Thompson was raised in Kingston, Jamaica, but spent time with his mother in Queens, New York, and his recording career began around the age of 20 with the self-released “No Other Woman,” recorded in Brooklyn, New York. Returning to Jamaica in the mid 1970s he recorded with Phil Pratt, only to return to New York to study engineering. Returning again to Jamaica, he worked with Lee “Scratch” Perry at his Black Ark studio, recording “Kung Fu Man”, and recorded with Bunny Lee, which resulted in his debut album, Don’t Cut Off Your Dreadlocks, in 1976. Thompson began to produce his own material, the first fruits being the Trojan album, I Love Marijuana (1978), and its dub counterpart Negrea Love Dub. Although he continued to work as a singer, he became increasingly prominent as a producer, working with key artists of the late roots and early dancehall era such as Dennis Brown, Cornell Campbell, The Wailing Souls, Barrington Levy and Trinity, with releases through Trojan Records as well as his own Strong Like Sampson and Thompson Koos record labels.
Thompson’s productions were used as the basis of some of Scientist’s best-known dub albums. He has also produced albums for Eek-A-Mouse, Freddie McGregor, and The Viceroys.
Linval Thompson is now a legendary Linval Thompson Jamaican reggae and dub musician and record producer who, along with producers like Henry “Junjo” Lawes, engineers Scientist and Barnabas, and the Roots Radics band, completely changed the sound and vibe of reggae while working at Channel One studio. From 1978-1984, these “musicologists” re-invented reggae with unique and inventive riddims that were harder, heavier, and faster than anything released before. Thompson in particular produced a string of headbanging riddims voiced by Freddie McGregor, Eek-A-Mouse, Barrington Levy, The Viceroys, and other emerging stars. The albums produced by Thompson during 1982 are my favorite reggae albums – Levy’s Poor Man Style, Mouse’s Skidip, McGregor’s Big Ship, and “The Viceroys’, We Must Unite.
Here is one of Thompson’s hardest riddims played by The Radics. “Come Closer My Love” appears on The Viceroys’ We Must Unite.
1. The Viceroys “Come Closer My Love”
2. Freddie McGregor “Don’t Play The Fool”
3. Barrington Levy “Sensimelia”
4. Wailing Souls “Come Closer”
Here is an excerpt from a great and rare interview that reggae writer/DJ Carter Van Pelt landed with Linval Thompson in 1997. To read the entire interview, visit Carter Van Pelt’s page.
Let’s talk about that album (I Love Marijuana). 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.
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.”
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.
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 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.
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?