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Interview: Jackie Parris in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Jackie Parris in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Jackie Parris in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 24 comments

"This doesn't happen every day"


Read part 1 of this interview

In part 2 of our exclusive interview with Jackie Parris, he explains how he kept recording into the 80s despite inadequate payment, and how long working hours and drinking too much coffee led to his stroke in 2004. Jackie can be contacted via Dennis Jah D Fearon at

Jah D & Jackie Parris

Let’s talk about another record that collectors in Europe really love - your 1975 solo cut of Every Day Is A Holiday for Winston Riley.

Yes. Well first and foremost, I personally wrote that song and until now and I haven't got one cent off of that song. I did it about three times, for different producers.

There's the Sensations, for Duke Reid, there's the 1975 one for Riley...

And I did one for Music Works.

For Gussie Clarke later on. Ruddy Thomas did a cut of it for Joe Gibbs as well.

And I did it in England too. I did it in England but I can't remember for who. It was done over there.

But the one that came out in 1975 is a very interesting song because it's kind of done in a rocksteady style but long after the rocksteady period, using reggae musicians.


Where was it recorded? And who played on it? It has a flute on it.

The flute had to be played by what is name? Cannonball. He used to play Alto sax and the flute. He used to play in the Supersonics and he played flute. A short stout man. He used to play the black stick. [clarinet] And he used to play with Sonny Bradshaw.

Not Dean Fraser?


Carl Bryan?

Carl Bryan. I think it was done at Channel One you know? I used to do a couple of songs down at Channel One.

Let's talk about your biggest solo hit for the Rileys, a cover of Delroy Wilson’s Run For Your Life…

Buster Riley came around to my home in Central Kingston one day and he said he was going to studio and would I like to come? He said it was at Channel One. So I went round to his home and we all jumped in his car and went up there. He said Run For Your Life, would I do it? And I said yeah, so he gave me the paper with the words. At the same time Ernest Wilson who did the original Run For Your Life with with Delroy, he was there and Buster said to me "Let him do the introductory line". The verses. So we did a combination there and that was it.

Do you remember who played on it?

Jah D. Winston Wright. He played organ. Jackie Jackson. Sly played too.

Run For Your Life was a hit but you didn't write the song so unfortunately you were not able to earn any royalties.

No. But then I would get paid for singer's rights. And even that I didn't get. (Laughs)

You just got an advance for the song?

An advance? There was no advance either! (Laughs) You see, it was like Buster was in the same group that I was, so he thinks that if I sing it for him I am doing it as a favour.

I always had a job. I was at work almost 8 days a week

At this time how were you surviving? Where were you getting your money from?

I always had a job. That was me. I always have a job. Other time I was working at 3M, Interamerica. The tapes people. I was warehouse supervisor. Production supervisor. I was at work almost 8 days a week. Even on Sundays I would go in and fix my production schedule of scotch tapes, whatever we produced locally. I would go in on Saturdays and Sundays and prepare the production schedule for the coming week. So I was taken up with my work but I still found time to sing. It was no big thing.

Did you do a cover of the Monkees Daydream Believer with Dennis Brown?

Yes. Dennis Brown. Who is it for?

Larry Lawrence.

This stroke is doing me bad. Believe me, even at home I find it hard to remember certain things. If I have an appointment as soon as I come off the phone I have to jot it down. Whatever I do. If I am supposed to do something tomorrow? I have to write the notes down. I have a scratchpad close to me.

Tell me about doing Once In My Life for Larry Lawrence.

Once In My Life, I was the one who wrote it. It came to me like any other song. I like writing. I will write any type of song but I will not sing any type of song. I might write it for somebody else to sing. It all depends on what is on what it is reflecting before I sing it.

I will write any type of song but I will not sing any type of song

On the topic of Dennis Brown, didn't you also do a cover of Silhouettes for Winston Riley?


There is a record is credited with you on the Techniques label.

I can't remember.

You also sang Sinner Man for Riley? That was a rare departure from love songs for you…

Yes, truths and rights. I go for truth and rights and lovers rock. Yes, I wrote that one. One day we were sat down just contemplating on the situation people go through day by day and the amount of violence you know? The thought came to me and the song was born.

Then there was See and Blind also for Riley?

Jackie ParrisOh yes. It was Johnny Osbourne's idea. In the 60s he did it. And then I did it over in the 70s.
Johnny Osbourne was leaving Jamaica to go to Canada in the 60s and we were at studios in the early morning. And he was leaving at about 1 o'clock that day. We had to wait on him to voice all the songs and send him off to the airport. And after we left after he left we did the harmonies. Sometime after, I said "You know that song reminds me of see and blind hear and deaf". That is how come I did it.

Which songs have you written for other artists that people might not know about?

(Pause) Oh God. I will be honest with you, I don't remember right now. You see, I have dealt with so many artists that or interfaced with them that is hard right now for me to remember. But I know I have written but just can't remember. You see, if I was making records writing down the names of the songs that I penned for people. It is a pity that I didn't do this interview 12 years ago because I would be able to remember most.

How did you meet Gussie Clarke and start recording with him in the late 70s?

Oh, he used to live down by Church Street. Church Street and Beeston Street. I knew him from then. We used to say hi and hello that's it. I think that he had some songs that he felt my tone of voice fit the songs perfectly. He came to me one day and asked me if I would record a couple of songs for him. He was in the process of doing an album. I went up to his office and we discussed them further. He did most of his recordings round by Harry J, the studio round by the front of the National Stadium. I did a couple there. I did From The Foundation with Delroy [Wilson], the album. That was done at Harry J studios. I would meet him round Harry J with Pam Hall.

You did several duets with Pam Hall like I Don’t Want To Go.

Yes and I did other songs with her too. Those songs were done down by Harry J. Gussie Clarke and myself we had a good rapport. But then again the funds… as I said, I love singing so if somebody says to me “Sing” I sing. But when time comes for them to pay, you know…

Gussie also put out Really Together as a collab between you and Big Youth…

How that came about, it was unknown to me. We did it and what shall I say? Without my knowledge he took Big Youth to the studio after I did my thing and they did their thing and maybe he recorded on a different track. And then they combined them together. I didn't know Big Youth was on it until long after! (Laughs) I heard it one day and I said "But I don't recall me being in the studio at the same time with Big Youth?"

And Gussie had some sort of relationship with the Hawkeye label in England? Because some of your stuff came out on that at the same time. There Is No Other, So Much Love, How Can I Leave…

Yes. It was while I was in England that I met Hawkeye. And he came to Jamaica and we bonded together and I did songs for him out here. I did some for him in England too. And then he and Gussie did some...

By this time, in the late 70s, Rasta lyrics were the thing. But you didn't really sing those kinds of lyrics.

No. You see I am what you would call a bald head! (Laughs) I mean, I have nothing against them you know? That was their thing. But I did my thing and I was comfortable with it. They did their things and I have no qualms. It's like everybody has to live. Because Bob Marley we didn't really speak together like every time we met, as friends. But when they came to England in 1972 I was there. At that time he was Afro. And then the next time I saw him he was Rasta. I have no qualms with them.

You also did over Those Guys for Gussie Clarke…

Yes. It was while we were at the studio recording certain songs Gussie turned to me and said "Do one of your songs from me now" to make a number. So I said "How about Those Guys?" He said "Yeah that's the one I love." That's how I did it over for him. Even now, if I am doing dubs for soundclash there are some lyrics that I rewrite for Those Guys. That I do a job everybody goes wild. I mean, they are decent lyrics…

Clean lyrics.

Clean. But if somebody comes into the studio and their back is turned when I am voicing, as soon as I start voicing they would turn around and look at me, saying "How come you have those kinds of lyrics?" Because even last week somebody asked me to do it for them and I did. And it was all blank shots into the roof!

How do you do it? Do you change “those guys” to “those sounds”?

Yeah! (Sings) "Other sounds will try to put me down" then whatever the sound’s name "Will chase them out of town." The sound’s name "Rules supreme, you rule the dance hall scene, you'll never put me down sound, because I'm still around". I have the lyrics written so for each song. I have about three or four different set of lyrics. So songs I will do for this producer or this soundman I will not do it again until maybe three months after one another. I have different lyrics, rather than doing the same.

How did you feel when the digital thing came in? And how did you feel when the dancehall thing came in?

Boy, I didn't feel any way you know? As I said I was always working. It didn't matter to me what changes happened in the music scene. The digital thing it didn't matter to me. Whatever the rhythm is, whether manual rhythm, whether musicians are there and play for me, or Jah D alone does this thing. As long as the rhythm sounds good.

Did you do much recording in the late 80s and 90s? Or was it more stage shows? I know you did Heineken Star Time a lot.

Yes. (Pause) Oh gosh. Star Time. Almost every three months I would be on Star Time because of the quality songs that we were singing. I didn't do much recording but then since the advent of Jah D I usually come up to him and he is an engineer at Traxin, Anthony Charlton, he is in England now. He would pirate some of the rhythms and whatever he made here all round by the other place where Jah D used to live before Traxin would pirate the rhythms and he would take a set of the rhythms for himself and leave some for Jah D. So I would sing on Jah D’s rhythms but then when Jah D and Traxin split, Traxin went to a studio down by Wildman Street and Beeston Street and the same types of rhythms I did on Different Dimensions for Jah D, then Traxin would have the same rhythms too but different lyrics.

I was brought up in on proper English

You said in previous interviews that in dancehall, you like the rhythms but some of the lyrics are not to your taste. Particularly the use of slang in lyrics.

It's like this. If I am voicing a song with any type of derogatory lyrics I will not sing it. And you can't pay me any money to do it. That's me. I live by my principles. So there are certain songs... I don't even listen to them. The indecent language - I don't listen to them. I will hear them but not listen to them. But the other type of lyrics I will partake. I will cherish them. So if you want me to sing, if you furnish the proper lyrics I will sing. That's me. I don't know if it’s the culture we have that Jamaicans only speak patois. But I was brought up in on proper English so to speak. As long as I live. That is what I am saying.

So I'm guessing that after your experiences with name producers you started to do more stage shows and only voice for people you knew?

Yes. I preferred stage shows to recording because a stage show will bring me quicker cash.

Less work intensive.

Yes. Because recording they always give you promises. Stage shows they don't.

Recording... they always give you promises

Because if they don't give you something upfront then you don't do the show.

That's right. When I'm recording it is not like that. You never collected an advance. Jah D will tell you he works on thousands of songs and doesn't get a penny. And he's still doing it. The recordings, boy, since I had the stroke I do less recording now. But then I come to Jah D every now and again, once a month or twice a month. I try and do a little verse. He has most of my rhythms up here.

When you had the stroke did that make it harder to do shows?

Yes. Because if you notice my right foot has shrunken so I walk with a limp. The trouble is that this (points at knee brace) kinds of strengthens my knee and I get around on a bicycle but for the past two or three months I have been told by the doctor stop riding and do some walking.

A couple of months ago I was doing some riding to and fro, doing some shopping at the market and shops. I made two trips and the sun was terribly hot. I was supposed to do a dub round Sound Wave studio and so I spent about 15 minutes going to the shops and market twice before going to Sound Wave. The sun was hot and when I reached round to the studio I felt woozy. So I parked the bicycle and sat on the crossbar and was saying something to the engineer. I leaned across to show him something in his car and that's all I remembered. I have the mark here (points at scar) and some scratches. I passed out and I had to sit down for about two hours drinking some water to revive myself. I was sunstruck.

When did your stroke happen?

2004. I was driving the school bus for Saint Andrew Tech. Because I wasn't doing anything at the time and the bursar she is a good friend of mine. She phoned me and said "Mr Paris what are you doing now?" I said "I am doing nothing you know? Just lazing at home." So she introduced the school bus to me. They had a school bus at the school and there was nobody to drive it. So I went down and I started to drive for them. But with me visiting England I got addicted to coffee. And believe me coffee was my downfall. I hate to tell you this but nicotine and caffeine.

Coffee was my downfall

A bad combination.

Because of my work that I used to do before at 3M. I used to deal with figures and every minute for the whole day it was just figures for me. So to concentrate I had to smoke and drink from my mug. I still have it as a souvenir. Eight mugs a day and one plate of food. Coupled with the cigarettes. So one Friday I went home smoking a cigarette and sipping coffee and all of a sudden I felt woozy at about 3:30 and I fell in the house. Nobody was around because my kids are not here. I was there until about 8 o'clock when somebody came in and found me.

My niece who worked at the KPH hospital, she was a matron there. My partner phoned her and told her that and she came there in the evening and saw me there on the ground and it seemed that I had a stroke. She said to her, could I come to the hospital right now because if I fell on the floor from 3:30 until now I may get worse. I went to the Public Hospital and she whisked me away and took me to the ward and set me up and then she went downstairs to do the registration.

I was there for two weeks and when my son came out from New York to visit, he saw me and said he is bringing down a wheelchair because I couldn't move on my right side. I couldn't speak for a year and two months. So I was there and took therapy for a while and then they sent me to Mona rehab. When I was there in taking therapy for about three months my son phoned and said "How are you now?" And I said "I still walk with a limp and my speech is just coming back but the speech impediment is bad". So he said "You have to go and see the speech therapist." He said "I am still bringing a wheelchair" and I said "No, I will have none of that". So I sat and thought "I have to work hard at the therapy". That was what brought back the speech. Well, I am grateful. Thank God because I can walk now.

How are you surviving now? Are you doing dub specials?

Right now we have a famine. (Laughs) Nobody wants dubplates now. It was flooded out sometime last year. Everybody wanted and I did what I could do, but now it seems as if nobody wants any right now…

Until the demand goes back up.

Yeah. So right now I am not able to do anything. But thank God for my son and my daughter. I have a daughter who was born in England, in Harlesden, so she at times sends some stipend to me. But my son who lives in New York he is the main one he sends money for me. When I need it I phone him and I receive it the next day. He is the one who is maintaining my thing now. My medication is 11,000 odd. Every three weeks I have to find 11,000 Jamaican dollars.

Thank God I can walk

What about stage shows and publishing royalties? Is anything happening in terms of you collecting?

Joy Music down by Java, she is doing all the filing and all the paperwork for me. I will go and see how early I will get any money from them. Because I have done everything from last year so barring any hindrance from the powers that be then she will tell me that it is sometime next month or the month after. I live in a home that I inherited so I don't pay rent but I have to pay the lighting bill and phone bill and those things. I try my best because I no longer go to parties! (Laughs) I stay home. I am comfortable doing it. It's just that I don't want to feel ill too often. So my pressure has tapered off for the past five years. I maintain a steady diet. The right diet too. I stick to my medication and exercise and that's all I can do.

You are a gifted singer, songwriter drummer. It is Reggae Month right now. Really Reggae Month should be celebrating people like yourself.


Somebody should be giving you a lifetime achievement award for for the things that you've done and for the songs that you've written.

It's good to say but… (Laughs) I thank you but it is not really coming.

If anyone reads this interview and wants to link with you for a stage show or a dubplate how can they contact you? Do you have an online contact?

They should contact Jah D. I don't have an email address but I am listed in the local phone directory – not as Jackie Parris but as Lawford Parris. You can contact Jah D at his email address

Thank you very much for doing the interview.

I say thanks too. This doesn't happen every day so it was a pleasure.

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