header sunnyvibes link
sunnyvibes link
indice di articoli vari indice delle interviste indice delle recensioni di album indice delle recensioni di singoli  


Alton Ellis: Mr Soul of Jamaica

A cura di: Pier Tosi
Scroll to right column for english version


E' molto emozionante incontrare al Link di Bologna un mostro sacro del reggae come Alton Ellis: Alton e' di scena a cantare inna sound system style i suoi piu' celebri successi e addirittura per improvvisare una piccola jam con la One Drop Band dei fiorentini Beppe Jahka e Jahmento, in una serata dedicata al reggae 'storico'. Alton e' molto gentile e affabile e ci racconta parecchi particolari della sua straordinaria storia musicale. Tuttavia prima di riportare la sua intervista vi anticipiamo qualche nota storica.


Alton nasce e cresce a Trenchtown e si avvicina alla musica negli anni precedenti alla nascita del reggae e addirittura della nascita della industria discografica jamaicana. Dapprima in duo con Eddie Perkins incide alcune love songs che gli danno una piccola notorieta', poi si prende un periodo di pausa nel periodo della nascita dello ska e quando riprende raggiunge un successo straordinario soprattutto nel periodo del rocksteady.
Come e' evidenziato nell'intervista la sua straordinaria abilita' e' consistita nel fare proprio uno stile molto 'americano', mutuato dal rhythm & blues e dal soul, trasportarlo nella musica jamaicana e creare cosi' qualcosa di completamente nuovo ed eccitante, e incominciare insieme a compagni di strada come Bob Marley, Delroy Wilson o Ken Boothe una grande stagione di reggae vocalists. Alton Ellis e' uno dei pochi personaggi dell'ambiente musicale jamaicano a cui il governo ha conferito l'onorificienza dell' Order of Distinction.
Come altri personaggi Alton e' troppo identificato con quella mitica era della musica jamaicana per affrontare da protagonista vero le frenetiche evoluzioni del reggae negli anni settanta ed ottanta, ma quanto ha fatto in quei vibranti mesi del rocksteady gli garantiscono uno status di leggenda vivente.

D In che modo sei diventato un cantante?
R: Ho cominciato da ragazzo, a scuola: ero attratto dalla musica dall'eta' circa di undici anni, dodici...

D: Sei nato nel 1944?
R: No, sono nato nel 1940. A scuola, Boys Town School che e' stata la mia ultima scuola, a Trenchtown, ed io ho incominciato allora ad interessarmi della musica: non pensavo a qualcosa di specifico, mi piaceva la musica e basta. Ho incominciato ballando, come ballerino all'Opportunity Hour, in Jamaica, il Vere Johns Opportunity Hour (una famosa gara di giovani talenti che si svolgeva in quegli anni al Ward Theatre di Kingston, e da cui passarono molte future star del reggae nda.), e dopo avere fatto il ballerino per circa due anni ho deciso di incominciare a cantare perche' sapevo di poterlo fare, ma ballare era una cosa piu' semplice e poi potevi ballare con le ragazze, con gli amici...Insomma ero a casa mia che cantavo, ed Eddie Perkins, un mio amico che viveva nella 7th Street, mentre io ero alla 5th Street, disse 'incominciamo a cantare insieme'. A quel tempo c'erano cantanti come Higgs & Wilson (Joe Higgs, famoso mentor dei Wailers e Roy Wilson nda.) e loro adattavano le canzoni americane,...come Marvin & Johnny, Shirley & Lee,...molti gruppi vocali che cantavano rhythm & blues stavano diventando famosi in America...

D: Ascoltavate quella musica per radio?
R: Si, alle radio e nei pochi sound systems esistenti in Jamaica a quel tempo...non tanti..

D: Sounds come The Great Sebastian?
R: Si, The Great Sebastian, e Mister...ho dimenticato il nome ma era un sound molto popolare, era a Greenwich Street, Denham Town, dove vivevano Ken Boothe e Stranger Cole, ed era giusto a quattrocento yards dalla mia scuola e noi incominciammo a balare ed ascoltare musica in quel sound, poi nel 1958 Coxsone divenne popolare con il suo sound system e incomincio' a registrare e produrre musica. Incomincio' producendo musica da suonare al sound system, non da mettere in vendita, e noi venimmo coinvolti e tutto incomincio' a crescere e io feci la mia prima canzone, 'Muriel' nel 1958...

D: Era una canzone rhythm & blues?
R: No, era una ballata soft: sta ancora vendendo sul mercato sulle etichette Trojan e Coxsone. Era comunque prima dell'avvento dello ska, cosi' noi facevamo anche cose stile calypso o ogni altra cosa ci sembrasse attirasse il pubblico. Poi la musica si sviluppo' nello ska, adattando il rhythm & blues americano: gli Skatalites furono i maggori inventori...

D: E chi erano i produttori di questi tuoi primi dischi?
R: A quei tempi lavoravamo con Coxsone. A quei tempi non esisteva ancora Studio One: era Coxsone, solo per il sound system...prima di Studio One...registravamo ai Federal Studios e Federal era uno dei primi studi ad apparire ed avevano un registratore ad una traccia...tutti dovevano suonare o cantare insieme e finivano su un'unica traccia...niente sovraincisioni o cose cosi'. Poi noi continuammo e Coxsone ebbe l'idea di mettersi in proprio, cosi' ando' negli States ed incomincio' a comprare i componenti un po' alla volta: amplificatori, una consolle di mixaggio a due tracce, due piccole casse e questa fu la nascita di Studio One e cosi' incominciammo a fare le cose piu' seriamente, per vendere i dischi nei negozi. Io feci cinque canzoni per Coxsone e lui le mise sul mercato. Avemmo qualche litigio e io smisi di cantare per circa due anni...e mentre io ero fuori dalla scena le cose continuavano a crescere, era arrivato lo ska ed anche Treasure Isle incomincio' il suo business.

D: In quale momento tu hai formato i Flames?
R: Dopo due anni in cui non avevo cantato decisi di ritentare il business, di ricominciare a cantare, e il mio partner Eddie con cui avevo fatto 'Muriel', 'I know it all' e altre canzoni che ora non ricordo, come Alton & Eddie era emigrato in America, cosi' io ero solo e nessuno conosceva Alton Ellis perche' noi eravamo famosi come Alton & Eddie, cosi' decisi di fare un gruppo chiamato The Flames, Alton & The Flames: cosi' andai a Treasure Isle (l'etichetta di Duke Reid, il rivale di Coxsone nda.), perche' aveva incominciato a fare dischi e lo ska era la musica del momento. Cosi' rientrai nel business dopo due anni e la mia prima canzone con Treasure Isle fu 'Dance crasher' un brano ska, e la seconda fu 'Cry tough'...

D: in quei brani suonavano gli Skatalites come backing band?
R: No, non erano gli Skatalites, era un'altra band messa insieme da Treasure Isle, con il compianto Drumbago: a quel tempo era gia' molto vecchio e nessuno lo conosce perche' era gia' vecchio a quell'epoca...

D: Ho letto un'intervista a Winston Grennan (uno dei principali batteristi dell'epoca nda.) e lui contrapponeva Drumbago a Lloyd Knibbs dicendo che il primo suonava molto piano, mentre Knibbs era molto rumoroso ed irruento...
R: Si, Drumbago suonava in modo regolare ed essenziale: poteva essere il suo stile, o forse il fatto che fosse cosi' vecchio. Lui mori' poco dopo, circa due anni dopo. Comunque incominciai a registrare per Treasure Isle e feci brani come 'Dance crasher', 'Cry tough', 'The preacher' e altri...

D: Ho una domanda su quel genere di canzoni. Erano canzoni con testi contro i rude boys...
R: Si, io ero decisamente contro irude boys... i rude boys stavano prendendo piede...Bob Marley cantava canzoni che davano loro credito, lui era piu' rivoluzionario di me e dava credito ai rude boys, mentre io ero a Treasure Isle e cantavo contro di loro, ma noi vivevamo tutti nella stessa zona, Tenchtown, cosi' i Rude Boys cominciarono a prendermi di mira...

D: La mia esatta domanda e': c'era qualcumo che ti vedeva come opposto ai Wailers...
R: Si, perche' io cantavo delle canzoni con temi opposti alle loro...

D: Ma l'autore dei testi eri tu o Duke Reid?
R: No, io scrivevo quei testi perche' ero colpito personalmente: quando andavo alle dancehalls vedevo questi ragazzi rompere bottiglie e fomentare risse fino a causare la fine della serata anzitempo, cosi' decisi di far sentire la mia voce cantando contro di loro: dicevo Papa Tullo e' un predicatore, non seguire i rudies, sii un gentleman e non essere un uomo cattivo...

D: Come puo' un uomo essere piu' duro...
R: ...piu' duro del mondo intero (questa strofa e' una strofa di 'Cry Tough' nda): quindi i rude boys a Trenchtown incominciarono a cercarmi cosi' dissi a Duke: 'Voglio smetterla con queste canzoni...'

D: (Jody Marcos, presente all'intervista domanda)Rischiavi di essere colpito?
R: Si, e' quello che volevano. Quando andavo alle dancehalls a Trenchtown di venerdi' sera, Coxsone suonava alle dances tutti i brani che aveva registrato durante la settimana per poterli suonare in esclusiva a venerdi', e i rude boys iniziavano a ballare intorno a me quando Coxsone suonava i brani di Bob Marley: i rudies ballavano intorno a me mostrandomi i loro coltelli, capito? Quindi io capii che il gioco diventava troppo pesante e dissi a Duke: 'Voglio smettere di cantare contro di loro e voglio tornare a fare love songs'.

D:(Jody Marcos) Quali films andavate a vedere inquegli anni al cinema?
R: Erano perloppiu' western, tutti i film western di quel tempo...i ragazzi si divertivano a idealizzare quel tipo di cose...cosi' decisi che rischiavo troppo e iniziai a fare canzoni d'amore e feci canzoni come 'Girl I've got a date', 'Can I change my mind', 'Willow tree' e stavo dando a Coxsone un sacco di problemi con i miei successi a Treasure Isle in quei tempi del rocksteady, cosi' Coxsone venne a Treasure Isle a offrirmi un contratto perche' io ritornassi a studio One...e disse che voleva portarmi in Inghilterra, e io ci andai, andai in Inghilterra nel 1966 dopo aver fatto un album per lui e lui fu fortunato perche' quell'album contiene canzoni come 'I'm just a guy', 'I'm still in love', 'Let him try', 'So much love': era un album che conteneva soltanto hits. Io ero pericoloso per lui a quei tempi perche' lui aveva Bob Marley, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson ma dovette venire a offrirmi un contratto perche' gli causavo molti problemi di vendite.

D: Hai mai avuto provblemi con i Wailers a causa dei tuoi brani anti-rudies?
R: Non realmente, perche' noi vivevamo praticamente insieme, ogni giorno nello stesso yard, lo yard di Morty Planner (uno dei primi rasta di Trenchtown: fu il consigliere rasta di Bob Marley e l'accompagnatore di Ras Tafari durante la sua visita ufficiale in Jamaica nda.)vivendo nella stessa realta'. Fu Morty Planner a iniziare il movimento rastafari in Jamaica. Io ero la nel suo yard nel periodo in cui tutto incomincio', ero nello yard di Morty Planner: Planner viveva nella 5th Street e questa era la strada in cui vivevo anch'io. Bob Marley veniva dalla 3rd Street, che era lontana quattro casamenti, cosi' lui doveva venire nella mia strada per ascoltare quegli insegnamenti rastafari. Planner a quel tempo aveva circa quaranta anni ed era il capo del movimento rastafari. Oggi lui e' ancora vivo ma e' molto malato...Rita Marley gli ha dato una casa in uno dei suoi terreni.

D: Una domanda sulla pratica di impiantare nella musica jamaicana il soul statunitense: una fonte di ispirazione importante era la musica americana...
R: Si, la musica americana significo' molto per molti di noi, perche' la ascoltavamo e la ballavamo massicciamente. Noi volemmo' imitare gente come Sam Cooke, Otis Redding. Quelli erano i personaggi da cui adattavamo lo stile ed io fui uno dei primi a iniettare questo mood nel business e se vai indietro agli anni sessanta, primi anni sessanta e ascolti le mie cose comparandole con le altre puoi sentire la differenza, ascoltando come cantavo: poi tutto incomincio' a seguire la mia direzione, tutti i cantanti incominciarono a fare cose simili perche' i produttori dicevano loro di seguire Alton Ellis e i cantanti lo fecero, cosi' tutto venne nella mia direzione. Molti cantanti lasciavano i loro villaggi e venivano a Trenchtown da tutta la Jamaica perche' conoscevano le vibrazioni che noi producevamo la.

D: Sei d'accordo se dico che lo ska era in corrispondenza del primo rhythm and blues o dell'honking (stile r&b trainato dal sassofono: per molti e' un progenitore del rock'n'roll nda.)??
R: Si, direi definitivamente si perche' questa musica...il boogie woogie (Alton Ellis canticchia imitando i ritmi boogie e ska)...la sinistra suonava singole note e la destra faceva il ritmo ska, il levare , poi tutti accentuarono l'afterbeat e lo chiamarono ska...molta gente ti puo' dire che questa e' l'influenza del boogie woogie o del r&b che si suonava alle dancehalls: questa era la destra che faceva il ritmo in levare. La chitarra suonava un suono simile alla parola 'ska' e invece poi nel reggae divenne 're-ggae, re-ggae' (imita la lenta chitarra ritmica del reggae) e da qui venne la parola reggae. Lo Ska era colegato strettamente alla musica americana e poi incomiciammo gradualmente a creare i nostri stili...

D: Seguendo la linea, il rocksteady era in un certo senso influenzato dal soul, gruppi vocali come i Miracles, Temptations...
R: No, no: quello che successe realmente con il rocksteady...cantando in quello stile soul, la musica rallento' e invece di suonare il beat come una marcia (imita lo ska beat con la voce) cominciammo a suonare cosi' (imita un vecchio ritmo rocksteady con la voce) la musica si adatto' al soul che cantavamo...suonando piu' lento puoi suonare piu' note accorciate...

D: Un altro passo avanti: il primo reggae era in un certo modo in relazione con il funk?
R: No, il funk non c'entra... D: Sto parlando di cose stile 'The return of Djiango', gli strumentali di Lee Perry...
R: No, niente a che vedere...era fuori dall'influenza del r&b ed era musica con una sua autonomia dalla musica americana: gente come Wailers e Lee Perry creavano cose originali...Lee Perry, Bunny Lee...

D: Una domanda su Duke Reid e Coxsone: quali erano le differenze tra i due personaggi e tra i loro modi di lavorare con la musica?
R: Due persone veramente differenti, e Coxsone era piu' nell'aspetto commerciale, nel senso che Coxsone registrava incessantemente ogni giorno dalle undici di mattina alle sei di sera mentre Duke Reid registrava solo alcuni giorni della settimana, per esempio registrava due giorni e due giorni stava fermo, poi due giorni la settimana seguente e poi faceva tre giorni di pausa. Coxsone registrava ogni giorno e a volte passava per esempio due mesi interi a fare solo ritmi strumentali, poi chiudeva lo studio ai musicisti, niente piu' musicisti, solamente cantanti a fare le vocals su quei ritmi per intere settimane, per mesi...Io andavo e facevo le mie sei canzoni, Ken Boothe arrivava e faceva le sue otto, Delroy faceva le sue cinque...quando aveva finito il lavoro delle vocals su quel gruppo di ritmi ricominciava a lavorare solo su ritmi. Duke Reid era diverso...ascolta le canzoni: aveva un suono diverso, il suo studio era costruito in modo particolare: a pianterreno c'era il piccolo negozio, lui mise la consolle nella piccola sala sopra il negozio e ci costrui' intorno un rivestimento come una scatola quadrata di legno, cosi' la acustica era piu' piena, piu' rotonda...se ascolti i suoni di 'Girl I've got a date' il suono e' piu' rotondo e piu' autentico, perche' lui si sedeva e registrava la canzone in un'ora, poi ci lavorava per un giorno intero o due...

D: Sembrerebbe che tu stia parlando del tuo studio preferito...
R: Si, mi piaceva di piu' Treasure Isle perche' era piu' autentico...un brano richiedeva un giorno di lavoro...Coxsone faceva sei pezzi in due giorni.

D: Di sicuro c'era molta gente che circolava negli studi ascoltando la musica...
R: Piu' che altro aspettando di registrare i propri pezzi...era un business di povera gente: tu andavi agli studi e poteva capitarti un'opportunita'.

D: Hai mai pensato di mettere tutte queste storie in un libro?
R: Ho incominciato a scrivere dieci mesi fa insieme al mio amico Roger Steffens.

D: Chi erano i tuoi musicisti preferiti?
R: Quando parlo dei musicisti, il primo che mi torna alla mente e' Jackie Mittoo, ogni volta che andavo in studio e Jackie era li...il pensiero va in primo luogo a lui. Jackie Mittoo e' il primo e il secondo e' Roland Alphonso, poi vengono insieme tutti gli altri...Tommy McCook, Winston Wright...Jackie Mittoo e' stata la piu' grande cosa mai accaduta a Studio One...incomincio' che andava ancora a scuola e veniva in studio al pomeriggio, dopo gli altri con la sua divisa da scolaro e ci stava fino a notte fonda. Poi un giorno arrivo' alla stessa ora degli altri e disse 'Si, la scuola e' finita!...'. Lui era il leader degli Skatalites, Roland Alphonso lo ammette cosi' come ogni altro: una volta in Inghilterra nel 1966 qualcuno fischiettava e Jackie disse 'Stai fischiando un sol puro' e Roland ando' al piano e disse 'Ragazzo tu sei un grande musicista' perche' era assolutamente vero. Lui era il piu' grande per il reggae. Conosco musicisti superiori a lui nel jazz, ma se parli di reggae music, Jackie Mittoo era il migliore.


Vibesonline.net - 1999

Per tornare all'inizio pagina
Per tornare all'indice delle interviste



Alton live sul One Love Sound.
Roma, 1998. Foto Superbass

It is a great pleasure to meet mr.Alton Ellis at Bologna's Link during a old time reggae allnighter in which Mr.Soul Of Jamaica is the very special guest, performing the peaks of his repertoire inna sound system stylee and then having a little jam with the Florence-based One Drop Reggae Band. In a very special reasoning mr.Ellis tells us some particular about his musical journey. We want to introduce you to that journey:

Alton Ellis is born and raised in Trenchtown in the fourties and became involved in the music business before of the birth of reggae. He first did record some love song with his friend Eddie Perkins as Alton & Eddie and then he did stop for a while during the ska craze. When he came back singing he did reach an extraordinary success during the rocksteady era literally adapting the soulful style of the black american singers and putting in into reggae creating something new and exciting. Alton Ellis is one of the few people in the jamaican music industry who had the Order of Distinction by the jamaican government.


Q: In which way you became a singer?
A: I started as a youth at school, I was attracted to music from the age of about eleven, twelve...

Q: Are you born in 1944?
A: No, I was born 1940. At school, Boys Town School was my last school, that's in Trenchtown and I get interest in music from then: no specific directions, just music. I started dancing first at Opportunity Hour, in Jamaica, Vere John Opportunity Hour, and after dancing for about two years I decided to try singing, because I knew I could sing, but dancing was a more easier thing to get into, yunno, dance with the girls, with your friends and ting. Anyway I did win some prices at Ambassador Theatre, Palace Theatre dancing, and then I did start singing. I was in my home singing until Eddie Parkins, a friend of mine that was living at 7th Street, I was living T 5th Street, Trenchtown an' Eddie was living at 7th Street, so he said 'Let's start to sing together'. By this time you had singers like Higgs & Wilson, they were adapting american songs,...Marvin & Johnny, Shirley & Lee...a lot of groups singers singing rhythm & blues coming out of America...

Q: Did you listen to the radios from there??
A: Yes, the radio and the few sound systems in Jamaica at the time...not much...

Q: Something like The Great Sebastian?
A: Yes, the Great Sebastian, and Mister...I forgot the name of this sound but it was a popular sound, it was at Greenwich Street in Denham Town and Greenwich Street is where the singer Ken Boothe and Stranger Cole was living and that was about four hundred yards from my school and we started dancing and listening to that song, then in 1958 Coxsone became popular with the sound system and he started doing some recordings. He was doin' recording for the sound, not for publication, and then we got involved and then we started to grow form there and I did my first song in 1958 called 'Muriel'...

Q: Was it in a rhythm & blues way??
A: No, it was a soft ballad: it is still on the market today on Trojan label and on Coxsone Label and it's still selling. This was before ska, then we usually did tings like calypso, any little ting the did sound marketable. Then the music went into the ska adapting the american rhythm & blues: the Skatalites were the main inventors...

Q: Who were the producers of your early efforts??
A: In those days it was Coxsone I was working with. In those days it was not Studio One as yet: it was Coxsone, just for the Sound System...before Studio One...we recorded at Federal and Federal was the earlier studio at that time and they got one track recorder...everybody going at the same time...no dubbin'and nothing like that, then we continued and then Coxsone got the idea of doin his own ting, so he went to the States beginning to buy bits and pieces, amplifiers, a two track mixing board, two little speakers and that was the birth of Studio One and then we started to do some serious recordings for marketing purpose. At the time I did about five songs for Coxsone and then they started to release those songs. We had some disagreement between us and I did stop singing for about two years...and while I was off the scene the ting was keeping growing, the Ska was going and taking on, an' Treasure Isle started doin' his own ting.

Q: At which stage you did form the flames?
A: After these two years when I was off the scene I decided to try the business again, to get back and sing, because my first partner Eddie, we use to sing as Alton & Eddie and we did song like 'Muriel', 'I know it all' and a couple of titles more that I forgot now, then Eddie went to America and I was alone and nobody knew Alton Ellis, they knew Alton & Eddie, so i decided to make a group called The Flames, Alton & the Flames, then I went to Treasure Isle now, because within that two years while i was off the scene Treasure Isle begin to doin' recordings also and the ska was going now, I got back in the business after two years and my first song for Treasure Isle was 'Dance crasher', ska, uptempo, and the second one was 'Cry tough'...

Q: Was it with Skatalites as backing band?
A: No, it was not with Skatalites, it was pick up band Treasure Isle was using, with the late Drumbago, it was an old man at the time and a lot of people doesn't know about 'im because it was a very old man at the time...

Q: I once did read Winston Grennan words sayin' Drumbago did play very quiet at that time and Lloyd Knibbs was doin' a lot of noise with 'im drum kit...
A: Yes, Drumbago was a drummer playing straight: it could be his style or maybe it was just beacuse his age: he had to take it easy because it was an old man at that time. He died soon after, about two years after. Anyway I started recording at Treasure Isle at that time: I did songs like (as I said) 'Dance crasher', 'Cry tough', 'The preacher' and a few more songs...

Q: I have a question about this kind of songs. These were something like anti-rude boys...
A: Yes, I was strictly against the rude boys...it was this rude boys ting that was gettin on...Bob Marley was singing about giving the rude boys credit, he was more revolutionist than I was yunno, and he was giving rude boys some credit and I was at Treasure Isle singing against them but we did live in the same area, Trenchtown so the rude boys began to zoomin' on me...

Q: The question was exactly this: there were some people that saw you as a counterpart of thre Wailers...
A: Yes, because I was singing anti Wailers songs while the Wailers were singing...

Q: But were you the writer or was it Duke Reid??
A: No, I was writing these songs because I was hurt personally: when I go at dancehalls at night I rushed those guys breaking up the bottles, breaking up the dancehalls and I decided to make my voice heard in this way by singing against them: i say Papa Tullo is a preacher, don't like rudies, dance crasher, be a gentleman, don't be a badman yunno...

Q: How can a man be tough...
A:...Tougher than the world, then the rude boys in Trenchtown were beginning to come at me so I did tell Duke 'I want to stop singing these songs now' ...

Q:(Jody Marcos) You had to get licked in the streets...
A: They were about to. When I were at the dancehalls in Trenchtown every friday night, Coxsone would play the latest recordings that was recording from monday to thursday, play them on friday night and then the rude boys were dancing around me at the Bob Marley songs, beside me with their knives, dancing around me, yunno what I mean?? and I realized this was getting too much so I told Duke 'I wanna stop singing against them' and I switch my sound an' go back to lovers songs.

Q:What sort of movies did you use to get in those days at the movie houses?
A: It was the western, all the westerns you can think of, man...the guys amuse to idealize these kind of things...so I decided that it was getting to much, and I started to dig into lovers songs, I did songs like 'Girl I got a date', 'Can I change my mind', 'Willow tree' and I was giving Coxsone a lot of problems get with rocksteady, and then Coxsone came to Treasure Isle and he did offer me a contract to come back to Studio One...and he did want to take me to England, which I did, I went to England in 1966, after making an album for him and he was so fortunate because that album have song like 'I'm just a guy', 'I' still in love', 'Let him try', 'So much love' :it was pure hits in this album, it's called 'Rock and soul'. I was really dangerous at the time because he had Bob Marley, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, but he had to come and get me because I was giving him too much troubles from over that side, yunno.

Q: Did you have problems with the Wailers because of the fact you were anti-rudies?
A: Not really, because were living together, in the same yard everyday, in Morty Planner yard, living in the same reality. It was Morty Planner the man who started the rastafarian movement in Jamaica. I was in it all the way because I was where it all started, I was inside Planner yard: Planner was living on 5th Street and this is the street where i lived. Bob Marley came from 3rd Street, which is four blocks away, so he had to come over my street to get this rastafarian teachings. Planner was in his early forties at that time and he was the head of all that rastafarian movement. he's still alive now but he's sick now...Rita Marley gave him a house in one of their lands.

Q: A question about putting the US soul into jamaican music: an important source of inspiration was US music...
A: Yes, the US music did a lot for us, because we heard it and we danced that music. We did like people like Sam Cooke, Otis Redding. Those were the guys we were adapt the soulfulness and I was one of the main person who inject this mood in the business and if you go back to the sixties, early sixties, and compare the records I was playing at that time that I was singing you can see the difference hearing what I was doing and then whole feel became to come in my direction, all the singers did begin to follow my direction, the producers them use to follow Alton Ellis and the singers them do likewise and the whole thing did turn into my direction. A lot of singers used to leave from all over Jamaica and come in Trenchtown because of the vibes that you were carrying in Trenchtown.

Q: Do you agree if I say that ska was in relationship with early rhythm & blues or honking?...
A:Yes, I would say definitely so because this music...boogie woogie, (imitating bogie and ska with voice) the left was playing single notes and the right was playing ska, afterbeat and then we all did hold onto the afterbeat and call it ska...a lot of people can tell you about it 'its from mento, and reggae is coming from mento...nothing of this sort...it came strictly from the american boogie woogie, rhythm & blues that was at dancehalls: this is the right and the afterbeat in the music. The guitar was playing a sound similar to word 'ska' and then in reggae became sounding 're-ggae, re-ggae' and from this the word reggae. Ska was strictly from american music and then we did go into own ting gradually and then...

Q: Following the line, rocksteady was influenced by soul, vocals groups like Miracles, Temptations...
A: No, no : what really happened with the rockstady...singing in this soulful style, the music did get slower and we could play now, instead of playin' the march beat (doin this beat with the voice) we started playing like this (doin an early reggae riddim with the voice)...the music begin to adapt it to the soul that we were singing...playing slower you can play more notes...

Q: A further step again: early reggae was in a certain way in relation with funk???...
A: No, no, get the funky outta it...

Q: I'm talking about things like 'The return of Djiango', Lee Perry's instrumentals...
A: No, nothing to do with it...it was out of the R&B and into our own ting, then people like the Wailers and Lee Perry began to inject their own vibes...Lee Perry, Bunny Lee...

Q: A question about Duke Reid and Coxsone: what were the differences between the two people and between their ways to work with music?
A: Two different people really, and Coxsone was more into marketing, in the sense that Coxsone would record everyday at eleven o'clock right until six in the evening...well Duke would record like some times a week, two days an two days off, an two days next week and three days off. Well Coxsone did record everyday. An Coxsone did record for two monthts straight doin pure riddim tracks an then he did lock the studio...no musicians come into the studio...just pure voicing...so people did begin to voice all the days for two months. I would go and voice my six songs, Ken Boothe did go and voice his eight tracks, Delroy go and voice him five...after we did voice all those riddims he did start again doin' riddims but Duke would do different...listewn to it: he had a different sound, his studio was built different, his studio was built from board...a little store downstairs, so he just did put a board room on top of little store, strictly as a square box of wood, so the acoustic became rounder...if you listen the Treasure Isle song 'Girl I've got a date' the sound is round and more authentic cause he did sit and record one song for hours, he used to work on a single song one entire day or two...

Q: It seems to be your favourite place to recording...
A: Yes, I was into Treasure Isle more because it was more authentic...one tune it took a day...well Coxsone do six songs in two days...

Q: Sure a lot of people were hanging around the studio, listening to the music...
A: Yes, waiting to do some recordings...it was a poor people ting: you come into the studio an get a chance.

Q: Have you ever tought to put all yhis tings in a book?
A: I started a book about ten months ago with a friend of mine in California named Roger Steffens.

Q: Who were your favourite musicians?
A: When I'm talking about musicians, the first to come to my mind is Jackie Mittoo, whenever I walk in the studio and Jackie was there...there's no other musicians I can think of: Jackie Mittoo is the first one and the second one is Roland Alphonso and then everybody did come after...Tommy McCook, Winston Wright...Jackie Mittoo was the greatest thing that happened in Studio One...he came as a schoolboy an he was going to college, and he used to record part time everyday in his uniform from college until about three o'clock in the evening, then one morning he came into the studio early like everyone in the session and he said 'Yes, school is finish!'...he was the leading musician in Skatalites, Roland Alphonso admit this and everybody else admit this because we was in England in 1966 when a guy was whistling one day and Jackie said 'That's A sharp you're whstling' and Roland go at the piano and said 'You gotta be a great musician yout' cause he was right. He was the greatest for reggae: I know the musicians more superior in Jazz an tings like that but if you speak of reggae music Jackie Mittoo was the best.


Vibesonline.net - 1999

Back to top page
Back to interviews index


This page is part of the Vibesonline.net web-zine
home page http://www.vibesonline.net