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Interview: Jackie Parris in Kingston (Part 1)

Interview: Jackie Parris in Kingston (Part 1)

Interview: Jackie Parris in Kingston (Part 1)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"I was a lover and not a warrior"

Sampler

The poignant voice of singer-songwriter Lawford “Jackie” Parris graced some of Jamaica’s most pristine love songs of the late sixties and mid-seventies.

He began recording straight out of school for Treasure Isle Records as part of harmony group the Sensations, penning such bittersweet musings on lost love as Every Day Is A Holiday, Those Guys and Where Were You. Sadly his inexperience was exploited in terms of securing and registering writing credits for his hits - and he worked a day job throughout his career.

After a spell as a drummer backing Dave and Ansell Collins, Jimmy Cliff, Greyhound and Nicky Thomas in England, he returned to Jamaica to record as a solo artist for Sensations associate Winston Riley. In 1975 he voiced his own, arguably superior, rendition of Every Day Is A Holiday and released haunting collectors’ favourite Make Me Smile. Again, he saw little financial recompense, so continued to earn a steady wage while recording and performing on the side.

In 2004 Jackie suffered a stroke affecting his memory and mobility, curtailing his ability to sing at stage shows. The lack of royalties from his songs means his main musical income is dub specials. He lives in Kingston with a carer and receives assistance from his children for his medical bills.

Angus Taylor met Jackie in Grants Pen at the home studio of his friend and former We The People Band member, Dennis “Jah D” Fearon. He found a man without bitterness, still humble and positive in the face of unjust adversity and committed to uplifting lyrics on principle. At United Reggae we feel it is vital that Jackie’s story is told and he be appreciated for his contribution to Jamaican music. Anyone wishing to get in touch with Jackie for work can do so via Jah D at this email address paulettefearon@gmail.com.

Part 1 of this interview deals with Mr Parris’ activities from 1962 to 1975. He reveals that while in the Sensations he also sang on many sides for Winston Riley’s group, the Techniques, too.

Jackie Parris

Where were you born?

It is a parish named St. Ann. I am from Brown’s Town.

What did your father and mother do for a living?

My father operated a gas station in a place called Crossroads, in Brown’s Town. Next to the Convent Academy. My mother, she was at home, not working, until she started work with the RADA, Royal Agricultural Department.

Is there music on either your mother or father's side of the family?

No. I started in school. I joined the choir. I started in 1962 with the school choir.

This was St Andrew Technical?

Yes. We had a concert at the little theatre in 1963. And I was given a lead role, in a certain song. I sang the song and after Lloyd Williams of the Corsicans or Blue Flames, I can't remember which name came first, he came backstage and said that he would like me to join his group because I have a fabulous voice. He gave me an address saying I should come to the Roadhouse Club where he rehearsed and speak to him there. Incidentally, Bobby Davis, who sang in the choir too, he asked him to join too, so Bobby Davis and myself, we went up and we got started. We did front line dance moves plus harmony to any song that he would perform.

Jackie Opel was my idol

Is it true that you took the name Jackie from Jackie Opel?

(Laughs) I will tell you. Jackie Opel was my idol. Any song he sang he would win me over. So when I started with Lloyd Williams I said "My name is Lawford Parris". Too long. So I said "I will use Jackie Parris you know? Because Jackie Opel is my mentor”. So from then, 1963, I used the name Jackie Parris. So it grew on me.

You said you were a front line dancer. Did you dance at sound system and things like that?

No. There were certain moves related to the song that we would sing. While we were singing and Lloyd Williams was singing, for example, the band would take a solo and we would do some creative moves that would enhance the show. That is how we called it front line dancing. But that wasn't for dancehall or anything like that.

So the Roadhouse club where you went to meet Lloyd - did you become the resident band there?

Yes. We were the resident band there for about two or three years, maybe more. We formed a group, the Sensations. While singing with the band. But I wasn't the original member of the group. I kind of shied away until it was David Isaacs, Jimmy Riley, Bobby Davis, and Buster Riley.

The brother of Winston Riley.

Yes, the brother of Winston Riley. So there was a tiff, some quarrel, so David Isaacs left and Jimmy Riley and I went in. Rad Bryan who plays for Toots…

Dougie.

Yes, Dougie, he came in too. And we started from there and the group had not change from then. It was always we four.

When was Cornel Campbell in the Sensations?

He was, but for a short period. I think maybe just a year. But after his exit from the group, that was when I joined.

Where was the first studio that you recorded?

It was at Treasure Isle.

How did you first come to audition at Treasure Isle?

I started to write my own songs. One morning we went to an audition round by Bond Street at Treasure Isle studio. Duke said he liked the song, so after he heard me he sent me upstairs to the studio. By then I had just written Every Day Is A Holiday and Those Guys. I finished writing those songs at about 10:30 in the morning. I sat at Riley's gate and penned them while my guitarist Vinny O'Bryan gave me a couple of strums on the guitar and that was it.

I went to Duke the Sunday, about 1 o'clock and he heard the songs and he said that I should do the recording. Tommy McCook and the Supersonics were there. They were the resident band. They heard my songs and they played them. When I did Those Guys it was kind of "Wow!" And Duke Reid he took out his gun. He is an old policeman. And he made some imprints in the studio roof because he loved that song. He gave me a couple of gunshots.

When I did Those Guys, Duke Reid took out his gun

Did he take out his hand gun or his shotgun?

His handgun. Even now if you go to the studio and remove the material that they put over it you will see the bullet holes there. After maybe 50 years they are still there.

So what inspired the lyrics to those two songs?

I wasn't the dance hall type. I was more of a lover. So my songs pertaining to women and me having an affair. If you notice "Where were you when the lights went out? I search the world for you". "Though those guys may try to put you down, I won't stand to see you wear a frown". "Every day is a holiday, I don't care what the crowd may say". I was that type of person. I was a lover and not a warrior. Love songs appeal to me more than anything else.

Those songs you mentioned are bittersweet. Did anything happen to you in your relationships to inspire those songs?

It was just, what do you say, puppy love? I was depending on a certain girl to be my friend but she didn't see it that way and me being disappointed - I would write a song about it. That was the experience of my dealing with people.

What about Where Were You? Tell me about how you wrote that?

I had this girlfriend while in Brown’s Town. She came to Kingston to go to school while I was going to STATs, St Andrew Technical. We planned to meet after not seeing each other for a while. I thought we could renew the relationship and that's how the song came about.

Didn’t the Sensations cover the Temptations’ Born To Love you for Bunny Lee in 1967?

Jackie ParrisYes! I was working at West Indies records when I did Born To Love You. Bunny Lee and Lee Perry they used to audition artists for WIRL. It so happened that Bunny Lee knows me a lot. I know his family so he asked me to come and sing a couple of songs for him at the studio. I did Born To Love You and a couple of other songs that I can't remember right now but between Bunny Lee and Lee Perry they used to have this thing where if I did a song for West Indies records they would take out a song for themselves. So that's how my songs would turn up on Lee Perry's label or Bunny Lee’s label.

How did you start working at West Indies Records?

Oh gosh. During the recording of Born To Love You I met the manager, Clifford Ray and we were speaking and I told him that I had just left school and I wanted to work. He questioned me about my academics and it was good enough for me to be his warehouse or storeroom supervisor or clerk. He put me in charge of the record room to keep the stock and that was how I started there.

So this was happening at the same time that you were recording in the Sensations. You were also holding down a steady job.

Yes, I was working there.

Nobody I wrote songs for gave me credit

Just going back to Treasure Isle, is it correct that although you wrote these songs for Duke he didn't give you a writing credit?

No! Nobody that I wrote my songs for, none of the producers gave me credit for any of the songs that I did. When I knew about performing rights and what they did, it was too late for me. I understand what Duke Reid did was that I was only mentioned as a singer, not as a writer. So the writer’s credits were taken from me. I only got credit for singing. And I have not received royalties for between 20 and 30 odd years.

Did you at any point say you wanted to leave Treasure Isle?

No. The trouble is, we were not bound to the studio so to speak. We were not contracted. We would go from studio to studio. If a studio owner should approach us and say "Could you do one or two songs for me?" It was in our interests to do whatever because we're not getting paid. Sometimes when we do a song for a certain producer he would pay us 5 or 10 shillings or a pound to do the songs. And that was it. We were so ignorant of performing rights and copyright, all we did was sing, sing, sing. So we got nothing.

How did you meet Winston Riley? Was it through his brother Buster who was in the Sensations?

The Techniques and the Sensations used to rehearse in the same home. The brothers and the Riley family. We used to go down sometimes - the Sensations would rehearse one day and Techniques another day. When we would leave school in the evenings, we would travel round to West Street and do rehearsal. But I was so versed so to speak in harmony that I could sing any of the Techniques songs and harmonies plus the Sensations songs and their harmonies. So if a member of the Techniques should become sick or ill and the Techniques had a show to perform the person who they would ask to fill in was me. So I could sing alternatively with the two groups.

Did you ever fill in in the studio? Did you ever record as Techniques?

Yes. Yeah man! There were lots of times I had to go in and do harmonies. But not lead singing.

So which Techniques songs did you sing on? I’m In The Mood For Love?

Oh God. (Pause) Quite a few you know? I can't remember offhand.

How did you learn drums and go to England in 1970?

There is a community named Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston they had this drum set and planned to form a group. So I used to go down there with the Rileys and I was there one evening messing about with the drum set. So remember I was with Blue Flames, Lloyd Williams, so I had a little knowledge of how to play the drum set. With that knowledge while at Tivoli I mastered it. That was what how Winston Riley asked me to go to England with Dave and Ansell Collins. Dave and Ansell, they had a hit, two hits in England. Double Barrel, Monkey Spanner. That was 1970.

We were so ignorant of performing rights and copyright, all we did was sing, sing, sing

Yes of course, because Double Barrel was created by Ansell Collins and Sly Dunbar and then they sold or gave the rights to Winston Riley. So I guess when that thing got big he was the link to get them to come on tour?

Yes, yes, that's right. We went on tour with the band we started down in Tivoli Gardens where I started to play the drums. We planned for a tour of England and we went to England and we played for a while. But I didn't like the administration of Winston Riley and Trojan Records. I don't know if it was Trojan or Riley but we were short-changed. So I backed out. At the same time the band disbanded. And I stayed on and played for Nicky Thomas...

You also played with Jimmy Cliff?

Jimmy Cliff! Then I joined Greyhound as a drummer. And we went on a tour with Jimmy Cliff to do the islands. And, I hate to say it but, the administration was poor so I backed out. After the tour in the islands I left and I went back to England but by then my work permit had expired. And the English people gave me a week to straighten my business and come back home. So I came back to Jamaica and my recording career.

Did you did you do any recording as a solo singer before you went to England as a drummer?

No. It was after I returned.

So this job going to England - was that what brought your time in the Sensations to an end?

Actually, yes. Because there is one producer in England I did songs for, Junior Lincoln. But there is not one song I can remember that I did. I used to play on Junior Lincoln’s sessions. Plus then go back to singing either harmony or lead singing on some of his songs. This was from ’71 to ’74.

Jackie Parris

Didn't you also play with Jimmy James and the Vagabonds?

Oh gosh yes! I did harmony with Jimmy James and the Vagabonds for about two years. I sang and toured with him. I did about four British tours with him.

Apart from Junior Lincoln did you do any more recording with any of these artists in England?

Yes, I did for myself you know? I did with Larry Lawrence. I did a couple of songs for him. I did for Danny Ray and Junior English. But Junior Lincoln was the main person that I would work for. There is a studio named Chalk Farm.

A famous studio.

I did a lot of recording up there, drumming, harmony, lead singing. I was at Chalk Farm almost every week doing something.

So when you came back to Jamaica, what was the first song you recorded? You did some singles in ’75 on Max Romeo's label and you also did some on various labels for Winston and Buster Riley. There was the Techniques label, the Mummy label, and the Wind label.

Yes! Oh my gosh the Wind label (laughs)

You put out a lot of tunes in 1975. When did you come back – late ’74?

’74. The latter part of ’74. And then in ’75 I started working again. But the Wind label I think it was Riley’s? We did a couple of songs. But he was such a trickster that this minute you would see the songs appearing on the Mummy label, Techniques, Wind, and another one whose name I can't remember.

Upset?

But that was his method of - what should I say? - keeping the knowledge from us about the songs. Because whenever we would do the songs we just did the song not knowing that what will come next of it. Until maybe six or seven months after, the song would turn up on a new label. That was Riley. Because he wanted to keep it in the dark. Then he would release the songs on a fictitious label. Because we would see the song on a label now and then you never see another one on the label until maybe two years after. Somebody else will come out with another song and they would see the Wind label surfacing again. So there was trick in the trade in what they do out here.

The Techniques and the Sensations used to rehearse in the same home. So I could sing alternatively with the two groups

Was the first song you did Trust Your Heart? On the Wind label?

(Pause) It was a cover version. I think it was the Temptations [Eddie Kendricks] who did the song originally and we were asked to do it. Because I had a falsetto to a certain extent, any songs like Born To Love You, Trust Your Heart and others like that I would do in falsetto.

You also did a song that came out on Upset and Max Romeo's label, Make Me Smile.

Oh. Gosh. (Sings) "Children play in the park they don't know"... (pause)

I’m alone in the dark...

Even though! (Sings) "Time and time again I see your face". Boy! (Laughs)

Collectors in Europe love that song.

Yeah, yeah! So I heard.

So how did that come out on Max Romeo's label? It’s credited as produced by Winston Riley.

The trouble is I think I did that song under Bunny Lee or Lee Scratch Perry’s direction. And that was how Max Romeo came about.

That makes sense as Max worked with both Bunny and Scratch.

I think Max Romeo was the one who released it because it was sold to him, I don't know under what circumstances but... (Pause) I think it was done in England you know? I can't remember. Somebody asked me about that song. Joy Music in Java who is doing some royalty collection for me. She is also interested in that song now. She told me it was a song that took over Europe.

It got released on a compilation by Soul Jazz Records.

Yeah. Oh God. (Pauses)

But you think it might've been done in England? That makes sense because the song has a bridge between verse and chorus that was more common in English reggae. And you think it was Bunny Lee or Scratch that supervised the recording?

Yes. I think so.

Do you remember which musicians played on the song? English musicians? Or Jamaican? The version on the B side is credited to Skin Flesh and Bones.

A combination. If it was in England and it was a couple of, what's the group’s name? It was most of them Jamaicans and islanders.

Cimarons?

Cimarons! They were good friends of mine are used to play along with them too. I did recording sessions and I went out and played a couple of shows for them.

Look out for part 2 of our interview with Jackie Parris coming soon.

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