Photo by Ray Hurford
|"I used to
work for the water sport concession, in my young days...I used to play
bamboo joints and condensed can. When I was playing on the beach a lot
of American used to come by and say you sound good man. One day, there
was a guy by the name of Charlie Babcock, he's a Canadian and was a disc
jockey on a station in Canada. He came to Jamaica, he got a job at the
hotels as an entertainment manager. This was in Steer Town. He told me I
sounded good, and that there was a party on a boat, it was called the
"It was owned by a watersport champion Ernie S.....he was the man who runs the watersport concession in the area, they said he was going to have a party on the boat tonight, and could I sing on the boat tonight. So I sing for these
people they was all excited and throw tip.."
"So the guy Babcock said to me You should go to Kingston to see Duke Reid. So I went to Kingston."
What year was this Justin?
Initially the record 'Carry Go Bring Come' came out as by the Charms?
"I don't know nothing about that, there is a lot of people who was putting out my record, who was involved in piracy by putting other people names to my songs."
That was very common in the early days.
What an incredible record though.
"It was my first hit. I went to Kingston to see this big guy Duke Reid. In those days you have a line. You have to make a long line, he call you one by one. I went there and I stand up, he was calling the guys. You, come up, let me hear your song.The guy would sing for him, he would say This is not your line, you should go and learn a mechanical trade. He would say Next. The guy would come by and he would say. You should go and learn the plumbing, next, you should go and do some farming. Then it was my turn. I was a little nervous but not too much, seeing this guy with a big gun at his side."
Did you have the Dominoes with you that day?
"Yes, he said to me, I must sing on the pavement. I said no I'm not going to sing on the pavement. He turned his back on me, he thought I was a country guy who didn't what was happening in the big city. That was the game they play, so he turned his back on me. I walked away. I went over to Back O Wall. Which is called Tivoli Gardens today, I was there chanting with the Rastaman. There was a guy who worked for Duke Reid, he came over and see me singing with all these Rastaman. He went back and say to him, That guy who came from the country, that tall slim guy. That guy can really sing. Duke say, go for him. I went back to Duke Reid, he said to me. You're not going to sing here. I said No sir. He said What's the name of your song.? I said 'Carry Go Bring Come Misery'. He said "Go upstairs." So I went upstairs, and I meet Tommy McCook, from the Skatalites, Don Drummond, Lester Sterling, Lloyd Brevitt, Johnny Moore, Roland Alphonso, all the legends were there. They asked me if I ever sung with a band before, I tell them no. They rehearse me and said to me. "Tomorrow we will take you down to Federal Recording Company." When I went down there in the morning I run into Baba Brooks. It was the first time I meet Baba Brooks. He said to me "I'm going to set you the right way today. When we play the first introduction, that means you come in after that. My first shot was number one for eight weeks. It was the first time that I sang with a band."
When you recorded it, you didn't voice the track, it was actually recorded with the band?
That takes real talent. How many takes was that?
"One take, I can remember Baba Brooks saying to Duke Reid You want to take another one.? He said. "No." I never take another one.?
You recorded some eighteen titles for Duke Reid?
"I do so many records in my lifetime, and sometime I don't remember them myself."
Proverbs and Parables appear in a lot of your songs.
"They inspire me a lot, the whispering spirit is always whispering to me. The reason for that is because I?m coming out of a spiritual home. My father is a Christian, my Mother is a Christian, so I grow up that way. I feel it in myself, am I a righteous dude. I get this gift to do this work."
It does sound like that. You sound inspired. Tell me about Botheration".
"If I moved to the east side of Jamaica, it was a problem. People were crying in the street. If I moved to the south side, it was going to be the same. Everywhere I go, it was pure botheration. It was a lot of tribal and political strife."
Even then in the early sixties?
"Yes, in those days it was tough for the Rastaman. It was very heavy on the rastaman because of the inspiration was coming out of the Iyahbingi."
You was you moving around with the rastaman in those times?
"Actually when I came to town, I was with Gladstone Anderson. I would be around the fans of Duke Reid. I would always want to go and see these guys play soccer. I love that game. When I finished working, most of the time I go back to the country. I was inspired more, more relaxed, more quiet. l'm listening to the wind, to the birds."
Steer Town sounds like a very beautiful place.
"Yes, I'm living very close to the Dunns River Falls. It's just a walk from my house. There is another river that is close to me, its called the Roaring River. I live in the water, for something like twelve years! I teach people water sports,
how to skin diving, scuba diving, I spend a lot of time in the water.
Tell me about the song 'Save A Bread'?.
"I started to feel a different vibration growing up, I see a lot of guys just throwing there money down the road. Then tomorrow its sadness. You don't know what's going to happen next. You have to save the spirit that is in you, just like the money you spend. Even though you are doing that, the spiritual part of it, You know not the minute, nor the hour?...you know. When he shall come, because there is a messiah, a supreme being that rule the universe. Which is the almighty that live within the heart of man.
Most artists in reggae music work with a number of producers, you stuck with Duke Reid from 1963 - until when he died in 1972.
"I'm not the type of artist to run up and down from one company to another. I will give you my heart, if you don't want me, if you finish with me, you tell me, and I go. I don't work for you and another person at the same time."
Did you get any pressure from any of the other producers to go and work for them?
"Well a lot of them want me to come and work for them, when they find out I was doing good for Duke Reid. I wasn't born to do that. I didn't want to do that type of thing. I stay with the person I was supposed to stay with, if I have a contract and it's up then I will go to another producer. I don't really run up and down."
How did you find working with Duke Reid?
"OK, well the Duke is a nice man, you have to know his spirit. You see Jamaica is a tough country. They hate to let off money, you know. Even though you might work for them. It's like they just don't want to let off the money, cause the country is so tough. Duke Reid, gave me a chance to make a little money. Not from off the disc, or the recording, but from other sources like taking...He have a liquor store, I would take his sound system, to all the different parishes in Jamaica. I would take his sound system out there with all his liquors. I would sell off all his liquors and take back his money to him. He was going to help me, cause he said the time is coming for him to help me. Then he took sick."
Did you ever work on the sound system. like sing on it?
"I never sing on a sound system, it was only Daddy U.Roy, Big Youth, and a guy they call Matchuki, another guy they call Sporty and Alcapone. These were the DJ's we were listening too."
What happened after the Duke Reid era?
"I walk away from the music, for one reason. I wasn?t making no money. It wasn't the main problem, but I live in the country, I decided to stay in the country. I didn't like Kingston any more. It was rough on me to leave from the country to Kingston everyday. So I was really fed up for a while. So I go back to do farming in the mountain. While I was there it so happen that, Jack Ruby, I passed by him one day. He used to play a big sound system. I went by his house, I was listening to him playing some
music, I said to him I know you need to have more record on your sound system, I know you need special on your sound. So when you make some money, I will do something for you."
What year was that?
Jack Ruby (left) Photo by Sandro Galli
"That was 1974, So I went to do a song for him called 'Prophecy Must Fulfill'. Then Chris Blackwell came to Jamaica, and he find that I was still around. He asked Jack Ruby to find me, then he said I should make this album called 'Jezebel'."
When Duke Reid died, Sonia Pottinger took over his business, and you made some records for her.
"She took all the materials, he told me he was going to give all his masters to Sonia, to distribute, and make me have some money. He said to her that she must treat me, better than even he treated me. When he gave all these tracks to Sonia, I saw her once, in all these years. I have never seen her again, and have never got a penny from her."
The only thing that Sonia Pottinger released was that 'From Reggae With Love' LP from yourself, and that didn?t come out to 1984.
"Well you see what was happening was that the people in the business, if they find that you are from a spiritual family, and that you are not there to quarrel with them, pertaining to money, cause I wasn?t doing my work because of money, I was doing it because I know I have to do this work spiritually. If money came my way I will accept it. If someone made money, and they know it was my work, they should give it to me. It's not for me to go and quarrel with them over my money, if they have to give it to me."
Going back to the Jack Ruby album 'Jezebel', that was a major album. It was a shame that you didn't get a chance to do a tour, when it was released.
"Well, when it came out Chris Blackwell wanted to give me a chance. He knew I had been working a long time. He said to Jack Ruby, that Jack Ruby should put a band together for me. He said it was more of a spiritual music to that what Bob Marley or Jimmy Cliff was doing. Jack Ruby didn't do that for me, he was feeling pissed off about Burning Spear, they walked away from him. He thought I was going to do the same thing to him."
After 'Jezebel' there was another big gap.
"Well, I did 'Just In Time' after that.
But that didn?t come out until 1978.
And it was only available in America.
"I had broken away from the music again. Jack Ruby was dealing with me, in the way he was supposed to deal with me. So I walked away from the music, cause I don?t like to quarrel. I never fight in school, I never like to fuss with no one. Before I let someone become embarrassed I walk away. So I walk away, I went back to the mountain."
Then you did a tune for Sonia Pottinger 'Rig Ma Role' a 7" single on Sky Note.
"It was right between those time that I did this tune for her. It done after the death of Duke Reid."
That was released in this country about 1978.
"She never put it out in Jamaica."
Nighthawk was the next company you worked for
"Nighthawk came to me in 1984, they wanted to me to do a song for them called 'Travel With Love', so I did it for him with the Wailers. I didn't get much promotion on that either. He have the Itals, and it's a small company. He also have the Gladiators. The only live performance I was getting was at the hotels, and once a while I do a show in Kingston. Most of the promoters who come to Jamaica, cause I live in the country most of them don?t know where to find me. Eventually I went to St.Louis where the Nighthawk company is based. Maybe he was making some money, but I didn't think he was making enough to handle all of us. So I lay off again."
When you did link up with current management?
"In 1988, Jonathan Arthey came to me and said we need to put a band together. It?s called the Revivers to revive the music."
Was this the band that recorded the album 'Picking Up Chips'?
"Part of them. The 809 band is part of it too, Dean Frazer arranged all the horns on that album, and him and The Tamlins hold the harmony on it."
There is a country reggae style. Yourself, The Twinkle Brothers, The Maytones.
"Actually most of the guys in Jamaica, are really from the country. Bob Marley was born seventeen miles from me, Burning Spear was born three miles from me."
There is a distinct country sound.
"Yes, you can hear the country singers from the guys who live in the city. When you grow up the things that you see with your eyes, gets to your mind."
So the 'Picking Up Chips' album was recorded at Grove Studios in Ocho Rios?
"The man that own Grove Studio, He was one of the first man that put me on a show. He told me I was great even before Charlie Babcock. He used to have a big sound system, it's called Strong?. He have a
bakery too. He was a strong man in the music, Coxsone Downbeat was powerful, and so was Duke Reid, so it was the three of them, that I know as three champion. He was one of the first guys to come to Jamaica, to help people. He put up a bakery, learn them to drive and give them license
give them his van. He was the person that make the most guy in the parish of St.Ann learn to drive."
"I was tired of going to Kingston, he asked what was going on, have you left the music? I told him I haven?t left it, but I was tired of going to Kingston. I have been in the city for so long, you know. I?m growing old now, I need to have a studio, you should build me a studio. Laughs. He laughed at me, and everytime I see him after that are you ready to build me a studio sir? One day he said to me, "I'am getting ready to build a studio you know." I said I am ready for it sir. I can remember about three weeks after that, he said "I have a plan going on right now. The studio is on it's way."
When did he finally build it, when did it open?
"Actually we was the fourth person to use the studio, to christen that studio, it must have been about 1989. Late in 1989."
How many tracks?
"24, it's a powerful studio. A lot of people come to the studio from town. It?s more relaxing. You can come there and you don't have to fret about anyone robbing you. You feel like your at home. I love him for doing this."
He took heed at what you said.
"Tell me a bit more about your band The Revivers?
They are myself, Jonathan, Johnny Moore, Deadly Headly,Vin Gordan, horns,Scully on percussion, Papa San have a brother who play keyboards. His name his Brian, he's from Trenchtown. I have the four elder one's in front of me, my son Jerome plays drums, but we call him Maxwell. He sound like Carlton Barrett, you know. I have three guys from Trenchtown. They were born around where Bob Marley grow up, they rehearse where he used to rehearse. They come forth to play with me from Trenchtown. So I have four young guys playing for me, and I have four legends.?
How are the other Dominoes?
"They was tired at what was taking place. It's not everyone that have the faith. Some people on their journey, when they see the mountain, they do part of it then they stop. They do not have the determination to go any further because of the tribulation. But they are still there, and if something is happening, they will move, but they are very stubborn at this moment."
By Ray Hurford