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Interview: Morgan Heritage (2013)

Interview: Morgan Heritage (2013)

Interview: Morgan Heritage (2013)

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - 3 comments

"People have been missing this vibe and this energy for five years"


Last year when the reformed Morgan Heritage came to London, the city’s music media were literally fighting for a piece of them.

They were in such high demand that United Reggae was fortunate to get a nice chat with two members - Una and Mojo - about their reunion and The Return EP.

But with the full album 'Here Come the Kings' ready to land on June 11th it made sense that we talk to lead singer Peetah and keyboardist Gramps for their side of the family story.

Morgan Heritage

'Here Comes the Kings' is very much a back to basics Morgan Heritage record – dialling down some of the rock influences of their pre-hiatus album 'Mission In Progress'.

The new record begins with a tribute to the great Lloyd Parks and even poppier sides like catchy single Perfect Love Song feature impressive bass frequencies.

Angus Taylor spoke to Peetah and Gramps just as they had touched down in the States from a promotional trip to Jamaica. You’ll see we posed many of the same questions we asked Una and Mojo. Here are their answers.

Let’s talk about last year in London – it was crazy right? You paused your show to show Usain Bolt and Johan Blake winning the 100 metres Olympic gold and silver medals.

PEETAH: (laughs) We went on stage like “Man, we’re going to miss this damn race!” Then  mid-performance my production manager told my brother Lukes the race was about to come on and he thinks they can show it. So while Gramps was doing his verse Lukes pulled me aside and said “Yo, we can watch this on the screen”. As soon as we finished the song the race was about to start. It was perfect timing, we didn’t plan it, everything happened in the space of two minutes on stage. And when Usain won, the show went to a whole other level. The energy of doing a great show, being in London after five years, and seeing Jamaica win the race, all at the same time. It didn’t really hit us until a week after when we started to see all the footage pop up on YouTube. We were so caught up in the tour, The Return and being in Europe after five years that we didn’t even realize how much history we created that night.

GRAMPS: It was beautiful to be back with my brothers and sister performing. Just to look across the stage and see the crew you’ve been riding with for almost 25 years. We’ve been doing this since we were six and seven years old. It was like “Wow, it’s really back!” It was something familiar whereas for these solo projects it was all new. It was like starting from scratch again. It made us lose our comfort zone as performers and you eventually grow. That’s the difference with Morgan Heritage in 2013.

Even though you have always said the group had not split up – did you sense people’s fears that you weren’t coming back?

PEETAH: We sensed everything. We heard all the rumours, saw all the articles online, people saying this and that on the blogs. It was quite entertaining for us for the five years! “Did you see what they said today?” It was just so funny. It got to the point where if they asked we’d be like “We’ll see what happens”. Because there was nothing that we could say that would stop the rumours! The only thing that would stop it was when we decided to go back into the studio again or go back on the road.

GRAMPS: We still feel that even though we have the album coming out! Like right now you’re interviewing the two of us – people will probably say “It’s just Peetah and Gramps! They’re still not together!” They’ve seen me a lot in the last five years and they’ve seen Peetah. Unless they see the five of us together it’s still a little hard to believe. I guess it’s good publicity and people like controversy. But we don’t really pay attention to that because it’s about the music and we are family. We never grew up in a way where we’d argue with each other. We don’t have a complicated life.

A melting pot laid on top of reggae. That's the Morgan Heritage sound

Gramps, you recorded two solo albums during the hiatus – Two Sides of My Heart and Reggae Music Lives. Peetah, you recorded a lot of singles but did not record an album. Why not? Apart from your solo recordings what did you do in your break?

PEETAH: I just spent more time with my kids. Being there for them during high school and for the younger kids growing up. I have a daughter that’s entered college. The time when they are children – you can’t buy those years back if you miss them. So it was a great opportunity for me to reconnect with my kids, my family, my wife, and put time in there. I still did a lot of production with artists from different territories, recorded a lot of singles. I had the time to record in my home studio and put music out there but still spend time with the family. Morgan Heritage is so demanding – it takes away from that side of my life. So fulfilling that yearning my children had to spend time with me made me a more complete person. I felt more satisfied in myself and better about everything that’s happening in life.

Gramps, you took the time to connect with something very personal by starting to play football for North Georgia Gladiators. As a youngster you actually turned down college football scholarships to be in Morgan Heritage. Now that the dust has settled how do you reflect on re-opening and closing that chapter in your life?

GRAMPS: It was satisfying! Because when I got back on the field I realised how good I was! There was always a question in my mind as to how far I could have gone and I do believe I could easily have gone to the NFL. Even at my age now training for two years in a semi-professional team I was still being offered try outs with NFL teams. I actually teared up a little bit because we came one game shy of winning the play offs and going to the Superbowl. It would have been nice to go out with the glory of coming back having been out of the game for so long and winning a Superbowl ring. But it was nice to just put on those football pads and just travel back in time!

You were also involved in two very high profile court cases – you raised funds for the Trayvon Martin case and gave assistance to Buju Banton in his cocaine trafficking case. Firstly, how has the Trayvon case changed the landscape of US politics?

GRAMPS: I think it put a highlight on what some inner city kids face. The reality is that not everywhere is golden roads in the United States. It shows we have problems as a nation that we need to address and figure out when it comes to racial profiling and judging a book by its cover. Trayvon Martin fit the profile of a typical United States black American thug and he was judged and dealt with based on that. Al Sharpton highlighted that we need to adjust these problems in America as black people, white people, Hispanic, Japanese, Chinese, Indians. Because America is a melting pot similar to the UK. A black man’s issue is a white man’s issue and a Hispanic issue is a Chinese issue. It’s our issue but it’s more about being American – not black or white.

Buju has music that will live on far beyond mine and your life. But it is his children that are suffering

What’s the latest on the Buju case from your close perspective?

GRAMPS: He’s meant to be going back to court on June 26. From my perspective we’re just praying. Buju doesn’t have any brothers. I have 16 brothers. Buju’s been very close from when we first toured the UK together. So I’m being there for him as a brother and friend for support and guidance, showing him what he’s done wrong and to reflect on his life, mostly as a father and husband. Because it’s not even about the music. He has music that will live on far beyond mine and your life. But it is his children that are suffering. That’s where he needs comfort and he needs a friend.

The last album Mission In Progress had quite an angry guitar driven sound – it really put the “rock” in “Rockaz”. This album is more traditional roots music and soulful love songs with some of Mojo’s rapping and Gramps deejaying thrown in. How’s it sounding to you right now?

Morgan Heritage - PeetahPEETAH: It’s the sound of the complete Morgan Heritage today. It’s our life’s journey – where we are and how mature we’ve gotten. You’re getting every side of Morgan Heritage in this album - the social side, the spiritual side, the lovers side. It’s the yesterday sound with today’s sound. You can hear something like Stand Up or The Return and it reminds you of real roots reggae from the early days and then you get a song like Perfect Love Song which is the evolution of the music – where it is today and where we hear it going. It’s the full overstanding, the growth, the history of the music from Morgan Heritage’s standpoint.   

GRAMPS: (laughs) You just smile and think “We’re rested”! Because it’s been five years and as we were getting further with the album, recording each song, we were amazed by each other. Seeing it now as a project that’s completed is satisfying to know we survived. A lot of groups go on hiatus and have problems and never want to go back in the studio so I’m just happy none of that ever happened. I give thanks to our parents, how they disciplined us and taught us man must live with each other and the love of a family. We’ve always carried that with us through the music.

Our parents taught us man must live with each other and the love of a family. We’ve always carried that with us through the music

After all this time away did you try to avoid anything too “out there” – any big surprises?

PEETAH: I don’t think anyone will be surprised. I think people will be fulfilled. They will be getting what they’ve been longing for. There’s a yearning for a certain thing so we couldn’t just come leftfield and do something totally different from what people want. People have been missing this vibe and this energy for five years. So we wanted to give them what they’ve been missing with an overtone of where it’s going but without going too far. When you haven’t had something that you’ve been used to in a long time – when you get it again it almost seems like something brand new.

GRAMPS: We can’t change our colour. We are what we are. Growing up in the United States our music is going to be that melting pot of reggae. You’re going to get that Jamaica vibes because it’s in our DNA and in our blood. But the influence of being raised in America will ever be in our music. Listening to people like Stevie Wonder, The Gap Band, New Edition, Michael Jackson – you’re going to hear that R&B influence from me listening to the radio every day. You’re going to hear Run DMC, Eric B and Rakim, and all these hip-hop artists from Mojo because that’s what we listened to on Top 40 radio. You’re going to hear the rock influence from Duran Duran and Van Halen, Tears For Fears, Air Supply, all these bands we grew up hearing. So it’s just a melting pot laid on top of reggae. That’s the Morgan Heritage sound.

We can't change our colour. We are what we are

You covered Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s The Girl Is Mine on the EP and on the album – do you see any parallels between the Morgans and the Jacksons? And how do you approach a Michael Jackson song?

PEETAH: It’s the hardest thing in the world to do. It’s Michael Jackson. Touching a legend’s music like that you’ve got to give it justice. Me and Gramps said “If there is any song we are going to do in our career where we must pay attention to all details from start to end it’s gotta be this one”. Michael passed when we were on hiatus and it was a big thing in our lives. We grew up listening to Michael and the Jackson Five. They as a family were people that we idolised as aspiring artists at a young age. We took our time with it and paid attention to all details of the original version so we didn’t miss anything. But at the same time we put a piece of ourselves in the remake.

Morgan Heritage - GrampsGRAMPS: I have to give big ups to the producer Jason Farmer, musical director for Kymani Marley. Jamaica has some of the most amazing musicians in the world that people never talk about – and he is one of them. He did the track and said “There is nobody else I hear singing this except Gramps and Peetah”. He gave us the track, we put our production touch on it, did the vocals and we were like “Wooahh, this is a classic”. This is a Jamaican way of paying tribute to two legends, giving it justice and bringing it to our Jamaican authentic organic level – where you hear the end when I’m deejaying, putting a different twist on it.

The deejaying thing seems to be on loads of your records these days. Will there be a whole album of deejaying as a solo project one day?

GRAMPS: Absolutely! I used to deejay back when Morgan Heritage was on MCA records. I was patterning on people like Admiral Bailey and Shabba Ranks – those were my deejays! Then my voice started to change and get so deep and I began to develop as a vocalist. During these solo projects my brothers were like “Do you think you can still do it?” But I’ve always been afraid because deejays like Vybz Kartel, Elephant Man have taken Jamaican deejaying to a whole different level. You can’t come and do it in no joke way!

But you do seem happy to do it now.

GRAMPS: It’s just where we are now. Let it all out. Let it loose. Live your life. Enjoy your life. Take on challenges. Never be afraid of anything. That’s where we are with our music and our lives. 

You collaborated with Inner Circle – there are some parallels between this important reggae institution and yours – particularly the US/JA connection.

PEETAH: They’re like mentors for us. We’re always at their studio out here in Miami and we have a family relationship with the brothers, with Touter and the whole crew. We go to Circle house every time we’re in Miami and it’s like our musical home. What we have developed over the years as two musical families representing reggae music is priceless.

GRAMPS: We and Roger and Ian the Lewis brothers are very close. We did a tour with them in 1994 when we were signed to MCA records and just out of high school. We studied bands like Steel Pulse and the original Wailers. We didn’t study solo artists except in that they were great vocalists. Inner Circle was a group we studied. How they used to back a lot of bands back in Jamaica in the 70s, in learning every genre and artists’ music. So there was just a love there for them and at the time Sweat and Bad Boys were on top of the world selling millions of copies. They’re just iconic when it comes to reggae music and Jamaican culture.

Last year’s Return tour sound was very loud – like a rock concert. You were by far the loudest on your day at Rototom compared to Beres, Sly and Robbie and Derrick Morgan.

GRAMPS: When it comes to the production of our music we take it very seriously. We carry the best engineer and some of the best musicians out of Jamaica.  And the Morgan Heritage sound is a very aggressive reggae sound. Our music is reggae music with a rock edge so if you listen to a John Holt or a Marcia Griffiths and then you put Morgan Heritage on after it’s going to be like “Woooaaah!” It’s a different energy. It’s reggae rock ‘n’ roll. Like I was telling you, we grew up in the United States like rock kids who became rock artists. The artists we were listening to were Van Halen and Duran Duran because we weren’t born in Jamaica. It’s not that typical smooth thing. It’s aggressive. It’s hard. It’s not just reggae music – it’s Rrrrrrrrockaz!

We grew up in the United States like rock kids listening to Van Halen and Duran Duran

Gramps’ son Jemere is now in the music your father Denroy has bounced back from his problems to put a new tune out I’ll Rise To Fight Again. Morgan music is coming out across three generations.

GRAMPS: Well everything comes in the power of three. My father’s new song is just an amazing testimony to what he’s been through in the past year and how he’ll Rise To Fight Again. Jemere is the third generation. Us returning, we’re coming back stronger than ever, with every brand. Everything people have missed about Morgan Heritage – we’re back.

PEETAH: Dad’s been doing music since before we were born and he’s always been inspired by music. It never changes for him. He’s who we learned from. My father’s never stopped doing music. It’s been a while since he put something out but this is just the latest offering that he’s put to music.

GRAMPS: I think it’s a beautiful record. I think it’s fitting. I think it’s him. And it’s good for him because a lot of people just know Denroy Morgan as the father of Morgan Heritage. He was an artist before being the manager of Morgan Heritage. And now that is established he can focus on himself and enjoy his younger children.

How does Denroy feel about the new record?

GRAMPS: Our father couldn’t be more proud or more blessed. Knowing that his seeds are being contributors to society and focussed on doing their best to do good and inspire others. I spoke to him this morning and he was telling me about how he’s listened to the album and he thinks it’s one of our best works to date. He’s in great spirits.

The hiatus you took was inspired by your father’s vision – how is that vision taking shape now?

PEETAH: He envisioned this when we were much younger. That one day we were going to do solo projects just like the Jackson family. We were like “We’re not going to do that” because sometimes he saw visions before we could see them. But it became a reality and we’ve all embraced it. We got a lot of flak from our fan-base but by the second year people started understanding and enjoying the solo projects like they would Morgan Heritage. But after five years they started demanding Morgan Heritage again because at the end of the day, it’s the biggest brand we have. There’s no solo project that can outshine the works Morgan Heritage put in over fifteen years. The solo projects were a great journey and now we have more brands than just Morgan Heritage. It was a great investment of our time and creativity and we have a lot more to work with going into the future.

Our father envisioned that one day we were going to do solo projects just like the Jackson family

GRAMPS: I believe human beings always want to challenge ourselves. We can’t get used to the same things over and over. We sat down as a family and said “Remember in Paris in 1999 after we got offstage and our father said we should explore this option?” We told him he was crazy! “No daddy, Heritage for life!” But he is the founder of the group and the visionary of the family when it comes to certain things. So we decided it was time to take that challenge. Each individual growing is going to make the group stronger and it’s apparent in Here Come The Kings. Listening to everybody during the recording say “Me never know you could do that” we were amazing each other!

You are back in London in July with Beres and Marcia Griffiths – how are you going to make this one memorable like last year?

PEETAH: Last year was history. This is the first time Morgan Heritage and Beres have toured together and it’s history again in the UK. Beres Hammond is a legend in the UK and Morgan Heritage get a lot of support and love in the UK. So it’s like two juggernauts meeting to satisfy the audience we both have.

GRAMPS: And Marcia Griffiths is a living legend – so the fans are getting one generation in Beres and Marcia and the new generation with Morgan Heritage. We want young kids to know about this new movement we started called Cool To Be Conscious Music.  It’s the name of our new label but it’s going to be a movement where we go to schools and do worker programmes. We want kids to know it’s Cool To Be Conscious. We want to recognise kids that are focussed in school, not trying to be the bad guy, the clown, following fads, but trying to be a lawyer, a doctor, someone that’s going to contribute to society.

Describe the new album in one word.

PEETAH: Classic

GRAMPS: One word. That’s a good one….. Authentic

What would you say you have learned from the last few years?

PEETAH: To be patient. Take your time with things and just live your life to the fullest. Because tomorrow is promised to no one so enjoy every day instead of always thinking about tomorrow, next week or next year. Enjoy each day for what each day brings and when the day is over then you plan for tomorrow. Patience is a thing I’ve learned growing older. 

GRAMPS: To stay steadfast. To stay focussed. Perseverance is one of the biggest things I’ve learned.


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Read comments (3)

Posted by beve sinclair on 06.09.2013
Wicked interview...

Posted by JAHSELAH on 06.26.2013

Posted by JAHSELAH on 06.26.2013

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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