|There's countless excellent Jamaican singers who put out an impressive body of work during the golden era but still didn't quite make it. I would count Al Campbell to one of those in that 'category'. He has never failed to impress with a steady stream of consistency in his ever growing catalog of music, but something has held him back over the years from getting the breakthrough of wider recognition he so rightly deserves. What the reason for that is, is nothing but a mystery. Al teamed up with producer Phil Pratt in the early seventies and got his break with 'Gee Baby' in 1976, a massive tune in Britain in particular, but had previously done his first records for Studio One as a member of the short-lived group, The Thrillers. Hits for Bunny Lee followed, and soon Al had set up his own production company while still recording for a number of smaller and bigger labels. Al is still recording and performing. Recently his twenty year old 'National Front' rhythm got revived for a series of versions. My thanks to Al, Angela, Trish (Roots Rockers Promotions), Carlton Hines, and Donovan Phillips.|
Q: Like so many others you started out singin' in church in Jamaica, that's how you got more involved in music, wasn't it?
A: Yeah, my father was a preacher in a church. And then I think him was a police officer first and then him leave and turned a preacher. So him find out seh him have so much command over people...
A: And people always a listen to him. So if a man a badman an' do all type a t'ing, my father jus' see him an' seh, "Watcha, don't mek I reach station before yu!" (Chuckles) You know?
A: So I guess me father seh, "Bwoy, me na like the curse so I feel seh the best t'ing to do is open up a church", so him jus' get inna the church business (chuckles).
Q: Hope he didn't use the batton in church though.
A: No, no, him use the bible (laughs)!
Q: OK, good (chuckles).
A: Easy. So him used to do rallies. They had a lickle community center lodged... where they keep rallies an' t'ing, and we use to go up there an' sing. And somebody said: "Five shilling, put him up!", and a next man get up an' say: "Ten shilling, tek him off!" You know, in order to make money for the... to build up a center, up a top of Delacree Lane. Yeah, number twenty. So him and Mr Nolety them an' Mr Hines, all the big man dem, them come together and raise funds. And we used to, like, sing to raise funds at that church. But when I used to go to school now I used to, like, every Friday we have a concert and my friend them they would boost me, they say "All the while I hear yu singin', singin', bwoy, time fe get out an' sing now, yunno" (chuckles). And them call up my name, I would go out there an' start sing. I would sing a song name 'Up On The Roof' (sings): 'When this whole world start gettin' you down and people are just too much for you to take, up on the rooooof, I climb my way up to the top of the stairs and all my fears just drift, drifting to space, on the roof is the only place I know where you go up to let your feelings go...' - you know dem tune deh? The Drifters.
Q: The Drifters, classic.
A: Yeah, an' pitched through Elvis Presley a sing (chuckles), an' the people dem say 'Yeeess'! Even the teacher love me an' say, "Bwoy, yu can surely sing, I'm gonna get yu on the choir". But you know, me always been a roamer, anywhere it do with music, musically, leave me away. And inna the area where I live, you have all the top singers them. You have Winston Samuels, he was the original 'Saddlehead' with Delroy Wilson - them name Delroy Wilson after him. And you have Lascelles Perkins an' all dem big artis' deh used to be living around my area. And Dillinger, Trinity, Clint Eastwood, U Brown, Ranking Trevor, Big Joe, Ranking Joe, all them deejay, everybody would stay in the Waterhouse, my same area. And Michael Prophet as well, you have a whole heap a singer, an' we grew when the young one dem come up an' everyt'ing. Well, when Fatis just start record Sanchez, I mean, him used to come call me. I mean, I used to siddung an' mek sure seh Sanchez a sing 'pon key an' all dem t'ings. And then Luciano again, a Luciano an' Mikey Spice an' Lady Saw, New Name did have them, Castro Brown, an' have them only. Every day them come an' come an' me a tell yu seh, Castro record dem, yunno, dem going be some big star, future star. And Castro, him record them, yes, but him never really put that trust inna dem, him jus' deal with the race horses an' dem t'ing deh. Soon everyt'ing get locked down.
Q: Then you tried your luck with a vocal group, that was the best option in those days, to be a part of a harmony group, wasn't it?
A: Well, hear how it go now. It's like you have The Royals round Cockburn Pen, you have The Tartans, which is the Royal Rasses, which later reform an' call it Royal Rasses, an' you have Earth & Stone them, and you have Cultural Roots. Brooksy (Hubert Brooks, Cultural Roots' founder), me and him go school together. And you have Jammys, me an' Jammys go school together, but Jammys was a bigger man for me still. So you have a musical area. So we used to like challenge one another, we go round Cockburn Pen School an' start sing for the girls them. So anyway, I go round a the school in the evening an' start sing some song an' the girls them run come up to me an' say 'Ohh, yes, this is so and so'. Ossie, me friend who used to sing in The Linkers, which became the Meditations later, Ossie (chuckles), Ansel (Cridland), and a bredda name Beriel, an' the bredda name Donald too, him used to sing with them as well. So any time I go near an' start sing all the crowd them crowd round me, so Ossie never like it. So Ossie say, "Watcha, don't come back over here come sing", an' bad me up (chuckles). So me say, "All right", mek him believe an' go 'way. So one evening now me go over there early before them an' start sing, an' Ossie come an' see me an' punch me inna me eye (laughs)!
A: Knock me out an', y'know, fling some stone off a me, an' then 'bout two week after me an' him turn back friend again (chuckles).
A: Yeah. Until me form my group now with a youth name Maurice, him used to carry me. Morris, him live 'pon my lane. Him used to carry me everywhere him go, an' mek we sing for people. He was like our manager, but him never know 'bout the business neither (laughs)! Him carry we 'pon a couple shows an' t'ing, an' then after that me form with Sweet Pea, Blacka, an' Bozzy. Bozzy now him used to live down a George's Lane with Militant Barry dem, him live inna him yard. Me a go dung there a Sunday time fe rehearsal, an' they were singin' a long time an' couldn't record, nobody no record them. So when me a team up with them so an' we go to Coxson.
Q: That was The Thrillers?
A: Yeah, I'm talkin' the Thrillers now, we go to Coxson an' we sing 'Heart For Sale', 'Don't Run Away' an' 'The Last Dance Is Over'.
Q: What was their name before they teamed up with you?
A: I say the name, yunno, them name the Linkers ca' is the the same man dem, Linkers, Meditations dem. But Danny (Clarke) an' Son-Ites (Winston Watson) neva use to inna it, there's just some different man. Them used to sing with a bredda name Louis an' a yout' name Dillie, but the two bredda dem, dem choose two bad bwoy. An' the music baptise them but dem stray an' go back inna the bad business, an' I think the two a dem get the life sentence. After the Thrillers dem an' t'ing, the group split up, ca' dem record one song for Phil Pratt name 'I'm Restless' (released on the late Blondel Calnek's Caltone label), an' it neva mek it. But I just continue, I start sing with Ernest (Wilson) an' Freddie McGregor now.
Q: The Clarendonians?
A: Yeah, not the Clarendonians, just Ernest by himself, an' him is a member of the Clarendonians, an' Freddie which... him an' Freddie used to sing together as Fitzy & Freddie, them sing 'Why Did You Do It' an' dem tune deh.
Q: Right, great song.
A: An' Freddie sing 'Hey Girl, No Bother Me'. An' me an' him get together an' we start rehearse two tune now, 'Deep Down In My Heart', an' a next song. But when the recording, we neva get fe go a the studio. So then Ernest mother was the lady whe produce that one, ca' she put some money back inna her son, an' the song never hit. But we split up again from deh so, an' Freddie go back a the country, Ernest and him. An' me now go dung Huddersfield Lane now, start spar with my cousin them, but me never know me an' him are cousin, me an' him was schoolfriend (chuckles). Me never trace the family-line an' really see him an' me related, but me find seh dem yout' ya, dem love singin' with me an' them treat me like blood. Me got to find out in the later part me an' him are family, so... So we jus' keep it that way deh. An' then 'Socks' now, Prince Lincoln, who lead the Royal Rasses, we did name Negus Children. An' we do that rehearse an' me go dung deh an' motivate him back, ca' he was a nex' dangerous man too, yunno. We baptise him with the music an' convert him over, an' tell 'im seh "Watcha, hear wha' yu have to do now, jus' go back a Coxson an' sing two tune, no matter the money him a deal with, because as long as yu keep the name deh fresh". So him go up deh an' sing two tune fe Coxson, an' then me an' him start rehearse now an' them mek a lickle money, Cedric (Myton) an' him mek some money an' decide to go inna the studio. So the 'Humanity' album come about now, with me an' him an' Cedric, an' a yout' name Cap, an' a yout' name Johnny Kool. But through me an' Cedric belong... me seh to them me na give up my solo career fe sing way out, right out with them. But if somebody want me fe come tour with them an' me na do anyt'ing as Al Campbell, we go with them still. But me couldn't really tek it, full time. So Cedric tell 'im the same t'ing, ca' Cedric have the Congos, so y'know we work an' sing. Me sing 'bout three album me sing, with not even a penny. Now, when the money start mek now Socks start switch an' come a Englan', an' come live. An' the other day him woman, she didn't even know the music dem mek, dem use fe mek it 'pon hungry belly. You hear them sing good, when God a give people gift Him na give it in a richman house, Him goin' a poorman house an' tek out woman back dung hill an' mek it be a prince among princes. So he an' Socks come from the west, Socks na act so grateful. The first money him get, Socks go buy a big house. And him end up lose the house 'cause him na get... ca' then the man Errol Thompson (the late radio DJ) lose him life over it. Me really bitter about this, beca' the good woman whe him live with a put out an LP whe Socks play an' other people sing harmony, she pay nobody no money. Yeh, beca' one day a yout' hear it, the yout' go to him an' the yout' seh, "Wha' 'appen, all me see is me sing inna the tune", an' him pass some remarks. When him see me him say a different t'ing, him haffe jus' deal with me straight. A so me na too inna him, me come a Englan' an' stay but me never too spar with him again. Yeah, because some bitterness deh inna the bag. I forgive the whole a dem still with them corruption an' them wickedness whe dem do me, but still yu a survive same way. Every man must know that there's a God, ca' people jus' eat an' drink an' sleep, an' dem na say a prayer. Them don't remember that God exist, but me know God exist. And as Bob Marley say: 'The rain a fall from one man house top, when it fall it fall 'pon every house top'.
Q: The whole process of creating music at Studio One, what can you say about that? Compared to what's it like today, what is significant and important to point out regarding the approach then which has gone missing today?
A: Studio One, the music create a your yard before you go a Studio One, because maybe my music have enough... Right now me do the baddest tune ever come out of Studio One, and it's 'Hi Fashion', a my tune. Yeah, an' nuff man come sing 'pon the riddim an' sing an' do other t'ings, but me a the creator fe that. It's like 'Your Love' me a sing 'pon, we a create that from we yard. When me go inna the studio we have the melody an' everyt'ing in a way deh, an' we jus' sing it to the musician dem. Yea, an' we sing it to Jackie Mittoo an' Jackie Mittoo say "This yout' ya a know music". Me cyaan read the music, but with the melody me can stay 'pon key an' me know me can tell you whe fe play, and the changes dem an' everyt'ing. And Vin Gordon (trombonist) is a man whe me an' him always siddung 'pon stool outside an' 'im give me nuff praise all the while. When me an' him deh-deh him say "Bwoy, dat lickle yout' deh a yout' whe gifted". Vin Gordon up to this day, me an' him good friends still same way.
Q: Listening to a track on Studio One like 'Take A Ride', credited to Al Campbell, it just doesn't sound like your voice at all.
A: No, it's not - that tune deh, is not really me a sing that tune deh, yunno, but me sing a version of it still, for Mr Dodd.
Q: So is that another guy in the Thrillers who took the lead on that track?
A: No, is a bredda name Alan, I think the name's Alan. And some of the names get mixed up.
Q: Right, a different Al Campbell altogether.
A: Yeah. Everybody try fe tek me name, even UB40 dem try fe tek me name too. A whole heap a man, and a nex' bredda now try fe tek the name a'ready. Yeah, beca' dem love my name, but it cyaan work. When me hear dem a tek me name me jus' come back an' sing two tune an' kill 'im.
Q: So that is definitely not your voice on 'Take A Ride' and 'Expensive Love'.
A: No, no, a no me, a no me. Yeah, an' me no waan no man a t'ink dat. But me come 'pon a flipside of 'Real Rock', 'Don't Run Away'. The original press, 1967. The first recording me do for Coxson name 'Heart For Sale'.
Q: What became of it, did it do anything for you?
A: No, no, him never release it. And the first studio me record was Treasure Isle, anywhere, 'Freedom, Justice & Equality', with me an' Junior Menz from the Techniques.
Q: Did you have a name for that duo?
A: No (chuckles), a jus' Al Campbell, or Alan Jr I think.
Q: After the Thrillers broke up now, that was when you hooked up with the Royal Rasses as you mentioned before, or was there something in-between?
A: After Trillers broke up, me an' Freddie...
Q: Ah yes, Fitzy & Freddie.
A: Yeah, an' me an' Freddie sing 'bout an album of tune for Coxson deh. And then me sing also for Coxson as Underground Vegetable, Freedom Singers, me sing on a various artists, all type a name. Yeah, a so Mr Dodd make some name.
Q: Just make it up, hiding it from the artists.
A: Yea, jus' make up a name as we go along. Ironside, we are Ironside, we're all 'bout, we're everyt'ing.
Q: It's just 'Jackson, do a tune fe me nuh', eh?
A: Yeh, him just start seh 'Jackson' (chuckles), him call every man 'Jackson'. 'Hail Jackson' (laughs). Before Mr Dodd died we go back an' finish up an album for him, right, but that was the best day... An' so Mr Dodd call me, him seh "Al, which pon yu deh?" So me say, bwoy, "Yeh, me no come round here", so me say no, an' him seh "No man, come round ya!" So, bwoy, me near beside him. Yeh, ca' me humble, me still clean, you see. Yeh, when we small a Mr Dodd send we out fe go buy a drink of rum an' everyt'ing, him na send no big man, yunno. Him jus' send lickle bwoy a do it, him na trust no big man dem fe buy dem t'ings (laughs)! But me now, Mr Dodd always ask me, "Wha' happen to the change?" An' me say, "No Mr Dodd, yu cyaan send me out an' deal 'pon the change" (chuckles). So I think with me and Mr Dodd... Mr Dodd, me deal with him like a man, ca' when me small them thought like I was a big man. Me jus' deal with him like on a man to man level, one to one, an' me never have no fear fe him like the nex' man dem. Yeh, beca' one time Ken Boothe an' the whole a dem would go by the side, Burning Spear a send me up inna the tree, mango tree, fe pick some mango.
Q: The backyard there you mean?
A: Yeh, right on the side... they have a big no. 11 tree an' they have a lickle tree they call the 'Christmas mango', ca' that tree ongle right 'pon Christmas time. So when it comes to Christmas or we suppose to wait for our lickle bonus (chuckles), an' dem boost we an' send we up inna the tree, an' me go 'pon the house top. So me see a big ripe mango an' me go towards fe pick it, an' Mr Dodd run out with two brick inna him hand.
A: An' I was inna the tree, so Mr Dodd say "Al, come, wha' yu do onna the house top?" You know when rain fall the whole a the place become slippery, me no remember fe check the t'ing when me go on that. Ca' him a protec' him t'ing, so me say "Sorry, Mr Dodd". So when me come outta the tree him catch me an' hug me up, an' then him say, "No, hear wha' happen. Don't go back up deh so, man, beca' when yu come deh it suppose fe leak an' dem change the house tile an' t'ing", so me say, "Sorry, Mr Dodd, me na go up there". So Mr Dodd say, "A who send yu up deh?" (Chuckles) An' me jus' point 'pon the whole a dem man beside the tree: "A them send me up deh!" (Laughs) Yeh, all a dem, Delroy meet me up the evening...
Q: Some memories there.
A: (Laughs) Yeah.
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