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Interview: Lloyd Parks in Kingston (Part 1)

Interview: Lloyd Parks in Kingston (Part 1)

Interview: Lloyd Parks in Kingston (Part 1)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - 1 comment

"I saw Coxsone Downbeat punch down Joe Higgs"


Lloyd Parks is a true cornerstone of reggae music. As a singer he left rocksteady duo the Termites to release a series of superb self-produced solo singles – including massive 1973 hit Officially. As a bass player he was anchor of choice for top studios including Federal, Randy’s, Joe Gibbs and Channel One. With his We The People band, he has recorded and toured for over 40 years – cementing a bond with Dennis Brown until his death.

Parks belongs to Jamaica’s select category of veteran musicians who continue to be in demand today. A plainspoken, unpretentious, perpetually busy man - especially during Kingston’s Reggae Month - it takes a week or so of communication before United Reggae is invited to his Trafalgar Park home.

We are greeted at the gate by Mr Parks and his dogs – who hide under a car when he tells them to go inside. His front hallway is stacked with audio equipment – speaker boxes, amps and mixing desks. “This is where I practise when I have shows,” he says in a voice much deeper than the soulful high tenor in which he sings, “I put a CD on and plug in my bass”.

Unlike many of his peers, Lloyd has been well-recognised by his industry. His living room is adorned with dozens of awards for him and his band – from Jamaica Jazz and Blues, JARIA, Red Stripe, Heineken Star Time and plenty more. Most precious is his Order of Distinction from the Jamaican government – which he retrieves from his bedroom to display.

A last minute change of appointment times and Lloyd needing to pick up his son means the conversation is shorter than hoped – with much missed out. But the two part interview that follows paints a picture of a hardworking, humble individual, who has lived by the old-school principles of respecting others and always doing his best. Afterwards, when the rush hour makes booking a taxi impossible, Lloyd insists on driving United Reggae to his preferred stand. “Look after them,” he instructs the cabbie, “These are my friends”.

Lloyd Parks

Your uncle, Dourie, was in a band?

Yeah, my uncle used to play in a Mento band. That is where I used to get my little opportunity to sing one tune. And I was overwhelmed by that you know? I was about 17 years old.

How do you go from singing in your uncle’s Mento band to being in the Termites?

That Mento band was just a stepping stone. I wasn't really in the band but when he went out I used to follow him. Just to get the opportunity to sing one little song. We were all living in Waterhouse at the time and there was a guy there called Wentworth Vernon. We were a duo and he was the other half of the group. He could play a little guitar. So we teamed up and started rehearsing and he started to teach me harmony. When we figured we were ready, the first recording that we did was for Federal. A song called We Are Going To Make It by the Termites. But it never really went anywhere.

So we still continued practising and went to Studio One. Coxsone Downbeat said "Boy, you guys sound good but you have to go home and listen to your radio". Meaning different lyrics - better lyrics. So we went home, did that and went back the day of the audition again. He said "Yes! You can go in the studio now". Because every audition day you have the musicians there. Every week you have sessions, so they always had the auditions the same day as the session. So if you are fit enough you just go straight in and record. I recorded a song called Have Mercy Mr Percy. That song went into the top 10. And then after that Mr Dodd recorded an album with us Called Do The Rocksteady.

How did you learn the guitar?

Now, when we went to Studio One and we recorded a first song, Coxsone said - everybody's was name Jackson - "Hey Jackson I pay you only £7.10 you know!" So I said okay because I just wanted to record. So we got £7.10 and the both of us bought that guitar. Incidentally, Wentworth Vernon was the one who taught me three chords on the guitar. G C and D. I was determined man. I wanted to be a guitarist. You could call it a self-taught musician. For the opportunity I give thanks to Coxsone Downbeat.

What happened to the Termites – and why did you leave Coxsone?

We split. We went separate ways. The Termites. Mainly it was for two reasons. One reason was me and the guy we couldn't get on. We couldn't see eye to eye. And the second one was I saw Coxsone Downbeat punch down Joe Higgs, that guy that taught Bob Marley and the Wailers harmonies. He went for royalties and maybe he went in the morning and Coxsone told him tomorrow? And he insisted he wasn't going to wait. And I saw him bam! It was the first time I ever witnessed somebody get a punch and I witnessed the eye swelling and blood dropping out of his eye. And I left and I never came back. I never even bothered to wait for any royalties. (Laughs) So that was the two reasons. So then I decided to go solo. I think my first solo song was Feel A Little Better.

I always tried to produce my thing myself

The song that later became Officially?

The same song was transformed into Officially. I always tried to produce my thing myself but I gave it to Harry J to distribute. In those days in Jamaica you would give maybe Randy's or Harry J or some other people to distribute. And after that I re-did it and put the Officially on it. And that was the big catch! That was the punchline!

Is it true that you joined the Techniques at one point?

Yeah man. I think it was sometime in the late 60s. Right between in that same period. But I'm not really good at documenting the dates!

That was when Pat Kelly left?

That is the time! And the first hit song was a song called Say You Love Me. But then that didn't last long because, I have to tell it like it is, these guys were unfair and I didn't stay long there. But we recorded like three other songs - if you go on the YouTube you'll see them. One called Free To Go, one called I Specialise In Good Girls or Good Girls, and the next one was The Reason Why I Love You. As Techniques I am the lead singer for those.

At what point did you get involved playing for the band at the Radio Healing Temple Bakery?

Lloyd ParksThat band was called RHT Invincibles. Well, after I broke up with my partner, it was the same time when I recorded Feel A Little Better. Because those were the same set of guys that played on that song. In fact, I didn't play bass on that song. I played guitar. Ansel Collins on keyboard and Sly Dunbar on drums. Sly Dunbar was in that band too. It was like a community centre band. All of us we learned music together.

I'll tell you the songs I played on. I played guitar on Double Barrel with Ansel Collins. A big hit in England. And then I played bass on another top 10 on the UK chart for Ansel Collins called Monkey Spanner. But how I really started to play the bass was - there is a strip on Red Hills Road where they have all the clubs. It is not that famous now but believe me - back then that was the road that had all the clubs and entertainment. They had a club called Tit-For-Tat, one called Stables, and the band in Stables were… ?


(Laughs) You know! Now I see you're just confirming all of this stuff but yeah that's true! It was exciting.

Skin Flesh And Bones were playing in Tit-For-Tat. Were you in Skin Flesh And Bones?

Finally, in the end. The latter part. So while you had Skin Flesh And Bones at Tit-For-Tat you had Thoroughbreds at Stables with Radcliffe Bryan, “Dougie”, the guitarist - he is with Toots now - Ansel Collins, Neville Grant on drums, Lloyd Parks on guitar. It was like a resident band. We used to play three nights a week and we’d play live music and people danced and enjoyed themselves. There was also go-go dancing there. At that time go-go dancing was like a big thing. It was not like the wine up thing. It was classy. So they always included it in a part of the club and they had dinner, food and everything. So one night we went to work and the bass player didn't show. He just suddenly didn't show up and the bandleader was also a guitarist called Bobby Aitken.

I said "If I can play six strings I must be able to play four strings!"

Laurel Aitken’s brother.

Laurel Aitken's brother. And I said "I can play". And he said "You're sure you can play it youth?" and I said "I can play it!" Because in my mind I said "If I can play six strings I must be able to play four strings!" And then I took up the bass and I realised that I had a unique style. Just different. And I tore the house down you know? Because I started to play and draw the bass (slides hands over the fret-board) and the go-go girls were coming round the stage and people started to look. I said "Oh" and I never stopped playing. Now during that time I re-did Officially and it became a number one.

I interviewed Ansel the other day and he said you and him used to work in partnership in terms of doing productions in the studio.

Yeah, what we’d do as musicians is we'd say "We can go into the studio. I play a song for you - you play one for me". And we’d just take the studio time and everybody would have a tape. It was Ansel, Radcliffe Bryan, Neville Grant who plays drums and that's how we used to do it. And some of us just came out lucky. Ansel got Double Barrel, I got Officially.

I took up the bass and I realised that I had a unique style

Let’s talk about Neville Grant AKA Johnny Pretty. You mentioned on your Facebook that he passed recently.

His real name was Neville Grant. He passed last year. He was a good drummer. But what happened when he started playing was he migrated to Canada. When he came back he wasn't that… Like he lost some stuff. But he played on Officially. Incidentally when we recorded that song he didn't have any drumsticks. He went out by Randy's over the park and picked some tree limbs and played with those. He broke the limbs and used them as tools and played the session.

You released Officially on your own label. Later it came out on Joe Gibbs.

Yes, that was the second time. With a deejay. That was a different version. If you go on YouTube you can see it is two versions. It was number one when you only had two radio stations in Jamaica at the time. It was number one for like six weeks on both stations. And it became a big thing “Officially”. If a man was going to buy a racehorse he would say "I will buy some racehorses - officially!" "I will check my girlfriend - officially!" It became a slang. It was a big hit. Huge.

So during that time you had a house studio band at Federal Records - with Val Douglas, very good bass player. And they started to say "This youth named Lloyd Parks - we have to find him you know?" So they came and checked me so I got into being the resident studio bass player for Federal. Lloyd Charmers was the producer and that was when I did Everything I Own. First one - bam! Number one in the British charts! So I said "Yes!"

What else did you play on?

I did a couple of other songs like Bob Andy Fire Burning. His version. And I did an album called Play Me with Marcia Griffiths and quite a few stuff. I did one with Ras Michael called Dadawah. I played on that as well. And then everything started to spread now - with my style of playing. I started to play a song with Junior Byles called Nebuchadnezzar The King Of Babylon. But there was a certain style (sings bass line) and they never heard a bass in that style so people said "Who played that?" I was the only bass player in Jamaica who, when a song played, radio disc jockeys said "Lloyd Parks on bass!" Seriously. I am not bragging really. This is just history. They'd say "Song by Junior Byles and bass by Lloyd Parks". So that it started to spread and everybody wants wanted me to play. Every day I’d go to studio.

When a song played, radio disc jockeys said "Lloyd Parks on bass!"

I was the one who really popularised Sly in studio. The first song he played on was Double Barrel but what turned him into a studio musician was because everybody used to call me. And that journey was exciting really. And meanwhile, when I was at Stables club I had a disagreement with the boss and as I was ready to exit, the bass player from Skin Fresh And Bones migrated. And I took the spot. I went over there and all the people that used to come to the Stables Club went to Tit-For-Tat. (laughs) That club just went right down - seriously! And we made the song called Here I Am Baby.

Sung by Al Brown.

Just as I joined the band. And it became a big, big hit in Jamaica.

You also did some bass playing at Randy’s - how did that happen?

That happened because, as I said, every producer really wanted us to play. From the track record of the works we had done - every producer came. So I played on Carl Malcolm’s Miss Wire Waist, Fatty Bum Bum, No Jestering and all those songs. Including Ansel Collins because we were with that team. At Federal I also played on Ram Goat Liver for Pluto and Duppy Gunman for Ernie Smith and Delroy Wilson Have Some Mercy. A whole heap of songs.

Lloyd Parks

Randy’s also put out some recordings of your own. Like Ordinary Man where they had that funny B side version with the children talking, and We’ll Get Over It.

Yeah. That song We'll Get Over It was produced by myself. But in Jamaica then again I gave it to Randy’s to distribute. And then sometimes people can be so unfair because they sampled that song for a rapper called Keith Murray.

I saw you posted about it on Facebook.

And it was very unfair. And it wasn't Clive. It was his relative. He sampled it and I didn't get a dime for it.

The lyrics to We'll Get Over It - were they autobiographical? Do you have a sister called Patsy?

Yes, my sister is called Patsy! She lives in the UK. She said "Lloyd, you recorded a song with my name!" (Laughs) Because I had some little struggles you know? When I was 13 years old my father migrated and I went to stay with his relatives in Port Antonio. I was there for four years. At 17 years old I came back to Kingston. We had some rough times and that was really what gave me the inspiration to write We'll Get Over It.

I was the one who really popularised Sly in studio

Who played the guitar on it? It's quite a rock guitar on the intro.

(laughs) That was Ranchie McLean.

Did he decide to turn on the distortion or did you want it that way?

Yes, I wanted it to be like that. Because I always have the melodies in my head of how I wanted to play. Most of the songs I do. I have the guitar parts already. It was nice man.

We talked about Officially, we talked about Ordinary Man and We'll Get Over It. What about Mafia? How did that happen?

Same sort of stuff. We came to the studio, I did something for Ansel Collins, Sly wasn't producing anything on the session but I made the rhythm. Because we were always really united as musicians. We didn't charge each other to play. And that Melodica I played it. A lot of people thought it was Augustus Pablo. I played it myself. We made the rhythm and something just came to me "Me a Mafia" (Laughs) and I just said "Maybe we should make a song for the Mafia you know?" Because sometimes when I'm making a song I just imagine different things for different people. Because there is Mafia. And we have Mafia, so Mafia would like this song. Some people might think it was me saying “Me a Mafia” but it was just like writing a movie. That imagination that movie writer would have but putting on record. It's the same thing. You don't have to be of that character – it’s just for the market.

Often reggae and dancehall artists aren't given the benefit of the doubt in this area.

Because when you write songs like Slaving now that sounds personal, right? People always ask me about it but Slaving was just my imagination as well. But We'll Get Over It is a natural stuff you know?

Read part 2 of this interview here

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Read comments (1)

Posted by Guillaume Bougard on 05.04.2017
Nice interview.

Comments actually desactivated due to too much spams

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