Burning Spear interview with Carter Van Pelt
on KZUM 89.3 FM Lincoln, Nebraska
July 27, 1996.
That's "Traveling" -- sounds from the Burning Spear. And Mr. Rodney, can you hear me?
Allright man. We've got a guest today. I didn't want to announce this so much ahead of time, because I didn't know if we could get it all together, but I'm joined on the phone by Burning Spear, who I believe is in North Carolina in the middle of his tour. Spear, welcome to the show today.
You're going to be playing in Omaha, Nebraska about 50 miles from here in two weeks. And it's going to be your first show ever in Nebraska, and we're really looking forward to that. The people have been very excited about that. The word is out on the street. You have a huge touring schedule right now, and I'm wondering, they say James Brown is the hardest working man in show business, but how do you keep up with this pace.
[Laughs] The work have to be done you know? When the work have to be done, you have to dweet.
That's right. That's right. Do you plan, you've been doing this heavy touring every summer for years and years, how long do you plan on keeping this up? Are you going to pull back and modify a little bit . . .
What we do right now, we tour like once a year, and we do it both way. We do a part in Europe, then we do a part in the States.
So you spend about half the year on the road then?
Actually, less than that. Right now we try to do it less. Maybe earlier on we were there more often. Maybe two, three times in the year. We try to do it less and still accomplish more work. Which is good. This tour is really in honor of Marcus Garvey, this 1996. The tour get started the third of July. It should run about three months.
Why is this tour in particular in honor of Marcus. I know much of your work is in honor of Marcus . . .
The seventeenth of August coming is the anniversary of Marcus Garvey. I decided to program this tour around the anniversary. . . we're gonna be on the road up through the 17th. So, last year the tour was Rasta Business, so we try to give each tour a strong concept. And it make the tour have an outstanding meaning -- what it stand out for.
Are you performing more of the songs that are directly written about Marcus Garvey?
More like the classical -- the older songs.
The older songs from the seventies album -- Marcus Garvey, Man In The Hills . . .
Since it's Marcus Garvey [theme], we intend not to play a lot of new songs in that range. So far, it doing good and people like what they hear -- the selection we select for the tour. We doing it in honor of Garvey. I think it's about time and it right.
On your last album, you talked about a subject in school on Marcus Garvey, and I wondered, since you've spread the works of Marcus Garvey so much, if in Jamaica, I know he's a national hero . . . do they teach Marcus Garvey in school now, cause here the only way you hear about Marcus Garvey is through your music really.
Not only in Jamaica, as I see it, they don't teach the subject of Marcus Garvey nowhere. Because I'm an African Jamaican singing about Garvey, it don't mean they really teach any subject or there are any subject as such on Marcus Garvey. None of the greats them, as a matter of fact, there's no subject. Enough our heroes never been told to nobody the way it should. Subject In School I think it's a universal thing, you know, for there is no subject as such been taught to black people about black people. I think everybody should talk about the history of them greats, them people, whatsoever they were doing, before we came about. I think "Subject In School" was very appropriate, outstanding track. So therefore people could see that someone is there looking within this kind of direction.
Do you see yourself as a teacher?
Well, in a sense, how people see it is what you do, and people see what you do, and they start to give you such credit or honor you on certain levels. When people start to see how in a way, they think you supposed to be, then you have to live with that.
Another of the great men who sometimes is sung about in reggae is Malcolm X, and when you come to Omaha, that's where Malcolm X was born. I don't know if you're aware of that. I can't think that Burning Spear has sung a song about Malcolm X. Have you ever thought of writing one.
[Laughs] As I'm talking about, the greats and the 'subject' is not really around Marcus as I did say before. It included all the greats and all those black heroes and there was a lot of great black people wherein nobody been taught about. So, the thing about Marcus Garvey, Paul Bogle, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, I think it's very appropriate at least somebody remember the works and philosophy of those greats.
Well if the work is not going to be done by the people who say are supposed to educate our children, then we leave it up to somebody like you, and you have done a great, great service to people in spreading the word, and I know thousands and thousands, who knows how many people would never have known of Marcus Garvey if not for your works, so give thanks for that. You have done the job there.
Tell me a bit about what new recording project you've worked on in 1996. What we might expect to see in the fall.
Well, we're working right now in the studio on a new album by the name of Appointment With His Majesty, to be released sometime next year, which is 97. We also release a single from the album, even thought the album is not yet complete. The single called "Don't Sell Out." And I also was looking forward maybe later down in the year, late November, early December, there is a possibility we could release another single. All these singles, we been releasing them back in Jamaica.
Is "Don't Sell Out" in the sound systems in Jamaica.
Yea, it's playing down there now.
Will we hear it in the United States before the album, or just when the album comes out?
No, that release now, that out now?
In the States?
Yea, okay, but I mean here in the United States, when will we hear it?
Nothing from the album as yet release in the States. I'm just releasing like two tracks only in Jamaica from the album. The reason why I do that is it's a good while now since we release some new brand songs back in Jamaica. I think the time is right so I could release two new single wherein only available in Jamaica.
Just for the Jamaican. The Jamaican audience, I think they may appreciate that more too.
Yea, yea, yea, we have to do that too. That's what we have for next year. This year we trying to release a dub album. Living Dub Volume III.
Which will be dubs of what?
From Rasta Business and maybe three, four tracks from other album.
Who would engineer the mix on that? Would you be supervising the dubs?
This album, the engineer was Barry [O'Hare], Grove Studios, Ocho Rios. And he's the one working on this upcoming album also, Appointment With His Majesty.
We'll be glad to hear some new sounds in dub. Living Dub Volume I and II are true classics, classics. I play them on this show almost every week there's a cut from one of those dubs.
Aah . . .
I want to go back. This is a story you may get tired of telling, but some of the people may not have heard it. The way you got introduced to Studio One and your meeting Bob Marley once upon a time . . I think that's a spectacular story. I wonder if you could tell the people about those days back in the hills, that day.
It was reality, twas true. This is how the whole thing did get started in the same parish, both of us is from the same parish. I more like from the capitol where he is like in the hills. I went to the hills and met the mon, and we were there, arguing and reasoning and from reasoning I fill it out by asking him how I could get started, and he told me about Studio One, and the time when I could go there, and I went there and did my song and they did like my song . . .
which was "Door Peep"?
Yea. So I went right back the following week and start my recording. From there on it's going.
Did you then move immediately to Kingston and record all those sides for Coxson or did you . . .
I didn't move to Kingston, I still living in the parish of St. Ann's and go back and forth.
Are you from St. Ann's Bay, the town?
Yea, I'm from the Capitol.
On some of those old tracks at Studio One, I wonder a lot of time the musicians don't get credit. I'm wondering, did you play with the Soul Defenders or many many musicians, or who do you remember in the studio?
What really happen with Studio One, that is how Studio One usually do it's things. A lot of people would play on albums and Mr. Dodd wouldn't give nobody no credit. He just put the record out. And years after, people might hear the record, seeing the album, and realize they didn't get any credit. Those are the people who did play those music in that time. That was part of how the whole music business structure out. More like in the early seventies.
It's not fair, because now the music is still selling and they still have not much to show for it.
The musician don't really have anything to do with the sale of the record, even in that time and even in this time same thing. But what musician have to do when they play is make sure they get paid. There's no royalty as such for musicians. Royalty is only there for the singer, songwriters or people like those. So at least they're not getting the royalty, but give them their credit. That's what Studio One didn't do. It wasn't like Studio One alone. A lot of other people in the music industry back in Jamaica, they didn't spend as much time really think about credit, so therefore people be listening and don't know who playing these songs. So hopefully that start to change around and people start to give credit to people as long as they play on their album or play on their record, which is appropriate.
In those times, do you remember were the Soul Defenders a part of the productions at the time?
Soul Defenders usually play a lot, do a lot of session for Studio One. Soul Defenders more like was a free lance band. Most time Studio One use a lot of free lance people.
Another Studio One singer that I play a lot on this show is Larry Marshall, and I understand that he was involved with you at the time?
Larry Marshall was there before me at Studio One. Larry Marshall usually do a lot of things wherein all of us did have to do. We hold harmony on different singers album stuff like that. And in those times is not like you get paid doing that. It's part of the whole thing, for Studio One was like a college, a musical college. So when you been told to do some things, regardless who you going to be doing it for, you got to be involved. So is how come Larry Marshall, Enid, a lot of us, Alton Ellis, alot of us hold harmony together for different people.
Probably, anytime we hear a Burning Spear track from Studio One, some famous people singing right there too.
Yea, various people, they use various people to do harmony.
Do you ever see that the Rocking Time album and the Studio One Presents Burning Spear, do you know if Mr. Dodd has any plans to get those released on compact disc in the United States?
What I think Mr. Dodd start to do is give some independent company like some records. Is like Heartbeat will have a lot of Studio One records, so they will do like this compilation album with various singers. I think that is what Studio One start to do now. I don't see anything like he is getting all the tracks together and like putting it out there on CD. He give the rights to other people. That is what he is doing now.
We have the vinyl LPs now, but a lot more people would appreciate it if they could hear it on the CD. But we'll see what happens.
After the Studio One days, why did you choose to get out of the business for a couple of years before you met Jack Ruby?
Well this is how the business set. For sometimes business not running right in your corner, so you have yourself confuse. Sometime you have to learn the business and get back yourself together and start it up, and I think it was what take place with me when I came back out.
So it must have been, by the time you made some records with Jack Ruby, and then when you produce your own sound, we just hear a track called "Traveling," I think was one of the early productions you did yourself, that must have been a triumph for you to be then heading off as kind of the [pilot] . . .
Yea, for you did have to do something to make your move again. Doing some music with Jack Ruby that was staring the move, you know? After Jack Ruby, I did have to continue.
So after over twenty-five years in the business when you look back over all your work, all those albums, do you have a period of time that you felt was most rewarding for you or your favorite, or how do you look at your life's work in retrospective?
I think it work well enough, for first I have to give thanks for know that I'm still around from that time until this time and still doing what I start to do. I never really change my course of doing what I have to do. And I see many people change their course, and today them is not around. So it's a form of growing experience, and growing matureness, business experience, patience, and time.
Well certainly, we must give thanks that you've staid your course all this time, because all those albums you put out were true, and you didn't try and do anything crazy in the dancehall.
No, no, no, never. That never come time fe do those things. I couldn't afford to do those things, I would be ruin Spear. And people wouldn't accept Spear in that manner. People don't used to Spear that way, and I know what the people looking forward for. So I don't think I would get so weak or so careless, thinking that I want to be part of this dancehall thing. I wouldn't do that. A lot of people do it, and it just don't work. It look as if it would be working, but it ending up not working for them. Matter of fact right now with this dancehall thing, it not working for nobody as far as I see now. They're just trying their best to hang in it, but it gonna just fade out, fade out, fade out gradually. It start to fade out a lot now. We need to dominate back the whole scene -- this kind of music wherein was the original music.
It must be rewarding for you after the dancehall thing was going years, to see now some young men like Luciano who goes up and he reads from Marcus Garvey before he goes out and plays a set. There's some more consciousness there now which you had something to do with for sure.
Well, you know, we did have to have a start in everything. Somebody have to make the first move and then other people follow through. So I set the pace on that level, basing up on the whole philosophy of Marcus Garvey musically. And other people take it up and bring it to another distance in their way, not knowing how serious them is, or they just doing it because people need the music attention, so if a brother decided to focus on Marcus Garvey or many more people who were there, and possible something might work, but if it's not like you're getting deep in it, serious with what you're doing. For I see a lot of musician going out there saying Rastafari and today I didn't even know it was them saying them saying Rastafari. You have to be strong and sure about what you're doing and what you're saying. . .
For the long haul. . .
Yea, otherwise it gonna fade out people gonna see that it's a fake. I can't afford to have people see me as a fake. I have to be what I suppose to be.
Well, standing strong after over twenty-five years, and think you're fifty-one years of age now and you just make a lot of people happy, and do a lot of good works, and finally in the State of Nebraska here in the United States, we're going to be able to see you perform, here in two weeks on August 9th in Omaha. It's been an honor having you on the show today, Spear, and we look forward to seeing you in two weeks.
Allright, give thanks.
That was Burning Spear live from North Carolina via phone. I can't tell you how happy I am that we made that all happen. Now we're going to join back to the music, and I've got a track cued up from his Dry and Heavy album in 1977. This is called "I W.I.N." And this song encapsulates a lot of what he was talking about. A lot of his message is right here in this song. So stay tuned, we've got some tickets to give away to the Burning Spear show in Omaha on August 9th and more music for another 35 minutes.