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Interview: Leroy Sibbles in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Leroy Sibbles in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Leroy Sibbles in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"I was always trying to do something different"


Read part 1 of this interview

In Part 2 of this exclusive interview with Leroy Sibbles, he recalls how he took over from Jackie Mittoo at Studio 1, departed Jamaica for Canada and had some experiences with Jackie there, and why he’s planning to make more music very soon…


Your bass lines at Studio 1 have been licked over again and again.

I was always trying to do something different - even in bass playing. When I’m in the studio I’m saying to myself “I’ve got to find a new style. A new way of starting this thing.” Because I knew that most people would start on the beat or they’d start before the beat but I didn’t hear people playing much after the beat. And that’s when Satta Massagana was born.

And I created all of those nice horn lines. Most of those horn lines that you hear in the Studio One time, those were my creations too. When I was playing bass parts of those creations I did not just play bass. On a lot of the songs I ended up playing bass on, I actually did the auditioning for some of these artists. I am the one who, with my acoustic guitar, was always sitting in the studio, with my bass guitar there too. I would feel out the proper progressions for the songs before we would start recording. Everyone would wait until we worked that out. I said “We are going to go with this progression for this song”. And the other artists would pick up from there and do their fillings. Like the guitarist and them. But the horns? Usually I would tell the horn section what to play.

So you were kind of the arranger as well?

Not kind of. I was the arranger. While I was playing bass I was the Studio One arranger. Because Jackie Mittoo left.

Jackie went to Canada.

Exactly. And they couldn’t find anyone to do it. Because they tried a guy called Richard Ace.

The keyboard player.

And it couldn’t work out. Pure jazz man who created jazz reggae. They tried that guitarist from the Skatalites.

Jah Jerry?

No, no. Jamaica’s greatest jazz guitarist.

Ernest Ranglin.

Exactly. You see? You know him! When people are big, they’re big! (Laughs) Yeah man Ranglin. Jazz reggae. Leroy from the ghetto now came in and got it in the right thing.

You also played bass on Declaration Of Rights - another Abyssinians hit.

Yeah. I played bass on a whole lot of them. I played the whole of the No Man Is An Island album for Dennis Brown. I played all of Studio One Alton Ellis - the best of Alton Ellis. Can I Change My Mind and all those songs. That’s the best from Studio One. It’s even me who plays that little thing on that song (Sings Can I Change My Mind keyboard motif) Can I Change My Mind. People think it’s Jackie Mittoo that played that. I played that.

And you already mentioned Burning Spear - and Door Peep Shall Not Enter.

Oh yeah. And I played the best John Holt album at Studio One. I played on that. With the songs like Rob and Cheat You [Make Up] and all of those songs. The whole of that album.

A Love I Can Feel?

Yeah! All of that album. Pure hits tunes man! Hits after hits after hits.

Leroy_Sibbles _part22And is it true that when you were controlling the Studio One sessions Jacob Miller and Johnny Clarke used to come ‘round as little boys?

Jacob Miller I remember but I don’t remember Johnny Clarke. Jacob was a good friend of mine. Back then he was a kid.

And he was supposed to sing on the original rhythm to Nanny Goat.

That’s what I heard.

But instead it ended up being Larry Marshall.

I played on that song for Larry Marshall too. That big tune. Mean Girl. Big, big tune. My horn section and all of that too. My bass-line, my arrangement.

You must have a very good understanding of how rocksteady turned into reggae.

It’s just that people started singing slower songs, as far as I know! Like myself and a lot of other people. And then if I’m singing a slow song, you’re going to have to play a slower song. A lot of people are taking credit and if it’s slower, then a lot of people can take credit for that not just one. Individual. It was the era because music is like that. It changes as time goes by.

Is it true that that Horace Andy’s Mr Bassie is about you?

Yeah. I did a lot of his hit songs. The one I didn’t play was the Skylarking. I think it was Bagga from 12 Tribes. Both Horace and Fil Callender told me that when Horace first came to the studio people laughed at his voice.

Oh yeah! They were laughing but now he’s laughing to the bank! And still is even at his age. His voice hasn’t changed. I just smiled to myself and thought “Look at that - that’s unique“.

So Jackie went to Canada and you took over as the main musician…

Yes he sought a lot of other people but it couldn’t work.

How long did you stay at Studio One?

It wasn’t too long. About seven years? Something like that.

Why did you leave Coxsone?

Nothing was happening after a while. Everything stagnated and went to a standstill. No money - no nothing. It was just the time and Coxsone’s time was up. I went in there about ’65 and it was about seven years after that. ’73 something like that. And it made goddamn sense too because that’s when we did that album with Harry J and in ’73 we were in England. It makes sense.

Didn’t Coxsone ever send you to England?

Coxsone didn’t send us to England. We busted in England big-time as the Heptones with Fatty Fatty. Because I am not a covetous person. I see people doing well and I’m feeling “Good for them”. This was my turn and I was supposed to be feeling good for myself. When I didn’t know it because that was all a big secret. I was just stupidly being happy when my song busted.

And you know what he did? Taking up Ken Boothe in our place. He released the song in Kent Boothe’s name in England I heard. To give it more favour. Not flavour but just favour. Because he had a name. I heard that when people are asking him on stage “Ken, sing Fatty Fatty?” He wondered what the hell was happening! “What they talking about?” (Laughs) He didn’t know about this plan behind him too.

So like some others who recorded for Coxsone - like Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths – you went to Harry J.

We went to Harry J and we started recording an album. And that’s how I did songs like Country Boy and Barry did the Book Of Rules. Which I arranged again. Played the bass. That was my last hit bass-line. Wicked, terrible bass-line. You like that one? I love it too. All of those harmonies. You hear those harmonies and how they sound so sweet on that thing? When I’m doing the thing for anyone musically and I can feel it - I enjoy putting in my piece. And I put the best that I can find within me. Not holding back. That’s why we always have good music around us.

Book of Rules was my last hit bass-line

Did you meet Chris Blackwell and sign to Island through Harry J? I guess a lot of Bob Marley stuff was done at Harry J.

Not with me. But through Harry J. Harry J was the intermediary there. So we did a whole album there and then we realised because we didn’t even know we were doing it with Chris Blackwell. At the end of the day we saw that come up, pop-up, boom boom and that. And that was done, released and we were supposed to do a tour to promote it the album. That’s how we went to England in 1973.

And you also did some stuff with Harry Mudie around that time as well?

Yes! Oh yeah. That was the whole Studio One band and it was done in Studio One.

Yes, because he used to rent Studio One.

Exactly, yeah man. That was like Drifter. And Heart Don’t Leap. Hit! I had this thing about me that when I drop a bass-line - bang bang bang bang. The only two… Most of these people that I play bass line hits for - they never hit again you know? (Laughs) Two hits, one hit, what I play for them? That’s it!

I’m glad you brought up Dennis Walks and Drifter - but Heptones also sang for Harry Mudie in 1973 with Love Without Feeling?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was like hustling. It wasn’t real, in my view, professional recordings. It’s like he had a track and we would just go and try to make our song on that. It was a success but it wasn’t in my heart… You know what I’m saying?

By the time you left Coxsone the Rasta thing was coming in lyrically. When did Rasta come into your life?

I was a Rastaman before I went to Coxsone

I was a Rastaman from before I went to Coxsone. It’s a Rastaman who taught me to play the guitar. So how could I not see Rastafari as a strong element to follow? He was a doorway to Rastafari and then I started to go to 12 Tribes meetings and I started to seek more, read more Bible, move with more youths who were saying Rasta. Not Earl and Barry because they never said Rastafari yet. Drinking was more their thing. Herb was my thing always. Still is.

In a song Heptones did for Scratch, Mistry Babylon there is a lyric that says “Rasta don’t drink wine”…

That wasn’t me. I was a harmony singer for that. I was a backup! (Laughs) I didn’t write that song.

So if Earl and Barry didn’t come up with that lyric - who did? Scratch?

I think so. It was a Scratch thing.

That’s interesting because in those times he did like to drink wine.

Of course! (Laughs) So you see? Don’t follow the preacher man! Is it right that you grew your locks and then you cut them off?

Yes. Because after a while it was thinning out and it started to look weird. So I just said “This don’t make me a man really“. Rasta was always going to be an inner conception. Not really something you show people. You show people your Rastafari within you. In your life. In your livity. Things you do. That’s where you see Rasta in a man. You have wolves in sheep’s clothing. A lot of culprits are out there with dreadlocks down to their feet. Envious, covetous, wicked. And you have a lot of men who are so bald you can see your face in it, but they are clean, humble people. It takes all kinds. So you have to know the individual by his works. The Book says by your works we shall know you. Not by your clothes and your locks.

How did the group link with Scratch and cut the Party Time album?

While I was in Canada Barry and Earl were always close to Scratch. They were tight. For whatever reason I don’t know. Scratch’s thing was not mine. His kind of music. His sound. They linked me and told me, “We’re going to do another album”. I was in Canada then. I came down and we did it. One reason why I did it, not liking the sound of his music, is that you can never tell with music. That’s why I gave it a chance. That’s the only reason why I did an album with Scratch. Because you never know. There was a lot of music back at Studio One that I didn’t know was going to hit and it did. So I will just see what happens.

And did you see adequate royalties from the Island albums Party Time and Night Food?

Yeah still. Even though Island have sold out their stuff. Universal still send me a little cheque every now and again which is good. Even though I had to straighten it out first to be getting this now you know? After all this work that I put in, Earl Morgan went to England with Barry to go to PRS behind my back and register all my songs as his and Barry’s.

You know what helped me to get back the songs? I had to do a deal on one of my own songs. When UB40 did Baby Be True they wanted to come in, they thought they were all going to get rich now. So I said “If you release back all of my songs that you guys were putting your names to, I’ll make sure that I will not fight with you and I’ll share this one with you“. And that’s how I got back my rights to the rest of my songs. Earl Morgan did that. The same Earl Morgan who went to England and stole a pint of beer from Rodigan! Earl told me this. I almost died! I felt so embarrassed. That was terrible.

So how did you go to Canada?

So we were all in England. My girlfriend, who became my wife back in that time, she went to Canada while I went to England. So while I was in England we were communicating back-and-forth. When the tour ended I decided to come to Toronto Canada and meet her for a while and the guys decided to go back home. When I went there I didn’t go with the intention of staying.

I decided that she was so lonely and it was a new territory for me to so I said “Okay, I’m going to be a pioneer around here”. The snow was high up to here in the winter time. It was all new. So I stayed until I decided to spend time there, got married, checked for my papers.

And after a while I got the Heptones over. Barry and Earl were there, and I got them into a big show. Major concert from some guy we know called Bucky. Buchanan. He is in politics now in Jamaica. That was one hell of a show that we did. The Heptones in Canada for the first time. I was walking behind Bucky in the night picking up money that Bucky was dropping out of his pockets! The promoter was so happy! Money was falling all around! First in my life too! Never again! I’m telling you! (Laughs) But I got them in there and they spent some time there and they packed up again and left.

I got reggae going in Canada as a major thing

I spent over 20 years there making my name. Got one of the major Canadian awards called the Juno music award. I got reggae going there as a major thing. There wasn’t much reggae going there.

Did you see much of Jackie Mittoo?

Oh yeah. He was there. He did me a terrible thing too, you know? Jackie. People in this world… All kinds of things happen to you. I put my trust in Jackie because I loved him and he was my hero. When he did the thing with Musical Youth… I’ve stopped hiding things you know? I’m just going to let it out as it is. Because when it is the truth, the truth should be known. So Jackie Mittoo realised that song was going to be a big hit. Jackie knew it was my song. I’m the creator of the song. Jackie went with the publisher in England. You know we don’t protect ourselves. That’s why in this business we suffer so much.

Jackie went to that promoter and sided with the man that he would get certain amount of percentage. Because what they wanted, they had to seal what this guy wanted to do, to get all the people who were involved under his tent. I was naive too. I knew nothing about the technical part of the business or the technical part of music. So I was depending on my friends and I wasn’t expecting Jackie Mittoo to do this to me. He brought the man down to me when at least 50% of this song was mine you know?

I’d be so wealthy now. I’m telling you! Because that song went Billboard for about three months. It was really big. One of the biggest Jamaican songs ever. Brought this white man, brought him down from England to come to me you know? Talked me into signing to this man. So eventually this man got most of the money from the whole song because each person he signed from, he took 50% of that whatever it is. So he ended up with a whole share. Oh man! And then Jackie Mittoo, for doing this, he must’ve got a bigger share than everyone else. Sell-out.

That’s why I have to say these things too. Bring it up to show people another side of people too. You understand what I’m saying? Because he was such a great guy.

Jackie did me a terrible thing

He was a genius.

Yeah, yeah! But on the other hand… I wouldn’t do that to him. I wouldn’t do that. No man. I would’ve called him and said “The thing ago bust. How we ago do? Because this our thing you know“. Long time we suffer. We are the ones who have suffered. This guy comes in from nowhere and eats half of everything. No, man. But that’s how it went. I’m not really sitting or dwelling on that. It came up because we’re going back in the history.

So you’re okay with me putting that in the interview?

How you mean? Put out everything! Because I don’t lie. I don’t tell a lie. The only time I would tell a lie is if I was standing before the judge and my life was depending on it. It’s a simple thing. I’ve got no reason to lie. It doesn’t make any sense.

So you had a good time in Canada…

Oh yeah man. We owned a club in Toronto called the BamBoo Club. Queen Street West. I’ll never forget that. We had that place packed every weekend. People looked forward, all kinds of people - doctors, lawyers, to the simple little man. Packed that place. It’s like we were resident band. But we loved the feeling. We loved to get together there and it was like a party feel. So that was a great thing while it lasted in Canada.

So why and when did you come back?

The cold! And just too far from the roots too… 2005 or something like that

That’s a long time you spent in Canada.

Oh yeah man. Over 20 years. We just got tired of it all and wanted to come back. I came back and just got right back in there too, you know? (Laughs) Oh yes, man! Oh yes! Got myself right back in there. That thing called Star Time. I starred up the whole of that. Steady right through! They couldn’t take it man. As great as all my peers were, they were all scared of me when I came out man - for real! The Alton, the Dennis, the whole of them. And Dennis was a great singer you know? There was something about me back then too. When I stepped out? Yeah man. I taught most of these guys. More stage appearance.


Yes. Because after a while I started to smile and said “They’ve been watching me“. (Laughs) But that’s good. That’s alright.

I’ve seen you doing shows in London. Is that what you like doing most?

Yeah that. That’s what keeps me alive right now.

I want to start putting out songs like crazy again

What about studio recording and production?

Yeah we put out a song. But I want to start putting out songs like crazy again. Whether they go… Wherever they go. Just let them go and say “Go!” You know? You just never know. Oh yeah. And I’ll finish my machine around the back and get back in the business. I was here talking to some other musicians today, some guys and saying “Yeah we want to get back in there”. This is what we do so keep doing it. And I love it. Oh yes.

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