Interview with Trevor Shields (of the Beltones) – Part 1
LORD KNOWS I’M TRYING
The story goes that he promoted the song by parking the car outside the crowded Half Way Tree bus stop on the pretence that it was broken down, then upon hearing the tune over the airwaves turning the volume up for maximum effect… Those were the days. Trevor Shields cut a series of solo tracks, such as the extraordinary ‘Life’ for Coxson and the equally impressive ‘Rough Road’ for Harry J, collaborated with the Cables’ Keble Drummond before vanishing from the music scene in the late seventies. Little has been heard from him since. He puts it into detail in this conversation, one of very few interviews with the man. Trevor appears as a calm, warm, confident and balanced character, in many ways just like his music. He’s not a man to over-do things. Everything seems to have its time and place. It lends an atmosphere of relaxation in the air. There’s a lot to talk about and reflect upon. And we’ve got time. My thanks to Trevor, Carlton Hines, Teacher & Mr T, and Steve Barrow.
A little personal background if I may ask.
Well, actually (I grew up in) Trench Town and Jones Town (chuckles).
It’s adjoining there.
Yes. I lived and I went to school in Trench Town. I also went to church. My family was a religious family. Well, actually I should say my dad, because I grew up with my dad, not with my mom. And he was a Christian. I used to go to church with him. With going to church, singin’ in the choir, that’s how we get inspiration to get into singing, y’know what I mean. And, yes, started writin’ songs. I loved to write, y’know.
How did that start, that you wanted to piece together songs on your own?
Well, actually I don’t really know, it’s just, like, y’know when you’re young you try different things and I liked to draw and I liked to sing. And you try to make your own stuff, like you compose your own songs. And I tried to learn to play the guitar a little, and so that motivated me to write. Plus I used to sing… You know, in church you used to sing at the concerts that they have, I sang at the concert they had in church. They said I sounded good and from there I get encouragement to write songs on my own.
An early group was formed from there?
In church really… we had this little church group, the three of us. Yeah, we sang gospel then. Y’know, as I said before, at young people’s events we would sing, that is really going to… that is just for the church. But when I kinda venture out of the church (chuckles) and I met all the guys who were interested in doing regular songs… Yeah, and I used to just like walk around practicin’ and singin’ with my guitar. And then that’s the time I met this other guy from the original Beltones, ’cause the Beltones was already formed.
What year is this?
What year? I’m not good at age but that was like…
So approximately ’67 or so?
Yeah, thereabout, yes. That’s when they usually see me walking with my guitar, there was a school there, and then he asked me if I wanted to come and jam with them, just like that. And then that’s how it started. I was the only one who could really play an instrument then, not really excellent, but I mean… y’know (chuckles)?
I could find the chords (laughs).
The rudiments was there.
Exactly. And you could jam with that. And that’s how actually we… He decided, he say, well, if I want to join the group, and I say why not. And that was great for me.
Who are we talking, the guy Bop from the first constellation of the group?
That was Bop, yeah. Rudolph Simmonds. That time he was a popular dancer.
Bop alias Rudolph Simmonds, ‘Bop the Dancer’.
Yeah. That time he was with Coxson, Studio One. He was recording then. ‘Cause when I went there, some of the songs you see credited to Beltones was done before I actually got in, like ‘Smile Like An Angel’, done before, and ‘Not For A Moment’.
‘Dancing Time’, those were done before.
When I started it was with ‘No More Heartaches’, and then Bop had left the group.
Bop was the leader, who were the other guys?
Oh, at the time you had another chap, Keith Mitchell, and Owen Laing.
Well, yes. OK, after he left and we decided to – we were trying to find a ‘sound’, like. We tried to get that, to create our own sound, so everybody tried deep. And then eventually we decide say, OK, I would be… Well, as a matter of fact, I wouldn’t totally… No, I just remember why I actually become the lead singer. Keble, Keble Drummond now from the Cables, yeah, he played a vital role in that. Because he introduced us to Harry J, Harry Johnson. Yeah, he introduce us, so Harry wanted to hear us sing. And at that time Keith, Keith Mitchell was actually doing the lead. Even though I wrote the songs, but he was doing the lead. But when Harry heard us he said, “OK, I have an idea. Why don’t you switch around your harmony a bit. Trevor, let me hear how you lead.” And that’s what happened. And we switched around that way, and because I wrote the song, so I kinda had the strength in it more than he in a sense. Yeah. So Harry heard it that way and he said, “Yes, why don’t you guys just practice it that way”. And so that’s how it came about (chuckles). And as I said, Keble played a great role because he was the one who introduced us to Harry, Harry J. And then Harry was instrumental in saying it this way, and then we decide to keep it that way on all the other songs we did, and that’s how it went from then on.
Why did Bop leave in the first place?
Well, actually what he did, he left for the States.
Ah, so it was basically just a question of migration on his part.
Yes, he left to pursue his dream, and he didn’t come back (chuckles). And that was it, y’know.
His parents already resided in the US, or what?
Well, I’m not sure why he left, but in those early days people wanted to… you know?
Try their luck.
Try their luck, and the group wasn’t really known yet to say they was really known, so he just went. And he leave the group and didn’t come back, and we decide to continue the group at that point.
Did you ever hear back from him?
Yeah, in those days we heard… y’know what I mean, he was doing quite well according to him, he was doing dancing. Ca’ he was stronger as a dancer than a singer, so I guess he concentrated more on the dancing. But after a time we didn’t hear much from him again. We used to, like, hearing this and hearing that, but it stopped after a while.
So you lost track of him then.
Lost track of him, yeah.
Back to Harry J again. He was an insurance salesman at this time, right?
He was at that time, yeah. He was just coming into the music business. As a matter of fact, I think we were the first group he recorded. To my memory we were the first group he recorded. ‘Cause at that time, when Bop left, they were still at Studio One. And like, we were under a contract, so some of the songs that you probably hear, they were recorded but went nowhere. So it’s like we forget about them. And Keble was also there, his group (the Cables) was also there at the time under a contrac’, and they were like encouraging us ‘Nutten happening here, why not go to Harry J?’, you understan’?
Ca’ his group also went to Harry J, and we followed suit. And Harry liked what he heard and decide to record us. (Chuckles) And as a matter of fact, the firs’ song that we record was ‘No More Heartaches’. We also did it at Studio One, ca’ then Harry J didn’t have a studio yet. So we recorded that song at Studio One, (chuckles) the place we were originally assigned to. Yeah.
How did you like the vibes at Studio One?
It was OK, it’s just that nothin’ was happening. I mean, you go in a certain time and you can record, you have your own recording time, and that’s it. But nothing was happening. At that time he had like his bigger artists that he was tryin’ to concentrate on, but he still… You know, producers are like that, they still take what they can out of you. If you are not making money for him he’s not concentrating on you. In those days he had like the Heptones, the Gaylads and people like those. Ken Boothe, those people were there. So we were just like… I don’t know how to put it, but he wasn’t saying anything. ‘Cause as a matter of fact, the same song, ‘No More Heartaches’, when we sang it for Coxson… when we sang that song for him then he said that song, it goes kinda soft, it’s not really saying anything. At the time they were singin’ mostly gimmick songs, catchy tunes, songs with gimmicks so he said ‘Why don’t you change it up?’ But we didn’t want to change it, we just love it the way it was. That’s why he didn’t record that song, according to him, yeah. But when Harry J heard it, he was new to the business too and he was willing to take the chance, so he decided then he liked the song jus’ the way he wanted to by rearranging – when I say ‘rearrange’ I mean, like, that I would become the lead singer and the other two guys would do the harmony. Yeah, and there it was, the public like it when it’s happening (chuckles). And that’s the beginning of the story, when the group came up.
Well, I know, the big producers had more influence then. And as you say, the payola, they had the money and they had the contacts, so they could do what they want. But then again, like Harry J, he had a vision in a sense. He had visions, and he pushed. (Chuckles) I guess he pushed against them. He got contacts… I guess he had some money too, I don’t know, so he could do the same thing that the rest were doing. So we got our music played on the air. Plus there was sound system in those days. And as a matter of fact, I remember going to this sound system, I think it was Merritone. I don’t know if you’ve heard of them?
Winston Blake and brothers.
Exactly, Winston Blake, Merritone. And he had a club going too (Turntable Club). And I can tell you something that happened (chuckles). Actually, Harry J asked him to play the song on the sound system, and it was the first sample of the song, and when he was gonna play it… Hear what happened. At the time we had this program going on the radio station where you can call in and request for your songs to be played. ‘Cause then we had Radio Jamaica and… what was it again…?
JBC. It was those two, RJR and JBC.
And RJR, right. And friends keep on calling in. They hear the song and they call in and they request for it, and the more requests you get the more play it would get, y’understan’. And the more play it gets the more people gonna hear it. And that’s what happened. So people keep on requesting it. And then at that time they had this chart going where it goes on the chart with a bullet, and if it goes on with a bullet you know that means it’s going up. I think that’s what happened (laughs). It keeps on playing and every week it moves up.
Yeah, and that’s wha’ happened. And then it start going and keep on moving up. And then Winston went back to Harry J and say “Man, I really didn’t like the song, but it still have to get a play”, y’know. “So give me a copy” (laughs). Harry J said: “If you want a copy now you have to go and buy it yourself”. Like, when he asked him he didn’t want it, ca’ he say it wasn’t good. You know (chuckles)?
So it goes.
Afterwards, Winston now, he got himself a copy and he started playing it on his sound system and in his club, and then that helped to kinda push it some more. And then it really took off, and I know Harry J released it in England and then – bam! – we hear it was making waves in England also. And that was the beginning of the Beltones really. People started to know. Because before Beltones was not a name to anybody that people would talk about. Even ‘Smile Like An Angel’, it was like a mediocre hit still. But ‘No More Heartaches’ was the one that break Beltones, and further down with ‘Home Without You’.
I believe they recorded as early as ’63, ’64 or ’65, the early attempts like ‘Gloria’s Love’ and ‘Hold Me’ for Lindon Pottinger, Sonia’s late husband.
They recorded for his Gay Disc label.
‘I Want To Hold You’, ‘I’m Cold’, ‘We Are One’, other titles around that time.
Those were done before me. Yeah, I wasn’t really a part of those, the earlier ones.
That was the early…
The earlier Beltones.
Because… Yeah, when I joined them I think the one they had was ‘Gloria’s Love’ or ‘Smile Like An Angel’, one of those. But even though they still used to perform. Like, nobody know the group as much then, or who was who.
What was the rhythm section for ‘No More Heartaches’, if you can recall? (Leroy) Sibbles on bass, Fil Callender on drums?
Yes, who was there…? What’s this guy…? Yeah, he played bass. I think Wright was the name of the guy who played keyboards.
Winston Wright, those two I can remember. But I can’t remember the rest, but I can remember those guys. ‘Cause they were like studio musicians, and you know Leroy had his group going but he was a good bass player too.
Did Leroy have a finger in the arrangement of the song?
Well, not really, y’know. ‘Cause those days, when you write a song it’s like you have the riddim and the melody already arranged, so when you go in it’s like you hum it to them and they bow to how you want it. In those days, that’s how it worked. You go in and you say (hums): ‘ta ta da daaa da’, you know wha’ I mean? And, yeah, when you do that they come up with a bass line. In a sense, even though we give them they’re the ones who create it, but we are the one who give them the idea of how we want it to sound. But they created it. We come with the melody, tell them how we want it and then they record, that’s what happened. Horns…? I try to remember who were the ones who blew the horns… I know it was one of them hornsman who played for Mrs Pottinger.
Might’ve been Bobby Ellis (trumpet), Vin Gordon (Don D. Jr., trombone), perhaps Roland (Alphonso, sax).
It could be anyone of them, but as I say, the two people who would stand out that I can remember was Leroy and Winston Wright.
Maybe ‘Deadly’ Headly on sax.
Could be anyone of them, ’cause in those days they had different… a lot of people was workin’ at Studio One. Yes. But, like, I was kinda more close to the Heptones still, like we were friends still. I know they loved me. I mean, I know that’s one thing: you see when a musician love your song, you get a good outcome.
Yes, they love it. Even though originally when we sang it for him (Coxson) he said it was too soft.
‘Soft’, yunno (laughs). But as I said, Harry was more willing than these guys to… he liked the sound.
I suppose that contributed to the song being so big at the time, that it broke the pattern of contemporary songs of being so simple and gimmick sounding.
I know, it was totally different, yeah. Totally different to what was going on. And even the flipside, ‘I’ll Follow You’, that’s the one I liked (chuckles). Up to now I still prefer that to ‘No More Heartaches’. Because they liked both of them and there was like ‘which one to choose for the flipside?’, and I think ‘No More Heartaches’ won out after a while. But I still prefer ‘I’ll Follow You’.
Why do you prefer that one, what’s the reason?
(Laughs) I don’t know. Maybe because it had something to do with somebody who I was kinda… you know?
It was written about a certain girlfriend at the time…
(Chuckles) Yeah. As a matter of fact, those days, that’s how you write something about what happen to you then, y’know.
Exactly, your love life you could say that it is. So ‘I’ll Follow You’ was kinda more closer to me then than ‘No More Heartaches’. ‘Cause the song was saying ‘searching so long, now that I’ve found you…’, like you clinge to that person (chuckles).
Communicating through a song, giving hints, like.
(Chuckles) Exactly, but ‘I’ll Follow You’ was just telling the one that you’re in love before that, you’ll follow them wherever they’ll go. And through that I let her know that I’d follow her anywhere she goes (laughs). You know what I mean?
So, the conclusion: did it help?
(Laughs) Maybe it did.
Maybe it did, maybe it did, I’m not too sure. ‘Cause all those years… I don’t remember who the girl was (laughs).
Yeah. But I know it got us a lot of girls, but that’s another story (chuckles).
But in those days, that’s all you’ve got.
We didn’t get a lot of shows yet. It’s like after it hit, we were the group that everybody want to see, yunno. At that time you had the Carib Theatre, that was the big thing you had in those days. You had shows like Christmas morning.
Yeah, that was another one.
Yeah, so eventually we did a lot of shows, a lot of live shows. And we even went down – we even worked on the North Coast. Yeah, a few clubs, we did a few gigs down there. It was fun and we appeared on the – then it was, as I say, it was the JBC that… yes, we appeared there. They had – I don’t remember what it was called, I think it was ‘Where Its At’, something. It’s a program where…?
Right, the TV show.
Yes, it was. We appeared on that a couple of times too. And we were also invited at RJR, ’cause that was just the radio station, but JBC was the television station, which they could watch you and see, y’know. And also we did that when we came by (unaudible) (RJR show?), y’know. Not even send us (sighs)… you know? Get it higher up.
Did you have to do it playback, or it was a live backing on the show, the TV program?
No, usually on these shows they used the tracks.
Mime, you have to mime to it. Just what they do now, yes. They play the raw track and we sing and dance to it. Yeah, so there was no live band.
Some nice outfits for the occassion I guess?
Oh yeah, we were really classic.
(Chuckles) We were really so classic, yeah. You had to dress up for the girls, ’cause… you know.
Try to impress in every way.
Exactly. But that’s what we got from it the most. We had the enjoyment, that’s why I continued for a while, because we were enjoying it. But not that we were gettin’ anything from it. And then we did a few more after that, like for Harry J we did ‘Home Without You’. We did ‘Why Pretend’. Um, I think ‘Please’… I’m not sure if it was Harry J we did that for.
‘Please (Stop Your Crying)’, yes.
Yeah, I’m not sure if it was Harry J we did that for.
Yes, it was.
I know I did ‘Rough Road’ for him.
You cut ‘Please’ for Harry, it came out in ’69 too on the Trojan label.
‘Please (Stop Your Crying)’, yeah.
And ‘We’ve Got To Part’ as well.
Yeah, and we had ‘Rough Road’ I think I did. I’m not sure if it was him I did that for.
Yes, but that was later on, in the early seventies.
Later on, yes, yes. And ‘Wrapped Up In Love’. I’d have to dig them out to find them (chuckles). Yes, some of the songs that I did. ‘Cause I totally forget about some of the songs too. Because, as I said, discontentment after a while when nutten was happenin’ really, financially. And that’s why the group broke up really. Then we were only gettin’ popular in a sense, but there was nutten really coming from it. And then we heard that it went big in England, and… As a matter of fact, when it went to number one on the chart in England, we were supposed to go to England with the group, yunno. And Harry J actually – I must give him credit, he actually start the bullet way with promotion, and that’s the time the group really threw a spanner in the whole works and seh no, they won’t do it with him again. And that’s when the group broke up really, after that. And everybody decide to go their own way, which was kinda sad. I was just looking at it now and said ‘Maybe if we would stick it out an’ gone to England, somet’ing coulda happen’.
Yeah, something could’ve happened, I think that way. But I don’t know, it wasn’t meant to be.
Yes, so after a time, after that happened now then I decide to go solo. But then there were other little groups there who wanted me to be a part of them. There was this group named The Fantels.
Oh yes, yes.
Yeah, I did a stint with them too. Even one time we wanted to call ourselves ‘The Beltones’, yunno (chuckles).
Yea, we were kinda ‘in-between’, so we wondered if we should use the name ‘Beltones’. ‘Cause even on the internet I saw where someone had it as ‘Beltones’, I had to write them a letter saying no, it wasn’t really Beltones. Really, it was Fantels.
And this was like the mid seventies?
Yes. And there was even a time when Keble… his group was kinda, y’know what I mean, not going the way he wanted it and he kinda broke off. And Keble, myself and another guy called Bobby Dockeray got together.
True Experience, yes. We formed a group and called ourselves True Experience, ca’ we want to break away from the Cables and Beltones. And we did quite well but not as we had hoped it to be. Yeah. So there you go; Beltones, True Experience, Fantels.
Who sang in the Fantels, can you recall them?
The names of the other guys?
Ah, let me see. There was Junior Lewinson, the other guy… Brown was his last name, well, we called him ‘Dad’ Brown but actually I try to find his right name (possibly the same man who cut ‘Stand & Look’ for Fatman circa ’77, to be found on the ‘Trojan 12″ Box Set’). But affectionally everybody call him Dad Brown. I forget his real, his first name.
I’m not sure but I believe he had a stint in Earth & Stone, if you remember them, recorded for Channel One?
I’m not sure, it could be. ‘Cause in those times people move from group to group, y’know (chuckles). But anyway…
I think the Fantels recorded for Joe Gibbs like ‘Hooligan’.
‘Hooligan’, exactly! So, yes… I know.
And then they invite me to jam with them, and we just… yeah.
They had ‘Where You Gonna Run (When Jah Jah Come)’ too, a minor hit I believe.
Exactly (chuckles). That’s true. And with the Fantels we kinda worked together too, mostly we didn’t do any recordings when I was with them, we do mostly live shows. Yeah, mostly shows. We were planning to record, but then again we were getting shows to do so we were kinda stuck with the Fab Five.
Fabulous Five with Grub Cooper and so on.
Exactly, so we used to like work with them, like when they’re doing a tour locally.
A package, like. They had another junior band called the Unique Vision.
Ah… yes! The blind guys?
Yeah, blind guys. So we used to be with Unique Vision most of the time, anywhere they’re going we would be, like, part of the package. ‘Cause those groups were managed by Fab Five. So we kinda link with them and we do shows together, all over the place.
But you never sang lead for the Fantels, did you? You have a more ‘smooth’ type of singing. I, for some reason, cannot imagine you leading a roots harmony group?
No, no. When they invited me, yeah, I was the lead singer. Yes.
So you sang on ‘Hooligan’?
No, no, no. Those songs were recorded before, before I joined them.
But like performance-wise, and stage-wise, yeah, I was the one to do the lead. ‘Cause we hardly ever did like those songs that they record before I went in. Yeah, we decide to go in a different direction, we’d do mostly cover songs.
I see. Because those tracks, ‘Where You Gonna Run’ and ‘Hooligan’, that is more culture, in a rootsy vein.
Exactly, we kinda stepped away from those kind of songs. We were trying to do, like, I guess when they broke up too… you know, as I say, groups break up for different reasons and you want to get away from what you recorded. So sometimes you want to forget certain things. And I guess that’s what happened too when they broke up, with the first lead singer… I don’t remember what his name was. I think they were three of them, originally. I’m not sure. I don’t remember what the next one was called, I think he migrated and then that’s when they decide to split. We met and they’d want me to be a part of them, and that’s the story there.
Oh, well, me personally, and all three of us in the Beltones, we all were workin’. Yeah, I was working with the government. So I had a job, I had a full-time job.
You’re educated at KC (Kingston College)?
No, I actually went to Trench Town Comprehensive High. Yeah, and when I left there I went straight to the government.
Working with accounting, economics, or?
No, I was in the justice department really. I worked in the courts, yeah. I worked in the courts for eighteen years.
As a matter of fact, I worked in the appeal court section until I came to Canada here. Well, basically when you start there it’s like you learn there and then we went on courses too because you’d have to learn certain things.
So it’s like they sent us to some courses where we learned procedures and certain terms and how to do certain things. Yes, so for eighteen years you learn.
Apprentice, then you step up.
Exactly, move up. So I had a full-time job, it was OK. My other two partners, they had their jobs too. They had good jobs too. But I mean, singin’ was a big thing still.
Always in the back of your mind, to get something going again.
Exactly, so we always lookin’ at, one of these days, if we might get big. So that’s why they were really mad when after we hear that our song is doing so well and then the cheque comes along and when you look at the cheque, the cheque doesn’t say anything. And then the next thing you know, the man builds a big studio. And then, all of sudden, other artists get priority over us, stuff like that. Because he signed up other big artists like June Lodge (in the mid eighties), and some other big names.
Sheila Hylton, but that was much later.
Yeah, yeah, he sign up other big artists afterwards.
And, in your time, Bob & Marcia of course.
Exactly, even though we were the one who really – to be honest, that’s the t’ing that broke our hearts! You know? Ca’ we should be like what Bob (Andy) – when you go to his studio, you should see Beltones, the Beltones there. Ca’ we’re the ones who started him in a sense.
It’s that tricky game again, advantage over a situation…
No, we were young guys of course. You know, as you say, we didn’t know much about anything, we were just happy at first to do what we were doing. Still, we had the dream in our head, y’know what I mean. But it didn’t really materialise the way we wanted it. Yes, so we were kinda bitter in a sense. And, as I was tellin’ you the other day, even though we performed and I perform solo, I hardly ever do any Beltones songs. People ask me, “Come on, how come I never hear you sing ‘No More Heartaches’ among your songs?”, and so and so. But it’s just like that, thing was, it’s there y’know, you still have a bitterness in you. I know I can sing, so I mostly do covers and so on. And I wasn’t even too interested in recording as such anymore. Yes, so I just got… I wouldn’t say ‘lazy’, but laidback. When I came to Canada now I kinda got hooked up with some other guys who I knew from when I was singin’. It was this guy named Jimmy Reid. And another friend of mine named Neville Francis, he used to be in this band Sattalites. I don’t know if you’ve heard about them?
The band where Jo Jo Bennett (composer of the immortal ‘Leaving Rome’ for Harry Mudie) played?
Yes, yes. That’s it. Jo Jo Bennett, yeah. Now when I came up I kinda hook up with Neville, and he spread the word around that Trevor Shields of the Beltones is here and lookin’ for gigs and that was it again, y’know what I mean (chuckles). Yeah, I avoid gettin’ deep into the recording scene, because what I noticed here… In Jamaica you get a producer who produce you, take you to the studio and you get produced. But here, what I noticed here in Canada is like, all the reggae artists just have to do a little thing for themselves.
Yeah, and they save up their money and they go to the studio to record, and that’s it. Where would it get played? You know (laughs)? You do your little concerts, and that’s it. There was no… I don’t know, there was no really – there still is no big outlet here for reggae music. The only respect is if it comes from Yard (JA), according to them. That’s all.