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Interview: Niney The Observer (Part 2)

Interview: Niney The Observer (Part 2)

Interview: Niney The Observer (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"Cassandra was before None Shall Escape The Judgment. You can hear that flying cymbal"


Read part 1 of this interview.

In part two of our exclusive interview with Niney he recalls his great run producing Dennis Brown, why he invented the “flying cymbals” sound and how, while others are writing books he wants to go into the movies…

Niney The Observer

Dennis Brown and the great run of songs that began with Westbound Train

“I knew Dennis from a little guy. When he used to sing they used to put him on some Red Stripe beer boxes to reach the mic. When I was working with Bunny Lee he would try to come in there. Slim Smith was my good friend and we would sing songs together –Slim used to practise his guitar up there. This little youth would come out with us. He always loved Slim Smith. We decided to carry him to Bunny Lee’s camp but Bunny’s camp was too rough for him – it was for pure big men. But we knew a nice guy named Derrick Harriott so we took him there and from there he started.

When he got big now he was playing with a band named Miss Ivy and Now Generation band. He was with Coxsone too. Dennis Alcapone and the whole of them would sit down too. I saw him one day and said to him “Listen, check me”. I made a song and when I was making the rhythm round at Joe Gibbs’, Joe said “This don’t want nobody to sing upon it. Just give it a name and put a few things on it like Lee Perry do – making those instrumental songs”. I said “No, I have this little guy. I want to burst this little guy and give him a number one – his name’s Dennis Brown”.

I knew Dennis from a little guy

When he did the song we were going to the beach. When he came back he said he wanted a little smoke so I stopped where he was based at Orange Street and he said “Skipper, every time I spit I spit blood” and when he coughed I saw the blood. So I carried him to the hospital on Hope Road, George V and it was there they found out he had tuberculosis. And while he was there the song started building up, building up, building up until the big thing was everybody saying Dennis Brown, Dennis Brown, Dennis Brown and from there he started to work.

Soul Syndicate were the ones who were supposed to go to England with him but they were going to California to play some big concert with a guy named Warren. I think it’s the same guy who keeps the big Sierra Nevada festival. So instead they got Lloyd Parks and We The People with Sly and they came over here. It wasn’t a really good thing for him because when he came here it was pure animosity. He said he never got money and so I had to fly back with him and stay here with him and try to get him married to this girl Yvonne. Castro [Brown] was the bridesman or whatever. After that he just took on to England.”

The lyrics to Dennis Brown I Am The Conqueror

“In those days Jazzbo was calling the sisters Leggo Beast and we didn’t like that so we decided to write a song to correct it. That’s why we said you should never call the sisters Leggo Beast. We and Jazzbo – we were just teasing and warning him “Don’t do that with the sisters them”.”

The influence of American soul and R&B on songs like Westbound Train (Al Green – Love and Happiness) and Take A Trip (The Drifters – On Broadway)

“Sometimes you just do a rhythm and think “Hey, this could drop in there” and you drop it. Or just take a few words from some songs that had come out already. It’s not something where you listen to a song and say “I’m going to do that over”. In those days when we reached the standard we reached in those times – we never even had to go back to the American thing because the American thing was covered. So we were doing our thing now but still through America covering everything already, most words you say, it would fall back on “take a trip” and whatever. Some of it comes under divine influence.”

In those days everybody claimed they were Rasta. They just used the Rasta to get what they wanted

The flying cymbals sound and the difference between Niney’s sound and Bunny Lee’s

“In those days we would create the sound before we even went into the studio. We were trying to create new things. Bunny Lee’s thing was a different thing because he listened to other things – most of his songs were not really original. If you listen to songs like Stick By Me with John Holt – most of them are like a do-over thing. Bunny Lee is not a man who would stand up and say “This is what I want” and then go into the studio and say “I want my guitar to go up. I want my drum like three in the air”. He is not a creator. He listens to songs and says “Hey, I want it like THIS one”.

Listen to the thing which he called “Flying Cymbals” and if you listen to my song [with Dennis Brown] Cassandra. What really happened when I made Cassandra was I had two leads, two hooks that I could come with. I had the guitar going “cheng-eh” and I have the flyer going “tist tist tist”. I held down the cymbal and came with the guitar and said next time I was going to come up with the cymbal.

But Bunny went to Tubbys and when Tubbys was cutting the dubs he dropped out the guitar and the cymbals were flying and he heard it. Then he just went off and Johnny Clarke came with this song None Shall Escape and he just said “Go with the cymbal”. He is not the original for that cymbal. In reggae I am the original for it. If you listen and when anyone out there and when you put it out there you can tell them ANYONE to listen to Cassandra which was before None Shall Escape The Judgment. You can hear that flying cymbal – although we turned it low – then he can turn up the drum and bass and say he was the original of the flying cymbal.

When I did Cassandra and decided to go with the flyers I decided to get some paper – Fully and Tony and Chinna can tell you right now that I wasn’t using guitarists. All of those guys – it was mouth we were going to use. Ossie Hibbert was the one who was to play the organ with his mouth. He was a stammer guy so I would say I wanted him to play this thing, a “took-oo took-oo”. Rupie Edwards came down there with Lee Perry the night we were rehearsing it and Rupie Edwards just went with it and called it the “Skeng-eh”. That was my thing he took. But I don’t quarrel over it. So when people asked him how did he get the idea he said he was high smoking whatever and that is why the song dropped from number ten right out of the chart. Because he never spoke any truth. In those days when he was talking about smoking they were never promoting smoking on the radio. So he just got a big lick there. Jah just gave him a big lick.

Listen and when you’re writing pay attention to that and let the fans listen. Cassandra was before None Shall Escape the Judgment. If you don’t hear the flying cymbal when Tubbys mixed it he mixed upon immediate bass because he wanted to use it again.”

Communicating with Soul Syndicate

“These guys they knew everything about me. If they were playing a rhythm and I walked they’d know how to set the beat. If I ran they would know what to do. They’d know to change it. If they saw my face look away and I’d walk a certain way they would just know how to play it differently. We’d always have that code.”

Michael Rose and Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner

“Michael Rose was a youth I saw at a talent show one night. He was singing but he never came in anywhere of consequence because a girl had come first. When the show finished I saw him sat down in the corner by himself. I said “Youth, you is a good singer man. No matter that. No watch that. Listen, check me at 91 Orange Street”. At that time Michael Rose was a professional tailor.

I took him into the camp for around three months before I recorded him. I was just talking to him going round with him and moving like that. The first two tunes he sang I couldn’t put out because he sounded like Dennis. He was with me and Dennis in the camp so he wanted to be like Dennis. So when he sang Love Between Us and Freedom I couldn’t go with it. I said “Look, youth, if I put this out Dennis will get all the fame not you. I have to hold back these songs and wait till the right time comes”.

So I went to England and then came back. Then one day I went up to Joe Gibbs with him and said “Youth, your day today. Remember a man named Sidney Poitier? Remember a show named Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Your song – it’s not the movie – but it’s going to be named Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”. Me, him and Dennis Brown worked on it. We put it out there and that was it – it just took off. From that we kept working and we are friends from that day up to now. I hear enough people – Sly there remixed it, this person did that, guys came and took it and said what happened, but I was the first one with it.”

Niney The Observer

The lyrics to I Soon Know

“In those days everybody would just come up and say “I man a Rasta”, “Eh you cyaan talk to I man hey bwoy me a Rasta”. So I thought “They say them say Rasta but them nah live the words. Them have the talk but them nah live the livity”. The man who said they were a Rasta were dishonest and violent too. So I said “Alright if this is how it go, so it go” and I decided to make that song.

I sang I Soon Know because after a while if you are claiming you are holy we will soon know. Because prophecy must fulfil so we would see who it would fulfil upon. Gradually if you lived the true life we would be there to see it so.

In those days everybody claimed they were Rasta. Why? They just used the Rasta to get through what they wanted – rape certain things, rip off certain things. Just like when a hurricane comes. Everybody is bawling saying “Man, me house blow down” I can’t go there and do nothing, so I’m looking to you for a little aid”. It’s like that. When the Rasta thing came they were just riding on the Rasta bandwagon.”

The beat has come back to rocksteady and they are still calling it “reggae”

How modern one drop reggae in Jamaica is not really reggae – it’s rocksteady.

When Linford Anderson and Clancy Eccles first went out there it was the same beat they call one-drop today but they called it rocksteady. So they decided to move up the beat from that low to a higher level. Most of the songs were up there – uh – uh – uh –uh – near to the ska. It was a different flavour.

But after a while the beat has come back now to the same rocksteady they were playing and they are still calling it “reggae” which is not right. Because if you listen the beat is the same (makes bass noise with mouth) – ah-woo-woom (makes one drop snare clap with hand) – it’s the same rocksteady but they’ve gone back down into it and they still say it’s reggae.

It’s because of their lack of ideas. When we were making songs back in those days you’d sit down and say “This is what I’m going to do” – you’d think and you’d come up with ideas. But these guys now all they do is just listen to songs “I hear this song Nanny Goat it sounds good” and they pick something out of there and drop it the same like Nanny Goat and then say it’s reggae.

The whole of them are just a bunch of copycats. They’re not original. Most of the producers they are reducers. Most of them don’t have ideas to tell the musicians what they want. Any musician plays for me and I can go in and set the trend. I can say “This is what I want and if I want this in G or in C for from G to G flat or sharp or whatever you play that. This style is what I want you to play. And when you’re done playing for me and you give me that cut then you can take a cut for yourself – see if you can beat the one I have on tape”. Most of them try a thing and when they try a thing they say “Hey man, the first cut is the deepest so we’re not even going to try it”. That is why sometimes I have so many cuts of one song.”

Most of the producers they are reducers. Most of them don’t have ideas

Whether he will publish a book like Bunny and Scratch

“No. When I do my book I want the real people to do my book. I want to do a true book. I want to do what’s happening. What was before my time, what is my time and then the time that is now, after my time. I don’t want a book that I have to fill up with pure artists’ pictures. I want a book that when I finish it a few movie or documentary people can say “Hey, I really want to document this story”. You see, everybody is taking the same story out there. They recycle it, recycle it over and over and over.

I don’t want that. I want the truth. The truth hurts but I want the truth. I was here from the starting of the thing through how it came down and I don’t want to pretty up anything. I want to do it from when a rude boy carried his gun to dances and said “Hey, this is what I want fi hear for the night. I want fi hear them tune deh” and a little fight would kick off and a little thing would go on but nobody would die. Guns were never prevalent like now. Some gunshots would fire and a guy might cut one time there – it just happened. These are the things we have to come with.

The truth hurts but I want the truth

I produced the artists and when we are talking about them we will put a picture there but I don’t want my book with 250 pages and you have 750 pictures in there. My book – somebody is going to have to approach me. I have it. I have the story. Every day I can talk about my story.

And I have a studio. I don’t say I have the best studio but I have one of the greatest studios in Jamaica. I have Protools equipment. I have analogue equipment. 24 track tape. When I start I’m going to start heavy. Every day I go in there I can put on a tape and say something of what I remember and I can talk my story. So when somebody comes I can play them the tape just like how you are interviewing me saying what happened and what didn’t happen.

But I’m not running to do a book and get myself messed up out there. And any time I am going into my book I’m going to a killer of a movie. Somebody has to pick it up and say “Man, read this – it’s a movie”. Because guess what? The movie industry now is short of ideas. And most of the music industry is short of lyrics. So anywhere they hear new lyrics it will catch on like that. They will do what they hear. So you have to be careful out there. So I don’t watch them – they are writing their books but my book is a different book.”

They are writing their books but my book is a different book

Niney’s idea for a movie screenplay called Mafia Money

“I have some mafia films that I really watch sometimes. You might be seeing people dying... but sometimes it’s good. Sometimes it’s good to take from the poor and give to the rich and sometimes it’s good to take from the rich and give to the poor. Sometimes the poor have some real ideas but they do not have the money to make from the thing. Sometimes you can take it from the rich man make it into a thing where everybody can eat.

I like some of the mafia things out there. If you watch a true life thing like the one about this guy who was trying to make a life and he was working in this restaurant… the Godfather… it is survival. Trying to make money and trying to better yourself. I watch a lot of movies.

I have a movie - Mafia Money and when I say Mafia Money I mean a lot. You’d sit down and watch it and really say “Hey! Oh shit, Mafia Money!” and the way how it is going to end up – it’s going to save a lot of people. People are going to eat and all these things. We’re talking about taking some money from the mafia to give the poor people. They don’t need it. Take some money from the rich and take some money from the mafia to give to the poor. I would like to see a big movie industry come in and say “Hey, I’m interested in this”. Mafia Money it’s massive. It’s a massive movie. The screams for that when it launches! I know all the mafia – all mafias in the world are going to come and watch that movie. It’s going to change the world.”

I have a movie - Mafia Money

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