Every Mouth Must Be Fed
Jah Stitch - Conference At Waterhouse
King Tubby - Conference Version
Junior Byles - Lorna Banana
Pete Weston/The Flames - Revolution Is For The Chinaman
Junior Byles - Straight To Scratch Head
I- Roy - Message From The Top
The Defenders - Our Rights
The Defenders - Our Version
U-Roy - The Right To Live
Tommy McCook - Tribute To Muhammad Ali
Joe Higgs - Wages Of Crime
King Tubby - Wages Of Crime Version
Bobby Ellis - Ska Baby
Bobby Ellis - Ska Version
I-Roy - Every Mouth Must Be Fed
Junior Byles - Ain’t Too Proud To Beg
Junior Byles - Last Of The Love Songs
Blacker Black - Black Organ
I-Roy - Mad Mad Hatter
I-Roy - Mad Mad Horn
|"Give every man a
little bit... Every mouth must be fed...
Every head have fi lie down in a bed"
Roy 'I-Roy' Reid
As one of the first record companies to realise the worldwide potential of Jamaica's artists and producers Micron Music Limited combined the production, pressing, distribution and promotion of 'local' roots based material with a revolutionary international outlook that was years ahead of its time.
"I don't know if we were the first to see the international potential of reggae as there was a collective consciousness among all the producers of the time that that was their goal... Micron became the first company to organise the producers and musicians to achieve this goal."
Many eagerly jumped on the 'Rasta bandwagon' from 1975 onwards. There were very few on board before the music hit the big time and when the demarcation lines between 'uptown' and 'downtown' codes of conduct and practice were rigidly marked and even more rigidly observed. these barriers no longer exist, due largely to the pioneering work of companies such as Micron, and Pete Weston here recounts their story as they first crossed those lines.
Born in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica on 10th April 1950 Pete Weston grew up in Clarendon where he attended Glenmuir High School, May Pen. He numbered aspiring musicians such as Willy Lindo and Winston Wright amongst his boyhood friends but he did not come from a musical background. He was "mostly brought up by his uncle Harry" who had very broad musical tastes. Listening to the USA charts on the radio as a child Pete used to make predictions about chart placings and he became "surprisingly good at picking hits". This proved to be excellent practice for what was eventually to become his profession.
"There were no musicians in the family... I'm the only one. I used to listen to a lot of music, a wide cross section, as a child. From Mantovani to Louis Jordon, Strauss and stuff like Mario Lanza, Connie Francis, Pat Boone and Patti Page and then the ska. I loved ska as a child. I used to play a game with myself listening to the American Top One Hundred Record Charts. Once a song entered the chart I'd try to predict where it would go..."
In 1968 Pete enrolled at the University of the West Indies in Kingston to study law. He was also selling insurance in the evenings and trying to sell a policy to one potential customer would completely change the direction of his life:
"Prior to meeting Lloyd Charmers I was studying law at the University of the West Indies at Mona and selling Insurance. Meeting Lloyd Charmers was the turning point."
Lloyd 'Charmers' Tyrell "never craved the limelight" and, with The Charmers vocal group, he had been one of the first 'local' hit makers with recordings for Prince Buster and Studio One in the early sixties. His subsequent solo career, session and production work continued with an unbroken run of hits through the seventies and on into the eighties. Pete was impressed by Lloyd's lifestyle and by the fact that he "could go where he wanted when he wanted". This appealed to Pete and, before long, they were producing records together:
"We just wanted to make great records and for people to reach their potential. We were great friends during those years and spent a lot of time together."
Their first recording 'Cooyah' was released in 1969 credited to Lloyd Charmers & The Hippy Boys and Pete began to make records that combined an imaginative and humorous blend of the old and the new. Errol Dunkley's interpretation of Delroy Wilson's 'I Love The Way You Walk' entitled 'Baby Be True' was released with the version side 'What's Your Mouse' credited to Pete Weston. this record parodied the then current 'phone in programmes on Jamaican radio (others included 'Action Line' by The Versatiles featuring Junior Byles on Deltone and 'What's Your Grouse' by Derrick Morgan on Beverley's) where irate listeners called in berating and bemoaning the amount of versions being made of the same records and demanding to know "why the local artists of Jamaica keep stealing each others tunes". 'What's Your Mouse' provided one of the most versioned interruptions in the history of Jamaican music: "they should have one thousand five hundred versions of that rhythm".
A similarly irreverent and simultaneously respectful approach was used on Pete's update of Ken Boothe's 'Can't You See'. Remade and remodelled as 'Introducing Ken Boothe' Pete admitted "I can't remember the update to 'Can't you See' at all..." At the time B.B. Seaton was writing and arranging for Ken Boothe.
"Ken Boothe was my favourite artist... I wanted to produce records by my favourite artists. 'It Comes And Goes' by The Melodians belonged to B.B. Seaton but we would lend each other rhythms."
The Melodians' beautiful rocksteady release 'It Comes And Goes' for Links was adapted by Pete with the break 'Don't move a muscle. Them say it comes and goes? This ya music came today and it a go stay... so make it play to royal cord". Renamed 'Royal Cord' and released on B.B. Seaton's Soul Beat label the record was a huge hit and, using the A&R skills he had developed as a youth predicting the hits on the radio, Pete gradually established a name for himself in the Jamaican music business.
Originally started by Ronnie Burke and Michael Johnson in 1971 Micron Music Limited was based at 14 Retirement Road, Kingston 5. Its role was to facilitate the production and manufacture of Jamaican music, to promote it and to raise its profile both at home and abroad.
"Michael Johnson and Ronnie Burke started Micron, MIC for Michael and RON for Ronnie. Michael Johnson came from a corporate family background... he was like the rebel child of the family. The person who designed the Micron label and sleeves worked at a top of the line design company. This was the level they entered the business but it wasn't the time to work at that level."
By the following year Micron was losing money and Michael and Ronnie asked Pete Weston to help them out. As soon as he got involved record sales went up but Micron's ambitions were still ahead of the realities of the time.
"Michael Johnson was in charge of production. I'd tell him the quantities of records to press but he always manufacture more. One day I took him round the warehouse and asked him: 'What are we going to do with all these extra records?' and he said 'Sell them in Japan'. He was totally ahead of his time and saw it on a different level."
Many classic records, highlighting the work of some of Kingston's most progressive producers and artists, were released on the label. Micron bought their productions from them for cash, as opposed to credit, and always provided advances. this helped considerably to boost the company's popularity. some of the greatest records of the era for producers including Gussie Clarke with Augustus Pablo's haunting 'Classical Illusion' and Vivian 'Yabby Yu' Jackson with Big youth's 'Yabby youth' backed with 'Big Youth Fight Against Capitalist' were first issued on Micron.
"Micron paid for whatever it took to get someone going... if they needed direction or had stalled and when I went there it became the vehicle for doing much more within the business. Micron was a huge incubator for a ton load of talent... there was a lot that happened but our work was behind the scenes... the artists and producers saw me as a ticket to the future and if someone had a good song on tape I'd fund the stamper. I might not see the money again but I'd helped someone along the way."
It was through the wholesale side of the business that Pete got to know everybody who was anybody on the Kingston musical scene and he became close with Bunny 'Striker' Lee and Lee 'Scratch' Perry. Micron released an array of hits for them although Pete thought that "Scratch always seemed to make either total hits or complete flops!" He was always available to give feedback to the producers, "it would take me an hour to get from my car to the desk", and is proud of the fact that Micron also gave many Jamaican artists their first opportunity to produce records for themselves.
"The transition from producers to artists as producers... I take credit for that. What had been happening was... try to find a nice word for exploitation! It was not workable as you'll never get the best results if only one entity id benefitting. you had to have everyone getting a fair slice of the pie for everyone to give it their best shot."
But concentrating on the creative side of things "if we had spent more time on the business side..." often left insufficient time for more routine matters and the business changed irrevocably when "Bob Marley broke out" and brought real meaning to the truism "be careful what you wish for for lest it come true".
"We made the first Bob Marley t-shirt ever in the whole world when Micron got 'Natty dread' to release. I'd asked around 'How much does a reggae album sell?' And they told us two thousand but we were going to do whatever we could to get it to the maximum. We decided that we were going to set the standards now! We sold twenty thousand copies but then Don Taylor (Bob Marley's manager) got involved and that was that. It all changed when Bob Marley bust and reggae now came to the forefront of international attention. This was what we'd all been working towards but suddenly you had artists growing their locks and trying to sing like Bob Marley because they thought that would make them successful."
Micron Music had striven tirelessly to make the music commercially and artistically successful but, when the breakthrough that they had been working towards finally came, it heralded the end of a truly creative era to men like Pete Weston. The period between 1968 and 1976 had been the most enjoyable and satisfying for Pete. It was a time when he thought that reggae had been "driven by a collective drive to make the music popular with a lot of love and passion when the music, and particularly the lyrical content, was wrapped up with Jamaican society... with what people were feeling inside. But now it became a vehicle for making money."
As well as financing the work of other producers and artists Micron also produced many excellent records and this set showcases a small selection of the work from this intensively creative period. Pete Weston was usually at the controls for the Micron sessions while the influence and input of both Striker and Scratch can be found on many Micron productions. Some Micron records have been previously reissued on a variety of different labels but this collection, which opens with Jah Stitch declaring "Conference at Waterhouse... your destination King Tubby's studio" over a tough version to the infamous 'Satta Dread' rhythm, is the first retrospective set to focus almost exclusively on the label's own productions.
Deejayed over a cut to 'Keep On Moving' by Cornell Campbell U-Roy's 'The Right To Live' was inspired by a friend of a friend whose brother was on Death Row. The accused was due to be hanged but his brother had actually confessed to the crime before he was killed by the police. Pete Weston felt so strongly that he drove to Spanish Town to try and stop the hangman on his way to prison but arrived only to discover that the executioner had stayed in the prison the night before the hanging.
Pete worked closely with Junior Byles a singer who always had "something to say" and whose fragile state of mind was exacerbated by his marital problems at the time. Junior's rendition of 'Ain't Too Proud To Beg', which segues into 'I Wish It Would Rain', comes straight from the heart and the title of the excellent version side, 'Last Of The Love Songs', further emphasises his feelings of desperation.
Joe Higgs sang over one of his most profound songs 'The wave Of War', originally recorded for Harry J in 1972, for a Micron release with Striker Lee as producer where they reworked it as 'Wages Of Crime' backed with a searing King Tubby's mix. As always I-Roy "shocks them up with some kind of eloquence". He recorded some of his best tracks with Pete Weston and the title track of this album, a tour de force of pure polemic, politics and poetry "got to share wealth and share it good as I would say" could easily serve as Micron's 'mission statement'.
As the reggae business exploded worldwide Micron Music began to implode. Trojan Records in the UK went into liquidation in 1975 and when "their funds dried up to the producers we desperately tried to keep the producers going with the limited Jamaican market and exports". Micron continued for a while but "we completely expended ourselves trying to keep going" and, at the prompting of his wife, Shelley, Pete relocated to Canada in 1976. He travelled back and forth not only to Jamaica, but also to the USA and the UK, before finally returning to Kingston in 2007.
"I spent thirty years in Canada before I returned to Jamaica but for many years I never stayed more than a month in one place... three weeks in London, three weeks in New York just making the rounds but I'm now settled back in Jamaica."
In retrospect Pete Weston now wishes he had done "more hands on production" but was always "too busy to do as much as he wanted" yet any half ways decent reggae collection will include a strong selection of Micron singles. The company was also behind the promotion of numerous key artists and albums of the time... just look at the credits of the albums on your shelves. Perhaps stories of the struggles of business men are not going to top many people's reading lists and tales of suffering artists endeavouring to make a living will inevitably be more popular and far more familiar. But business is as much a part of the music business as music and building bridges between the artists or producer and the commercial world often requires as much talent and creativity as making music. Pete Weston had the insight and the foresight to see the possibilities and potential of the music before it was "either popular or profitable" and he still retains those sensibilities.
"And still no-one hears what I'm saying. The days of making music were done. It's the sound of money. Let the world know! Let the world know the truth!"
Harry Wise - April 2008
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