Clinton Fearon Interview – Part 1
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The Gladiators had the odd hit during the late sixties, but the former vocal group soon grew into a great self-contained band and blossomed at Studio One from the early seventies, where Albert Griffiths, Gallimore Sutherland and Clinton Fearon – together with the occasional drummer and keyboard player – created some enduring music such as ‘Jah Jah Go Before Us’, ‘A Prayer To Thee’, ‘Roots Natty’, ‘Bongo Red’, ‘Downtown Rebel’ and ‘On the Other Side’ to name just a few, the latter two penned by the subject of this interview, bassie Clinton Fearon. You know him as the one who always had two songs on every album, the rest belonged to chief songwriter Albert Griffiths. Considering the quality of Fearon’s material, it was always a big shame to me that we got such a low quantity of contributions to the Gladiators’ extensive output over the years.
NAH FORGET MI ROOTS
However, Fearon has since left the Gladiators and fronts his own band in Northwest America with several solid CD releases under his belt, the latest being an entirely wooden/acoustic album entitled ‘Mi an’ Mi Guitar’. My thanks to Clinton for an enlightening discussion, covering obscure solo releases, his session work as bass-player at the legendary Black Ark studio, modern recordings contra vintage production, the importance of social awareness regarding lyrical content, and much more. Also, thanks to Barbara, Kareem and Ernest (Sankofa), John Schultz the Dubstar, Bob Schoenfeld, Steve Barrow and Michael de Koningh.
As far as I know you had to move around a lot as a kid, tell me a little about the early days.
Well that’s true, that’s true. Well, I was born up in St. Andrew, there’s a lickle district called Essex Hall, and as far as I understood I left with my dad and my stepmom when I was, like, about six months, to the parish of Clarendon. Then we spent I think a year or two in Clarendon, then move again with them to St. Catherine where I spent most of my youthful days. And when I was like about twelve now – or earlier than that, like when I was about ten – I used to go to church with my dad and I got involved with young peoples things, and then got involved with the choir, singing in the choir there in the Adventist Church. All during this time still as a kid growing up I would love music, you know like really love it. I used to make myself a lickle bamboo flute, I would bore in tin, bore a hole in it, cut cross it, tie little strings on it and call it my ‘guitar’. But right between the age of ten and twelve all kinda things happened (laughs)! All kinda things happen: I made myself a guitar, y’know (chuckles), which I used. They used to cut wood, put at the wayside to carry to the sawmill an’ t’ing like that, to take to the sawmill. Well, a friend of mine we took a piece of the wood, bring it up to my house, and I used machete and a 16″ anvil, flattened the point of it and used them as a chisel to big out the guitar out of it. I shape it down with the machete. I have the handle and the body out of one wood (laughs)! One piece of wood! Then I asked a friend of my dad – actually the organ player in the church heard that I asked to buy the material to the guitar body in Kingston for me and, y’know, the strings for it. The first night I put that together – and I tell you what too; to make the fret on the guitar I used the kitchen utensil, like fork that we’re keeping, and used those to make frets (laughs)! It was quite a guitar (laughter)! But it was my guitar, y’know wha’ I mean, my guitar for a while there. And then a next friend of my dad was – he had a guitar with him one night and told me he was sellin’ it, this guy was having it and wasn’t doing anything with it. So I had to work with my dad in the canefield, cut cane, do this, do that.
Where is this? Did you go with your father to Cuba for a while? I seem to remember something about that.
No, no, was in Jamaica.
Your father left for Cuba for some time anyway.
Actually my father spent some time in Cuba, made a few trips over there. Yeah, I work with my dad and I used piece of cane too to weed out. It was thirteen thousand for the guitar. I worked with my dad like a dog. Bwoy, I worked on huge pieces of canefield (laughs)! He told me, he said, well, he watched me struggle with it, and at one point he said “OK, alright, I finish the rest”. But we only did nine thousand worth of work. There is two pound, make it eleven pound, well, you ask to find the other two pound, to pay the guy. So I brought eleven pound to the guy and told him that I owe him two pound, I still went without two pound beca’ I didn’t get the two pound (laughs)! There was no way for me to get that money to pay, so I owe him two pound. Looking back at it what they both wanted was to help me out, and my dad wanted me to learn to work my own money and all of that, so all of this stayed in the picture.
Was your father involved in playing music at all, or you didn’t get the interest from him?
He played a little mouth organ, we call it ‘mouth organ’.
‘Mouth organ’, what’s that again? A harmonica, like?
It’s not really harmonica, it’s the one we call it mouth organ. It’s the same principle as – it’s not melodica either, you blow it like a harp, but it has double sides an’ t’ing like that. Down in the backwoods we call it ‘mout’ organ’, but you could call it a harp.
A folk instrument, basically.
Yeah, he used to play that and he used to sing in the church too, as well, and sometimes we’ll do duet. So that’s when the choir leader saw us – saw me sing with my dad, we did a duet at one time – and then by the second time we did it together, she asked my dad to aks me if I want to sing in the choir, and then ‘yes’, y’know. Dad was then another undertaker, because then as, y’know, a child or as a kid an’ t’ing like that (chuckles), when I would go out of the bush, man, and go out in the street an’ t’ing like that, like a lickle wild animal, y’know wha’ I mean. So, got into church an’ t’ing like that, and got in the choir, and then that woman what she did to me was like a third (inaudible), she had me sing a whole part by myself. The choir would – this is the practice now: the whole choir would sing a part and then there’s a part of the song that I used to sing by myself. I (inaudible) all my palms – that sweaty, y’know (laughs)! I was so nervous! But all of those things build me an’ make me love music more. And there were some sisters that used to go to church, we called them The Eglan Sisters, it was seven sisters a them. Sometimes all seven would sing, sometimes five, sometimes two, y’know, six, trio – also as quartet, quintet. They do it all sometimes as one, a lone t’ing. But beautiful voices, they could really sing together, y’know, and they were part of my inspiration too. When I moved to Kingston I brought my guitar with me and determined to get into music.
By the way, this gospel group you mentioned, were they ever into recording? Coxson did gospel records at the time, did he record them, the sisters?
They jus’ stayed on a local level. I don’t think they ever get involved in the music, they were more in the church, they’re more in the church and they went on to different progressions. I know one was a teacher, one end up being a nurse. I don’t know what happened to the rest. Some were older, a couple of them – one a them were right around my age, one was younger and the rest were older.
So that’s the first step getting into playing, becoming more serious.
Yeah, that’s the first time that I was playing an’ t’ing like that. Oh, and there was this one time at school when I was about eight, and the head-teacher having like, y’know, a lickle singin’ at the side of it an’ t’ing like that. The head teacher had me sing a little song and he gave me a penny (chuckles)! That was my first penny (laughs)! My firs’ pay fe perform! That was funny too.
At that stage, were there any neighbourhood boys you started to interact with, forming some amateur type groups for practice, or even trying your luck at contests?
Actually there was this guy name Jacob Tennant, he and I, we used to sing along with a couple other guys. I can’t remember their names right now, but in our neighbourhood we used to sing along an’ t’ing like that, and Joseph Hill from Culture used to go at the same school, to Point Hill School. He and I actually at one point decided that we’re gonna run away to Kingston, but we didn’t get to do it. I don’t remember what happened, but we didn’t get the chance to run away (laughs)! We kinda wanted to get into music, y’know what I mean. So, that’s for a long time I didn’t see Joseph Hill until I – a long time after that – then run into Jacob Tennant, and that’s after I went to Kingston and got involved with The Gladiators that I run into Jacob Tennant, and Jacob told me that he and Joseph Hill was living in Linstead and were doing something together, and so forth and so on. Then sometime after that I met Joseph Hill down by Coxson’s studio. At that time he was interested in playing drums.
Yes I believe he played drums in the Soul Defenders, they backed Freddie McKay at some point.
I think so, I can’t remember the whole story of that, y’know what I mean. Yeah.
Then it’s the move to Kingston, you were around sixteen at the time, the family had split up and you were joining your mother in Kingston?
Yeah, the family split up, me and my dad live in the old sphere. My dad he claimed that he is sending me to my mom, y’know, to spend some time with my mom.
How come she eventually moved to Kingston? I guess for a better livity, that would be the most obvious.
I don’t know, I think she probably loved it in Kingston more at that time. Now, looking back at it as a big man now, I think they were like lovers in dispute, ’cause my dad had lived with another woman who was most likely his main woman – the one that he lived with. My mom was just at his side. So I think she figured it’s best for her to move out of the area and go back, and go to Kingston, that’s what I think. As a kid they’re not telling me all of that. So anyway, I moved to Kingston right around fifteen or sixteen, somewhere there.
Which part of Kingston is this, where your mother lived?
Kingston 11, in the Waltham Garden area. That is – it would be more closer to Half Way Tree, Cross Roads, y’know. This could be like mid sixties, ’66/67, somewhere there.
Any particular work to support the household with?
Well, when I moved to Kingston I tried to get work, didn’t continue school. It was ‘Hey, I’m a big man now, I wanna get a job and want to get into music’, so I’m pursuing those two. I tried to get a job, made several applications. ‘Oh, we’re full up right now’, or ‘We notify you’, like about a year and a half it would be nutten to do. Every now and then I would go paint a house with my brother, and there was this man who actually introduce me to this man named Livingston, or Livingstone I think. He used to build u-road, y’know, the roads. My brother used to work mason, mason work there, and so from one person to another, one person now and this person and so forth, then I got hooked. Then I was doing the office work, man! I would pick up some troubles, y’know. So I did like the first week, I told them “This is not working, I need some elevation”. So I start hang around the mason guy and start work for him instead of the company. I start work for him and did curbs or channels like for sidewalks and, y’know, for water an’ t’ing like that. So I got the rough part of that too! Like mix concrete, and brought concrete over and he had these forms that he used for the curves, and so forth, and for the walks I had to fashion those. So I told him and I said the same thing that “Man, you know I need to be able to use the showers, those are not working”. Well, sometime him would use it with a lickle park, y’know, to finish it up. I remember one evening he said he really had something to do this time, and he left me with some concrete, maybe about seven to eight inch, somet’ing like that, and I was left working on it all by myself. It took me the longest time, because I wanted it to be perfect, and I did get it to a good point. Next morning he come to me say “Oh man, you can take your own job” (laughs)! So I was all proud an’ t’ing like that. Shortly after that he left that work an’ went on to do something else, with another company, and lend me the job. And so I was doing this job, and you had older guys, so I was kind of the youngest on the scene. But you see, the older guys they had been there for years, man, and they didn’t step up, I end up doing a lot of work, and so forth. I don’t remember how long I did that, maybe a year and a half.
That’s tough work. How was the pay?
Really tough work, man. The pay was awful! This guy he live uptown making a lot of roads in Kingston, and outside of Kingston. This guy give contract to do (it), so we got little off of it. But it was something to do an’ I was kinda my own boss halfway there. I could get there at the time, I know how much work I could do for the day, I get the pay according to the work I do. It was kinda alright for me, in that sense. But the money was bad, yunno. I hardly had anything to carry home, because I always (inaudible) in the back, y’know.
That’s one job you certainly don’t miss these days!
Yeah (laughs)! You got it, you got it! So all this time now there was this group – actually first when I got to town, I met this guy named Neville, and Vin, and we put a little group together named The Brothers. And we sang together, we rehearsed. I remember we went to Duke Reid and we went to Dynamic two times, to Federal. At one time we get at Duke Reid’s. I think actually Peter Touch (Tosh) and Gladstone Anderson was doing the audition, and they let us do a song. We got up there and actually The Gladiators was doing a song.
At that same time?
At that same day. When we get through the little shop and go upstairs then everybody waiting to record. The Gladiators was doing a song, it was Albert Griffiths, Errol Grandison and Webber – I can’t remember his last name.
David? David Webber?
David Webber, yes.
What was the song you did for Treasure Isle as The Brothers?
I didn’t, I didn’t – it didn’t happen that day. When we went back the next time, Duke Reid was downstairs with two shotgun in his waist and a long gun and there’s this lickle smirkle smile on his face, he acted like as if he didn’t know us from the others, so we had to start the process all over again. So, we got discouraged (laughs)! We got discouraged and decided to try elsewhere. In the process, that didn’t amount to anything, y’know.
How did you find Duke personally?
I don’t know, I heard stories that he was alright, I heard stories too that he’s mean. You know, I didn’t get a mean vibe. The vibe I get from him is that he’s a kind of tweakin’ (?) kind of guy (laughs)! How to put it, Duke was kinda like an actor, he would put on these skill tactics and he would have, like, on the street where his studio were (Bond Street), a youth up on the street, he would have these youths selling drink, soft drinks, all packed up in crates right there on the sidewalk. Nobody steal one – downtown Kingston we are talkin’ about, y’know. When you come back tomorrow morning, you don’t see one drink. You know, he managed to do that, and I know it attributed to that he probably have some badman friend around there, an’ t’ing like that. And back then with him having those guns, then everybody is afraid of him. But he didn’t look mean or anything, like in the face or anyt’ing, he looked like this calm lickle guy, y’know. He’s not little but you know… pleasant features an’ t’ing like that, him is alright. I didn’t have – I didn’t spend a lot of time with him, so I really don’t know.
‘Kind appearance’, apart from that gun in his waist.
Yeah, you know (laughs)!
OK, so this little country boy now living in a hectic place like Kingston – your impressions, didn’t you want to leave such an environment, compared to the countryside it must’ve been a mess, a real mess?
Yes, y’know, a part of me was terrified! The behaviours was much different from what I was used to. In the country I was used to people gettin’ on and we had our little fights an’ t’ing like that, you know kids.
But it’s a totally different ballgame in Kingston.
Yes, in the country everybody knows everybody an’ they don’t shoot anybody, an’ t’ing like that. You have your fistfights, you and your friend, or with a guy over the next district or you fling stone and hit one another, or whatever an’ t’ings like those, y’know. Every now and then in a dance an’ t’ing a guy might cut a guy, or something like that, and that would be like a news over the whole district. ‘Who so and so cut so and so’, y’know, and ‘police looking for him’, and blah blah blah. But then when I moved to Kingston it’s like, y’know, of course there’s nice people but there was a harsh, mean tone to a lot of people, and that part was a little bit hard for me to understand. The more time I spent there I developed friendship with a few people an’ t’ing like that, then I spent my time most with those people, I tried to ignore the rest. But I have to admit that it was a kind of hard one. Also when I was going to school when I was a youth in the country too, there was this man Ram – a Rastaman named Ram, we call him Ram in the district there. We loved him, everybody know Ram, y’know. Everybody respect Ram, even those who don’t agree with him, to grow your hair long an’ t’ing like that and so forth, they still respect the guy ca’ he respect everybody.
Good to hear, otherwise people back off from the ‘Blackheart Man’ or whatever they called them. You know what I mean, all that unknown, unfamiliar, scary thing.
Something scary for some reason, and some of them would come off with a kind of harsh tone, because it’s a different atmosphere, the vibe is different an’ t’ing like that. The people ain’t used to it, they draw assumption right away an’ don’t want their kids to be around those people. But like I say, for some reason everybody loved Ram. I don’t think Ram come off that kinda way, and that was my exposure to Rastafari, y’know. Now when I moved to Kingston you have a whole another attitude, like whe you call it – anger! You know, anger – an arrogant kind of vibe to go with it which I didn’t see in the country, so a new t’ing for me too. And up ’til this day there’s still that attitude, that attitude even magnify. Well, you see, what ‘appen is that after a while, is that a lotta youthman learn that you can lean on Rastafari or in other words you grow your hair an’ look a certain way and people fear for you. You know? And they don’t mind that at all, it’s actually a part of what they want. But in the same breath they’re using it as a spiritual step, using it that way as…
A shield, to hide behind or cover it up.
Yeah, hide behind it, y’know. Some a dem are the scariest – it’s like some a dem are scared, y’know, afraid. But like you say, they’re hiding behind it, that shield, and then you find that it’s a misreputation that goes on. But such is life (laughs).
What popular acts did you take in during these times?
Motown, all of that. And I loved The Skatalites. I remember when on a school-trip to Kingston and the Skatalites was playing, they played at the Stadium in Kingston. And, y’know (laughs), when I started I said to myself ‘That’s what I’m gonna be doing, that right there! THAT is what I’m gonna be doing!'(laughs). Yeah. But the Motown stuff, man, and coming up there’s this one woman weh… Mahalia Jackson.
Yeah, she had a big impact on me. I did just love how she got into it. She put her own self in what she was doing – I could feel her! She is a big influence.
Suppose you didn’t have a record player in the household?
We didn’t have that, we lived way in the woods, man. I didn’t even have a radio, only hear the woods, man! You know, I used to use the sun and the moon and the stars for time, the woods, y’know wha’ I mean. If I wanna reach school certain time I know when the shadow of the hills rest a certain way, an’ t’ing like that. Seh ‘OK, alright, seven o’clock, I need to beat it now’. If I wanna get to school by eight o’clock I need to leave now, and coming home too when I’m playing with my friends an’ t’ing, if I don’t get home on certain time I have to ask if OK for my dad. You know, I had certain time too when I check certain – an’ that whole road is like three mile to school, and its like all the way coming home I can tell you roughly within minutes apart, which way, or what time it is. And maybe five minutes off, whether later or earlier. Not much more than that off! This is from the shadows from this, and to that. And from nighttime it’s the same thing too, y’know. You have the (inaudible), you have a star you call the Morning Star when it rises a certain time of the year, you know what time it is. Yes, several different planets up there that we used for time. Way out there, man, some of my friends have a little radio an’ t’ing like that. I used to hang out mostly with older guys than myself, and they could afford a lickle radio. I couldn’t afford that (chuckles).
Yeah, those were the days.
Yeah I tell you, man. And there were rough days, but looking back at it those were actually the sweetest days of my life, and I didn’t know it! I tell you, man, it was fun, it was fun. But then you know, the distraction, you have a friend move to Kingston, come back a few months later lookin’ all flake, y’know, Kingston vibe, y’know wha’ I mean, having all the girls, living big, you feel like you wanna move to Kingston. It’s tempting, you know. But then when you get there, man, it’s like I got there and after a year I start to, like, ‘Bwoy, I dunno, country really nice yunno’. And then within a couple of years after that ‘Bwoy, country REALLY nice yunno!’ – y’know what I mean (laughs)! More time you spend away from it is like it’s becoming this sweet patterned memory that you never wanna get rid of.
So back to The Brothers, you split and then what happened for you?
Yeah, I split up from them and then mainly it’s because I was in my little backyard there bangin’ on my guitar and actually Errol Grandison from The Gladiators passed by an’ him jus’ asked “How yu doing”, say “Hi”, y’know, and asked if he can come in. And me say “Oh yeah man, you can come in”, and he tell me who him is. And so me and him humming something together, nothing special, just something. Him tell me now that Gladiators is lacking a member an’ that I would be perfect for the slot, and I say “Oh, yeah man, I would be up to do it”. So him say “OK, I’m gonna tell Albert”. And I think a few days later him and Albert came by, and I started with the Gladiators then.
Do you remember the first encounter you had with Albert?
My first impression is that actually (chuckles) I think he were a little bit arrogant, and deep in the back of my ‘ead, my psyche tell me that he is not easy to get along with, but he mus’ be a nice person from he knew music. But anyway, the first encounter really was one evening – this is the first time when he (Errol) brought him, when Albert came by. No, the firs’ encounter with Albert wasn’t that time! That time I was still in The Brothers, we end up in a little patta bush. I can’t remember who, I think it was Vin who invite the Gladiators to come rehearsin’, or somet’ing like that. We end up in a little patta bush and they sing a song. Then we start singin’ a song, after they sing a song, so we say “OK, let them hear something that we have”. And we start up a song – and Albert get up and left! And took the other two guys with him, jus’ left, without saying that he’s leaving or anyt’ing like that. I figure that this was a little bit bizarre. After that Errol Grandison came by and said they’ve lost a member.
That was Webber, he got mentally ill I believe.
I think it was mental problems, yeah. I dunno what happened to him, it’s a long time I’ve seen him walking about the place. But at the time we jus’ reasoning with him, and the reasoning would be good! They never quite know how to fill it in, what really went (down), but it seems like there was something happening ‘upstairs’ there.
What became of Grandison?
Errol I think… I dunno what happened to him neither. You know, I haven’t seen any of those guys in a long time.
Why did Errol leave the Gladiators?
Um, I think that happened in terms of income, and he decide he can’t go on, can’t handle it any longer. So after it was only Albert and me for a good while, and then Gallimore Sutherland came in.
How did you find Gallimore?
A kind of easy-going personality, I actually like Gallimore, personalitywise. Responsibilitywise, he always act to me like annoying, y’know what I mean, but nice personality, I like ‘Galli’. Galli will piss you off and in the same breath he’d say ‘oh, you set yourself up, man’. And when I see Galli, man, we’re gonna fight, and then when you walk round to fight Galli, then he would jus’ step back when you’re gonna fight him. You know, because of his attitude, laughing as if he did nothing (chuckles).
Before you joined the Gladiators, they had already recorded for WIRL, West Indies, like ‘The Train Is Coming Back’. What was some of the first recordings you cut as member of the Gladiators?
I can remember I did ‘So Fine’, ‘Hello Carol’, and I’m not quite sure there what else it was.
You heard them on record or on the airwaves previous to this?
‘Hello Carol’ and ‘Train Is Coming Back’, those two played on the radio. ‘Hello Carol’ was like number one for some seven weeks, or something like that, on the radio. And ‘Train Is Coming Back’ played for a little while there too.
Like what songs were written in this period, was there a lot written that got recorded later, between the late sixties and early seventies?
You mean what I recorded with them from the start? The first two songs I did with them was ‘Freedom Train’ and ‘Rock A Man Soul’.
Those two was done for Lloyd the Matador, what was the link-up there?
That was for Matador. Well, y’know, we were like doing auditions and kinda got something going. At the time I think Albert didn’t wanna stay with Coxson because Coxson make money from ‘Hello Carol’ and didn’t wanna pay, otherwise – I don’t know what the story was, but… You know, the treatment wasn’t too excellent from Coxson, so all him (Albert) want was to look elsewhere. So we went down by Waltham Park Road there and he had a record shop there, he had a record shop and tv shop where he work on tv’s, repair tv’s an’ t’ings like that. Did an audition there, then we do it (at) Dynamic.
It was only two songs recorded for Matador, they sold well?
At that time, yeah, actually they sell pretty well. Them weren’t a number one or anything like that but they sell pretty well, and he was thinking about doing an album after that, but we didn’t get around to it. Then after that now I think we went back to Coxson, to do some stuff out there. But it was a good stretch of time between there, when we didn’t do anything for Coxson, and then we went back. We do ‘Curly Locks’, we do – no, not ‘Curly Locks’…
‘Beautiful Locks’! And ‘Trench Town Mix-Up’. It was quite a few we did there, we did several things in-between our own stuff. There was a time there too I think when Albert played guitar, Bagga Walker (bass) played there, Pablove Black (keyboards), Albert was there playing guitar for a while. After that we put a band together and played some stuff down there too as well.
Was Albert the man who gave you the suggestion to switch from rhythm guitar to playing bass?
That’s what I started off with, I started off playing guitar. Not studiowise, just at home with guitar an’ t’ing like that. How I get into the bass actually is while we were rehearsing, before we have a band or anyt’ing like that, just a singin’ group. And we were rehearsing and while rehearsing in bars an’ t’ing like that, I would be playin’ like a drum-beat on my leg and hummin’ a bassline, and youth thought that I would be a excellent bass player. Before we would get a band together, I would be the bassman.
How did you feel about that at first, the bass is what reggae’s about on a whole, that is what keeps the ship going.
Oh, I didn’t actually feel what, y’know, was actually excited, I loved it all, y’know what I mean. Loved it all so I was excited about that, and so I learned how difficult it is to actually sing and play (laughs)! Oh, that was difficult, to sing an’ play, but I loved it and I loved my experience with it. And of course Albert is in the business before me so he have more experience with that, both with guitar and with bass. You know, more than I do, and I learned quite a few things from Albert too as well, precious lickle bass things I learned from him in rehearsal time.
Tell me more how that particular fiery Gladiators sound evolved?
I think when I came into the Gladiators, I came with my own vibe, y’know, and I think that have a lot of influence how the Gladiators sounded after ‘Hello Carol’ and ‘So Fine’, ‘Train Is Coming Back’ an’ t’ings like that. When I start recordin’ with the Gladiators, we push a whole other tone to it. You know, I was the one who actually start a ‘question-and-answer’, an answering kind of choir or harmony. You know (sings) ‘I man don’t like to get mix-up, mix-up (high-pitched) mix-uuuup…’, y’know what I mean? I was the one who actually started that with the Gladiators, and then that becomes a kind of harmony spell for us.
A Gladiators trademark.
Yeah, a sort of trademark there. But you know, all of us grow still and help to build that and that’s it. I’m not taking more credit, or I don’t want more credit than I deserve!
Sure, I know what you mean. But how come that the group evolved from a harmony group to a band so fast, you didn’t want to depend on pick-up musicians to provide the feel, that was becoming a little ‘restricted’ to what you wanted to achieve there, soundwise?
Well, we thought that it would be – Albert thought that I would play good bass since I hum nice basslines, and he played the guitar so he would take care of guitar and so forth. There was this guy that we know named Winston Cardey, played drums. We know this guy Clinton Rufus, a guitarist, so we figure that we put something together. But before even Clinton Rufus, Winston Cardey, Albert Griffiths and myself, and there was a couple others who died later that used to hang around, and they would play sometimes. But for the most part it’s the three of us first, and then because we think that it would be better to have a self-contained band, or group. But it was a hard one! I remember we went to Coxson and actually we did some songs for Coxson, and there was some instruments that he had put away there in the studio that he wouldn’t be using. So with those, that’s what we used for a start, instrumentwise.
Considering Albert’s bad experience at Studio One in the sixties, you still chose to go back to Coxson after the Matador recordings.
Well, all of that, like I said I didn’t experience what they did experience, I wasn’t in the group yet at that time. You know, it’s because it’s one of those things where you’re searchin’ for where it’s at, y’know what I mean? Sometimes this bwoy – it’s no better if you leave your work here and go on searchin’ and no better you go right back to where you were, because you can’t find any better, so you go back, and so I guess that’s what happened. So, at this point there’s another houseband out there, there’s other guys like Dennis Brown first time who actually start with Coxson and move away from Coxson and never really do anything for Coxson again after him move out of there. So it’s the same thing – Bob Marley, Bob Marley’s them did the same thing, for we weren’t to that point yet. We weren’t to that point yet (chuckles)! We’re trying but it didn’t work, so we go back together and start there.
Can you recall what you did as a backing band at Studio One, any particular acts and records?
Well, for the Ethiopians, the Silvertones, quite a few there. My first recording there playing bass was when we did something for Delroy Wilson. The first recording we did there was for this guy – can’t remember his right name, we did a song named ‘Selassie Bandsman’ (by The Manchesters), and we jus’ called him Selassie Bandsman for some reason (laughs)! And that name kinda circle since I don’t remember his right name (laughs)! But that was my first recording, basswise, playing bass. So it’s quite a few there, I just can’t remember them off the top of my head – Stranger Cole! We did something for Stranger Cole down there too.
And Burning Spear?
Burning Spear? No, I didn’t do anything for Burning Spear at that time, I think Albert probably did play on something for him there, but I don’t remember.
For how long was the Gladiators second stint at Studio One, if you recall? Between say ’71 up to late ’74, thereabouts?
Um, it’s kind of… you bounce back and forth like, y’know. That time deh we spend there like maybe say a year on a regular basis playing stuff for Studio One, and time in-between, y’know what I mean. That we spend most of the time doing songs, auditions for ourselves too – I mean other artists, for Studio One. Then right in or after that period of time, Vivian Jackson – Yabby You – having a session over by Nighthawk… no, not Nighthawk – Black Ark, yeah, and Scratch (Lee Perry) heard us playing, say “Oh man, wha ‘appen, can do a session?” That’s where I start playin’ bass with Scratch, and I end up play bass for Scratch for a while ’til other things come. I’m there almost every day and do all kinda riddim with Scratch.
Tell me a little about the inspiration for some of the classic songs you cut while the Gladiators resided at Studio One, all your own compositions such as ‘Jah Almighty’ – that one is fantastic, ‘Downtown Rebel’ – just as great, and ‘On the Other Side’, a long time personal favourite. What about ‘Downtown Rebel’ for instance?
It’s just looking at the situation, new kids, y’know, an’ t’ings like that, how they become rebels, how they actually – I wanna say ‘rebels without a good cause’, it’s just basically caused by delinquency, nobody to really take care of them or show them the way but they are new kids, and it kind of hurt, y’know what I mean. Those songs are basically… then I look at the government how that is all dealing with a general waste of talented kids and how they is spending money on this and spending money on that, but they’re not seeing things, them not having a youth programme to deal with these talented kids, and t’ings like that, to see how corrupt our government are. And even until this day I’m still writing like that: ‘When are we gonna see humanitarian help instead of politician seeking blood money’, an’ t’ings like that. Because that’s what has been going on from way back when and it don’t quit today, and of course those were tough times too. So, y’know, you’re hungry and don’t have no money and you wanna wear a new pair of shoes, you can’t buy a pair of shoes! Before you go out and steal from shop to get it, or rob somebody – in a positive way, y’know.
‘On the Other Side’?
‘On the Other Side’? There’s kinda that – ‘on the other side’ kinda mean something as spiritually, it don’t literally mean ‘on the other side’ – ‘over there’, y’know (chuckles)? It mean ‘on the other side of your life’. Again, it means stay on the positive rather than the negative, it tappin’ on your spiritual side, y’know. That’s what that really means. Sometimes I wish I was, like, better with words, y’know what I mean.
I don’t know about that, it’s fine to what I hear. This association between Yabby You and the Gladiators, how did that come about? One of you in the band and Yabby lived in the same neighborhood at the time?
Kinda in the same neighbourhood, and we know Yabby You long time when him just started an’ t’ing like that. We used to actually rehearse Yabby You, y’know, even myself personally used to rehearse Yabby You with acoustic guitar an’ t’ing like that, until him start producing. So we know Yabby You long time, him check for us when him ready to produce, him check for us an’ so we do dub for him, and he always get a good riddim.
- On The Other Side
- Stand Firm
- Message To The Nation
You personally did sessions for him, like for example this ‘Tony Tuff ‘ album on Island, the one that came out in 1980.
Yeah, yeah, do Tony Tuff and Patrick Andy, and the deejay whe used the name – Trinity! About three other youths we do other stuff with.
You ended up doing (with the Gladiators) a tour with Yabby in the US, that was the mid eighties I think, and his first tour in the States.
Yeah, we did something that actually brought the man off of that.
And how did that happen, his record company at the time (Shanachie)?
I think it was his record company at the time, checked Albert, and funny thing about it there wasn’t any more money to have him on the tour, so basically what we supposed to get pay… split, y’know, that many ways, to be able to pay him too as well! That whole thing monetarily was bad, and some part of the vibe was alright but then instead, a friction start along the line between us, the same thing happen with the Ethiopians too. And that’s two groups that I admired. But for some reason there were frictions between them. Albert think that we were playing those guys songs better than we were playing his! It wasn’t that at all, but those guys were easier to work with. His attitude, I think that’s what do it. But, it’s not like we were playing their things better than his, which were more lighter playing their stuff. So therefore that comes across.
Back to the Black Ark, the link to Yabby made you stay there? Scratch wanted you to do more work at his place, or you just enjoyed the interaction and the vibes there, that’s basically why you stayed?
Yeah, he wants us to do more, we did, and then we went back and we did a session.
You did ‘Time’ which came out on the Upsetter label.
And ‘Untrue Girl’?
‘Untrue Girl’, you got it.
Suppose you’ve seen the nice misspelling of it on the Upsetter 7″: ‘On True Gal’?
Yeah, I know (laughs)!
But there wasn’t more than two or three tracks for Scratch then, bearing the Gladiators name?
But solo you did ‘Message To The Nation’ for Perry.
Right, and that – I’m trying to remember if that was my own recording, or that was for Scratch?
It was for Perry, came out on Upsetter.
I know I did one over there, or two, for myself. I recorded for myself, and I have Sky High (Hartnel Henry’s label).
You did the ‘Togetherness’ 45 for him, circa ’75 or the year after.
Yeahhh! That’s right, that’s right.
How did that end up on Sky High’s imprint, he produced the song? I believe this was cut at the Ark.
Actually I didn’t record with Sky High, I record the song and…
And you gave it to him for release then?
Yeah, he actually wanted to get in the business. So, I said “OK, alright”. Hey, y’know, I actually come up with the label ‘Sky High’! I came up with the label Sky High and went over, check him and said “Hey, I have this idea”, and it’s the Sky High label. So ‘I’ll make the record, you sell it’. You know, then later on he open this little shop, and have that song of course, and then the Sky High label, and then everybody just call him ‘Sky High’ after that (laughs)!
Can you remember who played on the session for that track – drums, guitar, and so on? You played bass I assume.
Me, I played bass, but for the guy deh name from Third World – the lead singer?
Bunny Rugs! Bunny Rugs play rhythm guitar, and I played the little lead guitar lick, the lead guitar lick on there.
And who took care of the drums?
I cyaan remember who played drums, I wanna think that it’s Tony – Benbow (Creary). I wanna think that it’s Benbow playing the drums. I think that’s Benbow, or ‘Fish’ Clarke.
What about another track, another 45 titled ‘Stand Firm’ on the Dat Ma Wal label, came out as ‘Tony Fearon’. I’ve also seen ‘Clinton & Tony Fearon’ listed somewhere regarding this tune, so I thought ‘OK, a duet, so who’s Tony ?’ (chuckles).
Oh…? Yeah (laughs)! Is me trying to disguise (chuckles). It’s me trying to disguise, oh man.
But you can’t place that track, when and where it was done?
It’s kinda vague, it is kind of vague how that all went. I can’t even remember how that went. Did a few more there that I can’t even remember how that developed.
At the same time you did collaborations at the Ark with Watty (Burnett, the Congos), like ‘Rise and Shine’, that was credited to ‘Watty & Tony’. Was there any other tracks you cut with Watty there?
With Watty, right, right! I think we did some other thing, like probably harmonize some things for Scratch and for some other people that come in. Me and Watty did some things, but can’t remember them right now though.
How was working at Black Ark in general, compared to, say, Studio One?
Yeah, y’know, I learn a lot! Learned a lot playing over there because Scratch had some great ideas. And he did love me as… and I was quick! I was grasping his ideas an’ t’ing like that, him did love me for that. And I would often time come up with some unique bass ideas myself, too. It was kinda like totally different from the regular basslines that’s out on the street, he did kinda love that, true. He and I get on perfectly well. ‘Cos Scratch is the kind of guy, y’know, hit him in his face, OK, if it’s Q’d, hey – let him out to stay there so. Is when you’re gonna be buddies to him then, oh, this is not gonna be his t’ing, act like bad in his face. Well, not like in his face but… you know? But allow him to be himself, then him get huffy to you and highly face an’ t’ing like that, and sometime run musician out of the studio. Several times the vibe isn’t good for the studio, them time you go home. But he and I used to get on pretty good.
The Gladiators – Albert Griffiths, Clinton Fearon & Gallimore Sutherland in Morocco in the early ’80s (Photographer unknown)
As far as Scratch and Albert, they didn’t get on very well I heard.
Yeah, that’s true, they didn’t click, so…We did that one session with the Gladiators, and we didn’t do another one. I think Scratch went to Albert and Scratch say to Albert, “Albert, man, you sell me the same rhythm that you sell Coxson and that you sell Yabby You, I want something different”. And of course Albert didn’t like that, and then Scratch went down to Albert to tease Albert a little more, that he kinda hung his guitar up in Dodd’s studio an’ t’ings like that, just teasin’ him, and Albert couldn’t handle that at all. You know, for some reason they just didn’t click.
As far as the atmosphere and the social interaction at the Ark compared to the other contemporary studios at the time, how do you remember that? You didn’t watch the clock and get things done in a rush, you could work out new ideas without feeling restricted by the usual demand for effectivity. In other words, you had a different routine there.
Different routine, different vibe. You know, him have the more saying, again it’s like how the sound is different, him have his own t’ing. (Laughs) I remember a time when we would be playing, everybody inside there working and Scratch would come an’ spray something in the four corners of the studio (laughs)! It’s like, ‘Hey Scratch, get the demons out of there’, y’know! But it’s all good, I learn a lot from Scratch where percussions is concerned, how you layer that and all that, y’know. I learned a lot from him. And Coxson, I learned a lot from Coxson in a whole other way. In other words, I appreciate both a them. Coxson now, Coxson is different from Scratch. Coxson will allow you to do whatever you want to do and then later on if he likes it he’ll put it out, if he doesn’t he don’t put it out. Scratch now is like, he will get involved. You know, he will hear something and he wanna get involved, tell the operator to do different sounds, and if you don’t want him to be involved and it’s his session, then who knows, the session might be scrapped. You have to kinda know your temperament and how both of them work, to work with them, otherwise it’s conflict, y’know what I mean.
Right. But how was the approach to production different between them, and what was the similarities? I mean, Scratch was ‘educated’ at Coxson’s stable, so he most likely took some impressions with him and put it into his own stuff. Coxson was hardly ever present there when you had your sessions, was he?
Every now and then he would come through, if he hear a song he’d like, he would come and say ‘yeah, I like this one, this one really sound good’. Or, he might have a line that he would suggest, y’know, one or two lines there, and so and so, every now and then. But for the most part he’ll allow you to do your own thing. Later on decide if he like it or not.