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Interview: Derrick Harriott (Part 2)

Interview: Derrick Harriott (Part 2)

Interview: Derrick Harriott (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Steve James - 1 comment

"Dennis Brown was like my own son"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview.

In part two of our interview with Derrick Harriott he takes us through some of his contributions to the rocksteady, reggae and even dancehall eras. He also talks about planned reissues soon to come from his record shop and his appearance at the London International Ska Festival 2015…

Derrick Harriott

Your solo singing and your productions really started to make some waves in the rocksteady era

The greatest era of Jamaican music – and not because I was in at the deep of things at the time – was definitely rocksteady. Rocksteady had the greatest melodies, the greatest lyrics, the greatest musicians – everything. And the one person who I would call number one in the rocksteady era was not from Jamaica but Trinidad - the guitar man Lynn Taitt. I have to take off my hat every day to Lynn Taitt because I remember every day when I did a song called Walk The Streets At Night I didn’t like how things came out and it bugged me for many days so I decided to do that one over and make sure that Lynn Taitt was there. And immediately that morning when we started to record the song and Lynn Taitt played on the guitar (imitates iconic intro) and I came in and started to sing and I said “Yeah, that’s it”. His guitar was so great throughout the song and most of his other songs.

You know, when rocksteady started that was Lynn Taitt again. They slowed down the beat for Hopeton Lewis - Take It Easy and it was the first rocksteady. I can tell you because I had a record store, so I used to buy those musics in the earlies. People say all kinds of things but Hopeton Lewis started the first rocksteady. Most of my hits that I had produced had Lynn Taitt and great guys like Hux Brown, also a guitarist, and Joe Isaacs and Jackie Jackson. Some great guys came out of the rocksteady era. I remember my hit songs that Lynn Taitt played on were big hits like Solomon The Wisest Man, Do I Worry.

Rocksteady had the greatest melodies, the greatest lyrics, the greatest musicians

One person that did a bit of writing for you was Junior Murvin. He wrote Solomon.

Junior Murvin. One of the greats. His right name is Murvin Smith. When he recorded for me he recorded as Junior Soul. You had a Junior Soul in New York at that time but he wasn’t the one. The first person that was called Junior Soul was Junior Murvin. But then his name was changed and we decided to go with Junior Murvin. Quite a few of my songs, he had brought them to me and I did the rest in terms of changing lines or changing a verse or whatever. One of the songs that was in a big festival year– the festival year that Ba Ba Boom won [1967] – my song was Tang Tang Festival Song which came about fourth. You had Clancy Eccles in it, Desmond Dekker, that was a big year. The biggest year of festival. It was like a political rally in Jamaica where you have the JLP and the PNP and this massive crowd gathered. It was something like that.

Tell me about some more of the musicians you liked to work with in the 60s.

In that era too was the great Boris Gardner – a great singer and musician in his own right – but he arranged up the session for me for the song called The Loser. Now The Loser had the keyboard man who people remember was one of the great people in The Loser, Lloyd Delpratt. I remember the session and he would be in that session playing and on that same session Boris Gardner would be playing the bass.

I have to take off my hat every day to Lynn Taitt

You were also producing lots of artists like the Ethiopians and Keith and Tex, whose Stop That Train was used in the 1972 movie the Harder They Come – five years after it was first released.

Keith and Tex came to me with a song – it was Tonight first, then Stop That Train and Don’t Look Back. That was like an anthem, you know, Stop That Train, recorded with Lynn Taitt again! (laughs) It was recorded in the rocksteady era and it wasn’t a big hit but sound systems and things like that loved it so it became like an underground thing. You know those kinds of tunes that just become a classic. It didn’t have to be a number one or two song – it was just one of those songs that live on you and become a classic over the years. When I recorded it I had it as an original only to hear years later that someone else had done it – a guy named Winston. They had a Jamaican name…

The Spanishtonians?

Yes. But I had my input in it at that time when Keith and Tex did it so it was registered as Derrick Harriott, Keith Rowe and Texas Dixon only to hear that another group had recorded it. So that was an episode by itself! (laughs) But the one that is recognised is the Keith and Tex. Very, very big. In my Crystal Records catalogue that is one of the biggest ones. That and The Loser are the biggest ever – and still are. When a man wants a special he wants a special of the music from The Loser. Give him one off The Loser! (laughs) It brings a lot of specials and brings back dividends. Keith and Tex were around for a while but they went away.

The left the country for the USA and Canada.

When I have my medley that I do on stage I never leave off singing Stop That Train. So it has been kept popular over the decades because of me continuing to sing it! But they were talented people. Keith harmonised on quite a few songs like Walk The Streets. There’s a thing where two voices mesh and it has a sound. Singing with another person just didn’t have the sound of when I sang with Keith. So he made quite a few hits with me. The background vocal on Do I Worry would be Keith and Tex also.

By this time your Crystal label was well established and by 1966 you’d also started your record shop. Were you the first artist turned producer in Jamaica?

The first artist ever to produce. Apart from producing myself I produced other artists. I was the first to do that. I just had the knack where you have music in you and ideas keep flowing and because I had my record store open from in the mid-60s. I got that record store free you know?

You have music in you and ideas keep flowing

How come?

The head boy of Excelsior used to own it and this guy named Herman Fu Loy, who used to love music a lot too, used to run it for him. Neville just came to me one day and said “I have a record store you know? You want it?” (laughs) I said “Yean man. How you mean? How much?” and he said “It’s alright man just take it!” (laughs) That must have been fate. It was God given. So I went down to King Street and I took it over. And having a record store now, what do you think happened? A lot of people want to try and be stars in the business – so they come to you and you start to audition them because they want you to audition them. Some of the guys that came and camped out at my shop and didn’t get a break! We have a big laugh of it now!

Like who?

My good friend Bagga Case who was the leader of Home T. Mutabaruka would come to me and say, bwoy, would I give him a chance? (laughs) Keeling Beckford who was my good friend and had a big hit after named Combination, when he came to me I said “Come back again, you’re not ready yet” (laughs). Jacob Miller he used to camp out. Some of the biggest artists. Near me at King Street was Bob Marley’s store. Bob Marley had a shop there on Beeston but from my vantage point on King Street you could look over to his store and he could look over to mine. We were good friends from the earlies. As Bunny Wailer says, his group used to admire the Jiving Juniors a lot because we were the hot thing at the moment and they just started to come. He used to say “Bwoy, when you guys were rehearsing at the Carib we used to come in, try not be noticed and listen to you and got a lot of inspiration”.

How much interaction did you have with Bob and the Wailers in the rocksteady and early reggae periods?

When they started to do their own recording early like Nice Time and Hypocrites Bob brought that to me first and said “Try promote this for me”. It was a Saturday and immediately that same evening I sent it down to a sound system called Trev that used to play at King Street for a Saturday evening session. That’s another history where when they got it and they played it they couldn’t take it off! They had to keep playing it over and over and over. So the history continues.

Later Bob and the Wailers played for me twice at the VIP Club on Halfway Tree Road. I remember the performance that they gave – we kept taking in people and we had to be letting out people there was such a crowd crush! The thing that impressed me most was Wailers played the greatest versions of some music at that session. I am unhappy when I think of it that we did not tape it to put on television. The thought never entered our minds. Geoff Barnes I remember was the mc – he’s now a lawyer here in the US doing his trade. But the version that Bunny Wailer did of Dreamland. Ah! To this day I’ve never heard anybody sing Dreamland as great as how Bunny did it at the VIP Club in 1970.

I got my record store for free

So from your experience as a record store owner which was the first tune you heard with a reggae beat?

This is a bit up in the air but one of the first songs could have been Bangarang. But Lee Perry had a few in the air. He was one of the first set of people, as was Clancy Eccles. They were some of the first real reggae things. Then you also had this song Pop A Top…

Linford Anderson?

Yes, who used to work down at Dynamic. There were so many of them that I don’t remember them immediately.

How did you first link with Dennis Brown and start working with him?

Derrick HarriottOh, he used to check me from the early days in the 60s. A little after the mid-60s. I knew Dennis’ brother Basil before I knew him. Basil Brown was a very great comedian in Jamaica. But Dennis checked me and we auditioned him and set up a session at Dynamics. I was the first person that carried him to a studio and recorded him.

The first person that recorded him was me. People try to dispute that and say “No – Coxsone, No Man Is An Island” – not knowing that I taught Dennis Brown No Man Is An Island. It is a cover of a group named the Van Dykes. I had Dennis Brown to sing that song for me also but I went away back to America and when I went away he was so young and anxious to record that when he should have done it for me he went and did it for Coxsone! (laughs)

But the first one he did in studio was called Obsession – which I later changed to Lips Of Wine. I changed it because I said “There’s a line in the song that is a more commercial name”. “Let me taste your lips of wine” was more juicy for the ladies! (laughs) So it was changed to that and it’s still a classic now because when people hear it in the dancehall they go wild with a lot of cheering and things like that. Dennis was like my own son, man, I tell you. A very nice person. He’s an Aquarian too. A humanitarian. Always laughing and giving jokes and things like that. One of the greatest singers Jamaica has ever seen.

You still managed to do an album with him – 1972’s Super Reggae and Soul Hits.

Yes, I still did the album and got the big hit Silhouettes. If you want to hear some real classic singing from Dennis Brown you have to get that album. People go crazy about Wichita Lineman – he did a great job on that.

And is it right that Changing Times was first sung by Roman Stewart and Dave Barker?

Roman and Dave. Yes, but Roman did that first. But I didn’t do much solo recordings with Roman. That’s a real classic though.

Five years later in 1977 you released a wicked rare remix of Dennis’ song Concentration with different drums and extra clavinet. Who played on that session?

Yes! I gave it a more driving tempo. (pauses) What did I do on that? (laughs) I need to make notations or something! Lloyd Parks dubbed on a new bass line I think.

Was that Sly on drums? It sounds like him.

Yeah! Sly Dunbar on drums.

And then there is some extra piano and clavinet added – who did that?

That is Franklyn Bubbler Waul. He plays with Sly and Robbie now when they do concerts. He’s the piano and keyboard man.

How much of the original mix did you keep? Did you remove it all or did any of the original elements stay?

Did any of the elements stay… (pauses) Yeah I’m sure it did. Maybe the percussions and things like that. I’ll have to do some more research into my music to pinpoint exactly who did what. People who come to do deals say I am the only man who they can look on a tape box and know the date of when the recording was made and which people and studios it was recorded because they say I have my thing really properly kept.

Lovers Rock? I call it a tinge of rocksteady!

Another person who used to do some writing for you was Winston McAnuff in the early 70s.

McAnuff was a good writer. He brought Earl 16 to me to do one or two of his songs to record. Like that first Malcolm X. Because I am a man keeping in touch with what’s happening on the scene out there I realised who Malcolm X was. With Earl 16 we recorded Malcolm X and Charmaine and one or two other things.

Winston also wrote a song that I did and we collaborated and I wrote some of it called Roamer. Wicked slow tune. Winston McAnuff became a singer because when he demonstrated one or two songs I realised that he could manage Ugly Days that because it fit him so much. So I decided to record that with him and said “You sing it! You sing it! I’m not giving nobody this thing. You sing it!” It all started from there with McAnuff and he started to sing.

What did you think of the Lovers Rock thing that happened in England in the mid-to-late 70s. Because it was mainly American soul covers in reggae - something you had specialised in for years?

A long time before everybody else. I don’t even call it Lovers Rock. I call it a tinge of rocksteady! (laughs) But it was nice. I was asking my friend here just a few days ago “Why do you think that Jamaicans when they cover certain songs make a bigger hit of the song that people love than the original? You know, they prefer the Jamaican one.” She couldn’t tell me. Well, one of the biggest things I have worked out is that it had the Jamaican beat. Lovers rock had that Jamaican beat and that’s what made it different.

There is a song that I’m going to release which I won’t name now because I don’t want anybody to know yet. Because if people hear things they are going to jump start and do the same things that you want to do! I’m going to wait till this song comes out but when it comes out – you and other people will know “Oh that is the cover song he was talking about!” In my lifetime I have to do this song because this song did things to me you know? Maybe I can give them a clue? (laughs) Yeah I can give them a clue! This song is from my greatest ever singer the world has ever seen and heard… the great Sam Cooke. I will just leave them with that! When it comes out you’re all going to say “Oh! That’s the song he was talking about!”

When Jamaicans cover certain songs make a bigger hit than the original

In the 1980s you had some cover hits like Don Covay’s Checking Out but you also recorded some songs with 80s and 90s dancehall deejays Yellowman (Start All Over Again) and Papa San (Robin Hood).

Yes I did. I think I did one with Trinity too although I don’t remember the exact name. It was just to make it different, a collaboration like that with Yellowman or Papa San. That was a little bit before Papa San went over to religion. But I said to myself “If you put those ingredients together then that would be nice”. That’s why I actually did those combinations. There are some deejays that I really admire and these are two of them.

How’s the record shop business doing?

Yeah I still have the record shop but I have to get mostly classic stuff through again to sell because the rest of things have been pirated over the years. So you have to bring some things that they don’t know about! (laughs) Beat them to the punch somehow.

Reissue rare albums?

Yes. I have an album coming out where Yellowman is featured on some of the great hits from the 80s which I franchised from my friend and Papa San will also be on that one too. I also have four great classic albums to come which I know the people in England and Europe and the rest of those places are going to love. Because though some of the songs didn’t make it that big, these are the songs that they need to know about.

I have one called The Great Reggae Hits and Tearjerkers from Derrick Harriott, one called Derrick Harriott The Great Falsetto Voice and I have Instrumentals Gone Wild which features different artists but it features mostly keyboards and melodica. Some of the great people who played melodica and keyboard – Winston Wright and Robbie Lyn and so forth. And incidentally I have an album that came out only on record but I am going to put it on CD now – Sly & The Revolutionaries: Go Deh With Riddim. That’s Sly Dunbar the drummer. He thanks me every day and says that album was one of the things that laid the foundation for him to be known. Just the picture on the cover alone is so big.

The people that love good Jamaican music have really supported me through the years

People in England maybe know more than the ones in Jamaica but the catalogue I have, I’m becoming aware that it’s a big catalogue! Not only big but it has treasured music on it that people never even knew I produced. I’m going to bring these things right now to the forefront because nowadays we don’t know what will happen. Life is very short these days and thank God that I’m still around! (laughs)

You’re still in demand to do shows – you were in Mexico recently.

I have to thank God because the people that love good Jamaican music have really supported me through the years. I experienced that in Mexico. I did a show recently in Mexico and I had to fight to hear my voice because they didn’t give me a speaker where I could hear back myself. But the people – I don’t know a show I’ve been to where the people sang so lustily! Loud and clear and they knew every word! It was a Spanish speaking country and they knew every word of the songs!

The day before I did some interviews and met the people, shook hands and signed some autographs and I’m telling you, boy, the way people accepted you is so great. And the music that they were playing in there was some of the oldest Jamaican music you could ever think of. That startled me to know that they know all those things and they like the oldies. Everywhere I go, Argentina, everywhere, they like the older Jamaican music so that is a plus and it still gives you a chance to make a little money. Because sometimes the kitty’s so low in Jamaica you have to go out there and bring back something! (laughs)

Everywhere I go... they like the older Jamaican music

Finally, you are going to be singing at the London International Ska Festival on Friday 3rd April singing on a boat going up the River Thames. What can people expect? Keith and Tex were there last year.

So I heard, yes! Well I hope great things because that is a unique thing you know? You play different venues over the years and here’s one where you’re going to go in a boat and sing going up the Thames! (laughs) You can expect big things. The big problem I am having now is trying to work out the maths of which songs to sing! You have some songs that are a must but you have other songs too. Because you have such a big repertoire that when you’re singing and you finish and you think you did quite a good amount of selections someone says (puts on squeaky voice) “How you didn’t sing this???” So I’m trying to make it balanced so that even if they didn’t hear one special song that they loved they will still say it’s a great show.

Thanks very much for your time.

It’s a pleasure because people like you help to make the music survive and continue. It’s not only the artist who gives you prominence and publicity to the people that keeps you going and keeps the music going. So I’d like to say a special thanks to you and all the people of the world who have made that possible. 

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Read comments (1)


Posted by beve on 03.27.2015
Great read Angus x

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