U Brown owed a lot to his tutor U Roy the Godfather but made his own way out in the end to be what he is today; a very skillful deejay and well-known for his stage-prescense, you could say he still 'kicks it' in a live show. He is one of few vintage deejays I still enjoy immensely from the albums that came out in the late seventies, doing his thing on top of the hottest Bunny Lee riddims of the day by classic singers such as Johnny Clarke, Cornell Campbell, Leroy Smart, Ronnie Davis or Horace Andy. Not to forget his own productions like the Jammy-mixed 'Badness A Madness' - the first on his Hit Sound label, and some saw the light of day on Virgin's prestigious but short-lived Frontline label at the time. I caught up with Mr Brown in London, October '03, to discuss his place as a foundation deejay in the world of reggae music, and although he is a bit tired the day after a party in the company of fellow London resident Dennis Alcapone, he had a few things to say. My thanks to Huford, Steve Barrow, Mike Turner, John, Tim P, Bob Schoenfeld and Michael de Koningh.

Q : The family background please Mr Brown.

A : I was born in Western Kingston, Jamaica. I'm born up in the bottom of Trench Town. I didn't have much sense about it until I went further out in West Kingston which is like Denham Town, which is just another adjoining area to Trench Town, right. And living on Bond Street, which is just - I live on 37, and Duke Reid was 33. Yeh, I live near by that studio an' from those days I get to realise that (it's) something about it that attracts me. So, it's in me but I don't know how far it went (chuckles) or how far would it go. 'Cause I can remember as a young youth living in Bond Street, as I said two doors from Treasure Isle studio which is Duke Reid Records, I can remember when my mum send me to the shop, whether it's on a Sunday or during the week passing Duke Reid, always seeing him with people who is involved in the music. Is singers who come in for audition or musicians taking out their instruments who go upstairs in the studio, at Duke Reid studio. And I always stop and take some time out to take a look. Even though my mum is waiting on me to bring what she send me to buy at the shop, y'know. Yeah, and sometime I get in trouble for that! But, y'know wha' I mean, I wasn't coming from a rich background. But at the same time, them time my family keep it together the best way they could.

Q : How big was the family?

A : Oh well! At the time, ca' my mum is my dad's second wife, and with my mum my dad had seven children, and he had four in his first marriage. So, is eleven sisters and brothers of us.

Q : Was any relative involved in the music business before you entered it? Like you had it in the family.

A : Well, not that I can remember. It not been known to me. You know, I don't know but the only t'ing about music with my father is that he always go to bars. In Jamaica they always call it the bars, and in Europe they call it the pub, y'know. Is the same place where you go for a drink an' you have jukebox playing music, an' t'ing like that. But I don't know (if) my father or any other member of the family involved musically, deeper than that.

Q : As with most Jamaicans you went to church, singing in a choir. But you never did practice with a group before you gave deejaying a try, singin' harmony or any such thing?

A : Yeah, yeah, but I wasn't in no vocal group or anything like that. No, we jus' go to church normally and the whole church singin' and you sing your part, but everyone just sing together. But it wasn't that I was involved in a specific choir or anyt'ing like that, y'know what I mean. And then, along the way, like I say growing up around the music in like Waterhouse, beca' I leave from that part in Western Kingston up to West Central, which is like a place up in Waterhouse, Kingston 11, where King Tubby's, (Prince) Jammy's, and another sound system back in the days called Sounds of Music, you know, all those sounds was around. And by going to the dances and listen to music and then the person who really capture my attention at the time was really U Roy. Yeah, and with the sound King Tubby's, y'know, because I was living in the same community as U Roy. At the time, where I was living up in Waterhouse, when I leave from... down by Western Kingston up to South Central Kingston, y'know wha' I mean?

U Brown

Q : What time are we talking now? Late sixties?

A : Yeah. No, well, that was like about... late sixties. Mid sixties, like '66/67. Even '68, coming up to '69. Those time I start to penetrate the dance an' would sneak out the house an' try to go to dance and coming (back) late and sometimes being locked out, because I went out without any permission.

Q : (Laughs) Tempting.

A : Yes! Couldn't resist!

Q : Entering a dance in those times compared to now, what's the main difference there apart from the music itself, how do you view it?

A : Well, the difference now - the difference is with the music, with how the music has been played, not only with the type of song itself, but how the music been selected. And with how the environment and the people, ca' in those days most people would (be) dancing together, it was like fun going out to a party. 'Cos sometimes even when a man have his woman at home, he would still go out to the dance an' by himself, beca' he know that when he goes there an' certain music starts to play, he is going to try to find a girl, chat up a girl to get a dance an' whatever (is) upfront there. So what really happen is that it's a different environment. Today's dances is more like everybody is (in) this macho kinda attitude - even the girls! Some girls, I wouldn't say all girls, 'cause even some girls behave like they are the... jus' like some man would behave. Like to come around in posses, and try to profile like men! Not like in the sense of dressing up like men, but is like... holding corners an'... you know wha' I mean?

Q : Yeah... flex, like?

A : Yeah, flex, the kinda flexing thing, which is... Nutten wrong with flex but to me is not a female flex, from a ladies point of view. But otherwise, as I said things change an' things never remain the same, so that's how it goes.

Q : It have to change.

A : Yes. Ca', jus' go with the flow, y'know, try to.

Q : So you wanted to try as a deejay. After King Stitt and Count Machouki had made it, U Roy showed up and everybody felt the appeal of his style, his jive talk. He had an immediate appeal on or to you?

A : Yeah, wha 'appen, ca' like I said U Roy at the time was one of my mentor, my main mentor, along with Big Youth and people like Dennis Alcapone, y'know, and Prince Jazzbo an' the late I Roy. Yeah, people like those was great influence to me. One that really catches me most it was U Roy and one of the reason is that U Roy was more closer. In that sense like King Tubby's sound system was from that side of Jamaica, in Waterhouse, I was living in Waterhouse area and U Roy was living in the same Kingston 11 area, which is Waterhouse area. So it's like it was easier to hear him an' see him more, so him grow on me more.

U Roy
(Photo by Peter Simon)

Q : What was - or still is - so attractive about U Roy's style, in your opinion?

A : Well, is a whole lot of things 'bout U Roy that attracts me. You know, is that the way how U Roy sound musically, the way how him come across introducing the songs that he is about to play on the turntable because those were the days when the deejays usually performed live in the dance in Jamaica, playing the sound system. So each record you're gonna put on the turntable you will see right now - the spots now or you'll say something like this: 'The man Linval Thompson walks away and now the spots shines on the man Johnny Clarke!' You know what I mean? You know, you jus' played a Linval Thompson song so you want to let the public know that you're moving from Linval Thompson showcase into Johnny Clarke, and then you'd also introduce the title of the song, t'ings like that. And I did really (get) captured by that kinda introduction, and also U Roy's flexibility towards life at the time when I just started know 'im and up until this day still. Because he's just a humble person, really. Humble person and just go about him business, do wha' him haffe do and him carry himself a certain way. Him dress up just like someone would see Michael Jackson and like how Michael Jackson dress or whoever, jus' like U Roy carry himself, period. And him sound an' everything. So that really take a capture to me, y'know.

Q : And U Roy got a lot of followers, copyists or simple imitators like most of the happening artists do. How did he react and/or respond when your name came upon the scene, carrying so obviously the sound he had created?

A : Yeah, well, I wouldn't call it 'imitators', I would call it... is a form of inspiration t'ing, yunno. Beca' the thing is like as the old saying is 'each one teach one', right? Sometimes you don't literally have to check someone and say 'hey, this is A and this is B'. But in someone - it's that feel within themselves and just need something to pull that out of them, that is what I get from U Roy and many more artists like Brigadier (Jerry), Josey Wales, y'know wha' I mean, who come across and come within let's say within that school, it's just that we love how U Roy come across and we just take to that. We like how other deejays sound as well, like Big Youth, I Roy, Prince Jazzbo. But is just something about that style that we like, is just that. And U Roy never feel any way about that, is not like today when you hear a man try to sound like Bounty Killer dem having problems. You know, verbal conflic' between each other, or someone try to sound like Capleton, or Beenie Man - that kinda thing. I don't say it never happened, like people didn't feel a way about a man trying to sound like him. But in those days it wasn't as much people getting aggressive with each other like today, like sometimes you'd read it in the paper that this artist an' that artist are arguing an' so I think you come across them things. Beenie Man and Bounty Killer, we never into them kinda thing.

Q : Still, Jazzbo and I Roy had a feud, even though it was more like a gimmick. Nothing really serious, like what you have now.

A : Yeah, well - tell you what! That wasn't a thing like how Bounty Killer an' Beenie Man did have their thing. Because it come to a point where violence came up, with I Roy an' Prince Jazzbo, it was like a gimmick t'ing to sell record. Maybe Beenie and Bounty could be doing that to sell record as well, because I wasn't so close around them to really know how far it goes. But from my point of view, it don't appears to me like it was gimmick, or maybe if it was gimmick them take it in a different way. With I Roy and Jazzbo, to me I know it was a gimmick, beca' I can tell you something; on one of the Prince Jazzbo tracks I was the one who did the introduction on it. Yeah, when Jazzbo seh - like how I say to Jazzbo: 'Wha 'appen Jazzbo?', an' when me a say... I say to him, seh: 'Bwoy, me hear di bwai I Roy a call up yu name, yunno!' An' Jazzbo would say in the song: 'That's how they stay, they try to call up my name to get promotion!' I was the one who say that. That time I was maybe about the age of 15 or 18 years old, yeah, in King Tubby's studio. So I know for a fact that it was more gimmick, an' both a dem was recording the tracks for Bunny Lee at the time, and Bunny Lee was a strong person behind that, influencing dem each others to pull gimmicks on each other. Yeah, yeah. Yeah man.

Q : Part of the marketing thing.

A : Yeah, yeah. Part of the marketing t'ing, yeah.

Q : The public bought the whole concept for it still, I mean literally.

A : Yeah, yeah - from outsiders. And it was the same t'ing a go on with Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan, in them days as well, y'know wha' I mean. But they wasn't fussin' each other or fighting each other an' dem kinda thing.

Q : So you started your deejay thing at the Silver Bullet sound?

A : Yes, the first sound system that I really take a microphone an' start to deejay, it was Silver Bullet. The owner of that sound - I know him as Jack, we called him Jack. He was a cyclist, y'know, a pedal-cyclist - not the motorcycle, a pedal-cyclist. Yeah, he was a cyclist in Jamaica at the time an', y'know, he own the sound system and it was a sound in my community, so... Maybe about a year or two years I stayed at Silver Bullet, because it was just - that's where I started and it was just a small sound system, not big like Tubby's or Jammys at the time. Beca' a lot of people don't even know Jammys original sound system from the sixties.

Q : Yes, he was that early.

A : Yes, Jammys! Yeah man! Jammys had sound system from about 1968/69, Jammys did have a sound system. I can tell you, I can remember quite clearly 'cos I usually go to a lot of dances that Jammys play. Yes man, Jammys was rammin' up dance, man! Jammys was rammin' up dance.

U Brown.

Q : By the way, who was resident deejay before you came to Silver Bullet?

A : Well, at the time there was no name-deejay because those guys that I even... that was there. I tell you the truth, I don't even know where they are right now, I haven't seen them for a long time, it's like they just bust out of the business for whatever reason I don't know, ca' I haven't seen them for a while.

Q : Silver Bullet wasn't ever involved in production?

A : No, he never produce any record, never produced any record.

Q : After Silver Bullet you hooked up with the Sound of Music crew, Winston Scotland used to be resident deejay there, wasn't he? The man who cut the classic 'Buttercup'.

A : Yes, Winston Scotland was deejaying for that sound system at the time, he was deejaying two sound systems, like between Soul King - a sound from Jones Town, and Sounds of Music. But it so happened that sometimes Scotland is not available to deejay on that sound system. So it's like the owner Phillip Monroe for Sounds of Music would ask me to fill in, y'know. I would pass through as a young youth an' (they) would like our sound and I keep following the sound until one day U Roy met an accident and someone called me, introduced me to Tubbys an' Tubbys seh they must bring me to let him hear me. And I went to the dance - the first dance, an' messin' about. That's the first time I met Dillinger, an' Tubbys also like how I sound, and then I start to deejay on King Tubby's sound. From there Tubby say well, I can keep come around the sound, an' that's how I get to meet him.

Q : As a youngster being around experienced people like Tubbys and U Roy, what encouragment did you get while being among them at that point?

A : Well, the inspiration now around them... Well, U Roy usually say a few things to me, yeah, in a sense of direction, but towards the music... Being around them they didn't have to open their mouth an' tell no individual what to do or what to say, beca' the inspiration from them was good enough for you to learn, as long as you're interested. Like sometimes you're around someone and they don't have to tell you that this is negative and that is positive. By seeing how they're moving and how they're administrating, you know the negative things from the positive things. They don't have to really tell you, beca' the inspiration was just so clear enough for you to see.

Q : So after U Roy had the accident, you became resident deejay for Tubbys?

A : Yeah, beca' in those days you didn't have three or four deejays on a sound system, it's just one. Then it was Dennis Alcapone on El Paso, Big Youth on Tippertone, U Roy on King Tubbys, and that's how it went. I didn't have a established name as a big deejay then, that was where I start make my name. But it was because of a sound like U Roy at the time as a young youth, they give me the privilege.

Q : What happened to Winston Scotland?

A : No, well, I usually saw Winston Scotland up to the early part of the eighties, it was about 1980/82. After that I haven't seen him for a while.

Q : He lived in Waterhouse too?

A : No, he was living in the Jones Town area - Kingston 12.

Q : But you wouldn't drop him as an influence in the early days?

A : No, well, to be honest with you, all a those elder deejays, it's something about some of them that you like, but the one that really have the influence on me most was U Roy, and Big Youth. Then I Roy along with Dennis Alcapone, an' Prince Jazzbo.

U Brown.

Q : What is Olympic Gardens like, where U Roy come from? What sounds come from this area?

A : Well, in Olympic Garden you have a sound named Kentone, you have a sound name Antone (the Killer), an' you have a sound named Earl's Disco - that's from down a the bottom of Waterhouse, where Jammys studio is now situated, down that side. And you also have Jammys that time but Jammys wasn't living there, he was living further up on the main - up on Balmorgy Avenue, and Silver Bullet and Sounds of Music. An' Tubbys as well, ca' Tubbys was from that area, Tubbys was living on Dromilly Avenue, which is Kingston 11, another part of Waterhouse.

Q : Then you had to shift sound again after a while.

A : After Tubbys? Yeah after Tubbys, what 'appen, U Roy - I think someone was keeping a dance and want U Roy come back to deejay on the sound, and he came back and started play Tubbys and I leave Tubbys and went to a sound called King Attourney, which was bought by a political activist called Tony Welch. And he changed the name to Socialist Roots.

Q : How did the family support your movements in the music business? It wasn't exactly what they expected or had hoped for the most, right?

A : Your mum never like them kinda thing. My mum always want her son to be a lawyer or a doctor or something up in society, just a part of society. We never expect that we could deejay a sound system and we become something progressive for us that we could make a living from it. Maybe not a big living but, like, how Sean Paul and Beenie Man dem did making it now, but we never knew that it would be taking us so far. We were just doing it as something - as a fun thing, we were going through the motions at the time. We didn't take it up on ourselves 'oh, we're gonna make a career out of this', and 'I'm gonna buy a house out of this', or 'buy a car from this', we just do it. You know, because of the love of it at the time, beca' we never have it as a profession.

Q : Well, you more or less had it as a hobby in the evenings and a regular job in the daytime. That's how it goes for most of them I believe, even after you get a break.

A : Yeah. Jus' like a hobby, yeah. No, 'cos at the time I was in my teens - young boy, and I was living at home an' my mum usually pay all the bills and everything so I didn't have to worry. I might buy the odd pieces of clothes if I need it. As you know every teenager want to wear sneaker for a hundred and something pound and if mum can't afford it then what you should do is like if you can make a lickle pocket money then you can go buy that for yourself. But mum would still buy these things. Yeah, and that's how it went.

Q : So after you left school you had a job during the day and deejayed at various sounds at weekends, shifting betwen at least two or three sound systems for that period?

A : Yeah, after that I start to learn trade and then like, like moulding. Moulding something that we make, like dutch pots to cook in, an' things like that. Yeah. And then from there I was usually working in the Post Office service as well. Yeah, in Jamaica.

Q : You tried a few things then.

A : Yeah, yeah. I was even working within the legal system at one time, y'know, in the court system. But only for maybe about a year.

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