Many thanks also to Felix for the photos. All rights reserved.
I want to ask you a bit about your earlier days ... your roots.
Oh, you mean Ramone The Mexican? (laughter)
(laughter) How did you get started in the music business?
That's how I got started actually. I was a little kid who just loved the ... it was during the ›Fistful Of Dollars‹ series. I don't know if you remember when Clint Eastwood was starring in those spaghetti Westerns?
Yeah, I was fascinated by the accents of those bad guys, so I used to mimic those things. So I was in the studio with Derrick, through Tinga Stewart, because Tinga and I grew up in the same neighborhood. As a 14 year old kid .. you say, »Wow, this is incredible«.
What studio would that have been?
This was Randy's and it was at Dynamic studios, and I started talking like, you know, just fooling around and talking like that. And Derrick say, »Hey, let's do this«. He was kind of fascinated by it. We did ›Undertaker's Burial‹. I started off a little bit of the dialog that this guy, who was supposedly the undertaker, he was burying this guy. So I ... the dialog between he and Clint Eastwood, I like, you know, really memorized it. So I just recited it, and that got on record and started a trend. Because no one had done that before.
Those films were very popular in Jamaica, ›The Good, The Bad and the Ugly‹ and ›Fistful Of Dollars‹ ....
Very popular, all those films. The guys used to get out of the theater, and they would think they were cowboys themselves.
(laughter) The influences weren't all good, you know.
So that was your first recording.
That was the first time I really did anything. That's how I really got started in the business.
Right, and did you work for Derrick's sound system as well?
Oh, yeah. I used to, myself and the technician who really built the set, we became good friends, we would be the ones to set up the set at the V.I.P. Lounge, and start playing the set and stuff like that. That was Derrick Harriott's Musical Chariot, and every Saturday they had this program at V.I.P. Lounge. I wasn't supposed to be there because I was too young. I started growing a beard at a very early age, so they really didn't bother you that much. Security was not opposite, you know, people you got to know. Once they knew you were on record, because artists are revered in Jamaica. I don't know about anywhere else, but once you are on record, everybody like you, and want to be around you and stuff like that. So it was pretty easy for me to get into ....
Were you playing mostly in Kingston in those days?
I never left Kingston, you know. I always worked in Kingston. At the time I wasn't really doing live shows, I did a couple of .... the only shows I did were like a Derrick Harriott show and I worked at Carib Theater, when Stevie Wonder came to Jamaica. I think that was like '68 or '69, I worked at Carib Theater. Derrick's ... crew, as they call them now, was on. I was part of that crew with Scotty, the Chosen Few, the Kingstonians ... all those guys were part of his crew at that time. The Ethiopians ...
They recorded some nice stuff. Did you know Lynn Taitt at all?
No, I never met him. He's from Trinidad, you know.
Yeah, he's up here in Canada now.
He was the one who started that tick on the guitar they said.
He did a lot of Keith and Tex songs, things like that.
There are quite a few people that were not from Jamaica, who were part of the history. A lot of people just took it for granted that they were Jamaicans, but they probably weren't.
Did you record a lot for Derrick ?
I did quite a few. I only sang one song for him, and he never put the song out. He never released it.
That's a shame. Do you remember what it was called?
I don't even remember, but at the time I was listening to Sam Cooke very much.
So you would have been singing on this song, as opposed to DJing.
Yeah, because that's what I really wanted to do. Tinga and I were ... actually I wrote Tinga's first song he ever did, ›Hear That Train Coming down the Track‹. I'm the one who wrote that.
What is he doing these days?
Oh, Tinga is in Florida right now. He's doing well actually. He's doing well, he's working for himself, doing his own album. The last album I heard was a really really good album. He was putting it out, I'm quite sure he has released it, I just don't know who is distributing it or anything like that.
So at the time you were working for Derrick Harriott, were you working for any other producers? Did you record any other songs then?
No, I never worked for anyone. We were kids at the time, you know, it was like fun, to be in that kind of environment. We didn't even realize the kind of people we were around, how famous these people were, and how lucrative the business was ... how much money was actually being made. We weren't even thinking about money.
Meanwhile, so many of the songs people recorded then are still around.
Oh yeah. Trojan actually came out with a book, and there was a chapter on Ramone the Mexican.
I've never seen that.
I met the writer in Jamaica about two years ago at Derrick Harriott's record shop.
What was your next recording?
As far as Ramone is concerned, everything happened within a year. I didn't really stay around. I migrated to the United States.
Why did you decide to leave?
Well, this was a decision .... I was underage at the time, so my mother, she decided that she was coming to the United States. She wanted more opportunities for her children, and she figured I would be afforded a better opportunity in the United States.
That's a common story.
(laughter) Yeah, a lot of people migrated during that time. That was, like, 1970.
Where did you move to?
New York city. The first place I came to was the Bronx, and then from the Bronx I went to Brooklyn. I spent about a year bouncing about the United States. I actually started singing in the United States. I never recorded anything on record as a singer until I moved to California and started producing myself.
Why did you move to California?
I just couldn't handle the cold weather ....
.... and I was in Massachusetts. I had moved to Massachusetts. If you are familiar with Massachusetts, it's like being in Canada - it's cold you know. I just couldn't , somehow, deal with it. My brother had gone to California, so I had somewhere to stay. When I got there, I actually started recording. While in New York I worked with Hugh Hendricks & The Buccaneers, and we toured Canada ... we did shows in Pointe Claire ....
In Pointe Claire (the west island of Montreal)?
At the Lakeshore Hotel.
Wow, that's pretty close to here.
I was right there for a while, we did some work there. I actually went around the United States.
Now, were you singing in this group?
Yeah, I was a singer in this group with Bunny Rugs. Bunny Rugs and I were the front line, and Pat Satchmo, and Patrick Alley - the guy who sued Mick Jagger for that song ›Just Another Night‹. He and I grew up together. Bunny Rugs, Patrick and I came from pretty much ... I met Bunny while at the V.I.P., he was a much bigger guy, older guy than I am. I knew him from Jamaica, we were good friends. And then we met again in New York, and we started working with Hugh Hendricks as the lead singers of the band. There were three of us at the time, Hugh, myself and Bunny Rugs. Patrick Alley came after.
So you guys came all the way up to Canada. Where else did you tour? Was it mostly in New York?
Yeah, we did Chicago, Philadelphia, places like that. With Hugh Hendricks and the Buccaneers we did a lot of work. I worked for him for about two years.
Who were the musicians in that band?
I can't even remember. The musicians you wouldn't .. they are not household names.
They were mostly New Yorkers?
Yeah, mostly New Yorkers, people who were in the background, probably in Jamaica. I don't really remember any of the musicians who were famous at all. Because we were all really just ... everybody had a regular job except myself. Bunny Rugs worked on Wall street at the time - I don't know what he was doing.
So how did you start singing in California?
Right. I started singing in California. I did most of my work with a band called ... the first name of the band was Third Eye. It was a pretty good band. It was a melting ... there were Americans, a guy from St. Thomas, another one from St. Kitts, myself. I was the only Jamaican in the band. I remember that vividly because the drummer always tried to tell me how to play reggae - what reggae was.
He was a very arrogant kid too. So we always caught up on that. We used to have little fights about that (laughter). He was an arrogant guy, and I was arrogant too, you know (laughter). I was young and full of fire.
And from yard too!
Yeah, from yard, and this guy is going to tell me about reggae, and I've been in it. At the time I never really told him .. when I said Ramone, he didn't even know what I was talking about. But he was a good drummer, he loved it. His name was Vincent Greenaway. He later changed his name to Methuselah, he was the band leader, and we changed the name of the band to Methuselah too. This was, like, '79 to '85.
Did you guys record much?
An interesting thing happened. We recorded some work, and there was this famous producer that we went at a studio in Glendale called Yamaha Studio. I can't remember his name. He played with ... I think it was Weather Report, or one of those groups. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the guy who was producing it ran off with the master. He went to the Virgin Islands, and we never heard any more from the guy. We never really did anything after that. That was the only attempt by the band to do any kind of ....
So there are no recordings floating around ... at least none that you know of?
None that I know of. we had a lot of original stuff too, because we were writing ... and we were performing our stuff. We had a pretty good following for a while. Then we just drifted. At the time I was working as a loan officer, because I had to work when I got to California. By then my family had started. So I worked at a couple of banks. I started working as a loan officer for Sanwa Bank, which was Lloyds Bank of California.
How long did you stay in California?
I stayed there for 10 years - '79 to '89. After the band thing didn't work, I was still working, so I invested in some studio time and a tape - started out with a 1/2 inch tape. I don't know if you have ever heard of a group called Rastafarians. The drummer, his name was Shaka, and we put some stuff together. We attempted to put out some of the work, some of the stuff is out there - I heard it's out there. Shaka, I think, put out some of the stuff, I don't know. I don't know where that is. But that's when I really first went on record. I actually had to produce myself, and put out the record. Up until then no one else had done that.
Were these guys in California as well?
They were from Jamaica, but had settled in L.A.. They had broken up at the time, Shaka, who was the drummer, had a studio, so we just got together and did some work. This was Shaka, it wasn't really the Rastafarians then, that had produced it. It was just Shaka. So Shaka and I were attempting to produce an album, we did ... 7 tracks, maybe 8. I still have the master for those things. I should go back .... That's not true. The first person that really did anything with me - I don't know if you have ever heard of Karl Pitterson?
Karl Pitterson, I think he is the best engineer that ever came out of Jamaica. He's a genius, an absolute genius. We had a very close relationship, because he is also from my neighborhood in Jamaica. We went to the same church and everything, but we never saw each other. He's a much ... he's fifty-something years old now. He was responsible for some of Steel Pulse's best work.
Yeah, he produced a lot of material.
Right. So, he and I got together and did some work. I think it was one song that we did and tried to put out. It did go out, but it did nothing. A single and a 12 inch, it did nothing.
What was the title of that one?
Let me see, what the name of that one was ... I'm trying to remember. (sings): »I saw you, I saw you , one Monday morning on my way to the ....«. I'm trying to remember the title. I'll remember it. That didn't go anywhere, and I decided there was no way I could deal with the music thing, and do it on a part time basis. I was frustrated with my job, and I was becoming frustrated as a musician. I mean, if I'm going to be frustrated about something, I'm going to be frustrated about something I love. I can't be frustrated about something I'm constantly under pressure over, and I have no control of. So I gave up in '89. I just quit, came back east, because my family had moved back east, and I've been doing it professionally ever since. I hooked up with Sly and Robbie in '94, and the rest is history. I haven't looked back.
I know that with Sly and Robbie there is one album out (›Sings The Classics‹, 1997, VP). Have you recorded more with them? Is there still more stuff?
Well, they have 17 or 18 songs still in the can, that they haven't released yet. And, you know, the Grammy album that they have, that Sly & Robbie and Friends, the second single from that album is mine. ›Penny Lover‹ was the second single from that. I also did a remake of ›Satisfaction‹ with Keith Richards on guitar - Keith Richards actually played on the track. I wasn't credited with being the vocalist, because no one got one .... I don't know if it was a typo or not. They told me that it was , and I believe that it was a typo. But I am the singer - I have two songs on the album. I'm the singer on ›Satisfaction‹, and I did some background, some skats, with Leba on one of her tracks.
Leba Hibbert, that Toots' daughter. She is a great singer, incredible voice. One of the best female vocalists in Jamaica. Reggae is very hard on women. You have to be around a while before they get to know you and give you any credit.
Yeah ... well ... hard on everybody.
Yeah, it is a very hard industry.
I understand you did some recording for the Fat Eyes crew as well.
Yeah, well Fat Eyes ... The interesting thing about Sly and Robbie is that Bulby is the one responsible for me even being on a track with Taxi. Because the first rhythm they asked me to sing on, the song is ›One Last Cry‹, and the first rhythm that I actually attempted to sing that song on .... I actually failed. It wasn't working. If you are familiar with the way that the session thing runs in Jamaica .... It's like a cattle call, you know. If you don't start to make an impression at the outset, it's » next«. Bulby had the foresight to see that it was good stuff, he said, »Take him off, put him on Frozen Soul«, and I exploded on that rhythm. I just went off. The song came to New York number one. Right after that, we did R. Kelly's ›For You‹, and that went to number one .... All in the same year, everything just started snowballing. At the time I didn't really work for any label other than Taxi. Taxi was the only label I worked with for a long time.
But, you also did tracks for Bulby's ›Fat Eyes‹ label.
Yeah, I did ›Stick To The Task‹, that was an original song. I also did ›Lonely Soldier‹ for Fat Eyes.
What about Clive Hunt?
Oh yeah, you know your history. Clive Hunt - the Ugly Man label. Sly was busy, so Sly said, »hang with Clive a bit«, because Sly and I have a very good relationship. Sly is like a brother, and a mentor too. Sly and Robbie really helped me, you know, they really helped me to hone my craft. Because everything was different, you know. I thought I really knew what was going on when I got there, but they , being the consummate professionals, they taught me a lot. They are actually responsible for whatever success I've had. I have to give them that. They are great people.
So what did you do with Clive Hunt?
I did two songs for Clive. I did a song that ... everybody seems to want this song, it's ›Lord Bless The Children‹. And I covered ›Yesterday‹ for him, but he gave it to Bull-Puss from Tuff Gong.
Tell me about the new project you are working on with Phillip Smart.
We are working on two different projects right now. With Phillip Smart we are trying to put an album together as a joint venture. It's a variety of stuff, its reggae - yes, but we have some R & B on it. Because when I did the first album, the only album that I've done so far, with Taxi, it was supposed to be a R & B album. But ›Quando Quando‹ took off. The song just went. Everywhere I went people were singing it, everywhere we go we hear people singing it. So Sly just decided that we should do some classic songs. He, at the same time, was trying to promote this new rhythm that they called ›La Trenggae‹. That's the only album of it's kind, with any vocals on ›La Trenggae‹ itself. But, with Phillip we are doing some really good work. I'm also working with Don One. Actually, ›Turn Back The Hands Of Time‹ is a remake of R. Kelly's song - I've always been lucky with this guy's songs. This one is taking off too. It's taking off in England and it's taking off here. It's really screaming up the charts here and in England ... and people are picking it up at the stores. So, it's really doing well.
Are you going to do a full album for Don One as well?
Yeah, well, right now we are just working on the project, we are working together. Because he is doing a lot of work right now, he's really high on Ambelique right now. He's really making an effort to get my name back out on the street. He's really working with me. He's a very very nice person - very good guy. Both he and Phillip are really good people.
Have you done many specials - dub plates?
Oh yeah. So far this year I've done more dub plates than I've done in my history of doing dub plates. In the past three months everybody wants a dub plate. But it's not something I really recommend for people to just jump on. Because it has it's pitfalls. You can really rinse yourself out, as we call it in the business.
Too much exposure you mean?
Right. Exactly. And there are artists who survive on just that, and they make a very good living doing it.
Sure. It's quick and easy compared to having to start an album from scratch.
Exactly. And with the resurgence of the set now, you know, everybody has a set, and dancehall seems to be taking off again. The good thing is that singers are now getting an opportunity to really ... it's singers time now.
True. How about playing live? I know you have done a few shows here and there. Are you planning to mount any tours at any point?
Yeah, right now we are in the process of doing that. That's all because of ›Hands Of Time‹, because of the potential of the song. Rodigan seems to think it's a number one song. Rodigan is very high on that song. It's taking off. It has revitalized my career, let's put it that way. That is the song that everything is starting from right now. I have another album that I've completed in Jamaica - before all of them. It's in England right now, and they are in the process of putting that out. Do you know Blackbeard?
Certainly, Blackbeard Sinclair.
Yeah, Blackbeard, his son and I are partners on a label called ›Beam Enterprise‹. Orlando Sinclair started that label, and brought me in as a partner on that. And we did an album together with 95% live tracks. The musicians are all the original Taxi Gang, with players like Willie Lindo on guitar.
Some serious musicians.
It's a serious album. It's rock steady too, you know, we went back to the real stuff from the 80's, Channel One stuff, Megabyte stuff, Sly & Robbie. It's an incredible album.
Where did you record it?
At Sonic Sounds. It's going to be out in early 2000.
Do you know what the title is going to be?
It's the title of one of the songs on the album ... I can't remember what we decided it was going to be. I'm not quite sure what label it's going to come out on, because we are going to try and put it out ourselves.
That's interesting. So you are going to have 2 or 3 releases in the stores soon. That's great. Are you going to do live shows in America or Europe?
Well, the focus right now is on the Phillip Smart's stuff, because this is probably going to be the best album I've done so far ... some really great stuff, you have got to hear this material. Again, it will be out sometime in 2000.
I want to close by asking you to make a couple of comments about Dennis Brown.
Oh ... a lot of people don't know ... Dennis and I grew up together. Dennis, Tinga Stewart, Noel Brown from Chosen Few, Freddie McGregor, the five of us ... and Ernest Wilson. All of us were in the same neighborhood, right in a circle, within a hundred yards of each other.
What neighborhood were you in?
This was in the Waltham Park area, Kingston 10, Kingston 11, right there. From Waltham Park, Hagley Park Road, East Road, right in that area down from Half Way Tree. Dennis Brown, I think is the most influential artist. He has influenced more singers than any other Jamaican artist. All of the good singers that came out, they all tried to sound like Dennis Brown. Every one of them started out sounding like Dennis. Being around him, and you know, I couldn't sound like Dennis Brown. I had to try to find a different sound. But I hadn't even started singing then, we only sang in the neighborhood together, but I never really went on record as a singer at that time. Roman Stewart, just to let you know something, is one of the singers that influenced Dennis Brown. A lot of people don't know that. Because Roman Stewart, who is Tinga's brother, used to sing Mario Alonso songs. He had a voice that was incredible as a child. He sounded like Mario Alonso, I mean this guy was incredible. But, he and Dennis really clicked. He had an influence on the sound of Dennis Brown. A lot of people don't know that, because they just hear Dennis. But, to me, Dennis is phenomenal ... totally unbelievable.
Oh yes. I never felt the passing of anyone, other than a family member, as much as I felt the passing of Dennis Brown. I still can't believe the guy is gone. Then again, he's not, you know. I mean his mark is indelible. Even today singers are trying to sound like him. I recommend him to anyone who wanted to listen to singers, if you want reggae or anything ... he transcended music genres. The guy was incredible ... absolutely.
1999, Jim Dooley