|Johnny Clarke: from "Studio
Idler" to rootsman superstar supreme!
After more than 10
years of respectable output and moderate success, Bunny Striker Lee was hungry for more,
much more. The record producer had tasted triumph with late '60s/early '70s hits like
"My Conversation" by Slim Smith and the Uniques, "Bangarang" by Lester
Sterling & Stranger Cole, "Cherry Oh Baby" by Eric Donaldson and
"Better Must Come" by Delroy Wilson. Still, Lee's drive to control the scene and
make and break trends was stronger than ever in 1974. By this time, of course, the heyday
of the big three record producers - Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid and Prince Buster - had
already past. The scene was ripe, then, for a takeover and Lee was craving for full
dominance of the Kingston dancehalls and record charts. With his studio band The
Aggrovators, Lee sponsored the development of a new rhythm, the "flying
cymbals," created by Soul Syndicates drummer Santa Davis, and influenced by the
bump/disco/soul records coming from the States. Lee recognized that he needed a new
vehicle to move his new sound. A voice that was fresh, exciting, sincere and accessible.
An agile voice that could deliver both fiercely militant Rasta anthems and lushly romantic
ballads which would go over with all aspects of Jamaican society from the well-to-do to
the ghetto sufferers. A supple voice that could reflect the mood of the times yet still be
timeless. It was a tall order to fill but Lee eventually found his man. Eager youth Johnny
Clarke soon became one of his top recording vocalists. A tune called "None Shall
Escape The Judgement," by a Greenwhich Town youth called Earl Zero, came to his
attention. Lee had Clarke record the song, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Clarke was born in Kingston in January of 1955 and began singing at a young age. A
victorious performance in a Bull Bay talent contest boosted the fledgling artist's
confidence and jump-started his ambitious pursuit of a successful career in the music
business. By 1971 Clarke, who was still in school, was gigging at some of Kingston's
hippest nightclubs. Soon after he finished school in 1973, Clarke entered the recording
studio for the first time at the age of 17 and cut the single "God Made The Sea and
Sun" for producer Clancy Eccles. For whatever reason, Eccles only released the single
on a blank label and decided against putting any promotional push behind it.
Disappointed that his first record didn't even include his name on the label, Clarke
looked for another producer. That's when he met up with Rupie Edwards who produced his
next two singles - the moderately successful "Everyday Wandering" and
"Julie." However, it wasn't until he hooked up with producer Bunny Striker Lee
in '74 that Clarke would hit the jackpot.
Clarke originally went in to record "My Desire" for Striker. But the producer
asked him to sing as part of a vocal trio that included the burgeoning Greenwhich Town
singer/songwriter Earl Zero. The trio recorded Zero's composition "None Shall Escape
The Judgement" at Duke Reid's Treasure Isle studio with Errol Brown engineering.
Striker later decided to have Clarke re-recorded the tune as a solo singer and the
resulting single marked Clarke's outset as a '70s superstar in Jamaica. The followup
single, "Move Out of Babylon Rastaman" (an updated cut of John Holt's Studio One
hig "Sad News"), was an even bigger hit and cemented the Clarke/Striker Lee
partnership which would go on to dominate the local scene for the next four years.
Clarke was so hot that his former producer Rupie Edwards was inspired to use the rhythm
from Clarke's "Everday Wondering" for a new tune. Edwards voiced some new lyrics
(the chant "skanga, skanga,") and released it in Britain as "Irie
Feelings." The single reached the Top Ten and spawned a number of other Edwards
produced singles on the same rhythm.
Although Striker enjoyed much success with Horace Andy, Derrick Morgan and Cornell
Campbell, Johnny Clarke was by far his number one star. Striker saturated the local market
with Clarke's singles, which consisted of an even mix of original tunes and do-overs.
Clarke's practice of covering other artist's songs (under the direction of Striker)
prompted the nickname Mr. Do Over Man. Clarke brought his unique sound to well-known tunes
by Delroy Wilson, John Holt, Burning Spear and Bob Marley. It didn't bother the public
that many of his singles were cover tunes. Clarke was voted artist of the year by the
readers of Jamaica's Swing magazine several years in a row. At one time he had 6 records
on Jamaica's Top Ten and a number six on the British charts.
Much of Clarke's time in the studio was spent not only on his own music but also the
recordings of other artists in Bunny Lee's stable. The atmosphere was one of a communal
hit factory with artists helping one another out. Clarke often played piano at sessions
(he's listed as the pianist on Jah Stitch's Original Ragga Muffin CD on the Blood &
Fire label) and collaborated with other singers, musicians and deejays. As the legendary
deejay and record producer Tappa Zukie explains in the liner notes of Tappa Zukie In Dub
(Blood & Fire) "Bunny (Lee) would more time be doin' a song an' Johnnie Clarke
not findin' the right lyrics, an' 'im seh: 'Zukie, you an' Johnnie Clarke work out a ting
now', an' me an' 'im go outside an' when we come in back, we 'ave the tune ready."
It wasn't long after his initial success with Bunny Lee that Clarke began to tour
outside of Jamaica. He came to America at the end of 1974, becoming one of the first
reggae artists to perform on US television. In England, Clarke performed at London's
Rainbow Theatre and in a memorable 1977 concert at the Hammersmith Palais, Clarke shared
the bill with John Holt and Jah Stitch.
By '78 Clarke had done more recording than many singers do in a lifetime. It was time
for a break and Clarke parted company with Bunny Lee whose dominance in the local arena
was fading as a younger generation of producers (Don Mais, Henry Junjo Laws, Linval
Thompson, etc.,) began to take over. Clarke recorded throughout the late '70s and '80s for
a variety of producers such as Brad Osborne, Niney The Observer, Glen Brown, Errol T,
Prince Jammy, Steely and Clevie, Sly & Robbie and again with Bunny Lee. He spent a
portion of the '80s in England recording some characteristically high caliber works with
Mad Professor, Jah Shaka and Fashion Records. In 1995 he reunited with Niney for his first
album in many years, Rock With Me (JA/Peter Pan).
This interview with Mr. Clarke was recorded backstage after his sterling performance
with the High Times Players at the 5th annual Northern Sierra Nevada World Music Festival
in Marysville, California in June of 1998.
I was born in the ghetto area of Jamaica, Whitfield Town area, Waltham Park area. I
attend Jamaica college high school and from there onward I was involved with a set of
musician that created from that school as well known as the Inner Circle and a part of
them became Third World as well and there was like a school band in those days, that's
before we really gettin' professional. But after I left school I work for about a year
with a company by the name of Grace Kennedy. Then after about two years apart I was
involved in some talent shows, like singing for small clubs, club by the name of Lady
Pink, club by the name of Memory Lane and all of those clubs. Man who is also responsible
for that is a man by the name of Tony Mack who was always trying to urge the young artists
to become a artist professionally. Well, eventually after that, they have a saying in
Jamaica - nothing is gonna drop in your lap - certain things you just have to go for.
Well, I just believe in that and I went on the road and eventually I was involved with a
man by the name of Clancy Eccles. We made the first song to be recorded in a studio and to
become on plastic which is record by the name of "God Made The Sea and The Sun."
It wasn't really a hit as such but it was just like to let some of my good friends know
that I can do the stuff, y'know. After that, through persistancy I went along and met with
a man by the name of Rupie Edwards who have a label by the name of Success and I do a
first song by the name of "Everyday Wondering," which later on he did some form
of original sound of that piano, guitar strum and call it "Skengay" otherwise
known as "Irie Feeling" which went up on the British chart about number five.
But it wasn't really a hit of such in Jamaica. But the first hit song came about in 1974
when I did a song by the name of "None Shall Escape the Judgement." That one
made the name Johnny Clarke popular from house to house by sales. Because nowadays people
don't buy records anymore. But those were the days when people ususually buy records
because there was a lot of turntables strong on the market and everybody was interested in
having a copy of a record at his house. So if I know you and I come to your house and hear
you playing a new song, tomorrow I'm gonna get one for myself and I need one also at my
house. So, that was "None Shall Escape the Judgement." The ones before were like
a dancehall hit, like just hit in the dance. But house to house, "None Shall Escape
the Judgement," then "Move Out of Babylon," "Rock With Me Baby,"
"Left With A Broken Heart," "If You Should Lose Me," "Hold
On." I even do over a Bob Marley song called "No Woman No Cry" which was
also a big, big seller and a Delroy Wilson song by the name of "True Believer In
Love." So all that was just pure hits coming down. We're talking about like six song
in the top ten. So a lot of work was being done, original work as well because in those
days we were very much creative. We believe in creativity. We sit down and we concentrate
and we try to put together lyrics, new lyrics. When you make a song, it's got to be 100%
original. The rhythm is original and the lyrics are original so it's 100% original song
and those songs is still living today. It was so creative it still stand, y'know. And
we're still working, because now I have a new album by the name of Rock With Me. That's
the album that is showing that the good stuff is still in me, y'know. Because we still
have original roots reggae. Because we don't branch and do things that we see other people
do. We do the things that we know is right. It's good not to just follow or do what you
see people do. It's best to know if they are right or if they are wrong because you want
to follow the right and not the wrong.
Clarke believes his early recordings with Clancy Eccles and Rupie
Edwards could have been hits had they been promoted well. No matter how good a record is,
without sufficient promotion it won't reach the people. Clarke attributes his initial
success with Bunny Lee, a former record plugger for Duke Reid and Leslie Kong, to the
producer's cunning as a promoter.
In Jamaica you need to be promoting the song if you want to create the
artist and if the artist is to get a name unto himself you need to be well promoted. Some
producers don't promote you all that strongly so you tend to move on to the next and if
that one is going all the way, you're gonna stick with that one cause that one seems to be
where it's happening. Sometimes it's good to know the hands you're into cause sometimes
you're not in good hands and it's good to identify that. When you're in good hands it's
also great to identify that you're in good hands too so you don't bite the hands that feed
you. Bunny Lee got a string of hits because he have the right set of musicians and he have
the right set of disc jockey to promote the song so it was being heard on the radio
station plus he always come with creativity like the drum cymbal. In the '70s we have a
cymbal by the name of the flying cymbal, that was a change from the normal type of drum
beat and that have additional assistance towards Johnny Clarke popularity house to house
because people always like to have a change. When they're going on one thing, if you can
see the change and that the time is right for the change and use your judgement and
everything work out the way it should, you have no problem with the people buying your
records cause they're gonna just know that that's what they want. You're giving the people
what they want and they're gonna accept it and you don't have to beg them to buy it. They
will always just grab it with a clean hand and a pure heart. So that's why we believe in
creativity. When you have creative stuff, it need to grow in the people. Then again, when
they get to love it they're gonna always keep loving it nonstop, y'know. So, creativity is
best - original, y'know.
Clarke was known as the Studio Idler because of the long hours he'd
spend hanging out at King Tubby's, Randy's, Harry J and Treasure Isle waiting for the
opportunity to record. Clarke says he didn't mind the tag. It was during those long hours
in waiting that he paid his dues and learned the tricks of the trade and he says studio
idling proved fruitful as it led to some of his biggest hit records.
Sometimes that's the way you get lucky and sometimes that's the way you
come into it professional because you watch what is going on. When your time come, is but
piece of cake, y'know. Soup it up because you couldn't do that because you didn't get your
chance. There was so much artist in my days it was tough because you have pure big name
artist. And me as a new artist coming into a camp that have a promoter who have a lot of
big name artist, you got to be well great because him don't have fe see you because him
all of the big names around him already. So for you to come into that, you have to be
very, very strong. Very multiply, y'know. Strong so that you can really catch him eye
because him have a lot of big artist around him already. I mean when you're just coming in
the business there's things you have to do. Maybe sometimes you have to go to the shop.
Sometimes the man make you go buy some beer and buy some food. Bring fe the man dem,
y'know. And then after a while you can reach a stage where maybe you start make a next man
do that. Just coming in the business and you really want to be a part of what is happening
and you know you can fill the gap. It's up to you how much effort you put out for
yourself. Ca' the father says 'me help the man that help himself.' So if him see me trying
him will help me along. You can't just sit down and expect it to come. It might don't even
come. The name Studio Idler, I don't really check it as nothing. Some people wouldn't even
want you to say that but me don't mind it. Cause something happened from that. Because it
was worthwhile and it was beneficial, cause I benefit from it. 'Ca if I wasn't there
idling maybe I wouldn't be here talking to you today.
Realizing that most Jamaicans couldn't afford to buy Bob Marley's whole
Natty Dread album and seeing as Marley wasn't releasing the moving "No Woman No
Cry" as a single, Lee directed Clarke to do-over the tune. Needless to say, it
skyrocketed to the top of the charts. Clarke's rendition of "No Woman No Cry"
was just one of dozens of Marley-penned songs that Clarke would record, but not without
some retaliation from the Marley camp. Recording versions of current tunes by The
Gong took some courage and in a 1989 interview with journalist Chuck Foster (The Beat,
Vol. 9, Number 5), Clarke claims he has suffered some major career setbacks, namely being
boycotted from Reggae Sunsplash during the '80s.
Despite the numerous cover songs he recorded, Clarke says Striker Lee
and his group of artists were always trying to create a new, original sound that would
strike a chord with the record buying public. That meant keeping abreast of the social
atmosphere and satisfying the wants of the people. For instance, Clarke cites his song
"Joshua's Word" one of many Joshua tunes of the day (mid-1970s) inspired by the
public's support of Jamaica's socialist Prime Minister Michael Manley.
Sometimes you have to scout and see. That's what we used to do. That's
the reason why we did come with the flying cymbal because we're into this thing to sell
record. We're not just into it to just make a record and carry it home and play it for
we-self and say 'yes, it's we dat.' We just reach a stage where we just talk about big
sales. We sorry we never have millions of people in Jamaica fe sell millions but as much
as we have we try and sell as much as we can. So like in "Joshua's Word" in dem
times in dose days the majority of the people was like going in that form. So like if you
could do a song inna dat region, you would just have all of the people buying it and that
was really what happened, y'know. The same thing with Bob Marley "No Woman No
Cry," it was like the people want, need and love that song and ting but it was on an
album. True, is a song I like as well and ting and I did it. And it just take off because
it was cheaper because it was on a 45 single and it just took off. That was like after I
pass through a certain amount of stage of creativity and I said 'well, I don't mind doing
a song that I love.' Because if you notice I do some of John Holt's songs as well.
Paragons, y'know. But then again, you haffe really state yourself as a man who is
creative, then you can branch towards doing a cover song. But you come through the date
originally. That's how you come through the door. Cause in dem times if you wasn't
original nobody was interested. You have to make your name originally. Cause if you go to
a producer and your singing to him or you're doing a audition and it have the slightest
sound of a next song, him say 'no, no, no. I'm not into it.' When you sing dat song him
want it to be like he has never heard it before. Nobody has ever heard that song, no part
of the world. It's brand new. Many of Clarke's career moves in the '70s were steered by
producer Striker Lee. Although he put his heart into each piece of vinyl, it was Striker
who determined what kind of material Clarke recorded be it love songs, conscious tunes or
Clarke convincingly recorded straight R&B for Bunny Lee including a
series of duets with Hortense Ellis (collected on Sly & Robbie Presents The Best of
Lovers Rock Volume 1 - Rhino Records)and Doreen Schaffer.
That was also an experiment as far as the producer was concerned.
Because there was one straight reggae vibes and a man just feel like we should try some
slow ballad stuff. Because we done reach a stage already, everybody know we could
originate already and everybody know we are the originator so na wrong if we just try a
ting as far as some cover is concerned and Hortense Ellis was really the perfect lady.
Because, bwoy, her voice just sound so blend, y'know. It's a sound like it could be me,
like we was doing her harmony. The way she sound is the way I definitely would a want her
to sound. Her voice was just wonderful to hear, man. Especially when it blend in with
Johnny Clarke. All a dem, "This Is My Story," "You're Mine," even some
of the one I do it by myself "She Wears My Wring" and "Perfedia" but
there was also another one with a sistren by the name of Doreen Schaffer.
Back in the day, a lot of time and effort went into recording a tune.
Clarke says when you hear his classic songs from the '70s, you're hearing the collective
talents of many people who strived to reach the optimal level every time the red light
switched on. He explains that unlike today, the technology in the '70s was simpler which
forced singers and players to be on their toes.
In those days when you really have a song, when you're going to do some
recording, you'd visit the man that play keyboards and he find the chords and the man
who's playing the bass he listen. So you get more familiar with the song so he know where
to put in his little riff as he go through the verses and through the choruses and even in
the solo, he knows. But then again it was even harder because there was no half-tape. In
those days it was like just four-track and we weren't advanced in technology that much
that we could patch in someone, you make a mistake after one verse or two verse, you don't
have to go from top again, just patch it, just take it from there on. Nowadays they're
lucky cause they can do that. But like in those days, if you go reach down to the bottom
and make yourself to go all the way again. It's just the know how. You're just accurate.
Like a recitation. You study the song and you know the song so you come to record the song
because you know what you're going to do and also the musicians. So if you listen those
songs in those days, if you listen to the musicians, you can hear that they're really
familiar with the song they're recording because they have certain lickle phrases that
they put it each time you make a slur. They go with you. Nowadays now it's all over the
place. Like a man just make the riddim and you just come and voice. But they usually track
you. Play along as you sing, so they're more into it. It's not that you're not here and
they make the rhythm and tomorrow you come and put on your voice. Everybody's here
together. It was all like togetherness as you have a set of musicians on stage. Like seven
musicians must back you up in that studio and it's live and original. It's like the
Aggrovators, y'know. Yeah mon, Aggrovators.
Clarke was also instrumental in launching the career of one of reggae's
most important singer/producers, Linval Thompson. The two boyhood friends lived in the
same neighborhood but Thompson moved to Queens, New York to be with his mother when he was
about 15 years old. Clarke advised Thompson to return to Jamaica and concentrate on
establishing a recording career. It was Clarke who convinced Striker to record the young
Thompson. When Clarke got the go-ahead, he brought Thompson to King Tubby's to record
"Don't Cut Off Your Dreadlocks."
That's true still. Because Linval, he went away. We grew up together.
But through his parents was like living in the States. So he left we from young and went
to the States. And every now and then him usually come to Jamaica and stay for a short
time. So him always want to be a singer. So I said to him 'if you really want to become a
singer you haffe come a Jamaica and come stay fe a while and just live here. You can't
just come fe one week or two week.' So him do as I say and stay amongst me and me jus'
carry him to Bunny Lee and to Tubby's and them listen to the man, through me still. But
him my bredren and we grow together and him always a sing pon the corner too. The first
time I really leave Jamaica and come to America was the 11th of December, 1974. And the
first show was at Columbia University (New York) and the promoter responsible for that is
the man by the name of Earl Chin (now with Rockers TV). And I waan tell you something, I
was one of the first Jamaican artist to go on American TV, yeah, on Channel 2. Because
when I was rehearsing, they came and was doing some filming and about 8 o'clock in the
night me and Earl Chin went home and I was watching myself on television, Channel 2,
singing songs like "Take My Hand," "Jah Jah In Dem" and "None
Shall Escape the Judgement," and that was in 1974 and people didn't have that much
access to reggae artist on television.
Clarke says the change from flying cymbal to rockers drum style was
bound to happen - a natural progression in the ever evolving sound of reggae music.
After a time you're gonna need a change because that's how the country
runs anyway, even with the politics. A man go on for a period of time after a period time,
de people dem say 'we waan somebody else to rule we,' and the people dem a talk. And then
they make the man gwan for a period and watch what him a do and if after dat time they say
'bwoy, we no like what you a do,' them a go to the next man, y'know. So sometime I think
it a gwan fe a decade and then after a time you just need to just get in that slight
change just to keep it interesting as far as the market and the people who is buying
records are concerned. So the rockers was really original thing. The rock drum, that was
really original. But the flying cymbal was like a kind of try out and it work out. There
was a guy named Santa (Davis). Him try to fly de cymbal and he tried it on a song and it
sound good and him say 'bwoy, dat what we want.' Dat's what the people dem did want too.
So the move was right. So it's just a ting, y'know. True, the business was kind of
stagnant too, 'cause after a while everything was just kind of watered down so you just
need to come with something, invent something fresh. Even certain other people who wasn't
along with we start use flying cymbal as well, other promoters. 'Cause them see what was
happening as far as our success is concerned. Them haffe come in our direction. So then
everybody start play flying cymbal from dem time to now, 'cause if him not playing dat,
the people dem don't want his song fe buy.
Much of Clarke's best work has been issued on the late Brad Osborne's
New York-based Clocktower label (Originally Mr. Clarke, Sings In Fine Style, etc.,).
Clarke says Osborne did good work.
Him died now, y'know, Brad Osborne. Him is the one who is doing some
harmony, 'cause him used to sing too. So it's him that put on the back up voices. Him and
this guy named K.C. White and some of the sistren. So him do the back up voice and ting.
Some of them song come from Bunny Lee still, beca' them song they would do them in Jamaica
and they would just tidy it up up here. 'Cause we usually make the riddim and voice in
Jamaica and mix in New York 'cause him have him studio in New York where him go and
usually go a night time and him overdub like put on harmony and just mix it down and
release it and sometime him experiment great 'ca when him finished complete, bwoy me a
tell you man, nice, really, y'know. So Clocktower album de, nice. Brad Osborne do him
work, y'know. That album (Originally Mr. Clarke) was well done. Album for the younger
generation, y'know. 'Ca we no really make tune fe we, we make tune fe the younger one
Another highlight of Clarke's massive discography is the album Barry
Brown and Johnny Clarke Sings Roots & Culture (Fatman). The two legends of '70s
reality reggae share six heavyweight tracks a piece produced by Striker and mixed at King
Tubby's Waterhouse studio by Tubby himself as well as Prince Jammy and Scientist. Fatman's
only involvement was in compiling the songs. Clarke says the album, like some of his
recordings, was released unbeknownst to him.
It not coming originally from Fatman. But it just reach Fatman hand
because the person who control it decide to make Fatman have a piece of it. So that's how
it really reach Fatman still. Who control have the privalege and the authority fe decide
who can really handle it. They (Striker and Fatman) are good friends. It's all about
bredernship, y'know. But then again, me kinda on de outside, 'ca sometime dem tend fe do
it behind my back. Me not even knowing. Sometime people just carry it to you and show it
to you and you're surprised. Not even knowing that was happening or was going on. We have
this great man by the name of King Tubby's. So me just link with them people. Him have the
greatest sound. Even right now none of them sound can't go like that. 'Ca him have the
heaviest sound. In them days they a talk about Hi Fi, y'know, King Tubby's Hi Fi, heavy
By the early '80s Clarke left Jamaica for England like many other major
stars. He says the dearth in talent on the island led to a new breed of artists that
ushered in the digital era.
What really happen is that, through the politics again, there was a lot
of people going east, west, north and south through politics. They run away from Jamaica.
War, y'know. A lot of entertainers they haffe leave. Some come to America, some go to
England. Because the entertainers don't want to get involved inna the war. Because like,
you're going into some area where it's pure gunmen and all that, so man kind of get
fearful beca' we deal with music, a we no deal with gun business. So if me see de youth
doing too much of dem thing then me try to stay far from you. So me find myself in England
where we cool out for a while. After dat, when I came back to Jamaica, the dancehall scene
now came prominent whereas you find man start sing on sound system. A man coulda really
get the chance to see a entertainer by just going to a dance. That was like inna de '80s.
The business was kind of stagnant as I said through the politics. And through the politics
and people was all over the place running up and down. Even dance was being shot up and
people was afraid to go to dance. Was like the music was just going just dead. The
dancehall ting now is a ting that come out now out of, they just couldn't do better. It
just would have to happen because the people did just want to hear music so them take it
anyhow, whether it be singjay or deejay, because the people who usually make the good
music, dem kind of scatter. So we have some youth that was there still and them figure
more or less them coulda still carry the banner. And them carry the banner in such a way
them carry it now in a sound system way, performing around the sound. And them call it
singjay. If you want to make a hit record you have to sing like how the deejay dem deejay.
That means certain type of pretty singing, dem wasn't going for dat. 'Ca dem say too much
of them pretty ting na really no gwan again, y'know. You haffe sing it like how the deejay
dem a do it. If you notice in the early '80s there was lot of the singjay kind of ting.
Well after a while you find artist start come back in and man start get involved sound
wise and get involved in doing a lot of special for sound system. Like you have a sound
name Masterpiece, me just call out a sound name Masterpiece and him just cut it on a dub
plate and have it ready fe a next sound. So we come to a sound clash, so you find it
create a whole heap of sound clash vibes. In our time now we never really have dat.
Dancehall style in dem days was a selection of Johnny Clarke. King Tubby's now who was the
champion sound and U Roy who was the champion deejay, when U Roy a play selection him play
like 20 piece of Johnny Clarke, him play 20 piece of Delroy Wilson, him play 20 piece of
Dennis Brown. So dem days it was days of dancehall style. So a man a play a whole heap of
original singing. But the deejay them never really get no play 'ca you never really have a
lot of deejay because the deejay never have much fe deejay still because all that would
happen, him would a just play the singer and then after him play the singer you hear the
version and the version is short because him know him have got a set of Johnny Clarke fe
play. But you find now what really happen with the dancehall thing get prominent now inna
the '80s you find the deejay dem start change the vibes and them start play less of the
selection ting and start feature themself. So instead of them play out the singing, them
cut the singing short and play the riddim and play the riddim all five time and each of
the five time it's five different deejay go on it. So it's like dem start quietly
eliminate the singer and promote themself and the selector him was with them. Him was them
dear friend because he was the one who used to haul and pull it up and make a next man
jump pon it. So, dat now called dancehall style. But there was always dancehall. Me start
dancehall style, yes. But after a while inna the '80s dem change it. Nuff people don't
understand what is really dancehall style. 'Cause some of the people dem possibly get
confused when dem say dancehall style because man know dancehall style was from our time.
Yeah, because dancehall style was from U Roy time, Lizzy time, Count Machuki time, Big
Youth time, whole I and I time. But the name is more popular and is more outspoken now
because dem want to tell to feel like it's a different part of the music. That's something
different from reggae music. Which it a be same reggae music but when them realize that
now them want to take them time and try and make it in our way like dancehall is a
different music. But them start called dancehall music from when dem a make over all a dem
old time Studio One riddim. So if you make over a Studio One riddim and sing a different
lyrics pon it, a no really dancehall, it's reggae. So dancehall style is really through
the deejay, them more involved as far as performance is concerned and dem get more longer
period of time pon a riddim because years gone by a deejay used to just introduce a singer
and just keep quiet and the singer gwan sing and introduce him again, him was like a MC.
But after a while now, deejay start play him part. After a while dem just feel like is him
alone. He shouldn't have no singer, should be just him. But now him pay the price fe dat
because you haffe please the people you can't please yourself. And the people you have to
respect. Because music is not just fe you. Music is to share amongst other people, seen.
All about sales, seen.
Clarke's most recent release, Rock With Me Baby (JA/Peter Pan), was
produced by Niney The Observer Holness who back in the '70s produced one of the singer's
most militant songs, "Warrior." The sound of Rock With Me Baby is contemporary
dancehall with digital rhythms bolstered up by Clarke's voice which is as sweet and hearty
as ever. Making the album was a joy for Clarke because he says the process of recording is
much easier now thanks to modern technology. Clarke says modern recording techniques also
help showcase his skills.
That album show my versatility, show the talent fully. Because when you
listen to that album you can hear like a choir, like a group. But the way it work out it's
just one person. Because we're so advanced now that we have different tracks. I can just
fill one track which is maybe the lead and then I listen to it and I feel like it can get
some sweetness and maybe just put on one more track and then after I feel like it can take
a next level. And then eventually it's all three different track added to the one which is
the lead. So it's like four voices put together combined. Is one man who did that still.
Years ago you couldn't do that. Like most of my songs that have harmony inna the early
'70s, songs like "Get Up And Fight For Your Rights." I was like singing the lead
and the harmony was being done by Jackie Edwards and Barry Biggs. So, I couldn't show my
versatility because there was only four track. So you have one track you do the voice and
all them three voices they have to be on one track. But nowadays you can experiment. But
that album shows the versatility inna me. Man can sing lead and him can do harmony and
everything blend together and it sound beautiful. Sound nice. So really, I would a
consider it as one of the best. Also, I have a CD that RAS Records have out there (Reggae
Archive). I did some song produced by Mad Professor back in England. Those are a beautiful
set of selections.
Renewed interest in his '70s recordings, Clarke says, is a sign that
people are searching for something more substantial than the records coming out today.
People of Jamaica call me the Hit Machine. Anytime mi do a show the
people jus' want hear the old song them. Mi do love them still, 'cause them tune was like
medicine. It's just like a revival vibes. Because through the people dem, dem really need
some gap to be filled. Because music is not just one sided thing. And music is not just
deejay music alone. So if you're gonna just focus Jamaican music as just deejay music, the
people dem going to atomatically draw back for the vintage type of song because dem love
deejay music but dem don't really want pure deejay music because dem know there is
varieties to reggae and a variety of deejay is just a one type of thing. So man want some
spice. And you see people will try and not forget roots and culture reggae. Because what
happen now is the dancehall music are some of the dancehall fans or artists will tend to
feel like it should be just pure dancehall and we shoulda just forget about some of them
long time songs that was well down already and just wrap it up and throw it away. But the
people dem decide say dat's not the way. So them decide it must live again. It's like them
take it up and make it live once more. That's why even this CD thing is very important to
the music right now, because the records will never die but just kind of get back pon top,
y'know. And them going to feel good to know that, bwoy, these songs has been out for so
long and still sound so crisp, as if it was done yesterday! When you tink about how long
ago it was done and when you listen back you maybe might feel like it's even better than
what is happening here now. So it's very important really this CD. The dancehall ting is
just a different ting. But me no have to follow dem. Me no really a do the next man ting,
and the next man ting, and the next man, y'know. Me just do it the way me know it - my
- Steve Milne
Give thanks again Full Watts everytime!
Full Watts Reggazine
PO Box 255741
Sacramento, CA 95865-5741
Check these links for more information on Johnny Clarke:
Review of the
mid-70s recorded Dont Trouble Trouble album
A short bio in conjunction with the Montreux Jazz Festival
Review of his Blood and Fire release, Dreader Dread 1976 1978
of the Originally Mr. Clarke album
Great feature story on Johnny Clarke including album cover shots and
A nice review of his Blood and Fire release, Dreader Dread 1976
1978 (in French):
French article, about a concert featuring Johnny Clarke in 2000, including some nice
King in the Arena/version (Jaguar 7")
Jah Love Is With I/Bad Days Are Going (Greensleeves 12")
Give Me Love/version (Cha Cha 10")
Raggae Music/version (D-Roy 12")
Rock Dis Yah One/version (Live and Love 12")
Tears On My Pillow (Ujama 12")(b/w Frankie Paul: Agony)
Dont Trouble Trouble (Trojan)
Produced: Bunny Lee
Cold I Up
Rock With Me
Dont Trouble Trouble
Dreader Dread 1976 1978 (Blood & Fire)
Produced: Bunny Lee
Live Up Jah Man
Every Knee Will Bow
Barry Brown & Johnny Clarke
Sings Roots and Culture (Roots Records/Fatman)
Crazy Baldhead Man
None Shall Escape (Total Sounds, JA)
Produced: Bunny Lee
Authorized Version (Virgin/Frontline)
Rockers Time Now (Virgin/Frontline)
(both combined into one CD, minus two tracks, as Authorized Rockers)
Produced: Bunny Lee
Declaration of Rights
Roots Natty Congo
They Never Love Poor Marcus
Super Star Roots Disco Dub (Weed Beat JA)
Produced: Bunny Lee
all tracks include separate dub version
Rockers Under Manners
Zipa De Do Da
Listen To The Music of Johnny
Clarke- Track List