Interview with Samuel The First
THE ORIGINS OF EL PASO SOUND – “SOMEBODY PASS OUR HOME AND HEAR THIS NICE MUSIC”.
We were 16 or 17 years old [Dennis Alcapone, Winston Cameron, Barrington Phillips and Samuel The First]. We all grow up together man. Winston’s older sister couldn’t say “Winston,” she say “Wee Wee.” Dennis was living at Wee Wee’s mother’s home. Dennis had this old time record changer with this big old time short wave radio and then we extend some lickle boxes. He have 78’s vinyl and some LPs. The owner, my bredren Winston Cameron, he always love to play that short wave. He play an’ play an’ play until Dennis bought some new 45s because he was working at Jamaican Public Service where he deal with the lights and power for Jamaica. So every week Dennis would come with a new set of records and my bredren Wee Wee would keep on playin’ it an’ playin’ it. Somebody pass our home and hear this nice music and it was a wedding reception, our first date. Dennis (Alcapone) went as the selector. We didn’t even have a mic then. Right there we think of building a sound.
Where Dennis was living, under the cellar, there was a whole lotta old copper sheets, zinc, and brass. We search the cellar and he ave’ a whole lotta ducks and turkeys. We find not only copper and brass alone, but also turkey and duck eggs like dirt. We take them out and give them to his mother. We fried some and boiled some and eat them with cook food. Oh God we have a lotta fun in those time. Then, we sell this copper now and brass an’ we get a little money. The first amplifier that was built could put into a five pound paper bag! Winston (Cameron) was working with Dennis Alcapone’s brother doin’ body work on cars and painting them. He keep sayin’ nothing could change in life from him being a Duka Man [Person who paints cars. “Paint job man”] until that five pound amp come in play now. He say he want a bigger amplifier now. There was this guy name Ervin Robinson, one of the best radio technician! He was livin’ near to Jones Town when “Wee Wee” and I met him. This guy even wire King Tubby’s studio. He used to be a supervisor for the people that assemble the television in Jamaica. He died now. Ervin wanted to build a second sound to compete with El Paso. El Paso was a “double decker” sound, one set on the top and the basics on the bottom [Two amplifiers. One on top and one on bottom. Midrange is separated from the bass section]. The sound that Ervin built that Sugar Minott own, it call “Jah Live.” It have another name that Dennis give, something like “Paradise Sound.” I can’t remember. Oh God, it was nice. Before Ervin dead, Sugar Minott bought it.
Wee Wee automatically become the owner for the (El Paso) sound, but Dennis Alcapone plays a lot in it to get speakers, because Wee Wee didn’t know too much about dem tings (and) he wasn’t working. Dennis Alcapone would go to a place on Orange Street and take the 12 inch Celestion and Goodman speakers, we play, and take an advance on them and the balance pay. Dennis has opened those doors. I was the one who bought the board and build the sound box. A double 12 in one box, house of joy and all those things. Able start get 15 and 18 inch speaker, about ten boxes. We get the big steel horn an’ tweeters. My Dad had a truck, so we used that truck and a friend of our named Django had a truck to carry the sound and the beers. That was ’68 to I think it was ’73 buildin’ that sound with his (Dennis’) name too. I remember man, one time it was King Tubby’s, El Toro, Bell the President – we used to be number one! When Dennis say, “One Time El Paso, One Time…” everybody line up to see what Dennis talkin’ to. That mic was an inch and a half in circumference and it jus’ full his fist. So you don’t see nothin’, like he’s talkin’ to his fist.
Dennis bring a whole heap a men out of the ghetto: Dillinger, Ranking Joe, Half Pint, Little John, Junior Reid, Cutty Ranks, Barrington Levy, and you have a little guy Triston Palma. We met a lot of these singer like BB Seaton, Leroy Sibbles, Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Dennis Brown, Diamonds the whole of them ca’ he bring them on our “corner.” We smoke an’ drink an’ reason. We used to call it “Dunkirk” which was 40 Breverton Avenue. Dennis was in that 36, so it was jus’ two homes apart. There was a big home that jus’ tear down, some of the ghetto guys livin’ in dere’. We build a little shed. The singers would carry records an’ jus’ give to El Paso. Prerelease too that no other sound could play! That what give El Paso the edge over all those big sounds. I remember Tabby Diamond bring an’ LP. They was promotin’ it themselves. There was a lot ah roots man songs on that like “Fools Rush In where Angels Dare Not Go.” Only Paso play those songs. We just draw the crowd from all over! Man come from way in the East, way in the West man, North, South. You have like a flock of cars an’ bike. Dennis meet the number one jockeys them. Don and David McKenzie, so we play for dem! [Don “Don Ameche” McKenzie and David McKenzie are brothers. They are champion Jamaican horse jockeys from the late 1960s and 1970s.]
When we have a dance, we could get beer on consignment, Red Stripe, Dragon, Three man – Macheson’s. Ya’ have a guy name Mr. Wally at Waltham Park Road right where Sugar Minott used to live We jus’ go and take 50 boxes of beer, soft drinks, chairs, and tables. We didn’t have to pay up front, so he jus’ give us a break.
So you would sell 50 cases of beer in one night and morning?
No. Steel Lane was our one regular spot an’ you have one call Almond Tree Lawn which was 33 lane and you have the 35 Lane where the Spade gangs, which was our fren’ dem. So you movin’ the soun’ from one [to the next] from Friday to Saturday, Sunday, Monday. So we move the soun’ after we done play the soun.’ After we play the sound in Steel Lane, we just move up further and string up in that spot. Sunday morning we take the sound from that spot an’ walk across to the other lane which is 35. We don’t wanna pay no transport.
How many people would you attract?
Gosh, you talkin’ about at the lowest count about 500 inside the dance. Outside the dance is a different thing. It may be numberless because the lane block.
Dennis is about 5’10”. When Dennis dj Paso, he was a slim licke bandi-leg. That’s why them call him Alcapone cuz he look like Al Capone from Alcatraz. When we start play Friday evening, we don’t stop until Monday night, or Tuesday morning. Dennis and myself – I don’t know if it was nerves thing, but bumps was growing in our hand middle. My head was going some way and a lotta bleaching! Some people call it “set-up.” Maybe shut our eye for a two or three minute get up an’ drink a pot a fish soup, burn a two ziggy, drink two beer, and work again. Every Friday I look at the top ten selection. Just how they have it in order, I select it in backward order sameway starting at 8:00pm. When I reach the number one, the people already mad because they relate to the (top) three. You have a perfect selection coming up all along! Then after you have that crowd now, we gone into our dubwise selection. You gonna have our entertainers. Man ah come up an’ do what they can do. Trust me, if they start an’ they don’t fit in that riddim or ride that riddim good, we’re gonna stop them an’ somebody else come. We keep a perfect thing going. Then we have a version one, a version two, and a version three. We don’t have to play a whole lotta record. You can play 50-60 records for the whole night, but it’s just how you catch the people. So you just hold them like that.
When the “Pop A Top” selection come in, true, we know that El Paso Sound is the only sound that can play even 40 version of that same “Pop A Top.” We start a little, “Pop A Top, Pop A Top…” Ya have this guy dancing like crazy man! Like he’s riding a horse. Giving us more vibes. Maybe a quarter way in the song, Dennis say, “Put on version two.” A different thing. Version three – a different thing. Some even slower, but the same “Pop A Top.” So the people them get drunken with that man. That one song alone. That’s how the fun was in the sound world record business. If you don’t play past two to three versions of a song, you not saying nothing. Nobody don’t wanna hear you. At the time it (“Pop A Top”) was a song all by itself. When the melody, the rhythm work out an’ you keep listening to that rhythm one, two three times, you find it clashing with a riddim already made. In that time, there was no new music or new chords, (but) “Pop A Top” was one of those new songs that come in an’ play and the one “Java.” Those two songs I can remember was two different type a song from the ones that was already dere. It was a different style. “Pop A Top was a unique song man!
SAMUEL THE FIRST – EARLY ASSOCIATION WITH WILLI WILLIAMS
Willi Williams and I go to school together (Whitfield Primary School). Willi later left an’ go to Trenchtown Comprehensive. I remember Willi always play drums on the desk while lesson going on. He get some spankin’ for it. Willi always telling me, “Let’s go to the studio, let’s go to the studio!” I ignore it ca’ den I didn’t see what he was talking about until I hear of his fame.[In a May 2014 Interview, Willi Williams recalls his early association with Samuel the First]
“He was always an astute youth. He love music. Our main interest was music, so each time we get a break we go crazy on the desk. Samuel used to live on this street where they have this sound system called El Paso, which was very successful at that time. He an’ Dennis go way back as friends. At the time when El Paso and all those sets were playin’, I didn’t even start in the business yet. Paso and these sets was huge Dancehall sets, so I wasn’t even allowed to go to those things by my parents. Jamaican parents are very strict people. Because it was so close to him and the dj was so close to him, Samuel he got himself into this thing here. (laughs) Samuel never know that I became a musician and I never know that he become a musician, but we pursue that course.”
FIRST INTO THE RECORDING STUDIO
My first experience is with this man (Leslie Kong of Beverly’s) who I do “Sounds of Babylon” with sometime in the 70’s. There was a guy name “Porky.” His right name is Brent Dowe, we call him Porky. He came on the El Paso Corner where Dennis and myself used to hang out. He was lookin’ for Dennis to go do that song “Sounds of Babylon.” Dennis never gone away (to England) yet, but Dennis already go with Bunny Lee. Porky say, “But you dj El Paso HiFi man!” Mi say, “Yeah! Mi ah the selecta and Dennis the dj, but mi dj too!” Is like he hold my hand and tek me to Beverly’s and say, “Let him do the song cuz they can’t find Dennis.” Then Beverly take me to Dynamic to do “Sounds of Babylon.” Leslie Kong was a laid back guy. I remember he said to me, “So you is ‘Dirt?’ the selector.” They used to call me “Black Sammy” and “Dirt.” Dennis (Alcapone) would say he is the “jockey.” He rides while Dirt is the selector. He (Leslie) say, “Oh! So you is the Dirt! How long you been voicing?” I tell him, “Well I never voice before, but I keep rapping all the while on the sound.” He ask me if I would like to work for him and say, “Let mi see what you can do with this.” I record at Dynamic. We did about three songs. I never familiar with the first two, I hear (sings) “Dang, dang, dang…” (“Rivers of Babylon”) and say, “Well let me do that one.” It just came to me. I was learning Amharic, so I say, “Maweek maweek. Negusa nagast asa fatari … [sp?]” I jus’ get into it. One lick. I say, “You want me to do something else?” He say “No, seckle fi dat.” He paid me cash for it (laughs). He axe me if he pay me cash how much I’d want. I don’t know foot about music at that time, so I told him, “Give me what you think is reasonable.” He gave me 350 pounds, cuz it had not gone to dollars and cents yet. That was a lot of money! He muss like it. It reach number eight or ten on the Top 20 (charts). Bob Marley at that time was making hits for him (Leslie Kong, Beverley’s).
You remember when you first hear the song on the radio?
It was a midday when a guy name Derrick call me an’ say, “Sam I hear ya song playing pon the radio. If you go fast you can catch it while it’s finishing.” Right at the end I catch it. The next morning I hear it. It get about three time a day play. The Chinee man was a good promoter.
IN THE STUDIO
When Dennis Alcapone just came out in the 1970’s, I dj on the back of “Rivers of Babylon” (“Sounds of Babylon). This guy GG Ranglin, I done about four songs for him (including “Leap year”). There was this song, “Little Boy Blue” (Original by The Maytones, Samuel The First version is “Walking Stick”). I done something with Keith Hudson. It was John Holt just come in the studio and have a bass pattern. Lloyd Bevett was there with his figure bass. John Holt jus’ say, “Boom, boo, boo, boom boom.” Keith Hudson, Hortense Ellis, John Holt, myself and a guy from The Cables [Unclear as to which – Drummond, Stewart or Stoddart], we did that song. It was like a medley. We did four songs in the one riddim. I sung harmony, it call “Popular.”
In the 70’s I was in a group called, The Four Harmonics. We did an LP for a guy name Derrick Teywell with about seven songs on it. We didn’t finish it, but I know we released it because this guy went to England and he sell it. We have money to get and when he get back to Jamaica, it was like chaos to get a little money from it. I say, “To hell with it!” Another guy come in and finish up that LP. When they release the seven inch (the label) was “D. Teywell.” “When Road Vanish” was the name on the LP. It was me, a guy name Eddie Scorcher, and Peter Francis (aka Selvyn Francis).
How come you didn’t continue recording beyond that?
True most of dem promoter guy back home a tief, eh? An’ they always want just for themselves. They never consider the goose that lay the golden egg. Not even think of giving two grain a corn to get back a lickle more energy to do it again. So I just say to hell with this! You have the writing in the bible, which will be my blessing, “A troop shall press upon Gad, but he shall overcome in the last.”
Did you have enforcers? How do you handle aggression?
You can’t “handle” that. You only can beg for the people try understand what you dealing with. Sometime when aggressive people come in an’ push away dance man from the gate, that would be a gang, jus’ take the mic and beg them “Let’s make peace, not war.” Show them what we stand for. We don’t have no stripe. Music is what we ah deal with an’ we respect wha dem man ah deal with. Respect due to who respect is due, even the bad men them too. Man an’ man start fight. I don’t know if music drives man to those heights. Then again sometime gang. Ya have whole heap a gang, Pigeon, Spangler, Skull, Spade, Mau-Mau. Mau-Mau a pure Chinese guys. Tough, bad guys – cut your clothes off! You have to go out to dem an say, “Gentlemen, Peace.” So you ah beg dem seh, “Carry the fight outside.” Some ah dem jus’ stop it. Some of them kick-off sameway an’ your dance mash up. Life.
I remember so many it hurt. There was a guy name “Shaggy” an’ his brother used to sell pants length. This dance was right in front of the original dance spot on Steel Lane (aka 33rd Lane). All of the El Paso dance always nice. All of a sudden I hear, “Bye, Pi Pi Pi!” (gunshot effect) an’ people start run up and down. I watched when it started from bottles. Then it change to some six inches blade knife an’ run down man an’ cut up man an’ stab up man. Watch it now to the point it change to gun. When I look, my bredren Shaggy brother get a shot an’ doesn’t even realize it. Right through his hand.
Next one again, there was a guy name “Parson.” He was a friend of Dennis Alcapone and a friend of my brother. He had a friend name “Byron.” I never know those guys could part, but for some reason the two ah them part. What I now know, it was politics. Becau’ Parson was a PNP and Byron was a Laborite. So the two best friend who used to eat out a one plate, grew up together – politics split them apart. So one night El Paso was playing at a dance on Wellside Lane, East of Spanish Town Road. I hear a commotion and I see them push aside the gateman. I see Byron running though the dance like crazy. The fence is like ten feet high an’ he clear dat! Before he clear dat, I hear “Bye, Pi Pi!” (gunshot effect). Three shots. We notice on the fence that he scale was blood. Well through that fence was so high, nobody could see what was happening on the other side. An’ the dance was going on still. All of a sudden a man come an’ whisper something to Dennis Alcapone. Dennis Alcapone announce on the mic, “Tribute to Byron becau’ he jus’ got shot an’ dead. Right beside the dance. We just pay him respect by just ending this dance.” The dance just instantly mash up and pack up the sound an’ leave.
I remember a big dance, like a Coney Island. The place was so big with a little house in the middle. It was a little girl’s dance. Dennis never reach gate till 10:30 then. I was selecting and dj’ing. The dance was cork! The outside was ram and jam! Like 4-5,000 people inside of the dance. Then Dennis Alcapone came in and the crowd came in behind him an – Oh God! As big as the dancehall is, ya couldn’t find space to walk. It was black from pillar to post. Even the little concrete house in the middle was kinda shaking. I was selecting and Dennis start to dj and the crowd getting mad. Everybody happy, but me have a kind of prophetical quality within myself. I was thinkin’ this was too good to be true. Then I hear, “Nobody F’n move!’ This time it wasn’t rude boys, it was The Law. The Police guy and his battalion. Lorrie with police, Black Maria with police, cars with police, big bed Ford trucks. The whole Armon Barricks [Located in the Armon Prison]. Ya have Spade gang, Spangler, Skull. They see man with him button up neck. Y’know, Spade gang. “All Spade gang line up there so” (points one side). “Skull here so” (points to other side). So the man pose up his baton stick an’ pull it from the man neck an’ jus’ burse off every button off his shirt. You know them, they button right straight to the neck an’ they little tie. Skull would wear some weird looking hat. Every man look a different way. The police man take even the amplifier, to drop it! I beg him seh, “Boss! Please don’t!” The man box my brother Barry! The only man who never get hit in there was me! I don’t know if it because I get a vision that night. I always dream these things, the police gonna mash up this dance an’ me ah tell them in advance. That was gonna be the biggest dance El Paso ever do.
EL PASO MEETS RUDDY’S – “THE VIBE, I START TO RUB DAT RIDDIM”
I was gonna hit down Ruddy’s again. I dream, “Bwoi! We drivin’ in his truck and the wheel fly off and the truck turn over, but me one safe an’ all the rest a man ah hurt! Say mi get up an tell Dennis (Alcapone) them, mi ah dream ’bout this. Transportation wheel ah fly off. So me, Barry (Samuel’s bother) and Dennis, his brother Django, Wicky Wacky, a whole heap a guys. The beer, the sound system pack up in it. We hear “Crack!” an’ Wicky Wacky say, “What dat?” Bam, the dream flash back to me, that is one truck lug broken off. Go a little further an’ hear “Crack!” an’ the man say,” But what Dat?” Mi say, “Two lugs fly off.” Mi keep lookin’ pon Dennis because mi did tell him the dream. All of a sudden, the wheel fly off. My face was facing Kingston on the back of the truck and I jump off. I keep spinning backward, over, over, over in the middle of Spanish Town Road highway. Me one get hurt. (laughs) Nobody else get hurt! Then we go to the dance, that is the night we hit the great Ruddy’s! So mi never get hurt for nothing.
Ya know Ruddy’s Lawn? Dennis Alcapone even make a song, “Ruddy’s get flop in his own lawn.” Man go tun fool. Him don’t know what to play. Trust me, Ruddy’s have a lotta music. Is one night Dennis Alcapone and El Paso went to Ruddy’s dancehall – his personal lawn, his sound. His sound was a big sound! He used to do recording as a producer, have his own records. I remember we go right in his home town and knock him out, with music, man! That’s when Dennis started (crows like a rooster) start crow. His selector Mango, I’ll never forget his name, pure dubplate he tekking outa the record box an’ don’t know which one to play. I remember Dennis draw one call, “Mister Big Stuff” [a.k.a. “Teacher, Teacher”]. We get it from this guy Treasure Isle, Duke Reid. Wicked instrumental with I think it was Gladdy (Anderson) playin’ the organ too. When we draw that one an’ Dennis start crow, bark and everything man, Ruddy himself tun fool. He jus’ walkin’, a pure Macheson’s drink, I think nine Macheson’s behind the wall! Couldn’t believe! I started something before about, “Go and Play” and everybody like it man. There was a group call The Emotions, Audrey Rollins. It was Lloyd Matador. (Samuel sounds out the various parts of the song – in detail) The chorus was “hallelujah burning in my soul.” The vibe, I start to rub dat riddim. Everybody start “Rae, Rae!” Ruddy’s wanted me to do that, it was his song. Matador is a man that would get mad if you use his riddim behind his back like dat.
NOTE ON DANCE LOCATIONS
- Play Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday (Nights played)
- Two lawns – It is on 33 Lane and Spanish Town Road
- Friday – (“Centerpost”) Steel lane aka 33 Lane. *Steel Lane is really 33 Lane. This was the regular spot. If you continue North, you gonna pass Selassie-I Drive, and it change to 33 Lane, right to Waltham Park Road, that’s where it ends. It start on Spanish Town Road and end on Waltham Park Road.
- Almond Tree Lawn – It is Waltham Park Rd and Steel Lane (aka 33 Lane)
- Sunday – 35 Lane – Spade gang area. Dillinger and Audley Rollins come from there. Never play too much there.
- Monday – 37 Lane – We play there. That was a big dancehall.
- Bonx avenue
- Wellside Lane