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 his fights. 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't long before the charismatic Buster tried his hand at
music; within a year he had recorded some 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 Folkes Brothers' 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 "Oh Carolina" in 1994
Buster unsuccessfully contested the rights to the song, noting to no avail 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 figurative blender with English, Scottish and Irish folk melodies and
jazz/Latin inspired horns. This was ska, often called Blue Beat in the beginning, after
the influential record company that released much of the early material.
Prince Buster churned out over 600 songs on Blue Beat between 1962 and 1967, backed up
by the top session musicians of the time--Ernest Ranglin on guitar, Val Bennett on tenor
sax, Raymond Harper and Baba Brooks on trumpets, Rico Rodriguez on trombone, and Arkland
Parks on drums. His sound was more uptempo than most of his contemporaries, and his lyrics
were way ahead of their time, tending toward the political, with Afro-centric themes and metaphorical, at times cryptic poetry.
During the early '60s Prince Buster was one of the top singers in Jamaica, becoming
increasingly 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 popular through the '70s and drove the ska revival of the '80s,
re-recorded numerous times by two-tone bands.
Prince Buster had a roving sound system, which did battle with the best of 'em, and
owned a record store in downtown Kingston. The success he achieved in music he repeated 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 of the World.
Prince Buster's influence on Jamaican is indisputable. As a singer, producer and
composer, as well as spokesman and visionary for his people, he is the heppest, the
Originator of ska.
- Mara Weiss
Additional links for this artist:
Steve Barrow Bio
Listen To The Music of Prince