Little Roy & Friends - Packin House
Little Roy - Hurt Not The Earth
Carl Dawkins - Burnin' Fire
Little Roy - Ticket To Zion
The Heptones - Revolution
Leroy Sibbles - Total Destruction
Baba Leslie - Version
John Clarke - Recession
Little Roy - Rat Trap
Dennis Brown - Set Your Heart Free
Bongo Herman & Don D. Junior - Version
The Heptones - Forward On A Yard
The Heptones - Version
Winston Scotland - Zion Fever
The Tafari All Stars - Free For All
Little Roy - Natty Yard
The Tafari All Stars - Prophecy Dub It Up
|"Tafari was and still is a
true example of how music should be made and sold on record. It's
probably the only label in the world that upholds its principles
throughout all of its business. The message is in the music". Dave
Born 1953 in Whitfield Town, West Kingston Earl 'Little Roy' Lowe won a scholarship to study to be a building engineer at St Andrew Technical High where he was a student until he was eighteen but "I never practised my trade!" for all the time he was studying the call of music provided too strong and, like so many others before him, he trod the well-worn path down to Brentford Road where he recorded 'Cool It' in 1965 at the tender age of twelve for Coxsone Dodd. His debut recording was not a hit and he moved up to Orange Street and recorded two songs for Prince Buster 'Its You I Love' and 'Reggae Got Soul' but "nothing much happened with them". However, the Prince gave him his name 'Little Roy' because of his youth and stature: "I was only fourteen years old when I started singing for Buster - my kids bear a small frame too!" His journey around the Kingston record producers continued and his next move was to Waltham Park Road where Lloyd 'The Matador' Daley was enjoying a run of hit making success.
A name not really remembered outside of the reggae cognoscenti Lloyd Daley was a talented and prolific producer and Little Roy recalls: "...his song were classics. he excelled at getting his songs onto tape... his songs were all very clean with no form of noise". Their first recording together 'Bongo Nyah' - "a huge hit", was followed by 'Without My Love - "another massive hit", 'Keep On Trying' - "another good selling song" and 'Hard Fighter' - "an important song for Matador".
Matador jealously guarded his artists and didn't like them to work for other producers: "Once I was at the studio with Bunny Lee, the day Striker recorded 'Better Must Come' with Delroy Wilson, and this was the kind of action he loved to take - the police came with Matador and they escorted me out of the studio!" The argument continued the next day when Earl confronted Matador in "in a room where he fixed TV's. He tried to lock the door and then him try and draw him gun but I was a fit youth and U just escape!" After this Little Roy kept well away from Matador for the best part of a year but in 1971 "I don't know how it came about... I sang two more songs 'Righteous Man' with Dennis Brown and Leroy Sibbles and 'Nyah Medley'. These were the last two songs I recorded for him". Little Roy is still aggrieved about the way Lloyd Daley dealt with him and feels he was never properly financially rewarded for his hard work and many hits... "he's still releasing them today!"
Later that same year he set up the Tafari Syndicate with brothers Maurice 'Scorcher' Jackson and Melvin 'Munchie' Jackson. It was, first and foremost, a vehicle for the message of Rastafari but was also a protection against unscrupulous producers. Little Roy had become interested in Rastafarianism while still at school: "I man did sight Rasta in a way them times. There was a brethren named Desi, who is in Ethiopia now, used to tell us how Selassie is God. Well I man start read up my bible and sight say Desi is right. And is like after that I don't sing no more man's tune, is pure inspiration I man now deal with. Coming now like it is a tug of war kind of business. It's like if you don't sing for some men you don't get recognised. If you trying to make it as a clean force out there it's just pure fight. You have to deal with some of the things them deal with, but is like the spirit of God within us inspires certain truths and it looks like it's not God them out there want to deal with".
The first two Tafari releases were actually released on Hepic - "a label owned by the Heptones and a jockey called David Mackenzie. The fist song I recorded was called 'Mr T'." The other release was the haunting instrumental 'Free For All' featuring Family Man Barrett on keyboards and both were cut at Randy's studio down on North Parade. Maurice Jackson was Little Roy's original partner in the venture "the brother of the famous Melvin 'Munchie' Jackson" who rapidly became involved too. Munchie had grown up in the same Whitfield Town area as Little Roy "I used to know who he was but, after I left school, one of my friends called Ville introduced him to me". Munchie had been working with Lloyd 'Bullwackie' Barnes in New York but he had returned to Kingston in 1971.
Melvin and Maurice's mother had the contract to supply food and drink to Kingston's hospitals and prisons and her premises at 17 Coleyville Avenue in the Washington Gardens district of Kingston became the headquarters for the Tafari Syndicate - 'the Packin House'. "Everything took place in the Packin House. We had a reel to reel tape and a sound system and used to voice on the sound. It was very experimental... a lot of vibes. There were some great songs from the Packin House that never go to studio. Some even came out on an 'unofficial' Little Roy LP 'Tribal War' but most of these songs were just rehearsals on the reel to reel... We'd gather there, smoke the chalice and sing from morning to night. It was a comfortable surrounding for us packed with food and drink and a space for the sound with everything packed all around it. Munchie was the leader of the pack... a guy like him attract a lot of people."
Munchie's role initially was to release the music in America with Lloyd Barnes and Little Roy pointed out that Bullwackie had nothing to do with the production of Tafari Records in Jamaica. "I never even knew Wackies when I was living in Jamaica! It was not until 1982 that I met him in New York although him and Munchie did make 'Recession' with John (not Johnny!) Clarke in New York." Then in 1972 came 'Prophecy'... "Blacka Morwell's rhythm! The same night Blacka did the session he made two rhythms. He made over 'Many Rivers To Cross' and that rhythm and a day or two later he came to us with the rhythm. He and Maurice made a deal and he sold Maurice a cut of the rhythm" and a piece of reggae history was created. "There was a 'Prophecy' version too with Horace Andy made over in New York 'Love Won't Let Me Wait' was versioned over in New York too and then released in Jamaica."
Next came 'Tribal War' "a big hit so the money was there!" but even with full artistic and financial control the Tafari Syndicate still had their difficulties as George Nooks and John Holt both released versions of the song. "Those do overs prove I never get any justice with my one! The radio deejays never gave me no play but the song hit on its own. The other versions got a lot more play but my one sold as much or more. It was the fastest selling song in the record shops but it didn't show on the chart." Little Roy's part in Tafari went a lot deeper than just Little Roy as a solo artist though: "Munchie was working in the US and I was working in Jamaica and I produced many songs for the label after that."
The production credits were often shared. Munchie actually produced 'Tribal War'. 'Black Bird', and 'Mr T' while Little Roy and Scorcher produced the other songs. "Scorcher and Munchie financially too they backed the works. Some of Little Roy's and Munchie's works appear on this album such as 'Rat Trap' which came out on a DEB 12" in the UK through Dennis Brown and Castro Brown, 'Hurt Not The Earth' which has never been previously been released and 'Burnin' Fire' from Carl Dawkins which saw limited release on an American 12". The Little Roy solo tracks were originally made for an album "which was never released".
Little Roy and Leroy Sibbles from the Heptones were close friends from way back and had originally recorded together for Matador, 'Righteous Man', and the Heptones recorded two seriously intense songs for Tafari: 'Forward On A Yard' and 'Revolution'. There are two further cuts of 'Revolution' included here - a Baba Leslie instrumental and Leroy Sibbles on a very rare outing deejaying on 'Total Destruction. "This was just some of the daily tradition... al those things were done in the Packin House with me, Leroy and Dennis... but Dennis was out on his own! Dennis voiced 'Set Your Heart Free' in a little commercial studio on Waterloo Road. Not a proper recording studio. We had to have the song on quarter inch tape with the rhythm on one track. It was cheap and we had nothing to lose! It wasn't something we arranged."
As Dennis recalled; " 'Set Your Heart Free'! Only die-hard reggae fans know that song! That's going way back. What happened when I made that record was that Munchie and I was very close in those days. He had just started Tafari, he was working with Little Roy. Little Roy made a song 'Mr T' and it was one of them songs that didn't sell well at the time. I liked the rhythm and it was in a two track studio, like a demo studio in Jamaica where they do jingles and commercials. Munchie was there working, and I happened to be there at the time and I tried writing, and 'Set Your Heart Free' was what came first time. "And another thing... "Did you know Dennis Brown played bass on 'Tribal War'?"
"Stranger Cole was another one within the crew. Bigger man to me! Him and Gladdy had been having hits for years, Lloyd Parks lived around the corner and hiss drummer lived next door... He used to rehearse round there sometimes with his band". And Lee Perry was another sympathiser for the Tafari cause. "Upsetter was a good friend of Munchie. I lived at Hampton Crescent and Lee lived at Cardiff Crescent - the length of three houses away. He voiced 'Prophecy' at Randy's with us. 'Tribal War' he engineered - we took the session at Black Ark. The rhythm for 'Jah Can Count On I' was laid at Pluto Shervington's New Kingston studio but the song was voiced and mixed at Black Ark. I also did 'Don't Cross The Nation' with Ewan Gardiner which originally appeared on Upsetter - it was his own production. But every song i did with Lee Perry stand out."
Winston Scotland ia a name you don't hear much these days but he was one of the top original breed of deejays. U-Roy's brother-in-law he had a style and pattern that was all his own and a formidable delivery. His 'Buttercup' for Prince Tony looked as if it might break into the lower reaches of the UK National Charts at one stage... "one of the top deejays at the time and we were all brethren together. Winston Scotland was just his singing name."
Tafari could never be accused of flooding the market and everyone involved practised and rehearsed incessantly but recorded sparingly for as Little Roy says 'I don't think it's good for an artist to sing too many songs. A song is something that must be well put together and not just anything" and he moved more and more towards live work with his brethren Ian and Rock for the Twelve Tribes of Israel organisation.
Ian's real name was Ewan Gardiner "Me and him went to school.. we sung 'Don't Cross The Nation' for Lee Perry and he was not really so involved in Tafari. He actually sung 'Father's Call' which is credited to Little Roy on the compilation of Glen Brown's vocal work 'Boat To Progress'. How this actually came about tells more about the convoluted nature of the Jamaican music business than an entire book:
"A guy named Billy did two songs at the session. Me and Leroy Sibbles made this song 'Do Your Thing' - an Isaac Hayes song. It ended up on Tafari credited to Pa and Paluka - Leroy's nickname in the Packin House was Pa and my nickname was Paluka. Billy was new to producing and the next day when we went to Tubby's we heard the songs from the session playing. The engineer (who shall remain nameless) had stolen the songs! Billy was so disgusted that he just sold the songs to Pantomine and that's why Glen Brown ended up with them. I never even worked with Glen Brown and he couldn't put out me and Leroy's voice!" Glen versioned them over and the rhythm for 'Do Your Thing' gave him one of his biggest and most distinctive hits 'Two Wedden Skank'. "However, I made these songs and they were nothing to do with Glen Brown".
"Ewan was a musician rather than a singer. He knew harmonies." Sadly he died "about two years ago - same age as me." Anthony Ellis, also known as Rocky or Rock, had sung 'Love Me Girl' with the Heptones and 'I Am The Ruler' both for Studio One and "he did other songs that didn't surface". He was a truly dedicated member of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and "if you're dedicated to the Twelve Tribes then you don't find yourself doing much other work". He consequently didn't do much recording for Tafari but he did sing 'Ticket To Zion', 'Jah Can Count On I' and 'Working' with Little Roy. "I had a career but by the time we started singing it was like a Twelve Tribes group - Little Ian Rock. We mostly did stage shows for the Twelve Tribes without pay. Three is symbolic, we not boosting our little self, but we decide to be one instrument in God's hand."
The works of Little Roy and the Tafari Syndicate are in as much demand today as when they were first released. Little Roy has seen more than his fair share of reggae business intrigues "they've put my name on some songs I don't sing for true" but he has always maintained a dignified distance from its machinations. He's constantly requested to press up the Tafari recordings on 7" but "I'm satisfied with the Pressure Sounds presentation. The work is circulating on 'Tafari Earth Uprising' and if people want to hear Little Roy they can hear it there! Tafari don't end. We're just waiting for the right time to resurface. It's now that the vibes are showing and Tafari songs can still survive. We know that the work is strong".
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