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Interview: Mikey Chung in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Mikey Chung in Kingston (Part 2)

Interview: Mikey Chung in Kingston (Part 2)

By on - Photos by Veronique Skelsey - Comment

"I'm a musician. I go for feel"


Read part 1 of this interview

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with , he recalls working with Peter Tosh and Chris Blackwell, leaving and returning to Jamaica, and how he wants to commemorate his brother Geoffrey and celebrate 50 years since Now Generation

Mikey Chung

You said you already knew Sly because he used to come and listen to records at your house. How did you meet Sly and start working together?

We all knew each other from sessions. But then Sly and Robbie were playing for Peter Tosh and they called me and said “Mikey do you want to come and play for Peter Tosh?” And that became the nucleus of my new group.

You toured with Peter Tosh and that led to sessions for Island at Compass Point?

Yeah, Peter Tosh was the first thing. And then Black Uhuru at the same time. And then Chris Blackwell had this idea and he just put this to group together, which I think was amazing what they did. He got Wally Badarou from France, he got Barry Reynolds from England, he got me, he got Sticky, and Sly and Robbie. And the whole experiment just turned out to be great. But you know one other thing I must mention? The highest credit. Alex Sadkin. Him and Chris Blackwell with the producers. But Alex Sadkin was amazing. Engineer, soundwise, he would take up a whole day to make up the drums. And Sly would be “bof!” “bof!” hitting this now for half a day to get the right sound. It’s too bad that he passed away so quick, you know?

The whole Compass Point vibe was nice

I guess they had the luxury of the studio time to do that!

Yeah, yeah. And then Grace Jones was there. We started doing that. Then people started trickling in like Tom Tom Club, the Thompson Twins.

Yes, the Tom Tom Club was with Stephen Stanley who became a great engineer.

Yeah, he was there too. The whole Compass Point vibe was nice.

Grace Jones had her documentary film come out in Jamaica the other day.

So I hear. She was a very difficult person. Very, very difficult. All for herself. Wanted to take credit for all everything. We were like “What are you chatting Grace? What did you do?” Because even her lyrics were by us. The rhythm tracks were us. And then she’s trying to get all the credit. But I heard she wrote something good about me but I haven’t seen it yet! I hope so. (Laughs)

As well as Grace Jones you’ve also work with lots of other artists outside of reggae. You played on Serge Gainsbourg’s famous 1979 reggae album Aux Armes Et Cætera.

Yeah. That was amazing again. Serge Gainsbourg was a great experience. I did this album also for this guy from Holland called Chris Hinze.

Grace Jones was a very difficult person

Were you involved in the Night Nurse sessions?

The Night Nurse? It’s actually just overdubs Wally Badarou did. And I think a lot of the rhythms were done in Jamaica. They brought the tapes over there and Wally Badarou sweetened it. So I don’t think it was really recorded in Compass Point, the whole session.

Flabba Holt said that he went out there and produced Night Nurse. He said that Grace Jones was recording in one studio and he was there doing some stuff on Night Nurse in the other studio.

Not that I recall. I know that Wally Badarou did that Night Nurse keyboard synthesiser. I know he overdubbed it over there but I don’t know remember them coming in.

Did you do some other work with Gregory?

Yes, but I don’t remember what. I did a lot of sessions with Gregory. At Channel One.

How important was Channel One at that time?

Very important. Channel One was very important. I used to love Channel One. It had a good sound and just the whole energy that they were pushing in and putting out.

You also did some early work with Beres Hammond at Joe Gibbs.

Yeah. Beres what he turned into now is different from what he started. Where he’s coming from. He was really more a soul singer.

And Pablo Moses of course because of Geoffrey’s production work on several albums for Island.

Yeah. I give Geoffrey all the credit for Pablo Moses. He took Pablo Moses and made him Pablo Moses. I think his A Song is a masterpiece.

You played with Toots as well, because obviously Jackie Jackson plays with Toots and Hux played with Toots.

Yeah. One of the Toots albums I love is Just Like That, which he did for Chris Blackwell.

Let’s talk about Peter Tosh - what kind of person was he to work with?

I think Peter Tosh was the most misunderstood person. A great guy. Funny. Everybody else would say “Oh Peter Tosh this and that”, “That guy is crazy” whatever. I didn’t see anything. Nice, nice guy. We never had a problem with him. Nice, jovial, funny. Very funny person.

Peter Tosh was the most misunderstood person

What about the Rolling Stones?

Well the Peter Tosh thing we did and then and then I noticed I got credit for some of Mick’s solo albums that came out. But all that too was a pleasure to work. These guys are great you know? It’s amazing that these guys were so nice.

Another person who everybody has an opinion about is Chris Blackwell. How did you find him?

The same thing with Chris Blackwell. I respect Chris Blackwell. Very much. He was never nasty or nothing like that, no negativity nothing. Very professional, treated us like kings, everything was good with him. To this day I appreciate what Chris has done for us.

I respect Chris Blackwell

How well did you know Bob Marley?

You know what? It didn’t happen but Geoffrey was negotiating with Bob Marley to produce his next album. You see Bob Marley was the kind of guy that was always wanting to go forward. He loved Now Gen and he wanted to record and Geoff was to go negotiate with him but then it didn’t happen. Passed away. Which is why Mikey Boo and Dougie ended up playing some tracks with him. Because that was the time when it was being spoken about. Tyrone too, he knew as well and Tyrone was always telling Bob “Yeah man”.

I think we should say something about Black Uhuru. I interviewed Duckie Simpson yesterday. Obviously that line up split in 1985 but that music is a huge influence on the younger generation of artists like Chronixx and Protoje.

It was great. Because it gave me another genre to put my stamp on. And it was challenging, gave me a premise to work with. It’s just a shame that with the group again it was the same old sad story. Groups are always at each other’s necks! (Laughs) Because these guys could be out there still. Michael Rose is by himself, Duckie is by himself. Michael Rose is not bad by himself but Duckie is bad by himself and they need each other.

And you worked with James Brown on some music that was never released…

Yeah. That was another strange happening because we were at Compass Point, James Brown flies in, at the time Al was his manager. And you know we are down at Compass Point and wearing shorts, barefoot and James Brown comes to the studio every day in a limousine, three-piece suit, he even comes with this hairdresser and I’m saying “Come on man! Loosen up man!” (Laughs) And he also was very... you could say… not obnoxious but he wanted his own way. Wanted to tell us what exactly how to do everything. I’m saying “You don’t want to come try a thing, man?” What’s he on about?

He was famously a very strict bandleader on stage so it makes sense that he was like that in the studio.

He was amazing still though. Don’t get me all wrong James Brown is amazing. James Brown and George Clinton - I love those guys.

Geoffrey was negotiating with Bob Marley to produce his next album

Did you work with George Clinton?

I worked with Bernie Worrell.

The keyboard player.

Yeah man. Amazing. On and off in New York with the sessions.

How did the Compass Point thing wind up?

Well you know at one point - I’m just sorry that that didn’t really happen - but we were supposed to do a solo album. A Compass Point All Stars solo album but it never got finished. Also I think because Alex passed away. Just two or three weeks ago Chris Blackwell was saying that he still blown away by that and Alex was a great brethren. So I don’t know if that caused him to kind of lose interest with all of the ideas.

Mikey ChungYou yourself went back to the Jamaica School of Music to study…

This was probably around the same time as Black Uhuru and Peter Tosh in that era. Well as I say I am self-taught and at some point in the late 70s they started this Jamaica Cultural Centre. Have you ever heard of Melba Liston? She’s a jazz trombone player. She came here and she started a pop course. And I said “You know what? I’m going to enrol in this pop course and make sure that I’ve formalised what I’ve been teaching myself”.

And not only was I correct in whatever but being taught by Melba Liston was amazing. What she showed me I mean really - real musician man! (Laughs) And when she was talking to us about stuff - she did stuff with Quincy Jones, Count Basie all of those people. Amazing, man. But she always built you up. She never spoke down to you. She was always just so positive. I became so close to her.

So I formalised that but you know what again? All these injustices. If you want you can print this too. I was at the School Of Music with people like Peter Ashbourne. All these people. I was one of the people that was top of the class. But I never got a diploma. You know why? Because the head of this thing was this Pamela O’Gorman. She didn’t like pop music blah blah blah. Somebody said I should take it higher but I said “You know what? That doesn’t make me anything. I’m still Mikey Chung, musician.”

Ernie Ranglin thought highly of me. So I'm satisfied with that

The experience was what you wanted.

Yes. Because Ernie Ranglin, everybody thought highly of me. So I’m satisfied with that.

What was it like being taught by Ranglin?

Great man, great. Father Ernie was amazing man. Ernie taught me a whole heap of stuff. I hear he’s not well too and I need to go look for him. He lives in Ochi.

By the late 80s in Jamaica the rhythms were changing, going digital. There wasn’t so much call for guitar in the studio.

Well, I was always busy so I didn’t even take notice! (Laughs) Because to be honest I was always on tour or doing stuff. The good things now which I’m proud of too is that a lot of the work that I do even now is coming from people I’ve done work for in the past. The Europeans, French German, all over the world, they come in and they want you again same way. It’s like a happy family and they got used to you.

How did you move to New York?

Well what happened was I was never in Jamaica. I always ended up in New York before I came back to Jamaica. I said “It doesn’t make sense to come back to Jamaica if I’m just going to come back to New York”. So I just moved. I got married to a US person that’s why I moved to New York. I moved to New York in about ‘78 and I came back here in about ‘94-‘95.

And how come you came back to Jamaica?

Well that didn’t work! (Laughs) I think I picked the wrong one! And you know she was Irish –temper, temper, temper!

What were you doing in the 90s? Who were you playing with in this period of time? You played with Maxi Priest on Close To You, which Geoffrey produced…

The same sessions and touring. Buju Banton. Some of these kinds of artists. Because I was living full time in New York so we got to do a lot of stuff coming through New York. You know, Carlene Davis, Max Romeo all of these kind of guys.

How did you feel about what was happening in the music in Jamaica when you came back?

Well it was alright. It was good. It wasn’t bad but to be honest I don’t criticise it. But the dancehall thing kind of turned me right off. Even when I was playing with Buju Banton I said “Boy, this is crazy man. What happened to the good music that was created and now nobody remembers it”.

You did some work with Garnett Silk…

Yeah I produced the last album. Because Big Beat contacted us and said “Garnett Silk is always in to electronic riddims and all that”. This guy had never done tracks recorded. So they got me, and Clive Hunt was involved with it too. They got me to pick. And I picked everybody you know. Chinna Smith, Familyman, Mikey Boo - everybody I picked and we did the album. It’s a pity he didn’t finish it because we were using the rough tracks for vocals and all that.

Geoffrey also passed around the time you came back…

Yes. Which is another thing I’m glad I came back when I did. Because I could spend some time with him.

I interviewed Dean Fraser last year and he told me his biggest production influence was Geoffrey Chung.

I am glad that a lot of that stuff comes out because at the next JARIA Geoffrey is getting an all-time producer’s award. But if you ask any engineer of any worth in Jamaica they all have great things to say about Geoffrey. He took them and showed them whatever. Everybody. That is good. I’m in the process of also starting a foundation. The Antrim Foundation because this [address] is where we all started. I want to do that for him.

Tell me a bit more about the foundation.

It’s called the Antrim Foundation. I haven’t pinpointed exactly what we’re doing but I always wanted to help with like engineers, production stuff like that in Geoffrey’s memory. Whichever way we can help. Because Jamaica needs a lot of help in certain areas.

So this house has always been your musical base?

On this veranda here I have taught amounts of guitarists that learnt guitar out here. A whole truckload of them. Pablo Moses, Bo Pee, at some point or other everybody has come here. I Jah Man has been here, Max Romeo, everybody.

Jamaica needs a lot of help in certain areas

What have you been up to recently? I first met you at Mixing Lab when you were recording the Kingston All-stars project. How did you get involved with that?

They just contacted me! And I said “Yeah alright!” But then Hux is a very good friend so if Hux is involved then I said “Yeah man!” And Jackie Jackson too. But you know what I just realised? With all that I know or I think I know! (Laughs) This guy Brian Atkinson, you know of him?

Yes from Soul Vendors. I was talking to Joe Isaacs about him this week.

This guy has done a whole ton of music you know? For Studio One and everything. Somebody is telling me he played Why Did You Leave, he played It Mek, he played all of the songs. I thought “Wow I didn’t know that! I thought he just played with Lynn Taitt!” I hear Brian is coming down next month. I want to see him because I want to touch base with him for real. He is in Canada. Him and Joe really stayed in Canada.

We should also talk about your work with Tiken Jah Fakoly.

Another session but Tiken Jah - I like him. And we’ve had some good times together in the studio. His music was a little different so he gave you challenges.

What other projects are you working on?

I should add I know I started singing about ‘64-‘65. But I think that Now Generation, or the Mighty Mystics which became the Now Generation was 1968. I’m celebrating 50 years this year. I’m writing a book and I putting out a double solo album.

What kind of book is it going to be? Is it going to be a personal memoir or a history of the music?

It is but I also want to give credit to everybody I know. Because I think nobody is getting credit. They are just lost and forgotten. So I think I am going to do what I can with all the names and give credit so at least somebody will know that these are the people. Because the other thing too, and it’s not that I’m talking bad about them, but I mean this thing about who did what on what - a lot of this thing is bullshit. People saying they created reggae, they did this and they did that.

I feel that every single musician in Jamaica coming up from the 60s is responsible for the development of this music. And people are just gone and forgotten. I don’t know. I can’t understand that. Even up to now I don’t see the cultural division. Nobody is doing anything for anybody. You have to be struggling to get on. I see a little change coming but what I stand for and what my life has been about in music is I think everybody deserves to take a piece of the action. Because without all of the musicians this music would never have happened. Without the Drumbagos, [Hugh] Malcolm and all these people. Every guitarist, you know, everybody - so that’s what my agenda is.

Every single musician in Jamaica coming up from the 60s is responsible for the development of this music

And who’s playing on the double solo album? Is this a self-production?

Yeah, self-production. I have everybody playing on it. Dougie, Sly and Robbie, everybody. Ansel Collins, Hux, everybody. As a matter of fact I’m doing over I Jah Man’s Are We A Warrior. On this album I’m doing some of my favourite songs. I’m doing over some Abyssinians. With the solo album now, I am giving credit to everybody who has been there for me who has influenced me - including both foreign and Jamaican people. And I want to give thanks for all of them because without them I wouldn’t you know…

What I can mention is that the whole idea of the album… first of all I am a very spiritual person and the album is GIVTHANX. I’m giving thanks to have been able to do all of this in my life. So giving thanks to the Father for allowing me to do that and then I also want to give thanks to everybody I associated myself with. The whole album stems from everything I’ve got - not just from Jamaican musicians. Eric Gayle, Wah Wah Watson, David T Walker, all of these people that played an influence in my life.

Apart from Kingston All-Stars and your solo album and book, what have you been up to?

Kind of cooling! (Laughs) Just working here and there and you know? And then doing research. I’m trying to get all the information out. When the album comes out I want to maybe start thinking about putting a group together. Because with all this music it’s going to take a lot to play live. I’m going to need a certain amount of good musicians.

What are your thoughts on the way the music is going today?

It’s going but I think they need to pay more attention to the original music. Not even to say copy or whatever. But to many times you meet a young musician you say “You know who Don Drummond is?” And he says “Who?” Come on man! You don’t know who Don Drummond is? But the amazing thing now Angus is if I go to France and everywhere I go to, these guys know! All of them know! Even last week these guys came from Mexico and they know everything! They know who played on what. They know what studio. And I’m saying “Then why is the world so interested in our music and Jamaicans say they’re not so interested in the legacy and all the information?” That’s the only thing that drives me crazy. I’m embarrassed about it. And I’m not afraid to say that.

But there has been more emphasis on live musicianship in the last 10 years with the bands coming out of the Edna Manley course.

Yeah man. Good, good. They are great. I like to see stuff like that happening. But you know what still? I thought you said Della Manley because she’s even she is a middle of the road kind of folk singer and she is embracing a lot of the reggae things now. But the Edna Manley You know what? Because I was teaching at Edna Manley at one point. I was teaching bass and guitar. And it drove me crazy the students I had because they’re just into R&B until I said “Come on man!”

I would say in the bass class “Alright - play me a reggae bass-line“ and these guys are playing and I’d say “Come on man you never listen to Familyman?” And then they have a thing too - the hotels. The music they are playing is not Jamaican. I mean it’s not authentic. I mean they’re playing this sweet, a lot of keyboard with Fender Rhodes, sweet thing. I said “No man! Come on man! Embrace the thing man!”

But you yourself said that when you were Now Gen you were listening to everything that was around, so how is that different?

Right, right. Maybe alright! (Laughs) But I think our approach was not that we were not listening to copy. We were listening for technique and for arrangements in whatever. So we would say “Alright we’re going to use horns we’re going to use this, I’m going to use that” but not to copy.

That recent interview with Quincy Jones has been doing the rounds where he says very similar things. I did an interview with Sly where we agreed on this point that today through the internet people have access to so much music that they can copy it exactly rather than just trying anything and coming up with something new.

Well that’s the other thing true about trial and error, sometimes you buck up on something! (Laughs) Because you didn’t expect it. Because that has happened to us too. It happens you know? I want to tell you there are some obscure things that I wouldn’t have believed that up to now people are raving about. Because they are so inferior to what’s going on! People say “Collector’s item”! There is this song called So Weary that Mystics did and you know how much one copy was selling for? A whole heap of money! I couldn’t believe that you know? I said “Rahtid yeah!”

Mikey Chung

Which work have you created that you are most proud of?

I’m proud of that Black Uhuru tune Party Next Door. And there are a lot of Peter Tosh songs because on a lot of the Peter Tosh albums I arranged the horns. Like Mystic Man and all those. When we were playing with Peter we used to do all the overdubs in New York so we used to get the Brecker Brothers and all those people to do horns. And Peter would say “Yeah, just book them!” And this was just when I was going to School of Music with all that theory, so I could try what I was learning. You know what song I liked too? I liked Mystic Man, I like a lot of that album, I like Just Say No, and a lot of songs on that album.

Could you say a few words about your Now Gen colleague Wire Lindo who passed away this year?

Earl Wire Lindo was amazing. I mean really a one-of-a-kind musician. Nobody really understands how talented that guy was. We have an album which we were working on for Now Gen and up till last year I was in touch with Wire. I called him all the time and we were going to complete this album but it never came and it really hurt me. But his arranging skill, his vibe, it was unbelievable. One-of-a-kind musician. He’s gone now but what are you going to do?

What were the best studios in Jamaica for you?

Federal was a good studio. It was well equipped. The build and the whole design. I think it was one of the best studios. Even up to this day [as Tuff Gong] it has a good sound. It remains the same too.

Which guitarists do you rate the most?

I should say I am not for technique and speed and all that. I’m a musician. I go for feel. I became a session musician and from that moment I started checking out session people. That’s why I liked Eric Gayle. Simple feel. I like David T Walker - same thing again. I like Cornell Dupree - same thing again. Those are my kind of musicians.

Earl Wire Lindo was amazing. A one-of-a-kind musician

Which producers do you rate?

There are many producers that I like but you know which producer blew me away? And because he’s Jamaican, Thom Bell. Amazing. I like Earth, Wind & Fire, I liked Weather Report, but he is the one that stands out.

Was there anybody in music that you met and thought “Wow, I can’t believe I’m meeting this person?”

I’m not like that. I don’t worship. But Thom Bell if I ever met him, he meant something to me. Because I know Geoffrey and Bob Andy went somewhere in Philadelphia one time and they saw Thom Bell and they were in awe! (Laughs) And they had to go “Thom Bell? You’re Thom Bell really? We are from Jamaica and…” But he would do that to me too. Because you see that’s the other thing too - when you say also listening to people for ideas but not to copy… Thom Bell was that kind of thing. I mean into orchestration, horns, big band you know? And he bridged that gap for me where you listen to the Stylistics and Spinners and say “Wow this guy is amazing”.

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