’re gonna have to answer all Michael’s questions—
(Laughing) That’s fine.
—to the best of your ability. Was George also, you know, was he playing—was he a musician on the same kind of level [as Frederick Waite, Sr.]?
Not to my knowledge.
Now to be clear, when the band first started, the members included Michael [Grant] (on keyboards), and then you had Kelvin [Grant] who rapped and toasted—and he also played guitar as you mentioned. And then you had another set of brothers—I mentioned Freddie Sr. who was their father—but the next set of brothers—who are no longer with us I should say—
Rest in peace. And I’ll certainly have some questions about them: Patrick Waite who played bass—
—and Freddie Jr. (“Junior”) who played drums.
[In] [t]he original composition [of Musical Youth]—you were not, Dennis, one of the original members. Is that accurate? And can you explain—even though I believe you went to school—you all were schoolmates at Duddeston Manor—
—and you knew them—you were friends with them—and I believe you may have been there when the band first started up, but somehow you didn’t end up as lead singer [right away]. Can you explain that?
(Laughing) Right, so, what you’re saying is correct. We all went to Duddeston Manor School. But here’s how it worked. Junior, myself, and Patrick, were best friends. And Junior told me about his dad teaching him drums and bass. And I did a little bit of singing. So Junior said, “Well maybe you could come and sing?” I said “Alright.” So I went to the very first rehearsal—#20. Hold on. We were #23. And Fred [lived in] #17 Offenham House. Kellet Road, Nechells. They were maisonettes. Tower blocks, right? Like I suppose in America, what would you call it? Tower blocks? Apartment blocks?
Yeah that’s it. Anyway, so I went to the very first rehearsal. And sat there in the rehearsal watching what was going on. The next day I came to go to rehearsals, Fred [Sr.] banned me from rehearsals. (Laughing)
Why did he ban you from rehearsals?
Well he said I threw some sweet wrappers—candy wrappers—on the back of his settee. Which—I just had to accept—it’s his house, you know? So I was—
Oh my gosh. So he’d had it with you because you had littered in his house?
(Laughing) I never did! That’s the thing. I never did.
(Laughing) You were innocent!?
That was his excuse. But it’s his house. So I can’t argue with him, can I?
Now do you think though, I’m just curious, do you think that it was really true Dennis? Or do you think that he wanted to be the lead singer himself?
(Laughing) I guess he probably wanted to be the lead singer himself.
So that could have been part of—
Because he ended up lead singer at the beginning.
That could have been part of it.
Now Dennis, in that early time when you were not the lead singer, and Musical Youth first began performing in pubs in Birmingham, and making a name for itself, were you still—now [Frederick, Sr.] had banned you from rehearsals. And you weren’t an official member. But were you still kinda hanging around [the band]? Did you ever go to their performances back then?
Yes. Yes, I did.
And you were still hanging around with the band pretty much?
Yes, every rehearsal I was there waiting for them to finish. And [I] help[ed] Kelvin carry his guitar to rehearsals.
I mentioned that anthology which combines those first two [Musical Youth] albums. I mean, I think that not enough is said about how accomplished as young men—as really young lads—
—you guys [were]. The [incredibly mature] musicianship. Was it really Frederick Waite, Sr., who, with his professional music background, taught, you know, the boys, how to play these instruments? Or did they also receive some kind of formal training elsewhere, [such as] at Duddeston?
(shaking head “no”)
How did they learn to play these instruments so well?
It was down to—I can tell you now, it was down to Fred. Definitely. And work ethic. Because the guys—we had to—I mean, before I joined, the band rehearsed all the time. They rehearsed and rehearsed. And Fred, he was—
He drilled them?
He was a taskmaster. He didn’t have no airs and graces about it. If you’re not playing it right, you better start playing it right. He put the fear of God in you. That’s basically what he did.
Did you get the sense that that was instilled [in him] from his professional days in The Techniques?
Probably. Because, you know, in reading and studying Bob Marley, Bob was the same, you know? Rehearsals after rehearsals. Studio rehearsals. Studio rehearsals. Football. Rehearsals.
Very focused on the music with a slight detour into the football. Focused on what his mission was.
Yes. How can I say—we never actually set out to be as successful as we have become. But once it was thrust upon us, we had to deal with it. It wasn’t something we discussed as a band. It wasn’t something [where] we said, “We want to be #1 in the charts.” No, no. We just wanted to play our instruments to the best of our ability.
Now in the chronology of that early history of the band—of Musical Youth—is it accurate that what really gave the band its first big break was when the BBC DJ [and] radio announcer John Peel—
—on his very popular show, he played the very first .45 that Musical Youth [released]? My understanding is—you tell me if I’m accurate—that’s the first .45 Musical Youth ever recorded in the studio; it was called “Political/Generals.”
And [John Peel] played that?
Yes, he did. And that was the #1 song for all the A&R guys in the record companies.
Well it’s such a—I hope you’ll forgive me, because I know you weren’t singing lead at the time—
No, I wasn’t.
—and Freddie, Sr., was. But the song “Political,” the song on the side “A” of that first Musical Youth .45—people can easily google it up. Because actually it’s on Bandcamp, and it’s on YouTube and various things. Someone—one person has uploaded it with a sleeve [that reads] “Reggae Archives Records.”
That’s it. From Birmingham.
Yeah. And it’s super-wicked, Dennis. It’s so conscious.
That .45, [and the song “Political” particularly,] it’s such a righteous track. It calls—I never heard it before—until I was preparing [for this interview]. And I told a lot of people about it, because it calls out the politicians for the unemployment—
(Laughing) That’s right.
(Laughing) That’s Fred [Sr.]. That’s Fred’s lyrics.
It’s so wicked. It’s so conscious. And then there’s the insistent refrain of the song, which is: “We want work, politicians!”
And it’s really a powerful tune. Now this was, as I [said], the first .45 [the band released]. Do you remember—I know you weren’t the lead singer—
But were you there when the song was recorded? Or do you remember anything about that song?
Yeah. I wasn’t there when the song was recorded. Because obviously, Fred was in the studio, and Fred didn’t like me around there. I know the band went and recorded it at a place called “Saltley Music Workshop.” Which is in area of Birmingham. And the song was basically—because there was high unemployment at the time. We had a lot of rioting going on. But there was high unemployment. Three million unemployed was…heavy. Back then.
Yeah. For sure.
And it wasn’t good socially for the Black community. So that’s what the song was aimed at. Trying to get people back into work.
And after that song was played [by John Peel on the BBC]—why I said that kinda [gave Musical Youth [its break] is because my understanding is that’s what got you the record contract with MCA Records—now Universal Records. But at the time was MCA. And that was what precipitated—I’ll let you explain this—
—but that was what led to Dennis Seaton suddenly coming in, and taking the very big reigns of Musical Youth.
(Laughing) Not quite that easy. Not quite that easy. So what happened was, again John Peel was an influential radio DJ in this country—[the likes of which will] never be seen again. The amount of 80s artists that were signed off of the back of being played on [Peel’s show], or doing a John Peel session—
It’s a “Who’s Who of the 80s.” Anyway, so they played the single. And there’s a guy at A&R Records at the time named Charlie Eyre. He heard it. He got in touch with—at the time Tony Owens was looking after the band with Fred [Waite, Sr.] So I knew all these people, because obviously hanging around with Junior and Patrick [Waite], I got to know all the names. And basically he was moving from A&M Records to be head of A&R for MCA Records. So he got in touch, and he convinced his then-MD (Managing Director) to go and see the band doing a gig at The General Wolfe. Now The General Wolfe was in Coventry—where “The Specials” were.
Yeah one of them just passed—one of The Specials just passed away.
Yeah, we lost Terry [Hall] last week. God rest his soul. And he went down there, and he saw Fred singing lead. And [he] asked: “Look the band is brilliant, but is there any way you can get—you’re the only person to sing lead?” (Laughing) And that’s—
Well it’s funny now that I’m 55. I’m older than Fred, when Fred was singing lead. (Laughing)
(Laughing) So it doesn’t feel good to hear that necessarily. Listen I’m getting older, too, Dennis.
That’s fine. My cousin always says I’m probably one of the only five—well three people [who were original members of the band] now alive—that can still claim to be a “youth.” (Laughing)
(Laughing) Now how hard was it, if you know—I know you can’t speak for Freddie, Sr., but how hard was it for him to step down as lead singer, and for him to agree to allow you to take over?
Well let’s put it this way: I don’t think he was very happy. But as it happens, he kinda had to guide me into it. You know it wasn’t a case of, “You move aside, and I step in.” It wasn’t like that. Because I’d never done any live work before. So rehearsals, first and foremost—the band had already been on the road for at least 18 months. And the very first live gig I ever saw was Musical Youth supporting “The Beat” in Birmingham. And so you can imagine. And so then I’ve gotta join, and I’ve got to catch up.
So even though you became the lead singer, there’s no question that the head of the band still remained—even though he was in the background—Freddie Waite, Sr. Is that true?
Yeah, I mean he just rehearsed the band basically. And he made sure that we were playing our instruments to the best of our ability. And he just said, “Look, these are the songs you’re gonna sing.” And what he did was—the transition was—he’d sing part of the set, and I’d learn part of the set of songs. And eventually, he kinda moved out and I stepped in.
Now did he remain involved though, even when you were firmly planted as the lead singer, did he remain involved with the band [by] still writing some of the songs?
And did he still—did he tour with the band, too?
Not always. It’s only the last tour that we did in Jamaica that he was really there.
Yeah I’m certainly gonna ask about that. Because I know that was kind of an unfortunate [tour]. It ended up unfortunate[ly]. I have a few questions to ask about that [a bit later on].
That’s fine. You can ask away.
Thank you. Now in 1982, when you finally—when you became—you guys were signed to the record label. And you were the lead singer. And the Youth of Today album—I mean this album comes out, and it so wildly popular.
I mean it features several hit songs. There’s the track “Heartbreaker.” There’s the title track “Youth of Today.” There’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” And then, of course, we have to come back to it, there’s the iconic song “Pass the Dutchie.” Which is an adaptation of the famous “Mighty Diamonds” song. Which many of the reggae fans—all of the reggae fans I would hazard to guess—know: “Pass the Kouchie.” Now Dennis before we delve into some of these massive hits—
I mean these songs are great. I’ve been listening to them basically on a loop. And I think it’s important to reflect though—before we dig into some of the lyrics, and you know, some of the music—just how wildly famous Musical Youth became. And I know that you know this—and if Michael [Grant] were here, I’d tell him that I know he knows this. But I want to make sure that everyone who later reads the transcript of this interview, or later watches this [on YouTube], can understand how famous you guys were. And if it’s okay, the way I would like to do it is [to] just confirm with you several of the milestones—and facts—because you can read a lot of things online—
Yes, you can.
And, you know, not all of them are true. As you know—right?
Youth Of Today
Never Gonna Give You Up
So, it was #5 in the world for top selling singles of the year. [And] it was over 5 million singles [sold]. Worldwide.
Wow. And it reached #1 in the U.K. [on the charts]. It reached #1 in Canada. And several other countries, too, correct?
And I believe, and I also read, that “Pass the Dutchie” was #1 on the U.K. charts for close to three weeks in a row.
Three weeks exactly.
Also you guys performed on a giant show—not everybody understands how giant this is. But in the U.K., “The Top of the Pops”—
Yes, we did.
Do you remember, I have to ask, I didn’t get a chance to figure this out myself, but who was the actor—who hosted Saturday Night Live—
Joan Rivers hosted it. It was Joan Rivers.
Joan Rivers! Holy smokes! Did you guys meet Joan Rivers?
Yes, we met Joan. Said “Hello.” There must be a photo [of that] somewhere.
Was she a Musical Youth fan?
I don’t know. Listen—Stephen, when we used to go to radio stations, TV shows, they were [awed by us].
It’s such an amazing thing. How did you guys go back to school after [that]? How do you go back to Duddeston? And you’re walking around the hallways [saying], “I’ve just been on the Top of the Pops, [and] I’ve been on Saturday Night Live.” You have girls—I’m sure [they were lined up]. Just explain to me how it works as a teenager—how do you keep your head on straight?
Okay, so, if you think about it, Saturday Night Live wasn’t shown here [in the U.K.]
Yeah, that’s true.
Saturday Night Live was big in America. But at the same time, we also [were] being played on MTV. [As] Black people we actually went into the studios and did an interview with MTV—before Michael Jackson or anyone. And it’s only as we look back retrospectively that they realized, hold up, there wasn’t any Black artists on MTV in 1983—coming into the studio. Before “Yo! MTV Raps”—this was before all of that. And [“Pass the Dutchie”] was played—and played—without even the record company having to push it.
I’m so happy that you mentioned that. Because certainly that was one of the things that I wanted to confirm about you guys—being on MTV. And that video—that video—I just want to [focus for a moment on] this video of yours [for “Pass the Dutchie”], just to describe it a little: It’s made by Don Letts.
The band is filmed—you guys are young—and you’re being chased by a truancy officer—(Laughing)
—by the Thames River.
And it culminates in this hilarious—you know I don’t know if you know my background—I may have told you—but, I’m [a recovering] attorney.
So you know, when I suddenly see you guys in court [in the music video]. And the barristers have their wigs [on]—
—and the sound-box is being introduced into evidence—
(Laughing) [And p]assed around.
Oh my gosh. My wife and I—we watched it last night, and we were—even still, as many times as we’ve watched it, we still want to watch it more.
(Laughing) Yeah, it’s innocent. It is innocent. To be fair, it’s innocent.
And that was all Don [Letts’s] thinking, you know? Because we’d previously done a video for “Youth of Today” with Don—before we got signed [to our record contract]. So he carried that theme over. So if you look at the first two videos, “Pass the Dutchie” [and] “Youth of Today,” we’ve still got the same truancy officer following us around.
Amazing. Now I was just curious because apparently, I think he may have just released an album—Don Letts.
He has indeed.
Are you in touch with him still?
Yes, I’m still in touch with Don. I can’t even get him now. He’s always riding the train, or in America—or whatever.
Musical Youth, as I was saying, [the band] was so big, and so popular, after that “Youth of Today” album—with “Pass the Dutchie” especially—the band received a Grammy nomination. For “Best New Band,” I believe?
“[Best] New Artist.”
“Best New Artist.” What was that like to receive that nomination? I mean there’s this amazing picture that you sent to me, Dennis, that I’m sure [the editors at Reggae-Vibes] may publish with the interview. It’s a picture of [Musical Youth keyboardist] Michael [Grant] with Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.
It’s just a wicked photo. And it’s a visual reminder of how you guys had skyrocketed to fame at that point. What was it like to be there that night? At the Grammys?
First and foremost, that photo that’s with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, and Linda McCartney, and Junior and Michael—that was in England, that was at the Brit Awards.
Oh I’m so happy you told me that—I assumed it was at the Grammys.
No. So what happened was, when we got the nomination, I knew how big it was, but I don’t think the rest of the band, people that was around the band, knew how big it was. You’ve got to put this in context, Steve. To be nominated as a Best New Artist—best new comers, yeah? But the kinda music we were playing—reggae wasn’t big in America. Bob was the only person they knew. So you can imagine reggae artists—[a] reggae band—getting nominated for best newcomers in a time when reggae wasn’t recognized in the Grammys.
It’s certainly—Dennis, I hear you saying this, and I’m glad you are. I’m glad you’re highlighting it, because as I said, I think it’s one of the things that you have to understand as a music historian, to understand that Musical Youth doesn’t get quite the respect that it should—
Because frankly what you’re saying is right on point, Dennis.
—that Michael Jackson actually invited Musical Youth—
—over to his house in Inglewood[, California]. [And] I believe that you met Michael’s pet chimp, and his snake “Muscles,” and you hung out [for] the day. What can you tell me about that experience?
Okay so, so now you go back to the photo. When Michael [Jackson] meets our Michael—Keyboard[ist] Michael, “Junior” meets Michael Jackson[, too], at the Brit Awards—which is the British version of the Grammys. And Michael [Jackson] says to [our Michael], “Look, here’s my number. When you come to L.A., call me.” So [Junior] was like, “Okay.” So we’re doing the second album. We’re flown in [to L.A.] from Japan—now I’m giving it whole—we’re flown in from Japan. And so, we hadn’t started recording yet. We’re down at “Lion Shares Studio” in L.A. Anyway, so [our] Michael calls Michael Jackson’s answering service. Now to us, “answering service” means answering-machine,” [but] this is real people picking up the phone.
So then, after a couple of tries, then we get a call where we were staying at in Beverly Hills: “Got Mr. Jackson on the phone for you.”
(Laughing) What a message!
—our Michael takes the call. And he’s all excited. And if Michael was here, he’d tell you. Because the way he was acting (making excited sounds). All excited. I mean Michael, you’ve got to understand, Michael was 14 at the time.
I would have done a moonwalk myself.
(Laughing) [Michael Grant] says [to Michael Jackson], “Dennis is here. [Then Michael Grant says to me:] “Do you want to speak to [Michael Jackson]?” I says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” So I get on the phone, “Hi Michael—” And [Michael Jackson says (imitating high falsetto voice)]: “Hi. How are you doing?” [And] I’m like “wow.” (Laughing) So it was like—
And he invites you over to his house?
Yeah we go to his house in Encino. The family house in Encino. So we’d already met. I mean, back from that, we’d already met Jermaine [Jackson] at a TV show—in England.
And Jermaine must have gone back and said, “Look, them guys are cool.” We go. And then, you know, obviously, with his family around, “This is the British answer to the Jackson 5,” and blah, blah, blah. Not the fact that we were playing reggae. (Laughing)
Now I have to ask. I mean, I read enough—literally I think almost all the Musical Youth interviews that there could be out there—I hope—
—before today. And it seemed odd to me that no one has asked you this question. And I think it’s good—just for historical purposes—just to put it to rest—
Because certainly someone will think of it. Which is, you know, we all know that there were accusations leveled against Michael Jackson for various things—
Oh, listen— (Shaking head)
—involving children. And I just want to ask you. Can you just put it to rest: When Musical Youth as young lads—
—and I think it’s important to note this, were invited to Michael Jackson’s house, hung out with Michael Jackson, did anything at all inappropriate occur?
No. And I can tell you for a fact that, all the rumors—just rubbish. And I’ll tell you why. I can stand here as a father of four, and tell you that everybody was at the house. So: Janet, Latoya, Marlon, Randy, Tito, and Jermaine. Jackie. And remember, Michael took us all around the house—to every room in the house. And he never ever said, “Don’t go in there. Don’t go in there.” I mean I don’t know what Neverland was like. But I can tell you that, I never for once thought this man’s a pedophile. And even when I heard—and people was trying to say [he was]—I was looking at it, and I thought (grimacing). And I’ve done my research on him as well, you know? I’ve listened to books, and read books on him. Having met the man—so, you get a feel when you go to somebody’s house, and they don’t say any of the doors are locked. It’s all open house—
—Janet’s room. Latoya’s room. Michael’s room. I hung out in Michael’s room. His neighbors were there all the time, you know? So, it’s just. Listen—
Well I’m glad—
—people like to make money off [of] people. Because it’s easier to say something and get paid. Because I was offered money to say something, and I wouldn’t take it.
I wouldn’t take it.
Well, he certainly never was convicted in a court of law. And we must make sure that that—
—is said. And I’m glad to just ask you, because I’m surprised that no one had [before]. And I’m glad for the musical record, that the people can know about that. Now, like I said, to dig into it a little bit, I guess I just wanted to first ask, do you remember—and I’m now getting into the album, “Youth of Today”—
Whose idea was it to even, you know, look at that song and adapt it?
Right. First and foremost, what we used to do was listen to the reggae charts in the U.K., yeah?
And Fred would have us in rehearsals in his living room. Because we couldn’t play any instruments, because it was too noisy. But acapella-wise, guitar, keyboard, bass, and vocals. So we’d listen to the reggae charts. “Pass the [Kouchie]” was #1 in 1981, right? So we pulled it into our set. Because we used to do covers, right? And we pulled it into our set; it was just because it was [the] #1 reggae song. But here’s what happened. We were signed to MCA, as you know. And we were doing a show supporting “Culture Club.”
Culture Club had already signed to Virgin [Records], but Virgin didn’t know what to do with this artist. Anyway, we go and support Culture Club at the biggest gay club in London in 1981.
What was that called?
“Heaven.” We didn’t know it was a gay club. I didn’t know until we got there. I mean, I’m 15, for goodness sake.
14—I wasn’t even 15. And so we always played the #1 reggae song at the end. So we come—this place has 3,000 people around in this place. And Charlie Eyre, the A&R guy is there. So we play “Pass the Dutchie.” And when we were rehearsing it, Fred actually said: “Look is there anything else we can add to the song?” To give little Kelvin something to do. And that’s when we came up with: “This generation rules the nation with version.” Obviously, you know, [using] U-Roy’s great line.
Now what happened was, because the reaction of the crowd—they went absolutely nuts.
So you knew that was a good addition [to the song]?
Well, we didn’t know. It was the reaction of the A&R guy. Look, when we finished playing, he said, “Listen this song ‘Pass the Dutchie’—‘Pass the Kouchie’—I just saw the reaction. Is there any way you could change the lyric?” And we’re like, “What do you mean?” He said: “Because the reaction was just absolutely phenomenal.” And we said, “Okay.” And back then we used to demo albums—for the record company. For their marketing teams and stuff. So we went in the studio to demo the first album, “Youth of Today.” And we did two versions of—we did two recordings. So the first one was “Pass the Dutchie.” Sorry—“Pass the Kouchie.” We sang it. Recorded it. Because we rehearsed it 7 days a week, laying down the song was easy. We knew it inside out, [and] back to front. Anyway, so then we go into the rehearsal—into the control room. And we’re sitting there and we’re going, “What are we going to change these lyrics to?” And Tony Owens then says, “Well, I’m gonna get some food from the Dutch pot, blah, blah—” “Dutch pot? Dutch-Dutchie. Dutch!” And I can remember it like yesterday.
Now I’m sorry who was it—Tony Owens—
Tony Owens was managing the band at the time.
So it’s Tony Owens who—you know, it’s important to know this—he’s the one [for whom it] first clicked that “Dutchie”—he came up with that? That [Musical Youth] should think about [using that word]?
Yeah—get some food in the dutch pot.
Wow. Okay. And then, the band then goes on to change the doleful refrain—
—of, “How does it feel when you’ve got no herb?” to “How does it feel when you’ve got no food?”
And it significantly shifts the focus of the song to [being] a song about poverty. And downpression.
Which kinda, as we were talking about [earlier] about [the first Musical Youth song] “Political”—
It works so well, you know, with the band—the theme of [“Pass the Dutchie”]—to shift it in that way [from “Pass the Kouchie”].
Well it was more logical, Steve. Because, you know, we couldn’t be singing: “How does it feel when you’ve got no herb?” We knew what we were singing about.
You’ve got a ten-year-old, a twelve-year-old, a thirteen-year-old, and two fourteen-year-olds. What the heck they’re gonna be singing about herbs for!? (Laughing)
(Laughing) Right. But it’s so interesting because, you know, the song when it suddenly becomes “How does it feel when you’ve got no food?”—it’s actually quite sad. What’s interesting to me about the song, and I would make the same argument about the song “Youth of Today.” Both those tracks—I listen to them a lot, Dennis—
—and both those tracks are very uplifting tracks. But at the same time, they’re sufferahs songs.
Because they’re talking about poverty.
Yeah, because you know we were from working-class backgrounds. Consciously we wrote these songs. It wasn’t from a standpoint that—I know Patrick and Junior went without food many a night. My mom always made sure we had food on the table. And Michael and Kelvin’s dad always made sure [they had food]. But I know Patrick and Junior—they went without food some nights. So you know, it’s not that we sang it in that way—in so much as, we never had no food. It was a logical step, passing the dutch pot that’s full of food.
We’re passing it the left. So “How does it feel when you’ve got no food?”
I hear you, and I think one of the things that makes—that’s so—makes you guys fit so well into the pantheon of great reggae artists, frankly, is your ability to express poverty in a joyful, uplifting way. It’s such an amazing [skill]. And the Mighty Diamonds—the same. When I interviewed them—
—they have the same ability to transform these songs—even though they’re singing about very sorrowful subjects—to still be uplifting about it. It’s quite a gift. Now I think it’s fair to say, as you’ve said, that everyone the world over, including you guys yoursel[ves], you knew what you were singing about [in “Pass the Dutchie”]. And everyone knows, you know, what you guys were singing [about]. Now one giant recent pop-cultural example of this happened—
—on the Netflix (laughing)—you know where I’m going with this. On the Netflix show—
—“Stranger Things.” Which is a giant blockbuster show.
And they played “Pass the Dutchie” in scenes featuring a pot-smoking character named “Argyle.”
When things got very tense. And, you know, they’re clearly drawing—pardon the pun—
—but they were clearly drawing on the song’s association with herb, Dennis.
So I have to ask this. At the time you guys were singing and making the song, and making it world-famous—did anyone—now if you don’t want to answer this, you don’t have to.
Did anyone in the band—at that time—smoke herb, when you guys were busy making this a world-famous [herb-smoking] song?
No. I can categorically tell you, no we weren’t. But the reason why—and I’ll tell you the reason why. Americans took it to another level. Your countrymen.
Because when they heard [the song they understood] “cooking pot,” yeah? We’re singing about cooking pot. They literally thought we were talking about—
They actually thought we were talking about cooking pot. So that’s where it took on legs of its own.
Wow. Wow. I do though just want to ask too, as a corollary question—
Now, bearing in mind, by the time I got to Jamaica I was 18. So I’d had a little touch.
I can’t vouch for anybody else.
Fair enough. And thank you for that. Because it became such big news—even Dancehall Magazine in Jamaica ran a column noting that “Stranger Things” had played this song. And I think they noted, as you mentioned, that the adaptation included sampling lyrics from U-Roy’s “Rule the Nation,” you know, about music being “the food of life.”
And I think what’s very interesting is that just about a month ago—literally about a month ago—there was an article in “americansongwriter.com”—
I don’t know if you know about this article? And they noted also: “Keeping to the flow of the chorus, and the original melody of the song, the entire second half of the song features new lyrics.” And the new lyrics, of course, it’s really the rapping by Kelvin—
—and he sings, “Now mi say listen to the drum, listen to the bass, give mi a little music, mek mi wind up mi waist—”
And also [Kelvin] then [chants], “You play it on the radio. And so we a-go here it on the stereo. And so mi know, we a-go play it on the disco.”
And so can you guys—can you recall, Dennis, how in the studio these additional—you mentioned [earlier], the intro, and how [Musical Youth] used the U-Roy [lyrics in] the intro. But who created these lyrics—these brilliant lyrics that Kelvin [memorably] raps [in the song]?
It was all of us. It was mainly Junior and myself, because we were the oldest. And because we were playing it live all the time, these were ad-libs that Kelvin would throw in there.
And the way you hear the single—the 7-inch single—it’s not how we recorded the track. We actually—if you hear the full 12-inch version, that’s us playing all the way through. And then the producer then slices [it]. Because we weren’t professional enough to understand what he was trying to get across. Because remember we’d practiced. We’d rehearsed this stuff. So we were stuck in the way we played it. So what he did was, he put a click[-track on]. And Junior played to the “click.” And then wherever [the producer] spliced was in-time.
It’s “cut-and-paste” now isn’t it on computers?
Yeah. Now you have “Pro Tools.”
Well, not even “Pro Tools.” This—I mean, yeah, anything. Cut-and-paste. It’s all—
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
We literally—I was there in the studio when Pete Hammond—who was the engineer—was running the quarter-inch tape. Marking it. Cutting it. And I was looking at him thinking, “What the heck’s he doing?” (Laughing)
—I passed on to you, Dennis—
Yes, that’s right.
—an interview that I did with Lloyd “Judge” Ferguson—the last living, legendary member of the Mighty Diamonds.
And admittedly, as I told you [earlier], this was before I was [extremely] familiar with Musical Youth and “Pass the Dutchie.” And I wasn’t yet, to be completely honest, as I am now, a giant Musical Youth fan—like a groupie.
This was before that. And I also hadn’t personally studied the first two Musical Youth albums at the time that I had interviewed Judge.
And I also had not really looked at some of these adaptive changes—
—as I’ve just been mentioning—that were made to the song.
Now in my interview this past summer with Judge, I asked Judge for his thoughts given that background, though I didn’t know a lot of what I just mentioned, about an article that I had read a few years back, that kind of mentions some of the legal—copyright and intellectual property—disputes that came about with “Pass the Dutchie.”
And in the article, Dennis, you were quoted, and you said “You won’t be entirely satisfied until the band receives its full songwriting credit for ‘Pass the Dutchie.’” And I just want to, before you respond, just tell you what—I know you know, but just to put it on record: Judge’s response to my question about Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie,” and the adaptation of the Diamonds’ song, was that “Pass the Kouchie,” he said—this is to quote Judge: “Pass the Kouchie was entirely a Diamonds song. Me and Bunny Diamonds wrote that song. Musical Youth has nothing to do with writing that song.” Now he acknowledged that both Tony Owens and MCA [Records] called him.
To, you know, ask if you guys could cover the song. And [Judge] also acknowledged that key change from “kouchie” to “dutchie.” We didn’t get into the other adaptive changes, mostly because I didn’t know about them.
Now can you, Michael—I mean, I’m sorry, can you Dennis—
Can you, Dennis—because I was going to ask both of you, but you have to answer all Michael’s questions, too. (Laughing)
That’s fine. Michael’s good [with that].
Can you please, Dennis, discuss what was at the heart of the lawsuit that you filed against your former lawyers about the songwriting credits that you think that [Musical Youth] was due—and given all that we’ve just discussed?
Okay, so firstly, we know that Jackie Mittoo and Leroy Sibbles wrote “Full Up.” Because Jackie was around the band, you know? And then the lyrics was added to “Full Up” by the [Mighty] Diamonds—they put their lyrics in it. Now what happened was, we found out—now we’d gone back to our lawyer. And remember he was representing us—he was head of the firm—to ask him some questions. About some documentation that had come back our way—in trying to trace our royalties from MCA [Records]. What we found out was, that all the publishers were about to sue each other.
Now this is written. They were about to sue each other over the song rights. Because you know what Jamaica was like back then.
Yeah. The song rights to “Pass the Kouchie?”
Right. We’ve got it in black and white that it actually says all of these [parties] agree that “‘Pass the Dutchie’ should be treated as a separate entity.”
I never ever said—I never ever said—it probably didn’t come across this way, but what I was trying to get across was, we should have got a little piece. In fact, we got nothing.
And our lawyer didn’t even—he—the meeting was held in his offices.
Just to be clear, because I want to make sure I understand this. You’re saying that [Musical Youth] should have gotten a piece of the royalties of the songwriting for “Pass the Dutchie,” which is [Musical Youth’s] adaptation [of the Mighty Diamonds’ song “Pass the Kouchie”]?
That’s right—not [for] “Kouchie.”
Right. And let me say, because I mentioned to you before the interview, I’ve evolved in my thinking about this. And as an attorney, I really kinda see this argument that you guys had. And I’m kinda baffled because when you think about—especially when you think about the way that songs are constantly taken from somebody else in Jamaica, changed a little bit, and suddenly it is copyrighted and protected as a new song.
So it is kinda baffling to me. And I do kinda feel the pain that Musical Youth [feels] not having received this copyright protection.
Look Stephen, if you’ve got it in black and white, that all of the eleven publishers agree, that “Pass the Dutchie” is a separate entity—because remember until “Pass the Dutchie,” “Pass the Kouchie” is a big reggae song. Don’t get me wrong—it was big.
But the interest in “[Pass the] Kouchie” was heightened by “[Pass the] Dutchie.”
I think there’s no doubt about that, yeah. And I think it’s a very interesting—
But can I just interject there, Steve?
We didn’t just, you know—we spent money. We got a musicologist to go through the song note by note. Word by word. Lyric by lyric. The key changes—there were 47 differences between “[Pass the] Kouchie” and “[Pass the] Dutchie.”
Holy Cow. I would love to see that. I would love to see—Dennis, if we had that lawyer’s work I would—
It’s not the lawyer, it’s the musicologist—
I’ve got his written—I’ve got his written statement.
I’m gonna ask you—I’m gonna remind you of this, Dennis, because I’m gonna stay in touch with you, of course. Because I’m hoping that you guys will make it down to L.A., and I’ll be able to see you guys.
I’ll be out there next year.
So I’ll be seeing you. Hopefully performing. But I would love to see that [statement from the musicologist], maybe even, if it’s okay—we’ll have to talk about it—but maybe even publish that document that the musicologist, you know—
Guy Prothero is his name. Very renowned. He’s done this [kind of] case before. And that was the basis of our claim. So when we went to the lawyer—our lawyer who was representing us—he then called his lawyers. Well that certainly threw up a red flag for me. Because he never said, come in, sit down, let’s discuss it.
Which I find kind of strange. Because if you represented us, I’m asking you a question, so you—he doesn’t want to incriminate himself. So we have to issue writs—
—to get them to come out and talk to us.
Now remember, we’re minors. We’re minors. (Laughing sardonically) It’s only as adults that we find all this out. I mean we never got paid by Universal [Records, formerly MCA] for 18 years. Not just—for all of the stuff. Not just “[Pass the] Dutchie.”
I read about this in researching the band, about how you had to track down [your royalties], and I believe some of what started it—correct me if I’m wrong—but maybe it was just part and parcel—was that one of your former managers happened to watch “The Wedding Singer” on an airplane—
And you guys, my understanding, were like: “What!?” (Laughing)
That was me. So it was my manager. A guy named Dave Morgan. And bear in mind that Dave and I worked together—I was living in Los Angeles for a year when I was 20-21. And he never even noticed at the time. It was only that—I mean I called Universal—because they were “Universal” [then]—and I had phoned them up. And the lady at the reception said, “There’s no money.” And I didn’t ask her about money. I said “I didn’t ask you about money. I wasn’t phoning you about money.” Because I didn’t think there was any money there.
I just wanted information about what was happening with the master [recordings].
And so then [Dave Morgan] contacted me and says, “Well you should have a check.” And I said, “You’ve worked with me. You’ve managed me. What are you talking about, right?” And he said, “Well your song is in ‘The Wedding Singer.’” I said, “Yeah, we know that. And it was in ‘Scooby-Doo,’ so?” And he said, “Well you should have a check.” So anyway, he went back and was in touch with the head of Universal.
And he knocked on the door. And all of the sudden—all of a sudden—from going to having “no money,” they pay us some money. And I’m looking at it going, “Hold on a minute. How long had this money been there?”
And it really could have made a difference for the band, right?
Some of the [band] members—if you had gotten those royalty checks much earlier, you know, not 18 years later—and I understand you didn’t even get the full mon[ies you were due,] because of statutes of limitations.
You got it. So, now, think about this. Remember, it’s the same lawyer that was representing us that knew all of this. He’s a music lawyer. We’re not! We’re relying on him—
Yeah. It’s such a shame.
—and Tony Owens. Tony Owens didn’t even come and help us in the claim. It was myself, Michael [Grant], and Kelvin [Grant] driving it. And we had to get Patrick—no Patrick had passed away. We had to get Junior’s signature. And his mom’s signature. For them to talk to us about it. So you can imagine, you go from a conversation where they’re going “There’s no money,” and all of a sudden they make a payment. And you’re like, “Well where’s this come from?” And at that time, Steve, I was running a car rental company.
I was running a car rental company. So I’m looking at it going (grimacing), “Hold on a minute here. This ain’t right.”
I had to tell Universal, “I don’t care how long this takes, because I’m at this position in my life in spite of your money. Not because of your money.”
A million pounds doesn’t buy you a lot of cars. (Laughing)
Wow. I’m just so disheartened to hear, you know, the music industry—Scientist is often telling me how corrupt—and how the devils and vampires [run it.]
—because personally I think that that entire “Youth of Today” album is so awesome. And I absolutely love, for example, songs like “Blind Boy,” “Children of Zion”—which shows an undeniable kinda Rasta and roots influence.
And then the same is true for “Young Generation,”—
—you know, Kelvin raps “Mi carry Rasta drum” in that song.
And the album’s title track—I mean all these songs are so righteous and conscious. And I would argue they stand up even today. And my understanding is—[but] I just wanted to ask you though—about some of these songs that I just recited. These songs were written by Musical Youth for that first album—
—with some assistance from Freddie Waite, Sr.?
Can you describe how that songwriting process—[were] you guys all together in the studio, creating these songs?
It was in rehearsals. So, you know, I mean from the very first rehearsal I ever did with the band, we wrote a song. Which was a song called “Girl.” So then what we did—all the ‘B’ sides for the singles were songs written by the band. Because back then, as you know, whenever the ‘A’ side sold, the ‘B’ side sold [as well], okay?
So when you listen to “(Please) Give Love A Chance,” that’s us. That’s just us in our raw form. And they sweetened it with “Dutchie,” and you know? But then you listen to all the ‘B’ sides, and they all have a—they’re all about youth, and conscious[ness], us gowing up—innocence, you know. Black boys, you’re “committing yourself on the street.” That was us! (Laughing) That was us!
Yeah. That’s such a wicked song, [“Blind Boy”]. I hope everyone [goes and] listens to [that song]. Now I mentioned how much I also love the title track of [the] “Youth of Today” album.
And I want to make sure I know this. This is so great sometimes when I talk to people, and you want to make sure that you understand their lyrics. Like to the core. And so I’m so happy and blessed to be able to ask you this. Because I’ve listened to this so many times. When you guys are singing “Youth of Today,” you [sing]: “Youth of today got a lot to say. We’re under heavy, heavy manners, yeah!” And let me make sure I understand. “Heavy, heavy manners”—
—if you don’t live in the U.K., and you don’t grow up in that community, you may not be sure. Now I can only induce that it means like a stress, an economic and a community stress. What is “heavy, heavy manners?”
“Heavy manners” means our parents put us under control.
If we don’t behave ourselves, right—
Your parents have got you under control.
The [music] video explains it, but: “I went downtown to buy a likkle bike—the price, [etcetera, etcetera,] this a judgment time.” Because I wanted my bike, but it was too much for my parents to buy. You know? That’s it.
“Heavy, heavy manners” means our parents were just down on us like a ton of bricks. (Laughing)
I love the song. And really like “[Pass the] Dutchie,” [it] expresses that kind of gritty poverty that people [were] living through.
You know, the high unemployment rate, as we’ve mentioned, and the high prices, as you just said—for even things like musical instruments.
But also, in addition to being a song about, you know, economic stress—
And being under “heavy manners” of parents, it’s from the opening verse about how “The youth of today have a lot to say. It’s our life. It’s our—”
—future.” It makes it also a song about youth empowerment, Dennis.
And one that could be—I would just make the suggestion—seized upon today—
—for people—the youth who are arguing about, you know, climate control and global warming. The same is true, Dennis, for “Children of Zion.” Because [Musical Youth] is inviting the youth of the world to unite—right?
Yeah. Because our whole ethos was to encourage other youth to play music—that was the ethos of the band. We wanted to encourage other youth, you know, kids who played. Encourage. In the beginning, we never set out to have a #1 selling single. That wasn’t the philosophy of the band—that wasn’t the ethos of the band. The ethos of the band was: If we can do it, you can do it, you know? That was the ethos of the band.
And the band—I’ve had this discussion with Michael [Grant]. The reason why there’s never been another Musical Youth, is because there can’t be another Musical Youth—it was so organic. 40 years deep now. I’ve been performing for 50 years in my life, you know?
That’s unbelievable to think about. Because you’re still, like you said, such a young man. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Well, I know. I look back at the 80s and I go, “Wow.” All them people who are out clubbing—I couldn’t go to no clubs. (Laughing)
(Laughing) I hear you on that one. Now I also dig many of the tracks on “Different Style!” [which was] the sophomore Musical Youth album. And sadly, that was the [band]’s last studio album together—
—that you guys released in 1983. Before, you know, you and Michael [Grant] would later reunite. Now that second album (“Different Style!”), it received a lot of criticism.
And it was nowhere near as successful commercially as “Youth of Today” was. And the criticism seems to have been—let me know if you think this is accurate—the criticism seems to have been that the sound had veered away from reggae, and into R&B. And somehow the [initial roots-heavy] Musical Youth sound had become watered down as a result. Do you think—is that an accurate portrayal of the criticism?
Um, almost. Because not all of the songs, you know—“007,” classic, Desmond Dekker.
John Holt’s “Tell Me Why.”
Yeah. These are all awesome covers.
Yeah. You know, “Sixteen,” the lyrics were written by Lamont Dozier.
“I’m sixteen. I’m like a bullet straight to your heart.”
That’s Lamont Dozier’s lyrics.
It’s so wicked!
And the vocals were sung by—if you get the master [recording]—the original vocals are sung by Irene Cara.
But her record company, because she’d just won the Grammy for “Best Female Vocalist”—
Who recently passed?
She did. Last month.
Yeah. The star of [the hit TV show] “Fame.”
That’s right. And we actually performed that song with her once.
The day after the Grammys. She won the Grammy. I was 17. She came and sang her part onstage with us at the Beverly Theatre—the Beverly Hills Theatre.
In 1984? Yeah. March 2nd, 1984. And then we had to change it to Jody Watley—from “Shalamar”—she sang—her vocals is what you hear.
Well like I said, “I’m sixteen, and I’m a bullet in your heart.” I don’t think anyone who hears that could ever forget it—could ever forget [that] line. And I also want to ask [on the album] “Different Style!” again—
—the song I really love, I’m gonna be honest with you—maybe most of all—on the second album—
—is the song “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout.”
Because first of all, we have to say, this song was written—correct me if I’m wrong—[it] was written for Musical Youth by, I have to pause—
—for effect. The song was written for Musical Youth by, (pausing for effect) Stevie Wonder. Is that accurate?
That’s 100 % correct. (Laughing)
Can you please explain how that could happen?
Right, so we’ve gone down to KJLH, which is Stevie’s station in L.A. And one of the ladies there—press officers—says, “Look, do you want to meet Stevie?” Come on? Who doesn’t want to meet Stevie?
So we’re staying in Beverly Hills now, you know? Goodnight. Rockstar business. But anyway, three o’clock in the morning we get a call: “Stevie’s in the studio. Do you want to come down?” Three o’clock in the morning now. (Laughing)
(Laughing) So we all get up bleary-eyed. We go down to Wonderland. Stevie’s there. And he says, “You guys, you guys are so cool.” ‘Cause he’s trying to pick up on all the accents, you see? ‘Cause obviously we’re all “brummies.” So, I mean mine is toned down now, but back then, it must have been like, “Wow.” (Laughing)
Yeah. Anyway, so Stevie says “Look, I’ll play you at air hockey. If you win, I’ve got a song for you.”
In fact, he had two songs for us. “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout” was the first one. And the second one was “See Ya Later.” But because “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout” lent it itself to that reggae, you know, kinda calypso beat, we went and recorded “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout.” He wanted to produce it, but there wasn’t no time for him to produce it. Because Stevie took forever. (Laughing) And they didn’t have forever, you know?
They had to get it out, yeah.
So we just recorded it. And I went and recorded it myself, with Stevie producing it. That was on my solo album. But for this one, yeah, it lent itself so great. I mean it was—I mean he told us that he did it in Jamaica when he was out there, and Rico Rodriguez went and recorded: “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout, you don’t like the Jungle Beat?”
Anybody who listens to or loves reggae has to immediately go listen to that tune, “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout.” Especially as the entire premise of that entire wicked song is: How can you not love the reggae beat!?
—is that there are, Dennis, a couple of contributing factors that led to Musical Youth disbanding/breaking up—just after three years [together], in 1985. But I just want to mention to you what I understand. And you can tell me where I’ve gone wrong. Or what I’ve got right.
[It’s] [p]robably [from] my interview, anyway, or Michael’s. (Laughing)
Well I pulled this from a number of different sources.
And in fact, I’ll say, there’s a lot that’s been done on Musical Youth. I mean there are some documentaries that are out there—
—and people can watch these things, but I understand that the reason that you guys ended up breaking up was because of: the poor critical reception to that “Different Style!” album—
—and then, also, there was an ill-fated recording with Eddie Grant on a widely panned song that was called, “Let’s Go to the Moon.”
(Laughing) I have to say that’s not my favorite Musical Youth—
(Laughing) Nope, that’s not mine either, Steve.
(Laughing) I googled it up. So—
(Laughing) It’s not my favorite either.
Right. And then also, and this is more serious—and this actually [is] a serious thing. Which is: That there was a disastrous tour of the Caribbean—
—that Musical Youth was—essentially what I understand is—[Musical Youth was] forced to go on by the management of the band. I guess [band manager] Tony Owens and company. Even though Patrick had basically been hospitalized for using some kind of drug before the tour.
And even though he’d been hospitalized, they said: “No, you still have to go to the Caribbean.” And this was 1985. And it turned out to all be disastrous. And this is what I understand. These kind of combining [forces]—
—that led to the band, and you making the decision as the lead singer, to leave the band. Do I have this right?
That’s right. There were some mitigating factors. First things first. We were released by Universal [Records].
What people don’t realize is, when Universal—well it was MCA [Records] then—when MCA let us go—part of the reason why there wasn’t much—well, [why “Different Style!” was] classed as not having much success [is]: The American arm [of MCA Records] didn’t know how to deal with the reggae. There was a big American influence on it. So they didn’t know to deal with it. And then they went and signed “New Edition.” They signed New Edition—and people get us mixed up with them; I don’t know how. Anyway, they released us. Paid us off. Now if we owed them money, they wouldn’t have paid us off. We didn’t notice that. Anyway, so that was one thing. Then we used to have a guy who used to look after us—and look after—when we were on the road, he’d make sure we’d fly first class. The promoters pulled up everything, you know? And I tell people, we weren’t left on the airplane, you know? And then, when that person left—he was head of promotion for a time at Universal—MCA. He left. He kinda took a sideways step. Yeah we were doing “Reggae Sunsplash”—which was obviously the biggest reggae festival in the world at the time.
But then, in 1985, you rightly said it, Patrick—we was about to go on a—embark on a Caribbean tour. And the tour was sold out: Barbados, Antigua, St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. Martin, and Jamaica. We love[d] playing in Jamaica. We loved it. Absolutely loved playing in Jamaica. Just before we went out [on tour], Patrick took something. He was in a pub, and somebody could have “slipped him a Mickey,” as they say. But he ended up in a “toxic ward,” you know, in a hospital down the road here. And I went to see him, and I thought, “Mmm.” His mom said he was alright, but he wasn’t. Anyway, Fred decided to come on the road, and said he would look after [Patrick] personally. So that’s why [the hospital] released him. Halfway through the tour, Patrick relapsed. When we ended up back in Jamaica, he actually didn’t play the last show because he wasn’t well enough.
But the Jamaican government at the time, because of the status of the band, he couldn’t fly back. So they made sure, before he flew back, he was well enough to come back—if you understand what I’m saying. They made him rest up.
If you looked at [it like] a business—if we had somebody there that was business-wise, they would have actually just said: “Look, guys, you need to take a six-month break, you know?
One of the contributing factors also was that we were only allowed to work 42 days a year. That was it. Not even nights a week.
Wow. Because of your youth?
Because of our age. Well it was more—Patrick, Kelvin, and Michael’s age. Me and Junior were fine.
And we had discussions about emigrating or, you know, going to America and living—and studying. But the parents wouldn’t—Michael and Kelvin’s mom wouldn’t have it. In fact, it was part of the calculus, also, Michael would agree with this, his mom and dad decided they didn’t trust the lawyer that we had because he was too in bed with Tony Owens. So they felt, rightly so, they had every right to go and pick their own lawyer. Michael would tell you it was just like “eeny, meeny, minie, moe.” That was it. They didn’t know what they were doing. But, in all honesty what they did was, once you’ve got two lawyers, as you know (laughing)—
—one of them has to be alpha. You can’t have two bulls in a pen.
That’s not gonna work, yeah.
So the one in London, because he’s a so-called “music lawyer,” he seizes us about them getting their own lawyer. That was part of the reason. See you’ve got two lawyers trying to beat each other up, and so that slows everything down. Then Patrick comes back and I get rumors that they’re going to throw Patrick out [of the band], and I’m like “Nah.” Remember I’m 18 now.
Yeah. So you were gonna follow your own way at that point?
Well, it wasn’t a decision—I wasn’t happy. I didn’t want the band to break up. I just said, you know what, I kept getting “your Musical Youth,” “your Musical Youth,” and “their Musical Youth,” and me in the middle. And I’m like, “Dear me.” And my whole thought [process] was I needed to be mentally well.
Makes a lot of sense. I’m glad you say that because it leads into the next question which is, I mentioned Patrick’s drug problem, which I understand only spiraled later into further legal problems. And further then, he tragically died—for people who don’t know the history—he died of a heart condition—
At just 24.
And he never fully recovered, I believe. And he only just passed away as we’ve mentioned in this past year.
He passed away July 20th this year. To be precise. And it was schizophrenia. It’s out there. It’s documented. But I wasn’t too happy [about] how it was trying to be hidden. And I’m thinking, “Why you trying to hide [this]?” This man’s legacy is more than what you’re giving him.
100 % it is. And I’m so sorry, first of all. I want to tell you I was sorry to hear about his passing. I know you guys were very close friends.
And the drumming—I just want to say, you know, the drumming on “Blind Boy” is wicked.
And on so many of the tracks, his drumming—
—if you go back and listen, is wicked. And I was moved by the outpouring of affection from famous stars. When you guys posted on your social media about how he passed, and [there] was an outpouring of affection. And people talked about his influence as a drummer.
Yeah. Me and Junior were closest. So when he went into his mental problems, it was hard. But then there’s only so much you can do as a person from the outside. I had to leave that for the likes of Tony and his mom to deal with.
In addition to that tragic story of your friendship, and what happened, there’s the tragic story—the tragic story of the [Grant] brothers [relationship].
I would ask Michael [Grant] this if he were here, you know: my understanding is that there’s been an estrangement between Michael and Kelvin [Grant]?
They haven’t communicated much, I understand. I know that Kelvin has done some things musically as well, I know he worked on a solo album—doing things in Poland and some other places.
Yeah. That’s right.
The only thing I was gonna ask—and feel free to say you’re not qualified to answer this—but I was gonna ask Michael directly: Does [Michael] think that the rift between the brothers is really just another casualty of you guys being such big child stars—reaching such heights of fame, and then, you know, it all kinda falling apart?
Possibly. Their personalities are too different. I gotta put this on record: I worked with Kelvin first, before I started working with Michael.
I didn’t know that.
Yeah. I worked with Kelvin first, and then when I got together with Michael, I asked Kelvin twice if he wanted to come back and play with the three of us. And he said, “No.” I don’t need to ask a man a third time.
He’s a grown man, you know? You’ve got to make your [own] decision. Once you make your decision, I have to—listen, Steve, I made a decision at 18 to leave the band. At 18. Remember, I’m leaving my wages, any money that I—
It [was] a big decision.
I’m 18. I don’t know anything, you understand? (Laughing)
Yeah. Such a big [decision].
Retrospectively, the decision was correct.
Yeah, I understand you needed to do what was right for you—for your happiness—at that point, and mental health.
Of course. It was happiness. We talk about mental health now, but it was more about me being happy. Nothing more, nothing less.
I’m so glad that you say that. Now after the band broke up, I understand that Michael [Grant] continued a music career. He had a band called “5 AM.”
And he produced some remixes for some pretty big artists: Da Brat—
—Kelly Rowland, and others.
I understand that he also co-founded a record label called “5 AM Records?”
I think he focused mostly on gospel and R&B?
And then I think he also—I mean I don’t know how he has time to do all this—because I think he has kids, too. So I don’t know. You guys both have these children, and I don’t understand where you find the time for all this. But he also, am I right, he would teach music to children with emotional behavior issues—Michael did?
Right. So, first and foremost, I was one of the first to have kids. And Michael didn’t have his kids until he was—his first child—his twin boys—until he was 46.
So he had lots of time on his hands. (Laughing) I, on the other hand, had kids and a wife.
So you had to get busy, and that’s why, my understanding is, that you—after [age] 18—and [Musical Youth] broke up, you stayed in L.A. for a while.
—as you said [earlier]. And after that album though, my understanding is that you, like you said, you started a family. And you got into the car rental business. My understanding is that you then ended up, somehow, you went from like the bottom to the top. And you [ended] up owning your own car rental businesses, right?
And you know, [you] became a business man. And then also—again I don’t know how you find [the] time—because you have kids—
You then went back to school—correct me if I’m wrong—and you got a master’s degree in music.
Unbelievable. And this is all before you and Michael [Grant]—[it’s] around this time [when] you guys are now re-forming, getting back together, reuniting this great [band], Musical Youth?
Well firstly, just before I went out to L.A., I spent 6 months—Tony Owens had arranged a tour of Ireland—with Michael, Patrick, Junior, and myself. Well, Patrick wasn’t well. Junior wasn’t well. So I ended up doing the tour on my own, with a backing band. It was only supposed to be 3 weeks. We ended up staying there 6 months. In Ireland.
Southern Ireland. And Northern Ireland.
So I was learning my craft. Anyway, when I got back I wasn’t happy, got rid of Tony Owens. And then met up with my manager at the time. Well the guy who ran the tour—in Ireland—he contacted me and we got together. I’d actually signed to Island Records through Chris Blackwell.
Chris [had] listened to the stuff that I had done. And he said, “What do you want?” And I signed to Island Records. Then I went out to L.A., ‘cause Stevie [Wonder] agreed to record—
To do some work with you—which is amazing.
Yeah. And when we were out there, I’ll never forget, it was 1987. December. My manager at the time was 36. And he had a heart attack.
Nobody was having heart attacks at 36 in 1987. I drove him to Cedars-Sinai Hospital. And they did the operation on him that saved his life. He’s the same guy who helped us get our royalties back.
Oh yeah—from the Wedding Singer, yeah.
Yeah. So that then precipitated—we did, you know, obviously, spending so much time with Stevie. Recorded the two songs [with him]. Came back. Went on to record—[got] signed to an independent label. Recorded “Imagine That.” Did a video—Stevie’s in the video—for “Whatcha Talking ‘Bout.” Stevie [Wonder] doesn’t go in many other peoples’ videos, I know that for a fact.
And then, basically, I took a backseat. I needed to spend time with my wife and my kids, and make sure I was around enough.
Yeah. That’s very important.
So then I got back from London and I said, “Nah.” I may as well do something, but alongside being able to get away from it if I need to go and do my music. So I went into [the] car rental [business]. Started of valeting cars. Then went up to be a manager. Left there. Started my own company. Shut that one down, and then set up another company. And that company is still going today. That was 2002-2003. That company—it’s called “Next Rentals”—it’s still going today.
Wonderful. In Birmingham[, England]?
Which is a new—just to make sure everyone is aware—this is a new Musical Youth album released in October 2020. And this is a very cool LP. It has some new versions of Musical Youth Songs of old. And there are some very nice covers—
—of Jamaican roots classics. And there are also some new original compositions, too. Now this is an album that just you and Michael [Grant] have done together, right?
So what happened is, “When Reggae Was King” was born out of when I was studying. Because I thought, I want to pass my knowledge on. And in this country, you have to have the papers. (Laughing)
The [academic] degrees.
(Laughing) I’ve got a #1 selling single, blah, blah, blah. I’ve been nominated for a Grammy. Nah, nah, nah. You need to have these papers. I was 37 at the time—when I went to University. And I decided for my final thesis—I did a degree. So I got my 2:1. I did that. And I thought, I’ve been playing music so long, 2:1, a masters, is really just a degree, you know? Anybody can get a degree. So I said, you know what, I’m gonna go on and do my masters. So I did my masters. And in my masters [program], you [had] to do a performance. So this performance, I did—I remember writing it, and talking to the lecturers about it. I said, “Look, I don’t want this to just be this performance and then it stops. I need this to be able to carry on. And see if we can do it commercially.” Because that’s basically what you should be able to do. So I was reading a book called “When Reggae Was King.” But it was mainly about the U.K. and stuff. And then—
Yeah. Nice. That’s where that idea [for the new Musical Youth album’s name came from]?
That’s where it came from. So then I decided, I’ve got to have a criteria. So I looked at the criteria and I thought, let’s start the songs from 1972 to 1982. So, when reggae started officially with, you know, “The Harder They Come.” The seminal reggae film. And you know, I just wanted to be slightly different to UB40, in so much as, you know, we had the titles for the “Cool Ruler,” the “King of Reggae Music.” John Holt was “the Frank Sinatra of reggae music”—
—and likkle Sugar Minott was the dancehall bubbler. And Dennis Brown was the Prince—“The Crown Prince of Reggae Music.”
So it was all there. It was all there. So it was just a case of which songs. And then “Hard Times” was put in there because in 1981, when it was released, we spent the whole summer singing “Hard Times.” But then the original composition, you’ve got “Youth of Today”—a new version. You’ve also got a new version of “[Pass the] Dutchie.” But that was more the record company in America [that] wanted that. But I [didn’t] mind. “Father” believe it or not—
I’m so happy you’re gonna talk about this, because this is the song [from the new Musical Youth album] I really wanted to ask about—go ahead. [The track] “Father” on “When Reggae Was King].” This is an original Musical Youth composition. And let me just say, before you go on about “Father.” Because I found this to be a very, very curious and moving track. Let me just recite this just to be sure, and then I’ll—
(Laughing) Sure. I wrote the lyrics.
Oh you did? Okay. The lyrics, if I have this right, it says: “I write songs. I write rhymes. I’m packing on my sorrows and putting them in these lines.”
And then the song goes on, and it says: “So I became famous really fast. But my father thinks I’m a loser. He thinks—
—I should be working a 9-to-5.”
Yeah. That’s the chorus.
So who is this father!?
(Laughing) Right. So you gotta understand, so let me give you the backstory to this song. The backstory to this song started in a country called Slovenia.
I wasn’t expecting you to say that.
Did you know they liked reggae in Slovenia?
I didn’t know that.
The former Yugoslavia. Slovenia. It’s about two million people. Now I’ve got a mutual friend, and he trained as a lawyer. He’s 6 foot 4. Blond [hair]. He trained as a lawyer for 4 years. His wife is now a judge. His ex-wife is now a judge. He never practiced—you’re a lawyer. He never practiced—
—one day as a lawyer.
(Laughing) Smart guy.
He became a musician, Stephen. And he actually, in Yugoslavia at the time, it was communist law. You couldn’t take the dinar out of the country. And he sneaked 1800 dinars out, and took it to Germany. Changed it to deutschmarks. Brought it to England, and changed it to pounds. And he brought this song to me. That was all Slovenia.
I said to him, “Give me the story.” He said, “Well, my father, you know, he thought I should be a lawyer.” He never practiced one day. He went to university 4 years, [and] never practiced one day! And then I took it and I went, “Wow.” Okay so when you were reading [those] lyrics there, “My father thinks that I’m a loser,” I’m taking the translation slightly different from Slovenian.
Then when you get to the bridge, “I might not be a Dylan or a Marley,” that’s my lines. And in this country, when we were growing up—in this country—
—as musicians, as much as we had the #1 single, everyone always said to us: “What else do you do?”
Wow. You know, that’s so interesting. I’m glad you said that because I often ask artists from Jamaica that I interview—
—what did your parents think when you decide you’re gonna not be a welder—you’re not gonna be a—
—whatever it is.
9-to-5. (Laughing) 9-5.
Yeah—so you’re gonna turn down this steady paycheck to go be an artist and a musician—and so, I’m so happy to have asked you. Now let me say, Dennis, I’m looking at my various recorders, and I’m noticing that I’ve tasked you—and you didn’t know—you thought you were gonna have Michael [Grant] to be able to help you out, so—
I’ve really exhausted you today with—we’ve been talking now for over an hour and a half. And I definitely, before we hang up for today at least—
—I need to ask you a few questions about Scientist and this dub album—
—and this video clip that I sent you that I’m gonna ask you about.
But before I get to that, I want to just tell you “When Reggae Was King” is a very, very—you can tell that there’s a lot of, you know, musical history and experience, and richness, that is in that album. And I hope that when we connect again—when you come next year—
—we’ll be able to dig into [it further]—like I said there’s only so much time we can dig into these [songs]—
Yeah, I got ya.
—but we’ll dig into [it]—I promise you—and maybe we’ll include Michael [Grant], too—
He’ll be there.
Yeah, we’ll talk more about “When Reggae Was King.” Now I want to bring up the legendary Scientist.
Because on YouTube—
—before this interview, I discovered this short video clip called “Musical Youth Meets Scientist at King Tubby’s Studio in 1982.”
—he looks—he’s so young in that photo.
And Scientist is running the mixing board. And Musical Youth is standing around Scientist. And everybody is skanking to the beat, including: legendary singer Sugar Minott—
—who you mentioned earlier. He’s there. And later—also in the video—you see the artist “Gold” who used to team up with Don Carlos.
He’s also in that clip. And what’s so remarkable about that—there are so many things that are remarkable about that clip—but what I find to be very compelling is that there is such an easy, natural bond that you can see between the Jamaican roots artists and Musical Youth. Who is there flying in—these youngsters from the U.K.—and, in fact, in that video, I think it’s Sugar Minott who is saying—you can hear him—he’s saying he’s proud to see reggae going international—
—with Musical Youth’s success. And a number of people [present] are name-checking, and shouting out Musical Youth’s then-big hit, “Heartbreaker.” They’re saying “Heartbreaker,” right?
So really this footage, this little clip, it should be playing on a loop in a reggae museum. Continuous[ly]. So people can stop by. And I was shocked—I was even more shocked and surprised, Dennis, when I learned—I don’t know how I dug it up—but that day in the studio at King Tubby’s, that Scientist mixed an entire version of [Musical Youth’s spectacular] “Youth of Today” album.
So let me ask you first, what do you remember about coming to Jamaica, meeting Scientist, and doing that dub album with Scientist in [King Tubby’s] studio?
So the timeline is: We’re going out to Jamaica to record—to do the two [music] videos for “Heartbreaker” and “Never Gonna Give You Up.” Whilst we were there we also were doing a documentary for the BBC called, [“Musical Youth: This Is Me with Michael Grant.”] ‘Cause there’s a whole documentary on it. About 40 minutes.
Yeah. I may have seen it.
We go down to Rio Grande. But we also had our brass section. Our brass section put some brass on top of them tracks. Remember this is the home of reggae music.
Yeah, obviously. It doesn’t get better.
So what you’re seeing there is us in our element. You know, we’re in the mecca of reggae music. This is the mecca of reggae music, you know?
It has to be. It [was].
It’s like “Wow.” You’re not gonna get—you’re never gonna get that sound again, I don’t care how they want to recreate it. Never, ever, will you get sounds like you got then.
Now when you were there, in King Tubby’s studio with Scientist that day, do you remember, did you see King Tubby there, too?
And what about Jammy? He used to call himself “Prince Jammy,” but now it’s “King Jammy.” Did you see Jammy, or was it just Scientist?
Just Scientist. It was with Scientist.
Basically, from what I could tell, you know, ‘cause it’s so impressive to think about—because of his youth [at the time]—but it seems like Scientist was fully in control for that day—running the show—
—at King Tubby’s as young as he was.
You guys had flown in [to Jamaica]. And to think about how [famous] you guys were in the world at that point—
—and you’re there with Scientist. It’s just an incredible, incredible video. And Dennis, I asked you before today’s interview, I said, you know, “Hey, how can I listen to this dub album—
—because, you know, of course I have to—I can’t imagine anything I must listen [to more]—I have to listen to this. I was so floored about it. And then I understand from you—correct me if I’m wrong—that your former manager, Tony Owens, that he still has the master recording of that dub album. Is that—
Yeah, the quarter-inch.
This is mind-boggling. How is it that he’s in possession of those? And why does he have ownership of the masters?
Well he has ownership of them because he went out there with quarter-inches, and got Tubby’s to do it. But I don’t think he told the record company. But he never told us either.
And then my understanding is further—I don’t know if you know if this is true—but I heard from Scientist, okay? Just recently—
—that he connected with Tony Owens.
And Tony Owens has said that he still does have the dub recordings—
I bet he does. There’s no doubt.
—and, it’s actually possible—we don’t know for sure—but I understand that it’s possible, tell me if I’m right about this—that after all these years, that dub album—I mean Musical Youth fans around the world—I’m sure their ears are perking up right now, right?
So it’s actually possible that this old album that Tony Owens—I don’t know that’s been sitting in, you know—What? [In] his laundry hamper for all these years? And I can’t imagine as a dub fan and Musical Youth fan—think about it. Together: Scientist [and] Musical Youth. This album could possibly see the light of day. Is that your understanding, too?
No. Because I don’t talk to Tony Owens, so I couldn’t tell ya. You could probably speak to Scientist.
Yeah. Let me ask you also, I believe that you’ve been in touch with Scientist [recently]. And it’s possible that you guys might—you say you’re coming out to Los Angeles. Scientist is Los Angeles-based.
I don’t know that.
—he lives outside of Los Angeles, [but] he lives close enough. That’s where I meet him in the studio. So my dream, Dennis—
—is gonna be for us—Scientist, yourself, and Michael [Grant, too] maybe, if he can come.
Michael will be there.
Yeah. I would love to see you guys in the studio, hopefully—my hope is by then, Scientist will have gotten these [old] tracks from Tony Owens—
—and we’ll all be sitting in the studio. Probably toasting [with] champagne.
Because you guys are gonna be sitting on some musical gift of the gods.
Well, it’s a nice thought.
Stephen, I believe in the legacy of Musical Youth. I believe in that because that’s us.
We didn’t know what we were doing. What we knew was, we were gonna play to the best of our ability. And [it] was for the adults around us to work out what they needed to work out.
That’s why, as I said to you [earlier], I knew—I know there was a recording of [that dub album]. Tony [Owens] took the quarter-inches. ‘Cause I remember, I can hear the brass. (Imitating brass instruments playing). I can hear it all.
So you know.
I do know. But because of my relationship with Tony Owens—because what a lot of people don’t realize is, when I left the band, Tony managed me for a year. He managed me personally for a year.
I didn’t know that.
He introduced me to Fatis Burrell, God rest his soul. So you can imagine, you know? And he’s now working with Kelvin [Grant] which—you can make of what you will.
Wow. I didn’t know that either.
Yeah, yeah. And you can make of that what you want. But the only people putting anything out really and pushing it, pushing it, you’ll notice—if you go online—most of the interviews you’ll see are either [of] Michael or myself.
You don’t [see many] interviews of Kelvin.
—that’s accurate. And my hope is, like I said, that we will be able to connect with Scientist all together. And we’ll see what happens—
The funny thing is—the good thing is: I’ve been out to L.A.—I did a gig with Snoop Dogg. And I used a pickup band. I tried to use a pickup band. And last year, I came out, I couldn’t do any shows because I didn’t get my visa. But I decided, you know what? I’m gonna carry my own band this time. But I’m only gonna carry me, Michael, my bass player, my drummer—now the drummer, he helped produce “When Reggae Was King.” So he’s a producer himself. So for him to meet Scientist as well, will be like “Wow.” (Laughing)
That’s amazing. And by the way your son, your son is also a musician too. He’s a trumpet—
Yeah, [and] he plays trumpet on “When Reggae Was King.”
Beautiful. Now I want to thank you so much, Dennis. And especially for handling this interview [so graciously]—and [taking] all these questions from me. And taking this time. It’s really just a blessing, Dennis, to connect with you. I can’t tell you [exactly] how much of a fan I am of Musical Youth. Because I’m a giant fan.
I just can’t wait to see what happens as you guys go forward. And hopefully we’ll connect when you come to Los Angeles next year. And I only want to ask you two last questions for today.
You got it.
And the first one—
Hold on, Steve, let’s put this on record, these questions weren’t sent to me beforehand.
No! 100 % they were not. And you’ve done a yeoman’s job today answering them. And I thank you for being so candid. And forthright. I hope the fans of Musical Youth will find this interview to be enlightening. And useful. To round out the history of what’s been done, and what’s been said, about this marvelously talented band. [My] [s]econd-to-last question. So not the last one. But my second-to-last question for you is, what can you tell the Musical Youth fans about what to expect in 2023? So, in the coming year, and also [in] years coming—if you can think even further than that—what should we expect to see from Musical Youth? From you and from Michael?
So from me and Michael, we’re just starting to—we’re actually just, for the first time, since [the] lockdown, I came into some studio equipment. So I put a studio together. Never really had a studio [before], because I always liked being away from the house if you understand?
Yeah. Keep your work separate.
Yes. So now we’ve got a studio, my whole philosophy is to record as much music as possible.
But not just [quantity]—it’s got to be quality. Hopefully in “When Reggae Was King,” you can hear it’s reggae, but it’s not the same as everybody else’s. We always recognize the difference between British reggae and Jamaican reggae—[they are] two different fields. You know, we’d always used to say we’d play faster here [in the U.K.] because it was colder here.”
Now in 2023, we’re just putting together some stuff where we’ve got now—because we’re more adult now. So we can tackle more things. We don’t need to sing about [anything] negative. I understand where Musical Youth sits in the pantheon of reggae music. [Now] [w]e reach a different audience. We reach a totally different audience. But we also reach the roots audience. I don’t have a plethora of reggae promoters knocking down my door—beating down my door. What I do have is the 80s promoters who love [“Pass the Dutchie”], and it reaches that audience. From what I understand, “Pass the Dutchie” turned a lot of people on to reggae.
It made them delve into reggae more.
When you put up on YouTube “Pass the Dutchie,” [the user] would also look at this, this, and this.
So, you know, I get it. I get it. But I also know that people hear Musical Youth, and they think “I don’t know if they’re gonna be any good.” Well let me tell you, when we do our live stuff—and we’re gonna do a ‘live’ album of “Youth of Today.” We’re gonna do a “live” album of “Youth of Today.”
We’re gonna spend at least 6 months recording [the] band playing it live. Because we’ve got the brass, everything’s there—authentic. Authentical Musical Youth. And once we’ve done that, that’s the next project, “live” album and new recordings. And hopefully we get to play in places that we’ve never got to play. Like France. We never really got to play Holland, even though we had big success across Europe, [including in] Germany. [And in] Australia. New Zealand. We did Japan. So you can imagine the time, in 1983, when we did Japan, as I say, reggae wasn’t—isn’t the normal genre. But it’s the genre of New Zealand, you know?
Yeah. It’s big. It’s bigger than people realize.
Yes. So—but we’re also, how can I say, we’re losing that reggae-band vibe.
[We’re] [g]etting more singjays and DJs, and—
Well that’s because there’s less, like you said, there’s less live musicians going into the studio. We have too much of the, you know, [pre-recorded] drum tracks—
—these digital things.
We—I purposely went for “live” sounding [with “When Reggae Was King.”] So “live” bass. When we did “I Shot the Sheriff,” I sent it to Blue Mountain Music, and they came back and said, “We love the bass on that track.” Our bass player is a big Bob Marley fan—we all are.
Well I want to say it’s a joy to see you Michael—[I’m sorry,] you, Dennis—
—so comfortable. And Michael too. Because I’ve seen the interviews that he’s done. And so it’s nice to see you guys at this stage of your life to be comfortable in your skin—
—comfortable with your past success. And [you] understand, as you just poignantly described, how you’ve come to appreciate the different audiences that you’re reaching today versus back in the day. And it’s no problem. You guys are thrilled and happy to be touching different people in different places [with your music.] And I want to say to you before I ask you my last question that we’ll end on, again, I can’t wait to talk to you again when you come to L.A. And I will be in touch with you [before that,] because first of all we’ve had a two-hour interview today.
And I’ve got to—certainly there’ll be some things—probably some “Brummie” I think you say—the Birmingham slang [you used]. Some things I’ll have to call you about [to] make sure before I [finalize the transcript of this interview] on paper—for all-time—I’ve got—
—everything that you said [today down] accurately.
So I’ll be in touch with you. This is not a goodbye, this is just “until we talk again.” But before we hang up for today—
—I want to wish you a Happy New Year. I’m gonna wish you all the best health and success, and joy, and love, going into the new year. What I would ask you to do is, there are so many people like myself who are Musical Youth fans. We love your music. We know you—it’s almost like when you listen to Musical Youth a lot, then you start to feel like, “Man, it’s almost like I know these guys.” And you guys had such a big imprint we can see even in cultural TV shows, and [many other things still] today.
People really respect and care about you guys. What’s your final message that you want, Dennis, to communicate to, you know, all these people who have been tracking you now for—like you said, you’ve been doing this for over forty years. You’ve been a performer. What do you want to say to all of your fans out there who just really appreciate your music—and Musical Youth?
Well, firstly, you’ve got to say thank you. Thank you for supporting [us]. Because but for social media—if I never set up the Facebook site, if I never set up the Instagram site, if I never set up the Twitter site, I wouldn’t have seen all this love. Now I could have just been negative about it, but there’s no point. Because Musical Youth—as much—and I get this—people try and make out like Musical Youth wasn’t a success. Musical Youth was as successful as any artist out there.
And there’s a slight difference, in so much as, when we were out in the 80s, people didn’t—I don’t even think we—even I sit back and go: “Do you know how successful this band was?” And then when you’re talking about it, you’re listening to it as an adult, and you’re going, “How long have these guys—” Even [when] I, as a seasoned musician, listen, I go “Wow. Wow. That’s Patrick on bass. That’s Kelvin—”
[And] [h]ow are they playing these instruments so well?
And then I look back on the videos. And we did the Montreal Jazz Festival. We played Israel. People don’t know that.
Yeah, you guys, you know what? I’m glad you said that. You guys are up there [performing at these iconic festivals and venues] like it’s nothing. Like we’ve been doing this [for years], and it’s no sweat. And then, you know, even you see Michael [Grant] in that picture with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney.
And [Michael Grant looks] like, “Hey, this is any other day.”
Just—I’m so happy that you’ve come to this place [of peace in your personal life and musical career]. And I just want to wish you so much success going forward. It’s been just a blessing talking to you. Stay safe.
And please tell Michael, next time it’s you and him [and me], he’s gonna have to field—he’s gonna have to do double-duty. Right?
(Laughing) Well we—Michael and myself, we talk for each other.
So whatever I’m telling you, he would agree.
There’s no—you know, we decided a long time ago that, look, we as a band, we never ever was coached on how to do an interview. We were just plunked in front of a TV screen, asked a question, [and] we’d answer it. And I can look back and go, “Wow, there’s us growing up on TV. That’s us growing up on TV.”
My kids just know me as their dad. My son plays onstage with me, you know? And it’s nice. But I never forced him down that route. But it’s nice. I said, “You’re a trumpeter, come and play some trumpet for your dad.” But I never get a free gig out of him. I have to pay him. (Laughing)
(Laughing) Respect. I hope I get to meet him, too, when you guys—maybe he’ll fly out with you—
—to Los Angeles. So, hey, have a great rest of the evening there, in the U.K.—
Respect, and I will be in touch with you. Take care my friend. (Waving goodbye)
(Waving goodbye) Happy New Year to you, Stephen.
Happy New Year, Dennis. Bye-bye.