We continue with LIVE & LEARN week here at MIDNIGHT RAVER. From Kingston 14 to Georgia Avenue: The Delroy Wright Interview – Part I was posted yesterday. Today I’m sharing Part II of the interview. Stay tuned for Part III plus much more from and about Delroy Wright and LIVE & LEARN Records.
From Kingston 14 to Georgia Avenue: The Delroy Wright Interview – Part II
JR: So when you first open your store was it a variety store at that time?
DW: No, no it just a record store. I just sell record at that time. Later I start sell them other ‘ting like the red/gold/green belt, the tassle, the kutchie knife and all dem Jamaica ‘ting…food, sell some food.
JR: Why did you relocate from NYC to DC?
DW: DC to me was more quiet, and slower and NYC was more fast. When I move hear I like the atmosphere of the colleges and the students always around you know. Different ethnic backgrounds, very diverse cultures and I like that.
JR: So what was it like back then when you opened Live & Learn Records on Georgia Avenue?
DW: Well that was the spot! All de people a come thru. It almost like a rite of passage when you come to D.C. Artists, producers, local people, students, DJs, everyone just there. Ras Michael. Don Carlos. Junior Reid. Barrington Levy. Dennis. Gregory. The Diamonds. They were all there. I think it was even hotter than NYC at that time. I used to do shows too you know…I produce shows so all a dem come through.
JR: Did you put out records on your label during this period in the ’70s?
DW: Yes, yes. I was putting out 45s in Jamaica so once it pop in Jamaica it release in the US. I had 45s from Don Carlos, Ansel Meditations, Winston Hussey, Mighty Diamonds…yeah i was putting out those on 45.
JR: So at the time you would travel back and forth to Jamaica. What was the dynamic like when you go down to record?
DW: I would call up de studio like Channel One, or Aquarius, or Music Mountain and book de studio for one week or two weeks. Then when I get there word get out and dem just start to show up. Don carlos. Mighty Diamonds. Wailing Souls. Dennis Brown. Dem a come and seh ‘boss I’m here and I got some song for you’ I would book de hotel and sometime I not come back for two or three or four days you know. Because if you get Dennis Brown show up in the studio to record you haffe do it ’til it done because Dennis when he leave de studio he nah come back you know. he get out there and start doing his ting and you never get him back in.
JR: And which musicians were you using at the time?
DW: I use the Radics, Oneness Band, Browne Bunch, Sly & Robbie, Lloyd Parks, and I mix up the musicians to get a certain sound. i might have Lloyd parks on bass, Sly on drums, Steelie on keys, Bingy Bunny on rhythm guitar, Sky Juice on percussion. Cuz everybody else just a use one band. So I mix it up to get my sound.
JR: So lets talk about you and Junjo. You were both recording at Channel One a the time and both using the same musicians right? But your sound and his sound is completely different. He had that thick, heavy, rootsy sound. His sound was so dense. Your sound is more of an international sound…very breezy, expansive, well-mixed…almost more of a jazzy sound.
DW: Well, Junjo and my brother use the Radics exclusively. They bring the Radics out you know. So dem use just the Radics and I might use Flabba or Bingy Bunny but I will put them with a different drummer or percussion you see. None of this was really intentional you know. It just was how we work. Maybe I would plan to use the Radics but someone else around de studio so you just have dem sit in. We didn’t really know what we were doing…we were not intentionally trying to transform the sound of the music. It jus’ happen. We had no thought or idea that the music would still be listened to today, or that it would transcend anything or still have some significance.
JR: I figured that maybe it had something to do with the different engineers you guys would use.
DW: Well, yes. Because each engineer have him own sound you know. Junjo and my brother would use Scientist exclusively. He has a signature sound. Sometime they might use Bunny Tom Tom or Soljie. Myself I would use Noel Hearnes, or Mikey Riley, or someone like Crucial Bunny. Myself too I sometime did a little dub mix you know. What one engineer might hear, another one might hear something else. And you want to give people different sounds. You don’t want to be like ‘this is all we got.’ If you want this sound we can do that or if you want that sound we can do it as well.
JR: So what is it that each engineer offered you. What was their respective strengths.
DW: OK, take Noel Hearnes for instance. he have a very laid back, international mix because he toured the world you know with different artists like Jimmy Cliff, Third World. So he had a different flavor because he has been all over. On the other hand, Scientist did not travel. Noel will give you roots, but a different flavor. Not like Scientist who was all roots and give it to you hard. Noel…see you have to catch the people’s ears. You cannot catch their heart until you catch their ears. Some want to hear nice likkle guitar, or likkle drumming, or some trumpet and Noel bring all de instrument through so you can hear them.
JR: TRIBAL INNA YARD, one of the great roots reggae albums ever recorded. This one is always ranked high by those who really know reggae. Phenomenal singer, very versatile singer, heavy, heavy riddims – those riddims are heavy like lead – and a fine mix by Scientist. I’m looking at the album and it says it was first issued in 1983 but it had to be recorded long before that?
DW: Oh yeah, yeah fi sure. Me and Linval do that one in the 70s, mid-70s. What happened is I gave this label in Scotland…Move Records I believe…I gave them that record to release and I gave them de Michael Prophet, and I gave them a Heptones too. They release dem in 1981, 1982, 1983. Then Linval gave it to some people in France a likkle while back and me issue it on Live & Learn here in the U.S. Freddie McKay was brought up through Studio One and he come to work.
JR: So talk about the dynamic between you and Linval and Junjo.
DW: Junjo is hands off you know. He will sit back and say ‘let me hear what you got’. Me and Linval are more hands on…we tell them the sound we want we say ‘OK change that to this…I want more this here you know.
JR: So what was Junjo’s genius? He produced nearly 100 albums in such a short time period. What did he have?
DW: Junjo knows it you see. You have to know the feel. It not just going in and making music. Junjo feel the music and he know what the people are looking for. He had a great ear for what the people want because he was always out there you know…at the dance, at the soundclash…He will hear a little thing and then he start a trend with it. He hear a riddim and he come back she boss this riddim gonna be a wicked riddim but I haffe do it over and do this to it and that you know.
JR: I always think of Channel One as a pressure cooker and that is why the music so good.
DW: Yes, it’s a good analogy. We in that studio and gunshot a pop off all around you and going over you. There’s people outside the studio them ruff you know. They standing there waiting see. It was right in the middle of the two political factions.
JR: So let’s talk about my favorite artist from this period Don Carlos.
DW: The first time I meet Don you know…I wanted to record him for a while. I had a cousin live on the front part of Waterhouse Drive name Ramon so him tek me to see Don Carlos. Lemme tell you Mike, Don Carlos is my favorite artist. He a great man. One of the greatest me ever a deal wit’ you know. I see Don Carlos and me a seh ‘Don I want to record some song but me really don’t have money for you right now.’ Don look at me and him seh ‘Barry don’t worry ’bout it mon, we gonna do business mon.’ I tell you Don Carlos, Dennis Brown, Michael Prophet those guys…just love mon, all love. When you see dem they just a hug you up like a bredren mon. Most guys you meet they jus’ a look you up and down, tell you what they need, their demands. Those guys, everybody is everybody, Dennis Brown nah treat you like him have so many hit songs and ‘ting, him just all love mon. Love all those guys even today.
Label scans from my record collection
JR: So what was the first thing you did with Don Carlos?
DW: I think the first was “Spread Out” and then “Black History.”
JR: And “Spread Out” was released on a Live & Learn 7″?
DW: Yeah it released on a 7″ in Jamaica.
JR: I think it was titled “Here I Come Again” at the time? Its also the B-side to “Black History.”
DW: Yeah, same tune. It was originally titled “Spread Out” but Bunny Lee tek that track and the others I record with Don at that time and release it on an album call Spread Out. So that is why I change the title of the song after that to “Here I Come Again.”
JR: And what about the “From Creation” 12″ [Blacker Dread]? Did you ever record that song?
DW: No, no I don’t recall that one.
JR: When was “Black History” recorded?
DW: Mid-70s, like two weeks after we record “Spread Out.” We use Jimmy Cliff’s band Oneness for that tune.
JR: How involved are you with the recording?
DW: I’m very involved, very hands on. I select the studio and the musicians and book the studio time.
JR: So Don or the other artists they do not select the musicians?
DW: No, I tell Don we gonna record some songs with this band and some other with this band. I record a whole album with Don Carlos. I was going to put out an album with nothing but Don Carlos but Junior Reid at the time was making a name you know and he is from Waterhouse too. So I start think to myself to do an album with these two both from Waterhouse. So I decide to do a clash album with Don Carlos and Junior Reid. That is FIREHOUSE CLASH. the other songs I record with Don for his album…I still have those on 24-track. Those have never been released.
JR: You shouldn’t tell people this…people will have a stroke they know you sitting on Don Carlos tapes…
DW: Ha, ha (laughing)…They will hear them soon. Maybe a Firehouse Clash II…
JR: So when did you record Junior Reid’s tracks? Like “Chanting” and “Respect Due”?
DW: I record them even before I record Don’s tracks. I tell you mon, when these guys come they come! When they come they come!