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Interview: Cedric Myton

Interview: Cedric Myton

Interview: Cedric Myton

By on - Photos by Fred P - Comment

"Music is a challenge so it's good to experiment"

Sampler

Cedric Myton is best known as the distinctive-phrased falsetto in the roots harmony group the Congos. The Congos are most lauded for their Lee Scratch Perry produced 1977 LP Heart of the Congos - which mainstream music critical consensus increasingly considers one of the greatest examples of its genre.

But before the Congos, Cedric’s sacred-lamb-vibrato was a powerful ingredient in the early works of the equally idiosyncratic Prince Lincoln’s Royal Rasses (who grew out of Cedric and Lincoln’s first quartet the Tartans).

When United Reggae caught up with Cedric at Garance festival 2014 he was taking a break from the Congos, on tour with drummer and deejay LeroyHorsemouthWallace and RZ Jackson. Our chance encounter, conducted under time constraints and without pre-prepared questions gave Myton an opportunity to discuss his career as a singer and songwriter in its own right.

Though his work in the Congos is rightly celebrated today, the road for Cedric has included its fair share of potholes en route. During this interview we covered his at times fractious relationship with the late Prince Lincoln – who left Jamaica to live his final years in London - why the Congos ruptured in the 80s and how they came back together in the 2000s. But a recurring reference in Cedric’s answers is his breezy refrain "that's just a part of life". Another is the importance of his wife who has supported him and helped write many of his songs.

Cedric Myton

You formed the Tartans in the early 60s with Devon Russell, Linbergh “Preps” Lewis and Lincoln Thompson.

I and Devon Russell formed the group. Linbergh Lewis was the third member. Prince Lincoln Thompson he was the last. He was the youngest. He was going to school as a younger kid.

Your rocksteady Federal release Dance All Night was a number one hit in Jamaica in 1966.

It was a number one - big hit big hit.

Why did that group split apart?

Well to be honest there was a controversy more of the time with Devon himself and Lincoln. Lincoln would go on like he was too rude sometimes. But through I being a rebel I would work with the both of them! (laughs) So we formed the Royal Rasses then. But at the same time as forming the Royal Rasses I had some work I still did with Devon Russell as the Tartans. I was working as the Tartans and working as the Royal Rasses too.

Lincoln would go on like he was too rude sometimes

Al Campbell told me that Lincoln was in a gang called the Pigeon Gang. Was Devon in it too?

No, not the Pigeon Gang. There was a gang called the Sweeties. We used to run around with those Sweeties brethren. The Pigeon Gang was a gang that came from Tower Hill and we were in Cockburn Pen. Tower Hill and Cockburn Pen was just like on a borderline and we as our group the Tartans used to sing (sings) “Gonna do the Sweetest dance… Gonna dance right now gonna do the Sweetest dance” so it was a part of the whole programme you know? (laughs)

So you and Lincoln formed the Royal Rasses and there were two other guys – Cap and Johnny Cool.

Yeah, I and Lincoln formed the group as two members of the Tartans. Johnny Cool was like the third member and then Cap came after. 

But Al Campbell was involved as well no?

Oh yeah! I have to call his name too. I spoke to him last week. Al was like a family member of Lincoln’s baby mother – so they are family. So he was a young kid learning to sing at the time – he was quite young – but he was trying to sing until he became a good singer today! So big up Al Campbell there one time! (laughs) He also did some of the backing tracks on the Royal Rasses stuff too.

He produced some tracks?

No, he didn’t produce them. He did some harmonies on some of those songs.

You can clearly hear your voice on the Humanity album. How big a role did you have in that album apart from singing?

Well I helped produce. I was a part of the production. Part of the money was my money. Not even my money – my wife’s money. I borrowed three pound draw from my wife to put in that album. And also Errol Thompson from JBC was a part of the production. So the album Humanity was produced my I myself, Lincoln Thompson, Errol Thompson and also Peterkin. Peterkin put the least money. Errol and I put the most money. And Sax (laughs) Sax put quite a bit of money – I won’t take it away from him!

I think the Rasses albums after Humanity, as good as they were, lost a dimension without your voice.

No you’re right. Because if I was to dedicate all my life and time to the Royal Rasses and the Royal Rasses didn’t go the way it went there wouldn’t be a Congos. So it had to go like that. Because, honestly, when Junior, which is Sax, Lincoln, got the advance from United Artists he never gave me any of the money. Not even Errol Thompson either. He took all that money and bought a house and a car up in Havendale. So when he came to me and told me that Jumbo, who was a part of United Artists crew, wanted me to come on tour I told him “No I not coming on no tour because I never got any of the money”. So I asked him “Where my money deh?” and he said the earth would open up and take him in before he’d give me a penny! Which was a very terrible thing to do and say.

The first songs Scratch heard he loved

But then you picked yourself up and started the Congos.

So I told him “Go ahead and do what you’re doing. I have other plans. Because at the same time I was thinking of moving in a different direction to form the Congos.

How did the Congos come together?

Well I knew Ashanti Roy from when we used to go to a brethren called Bongo Joe who was called the Righteous Brother. He was one of the leaders in Ras Michael and the Sons of Negus. He was the main drummer there. I don’t know if you ever heard of Bongo Joe but he was the one that played Darker Shade of Black and some more songs for Studio 1. Ashanti Roy used to come round Bongo Joe’s so that was how we got involved by knowing Bongo Joe and we used to sing with Bongo Joe. So eventually he asked Bongo Joe if he could do some work with me and that’s how we got to link up.

How did you link Scratch?

Cedric MytonWell we knew Scratch long while you know? But Scratch’s influence was more through Ashanti Roy. Through Ashanti Roy and Scratch growing up in the same district. But I used to know him also and Roy would say “Come we go check Scratch, come we go check Scratch” and the first songs Scratch heard he loved. He loved the whole programme. The first songs he heard were Solid Foundation and Children Crying.

In terms of the Heart of the Congos album what was the split in terms of the writing.

I did most of the writing to be honest. I and my wife did most of the writing but I still put Ashanti Roy’s name to them. Although he didn’t write them I still put his name to them which was a wrong thing I did! But it’s a part of life you know? (laughs)

Today a lot of people rate that album as one of the greatest roots reggae albums ever made. Scratch wanted Island to release the album but they didn’t, there was a Scratch mix on very limited release and a less rare Scientist mix before Blood and Fire put it out as a reissue in 1996 and that brought the album to the wider public.

Island got the album first but Island were never interested all that much. Island just took one song and said we didn’t have to do another song. Island took the Congo A Bongo song and said “This song can make the Congos. The Congos don’t have to do another song”. But that was not it. He was just thinking about Bob Marley alone. He was just focusing on Bob Marley.

Island were never interested all that much. He was just focusing on Bob Marley

If Chris Blackwell had released that album do you think you would have enjoyed the acclaim you got for it sooner?

It would have been a great impact. They put out one single on the Swan label, Congo A Bongo, and shelved the album. That was Island’s job to do. But that’s a part of life. Still the album was preserved until now and is still one of the greatest albums of all time.

Let’s move on to your second Congos album – 1979’s Congo Ashanti. The song Youthman – you wrote that? Was there anything happening at the time to inspire that?

Oh yes. Youthman was just an identical song to the things we go through saying “Hey youthman, don’t let them take your rights from you”. Yeah there were lots of things. It’s even more than one song. It was many, many songs. Songs like Thief In The Vineyard. Something happened when we made Thief In The Vineyard. When we did the Heart of the Congos album, when we pressed the Nicodemus somebody stole a portion of them downtown. That’s how that song Thief In The Vineyard came about. The song Yoyo is another song that made a great impact on the Congo Ashanti album. There was a friend in Bull Bay whose name was called I Stan. A short Rastaman. He was coming off the hill at Seven Mile Bull Bay playing a yoyo with two watches on his foot. He had one watch on this foot and one watch on that foot in a short pants coming off the hill throwing his yoyo like this! (laughs) So I said “Oh my God what an idea” and the idea just came to me for the song Yoyo just like that. My wife and kids were there. We were going to Nine Mile Bull Bay but we stopped at Seven Mile Bull Bay to check some people on the hill and he was throwing his yoyo about like this and the song just came about like that. And I think it was the same day when we were coming back too that there was rain falling and we stopped because the car got punctured at the stadium and the song Food For The Rainy Day came. (laughs) Yeah man, it’s all spiritual and physical.

When we pressed the Nicodemus somebody stole a portion of them downtown. That's how Thief In The Vineyard came about

Why did the Congos split for a while and why did they come back together?

Alright. To be honest, the split came about in the Congos in ’79 to be precise. After we did Congo Ashanti we were doing the Image of Africa album and we were also doing a documentary movie. So in the process of doing the documentary movie and doing the album Ashanti Roy wanted to lead some of the songs and I told him no, he couldn’t lead those songs because I created those songs and I needed to sing them. So he got very jealous and in the process of doing the work, one day when I went upstairs to see Mr Chin Loy and pay him some money, he went into the studio, coming to fight me, waving his nunchakus and took the album off the machine. Up to today when I’m talking to you now I don’t know where that tape is! And he still hasn’t given me an account, even when he came back and we joined back in 2005 in Jamaica. I asked him on that day “What did you do with that tape?” and he laughed and up to now he hasn’t given me an answer! Up to today I still don’t get an answer for what he did with that tape. But when he took up that tape half of the album was on the tape. So we had to go to America and the producer who was doing the album at the time ran into some money trouble. They didn’t have any more money to do the album so they sent us to America to see their friend so they could borrow some money. They borrowed some money from their friend in America to finish the album. So when we came back we had to do back the album all over again. Not all of the tracks but half of the album all over again.

He went into the studio, coming to fight me, waving his nunchakus and took the album off the machine

After the split you collaborated with the second wave ska group English Beat, you sang on Doors of Your Heart.

The English Beat was part of the Congos history also because the English Beat was the one who let me get a deal with Arista Records in 1980 for the Face The Music album which sold millions in Brazil and many other places but mainly Brazil. Thanks to Dave Wakeling, Ranking Roger Shuffler and the Cox - the whole crew.

So what was your motivation for the Congos to come back together again?

Well after Heart of the Congos came back out on Blood and Fire in ’96 the whole world was saying “Blah blah blah blah” and that we should do this. So I considered and me and my wife talked about it and said “OK”. Ashanti Roy came to America one time and said he wanted “an upgrade of the books” that’s what Ashanti Roy said. He wanted me to give him “an upgrade of the accounts of the Congos” after all these years. But I didn’t rush him or anything, we just talked and blah blah blah until eventually we did a reunion show at SOB’s in America. It was great. It was a sold out thing. So that was a part of it. So I went like that for a time but the real reunion never happened until I came back to Jamaica from America. I after went on tour in 2001 after the bombing. The bombing was in September and I left in October for a tour in Europe by a company called Matoma Productions. So I went on the tour and at the time there was a problem for me to go back to America. I just came without strengthening myself to go back – but that’s a part of life! (laughs) I was in Jamaica since 2002. So anyway the reunion came back after the Blood and Fire thing. When Blood and Fire put out the album I made a deal with Blood and Fire to put out the album but Ashanti Roy made some deal with some other people to put out the same album in England. So Blood and Fire had to pay those people money for the album to get rid of them and give him some money too. That’s a part of life.

Although Perry messed up at first he redeemed himself by giving us the back the album for ourselves

Mediacom got you and the Congos and Lee Perry back together for the 2010 album Back In The Black Ark. It featured several covers but also some strong songs by yourself.

Well that came about through Michel Jovanovic who was putting on a production because we were working with Mediacom at the time as an agent and he wanted us to do something with Perry. Now we and Perry were civil… everything did work out with us and Perry. For although Perry messed up at first he redeemed himself by giving us the back the album for ourselves. That was great that he did that. So we did some songs for Back In The Black Ark. One of the main songs was Garden Of Life. I wrote that song when we went to the airport to meet Lee and he said “We were preserved” or something like that. Those were the words he said so I said “Here it comes” and the idea just dropped “pop” and said “We were preserved into the garden of life”. That’s how that song came about.

You’ve recorded many interesting collaborations over the years but one of the most unusual was with the US Psychedelic group Sun Araw. I noticed you were doing some unusual things with your vocals even when touring the old Congos stuff after that. Siren type noises.

Well the rhythms were kind of very strange. I would say very strange rhythms. But you know I love to take challenges. I say music is a challenge so it’s good to experiment. So it was an experiment to do some of the songs (sings) “Sunshine your heart” (makes siren noises).

I have seven new albums which are not released

In 2013 you cut an album with Mad Professor as a solo artist. Now you’re on tour with Horsemouth and RZ Jackson. Are you working as a solo artist and doing Congos at the same time? What new projects can we expect?

Oh yeah man – great great great. Those works with Mad Professor are some great works. I love it. It’s a challenge. Yeah, I’m a revolutionary artist. I’m a rebellious artist. It’s just music in its pure form. At this time I have seven new albums which are not released. I am debuting some of the songs on my new album on my tour in the few weeks I am around. One of the songs is called Tilly Bam VP and another is a redo of Nina Simone’s song Baltimore. I think I gave it a little justice there for Nina.

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