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Interview: Clinton Fearon (2016 - Part 2)

Interview: Clinton Fearon (2016 - Part 2)

Interview: Clinton Fearon (2016 - Part 2)

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - 2 comments

"I really loved Gladiators"


Read part 1 of this interview

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Clinton Fearon he talks candidly about the international rise of the Gladiators, his departure, his recent health problems and the philosophy behind his solo career…

Clinton Fearon

During the fallow period before you signed to Virgin with Prince Tony you did some work with Scratch and with Yabby You. One person who was around both camps at that particular time, who I have interviewed a couple of times, is I Kong...

I Kong... Oh the Chinese looking brother! Who did Roast Fish and…

Bushweed and Corntrash.

Bushweed and Corntrash! (Laughs) I saw him I think it was last year. I saw him in Switzerland.

I Kong helped me to be assertive

He told me meeting you again was one of the highlights of his European tour. He also said he was there when you first played the bass for Scratch.

Yes! He was there. I spent about six months at Scratch’s studio. He was one of them that was there in that time when I was there. Him and Bunny Rugs… Bunny spent some time there. I actually played on a whole album of Bunny Rugs for Scratch. I don't know what Scratch did with it. We did some things for I Kong, the two of them as well. We did some things for several artists actually. We did them for the deejay youth what was his name? Jah Lloyd. The guy who sang Curly Locks?

Junior Byles?

Junior Byles! We did some things for him too. And of course we did some things for Scratch - just rhythms. Roast Fish and Cornbread is one of them. But yeah I forgot the brother’s real name. He called himself an I Kong but…

Errol Kong or Ricky Storm.

Yeah, yeah! (Laughs) He is a cool dude. And because he was one of those who is very high-spirited - if you know what I mean - but in a very nice way - he was one of them that helped me to be assertive.

Yes, that's what he was saying. He said he felt that the others used to bully you. And he said he pushed you forward.

He is totally right. He is totally right. I remember something Scratch said in that time too. Because I was dedicated to Gladiators and Scratch looked upon me one evening and said "You know Bassie? You're not gonna make it under Albert's hand you know?" And in my opinion then Scratch was trying to mash us up so I wasn’t going for it. But there was some truth to what he was saying though. There was some truth to what he was saying.

When I look back on the whole journey, I still don't regret my past because I learned a lot of things. I learned so many things from Scratch too. I'd go through moments too that would be like "Hmmm that's a little bit inhuman" from the same Scratch there. But I learned a lot of good things from Scratch as well. I learned to play with different musicians, different artists and different styles and what they complemented and things like that. So I was just like a sponge. I just soaked up everything and everyone! (Laughs)

I don't regret my past because I learned a lot of things

So it wasn’t Scratch and his musicians that were pushing you around when I Kong spoke up?

It was in Gladiators. In those days in Jamaica in the 70s it was like who makes the most noise gets the attention. And I was humble and so therefore that's how Scratch got to know me. Because of Yabby You. We went over there and we did Jah Vengeance and we did a whole album for Yabby You.

You were playing the bass – or doing backing vocals?

I was playing bass for Yabby You with the Gladiators. We actually rehearsed Yabby You. He said he had a little money that he could pay us so we could do something over at Scratch if we could play for him. We said “No problem”. So we went over there and Scratch liked the sound that he was hearing. And he asked if we could come back and do something for him. I think it was like the next day. We went back and we did quite a few rhythms for him. I can't remember how many.

And one time he looked to Albert and said "Albert, you are selling me the same rhythm that you're selling me before" like he's playing the exact same thing and he wanted something a little different. So him and Albert didn't get along. They didn't hit it off. But me and him hit it off good because if he had a suggestion I am not shying from it - if you know what I mean? Because that doesn't take away from what I have or what I know. It can only add to it. So I’d listen to him. And if a singer came and I am there, I’d listen to what the singer has to say. If it doesn't work then that's a different story. So me and Scratch got on.

So after that Scratch would come and look me up. Him and Max Romeo would come and look me up and say "Boy, what happen? We doing a session and we'd like you to play - is that alright?" Because we weren't doing anything at the time as Gladiators. Things were still rough. We weren't making any money and we weren't touring. So I went over and spent six months over there man. It was very interesting.

This gives me a parallel between Coxsone and Scratch - they were totally opposite in their approach. Coxsone would do the audition and if he liked what he was hearing he’d let you come and do the recording and he won't mess with you. The musicians could go on and deal with you or whatever. But he won't mess with you. When the song is finished if he likes it he put it out. If he doesn't like it he won't put it out. Scratch, on the other hand from the moment he hears it and he likes it, he's going to get involved! (Laughs) That's why I think Bob got a lot from Scratch in terms of vibe, how to vibe and deliver.

Coxsone and Scratch - they were totally opposite in their approach

Phrasing of his vocals.

Right! And he did the same thing with musicians. Max Romeo got a lot of vibes from Scratch. Junior Byles got a lot of vibes from Scratch too (laughs)

In a previous interview we did you told me that one of the things Scratch taught you was about “question and answer” - specifically in percussion.

That's right. In percussion.

And ever since you said that I can hear it in your work - you can hear it in the new album. As you said Scratch’s phrasing had a big influence on Bob. For example, Dreadlocks In Moonlight was sung as guide vocal for Bob and so he sang it the way he wanted Bob to sing it. If you listen to Bob before he linked Scratch he sang differently.

That's right.

So my question is, did Scratch have any influence on your vocals? Because sometimes I hear some of those Bob/Scratch vibes in some of your solo songs.

I think I only sang one song for Scratch and one for myself over there that I recorded. He gave me a little time and Bunny Rugs played rhythm on it! I did one that was (sings) "You told me you loved me and you told me you cared..." And he commented on it and said that I sounded like - what's his name? We called him Pokey. He used to sing in the Melodians.

Brent Dowe.

Brent Dowe! Yeah! He told me I sounded like Brent Dowe.

What was the song?

The one for myself? (Pauses for a long time) It’s on the Sky High label?


Togetherness! That's actually the first song I recorded for myself. And you know, when I went to press it I had no idea that it needed to be mastered. (Laughs) I just brought the thing the same way to the pressing plant and said "Hey, press this for me. Here's a little money". I'm quite sure that that brother patched up something and did it because they were hustling too! I had no idea. It was way later on that I said "Oh!" And then the brethren that released it… What is his real name? Everyone called him Sky High.

Clinton Fearon

He still goes on tour with Damian Marley…

Hartnell. His name is Hartnell. But everybody called him Sky High. And you know, Sky High, the name - it is me who went to him with the name as my label. That was going to be our label. The idea was I would make the music and he would sell it. So I would do the music and get it pressed. And then later on he had a little shop downtown and I was in there. But then because I was gone to play music… the label was called Sky High and everybody called him Sky High after that.

Now that we’ve talked about your time with Scratch and Yabby You I want to ask about how you met Prince Tony and got signed to Virgin Records in the UK?

What happened with Prince Tony was… when Errol Grandison left and it was Albert and myself, I think it was at the same time that we did something for Coxsone . But we didn't get much money again. Monkey money. It was like, “Boy, it's tough”. Albert said to me "Boy, basically I think we should go our separate ways you know? I support what you do and you in turn support what I do but maybe we should just go our separate ways."

So that's what we decided to do and Albert came with this song called Know Yourself Mankind and we recorded it. I can't remember how we did get to record it but he brought it to Prince Tony and Prince Tony brought it to Virgin. Then Prince Tony came back with a deal saying that that Virgin wants an album. And that was right in that same time that we met Gallimore Sutherland. Gallimore Sutherland was a part of the runnings then. But the frustration was going on even before. That lingering frustration. So then because that moment came we all kind of got inspired again as a group and we didn't mash up. For several years after that!

So when Prince Tony arranged the deal with Virgin what did it do to your career? Did it make things easier? How did it open things up for the Gladiators?

It opened things up where we got to tour. And we realised that it was popular - way more than we knew. I remember we played at a club in London called the 100 Club. The place was too packed. I think they said three people fainted because it was so hot in there.

We realised we were popular - way more than we knew

Yes, it's like a basement with no windows in there.

That's right. It was so hot. I myself I almost had a tongue twister in there myself. It was my first experience that way. I came on stage right up off the bat and then by about half way I realised "It doesn't look like I can keep this up for the rest of the set!" By three quarters of the way I was so tired man. Like beat up almost falling down. My heart and you know? I didn't have the proper techniques of how to take care. You know, drink a bit of water and keep myself hydrated and things like that. I was just getting into it!

So then I went round the back after we finished the set. Then we needed an encore! When we went round this man who was the manager of Aswad at the time - he said "You alright Bassie?" I said "My tongue. I am feeling weird. Like it's twisting in my head". He said "Oh! You're too dehydrated". I said "Yeah but I just came inside and I drank some water" and he said "What kind of water are you drinking?" Because I had taken the ice water in a bottle of water so the ice made it worse. But he said "No man. be careful. Don't do that. Drink room temperature water". So from that time I was learning things from that very first one there!

And then I remember, somewhere down the line, I think it was the second tour or sometime after, somebody said ""Did you know that Proverbial Reggae sold 250,000 copies in Africa since it was released?" I said "Oh yeah?" I didn't even pay attention because I was just into the music. The music was what it was about. And we went through France, Germany, Ireland and realised that "people really like us". I remember when we played here in France and the first time and 8,000 people paid. I was like "Wow!" I couldn't believe it. So signing with Virgin, we got a lot of popularity. No money.

No money?

Very little bit.

Not adequate for your level of popularity?

Not at all. Putting aside all that, I still give thanks for all of that because some of those experiences are what made me who I am today, musically speaking. “All right, this happened and this happened, don't let it get under your skin.” I was just going along still learning how to take care. It is not easy. It is not easy.

Prince Tony made a bad deal with Virgin

So when Virgin stopped supporting the reggae in the 80s and shut everything down - did you feel good or bad about that? Had you had enough? Was it time for a change? Or did you feel let down?

I felt let down. I also felt that a little part of it was because of Prince Tony. Because Prince Tony made a bad deal. Basically what happened was Virgin came to Jamaica, as far as my knowledge, and they signed up 30 or 40 artists. Plenty of artists - without checking who is really good or who will really make some money or not. So therefore they just signed up everybody. They said "Reggae will make this much in the next six months". In reality you have like 10 artists that they would make money from. And then you have five artists that they'd really make some money from. We were one of those five. Be sure we were one of those five. But we didn't get treated any way different from the ones that got let go. Any one of the 40. So from that I am disappointed. But I also know that they did still like us as a group because we made money.

But we were stupid. We didn't know the business. Prince Tony signed a bad thing with them when they didn't even take care of his side of it. Prince Tony already had some money from elsewhere. So his way of dealing with it was to go in and cuss to rasclaat! We were right here in France and he wanted us to go with him. I said "No - I don't think so. I don't think we should do that." Albert got upset with me and said "Boy, why you acting soft?" But I said "No use, that is not how to do it. Virgin love us as a group, we just didn't know when we signed a contract that this is the way it is. So now that we know better we should go in and renegotiate with them and say "Hey, we didn't know what was going on but now we know why not start the ball again on a different footing?" Approach it with a little more intelligence”.

Well, to make a long story short, Prince Tony and Albert went to London and cussed to rasclaat and kicked down the table and did not make any good progress at all because we were already holding the blade. We were already holding the blade. So I was disappointed with all of that.

And as time went on I realised that it would not get better. We had somebody to manage the group at that time and the brethren couldn't get any space to really manage because Albert dictated the whole thing. So the brethren couldn't manage anything. So I am here on the side observing all of that. But then the thing is, all of this time, I still love the Gladiators. I'd stick with Gladiators no matter what. So I'm figuring "I hope that soon Albert will realise some things and change the page".

So what happened next?

Well, we did something for Nighthawk and then Albert visited America and came back to Jamaica and looked upon me and said "Bassie, the group is not Gladiators anymore. It is Albert Griffiths and the Gladiators". I said "Okay” and I am still riding with the vibe. And then the last straw for me was when, I can't remember where it was, but he said to me "Bassie, you are going on like you is the Gladiators you know? It is me that is the Gladiators you know?"

So in my head I am saying "Well, okay, you are Albert Griffiths and you are the Gladiators so that means I am nothing". You know what I mean? This doesn't have any standing for me. There is no way I can be something. And then I look back at what Scratch said "Yo, you're not gonna make it under Albert's hand". It was hard for me to look back at that and say "Oh shit. Scratch was really right". So it took all of that journey for me to disperse from Gladiators. Because I really loved Gladiators.

Scratch said "You're not gonna make it under Albert's hand"

So this is how you came to settle in Seattle?

Yes, after the last tour I did with Gladiators. Because after all that I still went on tour with them again. I broke off and they came and looked for me again and said "Hey boy" and so and so and so. It was the same Nighthawk I think was involved. We did a tour and the tour went sour. The vibes was not good. Too much emotion on stage and you cannot enjoy the music anymore. So for me it was over. Of the members, it was only Albert Griffiths that did not stop back.

After the tour ended in Florida we met a brethren up in Seattle area, Charlie Morgan, and we had plenty of time on our visa so we would like to do something before going back. Because we didn't make any money more than so, after a month and a half. So we thought "We could make a little money and then buy a ticket and come back. If you can buy your ticket why not?" So that's what we did. We bought a ticket and went back and we were there for six months or something like that. Six or seven months we were there. We built up a good following.

So that's how that started. We started as group called the Defenders. That went on for about five years. And then that one was going kind of like the Gladiators thing too with some of the members. Because of how it was with Albert we said "We're not going to be treated that way. Everybody has an equal say.” So then there wasn't a leader. But the group was really good. I was kind of term it as a bad lion, a strong lion going down the road but it has no head. That's how that was. So I suppose it mashed up too. After about five years I realised "I can't do this anymore either". "I am going to have to really take care of myself now". That is when I put Boogie Brown together.

And you started the solo projects that lead us to where we are today. Let's talk about your music today. With each album you seem to be refining a sound. You don't seem ashamed to be returning to the same canvas. You're always refining and learning from the last time. So with this new album this morning what's different in terms of its construction, production, arrangement instrumentation? What did you decide to move around? What did you decide to polish?

Well, the first thing was I used some different instruments. I used marimba and I also used the steel pan without it taking over too much. And we also have different musicians that played on it. And some of the things, I have little subtleties. They are not big things. They are little subtleties. There are some too where the melodies are subtly different but… I can't… It's hard to explain. But the way you do it and the space in between tells as much of a story as the space that you use up. Like for example Speak Your Mind that long space with the bass-line.

And Dr Say was an idea where I wasn't even planning on using drums on it. It was just percussion. We had a slight demo with me and my guitarist Mark Oi. Because I am worthless when it comes to technology, computers. So he had his laptop and I'm playing a bass-line and then I went back and put percussion and a guitar part on to try to copy all of that. So in the studio I played it in order to get the time. And Santa was at the studio because he plays on many of the tracks. While I was laying the bass-line he came and said "Hold on, hold on man. I feel something nice for that one there".

Clinton Fearon

There is also a lack of anger in your music. Some people come to roots reggae for the anger. For the fire. For the judgement. That's not to say you don't talk about injustice but the tone is not angry. It’s saying "Hey, let's think about this let's see what we can learn".

(Laughs) You got it man! You got it! That's the point. That's that point. Because talking about the injustice, we've seen it, we lived it, we know it’s not good. You watch your friends die from it, sometimes even parents. Our kids die from it. From their anger. It is not guided either. Or even if it is guided it is bad guiding.

Like the song No Justice. I grew up in Jamaica where you've got to remember the police were way more respected when I was growing up versus when I became a big man in Kingston. Some of my same peers they joined the force. They joined the force not for policing but they joined the force because it was hustling. They can hustle. And also you have cats where they got beat up when their youths and decide "You know what? I could join the force and I can get back at the guys that beat me up".

But the thing with policing is it needs psychology. Human psychology. Managing your neighbourhood. First you have to respect your neighbourhood. And if your neighbourhood respects you then you know what? You are in control there. And when you talk about the songs you're talking about the same thing. You bring up the subject but you don't throw hate into it because hate begets hate.

Hate begets hate

Also, if citizens have guns and the police need guns to defend themselves and the authorities, then the authorities will have a vested interest in colluding with racist police when they break the law.

Exactly. And that is part of the problem. I have seen the situation in Jamaica and I can put a parallel. Politicians get their guns, come down and distribute them amongst the bad men so the police have to step up and the police get some bigger guns too. And fear steps in and it gets worse. It's the same thing going on in the US too in that sense. I am not saying politicians gave them these things. It's different.

Politicians created the Second Amendment.

Ah! (laughs) But yeah, if everybody has guns it brings that fear.

How is your health? I know you had some health problems. Are you better now?

You know, I am doing pretty good. I have to give thanks. I had an operation to remove adrenal glands. There was a nodule on there and so at one time they thought it was cancerous which kind of freaked me and my wife out. Not again! Then they found out that it wasn't cancerous but they highly suggested that I get it removed. So I'm in a better place now where that is concerned. I was lucky to have a medical crew that really took care - from the person who set it up so I saw the right people, and those people also took close care.

At the last moment it was a little bit fragile. The surgeon he was busy and they let me out a little bit early I think. Like two days after the operation. And I was excited because I wanted to be out too! And then I developed a bursitis in the right knee. And I was walking with a couple of crutch sticks but I wasn't doing it properly so I was putting too much pressure on the cuts and an inflammation started so that caused some problems there for a minute. So I had to go back in and it took an extra couple of weeks. It was like "Oh man!" But I'm not doing bad now at all. I'm a little bit fatigued from taking care of things. I'd like to be able to take three months off!

It's difficult when you are an independent artist.

You got it! You got it.

How did you feel about the way the fans reached out to you on social media when they heard? I guess it's probably more a question for your wife because at the time you were just resting and getting better!

Oh yes, I must say I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmingly happy about it. The attention the response, the vibe and the well wishes and you feel them coming from the heart, if you know what I mean? It’s the same as when I do gigs and people come up to me and let me know how much the songs meant to them. Not just at the gig but at their home with their families and how their young ones have their favourite songs on the album. There is a depth of attention and an acceptance that I don't have words to express. And when people are rallying around and sending well wishes I feel the same kind of depth from them. I am so grateful for that because that also helps to make me be what I am right now.

I’m going to tell you what your songs mean to me. We talked about the song Life Is A Journey. Every word of that song really speaks to me about my life on a very personal level. When you say "You don't have to be afraid… Come close" It makes me feel better. I am afraid of people. When I meet someone new I don't feel easy. I can relate to the separation from your mother, to the feeling that “still it could be worse”, to the wish to forgive yourself for being too hard on yourself for the things you didn’t know… I could go through it line by line but you get the idea!

Thanks man.

I grew up kind of lonely. I had trees that were my friends

I guess that's the art of creating music. When you can do something that's talking to everyone but it makes them feel like you're talking to them alone.

That's the idea. That's the idea. Because again, like you, I grew up kind of lonely in a way. Most of it was me and my dad in the woods. From eight onwards until 15. It was me and my dad. And there were some rough moments. I had trees that were my friends. Birds that would come and eat and rustle the leaves and the blossoms. I would be sitting there. The same day that I was singing on the stone when I was crying. There were birds there that were almost coming to my foot and looking at me like they could hear me. Like they could feel me. You know, it's weird and you talk to people about these things, some people and they just think "Oh, he's crazy… Nature boy". But that is why I can say, man, there are so many good things around us in nature.

Nature has so much to offer if we pay attention and if we listen and take the lessons. We form so many laws as mankind and forget totally about the laws of nature. And it's causing problems. That is why you have people afraid of people so much. Like you have some guys coming to Jamaica and seeing the Arawaks there and still claiming that nobody was there. That they discovered it. In America is the same thing. "We discovered this". "No one is there". When the place was already established it just wasn't established in the way how you are used to it. The thing is to learn of that culture and we would be better off today. Instead it is "You know what? Let's burn them out! Let's gun them down! Let's start over". "This is wilderness." And the list goes on my brother - the list goes on.

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Read comments (2)

Posted by fabricio on 12.19.2016
Amaxing interview! thanks a lot for sharing these moments. Clinton is not just an amazing artists, but a very speacial wise man. Lots of thing to learn from him.

Posted by Guillaume Bougard on 12.21.2016
Great artist, great guy

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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