Interview with Keithus I
Junior Byles, Fred Locks, Prince Alla, I Kong, Little Roy, Pablo Moses, Judah Eskender Tafari, Sang Hugh, Yabby You, Kiddus I, to name a few, exemplified and embodied a new era in the 1970s which produced some of the most distinctive and original sounds previously heard in Jamaican music. Roots music became the order of the day for a while during this decade and many in the younger generation identified with and supported this new ‘movement’ within the industry. Milton Samuels, AKA Keithus I, delivered a small but consistent body of work in this vein, producing mainly for his own Jah Dynasty imprint. A handful of 45s later and he was gone from the scene in the early eighties, when the music had changed radically.
FLAT FOOT HUSTLING
So, yet another interesting name in reggae music vanished for good. We thought… The odd 45 for the Canadian King Culture label was the last sign of musical life anyone heard. But, not too long ago his music got a second life and on glorious vinyl too, as well as new productions in the can, so it was about time his story got told. Thanks to Milton, Rob (Deeper Knowledge), Carlton Hines, and Steve Barrow.
What was your early days like, are you originally from Kingston town?
Yeah, I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in a community called Allman Town. Grew up in Allman Town.
Always based there?
Pretty much, y’know. My mother she lived in the west part of Kingston along Maxfield Avenue. And you know, I used to go back and forth, because my school was, like, closer to Allman Town Primary School, Central Branch. Most of the time it was Kingston (chuckles).
What was city life back in those days like? Most of us know about a harder life in the time when you started recording, but prior to this?
Yeah. Well, yu dun’ know (chuckles). Ghetto life is always a poor life.
But we do what we had to do, to survive within the ‘mix’, y’know, with some guidance from grandparents who tell you to walk the straight line. And me being the disciplined type of person and listen to parents, to walk the straight line not doing the things that some other kids would do to get kinda wind up…
… caught up in gang runnings.
Yeah, yeah, taken away by gang violence, etc, etc. I involved myself with a lot of sports, like playing soccer. I was like athletic, I did track & field in primary school, so I occupy myself like that, y’know.
Perhaps you had some kind of aspiration to become an athlete too, professionally?
Oh yeah. I played high school soccer in Jamaica for Vere Technical High School, prior to graduating.
But the competition, at the time, to become an athlete, was it just as difficult as to enter the music industry?
Well, athletics is kinda like a different type of t’ing. With the music you have a control system where you don’t – it’s who you know. And depending on your talent as well, it’ll break you through, otherwise it’s gonna be difficult. But with athletic’, y’know, you have a lot of people to compete against, but it’s more like a ‘team’. So you have more opportunity to get picked up by a team if you playing good an’ they need that. I kinda just naturally athletic. Yeah, because I was quick as an athlete, I could run fast (laughs).
(Chuckles) What position and part on the pitch or field did you play?
Well, in school I played like midfield, defence. On the track & field I was like a middle distance runner.
Oh. So could you ‘transform’ all this into music (chuckles)?
(Chuckles) Well, I think I did, yunno. Because during the school days, whenever we travel, we used to travel from – ’cause I went to a rural school, that’s in the country, and we had to travel to different parishes, to compete with other schools throughout Jamaica. That was common. So, like for example, lets say we gonna play Cornwall – that’s located Montego Bay, and we travel from Clarendon, it’s a decent, yunno, close to maybe an hour drive, and I would be the singer in the van (laughs). Just singin’ songs that we hear on the radio, it’s nutten like what I had written, but I would do a lotta do-overs, different artists that sing along that time, like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Ken Boothe, you know, these guys. And I would entertain players going from our location to there. So that’s where the singin’ t’ing started. Professionally it take hold in Montreal, Canada, because I migrated to Montreal after graduating from high school.
OK, like around 17 years of age?
Yes, 17 – 18 more, yah.
So you ended up in Canada, that’s where you got serious with the music.
Yeah. I migrated to Montreal, and while in Montreal I meet up with a group of guys who, y’know, we all love the music and we had instruments, and we come together an’ playing and jamming in a house until we perfec’ the sound, and then we start doing lickle gigs in clubs here and there in Montreal.
What was the name of the band?
We just call ourselves the Black Lions at the time. It was jus’ a lickle t’ing.
‘Garage’ band, so to speak.
The band recorded?
No, we never recorded with that band. But then I went back to Jamaica. I was like back and forth.
What years are we talking now, first and foremost, like ’72, ’73?
Yeah, ’bout ’72/73 there.
You like worked and scraped some money together for a while.
Yeah, I worked and went to school. I still continued to do like evening classes with Dawson College, where I was pursuing a Communication Arts degree, ’cause I love communication arts, I love the medium, the camera. And I do have knowledge in that area, ’cause that’s what I’m doing as a job here in America now.
I see, filming, documenting.
Yeah, with a ‘sister’ of CBS, sister station affiliate.
Were you able to do that in Jamaica too at that time?
Yes, I did that in Jamaica as well, when I went back.
In what field, as a photographer, or?
Well, I did photography, I shoot, camera work, and edit. But now I jus’ do editing.
For a local tv station.
It’s a Channel 3, affiliate of CBS. But in the seventies I went back to Jamaica.
Mid seventies, like?
Yeah, mid seventies, and I record there with Family Man (Barrett). And I met Family Man through Alan ‘Skill’ Cole.
The football/soccer profile.
Yeah, that’s a good friend of Bob Marley. And Alan ‘Skill’ Cole went to Vere Technical High School with me, but he was an older student. When I went there it was his last year. But we also had a relationship from Vineyard Town, ’cause were were playing like minor league soccer. Alan Cole was like a real star soccer player at the time.
He even got a contract to play for Santos in Brazil.
Oh yes, he did.
Must’ve been exceptional at the time for a Jamaican player to achieve that?
(Chuckles) Yeah, yeah, very much so. No exposure. And it wasn’t big, but Alan took it to that level, ’cause he was extra talented in that area.
Never heard where he played or specialised in, midfield?
He was a inside forward, he could play midfield and he could play forward. He was like a playmaker, he created the playing.
Built it up.
Yea, and he set it. He was like that, that’s why they call him ‘Skill’.
The brain behind it, a centerpiece.
So that was the connection to the first project with Family Man on board.
Yeah, the connection to Family Man Barrett, because at the time Alan and Bob was close. I think he did some production for – he did the production for ‘Trench Town Rock’.
Correct, and also responsible for the Tuff Gong label, when it was new.
Yeah. So when I went back to Jamaica and we link up, he jus’ introduce me to Family Man, and I got together with Family Man and did a live recording. The firs’ song I did was ‘Red Hot’, it was live. It was live at 56 Hope Road. We didn’t have an official studio built up then, it was jus’ acoustic.
I was listening to this recording, very ‘peculiar’ sound, sounds very special to say the least.
Yeah (chuckles). It was just live, straight like that, yunno.
The mix, especially. ‘Minimalistic’.
(Laughs) Yeah! And it just give it a different sound, y’know. A different sound and a different feel. I tried to recapture that sound, I never did! Just live, Family Man on the bass, Carlton (Barrett) on drums, Tyrone Downie on keyboards, and there was a rhythm guitar player – I don’t remember his name. But he keep it…
Any of the Americans in the Wailers, Al Anderson?
No, no, it wasn’t any of those guys. It’s a local, yunno, t’was a local who hang out with Family Man. He probably was around ‘Scratch’ Perry.
Billy Johnson perhaps.
I don’t remember his name, yunno (chuckles). I just know his face! What he looked like, but I don’t remember his name.
(Laughs) Typically. So the rhythm track was recorded at the rehearsal space out there?
It was done on a two-track. Yeah, a rehearsal space, we jus’ had everyt’ing there. So everything was done – the music, all the instruments were on one track an’ my voice was on the other track, so it was kinda mixed ‘live on the go’ type a t’ing.
You decided it was good enough to release anyway.
Yeah, and then I was kinda young an’ not knowledgable to the levels, so I jus’ put it out.
Good to have a record out there anyhow, as a start of something. And this was released under your real name.
Yeah, it was, Milton Samuels.
And the label itself to this 45…
Well, the label we had was ‘Keithus I’, but that was another flip-flop (laughs). Because I had this nickname, Keithus, from high school days.
Where did it originate from?
It just come from friends, yunno (chuckles).
Well, there was – I used to spar with another player, his name is Lascelles Show, so when we were in high school I used to call him ‘Buzz B’, and he called me ‘Nyah Keith’. And those were two gangsters names from (chuckles) early days Trench Town, y’know, hot steppers. Ca’ when we were in school we were kinda militant. I think it was Alan Cole who kinda stuck the name on us too, yunno. Yeah, ‘Buzz B & Keithus’, they just call me Keithus. And from there on, once you get a nickname it sticks.
Which in itself seems to be an important part of the cultural and social identity in Jamaican life?
Right, right (chuckles).
How could you release this at the time, it was just some savings from work in Canada?
Yeah, I just work and whatever I put together, yunno, usually I have some close friends who punch in and give me something to put to it. And it wasn’t a lot then to really… with the production of that ‘Red Hot’, it wasn’t like I had a large amount of money. You know, it was jus’ a t’ing between me and Family Man (chuckles).
Totally fresh in the business, and you get someone like Family Man to lay a track for you.
(Chuckles) Yeah, it’s just a vibration, and like I say it’s because of ‘Skill’ Cole.
It kinda just ‘link’ like that.
Do you recall how many you could press originally?
Well, I started out with a lickle hundred-hundred, yunno. It start out with a hundred. At the time we did a pressing at Dynamic studio, I think that’s now Bob Marley’s place, Tuff Gong.
No, Federal, he – or they – bought the Federal premises (this occured after Marley’s passing though).
Yeah. And there was this – he was the manager for the pressing plant, his name is…?
No, not Paul Khouri. James, he owned the sound called Metro Media. His name is James, I know him as James, and he was the pressing plant… person responsible for the pressing plant. So I would see him on the side, and he would kinda set a hundred for me. Ca’ you always had to kinda go round the t’ing, yunno (laughs). Yunno, to get what you want. ‘Cause if I went thru the front, I would’ve to press maybe five hundred, which I couldn’t afford. So I had to see James, and he’d say OK, talk to this man an’ this man and you get a hundred, and then I take my hundred an’ I take it down on consignment and call man an’ drop it here and drop it there, in different record shops, y’know, with Randy’s. Then I’d travel up to Montreal with a few boxes an’ drop some there in Montreal, a couple of shops, I’d have twenty-five here, twenty-five there, or maybe fifty (chuckles). And then you’d give it some time an’ then you go around an’ you kinda collect what sell’ or don’t sell, yunno, take it back, it gwaan like that. So, flat foot hustling (chuckles).
Yeah, yeah. Must’ve been a lot of work, on your own.
(Chuckles) Oh yeah!
You must’ve used a skate to drive around and distribute?
No drivin’, just the bus an’ the mini-vans an’ on foot (laughs). Yeh, it was like that.
I mean, in those days you had a lot of shops so there was no shortage of outlets back then.
Yes, yes, there were, so it would cover what I could cover. And I still didn’t cover them all, but I stretch out to where I could. And airplay was another issue, because you’re not known so they don’t play your music on the air.
Yes, and there’s also the infamous issue with so called payola, the main problem.
Ah! You know the scene, bwoy (laughs).
So if you can’t really afford to play the game, what do you do?
Yeh, you seckle fe it, yunno (chuckles).
But the conclusion is, then you’d have to depend on the other sort of ‘radio station’, the sound system. Did you get any good connections there?
Right. Well, a lickle, I wouldn’t say good but I get a lickle play here an’ there – in the dance, or the local lickle club or lickle bars, yunno, or lickle functions that would keep.
What would the sound system be?
Well in Riverton City they had a big sound system there, and I don’t even remember the name of that sound system, but it used to (be) run by… he was the selector for Jammy’s at some point, yunno, they call him John Wayne. So he used to live in Riverton City. And at the time my mother was living in Washington Gardens – that’s in Kingston, the whole a them call it St. Andrews, but Kingston and St. Andrews’s the same place. And I would go by there and he would play it, he would always – you would always hear it through the airwaves, echoing. That was one of the big sound systems that play it, and there’s others that I don’t know about, but it get around.
Your music was steeped in spiritual and ‘cultural values’ from early on, or from the beginning I should say. How did you sight up Rastafari?
Well all of that happened in Montreal, I tell you now. ‘Cause after leaving school an’ going to Montreal I had a ‘culture trip’, yunno (chuckles). Ca’ I missed Jamaica, an’ everyt’ing was kinda like new, and I was kinda like in search of finding identity. And you had this dreadlocks called Mortimer Planno, he was a big influence in the whole thing in finding this identification. Ca’ he used to come to Montreal an’ do lectures for us that went to Dawson College, and I was close with the whole crew an’ start searching, start going into the Ethiopia history, and just history. And start seeing here that His Majesty have a lotta links to a lot of t’ings, and that’s where it all started.
So what ‘house’ did you belong to?
I was kinda like international, yunno (laughs). I didn’t really confine to any house ’cause I see broader than the house.
Perhaps you saw it as more of an issue of belonging to a particular ‘house’ at the time?
Yeah. Because, to me, it was a broader spectrum. But it narrow down itself to, like, I used to go aroun’ Twelve Tribe’ – a lotta Twelve Tribe’ musicians play on my songs as well, some of the songs they play it, an’ Nyahbingi – I used to go over to Rockfort when these guys Mystic Revelation (of Rastafari) used to be there, an’ I hang with them and they came to Montreal as well, to do concerts, an’ we link. So I’d go to anywhere where ‘Rasta’ is, no matter what the house. ‘Cause it all comes down to the same type of feelings about life an’ the tradition. And then you’d have baldheads who’d embrace the concept, and they weren’t dreadlocks but…
Don’t think it depends on the hair, it’s what you have in your heart that matters.
It’s the heart (chuckles). It is the heart. And to stay wide.
The music you made was, almost totally, of a cultural nature.
All of my work is pretty cultural.
People at all times has used or looked upon music as a recreational or source of entertainment, not necessarily educational. How do you recall the reception to these kind of messages produced at that time?
At the time it was a lickle – I think it was a ‘battle’, because Rastafari was kinda like spread among the younger generation coming up at the time, an’ they were embracing the culture. And Bob Marley at the time, too, was like rising, I think he did ‘Catch A Fire’, and you know it was ‘catchy’ (chuckles) among the youths. So the youths embrace’, but the older people at the time, older citizens from Jamaica, they were like in denial – they didn’t want to accept. They would still listen to the American type of music, that’s what they’d play and what they were exposed to, plus the church an’ ‘you die and go to heaven’ and… you know (laughs)?
The Christian concept.
Concep’, yeah. That was going on. But among the youths it was a growing t’ing, and it was getting widespread. And a lotta music too was coming out, cultural, you had Burning Spear, you had the Mighty Diamonds with cultural songs. Most of the hit producers were producing songs of culture.
It got to be more accepted during a period of time and you, I suppose, ‘rode’ that wave.
Pretty much, yeah.
So you formed your Jah Dynasty label at this point?
Yeah, well, soon after I did ‘Red Hot’ I did a follow-up, ‘Dreadlocks I’, with Family Man. In the same style we did it, kinda live. As a matter of fact, I think it was a Saturday morning, y’know, Bob was rehearsing, and just as he did the song ‘Misty Morning’ (sings the chorus), yeah, after that jam then Family Man and I jump in and we did our thing, ‘Dreadlocks I’.
Again recorded at the Wailers’ rehearsal space.
56 Hope Road, in the rehearsing studio (laughs).
A rhythm box seems to have been used for the backing.
Yeah, it was a drum machine – well, in fact, no! Carlton was playing the drums but then they had a lickle drum machine, or kinda effects. That was Family Man’s call, ca’ I didn’t have nutten to do with the instruments, jus’ the vocals. The lyrical contents. So Family Man kinda guide that, took care of that part of it.
Then it was the distribution part of it.
Yeh, well, then I was doing the same flat foot style until I, yunno, thought I could get more mileage (?) with Talent Corporation, Tommy Cowan?
His Arab imprint, right.
Yes, so they took it and put it out on that label for a lickle bit.
Always a bit risky to leave your own production to another source.
I did take my chance (laughs). But the experience wasn’t all that, because at the end of it all, I was back on the same track (chuckles).
Back to square one.
Yeah. But the love for it, y’know, the love keeps you going.
Upon listening to ‘Dreadlocks I’ I wonder in what direction you wanted to go, what’s the purpose… was it about the, then still, common practice by the police force to harass Rastas and provocations, in general, from society, or what specifically did you want to address – or express – with those lyrics?
It was common but it was getting more like – they couldn’t do it as much, yeh, people expressed their displeasure of that. But ‘Dreadlocks I’ is really talkin’ about any dreadlocks (chuckles) at the time, is an experience. Ca’ I wrote that music on a bus, yunno. Just travelling on a bus an’ looking at myself, I’m here, I’m there, I’m all over the creation (chuckles). And then I kinda link it to some bible stories, just as Moses did to David, and you know the ‘David & Goliath’ story. I was kinda seeing myself in that time. Same dreadlocks, ca’ it’s a spiritual vibration we did ‘house in a flesh’. And just travelling and still saying the same t’ing, the same words. That’s how that concieve an’ that whole concep’ of ‘Dreadlocks I’.
The sequence of those recordings, again, you had the slower version put out through Arab/Talent, then it was a faster version recorded at the Black Ark through Scratch.
Oh, you mean…? Yeah! After we did it I link up with Scratch through – I don’t know if you know ’bout Mikey Campbell?
‘Dread At the Controls’?
‘Dread At the Controls’, yeah. He used to hang around Scratch and he took me to Scratch, and Scratch liked it and wanted to do a recut, a do-over, in his studio, Black Ark, and he did. And I took some back-up vocals, ca’ I had Voices of the Trinity, consisting of Janice Dale and Carol, and we did it at Scratch’s, he liked it and he had it – but he wouldn’t release it. He just sat on this for a long period of time, yunno, I came after him an ask when he’s gonna put it out…
And I think Scratch was going through some changes at the time. He was painting up his studio, he start to put up a lot of graffithi that kinda make you start to wonder ‘what’s going on?’, in his head, y’know (chuckles). And people would be saying ‘Scratch is getting mad’.
Too much pressure.
Yeah (chuckles). And then I think he was going through some changes, he had a t’ing with Bob Marley. But I went to him and decided to take it from him, but then he would be demanding paying him for the studio time, the musicians. He made it hard for me, so… But I think what happened is, after himself an’ his fiance got into a feud, I think she took it an’ put it out.
At least a dub version of the track, yes.
Dub version, yeah.
Released on an LP when she had migrated there in the early 1980’s, ‘Black Ark In Dub’.
Pity it wasn’t the vocal part of it (chuckles). So it just got lost along that line. Yeah.
So the full vocal version is ‘non-existing’?
I wouldn’t say (chuckles)… unless Scratch can tell us, or probably she. She probably have it because once she put it out she must’ve had the vocal track.
Would assume so, if the dub is there why shouldn’t the vocal cut be there somewhere.
Right, so I don’t know. She have it I’d say, but whatever she do, I dunno. I don’t even know her. I jus’ know of her but I don’t know her personally, or ever seen her. And I think Scratch is now living in England?
No, no, he’s down in Switzerland. So that was the elusive story of that track. The story continues, hopefully for the better… After that, did this tune take off anywhere or in any way?
‘Dreadlocks I’ kinda struggle in the whole t’ing, from me taking it to Talent Corp. an’ then going back to Scratch and redo it, yunno, it just kinda dormant.
What was the next step?
Well after that I went and did a song called – I think I did ‘Living In Illusion’, and ‘(Black Seh Dem Beautiful) Jah Children Cool’. Two songs at Harry J. Soon after, y’know, on my own. I think (Sylvan) Morris was the engineer at the time, and I did it with some Twelve Tribe’ musicians. You had like Bagga (Walker), played on the bass. We had a dreadlocks called Paul Dixon, or Pablove Black, he played keyboards, and Freddie McGregor on drums. And I had a very close friend, we used to hang out every day, walk up an’ down every day, his name is Noel Bailey – them call him ‘Sowell’, he played with Roots Radics at the time.
Sowell Radics, yes.
Yeah, he played the guitar, he kinda co-ordinate all those musicians, ca’ they used to hang out at Coxson’s – that’s where he was located for food, yunno. So we did ‘Living In Illusion’, ‘Jah Children Cool’, we did them both together, like, back to back.
Yeah, and I did it on my Jah Dynasty label an’ I did me same ‘flat foot’ (chuckles). Yeh, me foot gettin’ TIRED now (laughs).
Of course (chuckles).
And I jus’ did the same t’ing like ‘Red Hot’, here an’ there, no big take-off.
At the time, was there ever any mix-up of your stuff, having that moniker or nick-name, Keithus I, with someone who perhaps was more established, Kiddus I?
Kiddus I? Well that used to be a t’ing, yunno. Because some people would be mistaking us, somehow. Beca’ Kiddus I, I didn’t know of Kiddus I until… during ‘Dreadlocks I’, because he used to be coming to Talent Corporation as well. He had a song out, I don’t recall the name of the song, but he had a big song out… But when I knew Kiddus I, Kiddus I wasn’t into music, he was more like into the – you know that stuff (chcukles)? He was like the main man who would always have the chronic, yunno.
Yeah (laughs). So that’s how I knew him.
He used to operate an Ital kitchen as well.
Yeah (laughs). You know him, right. Yeh mon, he used to have a lickle – he was that type of person, so…
Organiser, community leader.
Right (laughs). But then I hear him did a song.
‘Security In the Streets’.
Right! Right, at the Black Ark too. So people would be mixing up, but I jus’ stick to me ‘Keithus I’ an’ continue with the whole t’ing.
Can be harmful to what you have going on, to suddenly change the name.
To jump names, yunno.
But sometimes it could work, why stick to a name when you don’t reach anywhere. But generally I’d think it’s better to stick to what you have. ‘Save the Children’, when did that track come into the picture?
Well, ‘Save the Children’ was after. ‘Save the Children’ was an experience… I was in Allman Town at the time during the elections. At five I was going to buy some stuff in Kingston garden, and five politician’ jus’ run down on me, wanting to know where I come from. And ask you this question ‘whe yu come from?’ is for you to say if you are comin’ from a PNP area or a JLP area. And these guys, I don’t know where they’re coming from. So I say ‘I’m coming from Canada’, and I’m on vacation. So I’m askin’ them what it is, why, y’know? And them couldn’t deal with that, so one of them decided to shoot… And I get myself, y’know, like a chessboard (chuckles), move from one point. I get everybody moving – ca’ them were lining up, and then I jus’ mek a run fe it. I run through a yard, and them fire some shots but I was down on the ground an’ get outta it, because it was dark an’ reverse where I was. So I went to the country in St. Ann’s, kinda feel like disappointed how me life almost got taken away from me through some lickle stupid… And I was there an’ the inspiration came to ‘save the children…’.
Wow, what an experience.
Yeah, and I did that on the beach down in Runaway Bay. You know, Runaway Bay was the place, I wrote the song there and came back to Kingston, went to Channel One, and I got Gladdy Anderson on piano. Great! And I had Barnabas, he was an engineer then at Channel One, but it was a talented guy.
Right, a drummer as well as a deejay, too.
Yeah, engineer, and he could play the drums. So he played the drums and then some of the musicians who was hangin’ around at the time, just got the riddim down, and then I went back a couple of days after an’ did the voice, and it was mixed right there. We put it out, and Randy’s were the ones responsible for this distribution. Randy’s at the time, well, they’re VP now in the States, but they had Randy’s down in Kingston, North Parade. Well, that one went seven on the British charts. I hear that ‘Money In My Pocket’ was number one, Dennis Brown.
On the English reggae charts? As an import, wow, you didn’t license it to a UK label, did you?
I would say as an import. But I had PRS as a copyright, so they were dealing with the copyright part of it. But I gave it to Randy’s to distribute, they did what they do, yunno.
So there was five songs released during the late seventies. And after ‘Save the Children’, what turned up?
Well, after that – I had always been back and forth. So after I did ‘Save the Children’, I were moving towards an album and I did some other recordings that was not released. After those music I did, I did not release more. The only one I released was ‘Prophecy’.
Which came upon King Culture’s imprint in Canada.
King Culture, yeah. Because he came to Jamaica and kinda encourage me to put it on his label. Because he was doing things for Gregory Isaac’ an’ so I trusted him, and I gave it to him. But I was disappointed when I came to Canada. What he kinda try to do is, he kinda like copy, gave it to other people to work on it. And he didn’t inform me of what his intention was, like made me to believe that he was going to put it out on his label, and so on. So I was kinda discouraged by that. And the trust in people was (chuckles) kinda diminishing. So I just kinda went into a low-key mode and put my interes’ into my videos that I always was doing during all this time.
During the 1970’s, say from ’75 up to ’79, did you do any film-work with artists at all, did you capture any on film or did you shoot in other fields, mainly?
Well, I did a lotta – late seventies to eighties, that’s when I start doing like really filming other artists, like on stage. Like we did Sting, I worked on Sting, I work on Champions In Action. I was the main camera person. As a matter of fact, I brought video to the dancehall. Ca’ I don’t think no other person bring the video into the dancehall until I break it, ’cause we going to the dance with the camera – and everybody stop dancing!
Start walk into a corner and hiding! The girls, certain girls, you’d get them to come an’ dance in front of the camera and when you play it back they say ‘Whoooo!’, an’ everybody start dressing up now an’ start stepping out. So that was a period of time. I also did Junior Reid, music video for ‘Foreign Mind’. Yeah, I was responsible, myself and another guy named Lee, together. Our lickle video, y’know. And that was also another breaking point for videos in the music business, ca’ there wasn’t much music video. So that was maybe one of the firs’ music videos. This guy Lt. Stitchie, ‘Young Gal Wear Yu Size’ was done by Leo Oregio. Yeah. So those two music video was the videos that sorta break music video in Jamaica.
And during the ‘roots & culture’ era?
A: The cultural? No, I wasn’t so active then in fliming (JA pron.), I would just have my lickle personal videos. I had the knowledge and I had the ability to do it, but I didn’t really start doin’ recording any artists maybe the late 70’s to the eighties. More in the eighties, beca’ in the eighties I went back to Jamaica to live. Late 70’s I did recordings, and late seventies an’ early eighties I did work with, let me see now, I think t’was Phase 3, it was a private video house an’ they used to be sub-contracted by JBC, so I do some of JBC work – an’ that took me all over the country. And that took me to Sunsplash, we did a recording. And Dennis Brown, y’know, recorded Dennis Brown, an’ Dennis Brown is a brother (chuckles). Beca’ we went to the same primary school when we were very, very young. And Dennis Brown was a singer who, from ten years old, was singin’ lickle funny songs (chuckles). And we used to sing songs aroun’ his lickle vendor who used to sell like fruits make somet’ing they call ‘fritters’ an’ take to the school. And when you’d hang with Dennis Brown and we get our breaktime an’ he start singin’, they’d say ‘I’m cool with more ‘fritters’, yunno (laughs).
So you’d have fretters to circulate! And the next day you look forward to him again to sing more songs. And this woman who was the vendor was the mother of another singer who we call ‘Monty’ Morris, Eric ‘Monty’ Morris. Yeah, from way back, he used to do songs like (sings) ‘A lickle more oil in my lamp, keep it burnin’…’ and (sings) ‘Sammy plant piece of corn…’ (chuckles). Some lickle nursery rhyme. And I shared the same classroom with another singer called Dawn Penn.
‘No No No’.
‘No No..’, yeah, she was at school at the time, and all of this happened at Central Branch Primary, Kingston, in the younger days. So as an adult now an’ Dennis Brown up on stage, it was fun to really (chuckles) capture him on video. I say ‘here you go again’, yunno. And when him walkin’ up to the camera an’ him look an’ see that it’s me, it’s jus’ pure teet’, y’know (laughs).
(Laughs) OK! Not trying to be provocative or anything, with yourself now more into the communication arts, when the scene changed from what you stood for and originated from, culture, into slackness and nonsense, I can sense a disappointment in the development and arguably lack of positive direction for the music, partly, as a reason for your withdrawal?
Yeh, you’re not puttin’ any words wrong, man. Definitely like that (chuckles). It was like that, it was going in a different direction.
And so much negative t’ings was happening, they said His Majesty pass an’ they said Bob Marley pass and all of the younger artists who were coming up at the time were just into, y’know, ‘under the girls clothes’, and that wasn’t my thing, I wasn’t on that order.
Not addressing the current problems the way it used to.
But I guess the music goes with what’s going on in Jamaica to have hits.
The trend, so that’s it, the trend at the time what everybody was into. The consciousness was taken away. I think it was (chuckles) intended by ‘higher orchestrations’, yunno, they stepped into that.
To try to wipe out the cultural movement?
To take out, yeah, people in a different mindset. But then Garnet Silk brought it back to a level. And Garnet Silk start bringing back a consciousness, and then slowly younger artists start to do it, like Sizzla, Capleton. Capleton used to be a ‘under the girls clothes’ artis’ too, yunno (chuckles). And then it jus’ transform into a consciousness, so you’d start to feel like ‘Oh, yeah!’ It was just resting for a while. And here it comes again. Ca’ it’s always the world (chuckles).
Goes in cycles somehow.
The opportunity to re-release the tunes you cut in the 1970’s arose a while back. How did this come about? Did you ever have this in mind at all over the years, or had you given up in terms of giving your back catalogue a second chance?
No, I haven’t given up, but I was occupied in other t’ings an’ I just wasn’t into it then. Beca’ as it look still, I play drums in my house, around the kids, I beat some drums and I try to play keyboard an’ always fiddlin’ with instruments. If you come to my house you’d see instruments like if it’s a band (laughs). But anyway, I hadn’t given up, to tell you the truth – to be frank, Rob, Deeper Knowledge, he was lookin’ for me, he told me that he went to Jamaica and he was lookin’ for me. They took him to Kiddus I!
And he wasn’t looking for Kiddus I, he was lookin’ for Keithus I (chuckles)! And he just couldn’t find me. But now, his interes’ was wanting to reissue some of those older songs. And it kinda motivate me, bring me back to wanting to finish the journey. So that’s where all the revitalisation come about. And I went and I did the song ‘This Life’, and also did two more songs, a follow-up called ‘Twisted’. And on the ‘Twisted’ riddim, which we call ‘Denial’, we have Junior Reid, we did some vocals. And his two sons also did a combination on the same track, called ‘Telling Lies’. It’s gonna be on ITunes. I’m presently workin’ on a music video for ‘This Life’, and I will do one for ‘Twisted’ when I go to Jamaica and visit Junior Reid. What I’m workin’ on right now is to put some of these older songs with some songs that I’m kinda workin’ on, too, to bring about an album, and the title is ‘Then & Now’.
So I’m using some of the old songs for ‘then’ and new songs for ‘now’.
So everything will be released again.
And ‘Prophecy’, did you have any control over that one?
Yeah! But ‘Prophecy’ is my music. The only t’ing King Culture did was put it on his label to distribute, and that was not right so I jus’ pull it out. It brought a lickle ‘upset vibes’, but we still kinda – no animosity, ’cause I still communicate with him. And he still give me some good talk that it’s a timeless song, he get some response from out there.
Feedback in those days for you, it was…?
In the area that I would cover, me always have a lickle fanbase, people who like what I was doing. And then you had other people. Because it’s not – y’know, anything that don’t hit the radio and you don’t know about it, or it don’t seem like it (chuckles), they don’t pay much attention to it. So it just goes by. But people who like the kinda work I was doing would listen and give the songs thumbs up.
‘This Life’ now, your ‘comeback’, you’re talking about ‘what life has taught me’? What did you want to express?
It’s a tradition. It’s like throughout the whole journey of life there’s so much t’ings life teach you that you can’t really put it all in a song (chuckles). You need more like a book. But what I’m trying to express is, like my father before me – my father pass a while ago, some three years ago, and he always used to say this: ‘what’s been hidden in the dark’…
… ‘must come out in the light’.
Right. And he always say ‘there’s a known and a unknown’ and ‘the half that’s never been told’.
And that other one: ‘the stone that the builder refused, shall be the head corner stone’.
(Chuckles) Yeah, right. So it’s pretty much within that kinda vein, yunno. You just don’t know, but you need to know. You need to know that it’s so broad. Because no one can explain when a person die what ‘appen. It’s like a unknown. And my feeling is, you die in a physical form but spiritually you’re everliving. Those kinda t’ings life teach me, that there’s no end, it’s just a continuation. And what you don’t finish, you have to come back and finish it (chuckles).
So he continued to eternity.
Right. So, that’s really what I tried to express.
Who did you work with for those sessions?
There’s this guy called Axeman. He’s like a young bass player, he played a lot with Sugar Minott. He played on some tune for him. And he’s one of the younger musicians who sorta capture the computer knowledge and kinda incorporate the original t’ing, so he can flex. And because I’m an older artis’ who like the older sound an’ the traditional drum and bass – everyt’ing now is computer, y’know, I’ve worked with him to keep that organic feel. Definitely.
Not only for yourself, but how do you see the future development for Jamaican music?
Well I see the future like how Bob say ‘the music will get bigger an’ bigger as it reach the right people’. I don’t think it’s gonna die. I just think it don’t really have like real owners, no really have a handle on it proper. But then the music is such – really a feeling t’ing, so if you’re not in the feel of it… I mean, that’s why it can’t be taken away, because it’s really a inborn feel. And if you have kids who’s born and grow and come to express themselves through a musical form, but it’s all this computer knowledge that is going around, and if you’re not careful them can kinda water it down into something else. But the real juice is still there and I think, like with everyt’ing else, a fashion comes and it goes. But it will come back, I jus’ think it’s a lickle time.
Right now the music feels like it’s in a vacuum.
Yeah, it is. That is why I’m kinda doing this… because I’m trying to throw the vibes and see, y’know. And I know other artists probably do the same t’ing too. ‘Cause you have some good old school, dem music play up in Europe an’ people askin’ for it, requesting it. So the seventies sound, I guess them want to see come back to life, most of the people. One man cyaan do it, but collectively (chuckles). And usually with how our music go – ca’ when Junior Reid first hear the riddim, I was just passing by his place and stop with a CD in my hand, and I say ‘Junior, listen to this’. Without tellin’ him it’s me I just give it to him and he start listen to it, and he said: ‘Milton, a yu dat, man!’ You know, started to laugh. And right away him start to sing, he said: ‘Me long fe get a riddim like dis!’ And the next day we had it recorded an’ everyt’ing. So that was like a testimony to show that this kinda sound need to resurface…
The Keithus I 45s had always been something of an enduring obscurity. But a pleasure to hear. A nice skank, a good cultural lyric, perhaps a shaky delivery but always satisfactory on a whole. For rhythms he employed the best, and this is partly the reason why they still sound vibrant and timeless so many years later. And Deeper Knowledge realised this, making yet another contribution to a growing library of vintage JA obscurities, beginning with a 10″ of ‘Dreadlocks I’ (the Black Ark cut, at least its dub, included) and continuing the process of having his back catalogue out there again with ‘Living In Illusion’ and ‘Save the Children’ on new vinyl. ‘Jah Children’s Cool’ and ‘Prophecy’ followed. Cultural food for a starving reggae belly as I would say… And then the new music. ‘This Life’ is ‘new’ in every sense of the word. Certainly not as hard-hitting as his earliest tracks, but a promising comeback anyhow. An old name to some, a new name to many, but nevertheless a name to follow from now on, Keithus I.