Interview with “Valentine” Rudolph “Willie” Williams

by Feb 20, 2024Articles, Interview

“Valentine” Rudolph “Willie” Williams

 


Where: New York NY / Los Angeles CA (by phone)
When: February 3, 2024
Reporter: Stephen Cooper
Photos: Courtesy of Mr. Williams, Beth Lesser (King Tubby, Scientist), Teacher (Bunny Lee), and the respective record companies (labels/sleeves)
Copyright:  2024 – Stephen Cooper


“Valentine” Rudolph “Willie” Williams: Best Friends and A ‘Patcher’ For Legendary Reggae Producer Bunny Lee.

Recently, because of a book I’m working on with my good friend, legendary sound engineer and dub pioneer Scientist (also known as Hopeton Brown)—about Scientist’s life and career—I was introduced to “Valentine” Rudolph “Willie” Williams, whom Scientist knows as “Detective Willie.”

Your full name is Willie Williams. Is that accurate?
Yes.

Mr. Williams, just to introduce you, my understanding from my good friend Scientist, otherwise known as Hopeton Brown, a very legendary [sound engineer and dub pioneer]. He’s friends with you—he’s known you for a while. And he mentioned to me in the course of a project that we’re doing that you, I guess, used to live in Jamaica—are Jamaican—and that you were friends back in the day with the legendary [producer] Bunny Lee who was such an influential person in reggae; [Bunny Lee] guided the careers of so many people and produced so much [incredible] music with so many different people. And I’m thinking about the [legendary] Soul Syndicate, whom I know the best. But of course there are many different musicians who worked with Bunny Lee, and who Bunny Lee helped to discover and promote. And record. So can you tell me, is it accurate Mr. Williams what I’ve said so far? That you’re Jamaican, and that you grew up and were friends with Bunny Lee?
Yes. [But] I did not grow up [with Bunny Lee]. I’m from the rural area of Jamaica, the parish of St. Elizabeth. I came—I joined the Jamaican Constabulary Force at 17.

Wow!
I spent some time in the Cadet Corps, and then in the regular force. So by the time I was 18, I graduated and I was placed in Kingston, Western Division—a place called] “Denham Town.” Everybody knows about East and West [Jamaica], Tivoli Gardens, Rema, Concrete Jungle, and all these places. Most of these musicians you see are from West Kingston. Trenchtown. Denham Town. Ken Boothe. Delroy Wilson. Bob Marley. Bunny Wailer. All of them [are] from that area there. They produced a lot of musicians. Good singers and players of instruments. Meeting Bunny [Lee] now, I was on patrol—a team of us was on patrol in [the] Denham Town area one night. It was about two o’clock in the morning.

Do you have any idea roughly what year this would have been?
1975. So about two o’clock in the morning we came up on this car. A lot of men was in that car. We stopped the car. It was Bunny’s car. A two-door Buick Skylark. A big car. About 8 guys were in that car. So all of them come out of the car, and then the driver of my car he knew Bunny Lee. But he didn’t know Bunny Lee had that car. So when Bunny came out [of the car], he said “Bunny, is that you!?” [Bunny] was coming from the studio and dropping off some of these guys that was there in the studio [that day]. Tappa Zukie was there. I think Dillinger was there. And some other guys [too] [whom] I don’t remember.

“Valentine” Rudolph “Willie” Williams
Were you a music fan? Were you a reggae fan?
Oh yes, I was a fan. I used to listen to his program when I was a boy.

Whose program?
Bunny Lee used to have a program on the radio.

Oh!? I didn’t know that.
Yes, he had a program on the radio—a ½ hour program.

Was this on the JBC? Or RJR?
One of those stations.

He had a music program?
Yes, he had a program where he played his music.

Wow. I never knew that.
I used to listen to those musics and say, “Wow!” So I get to love the music. At that time, it was ska and rocksteady, not reggae. So when Bunny come out of the car and he and my friend saw who it was, he introduced me to Bunny. And I said, “You’re the one that produced all those musics I love—we have to get together.” He said: “I’ll come and check you and see if you want to go the studio. I’m gonna go get a likkle nap, but I’ll come back. I’ll pick you up.” That’s what he told me. [Right when I got off work], he was right at my station. He came to the [police] station and picked me up.

Wow.
And then he went to his record shop, 101 Orange Street. That’s in downtown Kingston.

And that would have been near—Scientist has been telling me about this area a bit near Lynn’s Radio & TV, and then I think Niney the Observer had his shop near there, too.
Yes, and Randy’s was around the corner. A lot of musicians. So he came and picked me up and we went there. And a lot of guys came. And we left and go to 18 Dromilly Avenue, that’s King Tubby’s [home studio]. He had a little 4-track tape, I think—4-track machine. It wasn’t a big thing. And there I started to see how they did the voicing. They have the riddim and stuff already, so there was a lot of voicing there. Voicing and mixing were the things down there. It became a big thing for me now, because I get to love it.

So then you met King Tubby as well?
Yes, yes, yes.

Wow. And what was it like to meet King Tubby? What do you remember about King Tubby?
I know about him and the history of him. King Tubby’s “Hi-Fi” with U-Roy at the mike and stuff. So he was very big. He was very big in Jamaica in music—in the sound system thing.

I want to ask, of course, some more about Bunny Lee, because it sounds like you had a very good relationship with Bunny Lee. But did you spend much time over at King Tubby’s?
Yes, we spent a lot of time there.

You did—
Yes, we spent days and nights and King Tubby’s. A lot of time there. Actually every day.

And this would have been through the years ‘75-‘80 about?
Straight up. Straight up. Whenever I have any free time, I’m there—along with Bunny [Lee].

You know I’m very interested in this. Because I told you how I’m working on this book with Scientist—
Yes.

King Tubby - 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
—about Scientist. Scientist came up—King Tubby is the one who gave Scientist his big break. He first hired Scientist to work—not so much with mixing and recording. That happened later. But [Scientist] was doing electronics initially—
Yes!

—for King Tubby. And for Coxsone Dodd. And for some other people as well. Scientist was.
Yes, he was—Scientist was there. ‘Cause Tubby’s was training him a likkle in the studio, recording and ting. He [also used Scientist] on the other side to build amps and things. So Scientist was there [initially], until he came over to the studio part. But [Scientist’s] hands—his fingers dem—were touch[ing everything]; he was a very “touchy guy.” He touched every-ting on the machines. [He would explore] what will this do? And then get a likkle sound there. And while the riddim was running, he might touch this here a little—something like a distortion and ting. And he’d flip [a switch and]—

So Scientist would experiment with the equipment a lot then? Is that what you’re saying?
Yes. He would experiment. It’s Bunny Lee that gave him the name “Scientist.”

Right. Because he’s like a “scientist” in the studio. The person who’ve I’ve heard tell that story [before] in the studio is [legendary] [bassist] Fully Fullwood, [the] leader of the Soul Syndicate. Once they were recording with Scientist, and I was fortunate to be there. And he was telling this story to [respected and talented veteran] keyboardist, Michael Hyde. He was letting him know—and reminding everyone—how Scientist got his name [through Bunny Lee]. And it’s my understanding that it didn’t take long for Scientist to become the main guy. You know, it’s King Tubby that trusted Scientist to run that studio, and be his right-hand man.
Yes, yes. [Scientist] even had his own [set of] keys [to King Tubby’s studio]. And when Tubby left the studio, Scientist was in charge. Scientist was in charge.

It’s weird because when you read a lot of the reggae history that gets written and posted online, a lot of it, you know, you can’t really trust. But one thing [especially] that seems kinda odd is that a lot is made of “Prince” Jammy—who is now “King” Jammy—and my understanding is that, at that time, while it was true Jammy was sometimes around the studio, that it was really Scientist, again, who was in charge. The history [writers] sometimes get this a little flipped. [Because] [i]t was really Scientist [as] you’re saying to me who was really in charge—and certainly not Jammy.
Scientist was the main man. Jammy’s didn’t intern until Scientist left to go work at other studios.

And then, in 1985, Scientist left Jamaica period [to come to the United States]. When did you leave Jamaica, Willie?
I left in ’86.

And you’re in New York now; did you go right [from Jamaica] to New York?
Yes, Bunny Lee took me to the airport. I left from out of Bunny Lee’s house. That’s where I was living [at the time].

Wow.
He took me to the airport.

Let me ask you, you know, with Bunny Lee, now Bunny Lee as I mentioned [before we began the interview], I’m so heartbroken that I never got a chance to ask him about all of his great music success. And you know, I was recently telling Scientist, because Scientist is seeing right now if he can maybe connect me even this year with Niney the Observer—who’s still alive—
Yes, yes.

And when I think about—I told Scientist, I gave him this analogy, this metaphor—that he should tell Niney, to convince Niney to please talk with me, when I think about like a Mt. Rushmore—you know the great statue we have in the United States with the—
Yes.

—president’s faces carved into it. When I think about that as it might exist for reggae music[—a “Mt. Rushmore of Reggae,” if you will]—for the people who are the most responsible for the creation and the development of reggae, I have to put Niney the Observer up there. And I’m also putting up there [on the “Mt. Rushmore of Reggae”] Bunny Lee. And then, you know, Coxsone Dodd—his face would be up there.
Duke Reid.

Right, Duke Reid. Yeah, it would have to be a big monument. There’d be a number of people up there (laughing).
(Laughing) Exactly.

But Bunny Lee is giant. And one of the things that I love, that I always have heard—I mean the [legendary] Soul Syndicate wouldn’t be the Soul Syndicate [without Bunny Lee]. And in my view, [the Soul Syndicate] was the best studio band in Jamaica during the golden era of reggae. During the 70s. And then, when you think about things like the “Flying—
The “Flying Cymbals?”

Yes. And you know, I just recently interviewed [legendary roots reggae singer] Johnny Clarke. And so I know how important those kind of innovations [such as the “Flying Cymbals”], and those kind of things that Bunny Lee helped to [produce] are. And the thing is, every time you look at a picture of [Bunny Lee], he just looks like he was such a happy [and] funny [guy].
Yes! He was. He was.

Bunny 'Striker' Lee (Photo Teacher)
Everyone I’ve talked to—and I want to give you the floor—but everyone I’ve talked to has said he was a musician’s kinda guy. And everybody loved him because he made everybody laugh all the time. And he was just super-creative, original, and funny. Now please, that’s not nearly enough to say about Bunny Lee. And this is [coming] from somebody who never ever met him or talked to him. But you were his good friend. So…
He was an encyclopedia that guy when it comes to music. You could ask him anything, and he could tell you about it. He could talk about Muddy Waters, and all [kinds of different musicians]. And he had their records. The thing is, sometimes, late at night, you’d hear him playing some stuff—some jazz thing. And he would say, “I like this and I’m gonna make John Holt do this.” Because John Holt was Bunny Lee’s neighbor. They were close, close friends. He would say, “I like this song here,” I’m gonna give it to John Holt [to sing]. He’d make tapes of them—whenever he wanted an artist to do a song, he’d make tapes of the song and give it to the artist for them to listen [to it]. And if they don’t have a [music] player, he would give them one.

Wow, so he really encouraged different artists and [nurtured] their talent [in] thinking about what would be a good song for them to sing.
Yes, yes, yes.

And is it true—I feel like every time I see a picture of him that he must be telling some kinda joke—he’s always looking like he’s laughing.
Yes, what do you call it? Banter. He’d draw card on you and ting. He and Delroy Wilson—they were #1—Delroy Wilson, he was another one, too—they’d love to draw card, and jokes and stuff. He called me “Willcocks.” Because in Jamaica, when a man have ‘nuff girls, we call him a ‘Cocks-man.’ So Willie is short for William, so he just say “Will-cocks.”

(Laughing)
(Laughing) We used to have some nice times.

Sounds like you must have. So when you left Jamaica in ’86, were you able to stay in touch with Bunny Lee?
Yes. Whenever [he’d] come to New York, he’d stay with me. Or when he [went] to England, he’d go to New York, [and then] Miami. Stop by New York—stop by me, and then he’d go to his sister’s. And Derrick Morgan’s in Miami.

When you met [Bunny Lee] in ’75, [as] you said [earlier] you had been with the Jamaican Constabulary Force. When I first heard of your existence [through Scientist], [I wondered] was it at all strange—[and] I hear what you’re saying, it sounds hilarious, that you were already a music fan from a young age. And then, you’re working with the police force from the age of 17 already, and then you know, you pull over a car that Bunny Lee happens to be in with a bunch of people. And then, [you] realized, here’s [the] guy who made all this music [I love]. And that’s how you guys initially become friends—which is a great story. And you would then, as you became friends, it sounds like you would hang out a lot together. And I was just initially curious about the idea that an active police[man]—someone actually working [for] the police—you know, would be hanging out with a music producer.
It’s common—it’s common. Active musicians [had] a police[man] that they can call their “friend” or whatever. It’s so tight, you know, it’s a small place[, Jamaica], so you know people. And a lot of them, when they have a cop beside them, it’s protection.

True. True. That makes a lot of sense. What about the idea—you tell me whether it’s foolish or not—[because] it makes perfect sense that musicians and policemen can be friends, for sure. But what about the idea of there being marijuana in these various places and would that be a problem—
Yes, it was around—it was around—but, you see, most of those people didn’t know I was a cop. Very few. Very few knew. I’ve seen stuff around—

Wow. And that is—
—and that is not—I would just let them do their thing. Because I am not on duty, I’m not working.

King Tubby - 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
Ha-ha. Well, you know, it’s so interesting to talk about this. Because I think even recently, for example, [and] I’m sure you know the song I’m about to mention, but I was talking to Scientist about Sugar Minott. And one of my favorite Sugar Minott—
(Singing) “Coming from the country—”

Yeah. “Oh Mr. D.C.”
—with my bag of cali. Walk up on a D.C.—”

That’s right. Listen, Mr. Williams, that’s one of my favorite songs. So that’s why, I was trying to tell Scientist, it’s not crazy that I would be asking you this question, about, isn’t kinda weird, because you’re telling me about [Willie Williams, also known as “Willie” or “Detective Willie”], that he’s hanging out with Bunny Lee. And I’m thinking, well, wait a minute, isn’t there a little bit—if not a contradiction—
Or controversy?

Yeah, that maybe there’s gonna be a problem there. They could buck up against a problem because, if [you’re] with the police, and then suddenly someone is smoking a giant spliff, isn’t that gonna be a problem? But you’re saying that most of the people around didn’t know you were a police—true?
Right, they didn’t know. Those that knew, didn’t say anything. Some of them thought I was an artist, too, even though I’d be seeing some guys and saying, “What’s going on? How are you doing—and ting?” Because what I used to do, I was very keen in the music. I know when a person’s voice—when they make a mistake. I would punch Bunny and say, “Stop it.” And [they would] go over [it]. To Bunny, I was a “patcher.”

You were—
I was known as a patcher. A patcher.

Wow. A patcher.
Yeah. Some guys come in there with their writing, and I assist with putting the words together.

Wow. That’s great. And that probably endeared you—I’m sure that made you an even better friend to Bunny.
Yes!

[Bunny was probably thinking:] “Not only is Willie providing me with constant police protection, but he’s good with the music too.”
Yes. I remember once there was a guy by the name of Barrington Spence. He’s a reggae singer. I think he’s based in England. He was there one day. And Cornell Campbell was going to do a song off of the “Cherry, Oh Baby” riddim. So Bunny say, “Spence, wait, uno make something to match this riddim. And we came up with a song—the song we made (singing), “Natty Bongo, I and I gotta check Natty Congo.” It was off of the same riddim as “Cherry, Oh Baby.” And he did it, Cornell Campbell did it. And sometimes people may have misspoken on a word dem sing—

And you would notice?
I’d notice. I’d call myself “The Patcher.” I patch. I patch stuff.

That’s really cool. What happened when you got to New York? Did you stick—if you don’t mind my asking—what kind of business did you take up?
I was in the manufacturing [industry].

Are you still?
No, I am not. I used to work for a company in New Jersey. And I used to go from New York to Jersey, and then return and come back home. 80 miles per day. For 25 years. [And] I was never late.

Oh my gosh! That’s amazing. Are you retired now?
Yes, I am. I retired in 2019 or something like that.

And what part of New York are you living in?
I’m in Long Island now. Before I was in Queens.

When Bunny [Lee] would visit you, where would he be coming to—Queens?
In Queens. I used to live in Far Rockaway.

And are you still in touch with Bunny Lee’s family?
Yes, and no. I’ve spoken to them by text and whatever.

Scientist - Channel One 1983 (Photo: Beth Lesser)
What family does he have still alive, if you know?
His wife. [And] Bunny Lee is a man where, he had a lot of children. He has a lot of children. He has children all over the place.

Does he have any children that are involved in the reggae business?
Well, yes, his younger son “Striker, Jr.,” “Little Striker.” He is the person who controls [his father’s] catalogue. And his studio. Him have a studio.

Where is he?
He’s in Jamaica. And he has two sisters there, and a brother there. And his mother, Bunny’s wife, is there.

Yeah, Scientist has mentioned her before, yeah, Marva.
Yes. And he has older kids in Miami—and all over. Venezuela. All over. He has kids all over. A lot of kids. (Laughing)

Let me ask you this—and thank you for spending this time with me, because this is really, really interesting information.
I remember, too, in late ’75 or ’76, we went to Spanish Town, a few minutes from Kingston. And the car [Bunny] was driving could not go in “drive.” It only could go in reverse. He drove backwards—

(Laughing)
When it was time to come back into Kingston, and from there to King Tubby’s—and do some recording—

[He drove] all backwards!? (Laughing)
All backwards! (Laughing) The guy [was] a funny guy. Because he could have gotten someone to pick him up. But he said, “The trunk is full of tapes.” And he wasn’t leaving them in the car; so he drove his car in reverse.

(Laughing) He didn’t want to empty the trunk, so he drove all backwards? That is hilarious!
In reverse—straight to the studio, yes! He [did some other funny things,] too. You know [there was] this girl around the Dromilly [Avenue] area—around Tubby’s area—a nice girl and ting, so we would joke with the girl; the girl was on the outside looking in, alright? Showing herself at him. So the girl told some friends that she’s “going to eat him out.”

Oh? Wow.
Meaning she’s going to make him spend a lot of money on her. So that friend came back and told Bunny [that she said that]. So the next day, Bunny bought a big box of curried goat, and bring fe her. The next day, he bought a big box of curried chicken. A week goes by, the lunch he bought her—everything [had] curry.

(Laughing) Wow.
Curry, curry, curry, curry. And if you eat curry a lot, you know…

It puts you out. (Laughing)
She said to Bunny, “Why every time you bring me curry? Curry this, curry that?” And so he said, “You said, you were gonna ‘eat me out’ so mek the curry goat do it’s thing.” (Laughing)

Oh my gosh. That is so funny. I’m gonna have to tell Sci—
(Laughing) We all take it in stride. And Bunny just a laughed-up the place.

I’m gonna have to tell a few people this; this is hilarious. Oh my gosh, that’s too funny.
He was a funny guy, man. Funny!

He would not be above playing some pranks on you?
Yes—he’d kill you with pranks. (Laughing)

Let me ask you, too, before I forget, did Scientist interact much with Bunny Lee? Was Scientist around Bunny Lee much?
Yes. In the studio.

And what was the relationship—
Sometimes Bunny would go and pick him up, and carry him straight to the studio. Because sometimes [Scientist] would have no ride to get to the studio. And sometimes, Scientist would say “I want to go home and sleep.” But Bunny, him don’t sleep; he’d just work, work, work, work, work, work. He’d want his thing done—

So he’d make Scientist—
—so sometimes Scientist would fall asleep on the board. (Laughing)

(Laughing) So [Bunny Lee] would put Scientist to work!
Yes, yes. He’d push him. They worked good [together]. The relationship was very good.

And Bunny would be coming to pick Scientist up [from where he lived at that time,] in Harbour View, and take him back to [Kingston,] to the studio.
Yes.

That’s really interesting. And I may think—I see now we have been talking now for a while, and I want to [again] thank you so much for this. It’s such a blessing to touch base and connect with you. I’ll probably later be like, “Wow, I wish I had asked Willie this.”
Call me. Call me.

Oh wow. Thank you so much.
Call me anytime, man. I’m here.

I can’t tell you enough how great that is.

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