|The career of the man called Audley Rollen stretches as far back as the late fifties, when he and his brother enrolled in acrobatic numbers for an audience in the ghettoes of Kingston Town. That was the Wisdom Brothers. Audley later joined vocal groups such as the Emotions and got a big hit with 'Hallelujah' for producer Lloyd the Matador. After they split up he cut solo material for the same producer such as the classic Leroy Brown-penned 'Repatriation', and other fine songs such as 'What's Your Name' and 'All That Glitters', the latter also featured a deejay version by Big Joe. He migrated to the States in the early seventies and somehow disappeared off the musical radar, only to pop up again in the 1980's with two very strong, and now long unavailable, albums. Lately he teamed up with noted producer Harry Mudie with 'Just For You', a record which met very favourable reviews. My thanks to Audley, Harry Mudie, Carlton Hines, Tim P. and Donovan Phillips.|
Q: A little background, the early years.
A: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica. I was born and grew up there actually, I grew up in Jones Town. Jones Town is a very bad place.
Q: And adjoining to Trench Town.
A: Yeah, yeah. But they call it Jungle now, I guess usually because they kill about (inaudible) there.
Q: Ahhh, no. I guess that's why they call it 'Jungle'.
A: Yeaahhh, but you know I lotta good people come out of there.
Q: Of course.
A: But anyhow...
Q: The system provokes a lot of this I suppose.
Q: The various spellings of your surname, let's clear that up. It's a bit tiresome to see all those different variations of it. There's 'Rollins', there's 'Rollens', and there's 'Rollen', which one is it?
A: It's Rollen, R-O-L-L-E-N.
Q: That's the correct one then.
Q: (Chuckles) I'm sure you've seen that misspelling on and off over the years.
A: Yeah, but you know, sometimes people they don't take the time to get the right signature, they just write what they wanna write. And sometimes some of these producers, they jus' put what they wanna put. And you tell them but by then it's already spreading, so whatcha gonna do, man.
Q: Right, there's no control over that when the job is done at the printery.
A: Nah, nah, they jus' do what they wanna do, that's it.
Q: What about your family, you were the only one singin' and trying to get into it more? What was the connection to practicing music, so to speak?
A: OK. Let me tell you from the beginning. The beginning, I've been entertaining since I was five years old. My entertainment career started - there was a manager in Jamaica called Vere John.
Q: 'Opportunity Hour', or 'Knocks'.
A: 'Opportunity Hour'. But my brother and I, we were the Wisdom Brothers. We were a bicycle act, we used to do acrobatic stuff on bicycle. Back then you had people like Higgs & Wilson, you had Jackie Edwards, you had Owen Gray, you had Millie Small, you had Frankie Bonito & The Boys; that was the name of the band that used to play for all these people. You had the Blues Busters, you had Count Prince Miller, he had Sang & Harriott, which is not Derrick Harriott. He had Jiving Juniors, Downbeats, so those were the ones where the whole Jamaican entertainment started, really. This was about '59.
Q: The 'infant' stage of the business.
A: Right, right, right, so that's where I started at, y'know. So I was an acrobat there, and they used to have like different acrobats when they used to have competitions. So we went on too, we won All Island Champion.
A: Yeah, it's in the library in Jamaica, I went and I dug it up, y'know, did an 'inspection', I got the clippings and all. Anyway, along with us, Higgs & Wilson won and some kid named Sidney Wesley, I've never heard from him again. So that's where I started out.
Q: But these competitions, how was it set up? I mean, was it 'all in one' or did you have different 'sections' for music and acrobatics, step-dancing, comedy, or whatever? Various categories, or they stuffed it all together?
A: No, this is how it worked. The singers would compete against each other and they used to compare acrobatics - he had several different acrobatic teams, he had teams like George Nelson's, he was another acrobat. And they had dancers, like Pluggy and Shan, and you had people like Little Twist and stuff. They would compare sometimes the dancers, they would put the dancers and the acrobats in the same group, and then everybody would come and perform. And then you'd have like three or four thousand people sit in the theatre, and then they'd say (raising the voice): "A whole round of applause for first prize!", and they'd go by the loudest response. And so that's how they did it, with the singers and everybody. Then we toured the whole island, they showcased us throughout the whole island and all that stuff. So we did that for many years and I started gettin' heavier and heavier. But by then we were on tour across Jamaica with people like Higgs & Wilson.
Young Audley Rollen
Q: Right, the classic package tour.
A: Yeah, Higgs & Wilson, Wisdom Brothers. Then I met Blues Busters when we hit Montego Bay.
Q: Who took care of these tours, or that one, who was responsible for it, sponsored it?
A: Well, several different people. One was - at one point it was people like Ronnie Nasralla, and then at another point it was a man named Mr Riley, and he used to have shows all across the island.
Q: Who's mentioning them today? Not many speak about these people nowadays, to give them the rightful credit for doing a service to the early part of Jamaican entertainment.
A: Nah, not many people talk about Vere John and Vere John was the one who gave Jamaican artists their break. I think we all should have a big thing for Vere John and let people know who really gave Jamaica - people like Jimmy Cliff used to be on Opportunity Hour. Bob Marley, his first break was on Opportunity Hour.
Q: It was?
A: Yeah, Bob Marley's first break, he went to Palace (Theatre) and he won five pounds.
Q: (Chuckles) You gotta start somewhere, I guess. What happened to Vere John and his productions later on?
A: Well, he had a son named Robert John - of course Vere John died, 'cause you're talkin' about 1959. There's his son Robert Johns, but he jus' never followed through like his dad did. So then after that we started touring and doing most of the hotels on the North Coast in Jamaica. My brother and I, we performed in Runaway Bay Hotel, Marracesh, Nan Zu-Zu, all the big hotels in Jamaica, they had set up shows for us, so... So we were like sort of making our living then on the North Coast in the hotels. So we got to the point where, while on tour, Higgs & Wilson they used to rehearse all the time. So, because I was there, I was always there with them and stuff, so they were teaching me those things, y'know, so that is how I started singin'. They used to tell me all the time, because in the night-time we used to hang out sometimes on the corner, and all the people would gather round when they're rehearsing, and they said: "No, I don't wanna hear you, let me hear the little one". The 'little one', that was me, they said let the little one sing, let the little one... I said I didn't want to, but they insist "Let him sing, let him sing, I wanna hear him". And when I started to sing they said "Yeahhh" (laughs). So, that's how that started.
Q: How did you find Joe Higgs as the teacher?
A: He was very good, he knew stuff. He knew the stuff, he was a good arranger and a good writer, and of course he sang. He was responsible for helping Bob (Marley) too, Bob went to him and he helped to put that group together. But he was the one who really helped me, him and Roy Wilson. In the latter years Roy really was my mentor during my stay at Runaway Bay Hotel, 'cause he used to perform at the club. He used to do the vocals, used to sing at the club in the night after him and Higgs had split up, and we used to do the acrobat. In the daytime we used to live on the premises, so we spent a lot of time together on the beach during daytime and stuff like that. I learnt a lot from him. So then after that we left and I went back to Kingston, because by then my brother had migrated and I was left without him, I couldn't do the acrobatics without him. So I go back to a place in Jamaica called Allman Town, I used to live in Allman Town. So, while in Allman Town I had a friend named Milton Henry, and also there was a guy that used to lead the group called The Techniques.
Q: Winston Riley?
A: No, no, no, no, no, Winston Riley wasn't much of a singer.
Q: (Chuckles) OK, he became producer a bit later on anyway, so I assume that suited him better then.
A: Yeah. But he was a good businessman, but he wasn't really a singer. But there was a guy named Junior Minz...
Q: He's one in the background of that group, he was never the upfront guy, right?
A: Yeah, he led a few songs, he was the one who sang 'Queen Majesty'.
Q: Right, that was Junior.
A: Yeah, he did the lead vocals on 'Queen Majesty'. And he did 'Love Is Not A Gamble', he did that tune. But he wasn't really a great lead singer but trust me, without him there would be no Techniques. Because after Slim Smith left and went to Uniques, it was Junior who went and got people like Pat Kelly. But before Pat Kelly was him, Winston, and Bruce Ruffin. Yeah. People like that, but he held it together real good. But he was a great arranger and he was great at setting harmonies up, and I learnt a lot from Junior too though. Yeah, Junior was great, he really was, man.
Q: What has happened to Junior since?
A: Well Junior, Junior was born in the US, and he was in Jamaica, his family lived in Jamaica for a while, in Allman Town, Woodford Park, and he had a piano in his house over there. So, well, he heard that I could sing so he called me up one day, he said "Why don't you come here, I got a spot open up in Techniques, come over audition for this spot". "OK". So, I went over there and I was auditioning there, but it didn't work out. Because he was at the time lookin' for somebody who could not only lead sing but also do harmonies. At that point I wasn't really that good in harmonising, so it didn't work out. But we used to still hang out together and eventually I learned a lot from him, but by then I was in another group at that time, which was called The Leaders. It was just two of us, me and Milton Henry.
Q: What about Prince Alla, Keith Blake?
A: Huh? Yeah, well, Prince Alla was with Milton before me, but then him and Milton split up and then it was Milton and me, and then he went solo. Yeah.
Q: Did you record anything at the time as The Leaders, you and Milton?
A: Yeah, we did a song for JJ, but it was never released.
A: It was called 'Get On Board'.
Q: For the late JJ Johnson.
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: He got killed sometime in the early seventies.
A: I don't know. I know he died but I don't know how he died, I heard he died. He used to be on Orange Street.
Q: 'Beat Street'.
A: Yeah, yeah. Everybody was there, everybody was. And then after that we formed a group called Progressions, and that group was Milton Henry, me, Tony Russell, Patrick Hardy. And we did an album, that was called 'Reggae To The UK With Love'.
Q: I've seen about that, but the name of the company escapes me at the moment, what was the label again?
A: I think Pama put it out.
Q: In England, yes. Harry and the Palmer brothers.
A: Yeah. But it was a various artists type of album, stuff like that. But anyway, that group didn't last too long, so we did all that, didn't last for too long. By then I started to hang out with a guy named Keith Hudson.
Q: The 'dentist'.
A: (Chuckles) Well, he said he was dentist...
Q: (Laughs) Called himself dental technician at least.
A: (Laughs) Yeah.
A: He used to have a little record store at South Parade, right in front of the big church down there.
Q: What was the shop, Mafia?
A: 'Imbidimts Records'.
Q: Yes, yes, that was one of his labels too.
A: Yeah, yeah. But I did a lotta work with him, me and Chinna Smith. Me and Chinna did a lot of work with him. 'Cause Keith wasn't really much of a singer, but he had ideas, y'know.
Q: Innovative in most departments.
A: Yeah, yeah, he had ideas and he could get things done. He was very influential too among the young musicians. So he used to do a lot of sessions then. He even recorded Dennis Alcapone, me and Dennis Alcapone did a lot of work with him.
Q: Yes, there's one 45 credited to you and Dennis.
A: I did a lot of songs with Alcapone. I did a song called 'Bad Harvest', did a song called 'You A Come', and I did a song called 'Zacka Zassa'. But he and I did a few tracks, three or four tracks too.
Q: But before linking up with Hudson, didn't you have a stint in The Emotions' vocal group?
A: No, it was a - it was round about the same time. Because what happened was, I was moving from Allman Town and I went to live out among the eastern parts, and so I was living out there by Mountain View Avenue and Windward Road, somewhere round that area. But the Shakespeare boys, Robbie Shakespeare, Lloyd Shakespeare, they used to live on Jacques Road. So by then Max Romeo had left their group, so when Max left the group, Milton Henry left and went to become a part of that group. And that group by that time had Leroy Brown, Lloyd Shakespeare and Milton Henry. But I didn't live very far from there then, but I knew Milton from our days in Allman Town, so we're always close. So we all used to be up there, they used to rehearse as the Emotions, and I used to do my rehearsal there too. And sometimes some songs I could use some fourth harmony or so, I would add that too, 'cause we did some recordings for Sonia Pottinger. And I did a couple of cuts with them like 'True Love' and... can't think of the other things we'd done. But we did that for Mrs Pottinger. So I used to visit them regularly, y'know what I mean, while I at the same time was doing my solo thing, with Hudson. He helped me to arrange some of the songs, I would do a lot of vocal tracks with him.
Q: There are some Emotions tracks you didn't mention, I wonder if you are on it, like 'You Can't Stop Me'?
A: Yeah, yeah.
Q: And 'True Loving' as you said, plus there's 'The Storm' and 'Rum Bay'?
A: Yeah, 'The Storm'. Yeah, 'Rum Bay' I didn't work on. 'Rum Bay' was Lloyd Shakespeare. I was with them at the time when all that was done. Yeah.
Q: There's 'Nobody Knows' too.
Q: But did you sing on 'Hallelujah (Burning In My Soul)', the one they did for Matador, or that was prior to you joining them?
A: I wrote that.
Q: Oops! Great song, a big hit too.
A: I did the lead vocals on it. I did a lot of stuff for Matador. I did 'Hallelujah', I did 'Wary Wary', 'Poor Man Story Long'. I did 'Repatriation', I did 'All That Glitters (Is Not Gold)', I did 'What's Your Name', I did 'Some Day'.
Q: Right, but not all of those songs mentioned are Emotions, some of that is solo.
A: Right, right, right.
Article: Peter I|
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