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Prince Buster, the most influential of the early ska vocalists, earned his tough name theold-fashioned way... with his fists. As a youth he took to boxing, and earned some fame that way, winning most of hisfights. Music was his second interest. His start in the music business came in 1961,when he got a job as a security guard for Sir Coxsone Dodd's sound system. It wasn'tlong before the charismatic Buster tried his hand at music; within a year he had recordedsome tracks at the Starlite studios and started his own record company, Wild Bells.

In 1962 Prince Buster, already a sought-after producer, released a version of The FolkesBrothers' song "Oh Carolina," and soon thereafter "Humpty Dumpty" and "Little Honey,"which had greater success at the time. (After Shaggy went to Number 1 with "OhCarolina" in 1994 Buster unsuccessfully contested the rights to the song, noting to noavail that the production and the handclaps on the original tracks were his.)

In the late '50s American R&B blasted from every available pair of speakers in Jamaica.The early '60s saw Jamaicans introduce their own flavor into the Motown grooves.Mento and other indigenous forms mixed with African drum rhythms, in the figurativeblender with English, Scottish and Irish folk melodies and jazz/Latin inspired horns. Thiswas ska, often called Blue Beat in the beginning, after the influential record companythat released much of the early material.

Sierra Nevada World Music Festival

Prince Buster
Prince Buster

Prince Buster churned out over 600 songs onBlue Beat between 1962 and 1967, backed up by the top session musicians of thetime--Earnest Ranglin on guitar, Val Bennett on tenor sax, Raymond Harper and BabaBrooks on trumpets, Rico Rodriguez on trombone, and Arkland Parks on drums. Hissound was more uptempo than most of his contemporaries, and his lyrics were wayahead of their time, tending toward the political, with Afro-centric themes andmetaphorical, at times cryptic poetry.

During the early '60s Prince Buster was one of the top singers in Jamaica, becomingincreasingly popular in the UK. Hits like "Madness," "Al Capone" and "One Step Beyond"inspired wild devotion in the mod movement in Britain. These songs stayed popularthrough the '70s and drove the ska revival of the '80s, re-recorded numerous times bytwo-tone bands.

Prince Buster had a roving sound system, which did battle with the best of 'em, andowned a record store in downtown Kingston. The success he achieved in music herepeated in business, both in Jamaica and overseas, and he toured less frequently.Today The Prince owns a gym and is actively seeking the next Heavyweight Champion ofthe World.

Prince Buster's influence on Jamaican is indisputable. As a singer, producer andcomposer, as well as spokesman and visionary for his people, he is the heppest, theOriginator of ska.

Artist Biography courtesy of Mara Weiss

 

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