Interview with Mcellan Lawson (“Mackie”)

by Nov 28, 2023Articles, Interview

Interview McCellan Lawson by Stephen Cooper

Where: Kingston JA / Los Angeles CA
When: September 23, 2023
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos: Courtesy of Michael Clarke (Mcellan Lawson), and Stephen Cooper (Scientist)
Copyright:  2023 – Stephen Cooper

Mystical and talented, Jamaican Mcellan Lawson (“Mackie”) speaks about his music career and friendship with legendary sound engineer—and dub pioneer—Scientist

Regular Reggae-Vibes readers know, in July, I announced in an article called “Scientist Studiously Slays Lodge Room,” that Jamaican music legend, dub pioneer, and sound engineer, “Scientist,” also known as Hopeton Brown, and myself, have begun working together on a book—a book about Scientist’s legendary career, dub, and the reggae industry.

In the painstaking and extremely interesting research for the book, I’ve already been blessed to speak with a number of people who were influential in Scientist’s formative years—as well as when his star began to rise, and he began to climb “the ladder” swiftly, becoming the most sought-after sound engineer and dub composer of his generation; a truly nice and humble living-legend, promoters, producers, artists, engineers, musicians, they all—all over the world—seek out opportunities to work with Scientist.

One of the first people I interviewed, in connection with the book Scientist and I are working on, is a mystical and talented singer and studio engineer named Mcellan Lawson; he goes by “Mackie.” Born in 1952 in Kingston, Jamaica, Mackie is 72, about 9 years older than Scientist, and he’s lived in Jamaica his whole life. Mackie told me: “I have never traveled. I took a plane one time, but it was over to Negril.”

What follows is a transcript of my interview of Mackie, modified only slightly for clarity. Embedded in the transcript are links to Mackie’s music, exclusive photos, and more. Enjoy!

How did you meet Scientist?
I met Scientist in Harbour View. He used to live on Neptune Avenue, and then he removed to Coral Way. I used to accompany him to a few studios, and was there during sessions that he mixed for various artists. Scientist took me to places and introduced me to big musicians like Jimmy Cliff and quite a few other musicians. Also, I happen to be a specialist when it comes to tube amplifiers. So it’s through electronics that I first met [Scientist]. I would build tube amplifiers; Scientist would help me.

Scientist in Los Angeles (Photo: Stephen Cooper)
Did you know Scientist’s family, too?
Yes. I used to visit Scientist’s home. I used to get riddims from Scientist to listen to—original riddims—on a cassette [tape] when Scientist was working at King Tubby’s. And even when Scientist left his house on Coral Way and went to Mountain View, I used to visit him there as well.

Back when you used to hang out with Scientist in Jamaica, when Scientist was in his teenage years and early 20s, before Scientist left Jamaica for the United States, which artists did you guys listen to?
I used to listen to a lot of different genres of music. I used to listen to artists like Bob Marley, Freddie McGregor—you name it.

What do you recall most about Scientist during this time period?
Scientist was very interested in anything pertaining to music and electronics as a young man. Nothing could stop him from what he was born to do; Scientist wouldn’t stay at home much—he was always headed for a studio. Scientist was spending a lot of time at King Tubby’s; he was more in control of King Tubby’s studio than [then-“Prince,” now “King”] Jammy. And Jammy had a grudge against Scientist. Scientist told me that. Others as well. Because Jammy saw that Scientist was climbing the ladder fast, you know?

What is your best memory of being with Scientist before he left for the States?
The best times with Scientist is when I would go to the studios with him. To King Tubby’s, Channel One, Music Mountain—Music Mountain is in Stony Hill. Also Jimmy Cliff’s studio, and various other studios. Scientist even took me out to the country once to meet sound system owner Jack Ruby, whom Scientist was friends with. By the way I have a dream to tell you about.

Tell me!
I dreamt one night that I saw three musicians. And just a few hours after the dream, by about 8 o’clock, I was down by Harbour Head—same place in Harbour View, by the seaside. And I just buck up the 3 musicians, and mi say ‘wait, this means something.’ And as they saw me, it looked like they dreamt about me, too. Yeah, it was Jackie Mittoo, Headley Bennett, and Tommy McCook. And they approached me and say: Where can we find Scientist? And I just said to them, “Come along with me.” I expected this you know, because I dreamt it. And I took them to Coral Way. And wake up Scientist. And then [we] get Snapping [Theophilus Beckford]. And the five us took a taxi to Music Mountain. And at the studio, a dreadlocks was there, I don’t remember who it was—he was a studio engineer. And he was trying to mix a riddim. And it was giving him a headache; he couldn’t manage it. And Scientist just came and just did everything that needed to be done. And they were like with mouths open. You understand? When him touch the console him mesmerize everyone.

Wow! That’s quite a vivid dream, Mackie. Incredible.
You know, also—not a dream this time—I remember Scientist did a session at Channel One, [on] Maxfield Avenue. And it went on to very late—nearly midnight. So when we came out of the studio, it looked like a “ghost” town at that hour. So we went back in the studio and decided we’re not going home tonight. And Scientist slept in the mixing room where the console and everything like that is. And I slept in the drum room—where the drum set is. We got up early in the morning and left. I remember also when I went with Scientist to Tuff Gong Studios; I was trying to get a job there and some training in the studio engineer world, but it didn’t work out. Another time Scientist took me to Jimmy Cliff’s studio, and he introduced me to Jimmy Cliff. And he wanted me to become Jimmy Cliff’s road engineer—meaning travel with him. And I refused that because I was [working] with “Creative Sound” studio.

Prophecy Revealing

Roses In Your Garden

Yes, in addition to being an expert in electronics, you’re also quite a singer, Mackie. You have some beautiful tracks on YouTube, including “Prophecy Revealing” and “Roses in Your Garden”—those are ones I know about at least. Were you recording songs when you were hanging with Scientist back in the day as well?
I was learning to sing back then. But I was rubbing shoulders with men like Barrington Levy and quite a few other singers. [Men like] Ras Karbi (he was a festival winner [in 1983, with “Jamaica I’ll Never Leave You”]), Beres Hammond, Frankie Paul, Boris Gardiner. Quite a few of those singers. I was inspired by those singers. I started to record after Scientist left Jamaica.

How many songs have you recorded professionally?
Roughly an album-amount. But only 3 of them is out there on YouTube. All my songs were recorded at “Creative Sound,” a studio on Mountain View Avenue.

Mackie I understand that you have a brother who somehow had some connection to Bob Marley; when Bob got sick, wasn’t your brother called in as a holistic healer of sorts?
I have a brother that lives in the States—in New York—and Scientist knows him very well. My brother’s name is Steve Lawson. And my brother used to work with “Pee Wee”—a medical doctor named Dr. [Carlton] Pee Wee [Fraser]. Doctor Pee Wee is the person who inspired my brother to become a doctor. When Bob Marley was sick, and they took him to Germany for treatment, well my brother along with Freddie McGregor and Pee Wee went; that’s the first time my brother traveled—[he] went straight to Germany, [to] Bob’s bedside. My brother was, you know, a self-acclaimed herbalist and nutritionist; so he accompanied Freddie McGregor and Dr. Fraser. You know, Dr. Fraser was married to Marcia Griffiths? Fraser has since died. Fraser treated me for Bell’s palsy; he used acupuncture.

Mcellan this has been absolutely fascinating talking to you today. I know you have to go right now, but, can I get back in touch with you later as Scientist and I continue to work on this book—this book about Scientist’s career?
Yeah man.

Give thanks! And I’ll be in touch soon. Bless!