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Interview: Ten Big Tunes with Rod Taylor

Interview: Ten Big Tunes with Rod Taylor

Interview: Ten Big Tunes with Rod Taylor

By on - Photos by Michael Grein - 1 comment

"I actually did a whole album for Linval Thompson. But he lost the tape!"


Quintessential reggae veteran Rod Taylor's honeyed voice was always a stark contrast to his "Rocky T" nickname, given by Trenchtown school friend Clive Finlay because the youth was "tough like rockstone". It was a voice that first came to the attention of the late Ossie Hibbert who recorded his debut tune in 1975 - setting him on the path to Jamaican chart success in the late seventies and early eighties with a string of producers before the business moved in the direction of digital and slackness. The same good timing was in evidence in 1991 when Rod relocated to France which was soon to become a European headquarters for reggae music. In March this year Taylor released his latest album 'Original Roots' with St Martin's Bob Wasa and Toulouse's Positive Roots Band: showing his class and consistency still unchanged. Angus Taylor caught up with his namesake on the road and asked for his favourite track off the new record and the story behind those crucial early sides that made his name - discovering three tantalising albums lost to posterity in the process!

Rod Taylor

Badman Comes and Goes
Producer: Ossie Hibbert (1975)

My first live show as a youth coming up was with amateur artists at the Bohemia Club near Halfway Tree. I sang Sea Of Love by Phil Philips originally, sung by the Heptones, on the version side. The owner of the club was Mr Hamilton and the backing band would become big name musicians later. On bass was Ranchie Davis who I met that night. I also met Michael Rose. That night I won the Bohemia amateur show with Sea Of Love.

Ossie Hibbert was there. At that time he was also a musician playing keyboards and the piano at Channel One. He said "Yes youth! You sing very good. Come down Channel One and check me so we can do a song". So I went there and met Sly & Robbie who were coming up at the time. I sang the melody of the song Badman Comes and Goes first so they would catch it and they found the bass and the rhythm. Three days after they laid the foundation I came back and put the vocal there. When I went back for the mixing Dillinger - who at that time was coming up too - was listening in the studio and said "Yeah! Rod Taylor dem tune deh bad my singer!" because someone had told him my name. Ossie made some arrangement and he voiced the tune alongside me!

Dillinger was listening in the studio and said "Yeah! Rod Taylor dem tune deh bad my singer!"

The first one was released by Ossie Hibbert on the Mummy label. Then they released the one with Rod Taylor and Dillinger saying "Jamaica the land of wood and water" [Nuh Chuck It] and that started doing good. So thanks to this tune I got to go down to Channel One and get to know everyone there. And that led me to Bunny Lee, who was a friend of Ossie Hibbert, and I did the Garden Of Eden which came out on the Jackpot label at that time. That had Sly & Robbie on again as the Revolutionaries.

Ethiopian Kings
Producer: Bertram Brown (1978)

Earl Zero was at the Bohemia Club that night along with Michael Rose and Ossie Hibbert. He was from down Greenwich Farm and said he and Mr Bertram had a label there by the name of Freedom Sounds. The house artists were Prince Alla, Earl Zero and Phillip Fraser. So I went down Greenwich Farm and saw them round the back cooking food and burning the chalice with Jacob Miller - because at that time Jacob Miller was their friend licking the chalice back a gully! So Earl Zero said "Bad lickle singer this! A my singer!" and Mr Brown said "Sing a song for me deh!" I sang him three songs - King David [Ethiopian Kings] In The Right Way and Don't Give It Up - and he said he liked the three!

So he gave me a date to go down to Channel One and we linked up with the Soul Syndicate - Earl Chinna Smith, Tony Chin, Fully Fullwood on bass and Santa Davis on the drums. So we did King David, In The Right Way and Don't Give It Up. But I also did another version of King David which Phillip Fraser voiced but it was actually me who first sang and had the melody of the two. I told Mr Brown "I don't want this one" and Phillip Fraser said he liked that one and wanted to sing a thing on it so he sang Come Ethiopians Come.

I also did another version of King David which Phillip Fraser voiced but it was actually me who first sang and had the melody of the two

Then Mr Brown said "Now we're going to mix at King Tubbys". So when we got there and played the tape Tubbys said to Mr Brown “A who ah this artist? A wicked artist!" and he said "A new artist. Rod Taylor ah him name". So then everybody started to know me around that time and started saying "The tune bad!" It was distributed by Federal Records because Mr Brown carried it down there and they loved it so he gave them the label and the tune. So they put out the tune and it was a hit man! Hotshot all over the place! And it was this song that made the contact between Michael Campbell and me.

His Imperial Majesty
Producer: Mikey Dread (1978)

Rod TaylorAt the time Michael Campbell was working at the JBC station so he was playing King David on the radio! He made an announcement saying "I need to see this singer!" So that's how I got to know Mikey because he told Earl 16 "Carry Rod Taylor to JBC and let me see this youth because he is a wicked singer and I want him to sing a tune".

I had a meeting with Mikey at JBC on Half Way Tree Road where Skateland is. So we all went to Skateland - me, Earl 16, Anthony Johnson, Hopeton Lindo, Big Foot, Sugar Minott and Pam Hall. We waited downstairs with security until Mikey’s show finished and then when he came we had a drink and a talk and he said I should check him back in one week's time to voice a tune. So me him and Earl 16 went to the studio. I started to sing one tune but Mikey said "No I don't want that one - it's just ok" but I then I started to sing His Imperial Majesty and he said "That tune deh bad". As I started to sing the tune with him he started to write some of it as well. The song was written by me but he helped too so we both wrote it.

Now this song was a hit all over - on JBC and RJR for a couple of weeks it was on the two charts. It controlled the charts for a couple of weeks! It dropped down and then it came back up - I don't whether Mikey controlled that or what they did - but it stayed on the charts. You'd call it a chart buster. So my name started to become quite famous - seeing a lot of artists around and being connected to a lot of artists and for a lot of shows. But me and Mikey had a problem because when the song was out he told everyone that he wrote the song - and that was false. But I forgave him because that was the only problem with him. He was a good producer and a good man.

Mikey Dread was a good producer and a good man

No One Can Tell I About Jah
Producer: Prince Far I (1977)

Prince Far I and Prince Hammer was a downtown thing. It came through me knowing Gregory Isaacs because when you become a hit artist you start to move with other artists who get to know you. So my vibes were with Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown - who was a friend of my big brother - going from Orange Street to Chancery Lane to where Randy's and Joe Gibbs were in front of the big park. We were always on Chancery Lane and Gregory had a shop by the name of African Museum and we were always by Gregory, Randy's and Joe Gibbs.

Prince Far I and Prince Hammer used to come by our corner - Artist's Corner - early in the morning. Because on this corner they had the names of all the artists who passed and were on the corner so we called it Idler's Corner! This corner was the downtown corner for all artists and it was the basic frontline for all artists. So here on the frontline I got to know all artists like Prince Hammer and Prince Far I as well as Sylford Walker, Reggae George, Peter Broggs, Leroy Smart and all these artists from downtown.

At this time Prince Far I wanted to have a shop on Orange Street in association with Prince Hammer. Prince Far I called me saying "Ras, I have a song written and I want you to sing the song". The song was No One Can Tell I About Jah. He had the lyrics No One Can I Tell I About Jah but he didn't have too many other lyrics so I finished writing the song with him. Normally it would say "written by Rod Taylor and Prince Far I" but this time he put me as the writer. Then there was Run Run so I did two songs for him.

Rod Taylor

Every Little Thing
Producer: Ossie Hibbert (1978)

I remember the drumming because when Ossie told me to come to Channel One I remember it was Sly who played that drums. Normally the drummer for Ossie Hibbert was Santa Davis but this time it was Sly! I remember him smiling with something in his mouth. He always had a match stick in his mouth corner. I remember when I was singing it he was looking at me saying "Bad singer! Bad singer!"

The thing is - Sly wanted me to do an album for him but we never did because things got rough and I moved and it never happened. But right now Sly wants me to do something for him. Sly & Robbie I have known for many years and all artists are like family. Because in the business in Jamaica we are one. One family.

All artists are like family. Because in the business in Jamaica we are one. One family

True History
Producer: Errol Don Mais (1978)

When I was down in Greenwich Farm Don Mais was a producer there. Don Mais was a good producer and he was from Greenwich Farm too but in a different section. You had his Roots Tradition, you had Freedom Sounds and you had Cornerstone Music. So there were three levels. Don Mais was producing Lucky and General and Sammy Dread was down there with Phillip Fraser so we all teamed up and sang together and I got a connection with him and did True History with Soul Syndicate.

But as I told you everyone is in a one family thing and everything happened in one time. That was the time when I was down in Greenwich Farm so every connection was there between Mr Brown and Don Mais so the vibes flowed and the contacts between me and Don Mais did too. It was a very good song and it was mixed by Scientist at King Tubbys. Because sometimes when you would go to Tubbys he didn't have time to mix because he was always doing other things like making the box for the sound and other things for the sound. So he would have Scientist, Professor and Jammys there so he would do less work.

And you may not know this but King Tubbys was my godfather. I mean godfather in that as an artist you would have someone who would give you things in holiday time so you could buy shoes and things. He was like that. Same like Coxsone Dodd.

If Jah Should Come Now
Producer: Prince Hammer (1979)

Everything happened at one time - in circulation. So I was up and down from Greenwich Farm from uptown to Trenchtown because I was living up on Russell Road near the Jungle side. So I was leaving down from there to Greenwich Farm one time to check Ossie from Channel One - because in those days it was about walking around as a youth trying to make our name. I met Barry Brown and Tony Tuff and they were based up with Sugar Minott up the road at Robert Crescent and then I would come down to Waltham Park Road. So I started to hang around with Barry Brown and Johnny Lee who was a Chinaman who had money and he would always want to build some rhythms and be a part of it. So they teamed up and made a group called the Aliens. It was the same - going from Greenwich Farm to Channel One, going uptown from Waltham Park Road to Robert Crescent. It was a little circle.

But then the vibe would change. The vibes changed to downtown. My first album was actually made with Prince Hammer but it was not made in a fast way because I was taking my time, singing some songs for him and putting them aside for the album. So in this time I was working on some vibes with Prince Hammer but he told me he wanted If Jah Should Come Now on the album. That was a preparation for the album in the same time. So financially I put some money in the tune If Jah Should Come Now with Prince Hammer because it was not him alone that produced it. It was produced by Rod Taylor and Prince Hammer and I put some money in it too. Because in those days I had some money because I'd had a hit song so Prince Hammer said we should produce an LP. He went to London to find a business and he found a business. So from there I continued my adventure and vibes and we all became friends - Prince Fari and Prince Hammer and me.

The Lord is My Light
Producer: Ossie Thomas (1979)

When you hear someone saying "Jah Rastafari!" on this record it was Horace Martin! (laughs) He said that because he was there at the time. At that time we were moving with a lot of artists like Anthony Johnson, Horace Martin, Earl 16, Barry Brown, Sugar Minott - we were one group. This time it was Horace Martin who vocalized with Ossie Thomas. That was the connection because of Sugar Minott and Tristan Palma in this area so the vibes came from there. At that time Ossie Thomas was producing Tristan Palma so every time we would pass that way - that was how we got to do that song. So Horace Martin was in the studio so he voiced that part. Scientist mixed it.

Rod Taylor

Moving Out Ever
Producer: Linval Thompson (1981)

I actually did a whole album for Linval. This was through the connection at Tubbys because by staying around Tubbys there were many artists coming around. Linval Thompson sometimes passed through there and he was interested in me saying "Eh, bad singer! Come sing two songs with me sometime!" because he heard everybody talking about me. So he gave me like twenty or thirty thousand Jamaican which was the money in those times and said "Come down Channel One" so I did this album for him.  

Moving Out Ever was for the album but he never put it out. I don't know why but when I would see him sometimes he told me that he lost the tape! There were 14 songs - big big songs. Some of them Scientist used on his dub albums where you can hear Rod Taylor's voice and know that is Rod Taylor but all these songs we cannot find the tape! The tapes disappeared. But the same thing happened with Sugar Minott. I did an album for Sugar Minott and he said he couldn't find the tape! Either someone stole the tape or he lost the tape! And there is a tape missing from when I did an album with Tubbys too! I voiced some songs for Tubbys and we cannot find the tape. Three tapes, three Rod Taylor albums missing! Bad bad albums!

World in Lamentation (2012)

Rod Taylor and Bob Wasa - Original RootsBob Wasa and the Positive Roots band are some serious people. Like Thierry on the bass who is very determined and Jean-Marc the drummer they work very hard. They are all very determined in what they do. Then you have the sound engineer Charlie because without him we are nothing! The sound engineer is very important and he mixed the whole album which is a project between me and all the crew. So finally the album is on the road and we are really happy for the works. My favourite song on this album is World in Lamentation. It's the original roots from back in the day like where I was first coming from. When you listen back it's like a flashback - you can see what was from the past.

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Read comments (1)

Posted by antreas on 07.23.2012
Very nice interview. Rod made some killer tunes in the 70s, it was very nice to read to some of them! Good idea!

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