“I need to clarify something with regard to dates. I pushed my good friend Delroy “Barry” Wright about several dates discussed in the interview, including the date(s) surrounding the recording and release of Barrington Levy’s BOUNTY HUNTER. He stated that these tracks were recorded circa 1975 with his brother Jah Life. I tried to clarify this by referring to the album’s published release date of 1979 and the fact that Barrington Levy would have been only 11 years of age in 1975. Keep in mind that I’m asking him to be concise about events which occurred 40 years ago. He sticks by these dates saying that it could have been 1977-’78 that the LP was released outside of Jamaica but that the tracks were first recorded circa 1975 and that the album hit the streets in Jamaica before it hit the US/UK. He recalls that he moved his shop from F Street in DC to Georgia Avenue in late 1975/early 1976 and that he opened the new location with the BOUNTY HUNTER LP and that Live & Learn was the only distributor of the LP at the time. He also says that while various sources state that Barrington Levy was born April 30, 1964, he thinks he was born several years before that. He said that he will consult with his brother Jah Life to be sure.
I give thanks once again to Wright for sharing his story with us here at MIDNIGHT RAVER.”
JR: How did you link with Junior Reid?
DW: OK you know Sydney…who used to tour with Ras Michael? Sydney Wolf? He’s Beenie Man’s uncle. Well Sydney used to have Junior Reid on the sound system he used to own called Master Blaster. I record a whole album for Junior Reid too. I was going to release just an album of Junior Reid songs. But some of the songs…the ones that appear on Firehouse Clash…they wer so strong I took the best from both sessions and released as a clash album. And it sold mon…come on…that one sell off.
JR: So “Chanting”…Talk about that. An incredible song.
DW: Yeah mon. Me record that one with Junior Reid and release it on a 7″. I gave Dynamic the 45 they release it first. I release it in the US on the 12″.
JR: So this tune was remixed and retitled for Black Uhuru’s Brutal album.
DW: Yeah Doctor Dread do that one. It titled “Dread In The Mountain.”
JR: So people may not know but you and Doctor Dread have a long history and you are very good friends. I mean I was able to link with you through Doc.
DW: Yeah I know Doc know for so long you know. You know the record company only know de artist by the sales and profit. With Doc it is more heartical. Him love de music and him love de artists. I know him from before he start RAS Records. Even before he have his radio show in DC. He used to sell fish and I used to buy fish from him. He would come around the shop on Georgia Avenue and I give him some records to play on his radio show. I bring him back records when I go to Jamaica. Doc do his ‘ting though you know. People who know Doc know this but I will tell you that dis not a man just concern with business…Dis the type of man who …you know an artist or a friend might say Doc I need money to pay my mortgage or my kid is in the hospital and him just give you know. He’s a bredren. I didn’t really have nuttin’ to do with the ‘ting he had with Junior Reid and Black Uhuru. That was his project. His records were everywhere…in all the stores was RAS Records…strictly positive music, roots & culture…he’s another one, only conscious music…at one time he was distributing everybody’s records to all over the world.
JR: I interviewed Jim Fox of Lion & Fox Recording Studios several years back and he credits you with sort of giving him his first real break in the reggae arena. He credits both you and Doc but he said the first reggae record he mixed was Don Carlos’ “Here I Come Again” which you brought to him to mix on the recommendation of Doctor Dread.
DW: Jim is another great one…done so much to make D.C. a respected place for de music. I remember I the first one to play Don Carlos for him and Fox just a melt…Him love Don Carlos…Fox got de right mix and he truly one of the great people I ever meet in this business. I met some of the greatest people and I met some on the other side of that too…But Doc and Jim…when I see dem today its all hugs.
JR: Let’s talk about Barrington Levy…
DW: Barrington is a real talent. Even today after all these years…and all these singers come and go his voice is still distinctive. You never mistake a Barrington Levy song.
JR: So your brother Jah Life worked with him early, recording the tracks for Bounty Hunter. You released his album TEACH ME CULTURE on Live & Learn. After Bounty Hunter, this is my favorite set from Levy. Very strong list of tracks here.
TEACH ME CULTURE, recorded at Channel One and engineered by Anthony “Crucial Bunny” Graham, was produced by Barrington Levy and Helena Hunt and executive produced by Delroy Wright. It was released in the US on Live & Learn in 1983. It includes several previously released singles and also includes tracks which were also released on the Michael Levy-produced LP OPEN BOOK which was issued on Tuff Gong. TEACH ME CULTURE has a production value that far exceeds anything released by Levy previously. The mixes of “Trying To Rule My Life,” “Don’t Pretend,” and “Mind You Hurt My Mom” are brilliantly mixed by Crucial Bunny. The tracks have a much slower tempo than the same tracks on the Open Book LP. In my opinion, after BOUNTY HUNTER, TEACH ME CULTURE is Barrington Levy’s best album.
DW: Yes those are good songs. My brother Jah Life and Junjo got de best work from Barrington.
JR: I read an early interview with him and evidently he comes from a very strict, deeply religious evangelical family who did not support his involvement in music and he ended up leaving home at a very young age and he credits The Meditations with kind of taking him in and looking after him…providing guidance. Is this true?
DW: Yes its true. Barrington was just a kid man…a kid you know. People don’t really fi understand that him was jus’ a kid in the studio among all these older artists. The Meditations is a cultural group and basically at the time…take for instance now…they were all living in one place, or recording at one studio…so basically The Meditations see him around the studio and look after him…mek him sing a likkle here and there.
JR: So I just need to clarify things about Barrington Levy and the tracks that appear on BOUNTY HUNTER. You say you remember carrying the album in the store at the time in 1975?
DW: Well maybe a little bit later than that because him was just a kid you know. But maybe those tracks record like 1977 to 1978…maybe I’m off a likkle bit but not that much. He was fifteen at the time he record those tracks. The LP come before ’79 though fi sure.
It seems that Hyman “Jah Life” Wright was on of the earliest influences in Barrington Levy’s career. He took the songs that Barrington had penned and fine tuned them, recorded and mix them to make what many consider to be the definitive early dancehall album in BOUNTY HUNTER. The landmark album includes the track “Jah Life” in which Barrington hails Jah Life from start to finish.
“On my may over New York,
I sight some natty dread,
them a jump and a laugh,
Jah Life with the people,
them a whirl, Jah Life,
wit I man Barrington on the microphone
let the good times roll…
I love him to my heart and soul…
Jah life a de thrillah…
Jah Life a de dub organizer…”
JR: Talk about Al Campbell. It seems like you guys had a strong connection.
DW: Me and Al Campbell go way back…we friends for long time. He’s a guy you can always count on. He was the guy you know when I look for somebody I say ‘Al Campbell go find Michael Prophet…Al Campbell go find Junior Reid…Al Campbell go find Dennis Brown…and he bring them to the studio you know.’ Great mon. I would call him she from the U.S. and say Al Campbell go get the Diamonds and tell dem I’ll be there next week…tell dem get themselves together. Because I don’t have the time…I might only be in town for three weeks or one month and I need to be in the studio working. I can’t spend my time trying to track down all a these guys. And Al Campbell been around rfor a long time. He almost one of the foundation artists. He start with Jimmy Riley and The Uniques and came up through Studio One. He brought most of those guys to Studio One like Freddie McGregor and those guys. And him can write a song too. Great songwriter. He can sit down and write a song in an hour.
JR: Talk about Junior Murvin.
DW: talented singer. You sit and listen this guy sing without a band his voice has such range…it is amazing. I released with Junior murvin SIGNS AND WONDERS but I still have another album we did that I haven’t released yet.
JR: So is that something you are planning to release?
DW: Yeah mon. I’m going to go through all my 24 track tapes…I have a lot of stuff, I’m telling you a lot of stuff. I’m going to release a bunch of stuff that has never been released. I have an album by The Tamlins…The Meditations…Junior Murvin…Junior Reid…Dennis Brown. This is stuff that never been released…nobody knows about all of this.
JR: Is there a reason you were sitting on this stuff all these years?
DW: Nah mon. Just busy with a lot of stuff you know. I’m a father…I’m a grandfather…My grandsons Jahari and Jaheim, I have them every summer.
JR: So lets talk about what you plans are for the label.
DW: Yeah mon. I’m jumping back in. I have all my 24-tracks in Florida. I need to go through them and see what’s there but I am planning to release music from Junior Reid, Don Carlos, Junior Murvin, Meditations, maybe some others too. I have unreleased Dennis Brown tracks.
JR: Now I know you’ve released some stuff with Digikiller in NY. Are they going to release this other stuff you are talking about?
DW: You know Rob and dem at Digikiller?
JR: Yeah they do some amazing works you know.
DW: Yes good people. I do release some 45s with them. But the stuff I have in Florida…on my tapes…I’d like to release that on Live & Learn…get the label back out there. I have a website for my label and there will be a store and I will release it through there.
JR: So do you have any thoughts on this so-called “reggae revival” movement? Artists like Chronixx, Protojé?
DW: I do like those two artists. This is the way I look at it. Everyone has their own contribution to the music, to the history of the music you know. I don’t even get into dis one better than dat one and dem kinda ting. Everyone’s contribution is important. If someone take the time to do anything to forward the music you know…write a song, produce a song, play an instrument…even what you yourself are doing…you know…and guys like you who know the music and love the music you are reaching people and places the music would never reach these people are able to learn about the music because you documenting the history of the music and ting is an important contribution. Those magazine like Small Axe and Black Echoes…love those magazines. They always support reggae and I always used to see Live & Learn on the charts and discussed there. Those contributions were important. Everything is everything. Everything has its place.
JR: You have interest in recording any new material? Going back into the studio to record some of these new artists?
DW: Yes that is definitely something I will look to do.
JR: So let me ask you something as someone who was very active recording and producing in the early 80s. This is an issue I wrote about in blog piece about the “reggae revival”… that is the influence of drugs, especially cocaine during this era and the impact it had on the music. Its no secret and it has been widely reported by The Gleaner, the New York Times, and other reputable sources…And I should say that during this period it infiltrated many genres of music, not just reggae. My question is this: Did the drugs and drug kingpins play a large a role did in the sound and quality of reggae during that period?
DW: Yes, yes…it does, it does effect the music. It impact the music in a negative way. The lyrics went down, the sound was changing…
JR: I mean you could almost hear it in the music…the beats per minute were faster, the packaging was cheap and there seemed to be very little thought or effort or quality going into the music. It was just about doing it as fast as you can to get your money as fast as you can before this thing ends.
DW: But de ting is dis…it got too saturated. People a get tired a hear bout guns and drugs so it become just a phase, a period in the history of the music. Because when you really get down to it people want to be uplifted by music, they want to be able to play it for their kids and dance you see. So the drugs ting is nothing new. It still going on even here in the U.S. You can see the influence of de drugs and de gun in the music today. But people always tired from that and the music return to a better place.
JR: You always recorded or produced live instruments. Did you ever feel pressure or did you ever try to go the digital route when it was popular?
DW: Mike I record only two tracks in my whole life using a drum machine. Of course there is pressure if people like a certain thing and they buying it up but there are also people looking for the other ting too and that is what I stayed true to.
JR: Well, that is about all I have for you Boss man. i appreciate all the time you spent talking to me.
DW: Mike anytime mon you know that. The people hear from me soon you know.