I Can Hear The Children Singing 1975-1978

Prince Alla
Bosrah extended
Funeral extended
Go Down In Silence
Slave Master
Gold Diver
Heaven Is My Roof
Daniel (In The Lions' Den) 12" mix
Black Man 12" mix featuring Tappa Zukie
Jah Jah Bird
Go To School
Just One Way

Junior Ross & The Spear
Judgement Time extended
Man From Zion
Send Me Over There 12" mix
Bow Down Babylon 12" mix
You Can't Run
Rough Way Ahead
Jah Love extended
Freedom Fe Natty featuring Tappa Zukie
African Border
So Jah Jah Say extended
Hold Them Prophecy extended
Babylon Fall extended
This reissue marks the debut on CD of two of Tappa Zukie’s very best 1970s productions. Prince Alla’s “Heaven Is My Roof” is perhaps the singer’s best-realised project from the time, and Junior Ross & the Spears’ “Babylon Fall” - a retrospective first released by deejay-turned- producer Tappa in 1992 - collects the excellent 45s he issued on the group during 1975-1977. For this reissue we have added dub versions to several of the songs presented on the original LPs, along with two of Tappa’s deejay commentaries - one on Prince Alla’s “Daniel [In The Lions’ Den]”, the other on Junior Ross & the Spears’ “Liberty”. Some twenty-five years after it was recorded, the music herein continues to reflect the struggle of the talented artists who delivered the Rasta message from the Kingston ghettos during the period.

Prince Alla [born Keith Blake, Kingston, May 10th 1950] started his singing career recording for Joe Gibbs, for whom he recorded both as a solo artist and as a member of the Leaders vocal group in 1968. Shortly after this, he began to spend time in the Bobo camp of the late Prince Emmanuel Edwards, based initially at Spanish Town Road, then in Trenchtown, and lastly at Bull Bay; he stayed there until the mid-1970s. When he returned to Greenwich Farm, he began recording for Bertram Brown and Tappa Zukie, both of whom were beginning to establish themselves as record producers. Alla’s sides for Bertram Brown’s Freedom Sounds label, and the circumstances surrounding their recording, are covered in more detail in the booklet notes to Alla’s previous Blood and Fire release, “Only Love Can Conquer” [BAFCD 014]. At the same time he began recording for Tappa Zukie, then recently returned from a sojourn in England. In an interview with Steve Mosco [aka Jah Warrior], Alla reminisced about those times:

“Well me know Tappa Zukie as a little youth still. One day him see me and say bwoy him like start inna the music cah him know Bunny Lee and Bunny Lee a talk to him. So I say alright and him came over me yard and I had my guitar and sing a song for him named Bozrock. And him say bwoy me love that you know, and me say alright mek we go a studio and do it, you know. We did it up a Lee Perry, Scratch studio.... Tappa Zukie, him is a creative person you know. In the studio him come with the horn section and him seh do this, do that, you know. Is nice working with him inside the studio, ha ha!...... I'd have to say the song which really touch me the most when I listen to it and when I was making it is [Man From] ‘Bozrock‘. Certain tune when you're making it, it comes like it fly away you know, like you gone in a different world, you know them way there.”

The above-mentioned “Bosrah” [i.e. ‘Bozrock’] was first pressed by Yabby You; later it was issued in the UK [on K&B Records in 1976]. The rhythm - a recut of “Joe Frazier” - was also released by the producer on his “Tappa Zukie In Dub” set, currently available on Blood & Fire [BAFCD 008]. Over the next 18 months Alla recorded a couple more singles - “Funeral”, the 12” of “Daniel”, and “Heaven Is My Roof” - the latter giving title to the album for Tappa which is reissued on this CD. Alla continued recording until the early 1980s, issuing songs via producer Bertram Brown and Carlton Jackson. However, apart from a handful of singles for Greenwich Farm producers, he remained largely inactive, preferring to work at Greenwich Farm beach as a fisherman and cleaning fish. In 1996 he recorded for UK sound system legend Jah Shaka; the resultant album was issued by Greensleeves Records. Following the reissue of the majority of his 1970s Freedom Sounds output, he began touring, principally in Europe. There he has found a new audience, and has recorded two well-received albums for UK roots producer Jah Warrior and another with the Disciples. With this reissue of his work for Tappa Zukie, the majority of his early recordings are once again available, enabling new listeners to appreciate his deeply felt roots music.

Since his earliest recordings, Alla had collaborated with the late Roy ’Soft’ Palmer - alongside Milton Henry, they formed a group called the Nazarines in the early 1970s, recording a couple of sides for Winston Lowe’s ‘Tramp’ label at that time. It is Roy who sings backing vocals on ’Bosrah” and other tracks on the Alla disc; he is also present on the Junior Ross disc which forms the second part of this reissue. Tragically Roy was killed at the beginning of 2001, his only legacy being the handful of sides he recorded under his own name for Bertram Brown in the 1970s. Like Alla and Tappa he also grew up in Greenwich Farm, one of three brothers - the others are Frankie Jones and Junior Ross - who all followed musical careers.

Junior Ross was born Clifford Palmer on the 7th September 1953, in Jubilee Hospital, Kingston, as he informed this writer in April 2002:

“ Junior Ross is my singin’ name - I have to give thanks to Tappa Zukie for givin’ me that name.....Start singin’ in the seventies - The first tune was ‘Babylon Fall”, [for] Tappa Zukie - again, I ‘ave fe give him credit. He’s the one who bring me into the faith. First of all, Tappa Zukie was a man who me an’ him grow together. A lickle secret weh I never really let out yet - Tappa Zukie use to take away his parents’ money to buy clothes for me an’ him, to go to dance, up an down, so I grateful for him. Then one day - you ‘ave to say is a beg-time, the first song I record. Next man I ‘ave to give thanks to, to be in the music phase, is John Holt, because the first try I get, I was failin’, ‘cause it was a short time, a beg-time. John Holt was the man who put me on the mike, set me up an’ say ‘Give the youth a nex’ try’. That was at King Tubby’s - mid-seventies, somewhere aroun’ there.”

The above-mentioned ‘Babylon Fall” also gave title to the album reissued here, the second disc of this set. Although most of its tracks had been released by Tappa on his ‘Stars’ imprint during 1975-1977, it wasn’t until 1992 that they were collected on a vinyl album. Junior Ross & the Spears were a vocal group with a changing lineup - at times, Prince Alla, Roy Palmer, Frankie Jones and Leroy King all contributed backup vocals behind Junior’s lead, like on “Bow Down Babylon”, as Alla remembered in the interview with Steve Mosco quoted earlier:

“Yes, that was harmonies, is one of the brothers dem lead it. His name is Challa who sing lead on that song. And sometimes you had Frankie Jones sing lead too. But most time I sing harmony with them you know, until I sing my song and them sing harmony with me.”

Another who sang backup harmony in the Spears for Tappa was Leroy King [born 25th December 1949, Jubilee Hospital, Kingston] who cut a few sides as a soloist during 1977-1982, including the brilliant “Mash Down Babylon” for Roy Francis’ Phase One label. in 1977:

“Well, we been singin’ for quite a long time now - nearly thirty years now - it could a more too. Well, I really am a solo singer now, but I use to be in a group before by the name of Saints, weh did “Brown Eyes” an lotta song like that, but after that we come an’ join Junior Ross as the Spear an’ do a few backup tracks like that......He had a brother, Roy Palmer, well, he died..... tragically. I did “Mash Down Babylon” at Joe Gibbs with We The People band, Lloyd Parks, for Mixing Lab - Roy Francis. I also did “I’ve Tried” for him. I did “Johnnie Reggae“, “Pleasure Lady“, “Stop Bus Gun In Dancehall” [all] for High Times, Bertram Brown. I do a LP for Channel One - I don’t hear that LP so far, don’t know if release or what. I use to sing with Soul Syndicate, travel all around.”

King also sang with Junior’s brother Frankie Jones, on the 45s “Bygones” and “Marijuana” for Tappa. Not unsurprisingly, Frankie was a big influence on Junior Ross:

“My brother Frankie Jones - he’s a nex’ one who inspired me too, because he’s a good guitarist. He teach me how to play guitar, teach me the timin‘ [so that] I can play a few chords, lay my riddim an’ everything - respect to Frankie Jones. That is not to say I didn’t have some inspiration fe myself, beca’ Leroy King, Melodians - they used to rehearse in my house, an’ they put down the guitar at night , an’ I ketch my lickle one practice an’ one practice. That is how I get to play the guitar. But the real inspiration came from the seventies, when you know Rastafari consciousness was high. Until today it is the highest culture, to me”

That belief is evident from even a cursory listen to Junior’s songs; every word radiates a hard-won commitment to ‘roots and culture’:

“We see Babylon as a system that holdin’ the people today. It is sad how [some] cultural artists mek a shift after pursuing something positive.......I didn’t mek a shift - I stick with it until today, but I know good over evil, an’ it will still live on . All those songs written by me, yunno? Even ‘Youthman’ that Leroy Smart did, I was the co-writer fe it. Me an’ Frankie Jones wrote that song an’ “Ballistic Affair”, almost all of those songs, because we rehearse together, we put in words an’ words. Frankie sing with the Spears at times, so it was like a family - Leroy King, Frankie Jones, Prince Alla, even Tappa Zukie sing harmony sometimes. I only hope if we could a see some of those days come back today...... I use to wake up in the morning, 6 o’clock an rehearse till 10 o’clock - after eat a lickle ting an’ ketch up again - by 4 o’clock is rehearsal again, so a lot of inspiration would flow.”

The Palmer Brothers home must have been a busy place in those days - it was in their yard in Greenwich Farm that the Melodians wrote their epochal hit “Rivers of Babylon”. Junior learnt enough guitar to be able to devise rhythms in rehearsal and thus make the studio work flow more smoothly:

“You know the chords, an’ you tell the musicians dem: play from that to that, an’ that. I lay the riddims, most of them. Most of the arrangements was Tappa Zukie...” Today, Junior Ross no longer lives in Greenwich Farm: “I live at a lickle place called Breadnut Wall, Ipswich, in St Elizabeth....it’s natural, inspirational, peaceful, harmonious.”

For the future, he hopes to be touring in 2003, hopefully alongside his long-time brethren Prince Alla, like him an artist fully committed to sending out his messages of reality, strictly roots & culture, presented without apology. In the troubled world we live in, there is a need for such songs. After all, that was a major part of the late Bob Marley’s message as well, as Junior says:

“Bob Marley an’ other artists, I listen to them , feel the vibes, feel the inspiration, put the words together , an’ come up with “Babylon Fall”. Those times, Babylon was high on the list of downfall. It may mek a change since Bob gone, but it is still here, understand?”

This set is crucial roots music of the highest order, made for a definite purpose, as Prince Alla says:

“So we can sing a culture and teach people in a reggae music. It can't die me bredren, nothing can kill it. The real reggae music, our music.”

All of us at Blood and Fire - along with Tappa Zukie, Prince Alla and Junior Ross - hope you agree.
Steve Barrow - September 2002
© Blood & Fire