The Gladiators had the odd hit during the late sixties, but the former vocal group soon grew into a great self-contained band and blossomed at Studio One from the early seventies, where Albert Griffiths, Gallimore Sutherland and Clinton Fearon - together with the occasional drummer and keyboard player - created some enduring music such as 'Jah Jah Go Before Us', 'A Prayer To Thee', 'Roots Natty', 'Bongo Red', 'Downtown Rebel' and 'On the Other Side' to name just a few, the latter two penned by the subject of this interview, bassie Clinton Fearon. You know him as the one who always had two songs on every album, the rest belonged to chief songwriter Albert Griffiths. Considering the quality of Fearon's material, it was always a big shame to me that we got such a low quantity of contributions to the Gladiators' extensive output over the years. However, Fearon has since left the Gladiators and fronts his own band in Northwest America with several solid CD releases under his belt, the latest being an entirely wooden/acoustic album entitled 'Mi an' Mi Guitar'. My thanks to Clinton for an enlightening discussion, covering obscure solo releases, his session work as bass-player at the legendary Black Ark studio, modern recordings contra vintage production, the importance of social awareness regarding lyrical content, and much more. Also, thanks to Barbara, Kareem and Ernest (Sankofa), John Schultz the Dubstar, Bob Schoenfeld, Steve Barrow and Michael de Koningh.



Q: As far as I know you had to move around a lot as a kid, tell me a little about the early days.

A: Well that's true, that's true. Well, I was born up in St. Andrew, there's a lickle district called Essex Hall, and as far as I understood I left with my dad and my stepmom when I was, like, about six months, to the parish of Clarendon. Then we spent I think a year or two in Clarendon, then move again with them to St. Catherine where I spent most of my youthful days. And when I was like about twelve now - or earlier than that, like when I was about ten - I used to go to church with my dad and I got involved with young peoples things, and then got involved with the choir, singing in the choir there in the Adventist Church. All during this time still as a kid growing up I would love music, you know like really love it. I used to make myself a lickle bamboo flute, I would bore in tin, bore a hole in it, cut cross it, tie little strings on it and call it my 'guitar'. But right between the age of ten and twelve all kinda things happened (laughs)! All kinda things happen: I made myself a guitar, y'know (chuckles), which I used. They used to cut wood, put at the wayside to carry to the sawmill an' t'ing like that, to take to the sawmill. Well, a friend of mine we took a piece of the wood, bring it up to my house, and I used machete and a 16" anvil, flattened the point of it and used them as a chisel to big out the guitar out of it. I shape it down with the machete. I have the handle and the body out of one wood (laughs)! One piece of wood! Then I asked a friend of my dad - actually the organ player in the church heard that I asked to buy the material to the guitar body in Kingston for me and, y'know, the strings for it. The first night I put that together - and I tell you what too; to make the fret on the guitar I used the kitchen utensil, like fork that we're keeping, and used those to make frets (laughs)! It was quite a guitar (laughter)! But it was my guitar, y'know wha' I mean, my guitar for a while there. And then a next friend of my dad was - he had a guitar with him one night and told me he was sellin' it, this guy was having it and wasn't doing anything with it. So I had to work with my dad in the canefield, cut cane, do this, do that.

Q: Where is this? Did you go with your father to Cuba for a while? I seem to remember something about that.

A: No, no, was in Jamaica.

Q: Your father left for Cuba for some time anyway.

A: Actually my father spent some time in Cuba, made a few trips over there. Yeah, I work with my dad and I used piece of cane too to weed out. It was thirteen thousand for the guitar. I worked with my dad like a dog. Bwoy, I worked on huge pieces of canefield (laughs)! He told me, he said, well, he watched me struggle with it, and at one point he said "OK, alright, I finish the rest". But we only did nine thousand worth of work. There is two pound, make it eleven pound, well, you ask to find the other two pound, to pay the guy. So I brought eleven pound to the guy and told him that I owe him two pound, I still went without two pound beca' I didn't get the two pound (laughs)! There was no way for me to get that money to pay, so I owe him two pound. Looking back at it what they both wanted was to help me out, and my dad wanted me to learn to work my own money and all of that, so all of this stayed in the picture.

Q: Was your father involved in playing music at all, or you didn't get the interest from him?

A: He played a little mouth organ, we call it 'mouth organ'.

Q: 'Mouth organ', what's that again? A harmonica, like?

A: It's not really harmonica, it's the one we call it mouth organ. It's the same principle as - it's not melodica either, you blow it like a harp, but it has double sides an' t'ing like that. Down in the backwoods we call it 'mout' organ', but you could call it a harp.



Clinton Fearon.

Clinton Fearon & Albert Griffiths.

Q: A folk instrument, basically.

A: Yeah, he used to play that and he used to sing in the church too, as well, and sometimes we'll do duet. So that's when the choir leader saw us - saw me sing with my dad, we did a duet at one time - and then by the second time we did it together, she asked my dad to aks me if I want to sing in the choir, and then 'yes', y'know. Dad was then another undertaker, because then as, y'know, a child or as a kid an' t'ing like that (chuckles), when I would go out of the bush, man, and go out in the street an' t'ing like that, like a lickle wild animal, y'know wha' I mean. So, got into church an' t'ing like that, and got in the choir, and then that woman what she did to me was like a third (inaudible), she had me sing a whole part by myself. The choir would - this is the practice now: the whole choir would sing a part and then there's a part of the song that I used to sing by myself. I (inaudible) all my palms - that sweaty, y'know (laughs)! I was so nervous! But all of those things build me an' make me love music more. And there were some sisters that used to go to church, we called them The Eglan Sisters, it was seven sisters a them. Sometimes all seven would sing, sometimes five, sometimes two, y'know, six, trio - also as quartet, quintet. They do it all sometimes as one, a lone t'ing. But beautiful voices, they could really sing together, y'know, and they were part of my inspiration too. When I moved to Kingston I brought my guitar with me and determined to get into music.

Q: By the way, this gospel group you mentioned, were they ever into recording? Coxson did gospel records at the time, did he record them, the sisters?

A: They jus' stayed on a local level. I don't think they ever get involved in the music, they were more in the church, they're more in the church and they went on to different progressions. I know one was a teacher, one end up being a nurse. I don't know what happened to the rest. Some were older, a couple of them - one a them were right around my age, one was younger and the rest were older.


Q: So that's the first step getting into playing, becoming more serious.

A: Yeah, that's the first time that I was playing an' t'ing like that. Oh, and there was this one time at school when I was about eight, and the head-teacher having like, y'know, a lickle singin' at the side of it an' t'ing like that. The head teacher had me sing a little song and he gave me a penny (chuckles)! That was my first penny (laughs)! My firs' pay fe perform! That was funny too.

Q: At that stage, were there any neighbourhood boys you started to interact with, forming some amateur type groups for practice, or even trying your luck at contests?

A: Actually there was this guy name Jacob Tennant, he and I, we used to sing along with a couple other guys. I can't remember their names right now, but in our neighbourhood we used to sing along an' t'ing like that, and Joseph Hill from Culture used to go at the same school, to Point Hill School. He and I actually at one point decided that we're gonna run away to Kingston, but we didn't get to do it. I don't remember what happened, but we didn't get the chance to run away (laughs)! We kinda wanted to get into music, y'know what I mean. So, that's for a long time I didn't see Joseph Hill until I - a long time after that - then run into Jacob Tennant, and that's after I went to Kingston and got involved with The Gladiators that I run into Jacob Tennant, and Jacob told me that he and Joseph Hill was living in Linstead and were doing something together, and so forth and so on. Then sometime after that I met Joseph Hill down by Coxson's studio. At that time he was interested in playing drums.

Q: Yes I believe he played drums in the Soul Defenders, they backed Freddie McKay at some point.

A: I think so, I can't remember the whole story of that, y'know what I mean. Yeah.

Q: Then it's the move to Kingston, you were around sixteen at the time, the family had split up and you were joining your mother in Kingston?

A: Yeah, the family split up, me and my dad live in the old sphere. My dad he claimed that he is sending me to my mom, y'know, to spend some time with my mom.



Clinton Fearon and mother.

Q: How come she eventually moved to Kingston? I guess for a better livity, that would be the most obvious.

A: I don't know, I think she probably loved it in Kingston more at that time. Now, looking back at it as a big man now, I think they were like lovers in dispute, 'cause my dad had lived with another woman who was most likely his main woman - the one that he lived with. My mom was just at his side. So I think she figured it's best for her to move out of the area and go back, and go to Kingston, that's what I think. As a kid they're not telling me all of that. So anyway, I moved to Kingston right around fifteen or sixteen, somewhere there.

Q: Which part of Kingston is this, where your mother lived?

A: Kingston 11, in the Waltham Garden area. That is - it would be more closer to Half Way Tree, Cross Roads, y'know. This could be like mid sixties, '66/67, somewhere there.

Q: Any particular work to support the household with?

A: Well, when I moved to Kingston I tried to get work, didn't continue school. It was 'Hey, I'm a big man now, I wanna get a job and want to get into music', so I'm pursuing those two. I tried to get a job, made several applications. 'Oh, we're full up right now', or 'We notify you', like about a year and a half it would be nutten to do. Every now and then I would go paint a house with my brother, and there was this man who actually introduce me to this man named Livingston, or Livingstone I think. He used to build u-road, y'know, the roads. My brother used to work mason, mason work there, and so from one person to another, one person now and this person and so forth, then I got hooked. Then I was doing the office work, man! I would pick up some troubles, y'know. So I did like the first week, I told them "This is not working, I need some elevation". So I start hang around the mason guy and start work for him instead of the company. I start work for him and did curbs or channels like for sidewalks and, y'know, for water an' t'ing like that. So I got the rough part of that too! Like mix concrete, and brought concrete over and he had these forms that he used for the curves, and so forth, and for the walks I had to fashion those. So I told him and I said the same thing that "Man, you know I need to be able to use the showers, those are not working". Well, sometime him would use it with a lickle park, y'know, to finish it up. I remember one evening he said he really had something to do this time, and he left me with some concrete, maybe about seven to eight inch, somet'ing like that, and I was left working on it all by myself. It took me the longest time, because I wanted it to be perfect, and I did get it to a good point. Next morning he come to me say "Oh man, you can take your own job" (laughs)! So I was all proud an' t'ing like that. Shortly after that he left that work an' went on to do something else, with another company, and lend me the job. And so I was doing this job, and you had older guys, so I was kind of the youngest on the scene. But you see, the older guys they had been there for years, man, and they didn't step up, I end up doing a lot of work, and so forth. I don't remember how long I did that, maybe a year and a half.


The Gladiators.

Q: That's tough work. How was the pay?

A: Really tough work, man. The pay was awful! This guy he live uptown making a lot of roads in Kingston, and outside of Kingston. This guy give contract to do (it), so we got little off of it. But it was something to do an' I was kinda my own boss halfway there. I could get there at the time, I know how much work I could do for the day, I get the pay according to the work I do. It was kinda alright for me, in that sense. But the money was bad, yunno. I hardly had anything to carry home, because I always (inaudible) in the back, y'know.

Q: That's one job you certainly don't miss these days!

A: Yeah (laughs)! You got it, you got it! So all this time now there was this group - actually first when I got to town, I met this guy named Neville, and Vin, and we put a little group together named The Brothers. And we sang together, we rehearsed. I remember we went to Duke Reid and we went to Dynamic two times, to Federal. At one time we get at Duke Reid's. I think actually Peter Touch (Tosh) and Gladstone Anderson was doing the audition, and they let us do a song. We got up there and actually The Gladiators was doing a song.

Q: At that same time?

A: At that same day. When we get through the little shop and go upstairs then everybody waiting to record. The Gladiators was doing a song, it was Albert Griffiths, Errol Grandison and Webber - I can't remember his last name.

Q: David? David Webber?

A: David Webber, yes.


Q: What was the song you did for Treasure Isle as The Brothers?

A: I didn't, I didn't - it didn't happen that day. When we went back the next time, Duke Reid was downstairs with two shotgun in his waist and a long gun and there's this lickle smirkle smile on his face, he acted like as if he didn't know us from the others, so we had to start the process all over again. So, we got discouraged (laughs)! We got discouraged and decided to try elsewhere. In the process, that didn't amount to anything, y'know.

Q: How did you find Duke personally?

A: I don't know, I heard stories that he was alright, I heard stories too that he's mean. You know, I didn't get a mean vibe. The vibe I get from him is that he's a kind of tweakin' (?) kind of guy (laughs)! How to put it, Duke was kinda like an actor, he would put on these skill tactics and he would have, like, on the street where his studio were (Bond Street), a youth up on the street, he would have these youths selling drink, soft drinks, all packed up in crates right there on the sidewalk. Nobody steal one - downtown Kingston we are talkin' about, y'know. When you come back tomorrow morning, you don't see one drink. You know, he managed to do that, and I know it attributed to that he probably have some badman friend around there, an' t'ing like that. And back then with him having those guns, then everybody is afraid of him. But he didn't look mean or anything, like in the face or anyt'ing, he looked like this calm lickle guy, y'know. He's not little but you know... pleasant features an' t'ing like that, him is alright. I didn't have - I didn't spend a lot of time with him, so I really don't know.



Clinton Fearon.

Clinton Fearon.

Q: 'Kind appearance', apart from that gun in his waist.

A: Yeah, you know (laughs)!

Q: OK, so this little country boy now living in a hectic place like Kingston - your impressions, didn't you want to leave such an environment, compared to the countryside it must've been a mess, a real mess?

A: Yes, y'know, a part of me was terrified! The behaviours was much different from what I was used to. In the country I was used to people gettin' on and we had our little fights an' t'ing like that, you know kids.

Q: But it's a totally different ballgame in Kingston.

A: Yes, in the country everybody knows everybody an' they don't shoot anybody, an' t'ing like that. You have your fistfights, you and your friend, or with a guy over the next district or you fling stone and hit one another, or whatever an' t'ings like those, y'know. Every now and then in a dance an' t'ing a guy might cut a guy, or something like that, and that would be like a news over the whole district. 'Who so and so cut so and so', y'know, and 'police looking for him', and blah blah blah. But then when I moved to Kingston it's like, y'know, of course there's nice people but there was a harsh, mean tone to a lot of people, and that part was a little bit hard for me to understand. The more time I spent there I developed friendship with a few people an' t'ing like that, then I spent my time most with those people, I tried to ignore the rest. But I have to admit that it was a kind of hard one. Also when I was going to school when I was a youth in the country too, there was this man Ram - a Rastaman named Ram, we call him Ram in the district there. We loved him, everybody know Ram, y'know. Everybody respect Ram, even those who don't agree with him, to grow your hair long an' t'ing like that and so forth, they still respect the guy ca' he respect everybody.

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