Throughout the 1970s "Black Music" was a popular British music magazine. It was published monthly and featured interviews, record reviews, charts, and columns on popular Jamaican and West African music. The title of this magazine was changed to "Black Music and Jazz Review" in May 1978. Publishing stopped in May 1979, and eventually the publishers were unable to provide back issues. A real pity because interesting pieces of Reggae writing aren't accessible anymore and thus only available for a very small group of collectors. The coverage of Reggae in the "Black Music" magazine benefited most from some of the finest and consistent Reggae journalism courtesy of one man, Carl Gayle. The latter started writing for "Black Music" in 1973 and interviewed many big shots of the time. Here we present Carl Gayle's article on Dennis Alcapone that was published in "Black Music" in 1974.


When a good deejay does his thing the party begins to swing. He compels you to dance, shout and swing as he seeks to communicate his feelings through the emotional fever the background music produces in him. Dennis Alcapone is a genuine deejay. A spontaneous artist who, at his best, makes great reggae music, and who readers null and void the suggestions that this type of sounds retard the development of JA music.

Deejay records did not begin with U Roy and do not end with Big Youth. The roots of deejay music are buried in the excitement of the Ska music era. Those were the days of the dancers, primarily the shufflers. Ska music saw the birth of the deejay. U Roy brought deejay music in the beginning of its prime and nowadays it's accepted, taken for granted. It's even harshly critisized and rejected by some, but we'll come to that.

It began with the popularity of the Jamaican sound systems and their deejays. They would earn their reputation via their ability on the mike. Eventually the deejays themselves became the stars - and their talkover style was captured on disc. Perhaps the first proper deejay tune on disc was Lord Comic's "Ska-ing West" in the mid sixties. Although there were others which preceded it, like "One Eyed Giant" by Baba Brooks (which opened with the question "Hey have you seen the one eyed giant?" then erupted into an exciting upbeat of brass, rhythm and vocal scatting), and the very popular "Lawless Street" by the Soul Brothers (noted for the vocal scat riff all the way through).

In "Ska-ing West" Sir Lord Comic begins: "Adam and Eve went up my sleeve and they never came down until Christmas eve / Come on you cats we're going west..." The rhymes were designed to spur on the dancers who enjoyed the music all the more because they felt the comments were directed specifically at them individually. "OK daddy, we're going west" went Lord Comic.
Early in 1970 U Roy said "Real cool daddy" and dancers felt the same sense of self importance. "Chick a bow, chick a bow... she's got it, she's got it, she's got it..." went his catchphrase in "Wear You To The Ball"... "Do it baby do it..." in "Wake The Town"... "Move brother move, make a move sister move..." in "Rule The Nation". And these three records emphasised his overwhelming popularity by occupying the first three places in both radio charts (RJR and JBC) week after week. Bigger and better records followed like "Your Ace From Space", "Happy Go Lucky Girl", "You'll Never Get Away", the brilliant "Tom Drunk", and "Flashing My Whip".

The year before, King Stitt had appeared fleetingly with very good records like "The Ugly One", "Vigorton Two" and "Fire Corner", but his performances were not sustained and his promise never fulfilled. Besides, he was never as vibrant as U Roy, he only hinted at what was to come.

U Roy was no originator -- as he boasted -- but he was certainly an innovator. Deejay tunes were never like this before. U Roy was immediately infectious, devastatingly fast, intensely exciting. His was a self-induced excitement, his shouting singing and screaming reaching a patch of intensity between '70 and '72 which has never been matched since by himself or anyone else.

In the wake of U Roy came many others, among them the relentless Dennis Alcapone, his only serious rival during his prime. "People didn't really recognise the deejay stuff until U Roy took over," said Dennis. "King Stitt did a good thing with things like "Fire Corner", but it didn't really get off until U Roy came along. I came on the scene about three months after U Roy, then Lizzie came. He used to play Jammy's Hi-Fi and then you had Scotty. But I was in the shadows at that time. I was selling, but... I rate U Roy up to now as the greatest, yeah! I used to go and listen to him and I admired the sounds he put out. He used to play King Tubby's sound system. That was and is the best. It has everything a system should have... But when you sat down and listened to that man (U Roy) playing that sound system, it really blew your mind. The only reason why a Jamaican artist like him don't keep up to expectations is because of exploitation, right? And victimisation. The producers, they're not giving you any money, right? And you keep on doing stuff for them, and making them richer and richer everyday, and you're not getting anywhere. If a man asks you to do a tune you ask for 500 dollars, which is very small, he starts to screw up his face. And if you don't decide to do it, there will be someone else ready to do it for 100 dollars or less. But you can't go on doing things without any reward. And as soon as you stop, the (the producers) spend money on that one and bring him up 'till he becomes very popular."

Dennis Alcapone

Dennis Alcapone
Alcapone's real name is Dennis Smith. He's 28 and from Clarendon, Jamaica. He went to Kingston when he was three and grew up there. Among other schoools he went to Okeh Training College where the headmaster was Warren Kid, who became known in the late fifties for spreading his coat on the ground for Queen Elisabeth to walk on. Dennis' first job was as a welder.

"I did welding and played a sound system in my spare time until I realised that I had to give up welding because the discotheque took up a lot of time. I had to run it. Go round and get things for it, speakers, records, dubs, y'know. The sound system belonged to a friend of mine. We grew up together and we decided we should go into the music business because we really loved it." The sound system was known as El Paso. Dennis' first record, also titled "El Paso", contained the popular catchphrase "A Wah So-El Paso"... "The children really turned on to that sound in Jamaica. Everywhere you went the school children were singing "A Wah So-El Paso"... The sound system was such a success that I didn't even have to start playing... As soon as I touched the needle the place would be full. People came from all over y'know. And at that time you had great sound systems like King Tubby's, Sir Perry and Meritone. I made "El Paso", then "Spanish Omega" and another tune, and I was going under my real name. They sold, but people didn't really catch on to me that good apart from those who knew me at the discotheque."

Dennis' first records were made for producer Keith Hudson while he was still playing the sound system at popular clubs like the VIP and the Sombrero, and at smaller places in the heart of Kingston's residential areas.

"The last place we were playing was a place in Brotherton Avenue, that's where we came from. I left Keith Hudson and went to Coxsone and did a tune called "Nanny Version". There and then I changed my name because I realised that most people knew me as Alcapone from when I was small. I did "Home Version" (originally a popular Ken Boothe hit) and "Power Version" (a version of the Clarendonians' "You Can't Be Happy"). That tune did very well in Jamaica. The treatment financially wasn't so good, so I eased up for a while. I left Coxsone and went down to Bunny Lee. For him I did a version to Delroy Wilson's "Better Must Come" called "It Must Come". Then Duke Reid asked me to do a tune for him which I called "Mosquito One", and I went under the name of El Paso because they all used to call me El Paso too. The song had the sland "el paso" in it too. That slang was so popular! I did it in three tunes, everybody just loved it... But none of those records reached number one because of lack of promotion. Exploitation too. Because the producers out there, when they don't want you to know how good your record's selling, they don't let it reach the top. "Power Version" was a record that sold. When I say sold, it really sold a lot. And it went to number two on both stations and stayed there for quite a while. Actually, at the time, no record was selling like it. And "Teach The Children", you couldn't stop that one. The reason why it went to the top is because I got paid for it as soon as I finished recording it. It wasn't even out yet. And in the space of three weeks it was number one on both radio stations for about four weeks. Then I got a tour to Guyana with the Boris Gardiner Happening."
Back when my greatest preoccupation was with sound systems and their crowds, it was always easy to pick out U Roy's and Alcapone's tunes. For a long time they were the only two we heard from in force. Alcapone's phrases always seemed mediocre and often silly. U Roy's were the hardest to follow. Sometimes, as in "El Paso", "Mosquito One" or "It Must Come", Dennis was great. But even then I and many others tended to resist him on the basis that anyone after U Roy was a second-rate rip-off. Later on U Roy began to appear less frequently and a wave of new deejays came to the fore - if only for one record at a time. By the time Big Youth became fashionable I myself was out of it...


Alcapone has outlived U Roy, even though he hasn't released a record in Jamaica in a year or so. The quality of his most recent singles has outstripped U Roy's for improvisation and sheer excitement. In the wake of I Roy and Big Youth, U Roy found it difficult to make a satisfactory switch from rock steady to reggae/skank rhythms. He found it hard to adjust to the drum and bass syndrome which I Roy and particularly Big Youth used as their vehicle at the height of their popularity. Alcapone has coped in his own inimitable, cheerful, if sometimes self-effacing style which depends too much on the use of nursery rhymes. Alcapone's most popular records in Britain were the initial few - "El Paso", "Mosquito One", "Rub Up A Daughter", "It Must Come", "Guns Don't Argue" and "Teach The Children". The latter was based on a reggae version of "Mr. Big Stuff" called "Sister Big Stuff". It used female backing vocals and had lines like: "Teacher, teacher, I beg you ring the bell / teach the children, teach them how to spell / r-a-t rat, m-a-t mat, c-a-t cat." Nothing hard, you understand. I put it to Dennis:

Q: That was why the record was so popular, right?

A: Yeah it was educational... for the children, you know, because you have a lot of children, they like to listen to music. They will learn the words of a song quicker than learning in school lessons.

Q: That's why you use so many nursery rhymes in your songs?

A: Well, I'm all for the children and that's what they love. You see, back home in Jamaica, sometimes you do a good tune... because I sit down and I hear good tunes done by other artists, and they don't reach anywhere. You have to do something catchy, something that the children will sing along with and than you'll have a seller...

Q: But don't you ever feel a little ridiculous shouting out nursery rhymes in the studio?

A: Well, yeah that is true... (laughs). But I love music y'know and sometimes I say that I'd like to go to a music school and really get myself hip to it the right way, the professional way. I think it's time really and I still have that intention.

Q: How much money did you make on "Teach The Children"?

A: Well you don't get a lot of money in Jamaica. I think that was the second best deal I got. When I did "Spanish Omega" for Keith Hudson he treated me better than most of them. I made about 350 dollars from "Teach The Children", but it was plenty compared to what some producers out there want to give you for a record. It's all exploitation out there.

Q: Do your records still sell well?

A: Not as many as those days. They will sell. But since last October I haven't released a single in Jamaica. I did an LP for Sidney Crooks ("Belch It Off") which was released up here, but not in Jamaica. The last tune I released up there was "Wake Up Jamaica".

Q: Why the break, the fall off in sales?

A: Well that's one thing, but you have to use your head to survive. You can't just keep going to the people like that. You have to take a break and come back with something appealing. I've been doing tunes all along for people without making any bread. So I said I'm gonna take a rest and when I come back it will be for myself,do some producing. Actually Dennis Brown did a tune for me once, but it wasn't a success through lack of promotion. The big promoters even pay the radio stations not to let the small man's tune play on the radio. And if you can't give the radio station people some money they won't play your things. And I don't have the money to pay them...

Q: But don't the radio stations also boycot deejay records because they think they're not good? According to what I've heard many people, musicians and the media, are against deejay music because they believe it retards the quality of Jamaican music.

A: Well that's not really the reason why they don't want to play them. But you see the deejay artists have stopped working for the big producers now and anything the big producers say, the radio stations follow, right! Myself, U Roy and Big Youth, we've decided to do something for ourselves. So they won't make no more bread off us. When they realised that, they started hitting out against our records. And the radio stations start to say they don't want our stuff. But they can't stop it because you do it outside and the people buy it anyway. Still, it would sell more, it would get to the people out in the countryside if it played on the radio.

Q: What about the singers, who also put down the deejay tunes?

A: Well that is true. When the deejays took over the singers didn't have much chance because... you see when U Roy came along there was nothing really coming from the singers at that time. And the rhythm they were using wasn't getting to the people, because at that time the reggae rhythm had just changed from rock steady. The people still loved the rock steady. And the rhythm U Roy worked from was rock steady. The people still wanted it, the dance hall people loved the old rhythm. We, the deejays, thought it was a good idea because when you were doing your thing over that rhythm in the dance hall it's like... the people got wild! They kept asking you to do it, so the best thing was to put it on a record. You just couldn't keep it up on the microphone.

Q: What is your reply then to those people who criticise all deejay records?

A: Well everyone should get a fair chance, right! I agree that deejay records are not of a great standard because we all know that singing is best, right? But take, for instance, soul tunes... you have Americans who talk on records. But they don't lower the standard of American music, everybody lives. But the reason why they were all hitting out at Jamaican deejay records is because they were really killing the singing tunes. People forgot the singers and lived on the deejays.

Q: You were talking about the way the producers treated you, the real deejay artists, financially. They would use whoever they could get at a minimal expense which meant that suddenly there were too many deejay artists and only a handful of genuine ones?

A: Yeah they would use whoever they could get. That is another thing that really messed up the business, because you have good deejays out there in Jamaica. Deejays like U Roy, Big Youth, I Roy ... and Jazzbo doesn't sound too bad. I'll listen to him and there's myself, right? But the others, they are not really deejays. They just do all kinds of rubbish because they can get a little money. But you really have to feel it when your doing deejay music. The good deejays demand the money, the producers don't want to pay it, so they just use anybody. Sometimes the producers themselves talk on it and put it out under a different name. That's what really killed out the business... too many of them. That's why I gave it a rest for a time. It was like you got mixed up in something that was... Everywhere you went you heard some new deejay. Things got really complicated out there.

Dennis Alcapone

Dennis Alcapone
Right up to October of last year the prolific Dennis Alcapone kept pouring out hits like "Jumping Jack", "Horse And Buggy", "Ripe Cherry", "Tell It Like It Is", "Master Key", "Out Of This World", "Swinging Along", "What Did You Say", "Rock To The Beat", "Cassius Clay", "Belch It Off", "DJ's Choice", "Wake Up Jamaica" and more. Unlike most deejays, Dennis' phrases are usually clearly audible - which makes their mediocrity all the more obvious. They rarely preach any sort of philosophy like I Roy's, or talk with any real conviction like Big Youth's. They're merely rhymes, after the U Roy style, but Dennis lacks U Roy's speed of tongue. He usually compensates with nursery rhymes,but notable exceptions were "Master Key", "Out Of This World" and "Cassius Clay", where it didn't matter what he shouted out since the background music was so good and his infectious wailings skipped in and out of the singing perfectly. Dennis was right on top of the world in "Cassius Clay". The timing was excellent, the rhythm a knockout and the deejaying made a lot of sense. Everything synchronised as well as ever before.


Q: Do you write out your lyrics before going into the studio?

A: Well sometimes when I'm playing the sound system I improvise something to the version side of the record there in the dance hall. And I watch the people's reactions. When they keep asking for it then I know I must record it. Like "I Must Come", I just did one cut of that because I already had the idea from inside the dance hall. As soon as it was released it was an instant success... Other tunes now, like I have to cut a tune now and I don't really know the rhythm. I have to listen to it in the studio and then write down some things, especially if I have to go in between the vocals. Or you might be walking along and you hear or see something and you just write it down and build your ideas. I'll tell you... about 95% of the tunes I do were not written down.

Q: What are your immediate plans?

A: Well, I aim to start producing. I will still do some deejaying, but I want to do my own productions. Otherwise there's no money for you. Right now I have a tune out with Delroy Wilson called "In The Village" which I did in June... My next idea on record is to preach the word of God. So I'll be coming definitely from Revelations on record. And I'll be doing some psalms.




Dennis Alcapone - El Paso Dennis Alcapone, Winston Reedy & Top Cats - Love Is Not A Gamble Dennis Alcapone - Medley Dennis Alcapone - Riddle Like This Dennis Alcapone, Winston Reedy & Top Cats - Ripe Cherry



Selected UK Discography, Singles 1970 to 1977.

Ackee ACK-114A Happy Go Lucky Girl 1970
Banana BA-323B Creation Version 1970
Banana BA-324A Nanny Version 1970
Camel CA-56A Everybody Bawlin 1970
Camel CA-56B Mr Brown 1970
Smash SMA-2311B Red Bum Ball Version 1970
Punch PH-36B Ball Of Confusion 1970
Supreme SUP-214A You Must Believe Me 1970
Banana BA-326A Home Version 1971
Banana BA-327A Universal Love 1971
Banana BA-328A Duppy Serenade 1971
Banana BA-335B Love Me Version 1971
Banana BA-341A Forever Version 1971
Banana BA-341B I Don't Want To See You Cry 1971
Big Shot BI-565A Shades Of Hudson 1971
Big Shot BI-565B Spanish Amigo 1971
Big Shot BI-572A Out De Light Baby 1971
Big Shot BI-572B Mosquito One 1971
Camel CA-72B It Must Come 1971
Camel CA-74A This A Butter 1971
Duke DU-125A Medley Version 1971
Duke DU-125B Medley Version Two 1971
Dynamic DYN-421A Horse And Buggy 1971
Dynamic DYN-422A Ripe Cherry 1971
Dynamic DYN-427A Alcapone's Guns Don't Bark 1971
Dynamic DYN-427B Alcapone's Guns Don't Bark Version 1971
Explosion EX-2039A Revelation Version 1971
Explosion EX-2039B Marka Version 1971
G.G. GG-4526A King Of Kings (aka King Of Glory) 1971
Jackpot JP-773A Jumping Jack 1971
Jackpot JP-773B King Of The Track 1971
Jackpot JP-775A Togetherness 1971
Jackpot JP-776A Tell It Like It Is 1971
Jackpot JP-776B Come Along 1971
Prince Buster PB-7B It Mash Up Version 1971
Prince Buster PB-8A Sons Of Zion 1971
Prince Buster PB-12A Let It Roll (& Max Romeo) 1971
Punch PH-61A Mosquito One 1971
Punch PH-61B Out De Light 1971
Tropical AL-003A False Prophet 1971
Upsetter US-373A Well Dread 1971
Upsetter US-377A Alpha And Omega 1971
Ackee ACK-146A Power Version 1972
Attack ATT-8027A Fine Style 1972
Downtown DT-496A Swinging Along 1972
Dynamic DYN-435B Go Johnny Go 1972
Duke DU-131A The Sky's The Limit 1972
Duke DU-131B The Sky's The Limit Version 1972
Duke DU-147A Get In The Groove 1972
Duke Reid DR-2520A Rock To The Beat (aka Number One Station) 1972
Duke Reid DR-2520B Love Is Not A Gamble 1972
G.G. Records GG-4538A Musical Alphabet 1972
Grape GR-3035A Rasta Dub 1972
Green Door GD-4041A Rub Up A Daughter 1972
Prince Buster PB-12A Let It Roll 1972
Prince Buster PB-24A Giant 1972
Prince Buster PB-51A Dub Machine (& Lloyd Young) 1972
Prince Buster PB-51B Kings And Castles 1972
Techniques TE-918A Look Into Yourself 1972
Treasure Isle TI-7069A The Great Woggie 1972
Treasure Isle TI-7071A Judgement Day (& Hopeton Lewis) 1972
Tropical AL-019A Worldwide Love 1972
Upsetter US-381A Wonderman (aka Jah Rastafari) 1972
Upsetter US-381B Place Called Africa (aka Africa Stand Verse 5) 1972
Upsetter US-388A Master Key 1972
Upsetter US-389A Back Biter 1972
Bread BR-1121A Musical Liquidator 1973
Bread BR-1121B Lorna Banana (& Prince Jazzbo) 1973
Downtown DT-508A You Don't Say (aka What Did You Say) 1973
Jackpot JP-8 Cassius Clay 1973
Lord Koos KOO-21A Big Bad Boy Version 1973
Pyramid PYR-7008A Belch It Off 1973
Pyramid PYR-7008B Jack Korner 1973
Treasure Isle TI-7074A Wake Up Jamaica 1973
Harry J HJ-6666A Sorry Harry 1974
Harry J HJ-6666B Party Time 1974
Ethnic LP ETHS-113 Rock Your Back 1974
Lord Koos KOO-021A Big Bad Boy Version 1974
Ethnic Fight EF-082A The Bounce 1975
Jamatel JAL-012A Fattie Pum Pum (& The Third World All Stars) 1975
Jamatel JAL-012B Fattie Pum Pum Version (& The Third World All Stars) 1975
Magnet MA-059A Muhammad Ali 1975
Magnet MA-059B Knock Out Punch 1975
Trans Universal 12" TUR-001A Truths And Rights (& The Star Keys) 1975
Jamatel Epsom Derby 1976
Jamatel 12" JADIS-1B Epsom Derby 1976
Third World TW-037A The Answer To My Commandment 1976

LPs:
Studio One LP Forever Version 1971
Trojan LP TBL-175 Version Galore Volume 2 (& U Roy) 1972
Trojan LP TBL-187 Guns Don't Argue 1972
Magnet MGT-001 King Of The Track 1973
Trojan TRLS-74 Soul To Soul - D.J.s Choice (& Lizzy) 1973
Attack ATLP-1005 Belch It Off 1974
Live And Love LP LALP 104 Dread Capone 1975
Third World LP TWLP-801 Six Million Dollar Man 1977
Third World LP TWLP-911 Investigator Rock 1977

CDs:
Heartbeat CD CDHB 3505 Forever Version 1991
RAS CD RAS 3221 Universal Rockers (aka Six Million Dollar Man) 1992
Jamaican Gold CD JMC 200.115 Guns Don't Argue 1993
Jamaican Gold CD JMC 200.225 Musical Liquidator (aka King Of The Track) 1995
Small Axe People CD Just Version (& Small Axe People) 2005

Compilations:
Trojan LP TRLS 272 My Voice Is Insured For Half A Million Dollars 1989
Jet Star CD The Good Old Days Of The 70ís (& Jah Lloyd) 1998
Trojan CD CDTRL 272 My Voice Is Insured For Half A Million Dollars 2000
Brooke CD BROOK 1018 Wake Up Jamaica 2005
      


      


      


      


      





Interview by Carl Gayle / Discography by Laurence Cane-Honeysett