Today I find myself at a home in Gaithersburg, MD sitting across the kitchen table from one Delroy “Barry” Wright, record producer and owner of Live & Learn records. I had been seeking to link with the elusive Ras for some time but he’s not an easy one to pin down for an interview. I was planning the interview to end all interviews. It is not often that you get to sit down with someone who has a resumé like Barry’s. From his work with Ras Michael, Freddy McKay, and Winston Hussey to his association with Henry “Junjo” Lawes, Linval Thompson, and the early dancehall revolution at Channel One, he has a tremendous story to tell and I was going to help him tell it.
For those who don’t know, Barry and his brother Jah Life (Hyman Wright) relocated to the US from Jamaica in 1970, settling in the NYC area. Delroy soon moved south to Washington, D.C. where he opened the legendary Live & Learn Record Mart, which would, for the next 20 years be the checkpoint for all displaced Jamaicans and touring reggae artists.
“It was the place to be you know. If you on tour here in the U.S. you haffe come check in at Live & Learn” Wright explains laughing.
For someone who prefers to let his music do the talking ( he’s only granted two previous interviews) Barry is one of the most amiable, unassuming, and humble individuals I have ever met in the business.
I give thanks to Barry for giving me the interview and to Doctor Dread for getting us together to make it happen.
JR: So I really want to talk in depth about your career. For people reading this who may not know, you and your brother Hyman “Jah Life” Wright moved to New York in the mid-seventies…you eventually settled in Washington, D.C.. But you would travel to Jamaica often to record artists and then bring the tapes back to the U.S. to sell. What was that dynamic like, you know, dropping in on Jamaica for a week or two just to record?
DW: “I tell you Mike. I don’t play when I used to go in Jamaica. It’s serious business when I go to Jamaica. When I’m there, everybody wan come sing. I tell you Mike I have so many songs. Ansel Meditations, this guy I give you the record here on Studio One Ernest Wilson I have some songs wid him. Y’understand me? Even Freddie McGregor. I was the first one to bring him to Doctor Dread. I tell Doc to listen to him. Don Carlos. I take his record to Jim Fox for the very first time. The one “Here I Come Again,” “Black History,” “Spread out.””
JR: So start at the beginning. Where are you from?
DW: “I’m from Kingston…Denham Town. Jus’ like the album I did with Wailing Souls Kingston 14. You see on de cover deh Denham Town. Dat where me a come from. Me know Pipe, Garth, dem from Black Uhuru, Duckie, Michael, Junior Reid all a dem. Waterhouse.”
JR: You come from a large family?
DW: “Yeah mon, my family big! I got two brothers and eight sisters. My father Vincent Wright used to be a you know, seh the government wan’ bring more lights on the street, so dem haffe come to my father. He was like the village lawyer.”
JR: Kind of like what we would call an Alderman or community representative?
DW: “Yeah mon. He used to have a little sound system business too you know. He used to play at a place dem call Forrester’s Oil. Maybe you might see Duke Reid or Coxsone there or Chocomo Lawn. He also used to have a jukebox system where he put records in the bars so the people can punch and play and dance you know listen or whatever.”
JR: What was the name of the sound system?
DW: “It didn’t really have a name (laughing). He just a show up and turn it out (laughing). True my dad wasn’t as big as Coxsone or Duke Reid, his sound didn’t have a name. So he start doing a few recordings with Delroy Wilson and Stranger Cole. He and Stranger Cole form a little label they called W&C Records and they open a little shop on a place dem call North Street. You know “Run, Run”? My father the first one to do it even before Coxsone.”
JR: With Delroy (Wilson)?
DW: “Yeah and also “Once Upon A Time” my father is the first one to record that one with Delroy also.”
JR: And these records were released?
DW: “Yeah mon them release in Jamaica on the W&C label. So that how it all start with the music ting ya know…with the little label and the shop on North Street.”
JR: Now there are many sources that point to Delroy Wilson and Stranger Cole as the label owners. Is this not true? Wilson and Cole?
DW: “I have heard that too but it is not true. The label was owned by my father and Stranger Cole. They opened the shop together on North Street. The label is W&C – Wright & Cole. The store on North Street was called W&C. My father produced some tune by Delroy Wilson on the label.”
JR: Sorry to belabor the issue and I know this seems trivial but you are refuting what has been considered fact for many years. Some sources say that W&C was Delroy Wilson’s label and that your father’s label with Stranger Cole was called B&W. You ever hear this?
DW: “Yes I hear it. I hear all of it but it not true. W&C – Wright & Cole. As for B&W I don’t really know about it.”
JR: There are also several Stranger and Gladdy tunes on the label as well.
DW: “W&C? Yes, yes Stranger and Gladdy were a big group from early on. Even before Bob Marley Stranger and Gladdy were like the big ting. So this is like late 1960s and around 1970. Y’know my father was well known in the music business at the time. At his birthday you would see Roland Alphonso, the Skatalites would come and play. So that is how I get to know a lot of the musicians. Tommy McCook you know…all of those guys.”
JR: So the tune he did for Delroy [Wilson] “Run, Run” on the W&C label, was that tune a hit?
DW: “Oh yeah, yeah mon. You hear it on the radio. It was very popular.”
JR: Did the record sound a lot different than the later version from Studio One?
DW: “Yeah, it sound a lot different. The Studio One version was more of a rocksteady beat. Coxsone change the beat so it have his sound, the sound coming from Studio One at that time which was rocksteady.”
JR: I’d love to track down a copy of that original version. It is such a great tune.
DW: “You know, my brother have it. Him have it and he have the master tape too. So getting back to what I was saying, my brother Jah Life was more interested in it than I was. I wasn’t interested in it until say around 1970, 1971.”
JR: And how old were you at this point when you started to get interested in the music?
DW: “I was around like seventeen yeah seventeen years old.”
JR: I’ve read somewhere that you first started recording in the early 1970s. What did you record? Do you recall?
DW: “Well, I did so many recordings in the early seventies…I try to recall but there were so many. Many of them never released. I still have the tapes. I recorded Ernest Wilson, Freddy McKay, Ras Michael some maybe release on a 45 but some still not released today.”
JR: So let’s slow it down for a minute. How did you make the transition from a sort of street kid you know to entering a studio to record and produce? I suspect that is not a transition that is easily made.
DW: “Well, OK. I was in Jamaica. Let me recall.” (laughing)
JR: Long time right? (laughing)
DW: “Yeah mon, long time. I cannot remember! (laughing) I was in Jamaica. I went to Channel One. Yeah Channel One on Maxfield Avenue. I think it was Ras Michael. Ras Michael was one of the first to bring me around you know. It was the day ah…there was an instant in Jamaica where there was a coffin running around in Kingston all by itself without anybody directing it or anything and they were saying that it was evil spirit. That was the song that Bob Marley cut called “Mr. Brown.” That was the day. That is when I decide you know I’m gonna go to Channel One and start doing some work. I could see that the music was going to take off because of what Bob Marley was doing at that time.”
JR: Yeah but how do you make that transition though? They are just not going to let you in to start running the board. So how did you…or who did you know that allowed you to get behind those walls?
DW: “Oh OK, yes, yes, you haffe book studio time and you haffe be familiar to the people, the musicians and producers. I knew a lot of these people because my father was in the music business. So I didn’t have to go through a lot of things to get in you know. So I decide that music gonna be my life line now.”
JR: So back to your first recordings…Do you recall any of them?
DW: “I record so many ‘ting you know. In the early ’70s I was recording Michael Prophet. I was even recording Ernest Wilson. Ansel Meditations. Ras Michael.”
JR: All of it at Channel One?
DW: “Yes most of it at Channel One because at the time there were three studios that would press and sell my recordings. You had Channel One, you had Dynamic, you had Tuff Gong you know. But most people choose record at Channel One because Channel One had the sound.”
JR: Tuff Gong?
DW: “Yes, upstairs Bob Marley have a little shop with Peter and Bunny. It was on…trying to recall…maybe Beeston Street at the corner of Beeston Street and Orange Street…right over there, yeah.”
JR: And they would sell your records there?
DW: “Yeah, yeah mon. It a record shop you know.”
JR: It must have been later than 1970. I think Channel One was built in 1972?
DW: “No, no…Channel One was there before 1972. Yeah mon. I remember like even 1969 Channel One was there on Maxfield Avenue.”
JR: Was Sly and Robbie there at the time?
DW: “Yeah mon! Sly and Robbie was there. I did a lot of recording with Sly and Robbie. Also Lloyd Parks. We The People. Radics. You see Mike I don’t do like a lot of producers and just use the Radics or just use Sly and Robbie. I mix the musicians up and try to come with a different sound.”
JR: How does that dynamic work though? Say you have Sly and Robbie but you want to use Lloyd Parks on a track with Sly. You tell Robbie you want to use Lloyd?
DW: “Yeah mon.”
JR: They don’t get mad or territorial?
DW: “No, no (laughing). I do it all de time. I say Sly and Robbie I’m going to use you on the drum and bass, I’ll use Steelie on percussion. There was a guy, a guitarist we call him “Dougie.” He go on tour with Jimmy Cliff. Man, great, great guitar player. On some of the songs him mek it sound like Jimi Hendrix. One of the best.”
JR: “Dougie.” Is that Rad Bryan?
DW: “Yes, yes him name Radcliffe Bryan. What an amazing lead guitarist. Great guy.”
JR: So the first full length album you released on Live & Learn was Ras Michael and Sons of Negus LOVE THY NEIGHBOR?
DW: “Yes, that was the first album for Live & Learn but I do so many other recordings before that one. I do a little two tracks here and a little one track there you know.”
JR: LOVE THY NEIGHBOR was released on your brother’s label first though right? I think 1978, 1979?
DW: “Yes it released first on Jah Life but my brother have nothing to do with it. Nothing at all. It was between me and Ras Michael.”
JR: So LOVE THY NEIGHBOR was recorded at the Black Ark in early ’78 I believe. Maybe even the last LP recorded at the Ark? So what happened? How did you come to release the album?
DW: “Me and Ras Michael we good friends from long time. Ras Michael had the master tapes and he come to the U.S. and ask me to release the album. So I release it first on Jah Life in 1979 and then in 1982 I release it on Live & Learn.”
JR: The mix on your releases is different from the Black Ark mix. And the tracklist also is different.
DW: “Yes, I do my own mix to release in America on Jah Life and Live & Learn. I think the Live & Learn release have one less track than the one on Jah Life. Maybe two less track.”
DW: “Yes I think two less tracks.”
JR: So jumping back…When did you establish Live & Learn?
DW: “Yeah mon, the label was already established in the early 1970s. Well, actually it get established right around that time. Little bit before. You see because I use to give the stuff to Sonic Sound, that’s Neville Lee on Retirement Crescent. So he would take the little 45 and release it to England. So when the people start buy the records I start dealing direct with Jet Star and Greensleeves.”
JR: So you are not even 20 years old and you have your own label. How did you decide on Live & Learn as the name of the label?
DW: (Laughing) “A lot of people ask me that. You see I’m a Ras and I wanted to give the label a name that separate it from the others of that time. You had Attack, and Volcano, and the others. To me Live & Learn was something positive and conscious. I want it so when you pick up the record and you look at the record and the artist you know what you are getting. You are getting something that is positive and something that is quality.”
JR: It’s funny you say that because in the early 1980s the music took a turn there was a lot of negativity in the music and you and Doc in particular always kept the music positive and forward-looking.
DW: “Yeah mon, I never deal with negative. I’ll tell you Mike there were people come to the studio and try to record negativity and I don’t try deal in it.”
JR: When did you link with Junjo Lawes?
DW: “About 75-76. My brother went Jamaica and spent about a year. I was in NYC at the time, since 1970 actually. Me and my brother and some of my sisters moved there. We moved to the U.S. because politically things were getting hot and we were right in the middle of it in Denham Town. We surrounded by Tivoli Gardens over here, Rema over there, Wellington Street over there, Jungle up here. My sisters came to NYC in like 1968 so they were there.”
JR: So this period around 1975-76 who were you working with at that time, who were you recording on your trips to Jamaica?
DW: “Mike I was recording so many people man. Little John, Michael Prophet, this is long before they released any records. maybe a one-off or something but not much. You haffe remember not even Bob was big at that time. So by the time Barrington release BOUNTY HUNTER or Little John release him ‘ting, or Michael Prophet release his album these guys have been singing and performing for years mon. They record so many songs that never released you know. Just shelf it. Say you record a song and you think it real nice, you haffe do a lot of leg work just to get it to the street. No UK or US labels want to hear what you recording at that time so I haffe know somebody in the US in NYC or some place and say ‘look i have dis song it nice’ and send them the labels and the stamper and say ‘why you don’t see if you can walk it around to the shops and sell a few.’ It was hard work at that time. Even the Wailers record so many years before breaking you know.”
JR: And somebody with some money had to take a chance on them!
DW: “Right, right!”
JR: So the records you released on Live & Learn in the 80s – starting in say 1982 – when were those recorded?
DW: “All a dem in the 70s. Except for a few that I record in the mid-80s like The Mighty Diamonds [JAM SESSION] those albums were recorded in the 70s. Winston Hussey was in the middle of his career when we record THE GIRL I ADORE. We record that one in 1979. Freddie McKay was already established as a singer many years in Jamaica when we do his album [TRIBAL INNA YARD] in the mid-70s.”
JR: So say Little John for instance, he recorded REGGAE DANCE for Jah Thomas and GIVE THE YOUTH A TRY for you. He record the album for Jah Thomas first right?
DW: “Well, a little bit before. No, no it was basically at the same time you know. Because we were all at Channel One the same time.”
JR: So back to Jah Life in Jamaica. This is 1975-’76. So this is when he linked up with Junjo and Barrington Levy?
DW: “He linked with Junjo and I meet Junjo through my brother. At the time he [Lawes] was doing some enumerating, how you say, counting people you know.”
JR: Like a census counter?
DW: “Yeah, yeah mon! (laughing) He wasn’t in the business but he was edging. He was always at the dance, at the sound system, and live shows you know. He was out there. So he start recruiting artists from his neighborhood. Those artists like Little John, Toyan, they come from Junjo’s neighborhood in Oakland. Some of these guys were already on the mic at dances. At the same time my brother linked with Barrington Levy and link him with Junjo too.”
JR: So Junjo didn’t discover Barrington?
DW: “No, no. Who discover Barrington Levy was ah Trinity. Trinity I record also. He go by the name Junior Brammer you know. Trinity discover him and put him on. They were performing on the sound and Trinity give to Barrington his chain you know…like the chain from his neck and send him on-stage to perform. So during this time my brother record some tracks for Barrington. These are the tracks appear on BOUNTY HUNTER. Released on Jah Life. Yes that the first release with the hand-drawn cover art. I distribute it under Live and Learn. Those tracks were also released on like 2 or 3 other albums with different mixes.”
JR: Yes, legendary story. I have the Jah Life pressing and those tracks are very heavy. The music has a lot of weight. I also have HUNTER MAN which I think is on Burning Sounds. The music is not the same, not as heavy.
DW: “Yeah, that one no good mon.”
JR: So when is this? What year are you talking that Jah Life linked up with Barrington?
DW: “I’m talkin’ like 1971-’72.”
JR: Wait a minute. But BOUNTY HUNTER didn’t come out until 1979?
DW: “It come out on Jah Life in 1979 yes but those tracks were recorded mid-1970s. No, no. Listen. I stocked that BOUNTY HUNTER album at my store on Georgia Avenue when it first come. So it come maybe like ’75. I’m talkin’ the very first one…if you look at the back cover it distribute by Live & Learn. That one come out before 1979 in the mid-70s. Maybe the publishing ting didn’t do until ’79. Sometime back then you release the album, maybe sell it in your store and take it around to all de record shops but you do the publishing ‘ting later. Nah worry ’bout that at de time. There was no written contract back then, it was all word of mouth. Kinda like underground. I open my store on Georgia Avenue in D.C. in like ’74-’75 see…I was first at F Street and then I move up to Georgia Avenue after about a year.”
JR: So when you first open your store was it a variety store at that time?
DW: “No, no it just a record store. I just sell record at that time. Later I start sell them other ‘ting like the red/gold/green belt, the tassle, the kutchie knife and all dem Jamaica ‘ting…food, sell some food.”
JR: Why did you relocate from NYC to DC?
DW: “DC to me was more quiet, and slower and NYC was more fast. When I move hear I like the atmosphere of the colleges and the students always around you know. Different ethnic backgrounds, very diverse cultures and I like that.”
JR: So what was it like back then when you opened Live & Learn Records on Georgia Avenue?
DW: “Well that was the spot! All de people a come thru. It almost like a rite of passage when you come to D.C. Artists, producers, local people, students, DJs, everyone just there. Ras Michael. Don Carlos. Junior Reid. Barrington Levy. Dennis. Gregory. The Diamonds. They were all there. I think it was even hotter than NYC at that time. I used to do shows too you know…I produce shows so all a dem come through.”
JR: Did you put out records on your label during this period in the ’70s?
DW: “Yes, yes. I was putting out 45s in Jamaica so once it pop in Jamaica it release in the US. I had 45s from Don Carlos, Ansel Meditations, Winston Hussey, Mighty Diamonds…yeah i was putting out those on 45.”
JR: So at the time you would travel back and forth to Jamaica. What was the dynamic like when you go down to record?
DW: “I would call up de studio like Channel One, or Aquarius, or Music Mountain and book de studio for one week or two weeks. Then when I get there word get out and dem just start to show up. Don carlos. Mighty Diamonds. Wailing Souls. Dennis Brown. Dem a come and seh ‘boss I’m here and I got some song for you’ I would book de hotel and sometime I not come back for two or three or four days you know. Because if you get Dennis Brown show up in the studio to record you haffe do it ’til it done because Dennis when he leave de studio he nah come back you know. he get out there and start doing his ting and you never get him back in.”
JR: And which musicians were you using at the time?
DW: “I use the Radics, Oneness Band, Browne Bunch, Sly & Robbie, Lloyd Parks, and I mix up the musicians to get a certain sound. i might have Lloyd parks on bass, Sly on drums, Steelie on keys, Bingy Bunny on rhythm guitar, Sky Juice on percussion. Cuz everybody else just a use one band. So I mix it up to get my sound.”
JR: So lets talk about you and Junjo. You were both recording at Channel One a the time and both using the same musicians right? But your sound and his sound is completely different. He had that thick, heavy, rootsy sound. His sound was so dense. Your sound is more of an international sound…very breezy, expansive, well-mixed…almost more of a jazzy sound.
DW: “Well, Junjo and my brother use the Radics exclusively. They bring the Radics out you know. So dem use just the Radics and I might use Flabba or Bingy Bunny but I will put them with a different drummer or percussion you see. None of this was really intentional you know. It just was how we work. Maybe I would plan to use the Radics but someone else around de studio so you just have dem sit in. We didn’t really know what we were doing…we were not intentionally trying to transform the sound of the music. It jus’ happen. We had no thought or idea that the music would still be listened to today, or that it would transcend anything or still have some significance.”
JR: I figured that maybe it had something to do with the different engineers you guys would use.
DW: “Well, yes. Because each engineer have him own sound you know. Junjo and my brother would use Scientist exclusively. He has a signature sound. Sometime they might use Bunny Tom Tom or Soljie. Myself I would use Noel Hearnes, or Mikey Riley, or someone like Crucial Bunny. Myself too I sometime did a little dub mix you know. What one engineer might hear, another one might hear something else. And you want to give people different sounds. You don’t want to be like ‘this is all we got.’ If you want this sound we can do that or if you want that sound we can do it as well.”
JR: So what is it that each engineer offered you. What was their respective strengths.
DW: “OK, take Noel Hearnes for instance. he have a very laid back, international mix because he toured the world you know with different artists like Jimmy Cliff, Third World. So he had a different flavor because he has been all over. On the other hand, Scientist did not travel. Noel will give you roots, but a different flavor. Not like Scientist who was all roots and give it to you hard. Noel…see you have to catch the people’s ears. You cannot catch their heart until you catch their ears. Some want to hear nice likkle guitar, or likkle drumming, or some trumpet and Noel bring all de instrument through so you can hear them.”
JR: TRIBAL INNA YARD, one of the great roots reggae albums ever recorded. This one is always ranked high by those who really know reggae. Phenomenal singer, very versatile singer, heavy, heavy riddims – those riddims are heavy like lead – and a fine mix by Scientist. I’m looking at the album and it says it was first issued in 1983 but it had to be recorded long before that?
DW: “Oh yeah, yeah fi sure. Me and Linval do that one in the 70s, mid-70s. What happened is I gave this label in Scotland…Move Records I believe…I gave them that record to release and I gave them de Michael Prophet, and I gave them a Heptones too. They release dem in 1981, 1982, 1983. Then Linval gave it to some people in France a likkle while back and me issue it on Live & Learn here in the U.S. Freddie McKay was brought up through Studio One and he come to work.”
JR: So talk about the dynamic between you and Linval and Junjo.
DW: “Junjo is hands off you know. He will sit back and say ‘let me hear what you got’. Me and Linval are more hands on…we tell them the sound we want we say ‘OK change that to this…I want more this here you know.”
JR: So what was Junjo’s genius? He produced nearly 100 albums in such a short time period. What did he have?
DW: “Junjo knows it you see. You have to know the feel. It not just going in and making music. Junjo feel the music and he know what the people are looking for. He had a great ear for what the people want because he was always out there you know…at the dance, at the soundclash…He will hear a little thing and then he start a trend with it. He hear a riddim and he come back she boss this riddim gonna be a wicked riddim but I haffe do it over and do this to it and that you know.”
JR: I always think of Channel One as a pressure cooker and that is why the music so good.
DW: “Yes, it’s a good analogy. We in that studio and gunshot a pop off all around you and going over you. There’s people outside the studio them ruff you know. They standing there waiting see. It was right in the middle of the two political factions.”
JR: So let’s talk about my favorite artist from this period Don Carlos.
DW: The first time I meet Don you know…I wanted to record him for a while. I had a cousin live on the front part of Waterhouse Drive name Ramon so him tek me to see Don Carlos. Lemme tell you Mike, Don Carlos is my favorite artist. He a great man. One of the greatest me ever a deal wit’ you know. I see Don Carlos and me a seh ‘Don I want to record some song but me really don’t have money for you right now.’ Don look at me and him seh ‘Barry don’t worry ’bout it mon, we gonna do business mon.’ I tell you Don Carlos, Dennis Brown, Michael Prophet those guys…just love mon, all love. When you see dem they just a hug you up like a bredren mon. Most guys you meet they jus’ a look you up and down, tell you what they need, their demands. Those guys, everybody is everybody, Dennis Brown nah treat you like him have so many hit songs and ‘ting, him just all love mon. Love all those guys even today.
JR: So what was the first thing you did with Don Carlos?
DW: I think the first was “Spread Out” and then “Black History.”
JR: And “Spread Out” was released on a Live & Learn 7″?
DW: “Yeah it released on a 7″ in Jamaica.”
JR: I think it was titled “Here I Come Again” at the time? Its also the B-side to “Black History.”
DW: “Yeah, same tune. It was originally titled “Spread Out” but Bunny Lee tek that track and the others I record with Don at that time and release it on an album call Spread Out. So that is why I change the title of the song after that to “Here I Come Again.””
JR: And what about the “From Creation” 12″ [Blacker Dread]? Did you ever record that song?
DW: “No, no I don’t recall that one.”
JR: When was “Black History” recorded?
DW: “Mid-70s, like two weeks after we record “Spread Out.” We use Jimmy Cliff’s band Oneness for that tune.”
JR: How involved are you with the recording?
DW: “I’m very involved, very hands on. I select the studio and the musicians and book the studio time.”
JR: So Don or the other artists they do not select the musicians?
DW: “No, I tell Don we gonna record some songs with this band and some other with this band. I record a whole album with Don Carlos. I was going to put out an album with nothing but Don Carlos but Junior Reid at the time was making a name you know and he is from Waterhouse too. So I start think to myself to do an album with these two both from Waterhouse. So I decide to do a clash album with Don Carlos and Junior Reid. That is FIREHOUSE CLASH. the other songs I record with Don for his album…I still have those on 24-track. Those have never been released.
JR: You shouldn’t tell people this…people will have a stroke they know you sitting on Don Carlos tapes…
DW: “Ha, ha (laughing)…They will hear them soon. Maybe a FIREHOUSE CLASH II…”
JR: So when did you record Junior Reid’s tracks? Like “Chanting” and “Respect Due”?
DW: “I record them even before I record Don’s tracks. I tell you mon, when these guys come they come! When they come they come!”
JR: How did you link with Junior Reid?
DW: “OK you know Sydney…who used to tour with Ras Michael? Sydney Wolf? He’s Beenie Man’s uncle. Well Sydney used to have Junior Reid on the sound system he used to own called Master Blaster. I record a whole album for Junior Reid too. I was going to release just an album of Junior Reid songs. But some of the songs…the ones that appear on FIREHOUSE CLASH…they were so strong I took the best from both sessions and released as a clash album. And it sold mon…come on…that one sell off.
JR: So “Chanting”…Talk about that. An incredible song.
DW: “Yeah mon. Me record that one with Junior Reid and release it on a 7″. I gave Dynamic the 45 they release it first. I release it in the US on the 12″.”
JR: So this tune was remixed and retitled for Black Uhuru’s Brutal album.
DW: “Yeah Doctor Dread do that one. It titled “Dread In The Mountain.””
JR: So people may not know but you and Doctor Dread have a long history and you are very good friends. I mean I was able to link with you through Doc.
DW: “Yeah I know Doc know for so long you know. You know the record company only know de artist by the sales and profit. With Doc it is more heartical. Him love de music and him love de artists. I know him from before he start RAS Records. Even before he have his radio show in DC. He used to sell fish and I used to buy fish from him. He would come around the shop on Georgia Avenue and I give him some records to play on his radio show. I bring him back records when I go to Jamaica. Doc do his ‘ting though you know. People who know Doc know this but I will tell you that dis not a man just concern with business…Dis the type of man who …you know an artist or a friend might say Doc I need money to pay my mortgage or my kid is in the hospital and him just give you know. He’s a bredren. I didn’t really have nuttin’ to do with the ‘ting he had with Junior Reid and Black Uhuru. That was his project. His records were everywhere…in all the stores was RAS Records…strictly positive music, roots & culture…he’s another one, only conscious music…at one time he was distributing everybody’s records to all over the world.”
JR: I interviewed Jim Fox of Lion & Fox Recording Studios several years back and he credits you with sort of giving him his first real break in the reggae arena. He credits both you and Doc but he said the first reggae record he mixed was Don Carlos’ “Here I Come Again” which you brought to him to mix on the recommendation of Doctor Dread.
DW: “Jim is another great one…done so much to make D.C. a respected place for de music. I remember I the first one to play Don Carlos for him and Fox just a melt…Him love Don Carlos…Fox got de right mix and he truly one of the great people I ever meet in this business. I met some of the greatest people and I met some on the other side of that too…But Doc and Jim…when I see dem today its all hugs.”
JR: Let’s talk about Barrington Levy…
DW: “Barrington is a real talent. Even today after all these years…and all these singers come and go his voice is still distinctive. You never mistake a Barrington Levy song.”
JR: So your brother Jah Life worked with him early, recording the tracks for Bounty Hunter. You released his album TEACH ME CULTURE on Live & Learn. After BOUNTY HUNTER, this is my favorite set from Levy. Very strong list of tracks here. TEACH ME CULTURE, recorded at Channel One and engineered by Anthony “Crucial Bunny” Graham, was produced by Barrington Levy and Helena Hunt and executive produced by Delroy Wright. It was released in the US on Live & Learn in 1983. It includes several previously released singles and also includes tracks which were also released on the Michael Levy-produced LP OPEN BOOK which was issued on Tuff Gong. TEACH ME CULTURE has a production value that far exceeds anything released by Levy previously. The mixes of “Trying To Rule My Life,” “Don’t Pretend,” and “Mind You Hurt My Mom” are brilliantly mixed by Crucial Bunny. The tracks have a much slower tempo than the same tracks on the OPEN BOOK LP. In my opinion, after BOUNTY HUNTER, TEACH ME CULTURE is Barrington Levy’s best album.
DW: “Yes those are good songs. My brother Jah Life and Junjo got de best work from Barrington.”
JR: I read an early interview with him and evidently he comes from a very strict, deeply religious evangelical family who did not support his involvement in music and he ended up leaving home at a very young age and he credits The Meditations with kind of taking him in and looking after him…providing guidance. Is this true?
DW: “Yes its true. Barrington was just a kid man…a kid you know. People don’t really fi understand that him was jus’ a kid in the studio among all these older artists. The Meditations is a cultural group and basically at the time…take for instance now…they were all living in one place, or recording at one studio…so basically The Meditations see him around the studio and look after him…mek him sing a likkle here and there.”
It seems that Hyman “Jah Life” Wright was on of the earliest influences in Barrington Levy’s career. He took the songs that Barrington had penned and fine tuned them, recorded and mix them to make what many consider to be the definitive early dancehall album in BOUNTY HUNTER. The landmark album includes the track “Jah Life” in which Barrington hails Jah Life from start to finish.
“On my may over New York,
I sight some natty dread,
them a jump and a laugh,
Jah Life with the people,
them a whirl, Jah Life,
wit I man Barrington on the microphone
let the good times roll…
I love him to my heart and soul…
Jah life a de thrillah…
Jah Life a de dub organizer…”
JR: Talk about Al Campbell. It seems like you guys had a strong connection.
DW: “Me and Al Campbell go way back…we friends for long time. He’s a guy you can always count on. He was the guy you know when I look for somebody I say ‘Al Campbell go find Michael Prophet…Al Campbell go find Junior Reid…Al Campbell go find Dennis Brown…and he bring them to the studio you know.’ Great mon. I would call him she from the U.S. and say Al Campbell go get the Diamonds and tell dem I’ll be there next week…tell dem get themselves together. Because I don’t have the time…I might only be in town for three weeks or one month and I need to be in the studio working. I can’t spend my time trying to track down all a these guys. And Al Campbell been around for a long time. He almost one of the foundation artists. He start with Jimmy Riley and The Uniques and came up through Studio One. He brought most of those guys to Studio One like Freddie McGregor and those guys. And him can write a song too. Great songwriter. He can sit down and write a song in an hour.”
JR: Talk about Junior Murvin.
DW: “Talented singer. You sit and listen this guy sing without a band his voice has such range…it is amazing. I released with Junior Murvin SIGNS AND WONDERS but I still have another album we did that I haven’t released yet.
JR: So is that something you are planning to release?
DW: “Yeah mon. I’m going to go through all my 24 track tapes…I have a lot of stuff, I’m telling you a lot of stuff. I’m going to release a bunch of stuff that has never been released. I have an album by The Tamlins…The Meditations…Junior Murvin…Junior Reid…Dennis Brown. This is stuff that never been released…nobody knows about all of this.”
JR: Is there a reason you were sitting on this stuff all these years?
DW: “Nah mon. Just busy with a lot of stuff you know. I’m a father…I’m a grandfather…My grandsons Jahari and Jaheim, I have them every summer.”
JR: So lets talk about what your plans are for the label.
DW: “Yeah mon. I’m jumping back in. I have all my 24-tracks in Florida. I need to go through them and see what’s there but I am planning to release music from Junior Reid, Don Carlos, Junior Murvin, Meditations, maybe some others too. I have unreleased Dennis Brown tracks.”
JR: Now I know you’ve released some stuff with Digikiller in NY. Are they going to release this other stuff you are talking about?
DW: “You know Rob and dem at Digikiller?”
JR: Yeah they do some amazing works you know.
DW: “Yes good people. I do release some 45s with them. But the stuff I have in Florida…on my tapes…I’d like to release that on Live & Learn…get the label back out there. I have a website for my label and there will be a store and I will release it through there.”
JR: So do you have any thoughts on this so-called “reggae revival” movement? Artists like Chronixx, Protojé?
DW: “I do like those two artists. This is the way I look at it. Everyone has their own contribution to the music, to the history of the music you know. I don’t even get into dis one better than dat one and dem kinda ting. Everyone’s contribution is important. If someone take the time to do anything to forward the music you know…write a song, produce a song, play an instrument…even what you yourself are doing…you know…and guys like you who know the music and love the music you are reaching people and places the music would never reach these people are able to learn about the music because you documenting the history of the music and ting is an important contribution. Those magazine like Small Axe and Black Echoes…love those magazines. They always support reggae and I always used to see Live & Learn on the charts and discussed there. Those contributions were important. Everything is everything. Everything has its place.”
JR: You have interest in recording any new material? Going back into the studio to record some of these new artists?
DW: “Yes that is definitely something I will look to do.”
JR: So let me ask you something as someone who was very active recording and producing in the early 80s. This is an issue I wrote about in blog piece about the “reggae revival”… that is the influence of drugs, especially cocaine during this era and the impact it had on the music. Its no secret and it has been widely reported by The Gleaner, the New York Times, and other reputable sources…And I should say that during this period it infiltrated many genres of music, not just reggae. My question is this: Did the drugs and drug kingpins play a large a role did in the sound and quality of reggae during that period?
DW: “Yes, yes…it does, it does effect the music. It impact the music in a negative way. The lyrics went down, the sound was changing…”
JR: I mean you could almost hear it in the music…the beats per minute were faster, the packaging was cheap and there seemed to be very little thought or effort or quality going into the music. It was just about doing it as fast as you can to get your money as fast as you can before this thing ends.
DW: “But de ting is dis…it got too saturated. People a get tired a hear bout guns and drugs so it become just a phase, a period in the history of the music. Because when you really get down to it people want to be uplifted by music, they want to be able to play it for their kids and dance you see. So the drugs ting is nothing new. It still going on even here in the U.S. You can see the influence of de drugs and de gun in the music today. But people always tired from that and the music return to a better place.”
JR: You always recorded or produced live instruments. Did you ever feel pressure or did you ever try to go the digital route when it was popular?
DW: “Mike I record only two tracks in my whole life using a drum machine. Of course there is pressure if people like a certain thing and they buying it up but there are also people looking for the other ting too and that is what I stayed true to.”
JR: Well, that is about all I have for you Boss man. I appreciate all the time you spent talking to me.
DW: “Mike anytime mon you know that. The people hear from me soon you know.”