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Sugar Minott's Early Days

Sugar Minott's Early Days

Sugar Minott's Early Days

By on - Photos by Beth Lesser - 1 comment

United Reggae offers an excerpt from Beth Lesser's book about Sugar Minott and Youth Promotion.

Sampler

Sugar Minott - Youth Promotion

Delacree Road

Sugar Minott was living on Delacree Road with his mother and siblings. Life wasn’t easy in the “13”.  “Sometimes, in the ghetto where I grow, Maxfield Park, it’s a rough ghetto, you know” Sugar recalled. “Lots of people robbing people, and, lots of guns, and, all the bad elements of a project, you know.”  But the gift of a guitar, from elder deejay Big Youth, kept Sugar safe.  “Before I had that guitar, the boys used to try to call me to do all kinda things and I used to have to make a lot of excuse to get out of it. Or some guy would give you a gun and say, ‘Stay here and watch this place,’ and as him turn him back, you gone! Like, ‘Oh my mother call me!’ And all that. But, when they saw me with this guitar that Big Youth gave me, they didn’t bother to do that again. They said, ‘This is a singer, man’, and they start taking care of me. Bad boy, you know, have a little heart for people who play music. They not going to push you up in no badness.”

Musicians were still considered off limits, in those days. They could pass through political areas and remain, officially, neutral. Even if they were identified with a particular side, they were excused because the music was so compelling. As Sammy Dread explains, “In those times, when you stick up an artist, or rob an artist, you were in trouble. A singer was like a god to the bad boys. The artist alone coulda just cool them when the bad man is bad. He go to the dance, he just quiet, he just listen to the music, have a drink and then go home.”

Barry BrownThere were three main sound systems playing the Maxfield Park area in the 70’s, Keytone, Sound of Silence, and, later, Black Roots. Keytone was owned by Sammy Barnett. “Keytone was a beautiful sound,” Deejay Daddy Ants remembers. “That was the sweetest sound in the area. Those times Barry Brown was around there too. He used to come a Maxfield Pak every night same way. Barry Brown sing on all of the [sounds]. We [used to] have all competition, you know- Barry Brown against Sugar Minott. Nuff niceness and thing. It wasn’t anything vicious. It was just nuff niceness! People used to cheer. Obviously, Sugar was the better singer.”  

Sound of Silence was owned by a Mr. Ruddy who lives in the US right now (Not the same Ruddy who worked at Joe Gibbs). Sugar, drawn irresistibly to the music, hung around Keytone and Sound of Silence both selecting and singing. Sugar just couldn’t resist music. “When I feel the vibes to sing- money, it’s nothing,” Sugar explained. “You just sing. You don’t even know whose dance it is. You just get the mic and sing.”

African Brothers

Music became the neighborhood export and the top local activity. Singer Ashanti Waugh recalled how the friends would all gather in a yard or under a shady tree and just harmonize –himself along with Sugar, Buddy Bye, Dennis Reid and Tuffy..

Right at the corner of Delamere Avenue and Delacree Road, in Maxfield Park, was a little bar owned by a man named Tunny Martin. Every evening, local residents would congregate there to play cards, enjoy a beer, talk and relax. Sometimes they would play football around the back.

One night Derrick Howard, later known as Eric Bubbles, the name that stuck to him when he was in London, was walking in the neighborhood when he heard the sound of a man playing a guitar over by Tunny Martin’s corner. He was intrigued by the sweet sound of the melody and was curious who was playing.  When he came to the corner, he saw two men sitting together and singing. So, he asked around, “Who is that?” The response came, “It’s Tony and Sugar.” Tony was the bigger of the two and was playing the guitar. The youth they called Sugar was just a skinny little boy, maybe 14 years old. But he could clearly handle the harmonies and had a smooth voice. So, Derrick asked them if they wanted to record a song. “They never believe me, you know. They see a lot of people tell them lie and nothing nah gwan,” Derrick recalls. He explained to the two young men that he really could back up his words. So Tony Morris [later Tony Tuff] invited Derrick to sit in and help work out the song they were rehearsing. So, Derrick fit himself in on harmonies while Tony remained the lead. The result sounded good to all three so they began rehearsing the song together regularly.  “Tony write that song and we work a couple nights – like for a week or two- and we went to Tubby’s to voice the song.” At first, Sugar was shy. “He wouldn’t go up to the mic,” Derrick remembers. But they managed to cut their first side, Mystery of Nature, for Rupee Edwards.

Derrick already had experience recording. He was then a member of the group, Charles Hanna and the Graduates (C.H. Hanna had the label, Graduate) which included Desi Roots (Desmond Young, now President of the Jamaican Federation of musicians), and Cornell Campbell on guitar. They played the hotel circuit and at clubs, and had made a record with Harry J, Behold I Live. Derrick had also recorded with the In Crowd Band, a tune named Good Samaritan.

Tony TuffNow, with the addition of Derrick, a real group began to take shape. Many afternoons, Tony and Derrick would pick up Sugar after school and take him to the park where they played football, to do a little rehearsing. Oddly, a couple of people had been buried in the park, and the boys would sit on top of the tombs and sing. Soon, they were ready to appear in local talent shows. In 1974, they entered a competition held at the Pink Lady Club on Maxfield Ave and won.

The Trio had a interesting and professional sound. Tony made a solid front man, even at a young age. Their next 45s where recorded for Micron Music. Before the advent of Pete Weston, Micron was run by Ronnie Burke, who now sells insurance, and by Mike Johnson, a dreadlocked white man who opened his heart and his wallet to the three youngsters. Derrick has fond memories of the way he dealt with the newcomers, “The only man we ever get money from is Micron. Every week we would go get money from Mike Johnson. He cone around and check us at nighttime and invite us to his home and we would go up there - New Kingston- and rehearse, and he left to go to the studio and we would have the whole house to we self.”

The three followed up the three tunes for Micron with records for several popular producers of the day, Rupie Edwards, Winston “Merritone” Blake, for Clive Chin at Randy’s and an eccentric, one- footed man named Jimmy Radway, who enjoyed a short burst of popularity in the 70’s, and whose unique rhythms have been preserved on a CD named 'Dub I', released by Pressure Sounds. Radway, at the time, had the labels Fe Me Time and Capricorn Rising.

The group was supposed to record for Jack Ruby, then at the height of his popularity with his Burning Spear releases. But the day they were scheduled to go to the studio, Ruby took sick and never recovered.

By the mid 70’s, disappointed with the financial results of recording for other people, the group began to explore the idea of self-producing, something that several notable artists were doing, including Big Youth, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown. Out of their efforts came Torturing, their biggest hit - although Want Some Freedom and Practice What You Preach were popular as well. Torturing was very well received and sold a good quantity overseas as an import. But due to some discrepancies in the distributor’s record keeping, and their loss of control over the original stamper, the group was only paid for 500 copies, according to Derrick. The economic pressure hastened the demise of the trio who were already starting to ‘want some freedom’ to pursue their own musical ambitions. Besides, the era of the harmony group was drawing to a quick conclusion. The 80’s were to be ruled by the solo artist-singers like Barrington Levy, Frankie Paul and Sugar Minott.

Sugar MinottThis article is excerpt from the book 'The Legend Of Sugar Minott & Youth Promotion" by Beth Lesser (page 8 to 14).

Published in 2011 by Muzik Tree and available at Small Axe.

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Posted by Felix "coolcatman" sMITH on 03.31.2012
Sugar is Sweet, I've been a Big Fan....long time!

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