One of the most consistent hitmakers in Jamaican music must be the one and only, Derrick Morgan. He came up at a time when there was no such thing as an 'established' music industry on the island - he was part in shaping it from the very foundation with people like Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker, childhood friend Eric 'Monty' Morris, Owen Gray, Jackie Edwards, Laurel Aitken, and many others. He had that special something which appealed to the common Jamaican that kept him in the public spotlight for many, many years, longer than most, even though his career slowed down sometime in the late seventies. But he has since made his way back and is a popular live act again among the so called 'skinhead' and revival crowd. My thanks to Derrick, Trish (Roots Rockers Promotions), Donovan Phillips, David Corio, Carlton Hines, and Steve Barrow.

Q: You're born in Mocho, that's in Clarendon?

A: I was born in a parish named Clarendon, a district they call Mocho on a settlement named Stratton. That's in Jamaica.

Q: You didn't stay there for too long, soon you moved down to Kingston.

A: Yeah. I moved to Kingston about age three because we found out I was suffering from night blindness, so I went to Kingston with my mom. When I become a big man and travel I get to find out the right name for it, retina pigmentosis, y'know. It is a common eye disease but I don't know anyone from my relatives coming down from my ancestors who really have it though.

Q: Your father was a deacon, he taught you the rudiments how to sing, didn't he?

A: My father was a deacon, he didn't taught me to sing but he was a great singer, and my mother had a strong voice and sang in the choir. We used to sing in church a lot.

Q: So what made you approach it, that you wanted to develop it a bit more?

A: Well, when I was about those age about three going five, I used to sit at the house in Mocho there and make my own song. I used to make a song off... they have a lickle bug whe 'ave light in the eye, and every night we used to go around and light up the place - they call it peenie-wallie. It was there I was with my mom and my grandmother and I was doing songs off it. So me start doing it at that age, you understan'. So when I was in school now, I sing about from eleven, they used to have a concert every Friday, and that really taught me to sing proper. After school I could not take the work I liked, I used to like a job they call stenography, which is book-keeping.

Q: Right.

A: Yes, and I couldn't take it, so after that now I decide to try singin'. I heard of this that they were taking audition, that was at Vere John's. So what I did was - 'Monty' Morris and myself, we lived in the same yard...

Derrick Morgan

Q: In Allman Town.

A: Yes, he and I were living in the same yard, it was a big tenament yard. Alright, and we heard of Vere Johns having a competition called 'Opportunity Hour', so what I did was to do songs that were popular, like I did Little Richard songs, I performed with those... and we go down there and get the audition, and on the night of the competition I came first. Bim & Bam took me up and said I was number one in the competition. And they had a show which travelled around the island, and they took me around with them, so it really started my singin' officially in the public at the age of seventeen. And going on and on an' going aroun' and singin' like Little Richard...

Q: Impersonating him, right.

A: Yeah, and somebody told me after the tour about Duke Reid the Trojan, he had audition for recording. So I went there, I did two songs that I wrote, I did 'Lover Boy' and 'Oh My Lovely Darling' and there, I recorded them. Those two songs I did for Duke Reid.

Q: How did you find him, he was on Bond Street even then? How was Duke gathering his artists, he was taking auditions in his store at the time?

A: How I find Duke? He was on Bond Street at Charles Street corner, someone tell me about him and they tell me where to go, and that's how I get to find him. Ca' when I go aroun' to Charles Street and I do find him an' he took me, everything was right.

Q: And Mr Reid himself?

A: Oh, what do I like about him?

Q: Yes.

A: Well to me Duke was a nice man, he was a man... he was jus' a stern man, him nice. When I go in for recording, we audition for him, and I said "Good morning". An' I heard he lookin' an' him say "Oh, can you sing?", an' me say yeah, so him say "Well, sing". 'So well, sing', that's the type of man, just tell me to sing right away. Like he was a liquor store man, and while he's selling he was listening to me too. So he say OK, do another one and do another one, and he say yes, you can come to the radio station for rehearsal. You know, he was just an outstanding... outspoken man, very good man. Nice man to deal with. Straight-forward and demanding. He had his guns at his side an' you know, he was an ex-policeman. So when he's in the studio and the musicians are not playing what they do, like the drummer not sounding good, he take away the sticks in the middle of the session and start clapping the sticks his way so he'd sound good. He was a very good producer, because he tell the musician what he wanted. He didn't allow the musician to just want to play music as they'd like, they have to play what he want. That was very good.

Q: A rough man, but I guess he had to be.

A: Yeah, the reputation of being rough is not just... He could be pretty rough and fire his gun and, y'know, run his jokes, but they don't mean nutten.

Q: Didn't it scare you off a bit?

A: Yeah, once it scared me, because... after I start recording for him for a while an' I left him an' go away, he sent some men for me, y'know, hard men - it was some badman who used to hang out at his place, an' them demand me to come back to him. I came back to him an' start recording for him again. After that he put on a studio at his shop, which you might've heard about, so his studio is like... And I recorded 'Wet Dream' - that's the Max Romeo riddim, 'Hold You Jack'. I recorded 'Hold You Jack' and 'Shower of Rain', I do a lot of songs at his studio - but not under his production, under Bunny Lee's production. Yeah.

Q: What was it like growing up in Kingston during the forties and fifties as you recall it now?

A: Yeah, growing up in Kingston in the fifties was very nice, y'know, you had one or two men who would like to pretend that they are bad men or... you know? But we never mixed with them, so we had nutten to do with it. But we could walk anywhere we wanna go, any time of night and throughout the day. So we didn't have much trouble in the early days. When they come and take you to the shows, people come up and you talk, everybody... you know? No problem. Different now from the late sixties time, it was different. Big change, y'know. But we didn't use to have guns an' t'ings in the early part, yunno, policemen never walked with guns, only battons. Batton they used to walk with. So it was a lotta changes going up.

Q: Times will change, but not necessarily for the better.

A: Well, cycles you know, what you say 'the now generation' and the generation change. An' in my young days I couldn't whistle on the road, because if I whistle past any elder, older person, they could hold me an' give me a flogging for that. You understan'? Now, I couldn't wake up in the morning and see someone out there an' them say 'good morning', anybody passing don't pay you no mind. It's a far different thing, from a more trained manner in the earlier days than it is now.

Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan

Q: So you lived with Monty in the same yard back in those days, Eric Morris, that's how you met.

A: In the same tenament yard in the early days, young, the two of us grow up in that yard. And we become friends, and we would sit down with friends and sing. The both of us liked to sit around old cars, beat them like drums an' sing. And we used to go to the old street, Deeside, and the two of us would push our head up in a hole and hold a harmony up in there and mek it sound trembling and mek it sound nice. So that was Monty and myself, it was nice growing up. And after a while, we decide... He and I - I beat him in the Vere John show, and I start record and leave him alone now. But when I start record with Smith, which is Lickle Wonder...

Q: Hi-Lite.

A: Hi-Lite. I took him with me and we recorded a song called 'Now We Know' and 'Nights Are Lonely', and that become a number one seller for us again, after I had '(Hey You) Fat Man', it was the first number one seller. Then the one with Monty and I become a number one seller also. And that's how I met Monty, and he and I go a far way up 'til now. Then Monty seckle down and start doing mostly nursery rhyme songs, and they were big hits for him. Yeah. But right now we would like to have Monty on tours, but I don't know what happen. I haven't met up with him, if him never want it or I don't know if him don't want to move or something. But it would be nice to have him around doing the work on stage, because he has the songs an' he's very good at dancing.

Q: What sound systems did you follow in those days?

A: I used to follow a sound called V Rocket, V Rocket sound system. Duke Reid, Coxsone and (King) Edwards was the three big sound. Big sounds, whe yu call big sound... it would tremble the whole worl' when they were playing. But the sound that I follow, V Rocket, was a hi-fi sound. They used to play at parties, when they played they play for, y'know, selected parties. I used to follow those sound. They played different from Coxson, Duke and Edwards and (Count) Bells The President, those people play different.

Q: And the main difference?

A: Heavy duty. T'ings like these it look like, when you stan' up sometime an' Duke is playing an' dropping all two Derrick Morgan, you really heard about it. Or Coxson, I used to do a recording with Coxson called 'Leave Earth', an' he would draw that an' put them among Hi-Lite an' Derrick Morgan, an' play other songs. You know, it's nice listening then beca' you 'ave crowd a people following those sets. But the one I follow now is like I say, selected parties, like house parties an' so on, and I like to go to them places where you can hold onto a girl an' dance, but with Duke Reid and Coxson you jus' stand up outside an' listen the deep bass and drum, y'know? I used to follow those lickle sets. Ca' I'm a lover bwoy, I'm a girls man! I love girls, yunno. Yeah.

Q: What type of music did you listen to the most at this time?

A: I listen - well, in the young days I listen the rock'n'roll songs, like Fats Domino or I listen to Little Richard, Smiley Lewis, y'know, mostly rock'n'roll and Rhythm & Blues. I listen to man like Professor Longhair, Roscoe Gordon an' those kind of things. Shirley & Lee, I loved Shirley & Lee. I used to listen to Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, I listened to Jerry Butler. I listen to him a lot, he was my favorite. And there was so many nice songs to listen to in those days.

Q: And Presley of course.

A: Elvis, yes! Elvis was my man. You know, I liked to follow his shows too, I used to go up and view the Elvis Presley shows.

Derrick Morgan

Derrick Morgan (Photo: David Corio)
Q: The band backing you up on the 'Fat Man' song for Hi-Lite, this was a band led by someone called Trenton Spence. Who was this guy, if you could tell me more? An overlooked musician.

A: Yes. It was more like a calypso band, never really a reggae band if you listen to the style of 'Fat Man', it was more a rolling type of beat. You know, that was the type of song. And he was a man, Trenton Spence, he was very nice, he was an alto player. He played the alto and he used to play around in clubs in them days. He was a very good man. I loved that band.

Q: What became of them later on?

A: Died. Yeah, they all pass.

Q: Old at that stage, seasoned guys.

A: Big names, they were big in my days. You know, they pass.

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