Mr.T at Reggae Vibes | Apr 25, 2018 | 0
Sang Hugh Interview
You could easily get stuck in reasoning how astonishing the fact is that so many great talents has emerged out of this tiny little island in the Caribbean called Jamaica. With this in mind it shouldn’t be surprising even to newcomers to reggae music that no matter how talented some of the artists may be, that in itself was never a guarantee to stay on top and in musical shape too for that matter, even though this goes for most of popular music – whatever the genre might be. Naturally, some of them become pretty obscure over time. Collectors and cultists has kept many of them close to heart for a number of years and for some of these obscure names a following has been established that in most instances the artist himself is totally unaware of, having withdrawn from the scene years back. And believe me, the examples of this kind are many.
NO CALL DREAD NAME
One such exquisitly obscure artist – in terms of greater talent, and so on – from the golden years of the early to mid 1970’s that I wanted to find out more about, and told in his own words of course, was the man called Keith Morgan, better known under his alias Sang Hugh. This man arose to prominence in 1972 through the efforts of producers Hugh Madden, Niney The Observer and Lloyd F. Campbell, having cut his debut disc for the former and getting his breakthrough with the latter two. This hit song was titled ‘Rasta No Born Yah’ and is a prime example of what the music would sound like in Jamaica over the remaining decade; a cry of the ‘sufferah’, the so called ‘roots music’; music strongly identified in Rastafarian philosophy and experience. I linked up with Keith from his Negril base in March, ’04 to get a pretty rare discussion going of his ‘lost’ career, something I truly hope will be revived in a serious way sooner rather than later. My thanks to the man himself, Sis Irie especially (without whose assistance this probably wouldn’t have happened, so I-ternal thanks), Bob Schoenfeld, Donovan Phillips, Tim P, Steve Barrow and Michael de Koningh.
You were born in the Westmoreland parish of Jamaica, right?
Yes, I was born in Waterworks, Westmoreland.
And I suppose that’s just a tiny village.
Yes, it’s just five miles from the capital of the parish, called Sav La Mar.
How big was the family?
Um, like three people. My father was a fisherman – he’s a fisherman still, and my mother she was a housekeeper until she died.
How long did you stay there in Waterworks?
When I leave, I leave to Montego Bay.
When was this?
When I was seven.
The church was pretty central for you at this time, just like for so many others on the island. You went to church a lot?
Yeah. You did have a church near by my home, and then I do like most of the singin’, y’know what I mean? And then I clinge to mostly church that time when I was small, I remember that.
I detect a strong gospel influence in your voice, am I wrong?
You… yeah, that’s right.
So gospel meant a lot to shape the way you sing. Or would you say the influence is from somewhere else? That’s what I hear anyway.
Yeah, true. And I like to sing about reality, yunno, the things that I see around. And maybe some people don’t see what I see but there’s a vision that I could see different from most of the people I move with, y’know what I mean.
Where was the start of writing your own music, give me the early stage of that.
OK. I leave Montego Bay when I was twelve and go to Clarendon, and then I became a fisherman meanwhile I was going to school. And we had a lot of guys who used to sing like Maxie Romeo, the Clarendonians and so forth, in Clarendon. And then, I used to sing. I can write songs from when I was early, I can understand how to write songs. So you have a lot of guys who come around an’ say that I must sing for them most of the time. So I used to take the sardine pan and make like a guitar, but I couldn’t play guitar at that time, neither now. But I just love to back up something, y’know, to sing something. Because I know I have a good voice within myself and then I get to learn how to write a song, so I keep on making songs.
Was it someone during that time that you hung out with, like in MoBay, that became a recording artist later on?
There was a guy who move around, but I never get to move with him that close. In Montego Bay? No, I never get to be with someone who move up to sing. But I always like music, I always liked songs. Then I know most of the songs, y’know, I just catch on to them quickly. Like Sam Cooke songs, and so forth, I used to like most of those songs. And the songs of his, I still like this song ‘If You Ever Change Your Mind’ from Sam Cooke, yunno. That’s the song I like, in all my lifetime. Still my favourite.
What else apart from Sam Cooke did you listen to growing up?
OK, in Montego Bay I really used to like this group called the Impressions, and you did have this group called… I don’t remember – the Blues Busters. Yeah. They’re from Montego Bay, and I used to admire those guys. I never get to move with them though, but I always admired their songs.
Right. Would you give me the story of how you got that name – ‘Sang Hugh’?
Yeah, I was going to school in Clarendon and I like sports in school, and then we used to play cricket half-pitch. So, I’m not a good bat-man, y’know what I mean? But all the while I tried to umpire the game, yunno, so every time they thought to call me ‘Umpire Sang Hugh’. You know of that guy?
Not really, cricket is beyond me.
In cricket, yeah. That’s how I get the name, like how I liked to umpire the game – even a small little game, yunno. Yeah, that’s how it come.
Do you still play cricket to this day (chuckles)?
No, I don’t have the opportunity to play, but if I get a chance I would. But in the area where I am, like, I am in Negril, so I don’t get those type of facilities to play a game, yunno. More like tourist spot, drinkin’ an’… yunno? Yeh.
How did you sight Rastafari? Your grandparents were Rasta, if I’m not too mistaken?
Yeah, I grow up and find my grandfather was Rasta but he never a locksman, yunno. They used to have the philosophy, like praising Selassie, y’know. And then my father take it up just the same, and then I take it up. It’s like three generations.
Any special circumstances how you picked it up?
Yeah, I have a vision about Rasta. Rasta seemed like people who was really positive, clean-minded, and trying to do the right, y’know, that’s how I look at it. Not like false-grouping Catholisism, or Christianity, y’know what I mean. My grandparents were Garvey-ites too, yeah.
Apart from fishing, what about your experience as tailor?
Tailors? Well, we used to move with a sounding system that I used to sing on, before I start to record, and most of those guys were tailor. And we used to stay at a tailor-shop when I was at Rocky Point. So I get to learn a lot about tailors. Yeah, ’cause sometimes I would have to help them with something while I’m there, y’know. That’s where I hang out.
Where’s Rocky Point located again?
Yeah, Rocky Point is Portland parish, Montego Bay is St James, capital of St James. And then Clarendon is whe Rocky Point, we are on seacoast, but on the way to Clarendon.
Tell me how that opportunity came about to record your debut 45 for Hugh Madden, he had the Electro imprint at the time.
There was a guy who I know who used to sell gas for the fisherman, and we used to be friends. We moved just the same, at the tailor shop I just tell you about. But he had bigger contact with people around more, and then he get to contact Hugh Madden. Hugh Madden used to run a label for a little while, and then he say he’s gonna take me to Hugh Madden. And then I went there, no understand riddim or nutten, y’know what I mean? I was just movin’ around. But it’s a perfect way of knowing riddims I never know, so I was movin’ beside the Cables, and then I record that song called ‘I Need Love’.
That was a cover song?
Yeah. I sing that song, and then it happened something in many of the parishes but it never get no push to move around, ’cause every morning I wake up I heard that song, y’know what I mean. Several people singin’ it. And you had some little changer, and every home would like to have a changer, and they keep playing it all the time. And that’s my first song.
So it never sell too much?
A: No, it never get the promotion. It never get the promotion like I think it should.
‘I Need Love’, was that a Sam Cooke cover?
Sam Cooke? No, but I was singin’ it almost like… I tell you the way: I understand the way like how Sam Cooke sing ‘If You Ever Change Your Mind’, I sing my song like a love song mostly in those years, y’know.
So what was your next move when the Hugh Madden thing never worked out properly? This was when you met up with Niney?
OK. They did have a talent show on the island with most of the top artists, like the main fifteen top artists, and they reach Clarendon like in a place called Lionel Town, I went there. There was a few who carried me on a bike to go there that night, ’cause they knew I had many songs that could make a hit, y’know what I mean. They said, “Sangy, you can go tonight at that talent show, yunno”. And he take me there, and I rehearse the song with him a couple of times. And there was a next friend that move amongst us, we go to school, like play cricket together, but we don’t go to same school. So he jump in and start to harmonise the song, and then we get the chance to… I go and talk to one of the guys. They was a few, I don’t know if it was Niney or – there was a few promoters in those areas. And then they give me the go, y’know, to sing the song. And from they give me the go I keep going practicin’ those guys until our time come up, yunno. And then I sing the song on stage maybe fifteen times that night, man!
Fifteen times (chuckles)?!
Yeah. I steal the show from all those big guys like Slim Smith and Gregory Isaacs, Delroy Wilson, Dennis Brown, Hortense Ellis, and all those people, y’know. I steal the show that night. So he give me a paper that I must come to Dynamic on a Saturday night, and then he give me a note that I must come to Dynamic nine o’clock the next Sunday, that I’m gonna get a week from him before I go. And then that’s when I record the song ‘Rasta No Born Yah’, and in a week it come on the road.
Who played on that song for you?
Yeah, Soul Syndicate.
So it took off in a way you couldn’t possibly dream of.
OK, in a week then it hit the charts. You know, that’s the time ‘Silver Words’ was on our label, between The Thing and Observer (Lloyd F. Campbell and Niney’s labels respectively). So we have two hit song on the label, like ‘Silver Words’ from Ken Boothe. So it’s two songs that take off but I was the leading seller in those times. So in a week I jump at 28 on the charts, and the next week I jump fourteen. And on the Wednesday we get it as number one, and ‘Silver Words’ were number three and the song by Jermaine Jackson were number two. But on the Friday night they played – they turned it around, they play Jermaine Jackson the number one, ‘Silver Words’ number two, and we number three. So I make three drops to the number one spot. They used to have a little book that they show you the song that’s gonna reach number one on Friday. So I was the number one song and they steal it and it cause a big eruption at the stations too, y’know.
Early days for these type of songs too. I mean, ‘Silver Words’ was perhaps the typical love song, and you had the Rasta projection to go on the radio, which wasn’t in favour at the stations in those days, that’s how it was?
They played ‘Rasta No Born Yah’ in that time. In the seventies, we would break away – from ’71 to ’72 to ’73, we was the more popular artist in those times. So they had to play our song, but they sabotage us mostly.
Did you get any fight from the establishment for the lyrics?
It’s just a song that come to be a happening song in the country for the Christmas season, the holiday season. And then we find out it get to second now people start to say it’s politics time and so forth, yeah? But it give them a happy time. It’s a song they always have to remember in Jamaica, man, the people who know it, yunno.
What was the compensation for it? You didn’t get a lot of money?
No, no. It’s a song that make a lot of money in England, in America, and I never get no money from that. I only get some money from the Jamaican sales.
Would you tell me the inspiration for that tune.
It’s like from the slavery, I think about it all the time. The slavery system, who I am here, why I’m here, and the society, you could see the difference with people, y’know. And then I was poor authentities (?), you know what I mean. So I get to understand most what’s going on, so it’s like a rebellious song. And it’s like a sad song.
But you were a group entity on that recording, with someone called ‘Presser’ and George, what became of them? They had a name too, which escapes me for the moment…
We were ‘Sang Hugh & The Lionaries’. Yeah.
So what happened to those guys?
OK, one of them became a soldier. But before, what’s up now: I used to go to Kingston more often than them, and then they think I have money, get money from the system, beca’ the song was playing very often on the radio, like four times, five times, y’know what I mean. So they think I get money and don’t give them none, so it’s like they try to get money stuff from me most of the time. So that keep me away from them, yunno. And then I go back and record a song called ‘No Portion A Gal’, and it make a hit again.
Was there a longer time-gap between those recordings, or they were pretty close to each other?
OK, ‘Rasta No Born Yah’ did coming off the charts when I record ‘No Portion A Gal’, but I leave to Canada, on a quickie, y’know what I mean. When I reach there now the song pick about maybe three months after. Was three months after.
What does ‘Rasta No Born Yah’ mean to you today, more than thirty years after it hit big and made your name?
Yeah, when I was much younger I think ’bout back to Africa, like Rastafari, y’know what I mean. But now I think I have to pay for myself to reach there, I would like to know there, beca’ that’s where, like, our spring is from, y’know what I mean. So I think about Africa all the time, as the motherland for us, for the black people.
Niney produced those songs for you, but they were released on Lloyd F. Campbell’s label, The Thing, at the time. What’s the connection between Lloyd and Niney, Lloyd had mainly a printery shop on Orange Street, I believe.
Yeah, it’s the same time when I go on the talent show, they would work together, him and Niney work together. Lloyd print different labels for Niney, Dennis Brown used to sing for Niney in those days, and Ken Boothe and Delroy Wilson, and some other guys. So they became friends and they like run the label together, y’know. Like Niney would go to studio, and he would manage the money area. That’s how they come to be good friends. So Niney now put me on his label, on Niney’s label. ‘Cause this guy used to sing for that guy too, like Junior Byles, and all these guys. And he would take a song for most of the artists too, yunno. And after that I sing ‘Last Call Fe Blackman’ – you know that song?
Oh yes, classic.
Lloydie, or ‘Jah Printer’, died a few years after that, right? Tell me more of what you can reminisce about him.
He’s a nice guy. He tried to make a decent thing, that’s how I observe about. He’s one who know that people are no fool, yunno. And that’s one of the main thing I liked with him, y’know. He teach you what you don’t know, he teach you more than what you know. After he died, then I leave the music business, like in the country, y’know, and start to plant herbs.
What did Lloyd die from?
They say it’s poison, he get poisoned. But he live after that, and it give him a hiccup all the time. He always have a hiccups, so he die from that. So I don’t know much more about it.
When did he pass away, the seventies?
Yeah, in the seventies, late seventies.
He had a brother who was involved in the business too, I think.
So why did you move back to Rocky Point after the success with a few of those songs, now when your name was out there?
I did always live in Rocky Point in those times. I used to go to Kingston weh I stay for a while an’ then leave back to Rocky Point. So meanwhile I was doing this I was livin’ just the same, ’cause there was no money from the singin’ thing to support me at that time, you understand.
So you lost contact with Niney at this point?
The meaning of that song, ‘No Portion A Gal’, it’s spelled ‘potion’ on the label instead of ‘portion’, what’s the sense of it? That’s what it was meant like, or just a misspelling by the printing shop?
It’s a person who don’t have no… like you say don’t have no food and don’t have the ability to but they look good, you know what I mean, in clothes and so forth. So they used to have some shoes, like high-heeled shoes and some mini-skirt, and so forth, and the girl look good but don’t know how to react to a person proper, yunno. So, I called out to a girl once and then it happened that she don’t answer me, y’know. It happened that I just said, ‘You gwaan like you a portion a gal’. So the guys pick it up just the same time, and start to use the words, y’know what I mean. Then I lean on to the song, and that’s how it come up. It’s like action within the song, y’know.
So the reason for the ‘split’ with Niney, this was because of his going to England for a longer time, or what happened?
I was dealing with Lloydie more than Niney, Niney used to be an adviser in the recording studio for Lloydie. So I stick to Lloydie more as my producer from the beginning, ’cause he put the ‘Rasta No Born Yah’ on the single – it wasn’t on the Observer label. And Lloydie did create his ‘Thing’ label, with the goerilla head an’ everything, so I stick to him more.
That tune now, ‘Last Call Fe Blackman’, this was Soul Syndicate backing again?
Yes, Soul Syndicate too.
Recorded at Dynamic as well?
No. I think we recorded at this guy… one of the… Scratch I think we record it.
Ahh – the Black Ark.
I tell you, the trumpet on that song make my body shiver every time I hear it, that melancholic, mournful sound stays in your mind after you’ve heard this song, some brilliant playing there. Who did it?
Yeah, it’s ‘Dizzy’ (Johnny Moore of Skatalites/Jamaica All Stars fame), I think it’s Dizzy. As I recall Dizzy, I don’t really remember. But I always waan work with horns, ’cause I like songs that blow horns, yunno.
The lyrics to ‘No Potion A Gal’ and the ‘follow-up’ ‘Woman A Follow Man’ is not without controversy when the woman liberation movement swept over the world, and to some degree took hold in Jamaica too, but hardly as much. Did you get any fight at the time for these kinds of ‘degrading’, sexistic type of lyrics?
Yeah, in some way. All the time you have off and on, half and half people. But woman don’t like the song I sing most of the time, about the woman, y’know. But the guys like it, so it’s like half and half, whether on the woman’s side or the man’s side in those times. So I observe to see what I can put in, y’know.
You recorded a few songs for Lloyd F. Campbell apart from those mentioned, like ‘Rum Crisis’ (more known as ‘Where Has All The White Rum Gone’)?
Yeah, yeah, I do that song. I do a lot of songs that don’t really release neither. I have three songs that never show up from early.
Can you recall how much you did for Lloyd all in all, did you plan to put together an album eventually?
I think so. Yeah, I planned to do an album. But because him sick he never take the road that serious, y’know. He think that he’s gonna die, so he just leave it to himself.
There was the ‘God’s Children’ track that came out, this was with Lloyd, not Niney?
Yeah, yeah. I did it for Lloydie too.
What about ‘No Call Dread Name’?
OK, um… you know, I don’t really remember that song proper (chuckles).
(Chuckles) Right, it’s been a while.
Yeah. You remind me of so much of the song I sing too, y’know, I never really remember I record those songs, y’know what I mean, ’cause my mind was away from the music business for a long while. And because I write a lot of songs, I don’t remember which of the songs that I record from which I don’t record. But now I think I have one of the great hit songs, if it gets to record.
What inspired you for that song, ‘Where Have All The White Rum Gone’?
Yeah, I would get boost to sing that song. When I come up from Canada, Lloydie give me the idea to sing that song, so I sing it. And then the white rum just come on back, y’know (laughs)! It used to play very often.
How come you left for Canada, it was just a short visit? But you didn’t want to settle there?
It’s never my type of living, I never too wise for the city, y’know. So I would have to go to a lot of struggle, and then you never have reggae music that establish much in that area. You only have this guy Jackie Mittoo, and I sing with him once. Just the opportunity, and I sing at Center Island once. So I only get two years singin’.
Did you record while you were up there in Canada, because there’s one tune you did called ‘Pot of Gold’ on a Canadian label called Prestige (issued ’76), and to my ears it doesn’t sound like it was recorded in Jamaica. Would this have been done in Canada?
‘Pot of Gold’? Maybe somebody used the name, I think. ‘Pot of Gold’…?
That’s the title anyway. Can you recall if you recorded up there, if you entered a studio just for the odd voicing?
No. I never been doing any singin’ up there for anybody. But there was a guy I used to move with that do recording, and he have a record store. So I don’t know if he used the name, y’know what I mean. Could be another guy.
Niney claims he has a few unreleased tracks you did, such as ‘Man A Go Nyam Man In A Babylon’ and ‘Must Get A Beatin”.
Yeah, yeah. That song that I sing, ‘Must Get A Beatin”, Dennis Brown do ‘Wolf & Leopards’ on that riddim. Yeah. Once I get a hit then I could move around that proper, yunno, in that time. And they age good, ca’ the riddim was a good riddim. So they worked on it. They were harmonising the song when I tried to do it, y’know, and then I don’t know what’s wrong. Maybe it’s a sabotage I get from that riddim for them to do it, y’know wha’ I mean, for him to do it. So I leave the riddim for a while and then Dennis put ‘Wolf & Leopards’, that’s the last thing a man like me could get.
I don’t know much about the tracks you did for the ‘Caribbean’ label, so could you enlighten me about songs like ‘Love Is Hard’ and ‘Story of Grandma’?
Yeah. It was made for a guy from MoBay who tried to make a label, and then we never get to move around with that song proper. So he send it to England to one of his friend or something, a producer over there. And then it just get flop, because it never get to move around really that much. No promotion.
Then you did something called ‘Mama Don’t Cry’ on the Truths & Rights mark.
Yeah, yeah, I do that too. Yeah.
Who were the people behind that label? Williston and Henry, just local friends of yours?
Yeah, Henry die, but Williston is still around.
But nothing remarkable happened to it?
No, no. That label get flop. It’s like mafia were workin’ with the most, so they try to buy out their way, y’know. It’s a lot of money, so it never work the way to how they approach things, y’know what I mean.
Wasn’t there talk a couple of years ago, like the late nineties, that you would do an album for Bob at Nighthawk Records?
Yeah, he called me about the album, and then I tell him yes. But then he said he got into an accident and then he never had the money to work it out that time, so I should wait a while. And then he never called, so I just put it off, y’know.
And this was… around when?
Just a few years, maybe three or four years I think we talked to each other.
I truly hope that project comes off the ground at one point or the other. What I have understood, like you mentioned earlier, you have a bunch of new songs. You’ve never stopped writing over the years, thankfully.
No, I always.
Like ‘Begging Begging’?
How you get to learn of the song (laughs)?!
(Laughs) It’s always good to have big ears… Sista Irie mentioned this title for me.
That’s my present song, right now.
What’s more in your bag of recent songs?
Yeah, I have more. You’d like to hear the name of most of the songs?
I have ‘Fire Fire’, and more.
But would you approach Niney to record the new stuff?
No, I don’t approach no promoter in this time. I think if I do sing a song now there must be a promoter approach me, y’know what I mean, for my age also. I’m not gonna approach no guys in these years.
I’ve heard about you being a mentor of sorts to Cocoa Tea in his formative years.
OK. We were friends before him even start to record. He used to rehearse with us, y’know, and then the first song he sing, that’s I write that song, ‘I Need Love’.
Was that really the first song he recorded?
But he would do his early work for a guy called Willie Francis, the Little Willie label.
Yeah, that’s the first song he sing for Willie Francis too, I think it’s only one song he sing for Willie Francis.
If you would sum it up, how has your life been over the past twenty to twenty-five years?
OK, I’ve been up and I’ve been down, y’know what I mean. But now I feel more steady, more than any time else, like within my mind, you understand. Yeah, I feel more comfortable towards life, like I’m workin’ for myself and like more serious now, y’know.
But you have basically been based in Negril over the past twenty years, doing fishing.
No, through the years Negril and Montego Bay. And then I used to plant herbs for living too, y’know what I mean, in the country. So I spend some time in the country and MoBay most of the days, y’know.
So what happened to your slot on the Western Consciousness concert this year (spring ’04)?
OK. Sista Irie called me and she sent a CD with three songs, and I never talked to the guy (Worrell King) but his wife answered and said she would pick it up, and then she never turn up. So I never call again, and I heard that they put up the posters for the concert. So I never bother to call him again.
Are you reluctant to travel these days or would you like to do performances overseas if the opportunity came up?
Yeah, I would like to, but only if I record a song that make a hit.
Is there anybody you have been talkin’ loosely to about a recording project, that you could be workin’ with futurewise?
No. I keep like… I move like I’m hidin’ from the system, I don’t front up with those systems no more.
Which partly explains why this man never got the attention he’s due; hiding away from the recording scene will simply never be beneficial if you want to get back in the artistic line. But I hope Sang Hugh will reconsider. The time is now right for him to make the impact I’m sure he’s capable of; at least the voice is in very good shape, and I hear he hasn’t lost the bite in songwriting terms either. Currently he has a cookshop down at the fisherman’s cove in Negril and is still fishing regularly. In the summer of 2004 he appeared alongside Ken Bob and Carl Dawkins at a small venue in Negril, which must’ve been the first gig by Sang Hugh in many, many years. It is truly such a waste of natural born talent to have these sort of names hidden in the dark, probably frightened by a music industry which partly alienates and hurts the most expressive of singers and songwriters and turn them away from a public that would love to have the real deal back in action, and partly because of a music which doesn’t carry the same spiritual vibes anymore. But times have to change; sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse; time is waiting for no one, and time is longer than rope. And the Sang Hugh catalogue is not exactly the length of a rope, it needs to be cleaned up and be made available for a hungry new audience out there. Naturally they never thought this music would last so long at the time, but time has proven everyone different.
The time is now right to get stuff like ‘No Call Dread Name’, ‘Man A Go Nyam Man In A Babylon’, ‘God’s Children’, ‘Rasta No Born Yah’, ‘Story of Grandma’, ‘Last Call Fe Blackman’ and several other hard shots from the pen of Keith Morgan out there where it belongs, among a public which would love to hear and learn more of one of the overlooked talents from the golden era of Jamaican roots music. In getting such a project out, best of all would be if the man was involved himself in issuing it, and seeing the monetary benefit of such a release. Anyone willing to get this done out there? I cross fingers that this will be realized in the immediate future. And why not a bunch of modern updates to some of these classics along with new and other unrecorded material, that would be something to look forward to. Apart from the Heartbeat CD’s mentioned within this space, not to forget all the scarce and long-out-of-print singles that exist as trades in collectors’ circles, not much else other than scattered tracks are available by this man presently, and they are hard enough to locate. I hope things will change for the better, and soon. Sang Hugh deserves it. For a more detailed story on Sang Hugh and Niney’s early adventures together, check Leroy Pierson’s excellent tale in The Beat magazine, vol. 17, no. 1, 1998.
[Note: Sang Hugh passed away on May 23, 2016]