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Interview: Frankie Paul

Interview: Frankie Paul

Interview: Frankie Paul

By on - Photos by Franck Blanquin - Comment

"I'd like to be in space movies... I'd like to play the man who comes from another planet"


Partially sighted singer Frankie Paul (born Paul Blake, 1965, Kingston) is one of the most prolific Jamaican recording artists of the 1980s. In an era when the deejays were increasingly ruling the dancehall Paul proved to be the exception, cutting hit after hit in a voice that has been compared to both Dennis Brown and Stevie Wonder - who he met and was inspired by while still at school. Under the patronage of Earl Chinna Smith he recorded his first tune at age 15. His big sides like Worries In The Dance and Pass The Tu Sheng Peng are played ferociously in dances today and he is still in excellent voice, touring around the world. At the time of writing Frankie is preparing to release his new solo album on his recently established Coffee Walk label. Angus Taylor spoke to Mr Paul as he and his management were having dinner post-performance at Reggae Jam in Bersenbrück, Germany in the summer and got a quick snapshot of his hugely productive career, all told in his distinctive trans-gulf-of-Mexico drawl.

Frankie Paul

You grew up with music around you because your mother used to keep dances.

She used to keep dances but she used to go to church also and she used to sing there. So I got all what she had because she's now passed away.

Tell me about your time at the Salvation Army School for the blind.

It was a wonderful time. It was filling and it was learning. There I was taught a whole bunch of things which I memorized and brought out in my everyday life and everyday living.

You had acting lessons there - how have you used that in your everyday living?

Well, I've used it quite a few times but I've never quite got to the international stage of it, which I've always wanted to try. I think I'm going to try it next year. See if I can get into being in a few movies. I'd like to be in space movies, like sci-fi. Alien movies. I'd like to play the man who comes from another planet (puts on alien voice) WHO ARE YOU??? WHAT ARE YOU DOING??? IT IS NOT REQUIRED FOR YOU TO BE HERE!!! I AM GOING TO SEND YOU BACK DOWN TO EARTH!!!! (laughs)

You met Stevie Wonder at school didn't you?

Ah! It was a wonderful day. It was raining a little in the morning. The school bell rang but we didn't know what was happening. They told us we were going to have a surprise! We all went to the assembly hall and we saw keyboards set up and a microphone and I was saying "Who's this?" and I saw them bringing him onstage I thought "Stevie Wonder", my idol!" and it was fabulous. A wonderful time. I got up on stage and sang "I can see clearly now" and Stevie Wonder said "Oh. Beautiful voice you've got there. Keep it up and I hope you become international with it". And here I am today. They call me the Jamaican Stevie Wonder.

Stevie Wonder said "Beautiful voice you've got there. Keep it up and I hope you become international with it"

Who was a bigger inspiration - Stevie or Dennis Brown?

Both. I couldn't choose.

Tell me about how Earl Chinna Smith helped kick-start your career?

I used to live downtown Kingston, Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens area and I knew some guys who saw me singing and they said "You're wasting your talent. Let's bring you to somebody who can get your talent up there more than it is now." They brought to Earl Chinna Smith and we went to Channel One, Jumbo, Henry Junjo Lawes, Harry J Records, Jammys, all those labels. But I started with High Times. My first tune was African Princess and it did wonderful. It was my first big hit.

Some of your biggest hits were for Junjo Lawes. What was your experience like, working with him?

Frankie PaulAt first I was scared of him because I had heard he was a badman and he used to tie up people and do all kind of things. So I said to myself "I am going to see who is Junjo?" So when they locked the studio I was in there hiding, because no one was allowed in there when Junjo was recording. So I went into the studio and he said "Who this little boy I-yah?" and I said "I can sing you know" and he said "Let me hear you". So he put on a rhythm, I sang and the whole place went berserk! He was like "Yo! Give him five more riddim!" and they gave me five more rhythms and I sang. When I had finished recording he had one of those brown paper bags filled with money and said "This is yours". I went home and me and my friends sat down counting out pure twenty dollars - at the time no hundred dollars was [in circulation] in Jamaica it was just twenty dollars. We counted counted, counted and we got a lot of money time - which was nice! It was nice working with Junjo because he was a man that paid! He treated the artists good.

How did you come up with your two most famous tunes - Pass The Tu Sheng Peng and Worries In The Dance?

Worries In The Dance, I was in the dance one time and the girls were acting real outrageous. Dancing on their head and they were going down on the floor and I was saying "This look like worries man!" So immediately I went to Channel One and I did the first version for this guy George [Phang] that came from Canada. Tu Sheng Peng, I was coming from a cabaret show in Negril and my friend said "Wh'appen, we go have a Tu Sheng Peng in the house" and my other friend said "Tu Sheng Peng does the man 'nough". I thought "Wha? Them got me now call Tu Sheng Peng?" so I just asked them if I could use it. They said yes and I sang "Pass the Tu Sheng Peng, pass it over".

It was nice working with Junjo because he was a man that paid!

You recorded a huge number of tunes - could you estimate how many? Are you happy to have recorded so many? If you did it all again would record so much?

Last time I checked I did over five thousand tunes. And I'm still going strong. I am. Yes I would.

When the music turned digital it didn't seem to stop you at all. You just carried on making hits. Do you prefer live music or digital?

Live music. It gives you more deeper inner feeling. It makes you think of original things. Original things happening around you. It's not like camouflage. The digital thing is camouflage. But you know, you can still make the digital thing sound like it's live, if you put your heart and your mind to it, it will sound live.

You were a very successful singer in a time of many deejays. Today, would you say there are enough singers in the industry?

I would say there are singers but they are scared to get out there and do their thing due to what's happening now. What we have to do now is get back to the roots and remember that it's God, the Most High God, nothing else, nobody else that runs the thing. He probably is not too quick at doing what some people want him to do but it surely will come some day.

How much of what you do is improvised? Is that a skill you got from sound systems?

Well I didn't plan it! (laughs) Most of it is straight from the head. Not only sound systems. It's a skill I got from being around everywhere. Sound system, on the street, in the parks, in my home everywhere.

How do you keep your voice in shape?

Well...I do a lot of practice, testing it out every day. Make sure it's working properly. Make sure all the notes are there. All the slurs are there. The energy's there. And the vibes is there. So there is nothing I leave out. And the prayer. Most important thing of all is the prayer. I do a prayer before I do anything in this world today so God can look upon his son and give me more blessings.

What we have to do now is get back to the roots and remember that it's God... that runs the thing

Which do you prefer - live performance or recording?

Live performance. Actually I prefer both - live performance and live recording!

What recordings do you currently have in the pipeline?

I have a new label coming out named Coffee Walk out of Montego Bay, Jamaica and New York. I have a new album getting ready to come out on the market. I haven't given it a name yet [It has since been announced as Broken Hearted]. Actually I have two new albums getting ready that haven't got a name yet. Very soon they will be out playing on the radio and playing all over. And a lot of people will enjoy it because they have nice tracks.

What do you do in your spare time when you're not making music?

Make music! Making music and listening to my bedroom set. My bedroom set is one of the nicest things in the world today. It's very heavy, it has a lot of top end, it has a lot of mid-range. And I've got my full pouch of CDs which I non-stop play every day. When neighbours come they say "Could you turn it up a little for me please?" and I say "Sure" and I crank it up a little bit for them! (laughs)

What's on your stereo these days?

I'm still listening to old school. Old school reggae, old school R&B. I'm not too into most of the new stuff. I'm into like Richie Spice and Romain Virgo [who also played Reggae Jam that weekend] but most of the stuff I wouldn't go near to - that's not my style.

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