© Rich Lowe 2005
(p)Rich Lowe 2005
First Published by Small Axe 2005
All rights reserved
With thanks to Dennis Alcapone
Actually at age five, as far back as I can remember, I did recite quite a bit of poems in my neighborhood, large houses, some political party places, one of my earliest influences on the harmonica is my neighbour, Randal. He played a guitar and a harmonica, I was just a kid - but it swept me off my feet. So my mum bought me a plastic harmonica and it took me no time at all to learn playing songs on it
What sort of music were you listening to at the time?
Well we had sound system like Nicks, Count Nick, King Prof.,
Tom the Great Sebastian, then it came to Duke Reid. But even before that time, so I heard all these different songs, but whoever had a radio
At the time,because we didn't have a radio back then. But someone in
The neighbourhood had one, so I learned all these different songs.
Whereabouts was you born in Kingston?
In West Kingston, Spanish Town Road, 102 Spanish Town Road.
And your mum was also a singer?
Well not professionally. But the way she sounded was professional. So she would also sing in these places where I would perform, her thing was more religious. Her voicing was excellent, I had an uncle who could sing better than any of these guys, but to him it was just a hobby it wasn't something…
When did it become bigger, because you were a hit right away?
Well it was very few of us who performed in the neighbourhood. I was
Just one of a few kids, I sang and I played harmonica. There was another kid, he played a guitar. We called him Oney, he recently died. There was another kid, I can't remember his name now, but he was an excellent guy in reciting poems.
Where would you do the work?
Social Hall, Churches. At the time, my mum was a member of a Mespa. Mespa number two. So they had various functions and I performed at these functions.
Did you perform at Vere Johns?
Now Veve Johns that was a little bit later.
1951 or 52?
Let me see, it could be around that time - Yes. I was at Boys Town School. So the director of the school, a guy named Edwards. We had Father Sherlock, and then there was another man named Edwards. He took us to varioius country clubs. And he invited Vere Johns to Boystown School. So he had a talent show at the Boys Town school.
Where we competed against one and another. Alton Ellis was one of the guys on that program. At the time Alton Ellis danced. He was a dancer then. So the way Vere Johns had it, he had the singers then he had other acts. So I was in the other acts. Alton Ellis was in that program, and I came first and Alton came second in that. From then on we moved to Ambassador Theatre. And that program was called "Opportunity Hour." Right before the movie they would have that program. Alton and Brenton both of them dancing. From there to other theatres in Kingston. Palace Theatre, Tropical Theater, Gaiety Theatre, Majestic and so on.
So it wasn't on the Radio then?
What was he like?
Vere Johns was one of the key persons in Jamaica, most of the artists like Owen Gray, Jackie Edwards, Higgs and Wilson, just to name a few that's where they got there start.
What did he look like?
At the time I started he was an older guy, pretty much in fifties or sixties, more in his sixties. All those guys that were famous then…
We had a guy named Jimmy Tucker, We had another guy named Hugh Francis, Owen Gray was very popular. Laurel Aitken, Winston Francis. Cobraman.
Was there a rule that you could not be a professional and go on Vere Johns?
There wasn't much recording going on at that time. The only person who was recording then was Stanley Motta.
Was Vere Johns a friendly person?
He was a great guy, actually it was Vere Johns and two sons. One of them was named Everett. Can't think of the other guys name. Both of them worked with him You had another guy, he played piano. His name was Howard Butler. A great pianist.
So he played the piano for the audition?
No for the audition, we had Frankie Bonito, there was another guy, but Frankie Bonito was the main guy, that played behind us. It was Frankie Bonito, Val Bennet, Ernest Ranglin - sometimes.
Tell me what your remember about Vere Johns?
Like I say, he was a very decent guy.
So when you went to "Opputunity Knocks" was that a competition
and did that just feature you as an artist?
It just featured artists, it wasn't a competition. So they would introduced you. "Little Charles Cameron" It more of a performance.
What was it like after you was at the show, when you came home?
Well I had a big fan club in my neighbourhood. I was just a kid then,
But I was one of the popular guys [laughs] hahah.
How did that popularity benefit you?
"Well from a child I was always humble, so I just, it wasn't a big deal to me. I enjoyed it but. I think the most popular time with me, was when I played with Prince Buster. I played on most of his cuts. I don't think I missed one of his sessions during that period. Prince Buster was very popular in Kingston. He was a producer and he was also an artist. And he was very well liked, and very well loved in Kingston.
And I was always riding with him, and he had a car that he got from Mohammed Ali. He gave him a Chevrolet, a convertible. So wherever we drive it would be Charlie, it would be Prince. The one thing that I thought about was well everywhere you go, everybody loves you. There was no secret to your life! That's the one thing it was alright, but I don't think I was fond of it too much.
Was there much a age difference between you and Buster?
"No, probably about five years.
What did your mum think of you hanging around with these guys, because Buster was a rough guy?
"Well, not to me. When I met Prince, what they consider rough, I would not consider that rough. I mean he was outgoing guy but…I
know that Prince started work as a delivery person for Coxsone, and
then there was a little feud between him and Coxsone. The feud was really in the music Prince would sing a song against Coxsone, and Coxsone would get Delroy to sing a song against the Prince. And also the same thing went on with Beverleys. When Derrick Morgan started to record for Beverleys -'Blackhead Chiney' and all of that. And then Derrick would sing against the Prince. Then it just became like a fad."
Were you on those sessions?
"I'm on all those sessions, I was playing for all of them."
Edward Seaga recorded some of the artitst after they perfomed for Veve Johns, did you ever work for him?
"I met him, but I never recorded with him."
So with Vere Johns, that got you a lot of attention?
"I was very regular on these programs, The Palace, The Majestic, The Ambassador Theatre, all over."
So what was the sort of tunes would you do then, vocal or harmonica?
"Mainly harmonica, but I remember one song I did, 'Love And Affection' [sings] "Love and Affection, a heart so true, everybody got a future and I can see my future with you" That was a Bobby Bland song.
How about Harmonica pieces?
"'Cherry Pink', 'Cherry Pink,' a Cuban big band tune."
So when you would perform at a theatre, how long would you perform for?
"One number. I was competing against dancers, acrobats, musicians, anything but singers. I was playing the harmonica. The singers would be Owen Gray, Lascelles Perkins, Roy Fuller. The other things besides Vere Johns, were Bim and Bam they would put on shows. Bim and Bam did more comedy stuff. They had this one show with a court scene. 'The Case Of John Ras I' 'The Case Of Big Headed Walking Stick' And perfomed as a private detective on that. And I was very very funny. During the rehearsals it was so funny. Then beside that Coxsone always had a Christmas morning concert. There were a number of different concerts with different promoters. You had big shows on at all the holidays, Christmas, Easter.You had Lord Creator on these shows, Jackie Opel, Owen Gray, Winston Francis. Actually, Winston Francis, at the time, I didn't believe anyone could sing like that. I told him that when I saw him in England recently. He had a group the group consist of Pat Kelly, Sperry, and a guy called Brammer, They would perform at the Regal in Kingston. The group was called The Sheridons. Unbelievable. They were on the same bill as the Drifters, these are the American Drifters. And you have to be good to be able to be on the same bill as them. Everybody performed in Jamaica back then. Jackie Wilson came down, and I worked with the band that worked the Show, which was Carlos Malcolm and the Afro Jamaicans, which was an excellent band. This was about 65."
When you working the theatres from say 1952 - 59, that's the heyday
Of Jazz in Jamaica. Did you start recording first, or working with bands?
"Performing with a band!"
What was the first band?
"Oh man, most of these bands were pick-up bands. Trenton Spence. A
guy named Percy Myles, there was another guy named Charlie. This was way back then, and we would perform in various country clubs. Nightclubs like Johnson's Drive In. Then we started a band with Bobby Aitken, we worked clubs like the Palm Grove. There was a club called the 303 in Western Kingston. "
Tell me about some of the these theatres.
"Well the Carib was a very large theater - standing room it was about it was big. They did movies as well. Also the Ward theatre. And the Regal they were the main ones. The first therate I performed at was the Ambassador."
Tell me about Bim and Bam?
"Well there was three Bim, Bam and Clover, Clover was Bim's wife.
And that is Ken Boothe's sister. The two main characters was Bim and Bam.
What was your very first recording?
"With the harmonica or vocally?"
"My first recording was, 'Never Never' and the producer was Prince Buster. And the singer was Bobby Aitken.
And the year?
"I would say about 60 or 61. From then the studio was my home. That's where I lived. [laughs] Haha."
So you was about 18 years old?
"Yeah, so the sessions starts at about 9am - 10am in the morning, and it would go on until about 5pm. There was only one studio then Federal, and in that time, we probably recorded 15 or 16 tracks. The musicains would get paid per side. It might start with Prince Buster and then Coxsone, then Duke Reid. Sometime we would do two or three sessions in one day.
Was 'Never Never' released?
It was a very popular track. Still is. When the record was first made it was a dub or a soft wax, so they would sell the dub. So who gets it first would compete against the other guy (sound system). He would get to keep for a time, before they started to sell it to other sounds. Then it would be pre-released, then a release. In the early stages they would get records from here (the US). When we started, they started to use ours. 'Never Never' was one of those that were put on dub."
So after you worked with Buster, who did you work with then?
And who were the other studio musicians.?
"Drumbago, Roland Alphonso, Tommy McCook, Baba Brooks, Lloyd Brevitt, there was another guy they called 'Blues' he was a bass player. We had a guy called Campbell, and Stanley Ribbs, Karl Bryan he played Alto, Lester Sterling, Cluet Johnson. We were all good friends. Don Drummonds was another one. I was close to Lester Sterling and Roland Alphonso. Lester came through Vere Johns. Richard Ace was another one. Theo Beckford, he's never got much recognition. There is another guy like that, who played on a lot of recordings Richard Ace. I don't think I can remember hearing Richard Ace's named mentioned. All of the Toots and the Maytals he played on them, he played keyboards on those.
Were there other people playing harmonica at all?
"In the studio, no."
There was a guy I cannot remember if he recorded, but he was a blind guy and his name was Lenny. After me came another blind guy Roy Richards. The only person who I know who played on recordings was myself and Roy Richards."
And you taught Roy Richards?
"No, I did not."
How would define your style to Roy Richards?
"He plays a different type of harmonica, I play the Hohner Chromatic harmonica, and the tones are different. He plays a diatonic harmonica, I play chromatic harmonica. I think I'm more Jazzy type of musicians than Roy. I love Jazz, its probably my favourite music. Milton Daws was the first harmonca player who had a chromatic harmonica. That was during the Vere Johns era. He never got any recognition. He never spent much time in the music scene. But he was an excellent harmonica player. I used to play the Diatonic like Roy Richards, but when I heard Milton, play a chomatic harmonica I got really turned on with that. When I first bought it, it was really expensive, because it as a shift that gives you the black notes - I went out and bought one with the money I won at Vere Johns. And my mum could not believe I spent all that money on a harmonica!, but it pays off.! Its what I play today.
The same one!
"No not the same one! I have been through several since those times.
You play them for a while and they go out of tune. So you have to keep buying them. I give the kids the old ones. "
What was the key event in your early days that made the difference?
"I think it was at the Regal theatre, on this show there was Jackie Opel, Lord Creator, it was just about everybody. Jackie Opel was an incredible singer, he had an incredible range. Lord Creator had some
excellent songs, and I was more or less competing with them. And I thought I did a very good performance, playing 'Danny Boy' on the harmonica and then singing 'Love And Affection' That was one of my favourite shows. Much later I did a show with Ernest Ranglin and these jazz greats. It was so great to have Ernest playing guitar behind me. "
Did you have some special songs that you liked to play?
"Well it's always good to play some standards. Everybody likes them,
oh so its "They are singing/playing my song".
You were a member of Sonny Bradshaw band?
"I knew Sonny Bradshaw a very long time, known of him and then knew him. I became a member of his band in 1968, till 1970. Before I moved to the North Coast, started working the Hotels. But he was an excellent trumpetier and keyboard player."
What were the main bands you worked with?
"The Skatalites, they had the greatest muscians from Jamaica. That was my best experience. I learned a lot from those guys. It helped me a lot."
So did you hang out with them?
"Well there was a place on Charles Street, where we used to hang out,
there was a little restrarant on Charles Street and Chancery Lane we would have lunch there and just hang out. It was more the singers who would hang out. "
Tell me more about the recording process?
"It was about 65 when the singers were able to sing over a pre-recorded track. It might be 64. What happened was that Federal had a two track studio, and then they move up to eight track. And then other people came into it, they started building studios all over Kingston.
It Federal, then Seaga had a studio - Arawak. Then Benson opened up
WIRL, Tip Top had a studio, but that was a 4 track. Then along came Studio One. And from Studio One, it was Treasure Isle. And it just went on from there. "
What was it like recording everything at once?
"Even now I can't figure out how we did it, the singer would come in,
sing the song once, and the second or the third time he sang the song it was recorded. We all learned that song that fast."
That type of recording had flaws in it?
"Of course there were little errors here and there. But that was the way we did it. The engineer was named Graeme Goodall an Englishman, he was the engineer at the time at Federal. There was a red light, and when you heard a guy say "Red Light" that was the time to record!" He turned that Red Light on, and that track was laid. Most of those tracks with the Maytals and the Wailers were just two tracks."
Who did all the mic set ups at the time?
"The engineer, Goodall, there were other guys, but Goodall did most of it.
So what do you remember about Don Drummond?
"Well Don Drummond, he played a bone like, it was very spritual. When he was playing he captured you. Just his style of playing. When the Skatalites started playing out, concerts half the people waited outside and they came in with Don Drummonds. He had a great following and was a great musician. A little bit crazy, he was sick but other than that. His music wasn't sick, it was real life. "
"There was another trombonist who was playing with a group I was playing with Bobby Aitken and the Carribeats, we nicknamed him Don D Junior. But Don Drummond was… there was no misses. It was like you was listening to Jay Jay or K Wilding. There was no misses in those people's playing it was flawless. And Don Drummond was the same, Tommy McCook was flawless all of them. "
How would you describe Don Drummond style?
"He was very original, very creative, those musicans back in the fifties and the sixties, there was nothing for them to copy, they had to create. They created all the different melodies, the different riffs. He was one of the creators. "
"If you were to listen to JJ Johnson, you would hear a lot of sixteen notes and stuff like that. Normally with trombonists it would be simple stuff very melodious but... When you was listening to Don Drummonds it would be like like JJ there was a rating for Don, and he considered to be No.3 in the world for Trombone."
What was his demanour?
"He would never say much."
Was he a Ganja smoker?
"If he did I never see him smoking, but he was a little bit crazy, well he was more than a little…When he was off, I see him one day they had a recording session - and they set the mic in a certain position. And so he hold the trombone in another position, so they couldn't record him. And that was a scary day for the engineer, because he had never seen him like that. And in his live perfomance, there was times when we was playing and he came in two hours late!!!! Back then Bands would play for five or six hours.
Did he have a family?
"I don't know, the only person I know he was close to was Margarita,
the lady that he killed. And she was a little bit off as well. She was a singer and a limbo dancer. She worked a lot on the North Coast doing the limbo dancing. She was very pretty, very very pretty. Now she smoked!!! She smoked a lot. I can't remember if I see Don smoking,
which he probably did. But back then most musicians smoked.
Did they get along?
"Well Don didn't say that much, sometimes in the studio - he would say six words in a whole day. The only thing I can remember is that I
remember walking up King Street, Margarita and I, and I couldn't keep up with her, her pace, she was moving really fast. "
What are your thoughts on her death, and Don's situation?
"It was sad, I knew he was sick, I don't think it was intentional, he probably just lost it, that he killed her. So it was a tragic situation for the both of them. When they took him to the madhouse, it was something lost, a golden treasure. How do you describe something like that?"
You did a duet with Don, tell me about that day.
"That was great, he was in a good mood. Don loved me very much,
I was one of the persons that … I could go and shake his hand and he was cool. We were pretty much in sync. I think we did that tune for Coxsone. Recorded at Federal. It was his melody and I played it with him. I also did a duet with Lester Sterling. Charlie scats, but that was mine, I did a lot of tunes like that."
"Baba Brooks was another musicians that was very popular then, in the ska era. "
What were the big hits that you played on?
"There were so many, the ones with the singers, The Maytals 'Six And Seven Books' Andy and Joey 'You're Wondering Now' 'Ruff and Tuff' was another favourite. One of my favourites was with the Gaylads - BB Seaton. I talk with the other day, and he reminded me of it. Phyllis Dillion ' If You Knew' was another favourite. "
So what about Charlie Cameron and The Sunshine Festival?
"Well when I left the North Coast. I started to use my real name, but let me explain about Charlie Organaire. That name came about when I was recording with Prince Buster. There was a guy across the street, he gave me that name. He used to do woodwork across the street from Prince Buster. Prince Buster had his record shop on Charles Street. And everytime this guy walked into the shop he would call me Organaire. And it sounded a good name, so I started to use it. Then when I started to work on the North Coast. I started to use Cameron, back to real name. When I came to Chigago I used Organaire a little bit. I worked the Latin Clubs, Then I started to work with a agent, here in Chigago, her name is Nelba Carville and the name of the agency is Jade Enterprises. So she started booking me all over the place. She came up with the name Sunshine Festival. We did quite a bit of work. Some with WLIS. The band was working five days a week. Then she got sick with cancer, she moved to Texas. So I represent myself now. Charles Cameron and The Sunshine Festival.
Then I did a track in 'Love Jones' the movie, I used Charles Cameron,
But then I thought a lot of people know me as Charlie Organaire not as Charles Cameron. On my record now, I have Charlie 'Organaire' Cameron that's the name I am using it.
So this is your first CD? And it has 'Love Jones' track.
"No 10, and they can go on my website, which is
www.charlescameron.org, and they can download quite a lot of my music on that site.
And if they get the 'Love Jones' DVD they can see you live!
Tell us about the members of the Sunshine Festival ?
They are Randy Hardley, Steve Bradley, Michael Toose, Horace (Spritual)
Chin, Charlie Vant - her name is actually Charlotte. We use
Two drummers, Erin Turner, and an African guy that plays drums!!!
Evans. Three of them are teachers of music!!! Steve Bradley can tell you what note it is on the keyboard without touching the keyboard.
He plays keyboards and trombone. He's been with me about seven years.
Have you any favourtie harmonica players?
Stevie Wonder, and the guy from WAR, he plays a blues harp! Amazing. I could listen over and over to him.
"Jazz is very popular in Jamaica, and the great jazz musicians used
to come to Jamaica to play. Also part of out styling was the mento music, so you put all that together with the music coming from New Orleans - you get a certain style. And then Jamaica has a certain magic,
anyone who goes to Jamaica experiences that magic.