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Dennis Alcapone interview part 2

Dennis Alcapone interview part 2

Dennis Alcapone interview part 2

By on - Photos by Angus Taylor - 1 comment

"I was the first singjay"

Sampler

Read part 1 of this interview.

In part two of his feature-length interview with Angus Taylor, Dennis gives a no holds barred appraisal of the film Rocksteady – The Roots Of Reggae, discusses what he got up to after he left Jamaica and shares some cherished memories of Alton Ellis…

You did a huge amount of work for different producers in the early 70s. Did it feel tiring?

Yes it was busy but at the same time it was enjoyable. And that is what keeps you going, enjoying the work that you're doing. The only time it was too busy was... well what happened is... music is an inspirational thing and when you're doing music you have to be inspired. You cannot keep on making hits every day. It's impossible. The inspiration comes every now and again. Well because I was in such demand, every producer wanted to record me. At the weekend I would have six singles coming out with different producers. And like I said, the inspiration doesn’t come every day. So sometimes you'd have to just do something because it's there to be done but you don't feel it the way you should feel it. Because in that early stage, people did not recognise deejay music as it should be recognised. It was in its infancy stage so people used to just say, "it's another version". Like I would go in the studio and work for, say, Bunny Lee and I'd want to do over a song, and he'd say, "no - the song is alright man. It's just version. Another version". So the music didn't get the respect it should have got at that time. People just wanted to hear your voice on the rhythm and didn't take the time to make a proper construction. It was just, "next tune!" you know?

And do you think was wrong from a business point of view to be putting all those tunes out at once?

Yes it was. Because that couldn't be right. One tune would counteract the other one. The other one didn't get a chance to blossom because there was one breathing down your neck - you understand? (laughs)

Today there are probably more deejays than singers recording. What do you think about that? And was it something you contributed to?

To be honest with you I always liked the singing music. I liked my vocals. But like with anything else, when things are selling and people are buying, people want to try to flood the market - and it's no different now with the deejay business. But if I was to have a say in the matter, I would like a balance. I wouldn't like to see a one sided market. Because when we first started deejaying it was like the singers were put in the background. And some singers started deejaying themselves because it was only deejay music that was selling. But you have people out there now that are keeping the singing thing going like Beres Hammond, you had Sanchez before, and now you have Jimmy Riley's son Tarrus. You have a few singers now - the Lucianos of this world. But we need some more singers because the deejays outnumber them.

Your style is almost singing.

Yes. Because I was the first singjay. A lot of people are taking that acclaim at the moment but I was the first. Because I remember we were talking and Bunny Lee was saying, "Dennis, you must sing a tune you know?" and Derrick Morgan said, "so what him a do? You no hear him a sing?" and Bunny said, "no, him a deejay man. Me mean SINGING!" (laughs) So he said, "Dennis, can you sing?" and Derrick said, "What you mean if the man can sing? You no hear him a sing? He just want polish it up!"

You've voiced so many rhythms. Which was your favourite of all time and why?

You Can't Be Happy by the Clarendonians. Power Version. I used to love the original. It was a favourite track of mine. When I was in a dance and hearing tune I was moving my feet. I love it!

You left Jamaica for the UK in 1973 and moved in 1974 leaving a huge body of work behind. Why was that?

Well to be honest with you when I first came here in '73 I overstayed my time. I was here for six weeks the first time. I came back in 1974 on the Jamaican Showcase with Dennis Brown, Toots & The Maytals, a young Sly Dunbar. Sly was playing in a band called Skin, Flesh & Bones with Lloyd Parks on bass, and Ranchie [Mclean] andTarzan [Nelson]. Cynthia Richards was on the tour as well, and Al Brown, singing Here I Am Baby. When it started the tour was called Jamaican Showcase. This guy from the Greyhound was involved. Danny from the Greyhound and his lady Joanne - they were the ones that put the tour on.
There was this promoter in London called Admiral Ken. He asked for me and Dennis Brown from the tour and he put us together with Desmond Dekker for a show in the Empire Ballroom, which was a sold out show. Bob Marley came that night. Bob Marley, Familyman and Carlie the drummer (Familyman's brother). At this time Bob Marley was promoting the album Catch A Fire and he was backstage and I called him onto the stage and introduced him to the crowd. I've got a picture at home of me and Bob, Empire Ballroom 1974. But because I was a star at the time, the cameraman didn't take a frontal of Bob, he took the frontal of me. He went behind Bob and took the picture. I asked him after that, "didn't you have a frontal of Bob?" and he said, "no!" because it wasn't Bob's show. Bob wasn't big at the time. Can you believe that??

You did some recording work in the UK with Sidney Crooks. Is that right?

Yes. When I came here in '73 I met up with the Pioneers. I was staying in Paddington in a hotel called Edwards as I remember and he [Sidney] used to come and pick me up and take me to the Q club. The Q Club was the place where it's at - you know? So we became friends and later he came back down to Jamaica to look for a new singer for the Pioneers because there was some problem between him and Jackie. And he selected this guy named Happy Porter to be in the Pioneers. But in that period of time Happy's mother sent for him to go to the United States so that was off and he came back empty handed. So while he was there he had recorded some tracks with Happy Porter and this other guy and he just wanted me to do-over those rhythms and make an album. It was one of those things that wasn't planned. It probably was planned by him, but not by me! I was just in the studio and he said, "do something on the riddims". I didn't have anything planned for the rhythms. I didn't like that album. That was not an inspired album. It was just something on the spot. It wasn't something that was actually talked about businesswise. He had his own intention and that intention wasn't to actually reward me. He exploited that situation, let me put it like that.

Did he do well out of that album?

I have no idea because he came back up to England with that album. I did not receive a dime from that album. (leans into the mic) His name is Sidney Crooks.

So you weren't happy artistically or financially with Belch It Off? But, for example, you were happy with the work you did with Coxsone even if the financial situation wasn't right?

I wasn't happy no way no how. Yes I was happy with the Coxsone work. I was happy with most of my work. But the Sidney work - no! I'm ok with my work at Coxsone but the financial side of things at that time in Jamaica was a no go.

From the mid 70s to the 80s you took time out for your personal life. What were you doing during this period?

I wasn't doing anything musically. It was all about family. It wasn't until I met up with Steve Barrow, [that I started again] because we lived in the same area. We were talking and he said that he wanted to do an interview. This was sometime in the late 80s. That was how I started back because he was saying I should go back in the business. By this time he was going for a job with Trojan to do some compilations. Then we went and did the Womad Festival [in 1989], me and him and Bob Brooks. Then we went to Paris and did two nights and then we left and went to Helsinki with Alton Ellis - and I haven't looked back since! I started working again. I joined up with Mad Professor and did a European tour.

Did the time out give you a chance to think about what you wanted from music?

To be honest with you, at that time music was put on the back shelf. It was on the backburner because there was no financial reward. It was not until there was a “revive” period, when Steve started to compile for Trojan and the records started to go back out again and there was a resurge in the whole music. There was a big interest going around and people started enquiring about the artists and started to engage us. And that's when the new thing started - when a lot of vintage artists started working again. That gives you more interest, more impetus to start working again. Now we used to do a lot of work in Europe and the response that you get out there - people started treating us like artists again. So it's all good. You know I went down to Japan twice, I went to Brazil, I went to the US. I got a call yesterday from Bunny Brown from The Chosen Few saying they are planning a tour for next year and he wants to get me involved in a Studio 1 tour. It's a health conscious tour because he was saying to me that there are a lot of people in Jamaica dying from diabetes and all those things so he wants to do this Health Awareness Tour. So this is being put together to start in March next year and a lot of it is going to be done in the USA. I think it's going to kick off in Jamaica first and he's looking to take it to Japan as well. That's in the pipeline at the moment and it was only yesterday I got that phone call.

Let's talk about some things you've been doing recently. Many of the rhythms you rode were from the rocksteady era. I saw you at the première of the film Rocksteady with Bunny Lee and Niney. What did you think of the film?

The film is alright - but it's lacking. There could have been a lot of other people involved, other main players in that film. Like, one of the guys said after the film was finished and they were talking about it [at the Director’s Q&A] he was saying, "what happened to the producers? No producers has been mentioned!" Which is true you know? Somebody must have produced the rocksteady music! So what about that? And, to me, a rocksteady film, without Alton Ellis in it, has a big chunk missing. Because Alton was Mr Rocksteady and Alton was in Jamaica at the time. That stage show that you saw there, Alton was the best performer on that stage.

He was in that concert? I just assumed he was too ill. They didn't show very much of the concert footage - that was my only criticism.

He was the best one! That concert, I got feedback from Jamaica that that concert was one of the best ones they saw Alton do. Because that was the period when he was sick, and people thought he wasn't going to make it. Alton wanted to prove to people that he was alive and well. And I hear that he did a show and a half in Jamaica! But what really happened now is Stascha [Bader] the guy that produced it, he came here to England, and this guy named Ray Hurford, from Small Axe magazine, linked him up with me. It was the same day he was going back to Switzerland and he explained to me what he wanted to do and I said, "OK we can meet somewhere" and we met in Tottenham. He had his camera with him and he explained to me that he wanted to do a little filming, a little interview, because he is doing this rocksteady thing and he wants to take it back to the Swiss Government. He wanted to get a bit of proof because he wanted to get sponsorship for the project. So I said "OK" and I called Jimmy London and said to him to interview Jimmy as well but Jimmy was a bit drunk so he wasn't making too much sense.
But I did a fairly good interview with him and he left - he nearly missed the plane as well! - and he went back to Switzerland. He called me and we were linking up on the phone, talking about the project, and he said he was going to take the film to the Swiss Government, and he wanted to bring over Lyn Taitt because Lyn was the main player. So I said to him, "well you know Stascha, you should talk to BB Seaton as well" because BB Seaton was one of the main players at Studio 1 and he was the one doing all the auditions there and things. So I gave him BB's number and he phoned BB and they were talking. And they were doing the bulk of the talking because I had to do what I had to do so him and BB was more corresponding and putting ideas together.
So this goes on for a while and then I went to Japan with BB, Leroy Sibbles from the Heptones, Dawn Penn and Cornel Campbell and Winston Reedy. And that's when I heard that Stascha had actually got the money from the Swiss Government and gone to Jamaica and started the project. Now we didn't know, while we were talking to him, that the project had started. It was when we were in Japan that Dawn Penn was telling us that the project had started and he was filming. So we found that a bit strange and a bit devious to have done that. Because he made it to look like we were a part of it and that's how we felt, that we a part of this project of his only to find out that we weren't involved you know? Me myself and BB emailed him and told him how we felt about that whole thing. But after a while we thought, "well if that's the way you want to do it OK". Then he emailed me and told me that he's got the premiere and I should come and I said "no problem we'll come". BB said he was going to come and then he thought about the whole thing and how he went about it and BB didn't turn up.

But you still decided to show your support for the project...

Yes exactly. Well like I say, at the end of the day, he's high-lighting something that no one else is doing, you understand? I mean, me myself, I'm not bothered if I'm not in it, but it was the principle of how the thing was done. But the only part that I would say is lacking is that Alton should have been in it some way, somehow. Even to get a clip of an interview from somewhere and splice that in or from a show or something. Because what really happened was, when he was here he wanted to interview Alton. But there was some money problem - because they wanted money - and his common law wife decided against the interview. So what happened is, Alton got a call from Babsy Grange in Jamaica. Babsy Grange is a minister...

And an executive producer of the film.

Yes. He got a call from her saying that she wanted him to come down to Jamaica to do a show. Well at this time Alton didn't know that Stascha was involved, because if he did know he wouldn't have gone (because he turned on Stascha already because he didn't give him the money that he asked for). So, anyway, when Alton went to Jamaica there was a big problem when he realised Stascha was there to film the actual show. So he decided against them filming him. He told them, "don't film". That's how he was left out of it. But he was on the bill. He was upset because he told me. He said he was tricked into coming to Jamaica. That's how he said it, "if it wasn't for Babsy Grange I wouldn't have come there. I did not know that guy was there to do the film". So that part of it is unfortunate because I wish Alton was involved. Then I would have appreciated that film more. What I've seen I can enjoy but that bit is lacking and some of the producers should have been involved.

Let's talk about yourself and Alton. You performed on stage with him many times.

Yes man! Me and Alton - out of all artists - me and Alton worked the most. We worked all over Europe, we worked in California. We did Summer Jam in Germany, we did Potsdam, we worked with the festivals in France - we did a lot of work together. Because we've got the same agent, Roots Rockers promotion so we did a lot of shows together, me and him.

What was your favourite memory of working with him?

(laughs) We were always joking on the road. But the real favourite time when we were having fun was when we were coming back from California with me, him and Owen Grey. We were rhyming and we were talking about Downbeat, which is Coxsone, (that's what we called him - Downbeat). So when Grey was saying, "the great Downbeat - we meet him on Orange Street", and I would come in and say, "yes and he put the music in our feet and then he moved to Charles Street", and Alton would say, "yes, and I can remember walking up Orange Street, when I first met the great Downbeat". And we'd keep that thing going! (laughing) And it was fun with me, him and Owen rhyming about the great Downbeat. Alton was a very reserved person. He could be quiet some times. When we were on the road Alton hardly came downstairs to the breakfast table. If his agent was there or his lady, they would bring his breakfast up to his hotel room. He was like that. When a show was going on he wouldn't come to the show until he was ready to work. But Alton was alright you know? Alton was my favourite Jamaican artist from when I was playing the sound system El Paso. He was my number one singer in Jamaica and I would always tell him that. I remember seeing Alton on stage before he made his first record at Majestic Theatre on Opportunity Hour.

Which year was that?

This was probably about '56 somewhere around then. '55-'56. I saw him on Vere Johns Opportunity Hour singing a Sam Cooke Song, Sentimental Reasons. But his sister was always the winner. Hortense Ellis. She was a big star at the time. Alton started out as a dancer. But Hortense - she'd win the competition every time. She used to sing a Patti Labelle and The Bluebelles song called Down The Aisle and another song by Connie Francis, Where The Boys Are. She used to mash those songs up man.
But [going back to] the last point [me and Alton worked together] it was me and him and his son, Christopher, because he was carrying Christopher around, grooming him. Christopher was with us in California when we picked up a Lifetime Achievement Award, all of us on that show, in the Henry Fonda Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard where the show was. It was me, Alton Ellis, Pat Kelly, Owen Grey, and Derrick Morgan. You can imagine that show - the place was on fire!

And you recently contributed to Nereus Joseph's new album Real Rebels Can't Die. How did that track come about?

Well Nereus and Kenny Edgehill, his producer, called me to accompany Nereus on that track and I think we came up with a very god track. Because there's a lot of violence that's surrounding us and when I listened to the track I wrote those lyrics trying to divert the youths from the bad path of life. "Take a left on success street. A right on progress avenue. And go down freedom street. That's where all the good people meet". In other words, if you deal in violence you'll go down in slience. I got good reviews from that track as well, people calling me from California telling me that they love that track Radio DJs and so on.

Do you have a closing message for your fans?

My message is: Keep the faith and keep on loving the music. Look out for my next album - it's a compilation called From Studio 1 To Treasure Isle. That will be coming out soon with some wicked Dennis Alcapone tracks. I'm also going to start work on a new album with Willie Lindo. All those things are in pipeline at the moment so they can look forward to that.

Read part 1 of this interview.

Photos copyright Angus Taylor 2009
Reproduction without permission of United Reggae and Angus Taylor is prohibited.

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Read comments (1)


Posted by Phil on 07.02.2013
May I get an email address of Dennis Alcapone? I want to ask him a question. Thanks. Phil

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