Usually during a DJ boom, you get three or four DJ's who take over the scene. Everything seems to revolve around them. Around them you always have a set of DJ's who could only be called imitators. These DJ's are just learning the trade. Before long they either come up with something original or give up.
When they come up with something original they form what could be called the outer circle of DJ's. Every era of the music since the early seventies has had them. If any of the big stars of the era start to fade a bit, they will usually start to shine.
During the early to mid eighties, Jamaica had a small army of these DJ's. Originality was the order of the day, and, as soon as a DJ slowed down, he was never given a chance to speed up again. By any calculations Lord Saffafras was due to shine in '85. In '83 and '84, He had shown his talent and originality.
Then the UK MC's/DJ's arrived in 1985, followed by the ragga ('86) sound with the greater attention given to singers. Lord Sassafras, Early B and a number of other DJ's were bypassed. By the time DJ's were back in fashion, and another set of DJ's (Lietentant Stitchie and the like) were on top.
Since then, '87/'88, DJ's have more or less stayed on top. The result of this has been that more and more DJ fans are going back to take in all the styles. Although we still have three or four deejays in control, a new refresing attitude exists towards all DJ's. The very negative »disposable« attidude towards DJs seems at last to have gone.
Part of the change of attitiude is that DJ's are greatly benefitting from the new technology. Drum machines and the whole midi business means that the timing essential for any DJ is now there all the time. Something that they can even take on the road with them, although a DJ with a band, is still like playing football with a cricket ball. It can be done, but it makes it hard work. Today DJ's are at the very forefront of reggae music. DJ's like Sassafras add to the variety available. Ride on brother, ride on.
In the world of horseracing there exists a lone 200 pound jockey. Towering above his peers, this jock causes horses at the track to cringe upon his arrival. Astonished, a chosen horse enters the starting gate realizing at that instant that his heavy jock is already upon its back and light as a feather. The gate opens and this fine thoroughbred laps the other entries with the careful skills of its jockey who has done this countless times before. Victorious, Lord Sassafrass dismounts this thoroughbred and is awarded the title.
Jamaica's love for horseracing and of music runs deep and unobscured. Jamaica DJ Lord Sassafrass was the first to popularize a combination between horseracing and reggae music. Although he had dreams of being a jockey as a child, Sassafrass never realized his dream at the track but rather in the reggae dance hall. Today, Sassafrass remains the master of the »Horseman Style« followed by students like General Trees and Shelly Thunder.
In addition to the »Horseman Style« Lord Sassafras, known to many as the godfather of dancehall reggae, also originated the obeah (black magic) style of reggae. Many a dance in Jamaica featured Sassafras pouring his obeah liked »kumina« and »pocomania« lyrics over the crowd. To this day Sassafrass is referred to by many as the »Obeahman« a title that contains a mixture of respect, power and a potential inkling of truth.
We were recently able to catch up with this legendary DJ in Toronto, Canada. Rarely interviewed, Sassafrass speaks on a number of topics, allowing the reader insight into this elusive Jamaican dancehall DJ.
»Me used to recite pon stage you know. Ya here bout Louise Bennett?«
She does poetry.
»All right. Me used to come out pon de stage inna festival celebrations. We call it ›Dialect‹. Me used to move up pon de stage from the time me 13, 14 and come out and say:
›Me darlin' love, little dove, me dumplin', me gizarda, me sweetie-Sue. I goes for you, like how flies go sugar. As I put my pen to paper, and my pen it start to fly, me heart go...(laughter).‹
We call it dialect. It's like a poem, Jamaican style. Me used to use all them lyrics on DJ too. Me used to wonder how Echo [General Echo, famous DJ of the 70's] have so much lyrics. But him smart. Y'know seh him have lyrics. The profanity style. And him a carry it a dancehall. Me ask him, me seh, How come you do it man? And after that a next DJ come ask me how me do it. Ringo from Gemini set ›Sassa how you have so much lyrics!‹«
Now, did you DJ with General Echo for quite a period of time?
»Is like a dance a politics, a politician dance inna my area. A man seh, ›Listen our DJ, hear our DJ, DJ the mic.‹ Echo gimme. Echo chat a lyrics:
›Bend your back, pull up your foot,
lie down gal, mek me push it up.‹
›Bend your back, touch your toe,
Sassa round a back a play tic, tac toe.‹
Then Echo come back again an start 'bout underwear with jus' brassiere business. Me jus' draw a next one bout jolly bus [transportation bus] Then yell ›Yeah!‹ Echo seh ›You come with me‹. We star paring [sparring, singing together as partners] and jus' branch off to Desmond [the producer of Sassafrass' first recorded song, ›Story Of Roots‹,]«
What happeneded before you went to Desmond?
»Echo was down at the West End man (West end of Kingston). Pure gunshot, was bad in there.«
And you didn't like that.
»No, so me stay inna my area. Play a lot of football in those days. Me live a Maverley; Desmond live a Patrick City. He have a sound in Patrick City. So we jus 'tek over the sound and the road block. [many people were drawn to the sound, creating huge crowds which can ›block the road‹].«
Was he [Desmond] the background man or was he the front man?
»He own the sound.«
But he didn't select or DJ?
»No, him brother. John ›Saddlehead‹.«
Saddlehead? As in a riding saddle? He must have had quiet a head, huh?
»Saddlehead. (laughter) An one time now we a play pon street and Echo playin' behind me. We right here and Echo right behind us. An everybody seh ›Yow, what's gonna happen now.‹ Echo roun' dere. 10:00, 11:00 they cyaan see Sassafras come. Dem seh, ›Yo, Sassafrass running man. He's sherrifin', chicken out.‹ Me jus ride a horse come.«
Where did you get the horse?
»Me fadda[Father] train horses.«
So what were you thinking as you rode down the street before you hit the crowd?
»Me tinking. True Echo have a name, I won't turn up. Me turn up and everybody come my dance cos the horse was the attraction.«
So that's '82 when you started out with Echo?
»No, before that.«
Ok, so this was probably '82, '83 with the horse. What happened that night?
»We have the most crowd. Our dance have the most crowd. From that now Soul Expert jus' rule the whole place. It rule Patrick City, Duhaney Park, Washington Gardens.«
What kind of lyrics were you using?
»Slackness. Slackness a thing me nuh fight it. Ca me used to DJ slackness. After you mek you name people start listen to yuh, yuh mus' stop dat now. Me couldn't DJ slackness ca my daughter eight [eight years old].
So a next man seh come by the studio. A guy name O.C.Roberts. He was a singer for a band called Titans. So I got a version, O.C.Roberts sing the vocal and I do the rappin'. The title was ›Story Of Roots‹«
So then what were you doin '75 to '80?
»Me leave Soul Expert and start DJ Black Scorpio. Me start tear up the place in Jamaica with dialect, pure lyrics. With Black Scorpio I teamed up with Shukashine as a sidekick, Papa Screw as a selector, Patrick Irie singing. Papa Jack managing, and then later General Trees, the ›Younger Horseman.‹
Everytime I make the lyrics me see Echo make it [record similar lyrics] becaw Echo talk nastiness an me talk the same. So me say ›OK, just switch and now jus DJ all of the horses, the horseman.‹ Because if ya have producers the crowd follow you. So the more crowd ya have, the more lyrics you have to find to please them. Just seh well, ›me fadda train horse an' me ride horse so me call meself The Horseman‹. Me name meself after an American horse name ›Sassafrass‹ a wicked grass horse, good pon the turf. Go to Lee Perry as him seh ›Well we call ya Lord.‹ Pure horse me start talk 'bout. Everything me change to horse. Lyrics lyrics.
Me see a thing pon T.V. ›Grace Grace tomato ketchup.‹ Me seh ›great, great Jamaican jockeys.‹ And start name dem. My fadda was a horse trainer. From me a 5 to 6 year me go a de race track. I wanted to be a jock man.«
But you were big as a kid, right?
»No. short (laughs) Couldn't grow.«
What other kind of lyrics were you writing?
»Reality, politics, humour, and melodies and punchy lines that the kids love to repeat.«
So tell me the story that is behind the song that you have recorded in 1990 ›Read Me Mi Rights‹.
»Me and Barrington Levy come to a show over here in Canada. And when they say you come as a visitor, if you work, when your time is up, you have to leave the next day. So me at a dance one night and them run get me. Ask me mi name, where ya come from (In a deep voice) ›We're sending ya back to Jamaica. We're deporting you to Jamaica‹ Them think that everybody that come from Jamaica is bad. So them lock me up on a Friday and say I see a judge on Monday. So Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday before I come up. So they send me back to Jamaica. Police escort me to the plane. So me jus' sing the song. Ask him seh ›Who the hell he think he is.‹ Me have a green card now. So me can come anytime.«
Tell me about about ›Can't Send Me Back‹ in the same type of theme.
»Remember the Amnesty in America [a 1987 US agreement to provide amnesty to Jamaicans living in America, as long as the Jamaicans provided ›Necessary‹ information about themselves].«
›Amnesty now grant in this county for who make an illegal entry. If ya here five year, but no less than three. Ya have the right to remain here permanently. So come up with some proof of identity.‹
Why did you choose an Englishman to do the intro for that?
»He's from America man, a Jewish guy.«
Putting on a fake British accent?
»That guy a great musician. Him play pon some background move. Him name Cohen.«
What about your association with Ambassador sound?
»Ambassador is a sound down in Miami, it's nice! I'm Djing with Ambassador. A guy name ›Grandpa‹ is the selector. Also up in Canada I'm working on some things at ›Youth & Youth‹ studio with Jango and Danny Maestro.«
What about your song ›Jamaica Way‹?
»Inner Circle do that«
Inner Circle played the music for that?
»Right. Echo Minnot and Jah Mikey carry harmony. Never release in Jamaica. They give Skengdon a fight the American government.«
Who's the man with the concrete voice?
»The General. The ›Younger Horseman‹ [General Trees]«
Did you find him?
»He come from the same area. He come from Drewsland and I come from Maverley. And on the other side of the gully bank from Drewsland you have Half Pint, you have Junior Reid, you have Tubby's and you have Jammy's Echo Minott and Tenor Saw come from Maverley.«
Was Trees deejaying when you met him?
»Yeah, man me find him. He was lickle youth in the area at the shoemaker work. I tell him come hold the mic. That time '83, you know. then I leave to go a New York. I just give him a mic and tell him seh you control Black Scorpio and mek sure every night you work you have a new lyrics: don't stop write them. By the time '84 come me call him, him mash up the place. ›The Younger Horseman‹. It we that start the harmony business pon DJ. We bring the two mic, the 3 mic business. Me, Echo Minott and Trees first started it. Inna dancehall. One singer, two DJ pon it.
General Trees used to want to be a jockey. He was at my father stable apprenticed to be a jockey. Him greater than all the DJ's. Original, no slackness. They can't work like him. Him come same like me with a helmet and whip: Shelley Thunder, too. And you have a next horse business, Junior Fross in England. And a next one name ›Horseman.‹«
What was your biggest selling single?
»›Poco Jump‹ man. From ›Poco Jump‹ I don't do more serious recording until ›Jamaica Way‹«
»The music change y'know. Slackness business. People don't want to hear the lyrics, jus noise. An curse the ladies an' all that.«
So how will you handle it?
»Nobody knows what me have in me head. Ca the majority of the things a DJ chat is kids that hear it. Anytime ya hear the kids, sing it's going to be a hit.«
The early eighties, like the early seventies, and now the nineties saw a DJ boom. Although plenty of great music is released the main problem it causes is that far too much of it gets overlooked, in the early eighties this problem was made much worse by the economic madness of most of the western world, which left huge numbers of reggae fans, black and white without a job and no money to spend.
Any artist coming up then was in for a lean time. It was into this climate that Lord Sassafras's debut album ›The Horseman Connection‹ was released by Starlight Records. Produced by Bunny Lee it was just one of at least 10 albums he [Bunny] had released at the time on a variety of UK labels including Vista and Culture Press.
Bunny's production plan was quite simple. He would record 20 or so rhythm tracks usually with a top band. On this occasion it sounds like the High Times band. These rhythms would be a mix of old Bunny Lee favourites plus a few surprises to keep you interested. After that it was around to King Tubby's to voice and mix.
The rest of this process was up to the artist or DJ. If he was good he would end up with a classic album. And Lord Sassafrass did. All his favourite subjects are here all with just the right amount of good humour. Special favourites include ›Mad Man Party‹ and the title track.
A couple of years later in 1985 saw the release of his second album ›Pocomania Jump‹ for Jack Scorpio's Black Scorpio label. Jack was just coming into the record business then, and this was his first set of albums which included music from Robert Ffrench and Echo Minott, although he had been running the very popular Black Scorpio sound system for many years.
Sassafrass, as its been explained, was his star DJ then, and was very high profile. It should have been another classic set from the man, but it wasn't. Although there are plenty of great rhythms and lyrics on the album, the main problem with the album is the inclusion of ›ABC‹ which is just too gimmicky.
What the album really needed was another ›Love You Jamaica‹ or ›Pocomania Jump‹ both possess the humour that Sassafras is famous for. Or even a serious message like ›Free Base‹ anything but that. If the rest of the album was poor, it wouldn't have mattered, but it isn't. It's such a great album and it also has a wicked sleeve. One of the best ever to come out of Jamaica. Perhaps one day Jack will get around to reissuing some of his earlier work, if he does it would be nice to see this album with another track in place of ›ABC‹.
Lord Sassafrass Discography:
Although Jamaican singers and musicians make a lot of records, they do not take a lot of records. The result in the case of Lord Sassafrass is a musical history that is difficult to trace. Not only have some recordings been illegally released, but Sassafrass has the tendency to spend great lengths of time outside of Jamaica. His travels to the U.S, Canada, and England have left a wake of vinyl discs that have drifted over the counters of records shops and into the eager hands of many anonymous reggae listeners.
Lord Sassafrass worked very closely with the Directory in the preparation of this discography, but even Sassa himself is unable to completely trace his musical history. Private record collections, numerous radio station libraries, and the memory of the producer by the name of Desmond, were all sifted through thoroughly to provide the following discography.
The Horseman Connection, Bunny Lee (1983, Starlight)
Pocomania Jump, M.Johnson (Black Scorpio, 1985)
Story Of Roots - G-Clef 7"(Canada) - 1977
Green Bay Massacre - Upsetter 7"(Jamaica) - 1978
Green Bay Inquest - Upsetter 7"(Jamaica) - 1978
Raiding Party - Horseman 7"(Jamaica) - 1978
Electric Boogie - Horseman 7" (Jamaica) - 1983
Horseman Style - Horseman 7"(Jamaica) - 1983
Gallop For Me - Jah Life 7" (U.S.) - 1984
Love Can't End - I-Plee Production 7" (Jamaica)1984v Four Legs Gallop - Ashanties 12" (U.S)1984
Baby Mother - (with Charlie Chaplin) - Horseman 7" (Jamaica)1985
Calypso Jump - Black Scorpio 12" (Jamaica) 1985
Airplay - Jah Life 7"(U.S.) 1987
Jamaica Way - Skengdon 12" (U.S.) 1987
Can't Send Me Back - Science Lab 12" (U.S.) 1987
AIDS Test - Science Lab 7" (U.S.) 1987v Perfect One - Shan J 7" (Jamaica) 1987
National Dish - Black Scorpio 7" (Jamaica) 1987
Love Mi Boops - Black Scorpio 7" (Jamaica) 1987
Bum U Saddle - Firehouse 12" (Jamaica) 1987
This Is What The Police Can Do/
Don Of All Dons - GTI-Power 12" (U.S.) 1987
Bubee Egg - Butter Bread/
Murder She Wrote - Ashanties 12" (U.S.) 1987
Come Me Baby(with General Trees) - Exterminator 7" (Jamaica)1987
Music To Me Head - Jah Life 7"(U.S.) - 1987
Jamaica's 25th Anniversary - Harry J 7"(Jamaica) - 1987
Big Belly Man - Harry J 7"(Jamaica) - 1987
Tek A Look - Exterminator (Jamaica) - 1987
Step Up In Life(with B.Levy) - Quality Records 12" (Jamaica) 1989
Sassafrass You Have To Come Again/
(With General Trees) - Top Kick 7"(Jamaica) 1989
Read Me Mi Rights/
Hanky Panky - Strugglers 12" (U.S.) - 1990