TONY GREENE: REGGAE SAXOPHONE PLAYER & PRODUCER
by Jim Dooley
Tony Greene sounds like a man who is preparing for the future. Tony is probably
best known as the saxophone player of Lloyd Parks' group 'We The People'.
What most people don't know is that Greene has had a long and interesting
career outside of that group. Not only does he have his own solo career
(two CD's and counting), he also runs his own label called 'Saxman'. When
I spoke with Greene in July of 1997, he was full of enthusiasm and optimism
for his many ongoing and upcoming projects.
Like the famous horn players from the Skatalites a generation earlier, Tony
Greene learned to play music at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston Jamaica.
He remembers, "my musical career starts right there, at the age of
11". Although those legendary ska players were long gone from the school,
he did attend at the same time as future DJ Yellowman and singer Leroy Smart.
One other important friendship that was made during this time, was with
Everald Gayle. To this day, some 31 years later, Gayle continues to play
trombone alongside Tony in 'We The People'.
In the early 1970's, following a stint in the Jamaica Military Band, Greene
joined his first reggae group, the Bare Essential Band. While playing dances,
the group would run through a variety of top ten selections using various
styles including soca, R & B, calypso and reggae. Greene recalls having
to practice and rehearse all the time to stay up on all of the latest styes.
Around the same time, he was also playing in a second, long running group,
the Sonny Bradshaw 7. In those days Bradshaw's group was almost a training
ground, where up and coming players could learn and improve their playing
technique. While only playing live, mostly at hotels, Greene remembers,
"Sonny Bradshaw was like a teacher to me, who used to teach me a lot
Tony's recording career started sometime around 1973. His first session
was for the dubmaster King Tubby. Greene remembers the tune being 'Three
Blind Mice' and the artist involved was Jackie Paris. Recounting that early
session Greene clearly remembers being anxious "I went there and I
see Tommy McCook and Bobby Ellis and I was very nervous, seeing those top
horn men from the Skatalites days. And I came out like a youth, and see
them, and I start to tremble". With some encouraging words from Tubby,
Greene managed to get through the session and began his lengthy recording
career. This early work got Greene 'into the system', and lead to Tony having
more recording work for Tubby and jobs at various other studios, including
Aquarius and Harry J.
A meeting with Joseph Hill, while Culture were working at Joe Gibbs in the
late 70's, lead to a working relationship in 1982. Greene played saxophone
on what was to become Joseph Hill's self-produced solo album 'Lion Rock'.
For this album, and the North American and European tours that followed,
Tony was teamed up with the reformed Studio One group the Soul Defenders.
The tour, which lasted over 3 months, helped bring Hill back into the foreground
in a time when DJ's and dancehall were starting to take over the reggae
scene. Greene would later hook up with a reformed Culture in 1986 to work
on the solid 'Culture In Culture' album.
Around the same time, in the mid-80's Tony began to work with the premier
backing group of the time, Roots Radics. His time with that group included
extensive recording and touring with Gregory Isaacs. His horn work can be
heard on 'The Best of Gregory' and 'Gregory Isaacs Live At The Brixton Academy'.
At the time the Radics were backing everyone in the business, singers, vocal
groups and popular DJ's such as General Trees, Yellowman and Eek-A-Mouse.
As if not busy enough, Greene also began to record and arrange for Ijahman
in the 80's. The working relationship would span 3 lp's known for their
terrific horn arrangements: 'Tell It To The Children' (1982), 'Africa' (1984)
and 'Lily Of My Valley (1985). One prominent UK writer had this to say about
the title track on 'Africa': 'One of the best tracks would have to be 'Africa'
that draws a great deal of strength from yet another wonderful horn arrangement.
Ijahman's creativity with the horn section being second to none'.
To further compound Greene's activities, he was asked by veteran bassist
and bandleader Lloyd Parks to join 'We The People' in 1984. Greene worked
on a 'job by job' basis until 1985 when he became a full time member. Twelve
years later, Greene still participates in the famous group, best known for
their backing work on several international Dennis Brown tours. As Greene
says "I've been to the four corners of the world along with him".
To this day 'We The People' are still in big demand on the festival circuit.
In fact, last year, the group worked as a backing group at both of the major
Jamaican summer festivals, Sumfest and Sunsplash. This fall the group again
played Sumfest backing such classic acts as Leroy Sibbles, John Holt, Alton
Ellis and the Mighty Diamonds. The current 'We The People' horn section
is comprised of Greene on sax, Everol Wray on trumpet, and Tony's old friend
Everald Gayle playing trombone.
In recent years, Tony has been breaking out into new activities. More emphasis
is now being placed on his own career as a solo artist and producer. "In
a sense, right now, Tony Greene come first" is the way Greene puts
it. He goes on to say, "There comes a time when a man just has to do
what he has to do". To this end he has formed his own 'Saxman' label
and issued two solo, mainly instrumental CD's. His first release was 'Groovin
Sax' followed recently by a second CD titled 'Mean Greene'. Both recordings
blend original compositions with a helping of classic covers done in a modern
instrumental style. Greene thinks that there is an untapped market for his
brand of horn-based instrumentals "Everything can find it's rightful
place. Everything can be marketed ... you just have to market the product
and promote it". Tony believes that the North American market is so
large that you can make a go of a style of music with the right organization
and distribution. Greene plans to start work on his third CD in October
with plans to record at Tuff Gong and Sound Station, with a release date
planned for next summer. Tuff Gong is Greene's studio of choice because
of it's "live feel" when everyone is playing together. On the
upcoming record, the plan is to continue on with more instrumental reggae,
but with "a more R & B flavor". Saxman Productions has also
been busy working with vocalists such as Carl Dawkins and Bagga Case as
well as some, as yet unheard, up and coming singers.
Greene's other recent plan is a joint project with veteran keyboard player
Mallory Williams. In the spring of 1998 the two plan to launch a new label
called 'Top Secret'. The two are already working with a variety of singers
for upcoming projects. One potential plan is to record some reggae songs
in a Latin style with Spanish vocalists.
If the past is any indication of what will come in the future, I assume
Tony's many projects will keep him busy for years to come. His current desire
to shift from his roll as a backing musician to become a solo artist and
producer means it is a time of transition for Tony. It's refreshing to hear
a musician, who at the age of 40, can only see opportunities and possibilities.
Here are a few of the albums Tony Greene has played on:
Ken Boothe Acclaimed
Burning Spear Appointment With His Majesty
Culture Lion Rock
Eek-A-Mouse Mouse A Mania
Heptones Changing Times
Derrick Hinds Music Key To Life
IJAHMAN Africa, Tell It To The Children, Lily Of My Valley
Gregory Isaacs The Best of Gregory, Live at the Brixton Academy, Victim
General Trees Negril, Nuff Respect
Yellowman Don't Burn Down
Various (Star Trail) Ram Jam A Gwaan
(both CD's are distributed by Gone Clear Distribution 305-278-1282)