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Interview: Flabba Holt in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Flabba Holt in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Flabba Holt in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"We never got a penny from Greensleeves boss"


Read part 1 of this interview

In part two of our exclusive interview with Flabba Holt, he explains how the Roots Radics were formed, how he gave Wycliffe Steely Johnson a start in the business, and why he doesn’t feel that he got the royalties he was promised for their work with Junjo Lawes

Flabba Holt

How did you form the Root Radics?

We formed the band, me and Bingy Bunny, because this brethren who used to sing in the Morwells, Blacka, he left and went a foreign. He said “Bwoy, Flabba why don’t you come sing?” I started singing in the Morwells and sang enough songs, me and Bingy Bunny and until Blacka Morwell went to foreign and left Bingy Bunny alone. So me and Bingy Bunny said “We ago form a little band yunno” and formed the Radics.

So after you and Bingy Bunny started the group how did the others join?

Well now, after me and Bingy Bunny started we called it Roots Rock band and we played with Fish Clarke.

When Scott crashed the cymbal I said "the bredda he sounds like we can bring him in"

Johnny Clarke’s brother.

He was stubborn when he played drums you know? He didn’t want to take no telling! I couldn’t deal with him. We used him because four of us used to play, me, Bingy Bunny, Fish Clarke and Snappin’. If we got a little session we’d run go upstairs to Randy’s and we’d do it. Now, one day we’re down town and we see a guy coming and we don’t know him. I don’t know if someone sent him to us but he came down and said his name is Scott. I said “What can you do?” and he said “Mi can play drum”.

So one day we carried him to a session at Randy’s and me, Scott – because we didn’t call him Style then – Bingy Bunny and Snappin’ played. In those times Sly Dunbar was wicked upon the drum but when Scott crashed (makes cymbal noise) I said to myself “the bredda he sounds like we can bring him in – he sounds better than Fish Clarke”. Because I never played with Horsemouth on drums because Horsemouth was one of those men who you can’t tame! That man was wild! That man would come like a lion! That man wouldn’t settle with a band! So we started to play and I said “Bingy, this brethren can we hold upon him?” because he crashed like how Sly Dunnbar would crash and that’s what you’d look for in the sound. So we said “Alright there, we deh deh” and we started to play play play.

So we had a brethren called Sowell now. He lived in a rough area. Sowell was a man who was creative – Noel Sowell Bailey. Because the same steel horn, he had a thing where the back of the steel horn, where the sound comes out of it, he hooked up a hose to it and blew the horn and played the guitar. He was the first man to play the violin on reggae music, was Sowell. He was a wicked man, a creative man. So then me, Sowell, Bingy Bunny and Style Scott we formed the band named Radics now. And the four of we a juggled.

Horsemouth was one of those men who you can’t tame!

How come you didn’t keep playing with Theophilus Beckford?

Because in those times now the man said they don’t want to use Snappin’. I still wanted to use Snappin’ and I said “Bwoy, if we no use Snappin’ we nah get no work yunno”. So I said “Bingy, what we ago do?” So we went to find Gladdy now on Maxfield Avenue and the man said “Yeah man, a better piano man this now” so me, Sowell, Style, Bingy Bunny and Gladdy start playing now. Sometimes we would use Santa, when Style had gone to camp.

So we played as Roots Rocks before we named Radics. We were the first band to go to Grenada in the early 80s. Me and Bingy Bunny, Bongo Herman, Style Scott and a little brown youth named Roy upon guitar. We went to play in some bar named the Lion’s Den. At the same time I think the brother named Bishop overthrew Grenada and they wanted us to join them. But we said “No, no, no, none of them thing, we come to play music man”. As we flew out in the plane a storm took over the area and we came back home we saw the man had overthrown Grenada and some man who we had met there too was some Rasta turned police!

How did you get the name Radics?

The Radics was a struggling band. Leggo really came up with the name. We said we wanted to form a little band and Gregory Isaacs said “Roots Rock” and I said “No man” and Leggo said “You ago call yourselves Radics”. Leggo Beast he was really there for we. One time I saw a brethren from England and I’ve forgotten his name. He used to write for Black Echoes. A little short guy. I just looked upon him and said “You know seh we have a band named the Radics?” and just gave a little interview and he carried it to England in the Echoes days. Because I am a man who must further my thing. Because every man says they started the thing but no one knows how the Radics came up – through Leggo Beast and Gregory Isaacs and the whole of we.

The Radics was a struggling band

What was the first session you all played together?

Well, the first session we played together was David Isaacs Just Like A Sea – hit tune. Big tune. Then we started to play a whole heap. So many songs that some we can’t remember them. But we hadn’t played an LP yet. We started playing a whole heap of singles for different people because everybody started hearing about Radics band now. We played one or two songs with Gregory but we never played an LP yet until a guy named Trevor Elliott found me and said “Flabba we have a singer named Edi Fitzroy – do you want to come and do an LP for him?” and I said “Yeah, alright no problem”. So we went to Channel One and that’s how we played on a whole album in one day now. Check For You Once. Big album man. Hit tune. Bad, bad LP that, man. The man said “No man ever played so much tune on one day – you good man”. We play play play play play. The amount of hit tunes we played upon!

Did you start to take over from Revolutionaries?

No, no, no, we didn’t start to take over from Revolutionaries [yet]. We started to play one or two songs. We play, we play, we play, we play until Junjo found me. Revolutionaries played for other people because Sly and Robbie played for promoters and Ranchie played for promoters. So as Revolutionaries were done playing we would go in with Junjo.

I don’t know how Junjo came and found me

How did you meet the young producer Henry Junjo Lawes?

I don’t know how Junjo came and found me. How him find me now boss? I don’t know who sent him come or what but he came and said I should come play in some songs for him. The man got me so nervous you know boss? The man said him have a session and he had some little youth and I said “Bring them come”. But this time I got nervous because those man lived in a versatile area, they lived in a badman area. Now we lived in a badman area but we wondered “Wha gwaan?” because we wondered if we will get paid? Channel One was in a bad area. Most people were afraid of Maxfield Avenue, boss.

In those days Channel One had a drum set in there, a 24 Ludwig, a good one they would play for themselves. But any time they were done they would take out the good drum set and hide it and give we the old drum set. We would still play with it and one day we saw Junjo come in with a whole heap of man, Eekamouse, Barrington Levy, Michael Prophet, little Boyo. I didn’t know them but off of records I knew their names. The studio must have had about 30 odd men in it. The man had two 24 track tapes and I don’t know how so many tunes could be held on one tape. But we just recorded and recorded and recorded and tomorrow again. I don’t know where he got the money from. Anyway, we did it. We played, they paid us. Rahtid.

We’d played a couple of songs with Santa and with Bo Pee, different musicians. Because most of those musicians were big musicians who didn’t want to play with my crew. Because in those times Junjo played with a pick up band – like Bo Pee, Winston Wright, Gladstone Anderson, Santa upon drums. Until one day I said “I will bring in my crew”. Bingy Bunny said “They can play” and I said “They can play”. And we did play and we sounded wicked and I said “Yeah, didn’t I tell you about my crew man?” So that’s how come Junjo knew my crew - me and Sowell and Style

Channel One was in a bad area. Most people were afraid of Maxfield Avenue

The first Barrington album you did with Junjo was a big album.

Yeah man.

Some historians have pinpointed it as the beginning of dancehall.

No, let me tell you something about dancehall music boss. When I was a youth no man ever talked about dancehall music. No music was ever named dancehall music. Because all of those ska tunes I was telling you about – those tunes all played in a dance. Because sounds set up, man went there and paid their money, paid like 30 cents or sometimes the gate man might know you and let you in free.

So when we talk about dancehall, no tunes were named dancehall tunes, boss. Man talk about how they make dancehall tunes - enough tunes play in a dancehall because it’s a place where sounds string up in there. Places named Forrester’s Hall, Chokomo Lawn and a whole heap of places. Sounds would string up and people would pay money and they were called dancehalls. We didn’t make dancehall music. We made music boss and it would go in a dancehall and mash up the place. Because you know what I really loved with my crew? You had some man who would go to listen to what are the people are dancing to. I did not do that. I would make them know I was different. I’d play music to mash up the dancehall.

We didn’t make dancehall music. We made music boss

How did Steely Johnson, later of Steely and Clevie, join the band on keyboards?

Well we’d play, play, play, play until one day we played a session with Winston Wright on a whole heap of songs where Barrington Levy would come in and sing. At Channel One I would always sit down right by the glass with the bass so could I see the engineer through the glass. I had an uncle who fixed watches on the same Swettenham Road, the Channel One road, way down at the bottom. I saw a little youth come in and I saw him stay so. Every time I looked round from the bass I saw the youth. I thought “Who that youth who look upon me so?” When I’d played for a time I saw the youth had disappeared.

I came back to the session again and again I see the youth look upon me. I said “Come here my youth. I no like it when somebody a look upon me so”. He said “Somebody sent me”. I said “What you can do?” He said “I can’t do nothing but I just watch the music”. They said “Flabba you cool man?” and I said “No, no him my little friend man” because he was barefoot and rugged now boss. I see people scorned him because he looked shabby. So I started to send him out now. I sent him and he went. But if you went to send him out he would not go. You would have to ask me and I would say “Buy something for that man” and make him buy something for you.

One day we were playing some songs for Junjo, I think it was the first tune Barrington Levy, Prison Oval Rock. I found the bass line and said “Alright then”. So the man them took a break and then I saw a man fly past me and go on the piano (imitates someone messing on the piano) So I said “My youth, come off the piano because the man no likes people playing upon their things brethren”. He said “Music mi can play” so I said “Play something for me to hear” and he played and something licked me. I said “Alright my youth” and I said “Barrington Levy come here and sing the tune. You said you can play so play something”. When Barrington Levy started the youth started to bang. I said “No man, Barrington Levy stop. My youth, play again”. He made the thing and I said “No man, something wrong” and when the man had gone to lunch and it was just me and him in the session I said “You hear me? When them man come back we are going to make you play the tune there”. I said “My youth, sit down at the piano and don’t move”.

The man came in and said “Flabba you ready?” and I said “Yeah man, we ready but Barrington Levy is going to sing and my youth is going to play one tune”. Everybody said “No man, no sir”. Because in those days, musicians, if a producer looked upon you and said, “we are going to play five tune. You are going to play two and the big musician is going to play three” then the big musician isn’t going to want you to play on none boss. So I said “Brethren, look how much you play and this man can’t play one tune?” And they lick out and Winston said “No man, it supposed to be mi a play. Mi nah play no more tune for Junjo”. So you know what I did? I just leant up my bass and walked up Swettenham Road. I went up to Chisholm Avenue. So I came back down and said “Why can’t the man play one tune? Look how much you play? The man no eat your food” So Junjo gave him money and paid him and the session clocked off so I just called in my crew and said “Scotty come, saddle up, Bingy Bunny, Sowell, come in! Gladdy, you as a big elder man, siddung there you no move!” We played the song and the song bust! They paid the youth and he disappeared.

So I guess he came back?

Flabba HoltHe came back the next day and I said “My youth, which part you live?” and he said he lived in August Town. I said “What your name?” and he said “They call me Steely” So any session we would go up to August Town in a taxi and say “Steely!” because he lived way up the hill boss. August Town was a bad, bad area in those days. People were afraid to go there. In the night time sometimes we’d call him out of his bed because I wanted that youth to play because that youth, he had the feel.

So we would bring him, bring him, bring him and by now Junjo would bring his crew of man now. Michael Prophet, Eekamouse, Billy Boyo, Barrington Levy, all kinds of man in the studio, gone packed up. And boss, when those man would start to sing and we’d play tunes, Steely, he’d get excited. When we’d play on Gunman he would (puts on high voice) “Jesus Christ, Lord Almighty, bwoy, big tune that!” So he stayed and when we had a hit tune from that he would get versatile. But Winston Wright, he is dead, God rest his soul, never sat down and played a tune with me again from that day. If Winston Wright had never got up, then nobody would ever hear anything about Steely. I don’t know if somebody would have really taken him up. I said “You are my student”. I said “Me, you, Style Scott and Bingy Bunny are go mash up the place”.

How did Dwight Pinkney join the band on lead guitar?

Now Sowell is a man like this. He was prejudiced. Now and again he was on and off. On and off. So I said “Sowell, hear this – most time if a man want hear you upon session you nah want go”. I didn’t know if something was wrong with him. So we’d play, play, play, play, play then we couldn’t find Sowell. Then the man said “We can’t take up Bingy Bunny, he can’t play the lead guitar too tough”. So we got Bo Pee and did the “cha, cha, cha,” thing and I said “Bo Pee still didn’t have the feel”. So we carried on playing and we said “We nah gwaan play lead guitar yunno. Four of we gwaan play. Me, Steely, Bingy Bunny and Gladdy” until, boss, we bucked up on a man named Dwight. I don’t know if Style Scott found him but Style brought him to my studio. I’d known him a long, long time since he played for Zap Pow but Style Scott brought him and I said “Boss, that’s it. We no find Sowell again. Sowell disappear”. We couldn’t find Sowell so we just settled on Dwight.

If Winston Wright had never got up, nobody would ever hear about Steely

Didn’t Sowell go to England?

Well, Dwight still had his permanent thing with Zap Pow. He was gone on tour and we didn’t have anyone to play so we found back Sowell. Sowell said he’d fitted back in but he’d go and come – same way. In the 80s we went to England and Sowell again was a problem. We went to England in ’81 with Gregory Isaacs. We were ready to fly out, boss, ready to go to England with Gregory – me, Bingy Bunny, Style Scott and Steely. No Sowell to be found again. That time Gregory bought a ticket for him. We said “How we ago manage?” We said we didn’t want any musician from England because we come from Jamaica.

We went to the place called Brixton. Four of us, boss. We went in and turned it upside down. Turned it up! In England they couldn’t believe four men sounded so boss! We were in a place called Green Street in London in a little apartment. They said they wanted us back by big demand for the next show again. Because when we were in Brixton it was a place with pure seats where you could sit down, like a theatre. When we went back there boss, every seat came out of the place. Then Sowell came, and I knew we would kill it now and, boss, that’s when we started to kill them! They couldn’t believe five men sounded so. Back by big demand. Me, Sowell, Bing Bunny, Style Scott and Steely. Mash up with Gregory Isaacs.

So it was, we decided we would go home now. Sowell said he would not come. I said “Sowell, how you mean you nah come down?” He said he’s not coming. So we came back and we found back Dwight. Style Scott found him and he said is not playing with Zap Pow any more. So we said “alright then. Sit een.” He said “What happened the guitarist?” We said “We left him in England”. So it came now that the five of us started to fight it boss, with Gladdy. Yeah man, pure hit tune we played. In that time, as Revolutionaries came out we went in. So we played, back and forth until by the time they went to foreign on tour, we just took over. We just started playing wicked tunes so by the time they came back they couldn’t get a session! We got all the sessions now boss. We started playing for Linval Thompson now.

You did some great tunes for Linval, what was he like to work with as a producer?

Well, Linval Thompson, now you’re getting down the point. You see, most of the time, in those days, session money was cheap. So when certain artists would come to you and give a portion of money to record now – they’d come and ball to we to keep back the rest of their pockets. I’d say “Bwoy, you have a session booked but you say this can’t pay so you do a portion of song?” Like when you did 20 songs we’d just negotiate and say “Alright then”. He’d always pay us still but because we were doing a portion of songs we’d take the money still.

We played a whole heap of songs for Linval Thompson. A whole heap of songs. And you know one of the sweetest things? Freddie McGregor passed through and did an LP for Linval Thompson and we must have done about ten tunes. I’ll show you something, I don’t boast and show off, all the songs you hear, it’s me that raised them out. I would bring the tape and say “We ago lick the riddim deh” and “We ago lick this and we ago do it different”. Because when Eeekamouse came and sang “A wa do dem” he said he wanted the rhythm like Shank I Sheck (sings bassline) and I played it different (sings Wa Do Dem) It sounds different. You can hear Shank I Sheck but I played it different. And it was a big tune. Anyway, when the session was done Freddie McGregor sat down at the gate, at the studio door. Freddie McGregor came over and said “Bloodcleet Flabba, can mi sing one more tune?” and I said “Come een man”. Guess which tune it was?

Big Ship?

Big Ship. Boss, you see how the music business is funny? You do ten or eleven songs and the tunes are bad and the man can come out of the studio with a hit tune in his mouth – Big Ship. He sang “Big Ship…” and I said “Hold on, man we ago make an intro”. I said “Scotty” (imitates Big Ship intro drum and bass line) and I said “Freddie, this hear tune ya, it a the big tune this”. You see how it’s funny? That man was coming out of the studio. If he’d never turned back he would have gone with that tune because that session was done you know? We got paid and everything and then that man said “One more tune” and turned back and that was the big tune.

As Revolutionaries came out we went in

Who did you enjoy working for more – Linval or Junjo?

Well, you know Linval did sing some songs for Junjo. Because in those days you’d have Johnny Clarke singing and Linval Thompson coming to sing some songs for Bunny Lee. The youth sounded wicked. He didn’t really sing upon the key but he did have a style. But then I came and found him and he started singing some songs for Junjo and I don’t know if it got him jealous, but when he started to get some money and things he started to produce too.

Because Junjo was a wicked producer. And when I say he’s wicked it’s like we’d look upon him and say “We want we and you fi own those riddims. We are the studio band now – we don’t want no more session money.” He went and told Greensleeves this and we signed a paper saying “Junjo all the riddim dem, me ago own them” and saying “Any money you make, you can do all the thing dem you want do but we ago own the riddim dem”. Publishing, like because in those days the musicians just played, and didn’t get any money.

You know what Junjo did? He still went to Greensleeves and took their money and came down and he didn’t pay we and built a big house on the hill there. I said “Any time you go England again you must show them the paper” but he went to England and when he came back down he was dead. And I got no money from Greensleeves. I would really like to get some money. Because all the Radics are dead and me alone is the only living one. Style Scott was the last man dead. Bingy Bunny first, then Steely, then Sowell dead. Their pickney have to eat food. Look how many songs they played. People think Radics have a whole heap of money. We got no money there boss. Because Junjo and we signed the paper and he went to England and got money from Greensleeves and we still had to play the tunes for him thinking everything was alright. As co-owners of the rhythms. But he never came back and said “Bwoy, everything alright”. He was dead in England.

It’s like, Bingy Bunny used to play on those tunes, and Greensleeves wanted the rhythms to play long, like for five minutes, but Bingy Bunny would tend to play like “chikki chikki chikki” (imitates guitar outro) So one time Junjo came to him and said “Flabba, the man them say Bingy Bunny the guitar man, they no like that part”. But I said “Bingy Bunny does that when the song is done. You can’t take out that”. So Greensleeves were vexed because they wanted a discomix out of a three minute song. Because in those times we never played those songs long but they wanted a long playing record. I don’t know what Junjo told them, boss, but I found that Junjo didn’t use us anymore. He started to use High Times band in Channel One.

So that was the end of your relationship with Junjo…

So that’s how come Linval Thompson came upon us now. We started to play for Linval because Junjo was using a different band. So we started playing for Linval Thompson and Linval’s tunes start to bust out! They got big. Greensleeves found their tunes did not sell again. But Junjo never told them it was a different band. So he got money but Greensleeves thought he was using the same band so they started saying “How come the tunes don’t sell?” Junjo got jealous and came back for us and I said “We nah go play no more for you”.

That’s how he came to go to England run away. The amount of money Junjo had left for me, a whole heap, and a whole heap of my ideas, a whole heap of my tapes, but we signed a paper and we got nothing. Enough people don’t know this. This is the first time I put this in an interview boss. Junjo was a wicked producer to Radics and the man went and got money and built a big house out of Radics and paid us nothing. That’s how come I stopped playing tunes for Junjo and couldn’t take it anymore. I played tunes for Linval Thompson and Jah Thomas and told him we’d not play any more tunes for him because he disrespected we.

Just because Bingy Bunny played a little “chikki chikki chikki” he used High Times band. All these things like Police In Helicopter and Sweetie Come Brush Me it caused one big fuss one time. It caused a big fuss because Santa played in High Times band with Chinna and all them. Because I went down to Chancery Lane and I saw Santa and he said they played it. I said “no Santa man. When you hear that tune, Radics style deh. You can’t play that tune”. That’s how we stopped playing for Junjo so he found nothing was going on for him and he must have gone to England. I don’t know what he went to do in England but he went to England did something. He was dead in England. Wicked boy that brother man.

We played on a whole heap of Yellowman, Barrington Levy, Michael Prophet, Billy Boyo. The amount of hit tunes we played for Junjo and he didn’t treat us good. You are the first man to get this. Live and direct. I talk from the heart. Greensleeves, those people don’t even know anything. Because they gave Junjo money to pay us and the man never paid us. We signed a paper with Junjo and I don’t know if he showed them. Greensleeves own the rhythms and we played them. We signed the paper because we said we are the resident band now so we want royalties – and he said “Yeah man”. Then he went to England and got money and didn’t show them the paper we signed. All that whole heap of songs and we never got a penny from Greensleeves boss.

The amount of hit tunes we played for Junjo and he didn’t treat us good

The engineer Scientist has complained of a similar situation.

Yeah, yeah, same thing. What I get to understand is Scientist sued them but Scientist should have called me too. Because they used Scientist’s name and Radics names on the most of the albums and we got nothing. Junjo, he have us a good break. I’m going to really beat him still because he gave us a good break to make the name. Because other producers never gave us that run there.

But at the same time Junjo should have known to give us our money too. He could have made us own half of the rhythms so he could have made money and we could make money. When we did a certain amount of songs he went to Greensleeves and made a bag of money. He was driving a Benz and I was walking and saying “Wha gwaan Junjo?”

Scientist has also said on many occasions that King Tubby never mixed the Roots Radics. Is that your memory too?

Never, never, never. We played some songs for Junjo but in those times it was four track. Tubbys had a studio and sometimes some man would want a Tubbys mix but Tubby never really mixed like a session. Because Tubbys studio wasn’t like a live studio. It was a mixing studio and a voicing studio. It didn’t have a drumset. It wasn’t a session studio. We’d record songs but Tubbys would not mix it. He’d just hear songs and just mix. He’d not really question it.

OK, I meant mix your rhythms in his studio. I guess you weren’t there so you wouldn’t know.

But Scientist now was at Tubbys, Waterhouse and he came down to Channel One. Scientist never knew about the live thing neither. Like a man like Barnabas would show you certain things. When certain things didn’t run right we’d just call Barnabas who lived next door to Channel One just a little stone’s throw away. Sometimes when Scientist didn’t put up the thing we’d go “Call Barnabas” because Barnabas knew about the studio he knew about the board. Barnabas would record us some of the time too. Because producers like Junjo didn’t want Scientist because he thought Scientist didn’t know certain things. Barnabas knew the board and he knew certain little things.

I’ll give you a joke now. Because Channel One gave us the old drums. I don’t know what Scientist did one day but he must have got access to go in the room and he found these pretty drums in the room. (laughs) Boss, him and JoJo had one big problem! Because the drums that Sly would play, they’d hide those drums there from most people! But when Channel One’s sessions would run they’d go for those pretty drums there! So Scientist now started work and we a work and we a work and the sound was there still. But one day we came into the place and we saw a crisp drum set and I said “Where you get that drum?” and he said “In Channel One I go find drum”. From that day, when JoJo came in he was vexed but he couldn’t stop it. When he heard the sound from the Radics now they said “Bwoy, make that drum stay in the studio”.

But Scientist never really took live sessions. Barnabas, certain things he would deal with. We’d say “Go call Barnabas” and Barnabas would come and show him certain little things. Up till today it’s Barnabas I call on for a show. If I do a thing with a youth named Junior Sinclair or Gregory Isaacs son I say “Call Barnabas” and Barnabas will come and set up little things and leave. I’d make Barnabas sit down with Scientist and show him little things and that’s how Scientist learned. He learned until he got to understand about the board he was dealing with. I and I showed him enough things too. How I wanted to sound and how he could sit in and fit in. But when the new drum came in we murdered them! We found the sound.

Read part three of this exclusive interview here.


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