Burning Spear - Spear Burning
Burning Spear - Travelling
Burning Spear - Walking (Version)
Burning Spear - Institution (Discomix)
Burning Spear - Natural (Version)
Burning Spear - Free Black People
Burning Spear - Free (Version)
Phillip Fullwood - Thanks & Praises
Phillip Fullwood - Love Everyone (Version)
Burning Spear - Spear Burning
Burning Spear - Jomo (Version)
Phillip Fullwood - I Gave You My Word
Phillip Fullwood - Word (Version)
Burning Junior - On That Day
Burning Spear - The Youth
Big Joe And Burning Spear - The Prophet
Burning Spear - Jah No Dead (Discomix)
|The career of Winston
Rodney, The Burning Spear, has been defined by a steady stream of
quality album releases from the start of his career at Studio One
through Jack Ruby to his self produced works over the next quarter of a
century and on into the next millennium. The works collected here are of
far more than just historical interest and demonstrate the depth and
scope of his vision and could not forever remain contained within the
seven and twelve inch forty five formats that they were originally
released on. they represent the start of Burning Spear's 'increase of
knowledge' and the full realisation that the world was now listening to
In many ways Burning Spear has always been the living embodiment of all that is good about reggae music yet his career has been almost atypical of the reggae business. Not for him the soul destroying trudge around Kingston's producers, not for him a tune for this man, a next tune for a next man, and he alone has made the decisions that mattered over his thirty plus years of making music. Consequently no substandard recordings have ever been released, no discarded tapes have been unearthed in the back of a producer's cupboard and no forgotten half finished songs have been discovered to cash in on his name and untarnished reputation. True, he has been the unwitting victim of some of the usual music business machinations but Burning Spear has always lived up to his name and his trajectory has been ever straight and true. This release concentrates on the early self-productions for his own Spear label, the majority of which have never been released outside of Jamaica before, and are presented here for the first time on album. As an artist who has always seen his work in terms of albums Burning Spear was keen to point out the relevance of issuing these songs in this format.
"It's a starting point. A lot of people don't get the earlier part of Burning Spear. People have asked me a lot of questions about them but instead of people listening to one single they're listening to an album. I was thinking (about releasing them) but not knowing when... It's never too late. So we do it in England and it's not a problem!"
Winston Rodney was born on the first of March 1945 in St Ann's Bay on Jamaica's North Coast and he lists among his early musical influences:
"The Maytals, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Justin Hinds & The Dominoes, The Heptones... a wide variety of various artists. A lot of inspiration came from these people. No doubt about that."
But it was through the influences of Bob Marley, in particular, that he entered the music business in 1969.
"Both of us are from the parish of St Ann. I bumped into Bob and I asked him who and where I could check. He told me about Studio One. We have a nice reasoning pertaining to the recording business. But start with Clement Dodd. You ain't gonna stay with Clement Dodd forever."
And so Winston Rodney travelled to 13 Brentford Road, Kingston to see Clement 'Coxsone'/'Downbeat' Dodd.
"Monday morning I do the audition. I was told to come back the following Sunday. Mr Dodd was in charge of the session. My first song was 'Door Peeper' and I start... 'Foggy Road', 'Creation Rebel'. All those lyrics were created long, long, long time before going through the studio door but the time never come until 1969. From when I started in music I took unto myself the name Burning Spear. Jomo Kenyatta inspire me to that as an African."
Jomo Kenyatta, The Burning Spear, a Kenyan statesman, was elected first president of the new Republic of Kenya in 1964 a post which he held until his death in Mombasa in 1978. He is now widely regarded as a stabilising force in Kenya but in 1952 he was charged with leading the Mau Mau Rebellion against the British and, despite his denials of illegal activities, he was sentenced in 1953 to seven years in prison. Winston Rodney took the name out of respect for the work and towering influence of Jomo Kenyatta both as an African leader and as a man who had fought and suffered for his beliefs. It was always going to be about more than making music with Burning Spear.
"The Burning Spear image is not a violence image. Burning Spear image is a good image, cool image, straight image, upful image, straightforward image. Straight, well straight."
The works that Burning Spear created with Downbeat at Studio One were completely outside of the type of mainstream reggae that was then popular and were so far ahead of their time, both in form and lyrical content, as to be quite disturbing in their impact. Their themes and approach did not start to penetrate the consciousness of reggae music until some years later. The term 'roots' might well have been invented for this man from the hills and his introspective, brooding music based firmly in his Rastafarian faith was unequivocal from the outset.
"The music have to be strong and the message cutting through the music have to be clear and understandable. In this music business we're all messengers. Some people send a different message... some people's message have a clear understanding. Some do not. I inspired to do a work and I do work."
Their work together (with the exception of 'New Civilization', 'This Population', 'Zion Higher' 'Live Good' and 'Joe Frazier') is collected together on two indispensable albums, 'Studio One Presents Burning Spear' and 'Rocking Time', where the man's soul is laid bare with a voice that carries all the weight and conviction of an Old Testament preacher within a framework of musical settings that Mr Dodd would return to time and time again for further instrumental, deejay and even vocal versions.
"He treated the music good! He treat the music better than he treat I as the man making the music! We worked with various musicians, not one set all the time. Leroy 'Horse-Mouth' Wallace used to be the drummer there, Leroy Sibbles played a lot of bass in the day, Jackie Mittoo and Ernest Ranglin were there also. Some greats! It was more like a college. You were learning but you wouldn't be getting something financially yet a lot of songs were big hits at the time... all of those songs were big hits!"
Many people are under the impression that Burning Spear was a group (especially as many of the record labels read The Burning Spears) but Burning Spear was always a solo effort.
"I started out as one person but I used one back up artist named Rupert Willington. That was it. Me and him. I can sing any kind of harmony. I do a lot of background vocals at Studio One."
The parting of the ways between Downbeat and Burning Spear came in 1974. It was not acrimonious but it was time to graduate from college.
"I left him because he wouldn't treat I fair. The only reason that I never try to defend my rights was that my knowledge do increase, I get to realise what I am entitled to. When he don't give me these things me and him have to break off. I didn't go back to Studio One."
He left behind one of the most impressive bodies of work ever made at Studio One that stands as one of the foundations of reggae music as it's understood today; a collection that set the benchmark that all others had to work towards and whose tone and lyrical preoccupations would be remorselessly plundered. His music, tinged with the beauty of holiness, elevated reggae to a deeply spiritual plane as he took the first steps along the path that he has never deviated from on his journey to the higher heights.
Burning Spear had never left St Ann and had consequently never become involved in the Kingston music scene. His initial inspiration to enter the music business had been from St Ann's most famous son and so it would be that through the inspiration of another famous son of the parish (and with the help of a then current resident) that Winston Rodney would place their rural paradise on the world's centre stage.
Lawrence 'Jack Ruby' Lindo saw himself as a man whose role was to put reggae music at the heart of Jamaican culture. He told Carl Gayle in 1976:
"Ska and rocksteady is our standard music and as a man that live in Ocho Rios I going have fe really do a write up, fe make the hotel people them know that right now the national music is not no calypso. I didn't come in the business as a producer. i love the sound system music and decided to produce some material so I could overthrow other sound systems."
Burning Spear insists, however, that their work together was always intended as an album project and the seamless unified entity that emerged as the 'Marcus Garvey' album certainly sounds as if it's much, much more than a mere collection of songs.
"I man did cool off. I man did rest after leaving Clement Dodd. Then here comes Jack Ruby approach I on a half and half level. Jack Ruby checked me out. He heard I have nice lyrics and strong melody. So we worked. It is not I get involved with Jack Ruby. It's Jack Ruby get involved with I!"
Using Kingston's top session musicians Jack Ruby's production values presaged the seismic shift in the music of Burning Spear so that it no longer eased itself gently into the consciousness but now confronted you to devastating effect. Horns (tenor, alto, trombone and trumpet) and a battery of back up singers including Delroy Hines, Sylvia Hines, Beres Walford and Rupert Willington filled out the previously subdued and meditative sound so that it now resembled a clarion call and two seven inch singles were released in 1975; 'Marcus Garvey' and 'Slavery Days'.
"It was more like dub in those days. Not 'specials'. Jack would do a lot of dubs for the tracks. Three or four cuts of one song. 'Marcus Garvey' was always an album project. We build an album around the theme but the singles were released from the album."
Burning Spear's persistent championing of Marcus Garvey has done much to elevate the status of this National Hero of Jamaica and to increase the awareness of the founding father of Black Nationalism and Pan-Africanism but it is Marcus Garvey and his work that is of real importance and Burning Spear was anxious to put his own role into its correct context:
"The way I think then and the way I think still is that I wanted to deal with Marcus Garvey through music regardless of fear of who might be pleased and who might not be pleased. I feel more than this that this thing will go all over the world as the first music that deal with Marcus through history. I think this is what I've been doing with Marcus Garvey...this is what I had to do. Early on before I get started no-one spoke about Marcus Garvey but when I start to present Marcus Garvey a lot of people who had never searched start to search and learn about his teaching...I create a life around the philosophy of Marcus Garvey."
Marcus Mosiah Garvey was born the youngest of eleven children in St Ann's Bay in 1887 and he left school at the age of fourteen to serve a printing apprenticeship. he took a job as a printer in Kingston where, in 1907, he led a strike for higher wages. He travelled to Central and South America and in 1912 he went to England. It was during his time in England that he began to investigate and evaluate African history and culture and on his return to Jamaica in 1914 he founded the UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) and the African Communities league. He moved on again in 1916 to New York where he incorporated the UNIA and began a weekly newspaper the 'Negro World' which took as its banner 'One God. one Aim. One Destiny'. He was a persuasive and compelling orator and author who encouraged his people to be proud of their ancestry and race and he propagated a return to their homeland of Africa: 'Africa for the Africans'. this went far further than empty words and in 1919 he founded the Black Star Line to provide steamship transport back (or forward) to Africa and the negro Factories Corporation as a means of furthering the economic independence of the black race. He urged self-reliance and self-sufficiency and at its height the UNIA claimed two million members but he suffered a series of economic disasters and in 1922 was arrested foe allegedly mishandling the funds of the Black Star Line. He conducted his own defence but was convicted and went to prison in 1925. Two years later his sentence was commuted and he was deported to Jamaica. He was never able to regain his former power and influence and he moved to London where he died in relative obscurity in 1940 but in his lifetime Garvey had succeeded in instilling a new and dynamic sense of cultural and political awareness in the black race and he forged a new direction that would be followed by black people, not only in Jamaica, but all over the world. Although Garvey presented himself as neither preacher nor prophet he is now regarded as a prophet far ahead of his time and he was indeed 'not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin' until in 1952 he was belatedly bestowed with the honour of National Hero of Jamaica.
The purity and musical intensity of the 'Marcus Garvey' album took Jamaica by storm and its influence was all persuasive. There was no other Burning Spear material to be released although Coxsone put out a handful of seven inch singles replete with versions and so instead a veritable army of Burning Spear imitators in thought, word and deed stepped onto the breach. They shall remain nameless. his galvanising effect on Jamaican music in 1975 and 1976 cannot be overstated as Jack Ruby recounted to Carl Gayle:
"The first evening Burning Spear album come out, two thousand album come in here (the office) and I couldn't get a copy to carry home y'know. People line up in deh man; two thousand record come without jacket and I, the producer, couldn't get a copy."
Island Records released the 'Marcus Garvey' album in the UK and promoted it heavily in the wake of the success of Bob Marley and the Wailers but the original tapes were remixed, the seven inch Wolf label single 'Resting Place' was added and the sleeve (or jacket) design was altered in a rather heavy handed attempt to 'cross over' the album.
"Island never notify the artists but try to adjust and fit it in with the vibes that were going on at the time. Changed up everything. Better they left the album the way it was created."
The album still proved to be incredibly successful and almost overnight lifted Burning Spear's reputation to an internationally renowned status previously unheard of for a reggae artist (apart from Bob Marley) and in the hands of a lesser talent this could easily have become a millstone rather than a milestone in their creative development. Instead he used it as a platform to build on this international success and, together with Jack Ruby, fashioned an album of pastoral reflection 'Man In The Hills' a celebration of their shared rural North Coast surroundings that, while lacking the immediacy of its predecessor, was an important release and a lasting testament to the vision of Burning Spear.
"'Man In The Hills'? It remind me of Africa. It remind me of the living of the people in the countryside."
At the same time he was working on the album Burning Spear began to produce records for his own Spear label that reflected a more sombre and perhaps harsher reality yet there was no conflict of interests between Burning Spear and Jack Ruby.
"Is that if I stay with Jack I could still do my something and I do my own little something by releasing forty fives on my own label Spear. So it's plain to see that it's not through money or that I want the business for I self....It's just that I react so far in the business that if an error come I'd rather it came through my fault then I can see the error more clearly I self. I feel the singer have all the feelings and the singer know what him want. Most man who call themselves producer... maybe them have one-sided feelings. I was working on my own productions before I was working with Jack Ruby but the time wasn't right. 'Travelling' was the first release. A lot of us do that. Do over tunes from Studio One."
This set opens with 'Travelling' and its version 'Walking', the first release on the Spear label, an update of 'Journey' a tune he had first recorded at Studio One. A dramatic and extended metaphor of life's road where joy and consolation are sought in the refuge of togetherness and this version makes the original sound almost like a demo in comparison.
"See through I never get to eat off them tunes I man feel I have to do them songs over to achieve what is mine. When you see an artist do over a tune don't feel no way man! Just think say I feel he never get nothing upfront from the first time so him try a thing again."
Followed by 'Institution'/'Natural' the only twelve inch release on the Jamaican Spear label. There was serious excitement in London's reggae fraternity when this first appeared as there had been much contention about 'discomixes' when they first started to arrive from Jamaica. Were they really value for money? How much better was the sound quality? This particular released answered any doubts in the affirmative and this solid update of 'He Prayed' where Burning Spear rebuilds an established classic and fashions something quite new and different makes full use of the twelve inch format. A shortened version can be found on the Blood & Fire release of the 'Marcus Children' album entitled 'Social Living' (BAFCD 004) alongside an edited version of this album's final track the immortal 'Jah No dread'.
Phillip Fullwood worked closely with Burning Spear at this stage of his career and this set includes both sides of his haunting 'Love Everyone' and further Burning Spear versions to this classic rhythm. Burning Spear acknowledged the contribution that Phillip Fullwood made at the time:
"I man sing a song off this rhythm 'Love Everyone'. I man use the rhythm to sing my song 'Free Black People'
It's one of the best songs ever and its theme of liberation applies not just to the black people in the title but to the whole wide world referred to in the lyrics and this was the title given to the UK release of the extended discomix version of the song which has been included on the vinyl release as a demonstration of the limitless permutations of this musical foundation stone. Phillip Fullwood toured the UK in 1978 with Burning Spear playing congos at the triumphal concert at North London's Rainbow Theatre that was captured on the incredible 'Burning Spear Live' album. He told Dave Hendley:
"Well the music there ('Love Everyone') I just do it to test a thing...it didn't come no way perfect, you know, but after a while it sound better. I man have a next track to come out now titled 'You Gave Your World' which is better...Spear did the arrangement and all them things there. More commercial."
Much of the promise of 'Love Everyone' was fulfilled on the aforementioned follow-up which, if anything, is even less well know yet its brooding accusatory and unforgiving stance and dense swirling rhythm deserves a far wider audience than it has previously been granted. Burning Spear later recounted:
Phillip Fullwood was trying to do his own thing but he couldn't do it without me! I tried to help him out and work with him. Encouragement and good spirit. You get more out of an artist when he feel like an artist. It want more togetherness instead of pushing the money in front. From we have togetherness the money must come...but to help people early on you'd give them credit when they didn't do things out of brotherly love so you might see some names but the producer is the one who finances the session and I financed all the sessions! So now I deal with myself it's better. I no have to think and listen for no other guys."
the physical miles between St Ann's Bay and Kingston helped Burning Spear to distance himself and his music from Kingston's overheated musical rat race and he invariably came up with fresh ideas every time he was ready to travel down to Kingston to record. He never relied on the same set of musicians:
"In those days I live on the North Coast and I wasn't familiar with people in Kingston. I used various musicians coming from all different places. People recommend them and then people you know find the rest of the musicians."
The metaphorical fire of 'Burning Spear' flames into reality on the version side entitles 'Jomo' and the music is almost drowned out by the wailing of real fire sirens as they rush to quench the blaze on probably the most uncompromising release of Burning Spear's entire career.
"Behold the Burning Spear over yonder..."
The chilling 'On That Day' from Burning Junior is, as far as everyone is aware, their only recording. little is known about them more than:
"Well it's some youths now. They were from St Ann."
But apparently they failed to grasp the amount of hard work and dedication that was required to make music to come up to Burning Spear's exacting standards:
"Artists don't give you a chance to do the right thing. they lose their faith and patience."
What a great pity they never made any more records. There was a bright future ahead for this inspired group on the strength og this epochal release.
next 'The Youth' an update of a Studio One recording 'Pick Up The Pieces' that was released in two slightly different versions and later re-released on a Rasta Business seven inch in 1995.
The only deejay recording for the Spear label follows and Big Joe's career has actually suffered from a fate that one does not ordinarily associate with Jamaican deejays: that of a lack of records! When he does touch down on a rhythm it almost invariably results in a classic version of a classic such as 'Rights Of Version' over 'Declaration Of rights' and 'Mas Gan' over 'Yim Mas Gan' and this under rated traditionally styled deejay deserves more praise and exposure than he's ever been given.
Described by Burning Spear as "An outstanding Burning Spear song!" the album's closing track 'Jah No Dead' represents an affirmation of faith that ranks with 'Jah Live' as a Rastafarian testament to the divinity of Haile Selassie and a denial of the speciousness of the argument that God could ever die. The intensity is awesome and who can forget Burning Spear chanting this accompanied only by the sounds of the sea breaking on the shore in the film 'Rockers'?
These early works were to cast the die and set the mould for Burning Spear's subsequent career as he went on to release a steady flow of classic albums that he toured the world to promote:
"A lot of touring since 1975! But touring and albums work together. Both are important...the tour creates a big impact on the album."
His vision, focus and unwavering commitment to his ideals have never faltered and, while he acknowledges the importance of his earlier work, he never lets it hold him back from new endeavours:
"...it becomes antique! It's like you will never have anything like these again so you move on from what you're doing and always try to be creative. Albums become strong albums but you can't interfere with these early albums."
Instead these recordings set the tone for his current work:
"I record in Grove Studio, Ochos Rios. I now choose the people. The engineer organises the musicians and I take it from there. I use a different set of musicians on tour."
Reggae underwent a revival of roots and culture based music in the nineties and it has been suggested that perhaps it was with the death of Bob Marley and the fact that the elder statesmen of this tradition such as Burning Spear "Cultural reality lyrics are the foundation" were away from Jamaica so much for the eighties that the music took a different direction throughout that decade:
"I wouldn't say reggae music lost its way... A lot of people involved in reggae music lost their way."
Burning Spear live in concert has always been a mesmerising and near religious experience and it was with great sadness that he concluded:
"Audiences are growing to be honest. More people, young people. You know each time I see more people turning out. It's growing and it's going to get bigger until I think the time is right to retire! I don't know when that time is...I know for sure it will take place in the next two or three years. I'll still be involved in creating music but the touring will not take place. Retirement will take place."
There is consolation and solace in the fact that Burning Spear will continue to make music in exactly the same way that he has dine since 1969 that is always a reflection of his constant and unfailing ability to reach out with his music and beliefs to a worldwide audience. It will stand forever as a testament to a universal love and understanding that transcends all barriers of colour, creed or class.
"I and I no sing to make everyone believe in Selassie or whatever I defend. I and I sing to make people think anyway they want to think. I and I just sing what I know to be the right thing. See so you no have to believe in what I believe to understand the music."
Harry Hawke - March 2001
|All material © Copyright Pressure Sounds|