Interview with I Kong

by Oct 24, 2023Articles, Interview

I Kong interview by Stephen Cooper


Where: St Elizabeth, Jamaica / Woodland Hills CA (by phone)
When: August 5, 2023
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos: Courtesy of I Kong, George Campbell, Stephen Cooper, Fruits Records, and the respective record companies (labels/sleeves)
Editing Interview Video : Teacher
Copyright:  2023 – Stephen Cooper

I Kong: “Mi write songs inna my head; because mi talk to Jah” (The Interview)

Errol Kong, better known by his stage names “Ricky Storm” and especially “I Kong,” is unquestionably a unique and legendary reggae singer. His music has had a universal impact.

But ironically, and tragically, like his appropriately titled “Forgotten Man” album, I Kong has not (yet) been given his due—either financially or by way of official honors from the Jamaican government—for his many decades of musical contributions, including the album regarded as his magnum opus, a must-have in the collection of any serious reggae-lover, the 1978 masterpiece: “The Way It Is.”

On August 5 I interviewed I Kong over the phone—I Kong was in Saint Elizabeth, Jamaica, and I was in Woodland Hills, California—about his historic career. We spoke for a little over 173 minutes; that’s right, you read that correctly, I Kong and I reasoned with one another for close to 3 hours (and we have plans for a second interview sometime next year)!

The many fascinating subjects for reggae fans—and students of Jamaican music history—that I Kong and I discussed included: I Kong’s childhood days growing up in Jamaica and his entry into the professional music business; how I Kong creates his songs, how he co-founded “The Jamaicans,” and his history with them; I Kong’s close friendship and recording history with the legendary singer Bunny Rugs (including “Bushweed & Corntrash” and “Freedom Fighter” as produced by the legendary Lee “Scratch” Perry); the making of I Kong’s original 1972 single “The Way It Is,” and his classic 1978 album by the same name (as well as a discussion of its financial exploitation); the wonderful tracks “Cuban Cutlass,” “Dunny Dun,” and “Zion Pathway” (recorded during the “Ricky Storm” years); the “Forgotten Man” album; I Kong’s bond and recent albums with Swiss keyboardist—for the band Naja Vibes—Mathias Liengme; and I Kong’s longtime relationship with legendary songstress Judy Mowatt (whom he collaborated with on a soul-stirring rendition of “Motherless Child”—on his “Pass It On” album).

What follows is a transcript of the interview, modified only slightly for clarity. This over-20,000-word conversation is the single most comprehensive interview, conducted to date, that you can consume—anywhere—about I Kong. Embedded throughout the transcript are links to I Kong’s music, exclusive photos, and more. At the end, there’s a link to the complete audio file of the interview—available on YouTube.

I Kong, greetings and, you know, right now, just to ask you, can you see me? Let me put the phone down a little bit. Can you see me and hear me okay?
Yeah man. I’m seeing you and I’m hearing you okay.

Okay, cool. Alright well I have my recorders on, and if something should happen—if our connection breaks or something, I’ll call you right back, and we’ll just pick right back up. Okay?
Okay. Okay. Great.

I Kong
Okay. Now, I Kong, now that we’re officially recording I want to begin by telling you very humbly that I want to give thanks for this opportunity. Because you are indisputably an iconic reggae legend with a unique sound and a deep, deep history in the music. A history, you know, that’s been going since the 1960s, and it’s a history that I believe is not discussed nearly enough. And it’s not celebrated enough. And so, in part, I hope that our discussion today that that can be a celebration of sorts of your greatest tunes. Are you still hearing me? I Kong?
The breeze is picking up, so you’re going [in and out], you’re drifting, your voice is cutting out.

Yeah so maybe that’s why we should just forget the video—and just do audio. Maybe I should hang up and try again, and just do the audio?

Okay, let’s try that. I’ll call you right back. (We disconnect and I call I Kong back.) Hey? I think this might work better. Okay. So I don’t know if you heard what I was saying when I started, which was that, I wanted to thank you for the opportunity, because you know, I believe that you are an indisputable reggae legend, and that you have a unique sound. And a very deep history in reggae since the 60s. And like I was saying, I think it’s a history that just isn’t discussed enough. It’s not celebrated enough. And so in part, I hope that when we do this interview today—this reasoning—it can be a celebration of sorts of some of your best tunes. [Y]our discography, the great songs that you’ve created over so many decades, you know, I just think that they extend much deeper and further than your very classic and righteous album, “The Way It Is.” Which I think that most people who love reggae—or are familiar with reggae—that, you know, they probably have heard of “The Way It Is,” or they associate I Kong with “The Way It Is.” But what I noticed in terms of looking at your history, is that it’s righteous and awesome. And I have many questions about “The Way It Is” album. [But] your history goes much deeper and further than that. And I’m hoping to get into some of these other songs, too.

So, you know, you have enough irie albums out there—and like I [said], your career, even though you had, as we’ll discuss and get into—there was a long hiatus or break in your career, which I have some questions about a little bit later on. You certainly have a very lengthy career in reggae music. And so it made sense to me to organize my questions in a chronological way, starting from when you were just a youth in your “short-pants” days, as I think they say. Is that okay?
Yeah man. You ask questions and I’ll try to answer them as best as I can.

Give thanks. That’s awesome. So, before even your short-pants days, and your entry into reggae, which I know you’ve said before—I believe I read before that you said, you know, it really began at a place called the “Kitty-Mat Club.” Before we discuss the “Kitty-Mat Club” though, and how you get [there], I have a few biographical questions that I couldn’t necessarily get the answers to, or I just want to confirm and just make sure the information that I saw is accurate. And the first is very basic: I understand, I Kong, that you were born “Errol Kong” [on] April 18, 1947, in Kingston. Is that accurate? I Kong?
I don’t hear nothing.

Oh you didn’t hear my quest—
I didn’t hear what you said—that last paragraph, I didn’t get it.

[I wanted to confirm that basic information,] that you were born April 18, 1947, in Kingston. Is that accurate?
Yeah, the 18th of April, 1947—Kingston, Jamaica.

And do you remember or know what hospital you were born in?
On my birth certificate it says “Jubilee Hospital.”

And how many brothers and/or sisters do you have?
I have 2 brothers. I’m the eldest child, and I have 2 brothers and 2 sisters.

Ah okay, a fairly big family. What do you remember, I Kong, about the first house that you grew up in? And where was it?
Well, initially, I remember growing up on Orange Street—

—at Mr. Hector’s house. He had a son with my aunt, so we were living at his house on Orange Street, topside near Beverley’s Records.

I was gonna ask you whether you at some point you lived close to your uncle, legendary producer Leslie Kong’s, um, you know, as you say, ice cream parlor and record shop on Orange Street—which everyone knows later became Beverley’s. And, you’ve said before I Kong that, I believe, from my research and reading, that your father owned a grocery shop that was on the corner of Benbow Street in Jonestown. Is that right?
My father’s shop was at Benbow Street—at the corner of Benbow Street in front of the dancehall, “Pioneer Lawn.” That’s in Jonestown. That’s where he had a grocery shop.

What was the grocery shop called?
Back in those days, [it was just a] Chinaman’s corner shop. Because every corner, dem Chinaman have a shop; so it was a Chinaman’s corner shop—it don’t really have no name.

And he sold groceries and all kinds of things in that shop?
No. It was primarily groceries at that time—groceries.

I see, okay. And I believe you[‘ve] said that’s where—it was in front of that dancehall that was called “Pioneer Lawn”—that that’s where you were first exposed to people like Count Matchuki—the [legendary] DJ—and [legendary producer] Coxsone [Dodd]—you know, Coxsone’s music. And that’s where you kinda first started to really have the music calling out to you. Because it was so close from that dancehall. Is that accurate?
Yes. From there at the corner of Benbow Street in front of the dancehall that was where I was [first] exposed to music—yes—as a young boy.

And I believe, I Kong, I believe you’ve also said that your father—you looked at your father as a hero? Is that true?
Yeah man. I see him as a hero, yes, because I always wondered, “How the hell this man come all the way from China, don’t know no English too tough, and end up inna Jamaica?”

(Laughing) And was your father—[did] he immigrate from China? Was he the first generation [in your family] that came over from China to Jamaica?
Well a lot of the original Chinese that came to Jamaica in that time came via Hong Kong. My father was a soldier, so he left China to Hong Kong, and then from Hong Kong to Jamaica—as I got it.

Wow. And if you don’t mind my asking, what was your father’s motivation? Why did he do that? Why did he go to Jamaica?
Well, back in the time there was much [more] opportunities per se for Chinese in [Jamaica], so, I guess, you know, he wanted to find something for his family—or for a family whenever it came. So I guess that was his opportunity of going somewhere and learning something, or getting ahead. Somehow.

And I was just curious about this—I got this sense, but I’m not sure—I don’t know all the history of it—[but] is it accurate, I Kong, is it true, as far as you’re aware, that, you know, a substantial [part of the] Chinese population in Jamaica, originally, was brought over I think through the slave trade. Is that true?
It was what?

Is that true, that a big part of the Chinese population originally brought to Jamaica was brought through the slave trade? Is that accurate?
No, no, no. Nothing like that. No Chinese were brought to Jamaica as slaves. They came just like the Indians, as um, what do you call them back in the days? Indentured servants.

Ah. Okay.
But my father wasn’t part of that. That was before my father.

Trod Along (Zion Pathway)

Bunny & Ricky – Bushweed Corntrash

Okay. Well thank you for that, because I wasn’t sure. You know, of course there’s a fairly large population of Chinese-Jamaicans, and as we’ve discussed leading up to this interview—and I’m sure we’ll get into more—I don’t think they get nearly enough credit for their contribution to the reggae history—and reggae music. And you’re part of that. And that’s part of the reason I’m so happy that we’re doing this interview. Now I Kong I wanted to ask, was your mother working also during this period as you were growing up? And if so, what kind of work did your mom do?
Come again? I don’t get that fully?

I said was—
You said something about work?

Yes. I was talking about your mom. And I was asking, during this time when you were growing up, was your mom working as well?
Was my mother working at the shop with my father? Is that what you’re asking?

I’m asking whether she was working at the shop or somewhere else? Was she working when you were growing up? What kind of work did she do, if she did work?
My mother helped my father to sell in the shop. That’s what she used to do.

Ah. Okay. And were either of your mother or father people who enjoyed music? Did they enjoy music, and if so, what kind of music did they listen to?
Well, to be truthful, neither my mother or my father were musically inclined as such. They would hear a little music—one and two [songs here and there] that would come along, but they were not really interested per se in music.

Okay. And other than your uncle, legendary producer Leslie Kong—

—[and] other than, of course, “Skunga,” your son—Shaquille, who we’ll talk about soon enough—but, other than Leslie and Skunga, is there anyone in your extended family there in Jamaica who, you know, was also into music, [and] a good singer—a good musician?
Not that I know of. Apart from Leslie and Skunga—my son—I can’t think of any other Chinese that were into music.

I Kong
And in an interview—it was probably one you did with Angus Taylor, who also does many great reggae interviews. I think that you said that you sang in church choirs as a child, though you never were officially part of a church choir, you did sing in some church choirs. Is that the first time, I Kong, that you remember singing in public? Or did you sing somewhere else in public?
Repeat for me. You crack up a little here, so I wasn’t getting the full of what you say.
Yeah, I was asking you—I said that I had read in one of your interviews with Angus [Taylor] that you sang in church choirs as a child. And so I wanted to follow up and just ask—I think you said you were not part of a church choir officially, but you did sing in them. And I wanted to ask—I am asking—is that the first time that you remember singing in public—in the church choirs?
No—from ever since I knew myself—actually people who knew me as a child said I started in the church. Because my mother’s cousin was the pastor at the Moravian Church, at the corner of North Street and Duke Street. That church is still there today. And [they] said at 4 years of age, when they would sing the church songs, on the tip of my voice—on the top of my voice—I started singing a little ditty, “Donkey Waa Water, Hold’im Joe.” Which is like a mento, calypso thing [that] we used to do in Jamaica. But I didn’t know any church songs. So I just wanted to sing, and I just sang. And they say that the whole church started laughing because I wasn’t singing a church song. I was singing “Donkey Waa Water, Hold’im Joe.” (Laughing)

(Laughing). So did you also, I was curious I Kong, did—in any of your school years—in your schooling—in the various schools that you went to in Jamaica—I believe you were at Wolmers—and you went [to] various [other] schools in Jamaica[, too]. Did you receive any musical training—did you do any singing or any musical training in those schools that you attended?
Come again. The bike—someone one is leaving on the bike, and making noise, I’m not hearing too tough. Come again.

That’s okay. You also have some dogs who are barking.
Oh, yeah.

So I was saying—I said—I was asking, in your school years, because I know that you attended various schools in Jamaica, including Wolmers—is one, I believe. But did you receive any musical training, or singing lessons, in school?
Yes. I was always active and singing in school, because that’s the only thing I really love, music. I just sing, you know?

But did the teachers there—was there actual music classes and formal training, where the teachers at your schools would teach you, you know, music, teach you how to use various instruments? Did you receive any kind of training like that—music education in school?
Well, no. At Wolmers, we had a music teacher, yes, but I didn’t pay too much mind to the music—because I just wanted to sing. But the writing part of it—I didn’t take on to that. But like the music teacher playing the piano? I could sing in perfect pitch, and key, and I would take the chords that he would change from A to G, whatever—C, F, whatever—and I could change my voice. I had that in my ear. I, up to now, I don’t read, I don’t write, I don’t play music. I only sing. My mouth is my instrument.

Respect. Now earlier, I Kong, I mentioned the “Kitty-Mat” Club, which I believe was on—I don’t know if it’s still there, but I think it was on Maxfield Avenue, which I guess must have been—
Maxfield Avenue. “Kitty-Mat” Club—Kitty. K-i-t-t-y. It’s like the kitten.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s what I said. I may not have said it clearly, but yeah, “Kitty.” “Kitty Mat.” The “Kitty-Mat” Club on Maxfield Avenue, and I—
That’s right.

—guess that must have been close to Channel One?
It was nearer to Spanish Town Road, which was—Channel One was up the top from it. So if I was coming down—if I was leaving my home, off [of] Maxfield Avenue where I lived on [17] Nelson Road, I would come to Channel One. I would walk down. And if I passed Channel One, I would pass Kitty-Mat Club. And then at the corner of Spanish Town Road and Maxfield Avenue, we had “Jo Jo” Hoo Kim—one of the brothers who form[ed] Channel One. They had the big brother that they called “Well Charge.” Ernest [Hoo Kim]. [He] was the one who had this big, big bike. I think it was one of those bigger bikes at that time—it was a Triumph. He had one of the big, big bikes, and he used to ride it—“Well Charge” was the name of the bike.

It was a motorbike, right?

Can you—
Because at the corner—

—of Maxfield Avenue and Spanish Town Road, the Hoo Kim brothers had their bike shop. They used to repair bikes and things like that.

Can you talk a moment about that “Kitty-Mat” Club and how it kind of impacted your music career? And also, as you discuss that, I was curious whether that was where you first became friends with Bunny Rugs—the late legendary, rest in peace and power, Bunny Rugs who I believe was singing there—if I’m not mistaken with a gentleman by the name of Charlie Hackett & The Souvenirs. Before he was doing stuff with Inner Circle, I think he was at the “Kitty-Mat” Club. And since I know that you and he are brethrens—you even sent me pictures of you and Bunny—[showing] how close you were with Bunny. So I was curious whether, at that Kitty-Mat Club that [that] was where you may have met him [and] became friends?
No, no, no. Bunny Rugs—when I was living in Kingston at Orange Street, Bunny was living in the area at a place called “Little North Street.” You had “North Street,” and you had “Little North Street”—which was nearer to a place called “Fletchers Land”—which was, if you go—if you know Jamaica, and you have that big park there—the George the Fifth Memorial Park—Fletchers Land is near to the southern side of the park. So Bunny Rugs used to live at Little North Street and I was living at Orange Street, as I said at Mr. Hector’s place, about three or four gates from Beverley’s ice cream parlor at the corner.

I Kong
So that’s where you and he became friends—or [first] met up?
Yeah so I remember Bunny singing like me, every day. We walked past one [another]; him a-sing, mi a-sing. So we started reasoning because of the music, of course.

I see.
And, after a while, he left and he went to the States. That’s where he went and sang with some of the guys in New York—they had a band there and he was the lead singer for it. And that’s when I reconnected with him, because other Jamaicans that I knew [that] knew him would come and say, “Rhatid, Ricky, Bunny a-sing in that group, you know, ree-ree-ree.” And mi a-say, “What? Rugs?” And they said, “Yeah.” And, you know, when he came back to Jamaica—in ’73, I think—we met at Richard Chance’s Gambling House & Club by Ligunea. Ironically, Bob Marley was there, and myself, Family Man, [and] a couple of others—musicians. Because we were waiting for the Burning Spear who was supposed to have done his Kingston debut at Richard Chance’s Club—

—& Gambling House. So we were there, but the Spear never turned up!

(Laughing) Wow!
Bob had to do two songs! So Bob actually sang. Myself and Bunny [Rugs] was there, and also Jacob Miller was there, too, if I remember correctly. But neither myself, Jacob, nor Rugs sang. Bob Marley did sing 2 songs, and then he left because you know the crowd was going really bad—dem was disappointed with Spear not coming. And then when Richard said that, the crowd went wild so Bob had to do, you know, a cameo appearance. It was pretty good.

Do you remember what 2 songs—do you remember the songs that Bob sang at all? Do you know what they were—which songs?
I don’t what to tell you a lie. I don’t remember exactly. But [they] were 2 of his songs that were being played in Jamaica at the time. Because by then The Wailers was starting to become, in ’73, household names.

Everybody knew of The Wailers—Peter, Bob, Bunny—you know? Because the 70s was really, to me, the explosion that put reggae music on the global map.

Definitely. I think it was—I often write it was the “Golden Age”—just like many people do—of the music. The 70s. Maybe a little bit the early 80s. But really the 70s, you know, late 60s. But earlier—before we—I don’t want to forget to make sure I ask you more about this though: The Kitty-Mat Club—can you talk more about the Kitty-Mat Club, and just talk more about what kind of a place was [it]? And how important was the Kitty-Mat Club in the development of your career?
Well, okay, when we were going to [the] Kitty-Mat Club, the owner at the time and presenter of the state shows, or what we would call the “club shows,”—because it wasn’t state, it was just club—was a man we called “Son Bats.” Well, Son Batts was a likeable person, a very likeable person, and he loved his Jamaican music. And he got the idea of using local talent at his club performing. So he would have girl singers, he would have boy singers, also dancers. Because dancing was big back in those days. So he would encourage us to come and sing, both boys and girls. And we liked him, because he was not a bully per se, you know? He was a very nice person, and he liked music. And he had people passing through his club, people like Drumbago. I remember Drumbago from those early times, and a couple of other musicians, you know? We also had a singing group just like “The Jamaicans”—my group. We had—they were my very good friends, also, Tommy’s good friends—all of us in The Jamaicans—they were [called] “The Falcons.” And they were an extremely good harmonizing and vocal group. Because they patterned themselves off of one of the American groups—just like most of us back in the 70s—the 60s and 70s. We all took the American groups and tried to emulate the songs that we heard, and the harmonies and things like that. So, you know, he encouraged—I think he would be—Son Batts would be, if you want to say, give him his due, I would put him in the same ranking as a man that we had named Vere Johns, who had a show called “Opportunity Knocks.”

Babylon Walls

I Kong – Sinner Man

I performed on a couple of his shows, also did most of the aspiring singers back then [such as] Alton Ellis, the different groups—

Yes, I’m well—
—he was the forerunner. Son Bats is right up there with him.

I’m so glad that you mentioned that because I’ve never heard of Son Bats, but I have heard of the Vere Johns and the competition[s] that he had. Now—
Yes. I remember those people, because as I said, as a youth I loved the music so much and anything to do with the music I’m always there. As I say, I was the only half-Chinese youth in a-dem people dere. Reasoning with dem and ting. Because they taught me so much even when they weren’t aware that they were teaching me. Because I was the likkle red-faced boy in a sea of black, you know what I mean? It sounds [tough] to put it like that, but it’s reality, that’s how we a-come. You say you don’t want me to pretty it up—me nah pretty it up.

Mi tell you how mi see it, and how mi feel it.

Give me the real deal, I Kong. But, I Kong, can you tell me before we leave this: Sun Bats—do you know how to spell—I’ll have to look it up—but how are you spelling that?
S-u-n. Sun.

S-o-n. B-a-t-s.

Ah, that easy, okay.
Some people spell it with two ‘t’s. I remember spelling it with one ‘t.’ “Bats.” Like the “bat.”

[***Author’s note: after the interview, I Kong contacted his friend and former bandmate, the legendary Tommy Cowan, and Tommy said that gentleman in question’s name is actually “Son Bass.”]

I Kong
Give thanks. Now this period of time, when you first began to sing kind of seriously, and the start of your singing career, this would have been in the early-to-mid-1960s, before you and the late Norris Weir, rest in peace, and others, would form the historic singing group [known] as “The Jamaicans.” True?
Well we formed the group, The Jamaicans, when—Norris at the time was courting a friend of ours—Garth White; his sister was Sandra White. And Norris and Sandra were, you know, boyfriend and girlfriend back in those days as youngsters. And we were living around by Trenchtown area. Because I was living off of Lyndhurst Road. And Lyndhurst Road is near to Greenwich Park Road that Rita Marley and her aunt lived on. Where you hear Bob sing, “Georgie would light the fire now,” it was Rita [Marley’s] aunt’s home—or yard—where they used to cook the corn meal porridge, fry saltfish, and ackee—and all dem tings dere. We grew up on it, because [that was] a typical Jamaican yard. Most Jamaican youth grow up among dem tings dere.

Now I read The Jamaicans—this is something I read online—and you never know if everything is accurate. So I love to chat with the people who know. I read online that The Jamaicans were initially called “The Merricoles.” M-e-r-r—
The Merricoles. M-e-r-r-i-c-o-l-e-s. Because when I formed the group, I was the—along with Norris Weir—we were, put it “co-founders.” We formed the group. But when we started the group initially, we were listening to a group back then, “Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.” So we [called ourselves initially,] “The Merricoles.”

Wow. Okay. I’m so happy I asked. Now I know you discussed this, what I’m about to ask, with Angus Taylor, and a few other interviewers: The fact that you were at sea on a ship—and I’m gonna have some questions about that—when The Jamaicans were, as everybody knows, if you know anything about The Jamaicans, and most people do know about The Jamaicans, that they were festival winners in 1967 with the enormous hit song, “Ba Ba Boom.” And I want to ask [this], but I know you were—at this time, when they won that festival, my understanding is you were at sea?
Yes. Just about, I would say maybe about four or five months before the festival time—which was in August. As you know our independence [is] the 6th of August. In ’67, when The Jamaicans won with “Ba Ba Boom,” it was Festival 5. Because we got independence [in] ’62. [So] ’67 would be Festival 5. Because we didn’t have a festival [in] ’62, the first year. No. We didn’t have nothing like that. We didn’t have no festival. So festival songs came after that. So the first song that we could have, or that we could think of [as a] festival song, per se, would be Derrick Morgan’s—for Beverley’s—“Forward March.”

Which was a big hit, too, locally. For Beverley’s [and my uncle,] Leslie [Kong].

Yeah. For sure. “Forward March.” Now I know you performed—I’m just gonna wait because I think that dog is barking a lot. I’m gonna wait for that dog to shut up—for a second. Okay I know—
You’re cutting up—come again. You crack up.

Yeah I was waiting for the dog—there’s a dog that’s barking behind you. That poor dog. (Laughing) Now, I Kong, I know that you performed, obviously, with The Jamaicans, many times. In fact, you sent me that great black and white photograph that we’re gonna make sure we publish with the interview we’re doing today.
That was as I said [when I sent you that photo] maybe the last time I performed with them. I think the band at that time was the “Ingrid Chin and the Carnations” out of Heavendale. George’s brother, Kes Chin and The Souvenirs band in Jamaica.

I-Kong - in the 60s when he was the lead singer of the Jamaicans
Yeah. Yeah. I have heard.
Well Ken was his brother, and Ken’s daughter was Ingrid Chin whose brother’s daughter became the big voice there—Tessanne Chin.

Oh wow!
Yeah, because when I was performing with The Avengers—Ingrid Chin & The Avengers as we knew it back then—Ken, the father, was the band manager, and you know, things like that. A nice brethren. And then now Ingrid was the band leader, because in those days The Avengers, before they turned into “The Avengers” they were singing as “The Carnations.” But then they were portraying themselves as an all-girl band, minus one. Because the one that was in the band who was not a girl was Ingrid’s brother who later became Tessanne’s father, Richard Chin. He was the drummer. [They] wanted Richard to wear a wig and dress, and [Richard] said “I’m not wearing no dress…”

(Laughing) So they [were] dissatisfied with him.

Threw him in the back— and they kinda shade him. (Laughing)

(Laughing) Oh my gosh. Let me ask—
(Laughing) And that’s when, you know, after that, [that] I decided to go solo. And at the same time I went solo, a friend of mine came to me and said, “Bwoy, Ricky, we a-go Nassau, because we a-sail and get work pon a ship a-Nassau. A tourist liner. And—”

Hey? Are you still there? Looks like we lost I Kong momentarily—he’s probably—I Kong? I Kong?

I’m sorry, but you dropped out for a minute and I think you were telling me how it was you came to be on the ship.
Oh yeah. Some of my schoolmates who, you know—back in dem days dere, my brother, we share everything we had. And we grew up that way dere. So dem say dem have a contact where they can work pon a tourist liner in Nassau. So I say, “Unnuh leff mi?” But dem say: “Well Ricky, you who can’t swim.” Mi say, [dat nuh seh]. Dem say, “Yes.” Mi say, “Well, mi a-come.” So we went. We went to Nassau. We took the interview, and about 4 or 5 of us in that little group, we were all accepted to work on this tourist liner, which in the World War II was a tourist boat. Sorry, not a tourist boat, a hospital boat.

In the war they you used to have the soldiers and they, you know—

—would be carrying them from this port to that port and ting. Because the name of the ship was the “Yarmouth Castle.”

The “Armored Castle?”
Yarmouth. Y-a-r-m-o-u-t-h.

Oh. Yarmouth. Yeah.
Yeah. Yarmouth Castle. And the sister ship was “Yarmouth.” So we had the “Yarmouth Castle,” and the “Yarmouth.” Two sister ships. They were registered in Panama, because at that time, Panama dem never have to pay no—what you would call tax—

Duties? The “duties” maybe?
Duties. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. That’s right.

Now I Kong, let me just stop you for a second and just ask something which I’m dying to ask, which is just—and I’m sorry to interrupt you, but did you—
Go ahead. Go ahead.

—did you—before you got on that ship—before you moved [into] the ship—and I’m gonna have some questions about your time on the ship, and why you were on the ship and all that—but before you get on the ship, I’m just—it was kind of vague when I’m reading about your history. [And] so I just want to clarify this. Did you record any songs professionally before you got on that ship, and did you record any songs, period, with The Jamaicans that we should know about?
Well we recorded a couple of other songs when—well, not a couple we did—we did practically a whole damn album. Because Aston McKeachron, who was a Jamaican-Canadian had met us, and he said, “Boys, you guys are great, you know? Unnuh come like The Drifters or The Temptations. So I’m gonna take you to Coxsone and get some studio time.” So he took us to Coxsone—the whole group. The five of us. And we recorded about 13 or 15 songs, [and] I never heard one yet.

So they’re just sitting on a shelf somewhere? I think I remember reading this in your interview with Angus. But they’re sitting somewhere, who knows where. But so, even though you did record with [The Jamaicans], none of those [songs you recorded with them] were ever released—as far as you know?
That’s right. And I did the lead vocals on those 15 songs [that were never released].

And did you—I’m sure you must be very disappointed that that was never released.

image host
The Jamaicans with lead singer Errol Kong.

(Laughing) Yeah. Right. By the way—it’s crazy, I Kong, you and I have discussed this before today’s interview. This is the only kind of business where I think these kind of things happen—in the reggae world—where, you know, some great gems of music are sitting on some shelf or [in] someone’s back parlor somewhere. [Collecting] dust. They’ve never been released. By these great artists—

You see these [sad] stories all the time. [I]t’s unfortunate. Let me ask also though—just to clarify—did you, before you get on the ship, did you record any songs as “Ricky Storm”—your stage name [that you had] before you became “I Kong?” Did you—I know—I’m gonna ask you, as you know, about singles [you recorded] when you come back from off of the ship. But before you get on that ship, did you record any singles?

Okay. Now—
No. We were doing mostly club dates. We were singing in the clubs all over Jamaica. All over the North Coast. We sang at all of these clubs, because we were—truthfully, looking [back] at it now, as an old boy looking back pon dem tings there, we were a classic group just like The Paragons and all dem other groups before. We, The Jamaicans, were classy youth. Well-dressed. We were always well dresse[d]. We always had good costumes. And we always had good harmonies, and we had great singers. We still have them. We have always been this type of people, so yeah, we never recorded but we were one of the most popular groups in Jamaica singing at that time.

‘Nuff respect. ‘Nuff respect, I Kong. And now—so let me ask about [your time] on this ship now. I understand that you were on the ship for 3 years. And there were some things that stuck out to me when I learned about this time of yours on the ship that I have to ask about. Because first of all, I understand—I’m just gonna throw out a few things and let you respond. Like I was [saying], I think you were on the ship for 3 years. And I understand you were a junior bartender, a watchman, and you also sang on the ship. And then I was kind of amused and laughing when I read that you told Angus [Taylor] that this was all very dangerous for you, because you don’t know how to swim. (Laughing)
Yeah, that’s—actually we were on the “Yarmouth” when we—I got this vision that we were on the ship and the ship s[u]nk. So I tell my friends, I say “Whatcha! When I get a dream it comes true, you know?”

So we went on the sister ship which was [called] the “Yarmouth Castle.” I think that the Yarmouth Castle was the one that—when we went back, because we were back-and-forth. We went back to the Yarmouth, [and then] when we heard that the Yarmouth Castle sank! (Laughing)

(Laughing) Oh my gosh. Now I Kong, I have to ask. I know this—I want to ask this, which is, how is it possible, living on an island like Jamaica, that you never did learn to swim?
Yo man, mi have a fear of sharks, you know? For every time mi go inna the water, they come in a situation around me. And 2 sharks is a very serious. Mi would just splash up in the water. As a matter of fact, I would walk in the water until the water reach me under mi neck.

And then you’re done, that’s it?
When the water comes to the shore, it splashes away the sand [and] goes back out—so, I found that out. So what I did, when I stand up and the water is coming in, I start automatically walking backwards. So I would go on to higher ground. So when the sand is washed away, it doesn’t affect me. That’s how a lot of people drown. Because they fight, and they’re taking on water, and the water goes into them, and that’s it.

I see. Now let me ask, during that time at sea—I think you explained that one of the reasons why you went—you were saying that you wanted to go travel. Which many people do when they’re young.

And so when you traveled, you went to, you know—I think you [said] to apply for the job you went to the Bahamas—to Nassau. But [during] your time at sea, what countries did you end up traveling to?
Well we had a 3-day cruise and a 4-day cruise. So we would do Freeport, Grand Bahamas, Nassau, and Miami.

Wow. Okay.
So we had a 3-day cruise and a 4-day cruise.

What did you do in Miami? Did you get off of the ship in Miami, and did you have fun?
Yes! You want to get off and carry your clothes to the Chinese [who] were running the laundromats in Miami in those times. And of course they had little Chinese restaurants, and we love China food from Jamaica. So we would go and we would meet the China people dem, and they were nice. We talked to them and back then there wasn’t any animosity towards Chinese back then. I mean, in Jamaica, of course, “China nyam dog” is [like] a song. But I want to tell you something about “Chinaman nyam dog”: most people as Kingstonians who went to the Carib Theatre, after Carib Theatre, we would walk down past Carib and go down like where they have a store named “Courts” right now. And going down Crossroads, there was this man named Burton. Burton used to cook dog!

Now let me ask, I Kong—it was just a few months—I was shocked kinda by this, because this single is so wicked, and of course, you know, this ends up being the title track of your best known album later [on]—which is that—it’s just a few months, I think, after you came back from sea—[having] stopped working on that ship—that, in 1972, that you record[ed] the original .45—the original single of “The Way It Is” under your then-stage name “Ricky Storm” for Tommy Cowan’s “Top Cat” label. True?
Correct. Correct. What happened was that—when I—I actually—Jah gave me that song when I was going [to] Wolmers school at that time. And I think—we got independence [in] 1962. I think we formed The Jamaicans—“The Merricoles,” you know, back in those times—I think it was the year after Independence. So it would have been about 1963 [that] we formed The Jamaicans. And when we were singing—rehears[ing]—because I was the leader for The Jamaicans, I was both the group leader and the lead singer. I was a strict man with discipline. When you come on to my rehearsals, whether you have girlfriend, wife, or nothing, when it’s rehearsal [time], it’s rehearsal [time]. Girlfriend and wife haffi go home dem because we a-rehearse. And we nah left. We a-rehearse. And it’s hours [rehearsing] morning, noon, and night. One of the times we ended up at the cemetery. Because [people were complaining about our singing]. They didn’t have much respect for we in dem times dere. Because dem did believe seh it’s only the R&B singers and soul singers that [were popular]—the sounds that [were] coming out of Miami [at that time]. That’s why so many producers and local Jamaican singers started imitating—or trying to imitate—the American Blues singers, the R&B singers, the soul singers. [Like] the great Mahalia Jackson—was a very famous and popular lady in Jamaica. Every church people wanted to sing like Mahalia Jackson.

I Kong - Way It Is
Yeah. And I hear from many people that I’ve interviewed that that’s exactly the case, as you say, about the music back then. But I was shocked—
It’s formative from the church, of course. At some time or the other, we went to church—with your parents, your grandparents, your auntie, your uncle—you go to church. So when you a-go to church, it’s church-time, you a-sing. That is how I tell you at 4 years of age, I didn’t know no church songs. So the only song I know was “Donkey Waa Water, Hold’im Joe.”
Well I was shocked when I listened to “The Way It Is,” that you were able to—that single—the original 1972 one, that you were able to come with that, you know, after having been at sea—you weren’t even really—I understand you were maybe doing singing while you were on the ship a bit.

But you know, that’s not a professional—it doesn’t sound like you were doing that in a professional way on the ship. So for you to come back, and come out with that single—which is so wicked—and I’m curious because you say that Jah gave you that song at Wolmers—can you expand a bit?
Right. In the 60s. When I was going to Wolmers in the 60s. I remember coming from school one evening—well, when I say “evening” that way, I [mean] Wolmers [would get out] at either 10 past 2 or 10 past 1, so I would reach home—I had my group to rehearse, I would reach home, the latest I’d say [would be] 2 o’clock. So when I reach my gate, and [go] to open the gate, it’s like I hear [a] record playing in my head. And I hear the group in the back [starting] to rehearse. And I opened the gate, and [as I] moved, the record done play in my head. And from then, I just go and I say, “What’s up? Mi have a new song, you know?” And I have a beer. Eat some food. And we go out and we start rehearsing. So we had been sitting with this song, with the group, from then, in the 60s. But I didn’t record it until Tommy Cowan’s Top Cat label came to me, [in] 1972, when I did it. The backing band was the Inner Circle band. Ibo Cooper was on keyboards—[on] the original, the .45. But the keyboard player on the album version [of “The Way It Is,”] which is twice as long as the 1972 version, was Robert Lyn.

I’m so happy you mentioned that. Now also, to confirm, you did this, I believe—Tommy [Cowan] was working with Byron Lee at the time, so the studio that you recorded the [original “The Way It Is”] single in was Dynamics—
Dynamics [Studios].

And is it also accurate [that] the legendary Stephen “Cat” Coore—he played guitar on that original “The Way It Is” single. Is that accurate?
No. No. No. He played the guitar on “The Way It Is” album [in] 1978.

Ah. I see. Who played guitar on the ’72 version [of “The Way It Is”]?
On the ’72 version it was—I think it was—it it’s not [Bunny Rugs], it [was] Hux Brown.

Ah, okay—wow. Now before we get to “The Way It Is” album which you just said came out in—I think there’s some confusion over this—whether it was in 1978 or ’77, or ’76—
We started recording the album [in] late 1977. Either [in] October or November. And we finished it [in] 1978. It was released in 1978[, too.] All dem who say it was ’79, dem not know what dem a-talk about. Mi sing on the record. Mi produce it. Mi know.

I believe YOU. Now before we—

(Laughing) Now before we get to “The Way It Is Album” though, there are a few singles [that you released I want to discuss]. “The Way It Is Album” is recorded underneath your name—your present stage name, “I Kong.” But there are a few other singles that you recorded under the name “Ricky Storm.” And you did these for both Warwick Lyn and Lee Scratch Perry. Songs that, as I said, were released under the name “Ricky Storm.” And some of these songs are just so wicked. And I just don’t know—they’re so—we’re gonna talk about them. And I have some specific questions about them. And even just this morning or, you know, the other day, you and I were having a back-and-forth about this. Because, for example, two of the Warwick Lyn songs—there’s the song that’s called “Dunny Dun” that you recorded as Ricky Storm. And also this song—this jewel, this gem—[a] beauty! I was listening to this all this morning. Because you sent it to me last night, and I was too tired and I didn’t even want to—
“Cuban Cutlass?”

Yeah. The “Cuban Cutlass.” You sent me this file—the music file, because I said, the reason why you ended up sending me the music file is, because I searched online after having read about this song coming out in 1973, I think.
That’s right.
And then I looked high and low online. And I said, wait. On YouTube—nowhere. No one has ever put out this “Cuban Cutlass.” And so then I said, “Hey I Kong, what’s up with that?” And then you sent me this beautiful musical file. And before I forget, I want to just ask, you know, today—first I want to mention something. And also ask something. My good friend, who many people know in the reggae world, because he has a fabulous reggae radio show that he does every single week—on Saturday[s] he puts out 4 ½ hours of reggae music. Every single week. And he inherited this show from [the legendary] Keith Rowe, from the very famous [duo], “Keith & Tex.”
Aha! I remember, Keith. (Laughing)

Yes. And so this is—I love Keith, you know. And I love Tex.
[They sing] “Stop that Train—”

(Singing) “Stop that train, I want to get on—”

Exactly. And so, Selecta Jerry, he asked because he knew I was going to interview you today—because I often tell him—we often communicate about stuff, and I tell him people I’m gonna interview. And I mentioned to him how I—we’re gonna talk about it—but I mentioned to him how I started listening to [your tune] “Motherless Child” with Judy Mowatt—which I don’t want you to tell me anything about yet, because I’m gonna ask about it specifically [later]. But I said “Listen, Selecta, I listened to this ‘Motherless Child’ song like 15 times. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s just so wicked. It gives me the chills. I love it.” And then he said, I Kong, as I mentioned to you I think maybe before today, that he’s going to play that song today—that song that you did on your “Pass It On” album, which we’re gonna get to; [he’s going to play] the first song [on that album “Pass It On”], “Motherless Child”—[a] wicked collaboration that you did with your childhood friend, Judy Mowatt—[whom] we’re gonna talk a lot about later. But he said he’s gonna play that song today, [and] so I thought that was great, wicked vibes. And then also, because he did that, I forwarded him—I hope it’s okay with you. But I sent him a copy. I forwarded him that “Cuban Cutlass,” and he listened to it, too. And he thought it was also wicked. And he asked—he’s gonna try and see if he can download it from his phone somehow—but he wanted to know, is it okay for him to play that song on his show? And also, is it okay for me to ask my [publishers] at Reggae-Vibes to please put a link or somehow include that music file [of] that beautiful song which I have a few questions about—“Cuban Cutlass.” Is it okay for us to, you know, put that song out there? Because I think a lot of people should know about it.
Yeah, of course, why not? Look, my brother, from mi born, mi a-get robbed, mi a-get thieved, mi a-get abused inna this record business. And it’s my love for it, and the gift for the Father give I. Because if it wasn’t for Jah, mi wouldn’t have a voice. Because Jah gave me this voice. And all mi ever want inna my life is [to] sing. Because when I sing, I not only sing songs to elevate people—man—I sing to also address myself. And to aid—soothe my sorrows and my likkle pains and things. Because ‘nuff man see I and know I over the years, but dem don’t know my pain—my suffering. My music helps me.

‘Nuff respect. Now I Kong, “Cuban Cutlass”—the song “Cuban Cutlass”—let me just say, so there are just some wicked lyrics [in that song]. I mean, you’re talking about “How can you live pretending you don’t see, when the truth is as simple as A-B-C.” And, you know, you mention how “the smiling faces are lying.” And you need to beware of your so-called brothers who betray you for a fistful of dollars. And yes they’ll talk ‘I love you, neighbor, when they’re reaping the fruits of thy labor.”
Of thy labor—sure.

“And yes they shall weep. Weep for the sins they sow.” This is song is so wicked, and I wanted to ask first of all, why is it called “Cuban Cutlass?” I love it. But why did you name it “Cuban Cutlass?”
Here, in Jamaica, we have the “Cuban Cutlass” which is a cutlass, or as them call it the “Panya Cutlass.” “Panya” as in Panama. So Cuban Cutlass we know it locally inna Jamaica, because a Cuban cutlass is sharpened on both sides.

Ah. I see.
It’ll chop you. If you chop down, it’ll chop you; if you chop up, it’ll chop; both sides sharpened. That’s the Cuban cutlass. A lot of people [were] saying, “Bwoy, you a-bash the Cubans.” [No]. Nothing like that. As a matter of fact, Uncle Fidel—that’s how I call him—Fidel Castro—Raul Castro’s brother, was and still is one of the 2 people that I highly rate in this world that Jah create. The other one is Patrice Lumumba. The man from [the Congo]—the President of [the Democratic Republic of Congo].

Now though is the cutlass—let me follow up though—because is the cutlass, you know, the double-sidedness of the cutlass, is that a way to kinda show the Judas-nature of certain people, backbiter[s], the people who smile in your face, but—
Exactly. Exactly.

‘Nuff respect. Now let me ask you this, and thank you so much for sending me this “Cuban Cutlass” [song]. I can’t wait to share it with the world. And I—
I have “Dunny Dun,” [too]. But I’m gonna get it downloaded, and think I’ll send it to you—I have it on a disk—a CD.

Yeah, please do.
I’m gonna get it—I’m gonna see if I can get it off and send it to you, and also, so you can send it to the other brethren dem.

Ricky Storme – Cuban Cutlass

Ricky Storm – Dunny Dun

Good! Yes, I will. And then also—go ahead.
Because what happened, when I recorded “The Way It Is,” the original “The Way It Is” [in] 1972, “Cuban Cutlass” and “Dunny Dun” were second and third; I don’t remember in which order it was—second and third of the “Ricky Storm years.” Because as “Ricky Storm,” I only recorded about 7 or 8 singles.

Including “Follower,” which you reminded I of.

Yeah that song you weren’t happy with that got put out.
Right. Right.

Well let me just say, please do send me “Dunny Dun” and let me make this pitch to you, I’m gonna make this pitch to you, I Kong—I already wrote it much later in my notes, but I might as well say it to you now, which is: My hope, my brethren, is that, you know, today we’re breaking the ice, we had a little bit of technical difficulties in terms of recording this interview. But you have so much history, and so many great tunes, and songs, and things regarding Jamaican music history that are so important to talk about. And we can’t do it all in one day because it’ll just be too much information—too long—but my hope is that you’ll agree to do another interview with me at some future point where we’ll fill in the gaps of some missing things. Like “Dunny Dun.” Because then I’ll have time to listen to “Dunny Dun” and be able to ask you ‘nuff questions about it—about the lyrics and things like that. And there are gonna be some songs which I’ll tell you at the end—and [whole] albums even—which we can’t really touch upon with any great depth, just because there’s so much music to talk about. So I Kong, will you—I’m not asking you to commit—but will you maybe be willing to agree that we’ll end up having to talk again about some of these things?
As long as I’m healthy—and Jah give me life, and I’m here—I will.

Give thanks, my brother.
That’s not a commitment, that’s just “the way it is.”

Oh (laughing). “No one knows when the Father’s gonna come.”

Now let me ask, as far as I’m aware—again, you know, “Dunny Dun,” I just want to make sure everyone knows, but again, that’s another [great] song. And so again I’m so happy—I don’t think these songs exist on the internet. [And] probably only a few collectors have these recordings [i.e. “Dunny Dun” and “Cuban Cutlass”] in their collections. And it’s so good that the reggae world at-large can get a chance to hear them, and dissect them, and understand this deep history that Errol Kong [aka] I Kong, [and] Ricky Storm has in this business. [*Author’s note: after the interview, the author learned both “Dunny Dun” an “Cuban Cutlass” have, in fact, been uploaded to the internet on YouTube such that anyone can listen to them whenever they want—for free.] Around the same time period, you also recorded a very wicked song, and 4 years ago someone uploaded this song to the internet. And we need to talk about it, because I think there’s either some either misinformation on the label of the song that was uploaded, or some kind of confusion about the song. The song I’m talking about is the very, very wicked song [called] “Zion Pathway.” And so—

“Zion Pathway” is such a wicked song. And we’re gonna talk about “Zion Pathway.” And as I said, someone 4 years ago uploaded this song to YouTube—to the internet—under the name “Trod Along.” And [so] there’s [also] an alternative song name—and on that label—this version that’s on the internet, has a dub version to it, too, and I sent—I think I sent this to you I Kong. And on that label, it says that [the late, legendary] Pat Kelly was the engineer. But you told me that’s not so.
[It’s] not so. Pat Kelly and I had been friends for years and years—like most of the other musicians and singers. But Pat Kelley did never no work for I. I recorded that song at Channel One [Studios]. And the engineer was one of the Channel One dem brethren there—I can’t give you [the name]. But it was a young youth. He was a good brethren, too. And all of these—hear it from me: From the day one, you know, most people never want to admit seh, a China-youth could sing dem roots music.

Yeah. It’s such a shame.
All of my life. All of the great musicians dem always say, “Ricky, you know seh, if you [were] Black, you [would have made] it [a] long time [ago].”

There was this Rastaman that when I was a young boy, I used to go up on Bernard Lodge, and up on Wareika Hill. Because mi did love the badness—still love the badness—[and] most of my friends dem was hotsteppers. And dem used to carry me with dem up, way up in a Wareika Hill. And they would say, “You see bad man? Bad man love music, you know?” I have known a lot of bad men inna my life, and all of dem love music. One of my best friends—a lot of people dem probably don’t even know this—because dem no realize man-a-man. So, inna Jamaica, mi a-grow amongst JLP and PNP. When I was a youth, I grow up amongst the majority of my friends dem was PNP, but I also had a lot of labourites [who were my friends too]. And one of my greatest friends, who we never even talk politics, yet he was a politician. And him was a bad man. But to me, he was my best friend. I don’t even call him a friend, he was more like a big brother to me, him was a don. Him was a bad man. Him was a JLP leader, Claude Massop.

Oh, wow.
Claude. Claude was the leader when I was a young, young likkle boy, of a gang named “Phoenix.” And he was one of the very few bad man dem in my time who said, “Ricky, you know seh, you can sing.” ‘Cause him did love music. Him love music. That’s why I tell you, bad man love music. Every bad man mi know love music. But Claude was one of the few people back inna those days who always said to me, “Ricky, you know seh, you have to record dem songs.” Because him always hear me a-sing. When mi a write my songs, mi no write pon paper—because I lost a book with about 5,000-6,000 songs, [so] I start[ed] to keep them inna my head.

I Kong - Trod Along
I was gonna ask you that, coming up—I was gonna ask you that later on in the interview. But I think that you just said that you don’t write down any of your song lyrics—when you do song-writing? Is that what you just said?
Yeah, because I used to write 1000s of songs. And after I lost that book, mi just write inna my head. And most times mi write songs inna my head, it’s me and Jah—because mi talk to Jah. Like when mi a-do the “Little Walk” album, and the “Pass It On” album, most of those songs, it’s in the studio mi did write the lyrics; me and Jah—because mi just say, “Jah put some words inna my mouth.” And him do it! And the songs dem just turned out. Because mi ask and Him give.
Now let me ask though, to go back to “Zion Pathway,” you know that song comes back later on your album which we’ll get to, “The Forgotten Man” album, which I’ll have a few questions about. But to me the lyrics to “Zion Pathway” are really, really special, and that’s why—and they speak to me. Especially the opening which is so irie, and so righteous, and that’s why I truly believe what you’re saying—that God—or Jah—put these words right into your mouth. Because—let me just, if it’s okay with you, I’m gonna read just for the record, and also, just to see if you think I have it accurate: [In] the beginning of “Zion Pathway” you sing, “Come along brothers and sisters, trod along Zion’s pathway. If you are troubled in spirit, thou shall not enter there. For no man knows it when the Father comes. One can’t predict it like the setting of the sun. Life—life ain’t no bed of roses. We’ve all got to take our chances.” So to me this is really such an important message that, you know, [everyone] should really try to internalize—[those] lyrics that I just read that I really think are quite beautiful. And this is actually right where I was gonna ask—[but] you already answered it—I was gonna ask about your songwriting process. Because you say that Jah tells you what to sing. And I want to [ask], you know, could you expand on that for some of these songs like “Zion Pathway,” and “The Way It Is,” and you know, all the songs on “The Way It Is” album, with the exception of that one song which I know you’ve said you didn’t write, the song “I Wish,” which I think is a church—
“I Wish.”

Yeah. Which is a church song—
Max Romeo recorded it on his “Reconstruction” album—two songs I wrote for Max. That one—and that one I thought I did. [The other song was: “Poor Man’s Life.”]

Right. But can you give some guidance—these songs—their lyrical content is so great. And so I wanted to see if you might be able to give some guidance, or some thoughts to young songwriters of today who—you know, how can they learn to create such meaningful lyrics, such as those that are in “Zion Pathway?” How can they do it?
Look, it, to me, it’s all about the way I grow and the way I feel for my people dem. Because no matter way, Jamaican people are the greatest people Jah put pon this earth—Jamaicans. We are the greatest people. The only pity is that the vast majority of us don’t know it. So we play the fool and the stupid things—

You know who told me the exact same thing? Your friend, Duckie Simpson, told me the exact same thing.

(Laughing) He made sure I was aware Jamaicans are the best [at] everything. Let me ask though with your lyrics—I don’t mean to be a stickler about this, but I do want to just ask about it. At some point though, don’t you need to put the lyrics down? You know, the lyrics come to your head—they come from Jah. But at some point you have to put them on paper. And I know you said you used to have a book where you used to write them down. Then you lost the book. And then now you don’t want to write [the lyrics to your songs] down anymore. But at some point, even with the songs that you come up with, at some point you have to put them on paper, right? Or no?
No, not really, because it’s one thing that the Father blessed me with, you know? Even the teachers dem at school used to tell me, dem say, “Ricky, you have a hell of a memory, you know?” I only have to think about the song, and it come back to me.

I Kong - The Way It Is
Nice, nice. Now I Kong, before finally getting to “The Way It Is” album—I keep dancing around [it], but we’re gonna get to it. Before we get to it, there are still two more other songs, two other incredibly stupendous tunes that you released [also] under the name “Ricky Storm.” [Songs] you did with your dear friend—the late legendary Bunny Rugs—that we have to talk about. You did these [also] with the late legendary [producer] Lee “Scratch” Perry. And of course I’m talking about both “Freedom Fighter,” and then “Bushweed & Corntrash.” Now I want to ask first about “Bushweed & Corntrash,” if it’s okay, [released] in 1975. So this song “Bushweed & Corntrash,” you told Angus [Taylor]—and this is a quote from you: “We did that song because we used to smoke so much that people used to tease us as pure ‘Bushweed & Corntrash’ because we used to smoke the herb in the corn trash.” Right?
Yes, that’s true. I used to smoke along with Bunny Rugs. Because by that time, Bunny was living at my house. And we used to smoke a hell of a lot of herb. And we used to smoke the herb inna the corn trash.
But you have to—let me ask you this, because I think this is something where a Jamaican—where an American like me is wishing—I’m constantly wishing I could be Jamaican—I have Jamaican-envy. But because I’m not Jamaican, sometimes things are going over my head. And in America, like we don’t have—when you say “corn trash,” what do you mean by that? Is that a Jamaican thing? What’s a “corn trash?”
The corn trash is the leaf—the thing that—the trash that the corn—that green thing that you take off—

The stalk of the corn?
Right! That cover [of] the corn [that] you eat.

So, in Jamaica, are you saying that there was a place where people would throw the [corn] stalks, and you and Bunny [Rugs] would go and smoke weed there?
When Bunny and myself would walk pon the road and we’d see a man who a-sell corn—because they sell wild corn, rose corn. So when you strip off the trash and they throw it away. And we’d just come along and we’d just take up any amount we want to take up. Because we’d smoke it with the herb, so—

—it was clean.

So are you saying that the corn stalk—is that what you used to smoke the weed in? Like as a rizla? Like as [rolling] papers?
Yes. Exactly so. That’s it.

Ah. Got you! Okay. (Laughing)
Also chocho leaf.

Ah, okay. Now I understand. This song though by the way, “Bushweed & Corntrash,” it’s also about poverty in the ghetto because it has that lyric in it that really kind of stuck out to me, which is: “Just like a young tree that’s thirsting for water, I can’t find a quarter to give to my daughter.”
Yes, because you see—finish what you were saying.

Well then the song goes on, and you [sing] “The small man has no tough, has no flame, so Babylon’s man controls the game.”
Yeah, you see, even right now when dem claim say they legalize ganja—and I agree with Peter Tosh, there is no such thing as ‘ganja,’ it is herb. ‘Cause can no one man can “gan-jah.” So it’s not “gan-ja.” It’s herb.

(Laughing) Got you.
(Laughing) Yeah. Herb is the healing of the nation.

And dem say they legalize herb now. But what them actually do is take away the wealth from the poor man and give it to the rich man—again.

That’s what I want to ask you about next—exactly that. I’m gonna ask you 2 things about that. The first is, in 2019, when I interviewed your close brethren, legendary singer Max Romeo, I asked him then—at that time—about his new song, “The Farmer’s Story.” And I don’t know if you had the time—but I may have sent you the video of it. But he made that with his son, Azizzi—whom you may know—and at that time Max told me regarding marijuana decriminalization in Jamaica: “They’re getting the small farmers to work for the big farmers. It’s been that way all along.” And he said—
Of course!

—“The small farmers don’t get nothing. Everything goes in the pocket of the big farmers. [And] you’re still getting your herb burned in the fields. And you’re still getting the youth being arrested for herb. It’s like one step forward, two steps back.” That was what—
Of course.

And you see, Stephen, hear this, all the I-and-I who dem claim seh are roots rock singers, we are messengers. And we are on the ground, and we are seeing reality. So we speak the truth. Babylon don’t like truths because dem want to control. Now when dem tell you seh who or what is a con. That is it, you know? And if you check out the dictionary, the vast majority of words that start with “C-O-N”—check it out and [you’ll] see something.

For sure. Let me ask you though, what’s your observation being in Jamaica about now—you know, we’re 4 years later—when I interviewed Max it was 2019, and his song about the farming and the exploitation of the farmers—really of all crops, but definitely of marijuana, you know, being exploited by these bigger commercial interests. And also about how, back then, in 2019, [Max] was saying people were still being hassled by the cops for herb. And that, you know, things are still not happening correctly, even if Jamaica took the step to decriminalize marijuana. Since you’re there “on the ground,” as you say, and a roots singer, too, what’s your observation about the state of marijuana in Jamaica today? Has it gotten any better since I talked to Max 4 years ago? Or is it still the same?
Well Max stay Jamaican just like I. Because we can’t lose the militancy. Because it’s truth we talk. And we love our people. Whether them Black, them blue, them pink, or them striped like the zebra. As long as dem is Jamaicans, we love dem. We love dem. We no care what anybody want to say, we love our people. [That being said,]” we a-change. There’s a change in administration to what people a-deal with the herb. But the realities of herb for the poor man—herb is a medicine, you know, my brother? And herb is not just fe smoke and blow out smoke. Herb is to meditate. And when you meditate, you draw closer to Jah.

I Kong - Black Echoes review
‘Nuff respect. ‘Nuff respect. Now let’s talk for a second—let’s talk for a moment about—let’s turn to your other super-blazing fire tune that you did with Bunny [Rugs], for [Lee] Scratch [Perry], the one called “Freedom Fighter.” I believe you said Scratch gave you a cassette tape that had Junior Byles’s “Beat Down Babylon” rhythm on it. And he asked you to write a tune pon it. Is that true—is that what happened?
Yeah, that’s exactly what happened. We were leaving, so he walked us to the gate. And him say, “Rhatid! Ricky!” Him always go through his tapes dem, Scratch. That’s one thing with Scratch, him keep go through him tapes dem. And him go through him tapes, and him come up and him find this riddim. And him say him hear me and Bunny with the riddim him find. Because Scratch [was] like that. So him say, “Ricky, mi know, you’re a quick writer, you and Bunny a-link, write some lyrics tonight, and tomorrow night come with it. And that’s what we did, we stayed up the whole striking night.

And I believe that you told [reggae interviewer] Angus [Taylor], though, that you did about 80 % of the writing [of] that song, and the other 20 % was Bunny and Scratch?
Right. I did about 90 % or 80 % of that song; the other 10 or 20 % was Scratch and Bunny. Because Scratch come a-way, ‘nuff tunes he write—I mean, when I say “write,” him juke-in a-lyrics [like] he did with Bob [Marley]—“Soul Rebels” and all dem tunes dere. You see Scratch is really a genius, you know, my brother? Can’t nobody go around him—

I agree.
—and [some] say “Scratch is an idiot” or “Scratch is that—” Scratch [was] a genius!

I 100 % agree. And I think that his very close brethren, Larry McDonald—of course, the best conga player in the world—one of the best [hand-]drummers that there is—
Of course.

Larry McDonald
—Larry McDonald—I think he said to me that it’s unfortunate that a lot of people—that, you know, when Scratch became very eccentric, that his eccentric ways that they kinda overshadowed—you know a lot of people didn’t realize his musical genius because they were distracted by some of the things that he did that were kinda out there. But at the end of the day he was one of the most important musical figures—one of the most important people that existed in in any genre of music. Period. Let me ask you though about this other song “Freedom Fighter.” Because it’s such a wicked song. It’s so wonderful. The lyrics are so great—all of them. But there is a part of the song that I want to make sure I confirm with you, because again, it could be a thing where, as an American who wants to be a Jamaican, [I’m] maybe not understanding everything [I’m] hearing. Let me confirm with you. So in the song you [start off] sing[ing], “I & I must beat down Babylon.” But then in the song you [sing] “I & I a freedom fighter, it’s time for a real-change Rasta.” Is that true?
Of course. Up to this day.

True. I just wanted to make sure that you were saying “[real-]change Rasta,” and you are; that’s accurate.
Yeah man. Because you see, in life, you know my brother, every time you take a road in life, that road not necessarily lead you to where you did want to go, or where you think you want to go, you know? Because that road in life will lead you to—when you reach the end of that journey of that road in life, you say “But Rhatid, [this isn’t where I want to go].” So you turn back. It reminds me [that] life’s road is like the fingers of the hand, you know? The five fingers you have on [your] hand. So if you take this little finger, and you try this road here, and you reach the end, [then] you retract your steps and go to the next one—and so forth and so forth until you find life’s road, you know? Life’s road teach[es] you things—and it bring[s] you to reality.

So wise. When you think about that work that you did for Scratch with Bunny, what sticks out the most in your memory about recording at the Black Ark, and how did Scratch treat you back then? What’s your memory about that? What [sticks] out in your mind?
Well, I’ll tell you something, I learned so much from that likkle man, you see—and mi a likkle man, too.

But if I was to have paid someone to teach I the things that I learned from Mr. [Scratch]—just by being in the studio, watching him, spending hours—I couldn’t pay any price for it; I learned so much from that man.

Did you see him—I know he later lived in Europe, mostly, towards the end of his life especially. But he would often travel to Jamaica, you know, you could see pictures on his social media about that. Did you ever run into him in his later years of life? Did you ever see Scratch, and get a chance to talk to him again?
Well the last time I spoke with Scratch in depth—[for] any length of time—was when I did his 80th birthday celebration inna I think France—or Montreal?—one of dem places dere; I think it’s France. I was the only artist [who attended] from the [original] Black Ark Studio [days] who performed at that birthday celebration.

Wonderful—Wow. Beautiful.
I really re-connected with the likkle genius, because we remember so many [times] that he and I smoked—

(Laughing) —so we laughed about it. But back then it was serious.

Now on top of the extensive interviews that you’ve done with Angus Taylor, you know, where he actually stayed at your house in Jamaica for like 2 weeks—I think you told me—he published an article that’s called “I Kong & Mikey Lee…”—he’s published a lot of things about you, but [this one was] called “I Kong & Mikey Lee: The Making of ‘The Way It Is Album.’”

He did that to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the release of the album. And every I Kong fan should read that article which mashes up your and Jah Mikes’s recollections about the making of “The Way It Is Album.” And I just today though want to pick up on a few things [you told Angus], and ask a few [additional] questions I have about some of the 15 tracks—8 songs and 7 dubs—[that are on that historic album]. Now I Kong I’ve already told you this, but I want to reiterate for the official record of this interview, because I truly mean it: There are no tracks on “The Way It Is” album—none of the 15 tracks on that album—are any that you can skip; every single track on the album is crucial, so wicked, so wonderful—including the dubs. And before today’s interview I asked you to take some photos of the front and the back covers of the physical copy that you have of “The Way It Is Album.” The front cover image—that already exists of course on the internet, but the image of the back cover of the album—that has all the musicians, and backup singers, and credits—I’m gonna try to see if I can do some photo editing, and zoom-in. So when we publish that photo, everyone can see all of the musicians, and backup singers, and engineers, and people that [contributed] to “The Way It Is Album.” Because I don’t think that that back image of the album has ever been published before. And I think reggae fans will be thrilled to see that, because if you study the names of the musicians and backup singers on “The Way It Is Album,” your head—it won’t just spin—it’ll explode. If you’re a reggae fan.

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I Kong.
You dropped many of the legendary names when you spoke to Angus, but if it’s okay, I Kong, you know, again, for the record, I have to repeat at least some of these names. Because this is so awesome. It’s just like a collection of a Hall of Fame of reggae players. And it helps to explain why the sound on the album is so fulsome, you know, and so rich, and so unique—and so ahead of its time. So let me just mention, if it’s okay, I Kong—I know I’ve been talking for [awhile], and I’m gonna shut up in a minute, but you know some of the—
No, no, no. You go ahead and do your thing man. I’m listening and also my wife is listening.

Nice. So my understanding is that Aston “Family Man” Barrett played bass on most of the album. True?

And on drums, you had Mikey “Boo” Richards, Horsemouth Wallace—

—and Fil Callender, who—
That’s right.

—as the story goes, famously, had to use some wooden coat-hangers for drumsticks because I guess they had—in the studio—had locked away the drumsticks. So somehow, [Fil Callender] ends up playing the songs on [“The Way It Is”] album with some wooden coat-hangers. True?
That’s right.

I Kong - The Way It Is
It’s just so incredible to think about. Then you had Sticky—Skully & Sticky on percussion. And you had Leroy Mattis, otherwise known as “Mabrak,” on the funde or “talking drum.” And then, I believe, you had, now [Stephen] “Cat” Coore was the guitarist on this album. And I think you said that Bunny Rugs may have also played guitar on the album—
On a track, yeah. He played on a track.
And then Mikey and Geoffrey Chung were involved in this album. And on the organ you had—you already mentioned—you had Robbie Lyn, Winston Wright, [and] Wya Lindo. I think you [also] had Pablove Black, but he may have played the piano—
Pablove Black—yes, he did.

But maybe he played the piano and the clarinet?

And then you had Ibo Cooper, [as] mentioned [earlier].

And then the horns section—the horns section is just so eye-popping on this album. It includes Tommy McCook, Herman Marquis, Deadly Headley Bennett, Dirty Harry, Vin Gordon, a young Dean Fraser, Egbert Evans, Arnold Breckinridge, and a guy named Thomas Fulcher—who was from a military band—who I guess—I understand he played the French horn?
That’s right. On [the track], “I Wish.”

So—wow! And then—if you’re a reggae fan, you’re already getting dizzy—you’re getting dizzy when you’re hearing all these [legendary] names. But then you get even dizzier because you move on to the backup singers. And the backup singers are also so, so impressive. They include [the legendary] Judy Mowatt, and then, you told me recently, I think this is accurate, Anika Banks—whom I think [you said] she was related to Judy.
Her cousin.

And then you had Candy McKenzie who is the Bunny from Aswad’s sister.

And so these were backup female singers. [And] if anyone listens to that album—the backup singers on “The Way It Is” [album are] so hot. And then the studio engineers included Scratch, and then, the legendary Sylvan Morris—who recently passed away. (Rest in peace.)

And also, I have to mention because it’s not a small point I don’t think, [which] is, when I was reading that sort of mash-up interview that Angus [Taylor] did with [you and] Jah Mikes, that as a matter of reggae trivia, that [Jah Mikes] is the one who gave Deadly Headley his nickname. Because it was after hearing his sax solo on “The Way It Is,” that [Jah Mikes] looked at him, and he said: “Headly, you’re deadly.” And he said that’s how Headley got his nickname.
That’s what I heard because I was in the recording booth in the studio—myself, Mikey Chung, and [this guy] who was one the trombone—he was from Trinidad—[Jerome Francoise], he was also an engineer there.

Now just concerning some other basic but very important facts about “The Way It Is” album, “Jah Mikes”/Mikey Lee, he was the executive producer having financed the album with a loan from his father?

And you, in addition to of course being the lead singer, you were—as you said—the producer, the writer, and the arranger of all of the songs—with the exception of that song “I Wish,” which I know you later found out was some kind of church song that you must have gotten from somewhere. But maybe George Chung helped with some of the arrangements on the album[, too]. True?
Geoffrey did—Geoffrey Chung, not George.

Oh, Geoffrey did. And the album was recorded at a combination of places: Harry J’s, The Black Ark, and Dynamics [Studios]. And most of the overdubbing and engineering [was done] at Dynamics?

“Ghetto Cry,” “Life’s Road,” “Set Black People Free,” and “The Way It Is”—the title track [of the album]—all of them—are such bittersweet, soulful songs of sufferation. Songs which you render so purely, and honestly. So, you know, ‘nuff respect—for that. And in “Set Black People Free,” you sing, “When you walk the streets of the city…the whole damn place is pregnant with sad and poverty.” And that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of a city being “pregnant with sad and poverty.” But hearing it in this song, I can’t forget it, because it’s so poetic—along with the lines that follow: “Let the young gents be, they need their liberty. Let the young dreads be, they want equality.”

But then your other songs on this “The Way It Is” album—which literally everyone [who loves] reggae, you have to have this [album] in your collection—the songs “I Wish,” “Sinner Man,” “Babylon Walls”—these are fierce songs that are spiritual in nature. They have, you know, a lot of biblical verses in them, and they’re strongly influenced by your faith in Rastafari. Would you agree?

The third track on the album, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing”—you know although I truly love all these songs on this album—I truly love all of them. But this song in particular, this is one of my favorites. It just puts me in a different kind of vibe. I was listening to it right before we started the interview. It starts with a rooster crow that really kind of wakes the listener up, and gets their attention. It seems like it’s very purposeful—that you have that rooster crow [in the song].
Definitely. Definitely.

It’s like, “Hey Listener, pay attention!”
(Imitating a rooster crowing)

(Laughing) Exactly! And then, the song progresses with a slow and mellow vibe. And the lyrics that come exquisitely expose the hypocrisy—lyrics that help people identify people we meet in life who are wolves in sheep’s clothing.

It’s just a wonderful song. Now probably you love all of these songs on the album equally, but I just want to make sure [because] you never know: Is there any particular song [on “The Way It Is” album,] I Kong, that you personally love the best?
It would have to be same “The Way It Is” [title track], and the aforementioned—the one that you just spoke about—“Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing.” If you noticed, the introduction on “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” is very long; I did that deliberately to get the people’s attention to the lyrics. Because the lyrics in “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” are a very serious set of lyrics, you know?

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Max Romeo, I Kong and others.
For sure. 100 % they are. Now Tommy Cowan—the same Tommy Cowan from your days in The Jamaicans, and also who had recorded the original, “The Way It Is” single, from 1972, he was in charge of distributing the [“The Way It Is”] album through his “Talent Corporation Label.” True?

And although the album was well received, well loved—especially in Europe—you and Jah Mikes never made any money from this album. Is that true?
Up until now we’re still waiting.

It’s just unbelievable. And I feel terrible about this. Jah Mikes—he never got back any of the money that he borrowed from his dad, to make this investment, in the album. Is that true?
Quite right. Actually, that money that Michael gave me to do the album was his money that his father had put aside to send Mikey to college.

Oh wow. Oh my gosh. I didn’t know that. That’s terrible. Holy cow!

It must have been, you know—if you don’t feel comfortable saying, it’s okay, I understand—but as I was thinking about this, and thinking about all these musicians. I mean we just rattled off the names of some of the very best musicians in Jamaican music history—that are on this album. It must have been pretty expensive—I don’t know how much Mikey borrowed from his dad—that money for his college—but it must have been a lot of money. Because, you know, Angus Taylor, when he wrote his article about one of your interviews, you know, he mentioned how this was a “no expense spared album.”
That’s right.

So it must have been a terrible blow to Mikey and you [not to get financial remuneration for the album]. Did you guys—did you or Mikey Lee—did you ever confront Tommy Cowan about this, about what happened?

Oh. If you don’t mind my asking, how come?
Well, we kept hearing this and that from different sources. And I am a man where when I get ignorant, I do some, pardon my French, fucked up things. (Laughing)

I kong & his mother
You see, with this album—my mother, [she] knew all the members of the original Jamaicans. And how we came about with the group and blah, blah, blah. She asked me—and mi love my mother up till now—my mother’s dead and gone, but mi love her like cooked food as dem say. She say, “Errol, you and Tommy’s like brothers. And mi know you know you have some friends that are some dangerous people. Please no hurt Tommy! Because him [is] like your brother.” And it touched me a way, you know, that my mother, who just knew Tommy like the rest of them. But she always loved the whole of dem. Because when she a-cook, she cook for the whole of dem. And not only dem, but fi anybody and the whole of us too. Just like my grandmother. She get that from my grannie. She always cooked enough food for the people. And that is how we lived.
So that influenced you not to confront [Tommy Cowan] about [not getting any money from “The Way It Is Album”]?
Right—not to fuck him up. (Laughing)

(Laughing) Let me ask this—I mean, he was—I think you may have said [before], I mean he was involved in distribution—he did commonly distribute—he distributed [albums] for Bob Marley at one point, I think. True?
He was actually working for Bob—[for] many years. Tommy is very good at what he does, you know? You can’t take a way a man’s—you know? Give credit where credit is due. And Bob saw that, and Bob knew that. But I guess, because him see the type of people who did go around Bob—although I had them around me, too, but as I said to my mother, mi kinda kept it from those people. Because if I did mention that to Claude—or to any of the other hardcore men, the men from the rough areas—dem man dem love mi like cooked food—they would do some terrible things. At least mi don’t have no blood pon mi hands.

Yeah. ‘Nuff respect. In 1987 I Kong, Antonio “Gilly” Gilbert, who was Bob Marley’s former chef no less—

—he also released—
And he and Mikey also had “Gong Records,” you know?

Oh? I didn’t know that.
Or Gong Studios.

He and Mikey worked together?
Yeah man. Him and Mikey did have Gong Studios, and Rita Marley did screw on them. She tell Mikey seh, she no like Gilly but him alright. Him cool. And you know, but Mikey is a cool youth—him no carry feelings that way and ting.

But Gilly released an album under the name “Africa Calling”—

—which is, of course, part of the lyrics—
Yeah, but I didn’t know that until many, many years after.

Have you and Mikey Lee received any money from Gilly [Dread] [for] that album which is basically [the] “The Way It Is Album”—it’s the same album—it’s just released under a different name?
We no receive no money from nobody. We still a-wait to get some money.

Of course the theft of royalties from reggae artists is tragically all too common. And it’s just a sad story that you keep hearing. Everybody who I’ve [interviewed], almost everybody, has a story where they didn’t get money they were supposed to, credit for songs that they wrote or that they created—this is a constant thing. It’s terrible. [Because] [i]t affects people livelihoods, and their families, and their fortunes—and their futures. So it’s a terrible thing, and I have to even though mention, because I don’t want bring up one [more sad] thing about this—I’m sorry to bring it up, but I feel compelled to. I read somewhere—it probably was again in something you did with Angus [Taylor], that you actually, because you knew Derrick Morgan, that somehow you learned that a song you had written, “Street Girl,” was later released by Derrick Morgan as his song.
Right. Right. I wrote that song. Totally.

“Street Girl?”

I haven’t had a chance to google up that song yet, but I will. Can you speak for a moment about just the disillusionment and the hurt—and the pain—that you personally felt, [and] perhaps you still feel, not to have made any financial profit from this very profound work of art, “The Way It Is Album,” that you and Mikey created—that you’re the chief artist of—and you haven’t made any money from it? How did that feel at the time? How does it feel now? Has there been a growth in the way you feel about it?

Yeah, it’s a big question.
If I was to have followed my mind, and did what I wanted to do, I would have done some terrible things. Because it hurt me. And it still hurts me. I feel let down.

You still feel it deeply—the fact that you were basically robbed of your artwork. And that, that makes a lot of sense. I’m sad for you—that that happened. I’m glad that many people still know, at least, that your reputation from that album is secure even if you didn’t make any profit [from it] financially.
Give thanks.

Now after “The Way It Is” album was released, you stopped making music for about a quarter of a century—25 years. And I know you moved to St. Elizabeth, and you raised your son, Shaquille or “Skunga,” who I mentioned earlier—an up-and-coming producer himself in reggae. But what else were you doing during that time—how did you support yourself and Skunga?
Well Jah do it, you know, [Him] help me along the way, you know? Hand-to-mouth[, mostly]. (Laughing) It’s still hand-to-mouth, but truthfully—and Jah loves the truth—I have met people along life’s road that stretch them hand to me. And in times of stress, when you have duress, [that] comes in handy. So through the power of the Most High, we survive.

I Kong - The Forgotten Man
Nice. In 2005, you released an underrated album—ironically this project was called “The Forgotten Man” album. I say “ironic,” because in many ways as I was kind of joking with you [about on the phone] the other day, this has been a forgotten “Forgotten Man” album. I mean, it’s really a great album.
Well, yes. I met a brethren through my lady—Skunga’s mom—and she introduced me to this brethren. And when him listen my music, like most people, him was blown away. And him say, “Bwoy, mi cyaan understand how dem here music no play, and other people dem a music a-play but mi no rate so.” More than likely, he was the first man to use that term; [he said], “You’re really a forgotten man.”
Wow. This is George Campbell [who you’re talking about]?
George Campbell, that’s right. [He went by] “Sheridia.” S-h-e-r-i-d-i-a.

That’s interesting that George Campbell is the one who first used that term, “The Forgotten Man.” And that album has some of the songs from “The Way It Is” [album], but it also has some different, beautiful songs as well like the reboot of “Zion Pathway”—which we talked about earlier.

And then it also has new songs like “A Soldier Went to War,” which is a very unique song with great horns and lyrics, that really expose the ugliness of war.

Was there any particular war going on that you had in mind when you wrote that [song]? Or was it just war in general—all war?
When I check it out at that time—I like history, although I don’t love the word “history.” But I like history. And when I check forward the Vietnam War, the war that dem bring off in the Congo, when dem did have Patrice Lumumba and most of the African countries dem. Dem war dere is just war fe advance imperialism and, what them call it? Capitalism. Because the whole world, whether we want to admit it yes or not, is political. Because we have no control over that. We are just the people, and the powers that be that control these countries, that implement these things[, they are in control]. And to me, I just come up with [that song] one day, and I say what on earth should happen if [the soldier] say, “Bwoy, to hell with all the war?” Him don’t want to fight no more war. War [would be] done.

It’s a great song. Very unique song. There’s another great song that’s the title track to that album, “The Forgotten Man” album. It’s track #7. The track is called “The Forgotten Man—A Tribute to Yahweh Ben Yahweh.” Who was Yahweh Ben Yahweh?
He was a gentleman that Sheridia and these brethren dem were listening to, and following him. Because, Yahweh Ben Yahweh was like a Muslim-type of man who had Muslim ideas and tings like that. And I’m a man that as I say, I like history. I don’t love the word “history,” but I like history itself.

Why don’t you love the word “history?”
Because “history” is really the white man’s story—“his” story.

Wow. Yeah. True. I like how you say that. The lyrics to this song are so sad, they’re so desperate: “Everybody that sees him scorns him and criticizes him, but they don’t know he’s lonely. They don’t know his agony or sorrow; he never lets it show. He keeps it locked inside.” With a name like “The Forgotten Man” and those lyrics, there’s just a haunting lonely beautifulness to that tune. Would you agree?
Well it’s a part of my story, too, you know? It’s a part of me. It’s my experience. It’s my aspirations. My hopes. My dreams. My—everything [that] you see in life around me. Because I’m very in-tune to life. Because life is a gift of Jah. And [so you have to] go live it. If that makes sense?

So what I do in my lifetime, as I say, I never take no life. But I do a whole heap of things where people would have said, “Uh-Uh, not right.” But that’s how it goes. And it’s part of my upbringing, and my livity, and my life, where mi haffi live to survive.

Right. That makes sense. “Love Was,” track #10 on “The Forgotten Man” album, that’s another haunting, somber song that’s labeled as “A Tribute to Sonny Bins.”

Who was Sonny Bins?
Sonny Bins was a friend of one of my brethrens, who’s now deceased—him was a topshotta [(a gunman)]—Johnny Carlos—Sonny Bins told Carlos that story, and Carlos told me. And I put it to music. I just interpreted it that way. Because I was going and coming in between Arnett Garden—which is [a] concrete jungle, where you hear Bob sing ‘Concrete Jungle”—up on Stony Hill, where I used to live dem times there. And just going up and down, because mi is a man who goes [to all corners] of Jamaica. There’s two things mek Jamaica—every parish inna Jamaica—music and dem say “ganja,” but it’s herb.

I Kong – One King

I Kong – I Pray

(Laughing) I do think a lot of people should go and check out that “Forgotten Man” album. It really is a special [album]. Underrated because people know so much about “The Way It Is” album, that they may not [have gone and listened] to that “Forgotten Man” album. They should. Don’t forget about that. In February 2016, Howard Campbell—who often writes about reggae—he wrote an article for the Jamaica Observer called “I Kong’s Second Coming”—it was kind of [a] dramatic [title]. And in that news article, Campbell writes “Mathias Liengme, a 21-year-old Swiss musician has played a major role in resurrecting I Kong’s career.” Do you agree with that statement?
Yeah, we are still very close and mi and [Mathias] communicate frequently. He’s my brethren like that. Him young, you know, he’s the youngest one in the band “Naja Vibes.” But I find with him, him pure inna him heart.

Campbell also wrote further—in that same article—that Mathias produced [your album] “A Little Walk,” which I think came out in 2015, and, “he organized shows for [I Kong] in Switzerland and France.” And the same Campbell article also says [that Mathias] produced [your album] “Pass It On”—which at that time was your most recent album. How did this close friendship that you’ve developed with Mathias—you know, I think he might be [also] the leader of “Fruit Records”—how did that relationship begin? My understanding is that maybe somehow [legendary drummer] Horsemouth [Wallace] was involved? How did you guys, Mathias and yourself, make a connection?
Well, actually, what happened was, Naja Vibes—the band that Mathias is the keyboardist for—they had been coming to Jamaica for over 10 years—maybe 10-12 years—trying to find “Ricky Storm.”

But every time dem come to Jamaica, the people dem tell dem seh, “Ricky Storm’s dead.”

(Laughing) Oh no!
Because the truth was I was living in St. Elizabeth by this time. So they didn’t hear anything of me. And they didn’t see me. And because (laughing)—dem seh “show me your company, and I’ll tell who you are”—because the people that I was moving with, 99 % of these people were hotsteppers—hotheads. But dem never encourage me [to do bad things]. And I said to myself, if it comes to the point that I’m gonna have to go kill a boy, I prefer killing myself [first].

That is how when Mathias come there and dem say, “Kong dead,” him came back one year and him go down to a small studio down [on] Charles Street—“Bravo” [Studios], and him ask the same question again. Nobody no know—“we can’t find Ricky Storm. Nobody no see him.” [Eventually] they get my connections, and dem call me. Well when Mathias called me [that first time], him was going to the studio. Him call me [on a] Saturday. Him was going to the studio the Tuesday to record. So when he contacted me, I couldn’t go in that day—they wanted me to come in [on that] Tuesday, when they were going to Harry J [Studios] to record the tracks that we used on [the] “A Little Walk” album. But to tell you the truth, my brethren, mi [was] broke. [I couldn’t afford the bus fare to town.] But I never wanted to tell him that because I did feel embarrassed. I did feel embarrassed, trust me. So I [made] some excuse, and I said I would come in the following Thursday. So I go and borrow the money [to get to town], and I turned up the following Thursday with mi son, Skunga. And when we were outside, I hear a track playing and I said, “Bwoy, mi love that track.” So I thought it was Bravo’s recording—the owner for the studio. So when I went inside, I said to them “Rhatid! Mi love that tune there!” Ironically, that tune was the song we named “Jah Is My Guiding Light.” That was the first song I voiced. And when I heard it, I had no lyrics [prepared] apart from [lyrics for] “A Little Walk”—the song which turned out to be the title track. I had no other songs. Because “A Little Walk” was from the time of “The Way It Is” [single]. All those years—the “Ricky Storm” years. But I never recorded it, I just had it. And I just asked Jah. [I prayed to Jah] to put some words in my mouth. And when dem start to play the riddim, mi just hear myself and say “Jah Is My Guiding Light.” And that was it—that was the song.

Nice. Now I Kong, there’s no way we have time to dig too deep into all this great work that you’ve done with Mathias and Naja Vibes, and Fruit Records, because already we’ve been talking for about 150 minutes—so, over two hours and some. (Laughing)

Thank you so much and much respect to Pam for her patience, and, you know [assisting us to get this interview done]. And thank you so much for spending the time. It’s so precious—the reggae history that we’ve been talking about—it’s so precious. I definitely have a few more questions for you today—not many—before we hang up, but my suggestion as I said before, I Kong, is we do another interview where we can fill in some of the blanks—some of the things that we’re not gonna get a chance to get into. And we can do that Part 2 interview either when I come to Jamaica, in person, in early 2025. So not next year, but the year after. Or we can meet up again like we’re doing now, or by Zoom. But one way or the other, we’ll figure it out so that we can get some of this precious history down, you know, for posterity. So that people can know how much of a great contribution you’ve made to reggae. Is that cool?
Yeah man. Everything is cool. I have a suggestion though. I would love to do [a Part 2 interview] before 2025, because mi no know how long [I have] on the road.

Exactly. I have the same feeling. So we’ll talk—you and I are already in touch—

—and so we’ll stay in touch. I think probably it’s gonna take me awhile to digest all of this—and since we’re talking about it—I’ll have to, just so you know, be in touch with you—it’s gonna take—it’s gonna be a very time-consuming, intensive project to transcribe this recording. But it’s gonna be so important, and I’m definitely gonna do it and be in touch with you about it—and talk to you about it so we can make sure, you know, it’s as good as it can be when we get it out to all of the people. But today, I Kong, I do still want to talk about or at least mention your wicked—as I mentioned earlier—your wicked, wicked collaboration with Judy Mowatt—that first track that you did with [her on] the first album [you did] produced by Mathias [Liengeme], “Pass It On.” And again, this is a song that I believe Selecta Jerry said he’d play today on his reggae radio show out in New Jersey—they’re gonna play this song. And I understand why this song was chosen as the first song on the album, because it’s just so inviting. The song is so nice. And I wondered if you could—we haven’t talked about it yet—so this is the perfect time to do it, but Judy Mowatt was, of course, on “The Way It Is” [album] as a backup singer. And of course, you know, Judy Mowatt is a legend in reggae. Can you talk about your friendship with Judy, and how that began? And how it is that, you know, she ended up on “The Way It Is” [album]? And how it is further that you would reunite [with her], all these years later, to do [the track] “Motherless Child” [on the “Pass It On” album]—which is beautiful?
Judy and I have been friends it seems like forever. From when we were children growing up. And as a man who listens to the music and loves the music, I remember Judy singing with a group mi did love named—oh hell—damned thing, it slipped me—

I Kong - Pass It On
Oh, The Gay[lettes]?
No, not [The] Gay[lettes], the—oh hell. The group was—they used to sing for Coxsone. Before she had [The] Gaylettes, she used to sing in [another] group with Rita Marley. So that’s where our friendship started musically. And then, over the years, when she said she stopped sing[ing] secular music, mi did kinda feel a way, because mi always [think she had] one of the greatest voices in the secular music—reggae music. So [when] I decided to do this “Pass It On” album, the first time this song “Motherless Child” come inna my head, it’s like I hear Judy’s voice. And I just call her—
—and tell her seh, “Yo Judy, mi would love for you to sing this.” And she said, “Well, you know I don’t sing secular [music] anymore.” Mi say, “Judy, mi no know how you gonna work this out, you know, but you’re gonna sing with me. We have to do this tune.”

(Laughing) Love it!
And she said, “send the lyrics” because she haffi go write her part. And she and her songwriter—she have a songwriter—[who writes with her], you know, [who’s part of her] church thing—her band. Religious thing. And they got together and they did it.

And she did sing a different word. And mi said to her seh, “Judy, mi no want you to go round the ting, you have to go sing ‘Jah.’” And she did. When she was done, the engineer up at Harry J—because it’s Harry J [Studios] [where] she voiced it—the engineer said, “Judy, how you say you stopped singing secular music, and mi a-hear you sing about Jah!?” And she laughed, and she say, “A Bata foot-corner mi come from, you know?”

(Laughing) Nice.
So it just shows how much respect and love we have for each other.

‘Nuff respect. That’s a great story. I Kong, of course, when I think of Judy Mowatt, I often also, as I’m sure many people do, think of Bob Marley—whom you told me recently that you and others would often call “ska”—
Yeah man—

—for skatting—
—in the early days.

—as you told me, not “ska” the genre, but “ska” for “skatting”—like an Ella Fitzgerald skat.

I didn’t know that [previously]. Now I usually—with anyone who has any kind of association with Bob Marley, and I don’t see why I wouldn’t ask you, too—when you think of Bob—you’ve told me one or two things in this interview which I’ll have to go back and listen closely to [about this already], but when you think of Bob, what is a memory that you think of? What comes to mind when you think of Bob? What’s your best memory of hanging out with Bob Marley?
Well I wouldn’t even call it hanging out, you know, because as I mentioned before—I think I told you—Bob was a very quiet youth. Him wasn’t a talker. He would listen, and him eyes—taking everything [in]. And you see, to me, Bob was a person I would call a brain-picker. Because him listen to things that people say, and then him put them to song. You understand?

I think one of the most profound things that I can remember “Ska” ever saying to me as a person was one day, [at 56 Hope Road]—me, him, and Family Man [were there]. There’s a door which would lead out to a mango tree. So Bob used to love lean pon it and smoke him spliff. And me and Family Man would sit up on the steps—just the three of we around there. And smoke herb. Because as I say, Family Man [is] a brethren and a musician. Because Family Man not only play bass, you know? Him play a likkle piano, a little this [and a little] that, [and] him also would do a little harmony thing. ‘Cause him is very amazing musician. And I think Bob had that way of picking out these people. Because I remember [the] I-Threes came from Big Youth. Big Youth had [the] I-Threes before Bob.

So Bob had a good eye for talent?
Right. So he said to me that day when we were smoking the three of us, him say: “Ricky, you see anytime our music, Jah music, reggae music reach[es] the four corners of the world, our work done, you know? What’s right here now—our work no done.”

And it’s true because I live fe come see—last night I was speaking with this brother from Shanghai [named] Failai. He was at my house last night, him and his lady, and my idren Bigger Tom and his lady, [Christy], and who was in Chendu, when I did the—

Yeah, “Zoo to the Roots.”
—“Zoo to the Roots” album with Jahwahzoo [band] and Skunga. He was there—because he has been in China maybe 5 years before us, before Skunga and myself. But we created history in that we were the first Jamaicans to actually produce an album with [an] actual Chinese roots rock band. He was one of the first persons I met, and as I told him last night, I say, “I remember the first time I see you. It was like we just clicked.” The vibes and ting—me and him just [mesh]. And when I check it out, I see so much dreadlocks inna China—Chinese dreadlocks, men and women, boys and girls—I [was] shock[ed]. And it came back to me then—[in] 2019, the exact thing that I just tell you, where Bob tell me—and now I live to see them a-play reggae music inna China. [Bob’s prophecy] came true, because you have reggae around the world now.

Yeah. 100 %. I Kong, in addition to the albums “Pass It On” and “A Little Walk”—[you did] with Mathias [Liengme]—I of course know about that pretty recent, cool collaboration that you did with Max Romeo and the 18th Parallel Band—the song “Just Like the Rainbow.” And [the] next interview that we do I want to get into that—talk about that. And I also want to talk about—next time—[your song] “Parasites Paradise,” as well as your fairly recent works—some of which you were just talking about with your son, Skunga, including—well this one you didn’t mention, but I’ll mention it—the showcase that you did with “The Tabernacle Posse.” Which is a rural band in Jamaica, I understand, that includes Skunga. And then, next time we’ll talk more about what you just started to talk about—the trip that you and Skunga took to China to record the album “Zoo to the Roots,” for which there’s a dub version that recently came out as well.

So I’m very much looking forward, I Kong—I’m glad that you’re willing to do it with me—I’m very much looking forward to next time, [and] we’ll dig into those works [we didn’t get to]. And I’ll encourage all the reggae fans in the meantime to go and check out those albums that I just mentioned, as well as all the songs and albums that we’ve talked about during this interview. And I would be remiss if I didn’t tell everyone, and say in this interview they should go right now—go on YouTube—and [watch] an 18-minute video/movie that was produced by Alix Roussel. And it’s very mystical. Very beautiful. About your life story. It’s called “The Story of the Forgotten Man.” And it’s available on YouTube for free—anyone can watch it. We’ll talk about it [next interview]. You know, of course, I was mesmerized by it because I saw you in Chinna’s yard in the film—singing. And that was one of my best memories of being in Jamaica—was to be in Chinna’s yard with Chinna, you know, playing the guitar. I hope that maybe when I come to Jamaica in 2025—I think I already said this to you, but I’m gonna try to twist your arm and maybe see if I can’t recreate [that experience]—and get you over to Chinna’s [at the same time]. Beg Chinna, see if it would be okay with him. And see if maybe I can get you to sing at Chinna’s for me. But for now, I Kong, and only because of the lateness of the hour—and because I have to go and I’m sure you do too, I want to let you know of course, again, after we hang up today, I’ll be in touch with you about the work—there’s a lot of work involved to get this interview transcribed and out to the public. I’ll be in touch with you about all of that. But I again want to heartically thank you for all of this time that we’ve talked about your legendary career. Finally, I Kong, I want to end today’s interview by asking you, please just take a moment and address all of the many I Kong fans, and “Ricky Storm” fans, and Errol Kong fans that exist around the world. And in these perilous times, what advice and final message—for today at least—would you like to give to them?
Simply put, let Jah guide and he will provide.

‘Nuff respect. And so true.

Rastafari. Give so much thanks, I Kong. ‘Nuff love and respect. May Jah guide and protect you—keep you safe, keep you healthy, and you and I will speak again, my brother. Thank you, you know, for working with me through [those] technical difficulties we had [early on]. We got through them. We weathered them just fine. Much love and respect to Pam. And tell Skunga everything worked out fine even though I sent him a bunch of messages [about] how we were having a bunch of problems. But in the end, everything is fine, and I’ll be in touch with both of you. So please, my brother, stay safe and thank you so much for doing this with me.
Same to you, my brother. One heart. Live long. Live strong. Bless up.

Bless up, I Kong, we’ll talk soon my brother. Go and get something to drink. Go and buy Pam a coconut on me.
(Laughing) We don’t have no money to buy no coconuts, but the coconuts [fall from] the sky now.

Okay, well you enjoy the evening nonetheless, and thank you so much. And I Kong, I’ll be in touch with you soon, my brother.
Thank you.

Okay. Bye-bye, Pam. Bye-bye, I-Kong.
Pam: Bye-bye. Thank you.

Thank you. Bye.