Clinton Fearon Interview – Part 2
In the second part of the interview Clinton Fearon talks about Prince Tony Robinson, the deal with Virgin and the Frontline releases, the Gladiators’ little training center, Nighthawk Records, his leaving the Gladiators and relocating to the US, The Defenders & Boogie Brown Band, and his solo albums.
NAH FORGET MI ROOTS
So after Scratch now, this is when you link with Prince Tony of High School International and T/R Groovemaster fame. Were the group still at Studio One at this point?
Actually how that went is that we were still at Studio One, and we weren’t getting anywhere, and Albert and myself we decide seh, well, then bwoy we were gonna split off. I would help him with his stuff, and he would help me with my stuff. We were gonna go our separate ways, because we were just not happening as a group. So, we did ‘Know Yourself Mankind’ and that was initially Albert, he took it to Prince Tony.
Did he – Albert – know Prince Tony personally from earlier?
We know of him, but not ‘know him-know him’. But through we went round by his shop and check him, gave him the song, and he say that he’s gonna take it to England, so he took it to England and check Virgin Records, and then he come back with a contract and said they wanted an album.
Strange circumstances somehow, a (major) contract at a time when the band more or less had split. Did you know anything about Virgin, or any of their involvement with reggae?
At that time we know seh, well, then Virgin did signing quite a lot of artists on the label.
Like U Roy, Keith Hudson, Peter Tosh, those were the first in that batch.
Yeah, so I did know (about) them. Then Prince Tony brought a contrac’ legit from Virgin, took us to his lawyer, an’ t’ing like that, to sign the contract. I remember I had three problems signing the contract. You know, it was his lawyer, I hadn’t real understanding of the contract, what it says. I suggested that we took it to a lawyer who let us understand the contract. Albert was upset with that, y’know, he have kids and can’t bother with lawyer at this time. I didn’t want to be a ‘record broker’, a heartbreaker for this, so I signed it too with empty hands. Later on we learned that it wasn’t even in Prince Tony’s favour, the contrac’ wasn’t even in Prince Tony’s favour. So everybody got screwed, basically. And at one time we were in France there and we were touring and what Prince Tony wanted to was to go make up noise on Virgin, like confront them and stuff an’ t’ing like that and blah blah, they plan to go over there an’ behave certain way and I’m saying to Albert, ‘Albert, now that the contract is over’ – and he is intending to go over talk to them guys let them know that well, the fame and excitement and t’ing like that up ’til now, and didn’t know that he signed a bad contract, but now that’s so, it’s done. Then he negotiate and do a kinda good deal. Then he didn’t wanna do that, he just bother Prince Tony go down there, kick down them table, cuss up a lot of bad word an’ all of that. But it didn’t make matters any better, because all them got is that era, hear them out as if them breath without nothing. So it didn’t work in their favour at all. They were a little bit upset with me beca’ I didn’t go with them because I figure, well, if that’s the way them gonna do it then I don’t wanna be involved.
Did the group ever meet up with the staff at the Frontline office, or this was Tony’s table, like dealing with Jumbo (van Renen, the South Africa-born running the label for Virgin at the time)?
Yeah Jumbo (laughs)! We meet Jumbo in England a few times, we meet Chris too – wha’ him name again, can’t remember. The guy who owned it?
Chris? You mean Virgin’s founder, Richard Branson?
Richard Branson! Him came out to Jamaica there at one time, and we met him. We chat for a little while. So, that’s Jumbo. There was this guy who was a punk… with The Police?
No, Johnny Rotten – or John Lydon, he was down there scouting talents for the Frontline label at the time, I guess he was partly responsible for the Gladiators signing.
Yea, something like that. Actually Prince Tony know that they were coming down there and he invited us to go up there with them, by Sheraton Hotel, that’s how we get to meet them. But what I heard later on is that them guys had been checkin’ for us for a good little while an’ nobody would tell us! That Virgin been checkin’ for us, because that was their attitude, it’s the competition thing, y’know what I mean? There was a set of guys there that was definitely into competing and it’s like somebody would be asking for you and then ‘oh man, I dunno, man, I don’t think them in the business anymore’. But, ‘by the way, listen to this’, y’know what I mean? It was quite a bit of that that used to go on, Chancery Lane there downtown. And at the time we weren’t the hang-around type, to just hang out at the studio if you’re not doing anything. And them guys were big at that, that was their hangout, y’know, at Randy’s. So, most people like foreigners come down seeking acts, something like that, for sure they will pass down through Randy’s, or any of those spots.
Yeah, you know. And then you have Channel One turned up, and then Aquarius up by Half Way Tree turned up too. But you had those three spots where you could look for musicians or artists, an’ t’ing like that. But, I wasn’t gonna hang out at the studio if I’m not working, so therefore we didn’t meet a lot of contacts at the time.
But Tony took care of the connection with Virgin at the time, the group wasn’t directly in contact with them so you could get a handle on what went on there?
We didn’t have like direct contact with them. At one time we did something there with Eddy Grant.
We’re coming to that. But, all in all, how did you find the time at Frontline, doing these – at least today they are – highly regarded albums, looking back on it now?
Actually I must say that it did do good for the group, I think for the exposure. You know, I didn’t get any money, but we get the exposure.
Right, I was about to ask about payment there, how that was, if the band could reap any sort of benefit or reward out of it?
No, I haven’t got any reward either! It’s like what I say, a lickle exposure for the group, and a lickle exposure for myself, but a lotta exposure for the group and it enabled us to tour, an’ t’ing like that. It made a little money that way, and then later on when people were lookin’ for old groups, then I think Albert make a good bag of his (money) there. Because he still own the name, so he get people on tour an’ start collect his money. When we used to do it back then we never used to collect any money either. No, because it was like touring to promote. There’s this tie to promote, we never used to make good money.
Of those four albums the group made for Frontline in the late seventies, is there anyone in particular there that you are especially fond of?
A: I really like ‘Proverbial Reggae’, I like ‘Proverbial Reggae’ a lot. ‘Trench Town Mix-Up’ is a very good one too.
Talking about that first album, the classic ‘Chatty Chatty Mouth’ was originally concieved or titled as ‘Big Toe Joe’, according to what you said in an interview in Jamaica in 1977, what’s the story again?
That is true (laughs)! You know, again I was speaking about the government, really. You know, how the government is like a comic, ‘Big toe Joe, want to know him culture’.
There was some mix-up between your song and the Mello Lads trio, they had a 7″ out on High Note (on Dutchess actually, a Treasure Isle subsidiary) at the time as well, that’s a totally different ‘Chatty Chatty Mouth’ though.
Oh, and it’s their ‘Chatty Chatty Mouth’? I don’t know anything about it, I’d love to get a copy of it.
So four years you stayed on a contract to Virgin. What did Prince Tony add overall, productionwise, to the Gladiators’ sound, if he even did that, what would you say? What was his contribution, did he make any difference?
Yes he did, in my opinion he did. I think there were just a certain little touch, especially on the mixing front that him would coach the engineer.
Who mixed most of those albums on Virgin, it was Errol T?
Um, Errol Thompson from Joe Gibbs mix a lot of those songs, and also I think Sylvan Morris. I think he recorded us at Harry J’s studio at one time there too. But actually Errol them work together pretty well. Prince Tony him have a touch, the kind of song that would go over well, him had a good ear for that. I think he did add to it.
It was left to the group to take care of how the sound would be, or did Frontline involve themselves in how the albums ‘should’ be?
No, except for the one that was done in England.
Strange record. That one must be ranked as a pretty mediocre Gladiators album, it was cut after Frontline went down. How come you ended up with Eddy Grant as producer (for the self-titled 1980 album)?
This is – that was the company’s idea, I think they didn’t want to spend money to Jamaica to deal with it. They want to deal with it up there, but they end up spending more money because I think they were trying to get a crossover thing, soundwise. I myself, I didn’t think it helped the group in any way. I also think those songs, we practiced those songs and know those songs, turned up playing them, and they add Eddy Grant’s musicians to play them. In my opinion it was a mistake. But I didn’t have much say, y’know wha’ I mean?
I see. Who were the people responsible at Virgin for this release, Jumbo had left Virgin after Frontline went down?
I think Jumbo had left at that time – actually no, Jumbo was still there! I can’t remember how involved he was though, but Jumbo was still there because Jumbo would come pick us up and drive to the company sometimes, and take us back to the hotel and so on. But he wasn’t the one conducting the business, and I think at the time he was saying that he is planning on moving back to South Africa, something like that.
What happened there to Frontline? Some sources suggested that Virgin lost all interest in reggae since Marley died, and that much steam left the whole movement at the time – which is probably true, financially speaking. I think they ceased producing reggae before Marley’s passing though. Then they basically dumped the whole roster of artists they had, it was just too ‘sweet’, wasn’t it? Typical record company bull.
Well, honestly I don’t – some people might say that, for some reason they themselves say otherwise, I tend to think otherwise. I tend to think that them come to Jamaica, them sign up a lot of artists like I say, there’s a lot of people on the Frontline in Jamaica at that time too, a lot of people on Frontline weren’t necessarily big sellers or…
Or just not popular or happening in Jamaica.
Yeah, or even good for that matter. And them come down and sign up almost all the artists, and out of the forty they might have ten that sell, and out of that ten you probably have four that sell really good. Now, by time and of course them coming down not knowing all of that key people, some people who is not getting more money than some people, them crumb all the money on to the same category – reggae. And so ‘how much did reggae make this year?’ Well, reggae on a whole didn’t make as much as they would love to make. But if a single artist or a particular artist make that much, make good money, well, that artist sometime don’t think that them don’t see that money, and basically I’m talking now this is about us. When ‘Proverbial Reggae’ just release, I heard some good story that it sell over 200,000 in a certain part of Africa deh.
Yes, it was the same with U Roy’s albums for Virgin, selling like 100,000 copies in places like Nigeria alone.
Yeah, you know. With those things happening and it’s like ‘where’s the money?’, y’know. ‘How come we are not getting anything?!’ ‘What’s happening?!’ And when we ask questions like those I remember I never get any answer. I’m not the upfront person to say well, then ‘OK bwoy, let me find out if them hide this for us and…’, y’know. In other words, it wasn’t easy! It wasn’t easy back then being in the Gladiators.
This must’ve caused a lot of frustration within the group, how was the relationship between you and the other members at that point?
Everybody get frustrated! Including Albert. Everyone get frustrated, because we do all this work and we know that make money, man, but we’re not making any money. The thing is, if we could talk about it and talk about the mistakes that we made, and try to find a way to remedy the situation, we could actually face the situation. You know, look our demons in the eye and deal with it! But, we couldn’t even talk about it either. That make it even more frustrating, beca’ we couldn’t reason about it, and it jus’ escalate and escalate and jus’… mash up. I think everybody did get kinda frustrated and like I say not making any more money than Tony’s business. So, I think that Albert think that him do something direct, he would be better off than having Tony as the middle man. You know, this is just how I think, because I don’t know why we do some of the things we did, it just happened (laughs)! The contract was over, and so it didn’t get renewed. That’s why I said earlier on that we talked about the first deal and let them know that ‘hey, the first contract was bad’. Because Virgin at that point did still love the Gladiators, I think musically we were still one of their steady groups. I think because of personality reasons they didn’t want to deal with the Gladiators.
Now, there are naturally other circumstances that made it turn out the way it did, but otherwise Jumbo was pretty supportive of the Gladiators’ career during this time, perhaps even more than any other act on the Frontline roster.
He was alright, really alright. You know, like I say he was kinda the ‘buff’, so therefore he can afford to kinda flex in-between. The people who make the decisions, he never got to spend a lot of time with them. Jumbo is always showing us around, he is the groundwork guy, which we spend more time with Jumbo. And he is likeable, he was alright as far as I’m concerned.
What about the ‘music school’ the Gladiators had in the mid seventies, coaching and rehearsing other groups in the ghetto, like The Royals, Earl George and… what was behind that?
I dunno if you could call it a ‘music school’, maybe that’s what it was, but school I think. But we used to rehearse in the backyard, like a lickle training center. We used to rehearse in this guy’s backyard, we call him Bill – I can’t remember his right name. We used to rehearse behind his lickle shop there, a shed there, and t’ing like that. Albert make up a lickle sign and put up on the fence.
This was at Olympic Way in Trench Town.
On the Olympic Way. We make a lickle sign and put up on the fence that say, well, then y’know, it’s a music school. But it wasn’t really a school, we have friends weh come in deh an’ we show them what we could and in return give us some money. We go cook, it wasn’t no big thing. But it was helpful to the community still. People who wanna learn to play a guitar, we could guide them to learn some of what they need, t’ings like that. Wasn’t really a ‘school’, like I say, I dunno if the term is right or wrong, something like that though! Yeah, like a lickle training center. But it was actually mostly for us to practice. First and foremost it’s actually for us to practice, beca’ we were learning then too. At the time I was learning to play the bass, Albert was learning to play the guitar better too – we all were learning, y’know what I mean. But we invite others to come along and learn too, like The Royals used to come there the same, and other singers come there too. And if they kept sound alright then we take them to Coxson and record their songs, let Coxson know that ‘hey, we have a artist deh’, weh we have a couple of guys songs and t’ings like those.
What I’ve read is that the Gladiators were behind the arrangement for mid seventies hits like ‘Dread Out Deh’ by Joy White, for example, and this stems from the days at the music school, or training center as you prefer.
Yeah, we used to actually practice them girls – that song, and the one who wrote the song is not even she the one who sing it, I forgot the name of the one who wrote it. But both of them were friends. And the one who sing it, her name is Joy White, she used to go to church an’ t’ing like that, and her friend couldn’t sing the song when (we) went to record it. So they got Joy White to sing it. And she got her start from there. But yeah, Joy White used to come check me up at my yard sometimes, hours at night we siddung out at the back deh, play guitar and practice. Yeah, but we actually put that song together, the arrangement. But that particular song, actually I think it’s mostly Albert arrange that song.
Next you met up with a small but highly regarded US label, Nighthawk Records out of St. Louis. How did that come about, was the project for the ‘Calling Rastafari’ album the first thing you produced together, or the first album you did for them, the ‘Symbol’ LP? You met in Kingston?
I think so. Them guys, I think they came to Jamaica, jus’ gotten in the business, them have some money whe we spend an’ so forth, I think Blacka Morwell and the whole a dem spend up a lot of the money. I think by the time they finally reach to it, they ‘ave been blown on money (laughs)! But them got us and we did a recording with them, I think I can remember it was Channel One. We did recording with them, they said it was a compilation. Then later on we did an album, with just the Gladiators.
‘Symbol of Reality’. Then the ‘Serious Thing’ album some years after – which I rate more than its predecessor, and tours, but you felt nothing much happened for the group at that time?
‘Symbol of Reality’, right. Yeah, that’s about it, nothing comes from those either.
At the same period as Nighthawk, the band had a few albums on the Jam Rock imprint – ‘Babylon Street’, ‘Gladiators By Bus’ and ‘Reggae To the Bone’ all came out through Jam Rock.
Oh, right! You know, that one is the same one that’s over in France.
‘Babylon Street’ was released as ‘Back To Roots’ at the time in France.
Yeah, so that was Albert hustling! A so him do, him actually get a little money from Prince Tony, put in him pocket and release it as ‘Babylon Street’.
So Prince Tony had the Jam Rock label?
Yeah. It’s Prince Tony’s label.
And ‘By Bus’ and ‘Reggae To Bone’? Never seen these albums.
I can’t remember exactly how that went. I think – I can’t remember if it was ‘Reggae To Bone’ or ‘Babylon Street’, which one of them. (Laughs) I don’t remember, I just know that it’s one of those, whether it’s a song on the album or… I don’t know. But I know that the one ‘Babylon Street’ and ‘Back To Roots’, it’s the same recording.
And you were like the session band at Channel One on Maxfield Avenue for some time. You recall the ‘Showdown’ (Empire) LP with Don Carlos & Gold, one side each. By the way, how was the combination between you and Barnabas (drums), whatever happened to him?
A-woah, yeah! He was an engineer, he was also a deejay. After he left the Gladiators I think he was doing that, then I think he shift to the United States here, he was here for a while. At one time he was promoting, and then he went back to Jamaica. But we haven’t talked too regular since he went back to Jamaica, so I dunno how he is really doing these days. We had been recording with different artists, and I guess they (the Hookims) did like the sound that we had. I can’t remember how that… But that didn’t go accordingly either. It was a good experience working with them from a musical point of view, and I always like Channel One sound, but the business part of it. Looking back at it, since I wasn’t the one dealing with the business, who knows who were dealing upful from who wasn’t? You know, I was just the back-up guy.
Under what circumstances did you want leave the group, this occured after the tour with Yabby You in ’85 or was it some years after, like the US tour the band did with the Ethiopian and Winston Jarrett? Did Gallimore leave the Gladiators first, and then you called it quits?
Um, I think that’s how – can’t remember if Gallimore went first or I went first, I think I actually went first. I think I left first. Basically, I wasn’t happy, I gave the group a hundred percent, or more. I put all of my material on the backburner – I put my creativeness, y’know, which is my first love in the music, is write the music and sing the music, writing and singing. And that would be questioned and I wouldn’t have any fun with that.
Albert was dominant on all the albums as far as songwriting was concerned, was the Gladiators after all his group, that was the perception? He was like the spokesperson for the band in interviews and so on.
Well, in Gladiators he is the oldest member of the group, when Gladiators start I wasn’t in it, but I’m coming in with the vibe that ‘hey, let’s do this together’. And the impression I had when we start, and that’s what was our mark, and we figure say well, this is how it gonna go: We do things together, that’s why the group name ‘The Gladiators’. You notice later on that it change from the Gladiators, to ‘Albert Griffiths & The Gladiators’?
Yes, I know. But he changed it back again, now. I think so.
Yeah (chuckles)? Anyway, the attitude actually very much was the forerunner, for the namechange. The attitude was long way there. But the namechange come later on, but the attitude was out of touch, you know, for long before the name change. The thing is, I was getting frustrated not being able to do what I really loved to do. In addition to that, the vibes in the group (was) too… bad! You know, Gladiators was like ‘not bother’, and a bunch of new kids, that was how the policy was like. I finally decide to ‘you know what?’ But I have to be fake, I have to accept a lot of things, and say “You all went moneymaker”, and Albert gone with most of it, y’know. He have his money and split a little bit. I have to admit that him always give me a little more than the other guys, I was kinda him right hand man. But, that wasn’t good enough, the vibe that goes with all of that wasn’t good, so I just tired of taking that, so I step down. I know it hard out deh but I’m gonna find something for myself. Then I think it was Nighthawk or some other people check me and say, man, they need me to get back in the group and seh blah blah. So he send other musicians, him don’t come himself to check me and blah blah. So I say alright, I go back and hopefully decide for the better. But, wow – it was worse! So the last tour I did in the Gladiators was when we toured in the United States.
That was alongside the Ethiopian.
It was with the Ethiopian, yeah. Clinton Rufus and myself…
And Alric Forbes too (formerly of Yabby You’s harmony group The Prophets)?
Alric at the time, Alric wasn’t really on the tour, he was coming back to Jamaica. He was coming back from Jamaica and the guy was living in the US then, he send his ticket to ride up with us, and he would eventually go back to – where it was, I think it was California, he would go back there and halfway through the thing I think Albert would call him up on stage too, he would play. But when we settle everything an’ t’ing like that, we decide seh we would come to Seattle, because we don’t have no money and we have excess time and with our Visa. We check this guy Charlie Morgan (Outernational) and say “Hey, we have this time and we would play some music before we come back”, and he say “Hey, come on up, man”. So we brought Alric to come with us and that was me, Winston Cartey, Clinton Rufus and Alric Forbes.
This is the late eighties?
Yeah, ’87. This guy named Al Kaatz, y’know, he was a guitarist but played a little keyboards, so he stand in on keyboards. Then at the time Errol Nelson (‘Tarzan’, long time session organist in Kingston) he played keyboards with us on the tour, he also stopped off in Texas. Then later on he joined us up here, and so by then Al Kaatz quit playing, and Errol took over. And we played for about six months and went back to Jamaica, with the intention of coming back. Then the drummer died – Winston Carty. We came back, and we start all over again. And at one time Rufus went down to check his family and on his way back up, they cross his passport in Miami and send him back to Jamaica, saying that he’s spending more time in the US than he is spending in Jamaica. I was still here so I decided well, bwoy – because it was my time next to go down. So I decide ‘you know what, I’m gonna stay and get me green card’ an’ t’ing like that, so I don’t have to face that situation. Well, bwoy it took me like about five or six years before I finally get my green card (chuckles)! By then I had established a life here, a living here.
You formed a band there named The Defenders and released one twelve-inch, ‘Chant Down Babylon’. Was that the only record at the time, you did more than that?
By the Defenders, yeah. That was the only one. We try to record several times but it didn’t get anywhere because it was hard to make decisions and everybody’s opinion was so strong.
Was it long after the Defenders that your current Boogie Brown Band was formed?
No, it wasn’t long after that, almost immediately after that I started regrouping people, musicians for the Boogie Brown Band, and it’s been a struggle finding the right people too. When we first started off, me having a couple of horns, we have a lead guitarist, keyboards, myself and a drummer. I think it was about six of us, and the horns left pretty quick, ca’ we were just growing then too, and their thing was bad! So they weren’t having much fun, plus we weren’t making as much money either. So, it’s two things there, so things keep evolving and things like that. We managed to get a good crew. Right now, I have a good band right now, I have a good drummer, I have a couple of horn players – good, I have a good bass player now.
So you’ve hung up the bass for now?
Yeah. I have this guy now playing bass named Jeffrey DeMelle. He has been playing with us for roughly, close to a year.
Their background before entering the Boogie Brown family?
Um, Jeffrey DeMelle has been playing with a popular group down this area name Jumbalas, and they used to play a combination of like soca, reggae, calypso. And the two horn players, they are young youths pretty much for the most part just coming out of music school, and their background is mainly jazz but they love what we do, and that make a big difference. And Barbara (keyboards) has been playing classic for a while, played with African groups. But the longest she’s played in a band is with the Boogie Brown Band. From the start, Boogie Brown has been going for some ten years now.
And you’ve released four albums so far?
Yeah, the last one is a compilation (‘Soon Come’).
Anything coming up?
Um, that’s what ‘Soon Come’ is about (laughs)! There’s a new recording ‘soon come’ (chuckles)! But we haven’t started that yet.
You are still in the writing process for it.
Oh, I have the material and all of that but haven’t some costs that got to me where members that I had was to let go. The previous recording that they do, they thought that I paid them for the recording and I had not been able to do that, minimum. So I couldn’t afford to go in the studio (laughs)! The story continues.
But so far these albums have been recorded and produced in the States, soundwise that is obviously a big difference to Jamaica. Ever thought of bringing the band down to Jamaica to get that authentic Jamaican mix?
Yeah, I’ve thought of that and I’ve thought of the… you noticed ‘What A System’ is mixed by Scientist?
Yes, that’s nice dubwise, but it’s still the American, softer approach about it. Not necessarily ‘bad’ as such, still I feel it is lacking something, what I’d call the dirt. The difference between analog recording on the quarter-inch tapes and the DAT’s now is enormous, it’s just way too clean in my opinion, especially on the drums.
And the two-inch… yeah, you are perfectly right, you’re perfectly right. I think – and that’s kinda my thing again, is not even so much mixing in Jamaica, it’s recording on the right equipment by the right sound engineer more so than where you do it. So yeah, earlier on I probably would, I’m not sure right now if I would wanna go to Jamaica because of authenticy. Beca’ those equipment, nobody no have them anymore, everybody have them drum machine an’ a keyboard, computerized and stuff, that’s what they’re going by, y’know. And then they pump it up ’til it start and create a sound that way deh, and it’s cool, it’s cool to have. Only t’ing with it’s like about the drum machine and the synthesizer stuff an’ t’ing like that is like it’s steady, that’s the only good given thing there, the riddim is steady beca’ it’s an automatic t’ing, a machine. So it don’t sway like a drummer would. But other than that, I don’t love it. And the other t’ing, when I first make those albums too, then I – it’s me just stepping into the scene in terms of producing, an’ don’t have, say, an engineer who understand how the music run, y’know, how it will be mixed, and t’ing like that. So now that I know more about it, I wouldn’t have the problem mixing it the same place there.
Well, I gotta confess one thing, and I’m sure I’m not alone, you have this hope of seeing some of the vets out there returning to either Aquarius, Dynamic or Harry J, which is still in operation, and reuse whatever is available to get the studio working again the way it used to be, and hopefully get some of that authentic sound back. But it is just dreaming, they haven’t maintained the sound very well, and I guess most of the equipment is worn down, probably replaced by a lot ‘cleaner’ machines.
The ones still in operation? Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about! Man, one guy or two, I heard that Gussie Clarke’s studio is probably one of the better studios out there now to record at. But I’m quite sure that them also pump up with new equipment that the old ones probably gathers dust and that them don’t operate that t’ing anymore. You would probably go to a hard deal gettin’ a old fashioned recording, they’d have to pull some things up, reset some things, an’ t’ing like that. Plus you would have to get a sound engineer from back then too, somebody like Soljie, or Scientist, or Ernest (Hookim) from Channel One whe actually know those sounds an’ would actually go back there. Because a lotta dem would actually have to know that sound to keep up with the sound that’s happening, a lotta dem lose what they had too.
What became of some of the engineers the Gladiators used back in the day?
Um, I really don’t know. These days when I go to Jamaica I jus’ mainly go up in the hills to check my family and hardly move around the music scene down there. I don’t hear anything’bout it. I heard two years ago – or was it last year I was in Brazil – and I meet this guy who work with Joe Gibbs, and so I learned that Joe Gibbs is living over in Brazil for a long while now. He is still in business over there, but having somebody else fronting things
Speaking about consciousness, ‘What A System’ maintains in a dignified way the tradition of social awareness, you can’t leave that out.
Yeah, the system how it affect the economy, how it affect poor people, what was going on in South Africa. In those time what were going on with the Vietnam war, how deadly politics were in Jamaica very much affected our generation, yes. We tend to have a slightly different outlook on the whole thing. The thing is when looking way back in the seventies, when you look on the political front and nothing much (has) changed really. A new generation, but…
The same system?
Same system, you know. Another thing too – and this is about me – is that I have a story to tell, from ever since from coming up back then, and not much people have a story. And so I tell the story in a big way, loving way, in a not-so-harsh way, in a not-so-direct way. I am hoping that some day, sometime, somehow, people will really hear my story, hopefully learn from my story, including the politician. Because the basic thing is that war never solve a problem, the most you can do is to work as a Band Aid. But it never really solve a problem, all it causes is resentment, which end up to more war and regret, and resentment and hate. The more war again it just take different turns but it never really solve the problem. If you could get one another and the leaders to realize – or at least get to the point where we know ‘OK, this is how the leaders operate and not expect anything more’. But at least put it all in front so we know what we’re working with, ca’ a lot of us still don’t know what we’re working with. We’ve been pushed around and we’ve been pulled around so much and so enveloped by the system that we don’t know what’s going on. We forget that we have another self, rather than just when we look ‘pon we hand and we see its skin and say when lookin’ ourselves in the mirror and say ‘oh, this is skin’… There’s a spiritual self that we don’t tap into anymore, don’t even learn that we have a spiritual self. Because we’re so busy, we have to cope with every day running around, trying to please somebody or having someone please us (laughs), y’know what I’m talking about.
Most of the older generation keeps on doing the music with a conscious bite to it up to this day – it just never left, thankfully, regardless how the market may look.
A: It’s true, man. And you know, right in the seventies and the sixties were some great years in terms of positivity, there was a positive turnaround. Music from all over actually were touching (a) positive note, y’know, people make marches an’ t’ing like that, and there were a strive for betterment and strive for ‘Hey man, enough is enough’. ‘We have to take back ourselves, we’ve got to stand up and make this thing, we got to be a person – be ourselves’, y’know. Can’t just let ourselves go out there and just die like that for nothing at all. These days it’s about the big gun an’ t’ings like that. We went from smokin’ a lickle herb to smoking crack and heroin and all kinda t’ings, it’s like we’re hardly being ourselves anymore, it’s sad, it’s really sad. When me go a Jamaica, me really see it, y’know, it’s small and it’s not a whole lot that can be hidden. Jamaica is small and everybody almost knows everybody’s business. If you wanna know what’s going on with Tom, you find time to know. When you live in big cities you hardly have time to see what’s happening, you simply try fe stay alive – every day. OK, you have the time to look ‘pon the situation in the hills and you look ‘pon the situation in the city and you see how even the politicians, they don’t even deal with it – them lie and cheat you, and they don’t even do it intelligently. Them do it so half-assed that it’s so easy to see what them doing, is like insulting the masses intelligence. So, those kinda things hurt me. And like I say earlier on there are some talented youth in Jamaica, they don’t have any programme to further those youths, so therefore they get frustrated an’ get involved with badness and blah blah, and them come on. Now, back them up, to give the youthman to play an instrument, or write some positive t’ings. Now they have a computer and a keyboard and you’re not even involved! There’s no blood there!
The hope is that youngsters will find their way back to instrumental skill instead of relying on programming, sampling and all the computerized tools to create, you feel this could take a turn?
I think so. And I think that it’s a cycle and it will come right back round to that. It won’t be the same, it will be different, yes. It will be totally different kinda riddim, totally different style, but it will be instruments again. This is gonna go out so far and even they themselves can’t take it anymore, that’s my thought.
I suppose you didn’t participate in the reissue of Virgin’s Gladiators albums for the CD market, this came out a while back now, how did you feel about that?
In the reissue of those stuff? No, no. I tried to take it to lawyers to deal with the situation, and the people I check they make up all kinda different excuse, even if you finally say ‘OK, we recompense you’, by the time they get around to do it, it don’t even worth it! It’s like it discourage too, so in order to not frustrate myself and get pissed off all over again and again and again, I decided that ‘you know what, I’m not even gonna look at that when I’m happy here’. I’m not gonna go that route, I’m just gonna focus on what I’m doing as if I didn’t do those things. If I don’t do that, I won’t be able to keep my sanity, y’know what I mean? I didn’t get any money from those guys, and the thing is to just move on. If I see where it’s obvious I can get that money, I will. But I’m not gonna beat my head to it – again.
But it is still good that these albums are available again, being kept away from the public for so long. Have you heard the CD versions of them (all except ‘Naturality’ and ‘The Gladiators’ are now reissued on CD)?
Um, yeah. I heard some of them.
Seems like Prince Tony sold off the rights to these albums at the time then?
So them can do whatever they wanna do with them! And there were certain clauses in there, where he as the producer – certain involvement in the contract where the money were supposed to come to him, that also got signed out too. So that’s why he was pissed off too, them have him actually also agreeing to something that wouldn’t fully be in his benefit either! And trying to deal with it – mouth to mouth, hand to hand, fist to fist – instead of paper, but it didn’t work out.
A whole new generation picks up this music again, with the reissue of the Frontline records. It’s a shame you don’t get your share of this, but such timeless music should always be out there, and now thankfully, it is.
I know what you mean, and bottomline is, when all is said and done, I don’t regret none of it. You know, is all a lesson for life. There’s some good works there, at the time there were really some moments there where they served me well, they prevent me from going the other way, I could turn out to be a bad guy too and end my life or do vicious things. But because we were doing this I thought that I’m doing something this positive, I had no reason to go with deadly things. And I also watch the music people too and they make me feel good. So, I got ‘paid’ in that sense. Every so often I have people calling me, telling me I’m their inspiration and they’re doing this and that, and having the reputation as an inspirer, that makes me feel really good. That make me feel like ‘OK, my life hasn’t been in vain’. So from those honours I’m feeling good, I don’t regret it. If you look on the other side of it, it’s too hurtful to know that these guys just collect offa your sweat, and you don’t get anything.
The bitterness of life I guess?
Ca’ you have to be able to move on, it’s the same way. I’m still get moved by stuff now, from when I was in the Gladiators, Albert wanted me only for play bass and harmonise his stuff. And like when I was writing songs, he used to make some deadly remarks, telling me about this and talk about ‘oh, where does he think he is going with that, that’s no good’. Like he would laugh at me when I’m working on something. At one point, I reach the point where I would not sing none of my songs around Albert, y’know, very discouraging. So all of that led up to I have to pass that and look at the good, the good that I got from the Gladiators, or the good that I got from Albert, look on the good side, in order to like I say I have to move on.
What’s the relationship like between you and Albert nowadays?
The last time was I think in California, it was a festival in Sierra Nevada.
Yes, you did something together at their World Music Festival?
Together, yeah, that was the last time. But at first when I met him and when went over to give ‘im a hug an’ t’ing like that, ‘man, long time yunno’, he was very stand-off so I didn’t really hug him then, I didn’t get to. But halfway before the whole t’ing is over, it was alright. My impression is that he is still sour, is still sour because I left, and I understand really some of his – where he’s coming from, it’s more than one tie to a shirt, y’know.
But he did get Gallimore back in the band again.
Yeah, he got Gallimore back in the group, and Clinton Rufus back in the group too. But bwoy, I heard that the group is not happening any more.
Yeah, recently. They’re not happening anymore. They did something over in…
France, wasn’t it?
Well, OK… They were supposed to do something over in Brazil and they didn’t show up, and I understand that Albert’s manager got advance and didn’t show up so there was a big problem there. Then the group were supposed to go to Peru, last minute Albert backed out and say he’s not going, and he sent the group – they sent the advance, Albert kept the advance and the guys went over there to play. The people didn’t want to work (with) them and decide not to really pay them because he wasn’t there. So that was a big mess again. The guys did kinda hangin’ on, because over the years the Gladiators now when some money can be made from the Gladiators, you know they are trying to get back in there too, to collect some of it. You know, I told them, bwoy, it’s scary and I’m not doing it again. This time if I lose my life I would have no-one to blame, so I decided not to go. But even when I thought about it I could see that everybody was miserable. So I heard that Clinton Rufus and Bagga Walker put something together and they have a band right now, I don’t know how successful it is, I don’t know what they’re doing. But I heard that the band (Gladiators) is not really happening right now. Albert him open up a club in the country, that’s where he ends up. He’s not very active in the biz as far as I believe, I think I heard that he got sick, or something like that, Albert. There’s that news but I really don’t know the fullness of all this, y’know. The last time I spoke with Gallimore Sutherland he said that Albert was like sickly.
The Gladiators were on the road once again last year, taking them as far away as Australia, it was rumoured to be Albert Griffiths’ retirement from almost thirty years of constant touring. His son is said to take over lead-vocal duties, and the band now includes original members Gallimore Sutherland and Clinton Rufus. Since this interview was conducted in February ’03, the CD ‘Give and Take’ – released in France on Sankofa Blackstar – took the band to Europe for the first time ever on a short tour (including backing the legendary Viceroys trio). It is a most satisfying set, perhaps even his best since ‘What A System’ in 1999, consisting of a traditional Fearon-approach. There’s some exceptional moments in tracks like ‘Parable Sound’ (‘If you trouble me you trouble Jah’), it sort of send you back in time to those Fearon-highlights on classic Gladiators efforts, remember things like the uptempo ‘Let Jah Be Praised’? If Clinton seemed vocally a lot more ‘mellow’ in those days, fronting his own band he has a much more gruff approach. Not that it doesn’t work, it does – and very well too, but the melancholic feel of younger days is deeply missed, just check ‘Jah Almighty’ on Coxson’s ‘Presenting The Gladiators’ LP for what he was – and still is (?) – capable of vocally.
On the whole, Boogie Brown must appear as one of the most solid outfits in an otherwise funny approach to reggae in some American quarters, being way too lightweight at times, if not downright soft. ‘Give and Take’ is, I’m sure, a promise for more to come in the same vein, now that Mr. Bassie has the right space to flourish with his own unmistakable songwriting, an ability we couldn’t get too much of back then, and here he is now, not resting on any laurels. If he only could collect these long lost solo tracks from the glorious seventies, and include them for a future anthology, that would be a nice addition to the growing Fearon catalogue. Perhaps that would be too much to ask for, but we’ll see. ‘Untrue Girl’ for Perry made its way onto Heartbeat’s compilation of the Gladiators stint at Studio One a few years back, but there are other gems to be collected, not the least those being discussed in this interview, ‘Message To The Nation’ being one. I’m sure Yabby You sits on a few as well. Sankofa released the for the most part excellent ‘The Gladiators’ Studio One Singles’ last year and a very welcome addition to the Gladiators’ musical library it was, including such masterful shots as Clinton’s ‘A Prayer To Thee’. He has seldom sung better than on this classic piece of music. This CD is a must for any serious vintage collection, it is as simple as that. The band appeared at the ‘Island Revolution’ exhibit at its opening in Seattle some time back, and Boogie Brown had the pleasure to be joined on stage by such highly regarded hornsmen as Cedric ‘Im’ Brooks and Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, the latter from the legendary Skatalites. Having such living legends among you on stage, isn’t that one good example of what keeps you going, Clinton? I would assume so.