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THE ORIGINAL BLACK STAR MAN

An interview with Daddy T-Roy

Originally published in Cool Runnings 3/99

ROOTS & CULTURE:

A:

I was a first year student in the autumn 1971 when I found a strange LP in the bargain-bin of a local music store in a small Finnish town called Kouvola. I picked it up and thought to myself: "what the hell is this?" It was some Trojan compilation, perhaps Tighten Up 1, 2 or 3 - I forget - but because it cost next to nothing I thought I'd check it out. I had listened to some soul stuff and I was interested in black music so I thought why not give it a try.

I listened through the LP about five times in a row and understood nothing. I didn't know it was reggae because I hadn't heard the word anywhere. Later on I found out that someone had played some reggae and other Jamaican music in the Finnish radio already in the 60s but I hadn't been listening then. A fellow student, a girl, had been to London and she said the LP I had was this thing called "reggae". I was like "do you mean there's more of this somewhere?" and she said that Jamaicans listen to it all the time. From there on I bought everything I could find: all kinds of cut-outs and what have you from the bargain-bins. Anything and everything; if it was Jamaican I had to have it.

Q:

Was it easy to find reggae in those days?

A:

Some Trojan leftovers that were licensed to Germany and compilations on the Creole label. 22 songs per LP and sounds that sucked in a big way. In those times I didn't know anything about the sounds, though. Around that time they started to release some Bob Marley LPs officially in Finland as well. The first one was Island's "Catch a fire". By that time I already knew what this was all about and now there was even some bass. Mind you, it was still a big company production so the sounds were somewhat watered down so they wouldn't scare away the rock-audience.

I graduated in 1975 and got a job. Then I started to buy records from England because there wasn't anything in Finland. I bought them by mail-order and did my first trips to London. I just picked up the phone, called Daddy Kool's from work and said they should send me some records. Of course I was quite alone with this thing here. In the late 70s I got to know this guy called Pekka Vuorinen. He had much more records than I had. We traded them and listened to them together, and by and by understood a bit more than just by ourselves.

Q:

After the 70s reggae began to break through, didn't it.

A:

It was all due to Virgin Records. They made contracts that the Jamaicans didn't like one bit. They covered usually two albums and Virgin renewed the contracts or didn't renew them, just as it pleased them.

Some artists have claimed that Virgin sold records to Africa without paying any royalties to anyone. Reggae hit it big in Africa in those times, thanks to Bob Marley's and U-Roy's extensive African tours.

U-Roy is still the don in Africa even to this day with the reason being that he toured there.

Officially released albums get too much attention overall. When you can find an album in every small town's department store it's obvious that it sells a lot no matter if it's good or not. I understand that that's the way it goes; distribution is distribution and business is business but this means that Bob Marley and a few others that Virgin released officially in Finland have had too much attention drawn to them. Even to the point where people think that when Bob Marley died, reggae music died with him. That attitude can still be found in Finland.

Q:

In those times reggae was considered to be some kind of hippie music, wasn't it.

A:

Yes, and some people still think so. It has to do with this "peace & love"-business. Still, I don't think reggae has ever had that much to do with those ideas. Of course it was nice that the artists smoked ganja and all: you could easily relate to it and smoke some more yourself.

I must admit that I have always been so interested in the music itself that I don't really care about the lyrics. Of course I've tried to understand what they say in order to make up my mind whether I agree or not - most usually not, I think - but at least I think that the music and the way how you say what you want to say is more important than the message itself. You might say that it's wrong to

think that the message has no meaning, but it doesn't have to have any meaning to me personally.

Rastafarianism is also one of those things of which I understood pretty early on what was going on. In the early 70s it wasn't that fashionable yet, even though artists talked about it and repeated lines from the Bible all the time. I remember one of the first reggae songs I heard was Clancy Eccles's "Rod of correction", that was originally a political anthem made for Michael Manley's campaign: Joshua takes his rod and makes things right and so on...

Political statements made sense to me because in the 60s Finland went through a same kind of phase with political songs. Even I was involved in the usual themes: South-American situation, Che Guevara and the hippie stuff. So reggae seemed like a natural extension to other political songs.

When the papers started to carry articles like "Bob Marley and rastafarianism" and Marley made it big with those themes I understood that a lot of these guys just follow the fashion.

Suddenly everybody had dreadlocks and it seemed that rastafarianism was the way to big companies and big contracts.

And afterwards we have learned that some companies even demanded that the artists must grow dreadlocks and sing about Jah if they wanted to strike a deal with them.

BLACK STAR

A:

I graduated as a translator in 1975. I have never been actually employed as a translator by anyone but I did some freelance-jobs from time to time but I stopped doing them quite soon. Still, the English-studies have been quite useful in this line of business as well. I started working on as a sales representative for office appliances and continued that all the way to the point when I opened my record store, Black Star.

I grew tired being a sales rep. I had seen what it was and I decided that enough is enough. I started selling records by mail in 1979 just in order to see if it will ever work out. I ran the mail-order business for two years. I also delivered morning papers at the same time and in the end of the day I even earned enough money to pay my rent and food. I thought that the record business was for me. "Of course, I'll be tired and poor but it sure as hell is going to be fun too." That's how it started. There was no other option for me.

Q:

So you opened the legendary Black Star store in Lapinlahdenkatu, Helsinki.

A:

I found a suitable place with a nice location where even the rent was right. I stayed there until 1990.

(Then the store moved to another address in Helsinki where it stayed until 1992. After that Black Star went back to its roots and continued as a mail-order operation all the way to Tero's untimely death in January 2001. Translator's observation)

There were all kinds of difficulties involved because I didn't have too many customers and sometimes I even thought the whole company was going to fold. It wasn't much of a business opportunity but it was damn fun. And luckily I had other sources of income as well, like for instance my radio show.

Q:

How long have you had your radio show on the air?

A:

Since 1977. I started with a four episode series. I think it was called "The roots of reggae". I made a phone call to the Finnish Broadcasting Company (FBC) and asked why they don't ever play any reggae in their shows. The guy on the other end said "Stop whining and come here. Do your own shows." And that's the way it started.

I did several intermittent series during the late 70s and early 80s. In 1982 the people in the FBC said that because FBC is a state-owned non-commercial radio company they can't give me any more airtime because I own a record store. That's why Pekka Vuorinen and another friend of mine, Ari Ojala, ran the show for a while. In 1985 when the commercial local station Radio City was founded I moved my show there and it stayed there for six years. That was maybe the best time I had with my radio show. It was great fun playing records as a competitor to Ari who had his own show on FBC at the same time.

(Since 1991 Tero had his show Roots & Culture back on FBC when FBC regulations got slackened a bit. Him being a record store owner wasn't that bad a thing anymore. The show continued until January 2001. Translator's observation.)

Q:

You also published "Cool Runnings" magazine.

A:

Pekka Vuorinen and me, we decided why not start to publish a magazine. And it received a good response. All the issues we published were sold out, about 300 copies each.

JAMAICA JAMAICA

A:

We rehearsed travelling abroad in Stockholm when we went to see various concerts by Bob Marley, Black Uhuru and others. And of course we visited London every now and then. In 1983 we decided to go to Jamaica to see what this thing is all about. Dancehall was the biggest thing then. Junjo (Volcano), Killamanjaro, Gemini... those were the ruling sounds at that time. It was a great trip. Somehow I found myself at home there. Everything was allright, even though there were gunshots at night and every morning we found out more names who had been shot and who had done what to whom. There was violence everywhere, that's the way Jamaica has always been and probably always will be. Usually it's the guys who are involved in the "businesses" who run the risk of being shot.

But you must always be on the alert down there, you can never stop looking around you when you move about. It's hard to relax. Also Jamaicans are like that. If they have seen some action themselves they will never be completely relaxed. Josey Wales is a good example. He never stays more than two minutes in one place.

The only place where he relaxes is his home with iron bars in every window.

Sturgav (U-Roy's sound) was kind of fading away at that time, Josey Wales had moved to Volcano that was run by Junjo Lawes.

I think that Sturgav's equipment broke and U-Roy decided to let it be. One reason for that must have been the fact that new sounds had newer equipment and they played much louder. Old tube amps were no match to them. The thing with sound systems is that you need all this equipment and trucks and lots of people in order to make it work and in the end of the day you don't get that much income out of it anyway.

Q:

I think Junjo was the don in those days.

A:

Yes, he was the absolute don of dons then. He had a good concept: Roots Radics with Steely, Channel One-studio with Soldgie at the controls. Soldgie and Scientist mixing... They knew what Junjo wanted and Junjo knew that they knew what they were doing. Sometimes he just came to the studio with a bunch of guys and said: "play these rhythms". Then he went asleep and woke up only later to check what the guys had gotten on tape.

Junjo used all kinds of stuff that makes your head spin. I couldn't make out what he was saying: he had false teeth, two different sets, and they didn't stay where they were supposed to stay. Add to that the fact that he was almost always high... He was very serious all the time, he never laughed. Sometimes you could see that he wasn't all that serious but that was quite rare. I spent hours with him on several different occasions. Usually he smoked cocaine in a spliff, and quite general portions too. He was high all the time and he drove around in circles with his Merc.

He had his headquarters on Myrie Avenue where people all but worshipped him because he brought a lot of money to the area. Vendors sold this and that around his headquarters and everybody wanted to run errands for him. Artists were rich men compared to others in that area, they had lots of money. Of course, dancehall business has never been a goldmine to anyone and it still isn't.

Junjo had a quite nice place in Stony Hill in those times: nice property in a cool shade, iron bars in the windows, high fences, chauffeurs and cars everywhere... Admittedly, they were just an old Mercedes and an old Toyota but still... he had bought them

with his own money. I was driving with him towards the ghetto when a couple of women walked towards us and kept saying: "Jim Brown dead, shot!" Junjo had nothing else to say to them but: "Mi nah shot 'im!" before he just drove on.

Q:

Later he had a bit of bad luck, didn't he.

A:

I don't know what it was all about but I heard what had happened.

In the autumn of 1984 Junjo went to New York with his sound. He had Toyan, Barrington Levy and some other guys with him. Then he got busted with cocaine. I think he had some deals going on with some Columbians. He had agreed to act as a mule for them and bring a considerable amount of coke to the States with his sound. He got seven years. He even wrote to me from prison.

Q:

During that time he kind of lost his touch.

A:

If you do time for seven years in a prison in America your return to the reggae business will take several years and I don't think Junjo ever really made it back. He made some records and if something seems to be okay with them it has more to do with the fact that the players and singers have known what to do than with Junjo's production. Otherwise I don't think they have anything going for them.

(After the interview we heard the news that Junjo had been shot dead in London. We came back to the subject in another occasion):

It seems that Junjo got acquainted with the wrong bunch of people at some stage. Probably quite early on, perhaps already as a child. Junjo had a woman and a child in England and I think he was planning a second comeback. Unfortunately it's very rare that

anyone who has done such a bad job with his first comeback ever gets another chance.

Q:

You and Pekka Vuorinen wrote the book "Reggae inna Dancehall style" in the same year when you stopped publishing "Cool Runnings" magazine.

A:

We wrote the book in 1984 and it was of course inspired by our trip to Jamaica the previous year. The magazine business stopped because we kind of ran out of steam with it. It was such hard work in those times when everything had to be done by hand with typewriters, scissors and glue. I think I helped my friend Ray Hurford with about 20 issues of his "Small Axe" magazine. It wasn't that pretty to look at but doing it was great fun. I folded the magazines on the counter in my record store with the excuse that there wasn't anything else to do anyway - and that was probably quite true.

DADDY T-ROY GOES COMPUTERIZED

Q:

Somewhere in the mid-eighties a new sound came around with "Sleng Teng" and it took everybody by surprise.

A:

Yes, that was a terrible shock. Not to me, but to a lot of people. They were used to reggae being played by a band with a bass guitar that sounds like a bass guitar. Drums should be played by a real human being and real musicians should play guitars and perhaps even some horns. Then somebody just comes on the scene with a slightly revamped sample bit from one of the earliest Casio home organs, pushes a button and a hit is born! Many people got really upset, they asked themselves is this going to be it for the rest of their times.

Fortunately that earliest style didn't last longer than a couple of records. The musicians and producers learned quite quickly to use the new technology in a way that the result sounded like proper reggae music and not just sleng teng all the time. Of course, some records have been done completely with machines with no musicians involved at all.

It was King Jammy who was responsible for bringing in "Sleng Teng" and actually the whole computer thing was his idea. That's because in his sound system even "Sleng Teng" sounds like real music. He has so much bass that the people from Casio were surprised to learn their sample could sound like that. In Jammy's sound system the bass is really thumping, I can tell you that. Of course, if you listen to it with a portable transistor radio you can hear no bass at all. That's a problem with almost all Jamaican music. It doesn't sound that hot in your home stereo, no matter what you do. Actually all Jamaican records should be played with massive equipment in a place where there is enough room as well.

Q:

Around that same time you started to release records on your Black Star label, didn't you.

A:

"Unity" by Willie Williams came out in 1987 and "Climax" by Ruffy & Tuffy in 1988. I was supposed to release some other titles as well, but they all came to nothing because of these other guys. Like for instance when I at one time had a contract with a certain producer. Next thing I heard of him was when his lawyer called me from some prison in London and told me that this guy had ended up there and that I should send them some money so they could bail him out. I told him "I have no money, keep him there."

Q:

You went to Jamaica with some backing tapes done in Finland.

A:

These guys who call themselves Massive Crew (they also have this other project, a band called The Levitators) had done the tapes some time before. I tried them out in London but nobody there understood anything about this computer stuff. A friend of mine, Pekka Eronen, and me went to Jamaica in 1990. We went to Penthouse studios and had a few guys sing some tracks to the tapes. Only Bananaman's "Showers of blessing" was released as an album. Then came the economic recession and I couldn't do anything

with those tapes. I had enough stuff to release albums for Icho Candy, Carl Meeks, King Everald and so on, but... We have been playing with the idea of revamping the rhythms a bit with modern technology to make them sound a bit more up to date. There's nothing wrong with the vocal tracks so I don't see no reason why it couldn't be done. Maybe not whole albums but at least some kind of a compilation should be possible. (A couple of those tracks by Icho Candy have been released in England as 7" singles.) And we also have a couple of tracks that Tony Tuff has sung on Massive Crew backing tapes. I think we will probably release those quite soon. Me and Esa K?renm?ki (of Massive Crew & The Levitators) have been tinkering with them for a while now.

FORWARD!

Q:

During the recession you closed up your record shop and moved to the countryside to continue it as a mail-order business.

A:

I had to, otherwise I would've had to close up completely. It was the only alternative. Perhaps I could've continued the shop if I could've found smaller premises with lower rent and all, but I doubt it still. I had so few customers in the spring of 1992 that even though some of them bought records with almost all of their money I just barely survived. The early 90s was a veritable balancing act for me but now when I keep my operation at my home everything seems to be going to the right direction. Business is steady and predictable and I don't see any decline ahead. Of course, you have to have some other sources of income as well, because you can't live purely by selling reggae records in Finland. In this respect, my radio show has been a great help for me.

Q:

Then you started publishing Cool Runnings again.

A:

Somehow I felt I had to do it. People started to be more and more out of tune. Customers ordered so strange records that I couldn't understand what the hell was going on. Okay, I had them in my shop but they were mistakes on my side and some of them had been lying around for ages. I had to do something about it. I had to start publishing a magazine so that my customers would have at least one source of information on what's interesting and what's not. I found people who can contribute, some were old some

were new names but all in all, with their help I could start publishing the magazine again.

Q:

I remember you predicting in the early 90s that traditional instruments are coming back to the music.

A:

I was wrong. They haven't come back. Not much anyway. That's because digital equipment has improved so much that it can replace traditional instruments almost without anyone noticing the difference. The trend is to make computer music that sounds like it was done with traditional instruments. If you could go back in time and play these current releases for people in the mid-80s they wouldn't believe you if you said to them that they are done with computers.

Luciano's success is a sign that singers are coming back again and so is the message. This trend has been going on for a while now. In the early 90s everybody was slinging gun lyrics. In 93-94 Roots era began anew with its conscious themes and real singers singing real songs again. It has done the world of good for reggae music. Some old-style Bob Marley fan may think that there is still something in this music after all.

Q:

Do you think it is cynical of me to say that it's follow fashion time again when everybody claims to be so conscious?

A:

Of course it's cynical but it's healthy to be cynical when it comes to reggae. Jamaicans live in an economic situation where you have to do anything you can in order to be attractive and acceptable in the eyes of the audience. A lot of the rastafarianism you hear in today's songs is just a trend, but then again, many reggae artists are truly religious. Many of them have become born-again christians like for instance Papa San and Danny Browne as far as I know.

As a matter of fact this new change in style is quite fun. In the early 90s DJs were the thing, then came this Rastabusiness with the chanting style and bobo dreads like Sizzla, Anthony B etc.

Nowadays the latest thing are these various groups where there are both DJs and singers together with a totally different style than before. TOK represents more harmonious singing style whereas groups like Scare Dem Crew and Monster Shack Crew concentrate

more on shouting and growling and what have you. They will be hot, mark my words. They make their own lyrics and write their own songs and rhythms. They make use of the old rhythms only occasionally. Ragga is going to be more and more popular all around the world and old rhythms will lose their position as the backbone of Jamaican music. New producers like Jeremy Harding, Main Street, the Browne brothers etc. and their new rhythms and artists are going to be the next big thing.

However, your average reggae fan is rather conservatist by nature. If you come in the reggae scene at some stage you most probably won't appreciate any changes in the music after that. Every now and then you might buy some new stuff out of curiosity, but usually you always go back to the style that got you interested in reggae in the first place.

Q:

There must still be a lot of stuff to be unearthed for old style aficionados as well.

A:

Indeed. With some producers and artists it's only a matter of time when new previously unreleased stuff starts flooding the market. People have searched with cats and dogs some material that everyone knows must exist but that hasn't yet been found. The stuff must be somewhere and it's only a matter of time when somebody finds it.

Q:

You have stubbornly stayed with the basic format when it comes to reggae, the 7" single. You have kept them in your catalogue all these years. Not very business-minded, is it?

A:

You're right. Nobody buys them here. When I get singles for my radio show and buy only one copy of each, at least half of them will never find a buyer no matter how good they are. I make no profit selling the singles but I want to stay on the scene. I want to know what's going on in Jamaican music. In every two weeks time I get this list from Jamaica where you can see all singles currently available. It is usually around 10 pages long with around 700 titles.

Half of them are from previous months or rereleases, the other half being new stuff released in the last two months.

TOP RANKING

Q:

Do you have some absolute favourite artist that you rank above others?

A:

Not an individual artist, no. Maybe some of the early producers. I realized pretty soon that producers are the thing. They decide the sound. I have always liked Perry and Coxsone. Of course, Perry has been a clown for the last two decades, even longer, but still...

I have always liked Coco Tea as a singer. I have checked everything he has done and I have also liked almost everything.

He has a good touch with his singing. When I first heard him sing in 1982 I instantly realized he's going to be big.

Q:

Which of these decades you've spent with reggae do you rate as your favourite?

A:

1982-1984 when there were lots of enthusiastic people around. It was nice to sell records to them. It was also rather nice time economically. Business was good. There's nothing wrong with any other times either, but economic difficulties in the early 90s made me lose some of my interest in this business. Not in reggae, mind you, never. But I got a bit tired when I needed money for this and that and never had enough of the cursed thing.

I'm rather open-minded when it comes to the different styles in reggae. You learn to accept and like new styles if you listen to the music as much as I do. Of course it's difficult to really get yourself knowledgeable about any particular style nowadays because new names and new releases keep popping up at an amazing pace. It's difficult to try to stay with it but it's fun too.

Q:

Do you have time to listen to any other music than reggae?

A:

Sometimes I listen to some soul but it's very occasional. I don't actually follow any other music. Of course, I have to listen to something else as well because someone's always listening to something in my family. If I played reggae all the time I would pretty soon have no family. Fortunately I have my own area in the basement where I can listen to music as much as I want to. Others in my family listen to different things; my daughter plays the piano quite actively, classical music, and my son is still so young that he listens to children's tapes and so on.

Q:

What is Black Star's best selling record of all times?

A:

I think it still is Wailing Souls' "Firehouse Rock". I haven't kept count for years now, but nowadays I only sell 10 - 20 copies of each title, certainly not more than that. "Firehouse Rock" came out in the right time in the right situation. It was a good record. I think I sold something like 350 copies of it in three and a half years time.

Also some other Greensleeves releases sold quite well. Scientist's dub albums sold around 100 copies each.

Q:

Is there some particular style or artist that you think is good but nobody still seems to be interested in it or him?

A:

Pretty soon I got used to the fact that DJ-albums don't sell that well and there even was a time when dub albums didn't seem to interest anyone. However, there is one complete format of records that I really don't understand why people don't want to buy them: Various Artists compilations. There are some absolute pearls on them that never make their way to any other albums. Of course, it's a bit difficult to buy them by mail, but I'm more than happy to tell the customer what's on a particular compilation by telephone or I can even make a photocopy of the sleeve and send it to the customer prior the purchase.

Q:

What about the next two decades, then? Any troubles to be seen?

A:

At least I don't see them. Of course this European Union business and some current changes in the Finnish business laws may have some effect on Black Star as well, or then they may not, who knows. I don't think there are going to be any major changes ahead.

Q:

So Black Star is still going to be strong for years to come?

A:

Yes, it most certainly will.

Interviewer: Petteri Paksuniemi

Translator: Arto Airio

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Photo: Marja Seppala

Tero Kaski

My very good friend Tero Kaski and a good friend to reggae music died last Tuesday 2nd January 2001. He had been reading his son Julius, pictured with him a bedtime story when he fell asleep. His son ran to his mother - Seija, and his sister - Sonia who found Tero had died. Tero was 51 years old.

I first meet Tero in the early eighties. He came to visit me with his friend Pekka. He had been buying Small Axe from issue one, and really liked it. I thanked him. Tero continued to praise Small Axe but looked apprehensive. I couldn't understand why. Finally he said it - "Would you like some help."

"How many copies do you need." I replied. "No you don't you understand, I can help you make it look better!" My expression on my face must have told Tero all he needed to know. His help was gratefully accepted and over twenty years he has helped me with every publishing project I have ever been involved with. On top of that his help extended to reggae people all over all the world.

He was reggae record shop owner, a mail order outlet, a publisher, a writer, a producer, graphic artist, and a broadcaster. Best of all to me he was a really good friend. To his wife and children he was a good husband and father.

I will miss him greatly.

He did good works.

Respect to you my good friend rest in the arms of Jah.

Ray Hurford