Horace, give thanks for the time today.
This new album Living in The Flood, it feels like a lot of effort went into the album compared to what I hear [generally out of JA] these days.
We just went back in the studio. My idea was, 'I'm just gonna record like I was twenty-five years ago.' We could have done computer [programming], although a couple of the tracks we just overdubbed the live drums.
There are not any players of instrument credited on the release. Who are some of the studio musicians involved?
Clive [Hunt] didn't play anything on it. Some of the musicians are from 809 Band. Some of them are from Chalice. We have independent musicians, ones who you have to go for like Chinna [Smith]. You have to find Melchezideck. And the guy that played harmonica on about two songs. He's a small lickle Rastaman, but him bad mon! . . . I can't remember his name, but it's the first I see him. When Clive brought him to the studio, I don't remember seeing him before.
Was Val Douglas involved?
I thought Val Douglas was the 809 bass player?
Mmm, bwai I tell ya the truth, the guy that was playing the bass, I know I know him, through travelling so much, I didn't really ask who his name was, cause him see me and him say, 'Sleepy, whappen?!' like someone who know me.
Right. How long did all the tracks take to get together?
About six weeks.
That's longer than people tend to spend on a reggae album in these times.
I spend three years getting it together . . .
With the writing?
Yea. I was waiting on Massive Attack. Waiting on them to come up with the funds.
Who are some of the other writers?There's a [Ms. Jerry] Burns credited . . .
Right, [Ms. Jerry] Burns. She's a pop artist. She sent the lyrics to me. When she heard it, she couldn't believe I did it like that. She also sings it in a pop style.
It seems like a different subject matter for a Rastaman to approach?
You know the meaning of it?
I understand from the credit that it's about someone who's contemplating suicide. That's why I said it's a subject matter that I don't hear Rasta sing about very often, or ever . . .
That's a beautiful song man.
How would you rate this album in its importance to your career?
Number one man! I think this one is my best so far.
Over the years, in the 90s . . .the bio that your label sent out says you haven't done an album in ten years, but I've gotten these Mad Professor albums. You've recorded through the 90s right?
Well, that wasn't original songs. That's what we mean. I sit down with my original songs [this time], and I start from scratch. Those were rhythms [with Mad Professor]. After I did it, I realized Macka B, every other artist was singing on the same one. You can't have ten lp with the same rhythms.
That's become the norm in Jamaica for economic reasons.
You have ten albums, ten different singers and them singing on the same rhythms. That's really . . . I think [lack of] originality.
But it's also part of the process . . . even if you go back 25 years, rhythms were still recycled then. And sometimes there's a process . . . I mean I don't want to defend that process but sometimes, even with some of the great Bunny Lee rhythms you did, you might find a Barry Brown on the same rhythm that would be wicked too.
That's what Bunny Lee them do still. Other artists might say, 'can I sing on that rhythm?' But I love to create my own.
People outside of the Jamaican circle will appreciate that more.
Can you also comment on the colaberative process of having a group of musicians working on a production versus what's developed with computer, cause one person can create an album with a drum machine and computer.
One person can. I can, I have done it. But I don't want to go on that street. I want to stay the original way. Though I've done it myself. Right now I have a brand new Akai MPC2000XL. So you know what I'm thinking.
But you can probably use that for composition.
But the sound that you put inside of it, through what I'm hearing, it's really really, it sounds so live.
It's an unusual thing anymore to hear someone playing the drums on a reggae album. It's refreshing.
Yes. And Clive, he didn't protest. He went ahead with everything I said.
Clive's brought some fresh stuff forward. I don't know if you heard the album he just put out with Culture.
I heard some of the tracks. I was there. I stopped my work during the day, two, three days, just to get Cutlure them things going. I wouldn't voice in the morning. I would go in at like five o'clock when they finished and Foundation was there also. He done some tracks with Foundation. It's gonna be wicked when you hear it.
Clive's history overlaps with Bullwackies when you were there too. Other than that, had you had a production history with him?
No. We've been wanting to do this long time ago, but it just happened.
My perception is that he hadn't been doing much music production before the last couple years. And he started to get back into it more.
He was doing it more. Have you heard about PierPolJack? And he did Alpha Blondy. He do Jimmy Cliff.
It seems like he's kicked it up into high gear a little bit more recently though. But he seems also committed to, by bringing Horsemouth in, to having a live production sound again.
Clive is brilliant man. We call him music.
His work on the Abyssinians was one of the best sessions ever.
The working title of the album was Seven Seals.
Yes, the reasons why we changed was that Anthony B brought out Seven Seals. So I say let's go with Living In The Flood.
That's another one of my favorite tracks.
3D from Massive, he grew up with Joe Strummer. Joe Strummer is his idol. I didn't know about Joe Strummer. I was still in Jamaica or America [when the Clash was popular]. They brought a Clash song to me. One of the Clash songs, he was singing about the Vietnam War. That's the first time I heard that song. It was so-so, in between on the balance. I liked it to an extent, but I really didn't want to do over a song. So they scrapped it. My management contacted Joe and say if Joe would do a collaberation with me. And Joe was really happy. That's how "Living In The Flood" came about. He sent the rhythm and the lyrics.
It's interesting how these things come full circle with Massive Attack. I never really understood why the punk movement embraced reggae so much, but still to this day, it's still to the benefit [of reggae] to this day. That cross pollenization is still being seen because of your work with Massive Attack. And have you seen that Half Pint is working with this group, the Long Beach Dub Allstars?
In the same fashion that you work with Massive Attack, he's on the road with this reggae/punk group from California. And it's revitalized his career.
That's good man!
It's good, cause a lot of the time, the mainstream is intimidated by reggae, and they don't know where to start. Cause it's a broad, deep kind of music.
So where are you calling from?
I'm from Nebraska.
Nebraska? So you've heard the album?
Yea, they sent it out last fall, so I've had it on an advance. I think I started playing it on the radio in September.
From last September? Wicked!
When did it come out in England?
It was released in October.
The copy that I got was dated September 9th. I think they sent over some promo copies from England. It was sequenced differently.
Right, we changed it round. Because the end of the album has to be strong.
The way it's sequenced now, the front end is loaded with traditional reggae tracks.
Yea, I put the love songs in the middle and made it strong at the end. And the hidden track, you found the hidden track?
I just found it! [Laughter]
[Laughter] It was there all the time!
That advance I was telling you about, it's not on there. So when I got it, I thought I've heard all this, except for the remix of "After All." Right? And it's at the end of the remix. It must be that every time I'd listen to it to the end, I got up and ejected the cd. Until this morning when I was out of the room, and I heard it extra track [laughter].
Yea, and that's a wicked track. [Sings] 'Dance to the reggae beat.' Eveyone say when the last song finished, they just plug it out. They think the lp is finished. And just by coincidence, they didn't go and stop it, and they just hear the song come on. And it frightens you.
It surprises you. Some albums I've seen with hidden tracks, they put a sticker on the front of the album that says 'hidden track,' but they shouldn't do that. Then it doesn't come as the surprise that it's supposed to be.
I was curious about this track "Don't Blame the Children." In the context of the film Third World Cop. Have you seen that.
I went to see it, but it's like I can't go to movies, I just fall asleep! I can't tell you anything. I went to see that movie. And in the space of ten to fifteen minutes I was gone.
So they call you Sleepy.
Yea. If I take the lady to the movie, she complains all the time.
The subject you're dealing with there, it sort of rang true. If you ever see Third World Cop again, I think the message of that song . . . In Jamaica, there tends to be a glorification of the "bad man." There's a cop and his friend from youth in the ghetto, who is now a bad man, right? But the message of the movie is that the bad man gets killed and the cop comes out on top. But in reality both people would be dead, but they don't show you that. They make a hero out of the cop. And it would be bad in the same way to make a hero out of the gunman, in my opinion.
You see it in every movie. That's why I say 'blame it on the t.v. Blame it on the movies.' It's just always the same. The guy goes out and kills a lot of people. He just kill everybody and come back and get the girl. Everyone of them is the same.
It's just because it sells that way and it does a lot of damage. People don't seem to care.
That song is about me. If you really listen to it.
Well, I hear you singing about when you were a youth, you wanted to be like Claudie Maussop.
Right, Claudie Maussop was one of the Jamaica badman. And I used to adore him. I wanted to be like him. Him and Burbwai??? Those are the people who I grow up with. And we used to have board gun and say 'a me a Claudie Maussop.'
Claudie died in the late 70s after the Peace Concert. But how long did he run his area?
For years and years.
When did it come to you to say, wow, this person is not a good example?
When I was nineteen, going [on] twenty. When I started going to Ethiopian World Federation meetings. That's the Rastafarian meeting. Someone just say, 'come, take a walk, leave out the company.' That's was in 1968, 69. That was right at the beginning of your recording career. I did record for Phil Pratt, Sunshot label, that was 1966. But I couldn't sing them times mon. So I was just practicing. As a kid growing up, everyone mischievious.
So you must have mixed up with some Rastamen at Studio One.
Yes, plenty mon. Studio One was the only studio that the Rastaman could go. Studio One and Duke Reid. But they couldn't go to Dynamic.
Couldn't go to Federal.
No, you couldn't go inside of Federal with a spliff. Even on the compound outside. That's why growing up I heard about Federal -- battymon studio! Don't write it down! That's what they used to say about Federal.
They came out with some good music too, but it wasn't on the level . . .
But the Khouris. Jamaicans label you for anything. When you pass up by Studio One, there used to be like 20, 40 guys come to audition. People would pass and say, 'how much money fe deh place deh so?' But they realize it's a studio. Guys turn up to sing. You used to have more guys than ladies.
I have a couple more questions about the album specifically. Before I forget, there are two other writers credited and I don't know who they are. There's an M. Lee and an M. Stone. "Seven Seals" and "Johnny Too Bad."
It's Clive. It's really me write the lyrics, but I just give him some of the publishing, cause it's his rhythm.
On the album it says 'Hinds, Clive Hunt, and M. Lee' on "Seven Seals."
Right, I gave it to them cause it's his rhythm. That was rhythm that Clive said hadn't come out. But then I heard PierPolJak was on it. But I still in good faith man, cause the rhythm was good. So I just give him a third, cause I think that's reasonable.
Compared to a lot of other singers who have been in the business for a long time, you seem to have kept the tonal quality of your voice very similar to the old days. On this album, if I compare it to twenty-five years ago, your voice has not aged noticeably. How do you keep it . . .
I tell you the truth. Nuff exercise. I love weights. I don't go to the gym everyday, but I have the weights where I am. I eat honey, and lemon . . . and garlic.
But you still smoke herbs?
Yes, yes. Yes, you know that! I love natural tea, anything bitter, I really love. Because what is bitter to the mouth is sweet to the belly. Bitter tings will take out all the tings that is supposed to come out but don't come out.
What's that root called, bizzie?
Bizzie, yea. Some people boil it and drink it and it's good for the blood. So you don't have diabetes. That's why some people are diabetic, because they don't purge the blood. It's good to eat a grapefruit sometime, more than orange, although the orange is good, cause the orange is natural sweet. But the grapefruit is bitter. And it will purge your blood.
On the subject of maintaining the voice, I saw Junior Byles less than years ago, and his voice was gone.
Because he's sick man, and he's not singing. If you don't keep singing, it will go away. He's not singing because he's sick. It was really sad, and I bet he doesn't drink honey. I love honey, man, I love it. I need to take care of my voice.
Seriously, it sounds just as sweet as it did back in the day. I don't think you'd be able to maintain your career without keeping your voice. On the subject of live performances, you don't seem to actively do tours in the States.
It will happen soon. You heard about Gomez? Well, it's the first I heard about them. They're saying they want me to tour with Gomez.
I've never heard of them. Where are they from?
From England. So it would be really good. If it's going to happen, I don't know as yet. They say they're waiting on them to confirm it. But I will be doing things.
But your stage shows have been with Massive Attack?
Yea. But on my own you will love it.
Well, I saw the show in California last year, which was great.
But when you see me with my own band, then you will see the right thing. My band has two ladies. The bass player is a lady and she is wicked. We call the band Whop'Dem.
I have two more questions for you. I've run across three versions of "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers that you've done. You must have a love for that song.
I love that song. When Ken Boothe did it, I love it to death.
Oh Ken Boothe's version is the best!
Yes. But I have a Studio One version. Mr. Dodd ask if I can sing it over and I did it. He used to come with the song and say, 'do you love this song,' and I'd say yea!
Horace man, give thanks. It's been a pleasure.
Yes, mi breddah, don't forget, just keep it up same way like me a do. Alright mi breddah?
Me nah stop!
Copyright 2000 Carter Van Pelt
Carter Van Pelt produces and hosts 400 Years: Radio Free Mondo on KZUM 89.3 FM in Lincoln, Nebraska and is a feature contributor to The Beat and other fine magazines.