Jimmy Riley - Live It To Know It

Gunman Of JA
Gunman Of JA (King Tubby's Dub Plate Mix)
Nyah-Bingi (Extended Mix)
From The Ghetto
From The Ghetto Version
Feeling Is Believing
Feeling Is Believing - Jimmy Riley
Give Thanks & Praise (Extended Mix)
Tell The Youths The Truth (Extended Mix)
Majority Rule
Majority Rule Version
Bridge The Gap (Extended Mix)
Everyone Needs Money
Everyone Needs Money Version
Poor Immigrant

Sly Dunbar: Jimmy Riley certainly has star quality in him. We always used to look up to him as a role model, because he was the biggest singer in our community.

Jimmy Riley attracts attention wherever he goes. It's not just because he is a six foot two inch rastaman who usually wears mirror shades and a cowboy hat. it's because of the way he actively engages with the world around him. As he walks down the street, he is constantly chatting to passersby, joking with the children and flirting with the women. Now we are taking a train ride together to London's Gatwick Airport, and over the course of the journey Jimmy is telling me his life story. As the train pulls out of the station, he settles back in his seat to talk, whilst our fellow travellers listen with interest.

My birth name is Martin Norman Riley. Jimmy was like my nickname. I didn't like the Martin too much cos it sound too formal, so I work with Jimmy instead. I was born in Jonestown and then moved on to Waterhouse. I love Westerns from when I was a boy, and sometimes I love to play cowboys. So now people know me for that, they know that I dress like a cowboy.

I started singing with the Sensations when I was in school, and we record four or five big hits for Duke Reid. After a while me and Slim smith decide to form a next group, and we chose the name the Uniques. We started off recording for Bunny Lee and he was very good. Bunny Lee came along as an independent, a maverick producer, and the Uniques became the number one group in the country.

One time they had the battle of the groups at Ward Theatre and all the top groups in Jamaica was there. Bob Marley and the Wailers was winning the contest until we came along and beat them, so we was the top group. And Bob Marley pull his knife on Slim Smith. Now we had a group of people behind us and they had their group of badmen as well, but it came to a consensus that we're better off being friends instead of fighting. And from then on me and Bob Marley were lifelong friends.

When Jimmy mentions Bob Marley, the suited business commuter behind us pricks up his ears and leans in. Who is this charismatic rastaman? A big star?

We had a lot of fame but not a lot of money - the fame and the girls, we had that. It was not a job, it was a lifestyle. After a while the Uniques finish, and I start to watch Bunny lee and learn how to produce. And Bunny Lee give me some riddims so I can learn production.

Bunny Lee: Jimmy Riley is a prolific singer, he is around the business for a very long time. Is he make I know Cornell Campbell, cos he was in the Sensations together. And him sing under plenty names - Jimmy Broadhead, Jimmy Wonder, and him record for me sometimes as Martin Riley. I don't know why him use so many names. Him always stylish, he used to have that Teddy Pendergrass look.

Bunny Lee and Lee Perry were friends, so me and Scratch became friends. When Scratch lock up his shop each night we used to go out raving, looking for girls and bar-hopping - drinking and raising hell! At that time some girls used to dance at a club, and we would hang out with them and trouble them, and they became out friends, and so we had a bunch of go-go dancers that we travel with at night. So Scratch loved that, him freak and love plenty girls, and we had numerous adventures. So we hang out and raise hell at night and make music during the days.

The refreshment trolley wheels past, and Jimmy offers to buy something for all our neighbours in the carriage. The young boy opposite offers Jimmy some of his crisps. Jimmy gives him a high five and winks at his mother.

I like this train, I could take this everyday - all the way to Jamaica!

I also start to work with Family Man from the Wailers. Family Man was me bredren, a quiet guy, but we called him Family Man cos he used to get the girls pregnant everywhere. So really we call him the Family Ram, cos the Ram goat is the male goat in the herd. He was a very quiet guy - I don't know how he get so many girls pregnant, cos he talk so softy. A little after this I start recording with Sly and Robbie. Me and Sly grew up together in the vicinity of Waterhouse. Sly wanted to be a drummer and play tin cans and all kind of stuff, and people would say "stop the noise and shut up" and he used to say "I'm going to be a drummer one day." Then it come that Sly become the number one drummer in all the sessions.

What really happened with Sly and Robbie is I called them in to play as session men for me, but when I start singing 'Love And Devotion' they say it too wicked, we have to be in business together, and so we form the organisation called Taxi Records.

Sly Dunbar: We did some recording for Taxi together but it came out on Island Records. And we played on all his productions before that. I love the way he sings, he reminds me of David Ruffin from the Temptations, that kind of attitude, and I love him for that. He maybe got his style from Teddy Pendergrass but his singing from David Ruffin.

Well really it's Teddy dress like me, cos I had the style first and Teddy like my style so we both dress the same way. David Ruffin - I just sing like that anyway, I didn't know about him, and then we just found that we both sound the same way.

I can get any musician, I don't care, I can tell any man what I want. I [play piano and I play guitar and show them the chords. 'Majority Rule' is actually Family Man, not Robbie, on bass. And 'Poor immigrants' was Family Man on bass and Barnabas from out of Channel 1 on drums. I didn't realise I was a strong producer, I just pull it off.

As the train rolls along, Jimmy's account of his life story is becoming more like a performance for the benefit of the other passengers.

Well I & I rasta from long time because me and Slim Smith love to smoke ganja and we could only get ganja from rasta. So we used to go to Back A Wall, and there we get the reasoning from the elder dread as well, about reality and life, and King Selassie and the great leaders of Africa. And I like the healthy teachings for life, of eat healthy and don't eat up the animal, and praise God for life. Yeah man, I man a Rasta, a natty dreadlock!

I always try to keep a message in my music. Some people jut want to sing about Jamaica, but I have a more world view. Like there is immigration all over the world, so when people go to England and America they face hard times, and I wrote the song 'Poor Immigrant' about them. It's the same thing in every country: the system looks after itself and don't care about the people. The powers that be only care about themselves. Me and all my friends in Jamaica talk about the same things, but because I'm a singer I can put it into song and be their voice as well. I'm not neutral, I have a big mouth and say what I feel, and I'm not afraid of political parties and what they want to do about it - I'm prepared for that, I'm going to speak the truth whatever.

Jimmy is certainly the biggest star in our train carriage, but after his well received album for Island he never quite achieved the international recognition that he deserved.

After I record for Taxi, Chris Blackwell take up Black Uhuru as him main thing, him try to turn them into a next Bob Marley thing, so I only release that one album internationally through Island.

And today Jimmy is probably less well known than his son Taurus Riley, possibly Jamaica's most consistent singer in the 21st Century.

I have four sons and two daughters. Taurus is the oldest, and his real name is Omar, which means first son in Arabic. It's spelt Tarrus sometimes on records but it comes from Taurus, his birth sign. Taurus has done well. But still anytime I play a show, I will always sell out that show!

As the train pulls into the station, Jimmy says goodbye to his new audience with more high fives for the kids, and winks for their mums. We are walking along the platform towards the exit, when Jimmy spots the driver climbing down from the train. He goes up and shakes his hand.

Are you the driver? Thank you man, that was a smooth ride.

Diggory Kenrick - Gatwick Airport, August 2004

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