Natty Dread Are The Controller . . .

Sometime after Trojan Records reissued Linval Thompson's 1978 classic I Love Marijuana on CD, I contacted High Times magazine about a review, figuring it would be perfect for their readership. They suggested I try to get an interview, which I thought would be impossible, because no one has seen or heard from Linval Thompson in ages. Coincidentally, Majestic Reggae's US office sent out a press release that they were to release Linval Thompson Sounds -- Jah Jah Dreader Than Dread on CD in May 1997. I contacted them and Myles Faulker put me in touch with Linval in Jamaica. Thanks a million Myles -- one of the all time hook-ups.

The singer/producer Thompson has largely checked out of the business with only an occasional trip to the studio since the mid-80s. Still, while managing a real estate business in Stony Hill (outside Kingston), he is coordinating CD release of much of his back catalog (both himself and artists he produced). I found him to be one of the coolest and least pretentious reggae stars I've had the pleasure to talk to.

I have spoken to him twice, and the following is most of the transcript from our first conversation. The second, which deals largely with the subject of herb, will be posted after the High Times piece is published later this year. Until then, I hope you enjoy a glimpse of one of roots reggae's greatest artists. (And certainly one of my favorites).

May 4, 1997 Lincoln, Nebraska USA to Stony Hill, Jamaica.

LT: Did you get the CD? [Jah Jah Dreader Than Dread]

CVP:Yes, I got it two days ago.

Yea, I got one too.

It's nice. They did a nice job with that.

The sound. . . how it sound?

The sound sounds great, and I think the package is beautiful too, nice photos and it serves you well. It's a nice tribute to your work. Did you compile the tracks on it? Who chose the tracks for it.

I think it was Ingmar [van Wijnsberge] who runs the label [Majestic Reggae in Holland]. I sent him a list of songs and he choose from the list.

You sent him all of the tracks you thought would be good and he chose from those.

Right, right, right . . .

First of all I have a question to ask overall. I've never even read or heard an interview with you . . .

True, right.

Why aren't there interviews with Linval Thompson out there. Have you just avoided them or nobody's asked for them . . What's the deal?

I think maybe I'm so hard to find.


Yes, I think so, cause I don't really go and circulate and be like a regular around town.

I see. Are you in Kingston? What part of Jamaica am I calling to?

I'm in Kingston -- in Stony Hill.

Stony Hill . . . you live where Joseph Hill of Culture does?

Yea, he don't live far from me. In the same neighborhood I think.

You haven't been out touring outside of Jamaica.

No. I'm just trying to see if I could get a tour together for this year.

I've been off the road. I just visit England to do business with the old material that I have right now. You understand me?


So like I'm releasing overall the old material what I have what never been released and what been released on CDs. I was in England last year releasing an album for myself on my own label on a CD named Six Babylon.

That's a great album. Clocktower put that out originally in the US. . .

So right now it's on my label in London with Jet Star distributin it. Also, I have an all-star album with Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, something similar like what Ingmar put out, like what Majestic Reggae put out. Something similar to it but all the tracks are different.

From the same time frame, from the early 80s?

Early eighties, seventies and eighties. I have Freddie McGregor, Dennis Brown, Viceroys, Wailing Soul, Linval Thompson, Roman Stewart, Barry Brown, and I have also, some more young artist on it what never really released like Rod Taylor, Triston Palmer, a lot of stars, but no deejay -- all singers. I got that released on my label right now in England distribute by Jet Star.

So will that release in the US too?

I think VP Record will be distributin it too. They out there, they always do that too. Is just out now over a month. So I still have some more seventies and eighties. What this company interested in right now like a Johnny Osbourne album. I meet one of those guys, his name is Eric. He is working with them right now. He's in Jamaica now.

From Jet Star?

He's from Holland also. He's working with this same company what release the Jah Jah Dreader Than Dread album. So they're interested in the Johnny Osbourne release now on CD very soon.

When did you produce a Johnny Osbourne album?

That's from in the 80s. The album never release. It just have maybe a two disco in England -- none in Jamaica, none in America.

Totally fresh. I never heard of it.

Yea, you never hear of it, but it's great though, it' powerful. Also, I have a lot of material from 70s and 80s that never been released before.

When I was in Jamaica last I found an old copy of a Thompson Sounds version of "Danger In Your Eyes."

Yes, yes.

Are you going to put that on a CD sometime, cause that's a wicked track.

Yes, yes, they're supposed to very soon on my next volume two on my label in England. Also, I'm looking for a tour of the continent of Europe. I could put Linval Thompson, maybe Triston Palmer, Josey Wales. That's my package, they would come with me.

What musicians would you put together to tour it?

Roots Radics, original Roots Radics. We also plan it already you know. We just need a booking agency who interested.

That would be a strong strong tour.

We would have Linval Thompson, Triston Palmer, Josey Wales and maybe Little John. It depends on the booking agency how much he can handle, but Roots Radics band. We never been tour like that before.

When you released Starlight through Mango in the United States, did you tour on that?

No, I never tour on that.

We are one of the artists from in the seventies who take over the reggae, you know that too, straight onto late eighties. We never tour. People just hear the songs, but nobody, you know what I mean? And I think right now is the right time now, cause everybody been putting together the seventies and eighties back (on CD) where they can't get it on vinyl no more.

If you can get the CD in the stores and then tour after that, you've got it made.

I don't know if you see Greensleeves have a Baby Father CD out with me?

Yea, they sent me that. Greensleeves will send me stuff all the way from England, but VP in New York won't. VP won't send stuff out unless you live in a big Metropolitan area. You know what I'm saying?

And the Six Babylon album is also out in New York now for a long time now right? It's on CD now right?

It's on a CD, but I didn't know if they had permission to do that. (It was pirated by Abraham in Canada).

No, they never have permission from me, but they still go ahead and do it you know?

Also, the album named Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks . . . you see that CD out too?

I've seen Cool Down Your Temper.

Cool Down, Cool Down yea. It released in Europe I think they called it Long Long Dreadlocks (It was pirated by Esoldun in France).

Right right right. I see that too. That's Bunny Lee produced that. So I got maybe three, four good CD out right now.

Well I can tell you that people who really know reggae know who you are, but you need that promotion, that push . . .

Right now.

Yea, now is the time. That's why I'm writing this article . . . I'm going to write a couple articles but the main one is for High Times magazine, the ganja magazine.

Yea mon!

I sent them a note, I said 'Linval Thompson's I Love Marijuana album has just been rereleased on CD,' and they didn't know about it, but they went crazy when they heard there was an album called I Love Marijuana.


Yea man, they were like, 'get the interview.'

Man, that been out for over fifteen years. That was a big album in Europe for me, but it's never been out in the United States.

Let's talk about that album. Recorded in 1978. Was that one of your first self produced?

Yea, first album I produced.

So you had just mainly worked for Bunny Lee before that . . .

I had just done an album for Bunny Lee before that called Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks. So that was the first one. And I Love Marijuana was the second album, and the first one I produced as a producer.

A lot of singers make the mistake of letting someone produce and letting someone produce, but for your second album you produced your own sound. Did you know that you had to strike out on your own? Tell me about how it came about. . .

No, I never know, but is like a vibes come to me and say well, I think I better do this work myself. It's a power from somewhere just some to me and say I better do it myself. And from that day I just keep going on. I never stop doing the music for myself. And then I start to produce a lot of artist -- lotta big stars right now. Big stars like Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor and my biggest hit with Freddie McGregor in Jamaica, all over, 'Big Ship sailing on the ocean.'

And then he named his label that.

And then he name his own label now Big Ship.

Yea, serious serious serious thing.

So I produce a lot of artists from in the seventies and eighties, that time, mostly singers though. I never really too . . . I record deejays but I never really too interested in a deejay. I mostly think singers have a power and have a message, you know what I mean?

True. But by the time you started producing, the deejay style was becoming very popular.

Yes yes. like I produce deejays like Toyan, U Brown and Ringo, Johnny Ringo, Trinity -- all of those long time deejays, mostly, but singers was really my thing.

I think that the magic of Jamaican music is the singers and the live players, cause by the time the music started getting too program sounding, it lost the touch.

Yea, well the computer -- I don't think that's the right thing for reggae music. I think the live drum and bass give you a vibes. You just smoke up your mariguana and give you a vibes and like it give you a power from the Father. You know wha I mean?


How to do that and how to sing that. Computer just like a machine, you following the machine. The vibes is from you, in you, that's what we need, the vibes from we inside we, the power, God give us the power, not the machine that a man make up. Seen, so that's why the roots of the music been drifting away cause the machine playing the music. We want to feel the live thing, the live drum and bass, live guitar and that way the singer can sing the vibes. In my time when I was singing, I go to the studio with my song and when I sing, the piano man, that's Steelie and Flabba Holt, when they hear me sing the first note, they play the chord what I'm singing, until we get it right. And then the drummer come right in. Is not like the computer just go like that and you don't change -- that's a one way thing, you know what I mean? And that's one of the things, that's why I never really was making no more music. The computer kind of get me down.

So you phased out of the production after Sleng Teng came along . . .

Yea, yea, right in that time. Definitely, right in that time, cause I never really interested in that vibe. Like the power was in me to go that way, so I think I just cool out. So now as you see, everyone want to hear the seventies and eighties songs. Is like I get involve right now again. I've been trying to release back those songs on CDs and get them remix overback in the same drum and bass style -- same original seventies style. I was one of the first who release an album name Space Invaders dub style with Scientist, it was very big. I was really one of the guys who put that style together with that heavy drum and bass slap and tell Scientist what to do and how we want that sound. And it really took off in England and Europe and right now that's what they need again. They're even talking that they want that same style again.

You spent a lot of time working with the Roots Radics in the studio.

I use them and then I use Sly and Robbie after and in between, but mostly it was Roots Radics.

But originally you recorded with the Soul Syndicate with Bunny Lee.

Yes first right.

And then you went kind of to the Revolutionaries for the I Love Marijuana.

I love mariguana. I used to use Bob Marley (bass player). Familyman. He's the one who play that bass you know.

How about Horsemouth.

I think Horsemouth was the drummer.

I'm going to interview him too. He's another man who's never been interviewed.

And he's a star -- a movie star.

Yea, Rockers.

The business is so funny now, nobody remember who build up the business who was in the business originally.

That's because people don't read the albums.

Right. Is like the people from Europe and like you and some more people like your style really know what's going on from the roots of the reggae. You know what I mean.

Yea, who feels it knows it.

Yea. The reggae been swing over to Japanese now, but they don't know about Linval Thompson. When I was building up reggae from the in the seventies. I take it from there, me and some more guys, and we traveled right on to the eighties, and we have a sound. We have an international sound that's what people been calling for right now.

I have another album here in my hand that I'm looking at, Train To Zion Dub. It's got Wayne Jarrett and Ranking Trevor on it. It's on Tuff Gong. This is kind of an album you don't see very much.

No, cause they're not pressing it [anymore]. It's out of stock, they're not pressing it. People want it, but it's not pressing.

It has one of the same tracks, No Confusion, that was on Six Babylon.

I also produce some of those tracks.

Yea, it says it's a Linval Thompson production on it, yea, 'all songs written by Linval Thompson.' That song No Confusion? You know the drums on that, the timbali? Is that Sly?

Yes, I think it's Sly.

Cause that's some wicked drumming.

Yes it's Sly at Channel One studio. Yea, I think it was mix at Channel One.

Yea, that's a very very very wicked track. I have to go back and ask some more questions about I Love Marijuana too. You were talking about the inspiration of the herbs in the music, but you don't, you wrote another song called "Lick Up The Chalice" that was on Look How Me Sexy, but I don't know of many . . .are there other herb songs that you have written and recorded or how do you feel about that as an inspiration for lyrics. Talk about the herb . . .

Well, herb is powerful you know. From a long time I know that: Herb is very powerful, but you see, as you know, we have to hide and smoke it. You can see, from that's the first album I do on myself, I sing a song name "I Love Mariguana," so just imagine how long I'm talking about I have that inspiration about herb, if you understand me.

So you're saying that because it was your first, it was the first thing you wanted to say.

I wouldn't say that, but the power and the vibes what coming inside me. . . Is not like what I want to do, is what that power just come to me and say that is what I must sing, the lyrics, you understand me?

True, yea, seen.

Also, I did have a next song name "Six Babylon attack three dreadlocks just because they're smoking a spliff?"

True, that's true, yea.

Also, I have a next song what unreleased, I have it on tape, name "Mr. Collie Man," something like that. Is unreleased -- bout herb.

From what time frame?

From eighties. It never release. I have it on tracks here. It never release before, but umm . . it name "Mariguana Tree," "Mariguana Tree."

Any others?

Umm. . . no. Just about that I think. About four herb songs.

That album I Love Marijuana is a very strong album. . . Natty Dread Are The Controller, Begging For Apology, serious sounds.

Yea, I remember those songs.

What else do I want to ask you about . . Henry Lawes the producer. You worked with him and then he became the main person working at Channel One it seemed, at least in terms of the amount of music that's been released through England and what have you . . . So what do you have to say about his work or working with him.

Well, I don't know if you know that I was the one who found him. You know that?

No, tell me. . .

Yes, I was the one who found Henry Junjo Lawes and really teach him or show him about recording business, if you understand me.

I hear you.

I was the one and right away I was the one who start him in the business, give him some tracks, and then he voiced Barrington Levy -- Barrington Levy was his first artist. Right?


From there, he go straight on and we go to England and we meet Greensleeves. We meet a lot of more companies, but we never do no strong business. Greensleeves was the one who really do the strong business for us and promote us in England. But I was the one who really bring Junjo Lawes in the business, and you can ask anybody about that from in the seventies. And from there he go on his own and he make it big.

Yea, Greensleeves released many many albums of his -- more albums from Greensleeves than from you. Do you have a lot of tape. . . You said you had some tape that you've never released. Why did you sit on so much material that you didn't put out internationally?

One, I was doing my own label also name Strong Like Samson, so I was making songs for my label, instead of leasing out songs for companies. That's one of the main reasons I have so many songs what never released was that those songs was for my company. I never really think it's a good idea to lease out or sell out all the materials.

You're right. It's a good move for you, because now you always will control that and now you can get what you deserve for it.

Yea, just like that. Right now I'm still releasing my own thing.

Yea, that's great Linval, because a lot of people sell out all their stuff, and then they have nothing later on.

Right, so I have stuff what never been out before, and those stuff are good stuffs -- what they need right now. I have Barry Brown album what never been release.

Serious? Man.

I have Rod Taylor album what never been release. I have a Freddie McKay album never been release. I have also songs of myself what never been release.

Did you put any of this stuff out on Thompson Sound at all on singles.

Yea, on single, but never on album. I still have album with Viceroys.

So this Jah Jah Dreader Than Dread compilation is a nice introduction to all this work. This is picks and samples from stuff . . . How about this Sammy Dread? This track "Follow Fashion"? That's a wicked track, do you have more from Sammy?

Yea mon! Bad, bad! (laughs) You like that? Bad track dem deh mon!

Yea it's one of the strongest on here too. You got more of Sammy Dread?

I got more on Sammy Dread.

Wayne Wade?

Wayne Wade I got an album too, it never been released.


Also I have Barry Brown.

How is Barry Brown. Is he still kicking around down there.

Yea, same way, same way.

Everything cool with him?

Not really, his head is not too right.

Yea, that's what I was afraid of, cause he kind of disappeared, dropped out.

Right right.

Well I want to say thanks for the interview and the time. You know it's an honor to talk to you because I've been looking out and looking out for information to read about you or find out more, but all I have is the music, but it's great that you're surfacing and that you're ready to get more music in front of the people.

Yea mon, we ready to tour and everything also mon. And nice talking to you.

Alright, well maximum respect.

Yea, respect, seen?


Copyright 1997 Carter Van Pelt

Linval Thompson Discography in progress

Linval Thompson, "Well Wicked" by Steve Milne

New Thompson Sound Seven Inchers Fall 1997

Linval Follows His Heart Again (7/26/98)