There might be a few of you out there who have seen the name Dave Robinson when scanning through lists filled with rare records from the seventies era, the so-called 'golden' period of Jamaican music. Not much is known about this particular singer apart from having minor hits in the late seventies such as 'Chaga Chaga Warrior' and 'Chant To Jah', the latter which he made his debut with in 1975. When Blood & Fire issued a CD with productions from the house of JA Man including Dave's 'My Homeland', it told us about the singer currently residing in the United States and slowly beginning to record again, music that is seeking the 'right' outlet currently. It turned out Dave was a close spar of Dennis Brown from early years in Kingston and later moved along with the Mighty Diamonds recording for the trio's Bad Gong label, of which 'Pay The Price' long has been a favourite spin on my turntable with its 'gentle' and smooth arrangement. 'Chaga Warrior' was also a (Bunny) Diamonds production, his best moment on vinyl so far in my opinion. Like many others, moving to the States meant a slow down to his career and nothing much has been heard from him in the last twenty years, apart from a 12" for Trevor Douglas' Leggo Sounds label circa 1986. Nowadays he is based in New York City and is in the early stage of giving the world the second coming of Dave Robinson, or was it a different name from that one perhaps...? Read on.
Thanks to Dave (for staying in that day in January, '04), Manzie, Steve Barrow, Mr Phillips, and Bob Schoenfeld.

Q: How did you grow up, what's the details? Your background, Dave.

A: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on the 27th of September, 1956, and I grew up in Western Kingston. At the time when I was born my mother was living at Maxfield Park, that's near to Channel One, on Swettenham Road. When I left Swettenham Road I was like about four or five years old. Then we moved to Rollington Town, moved to Rollington Town and spent a few years over there...

Dave Robinson

Q: Where's that? Is that the eastern part of Kingston?

A: Yeah, the east, eastern Kingston. I moved from western to eastern Kingston. I was in Rollington Town a few years and I left, I went to Rockfort. And that's further in Western Kingston, and further Eastern Kingston, in Rennock Lodge, that area, and I was going to Rennock Clarke School. When I left Rennock Lodge I went to Callabar Primary. I go to another private school called Millwalk Prep School, that's before (Boris?) Gardiner was on Duke Street. And a school called New Hope, on North Street and James Street at the top. Also went to Cockburn Pen School - that's a primary. My last school that I went to was Gaynestead High, that's up by Cunningham Drive near to the stadium. I spent like three years at that high school, and from that school that's when I did my first number one song. The producer Harry J - sorry, Dickie Wong - came to me and said, "Dave, I'm having a problem with Dennis singing this song" - which is Dennis Brown, he wrote the song but they were arguing about the money to do it, the money he was asking at the time. Dickie Wong didn't want to pay him that money, and Dickie Wong is the producer of the Tit For Tat label in those days, in the seventies. And that stable was real hot then. They had Al Brown, 'Here I Am Baby', they had 'Shaving Cream' (Fabulous Five), they had 'I Bet You Don't Know' by Dave Robinson, which - when I did it, like three months after they told me that 'Dave, you've got the number one song in New York'. And Ken Williams (a then pretty influential figure, and radio jock, on the NY scene) came to Jamaica and said that he needed me and the Diamonds, to do somet'ing. The chart was like, Dave Robinson in the number one slot, Diamonds in two, three and four, that's the chart, the chart was like that. I was in the number one for eight weeks, and I drop back to seven and then I go back to one. And then after that in the year '76 from when we come, like May, we did like a couple of gigs. Then I went back to Jamaica, and I come again at the end of that summer, I came with the Maytones, did some more concerts in New York City, and I went back to Jamaica. In Jamaica I did some more recordings, then I went to Europe. I went to London with Tyrone Taylor...

Q: Before you go over the history too fast, I would like to know how the music started for you.

A: We were in Orange Street, a place that they call 'Big Yard', on the corner of North Street and Orange Street, close to Dennis Brown, we grow together in the same yard where him and his mother was, grow up with everybody. He grow there, he was going to Central Branch (All Age) School at the time, and we used to rehearse at the back of the yard.

Q: Orange Street was nicknamed 'Beat Street' in those days, right? The music strip.

A: Right, right. As I was saying now, we used to rehearse together and then because I was so close to Dennis Brown we used to wear each others clothes, y'know. He said, "Dave, I'm gonna take you to the studio". So I wrote a song named 'Chant To Jah' and we went to Randy's, that was my first recording.

At Randy's, 17 North Parade, Kingston JA
(Dennis Thompson, Errol Thompson, Clive Chin & Augustus Pablo)

Q: 'Chant To Jah'?

A: Yeah. That was like '73, I think '73 (more likely circa two years after, also released on London's Morpheus label at the time)... And from there I start recording more and more songs, and up to now I think I might have like five albums, but they wasn't completed. The ones that I had and was completed, the producer get killed and all that, y'know.

Q: Who was that?

A: His name was Bird, he sponsored a lot of us up in America, like in '84, y'know. We did some concerts, like he'd bring the Roots Radics, but he died down in Jamaica, like about '89 I think it was, or '88. So I had a lot of unfinished work I was doing, like this one I'm doing now, I make sure that this goes through. And after 'Chant To Jah', as I was saying I started recordin' more one-one songs, people come to me and say they like how I sound. So I started...

Q: Who produced that particular track, 'Chant To Jah'?

A: It was - producer was Dennis Brown, but the musicians was Lloyd Parks, I think it was, and Skully - the earlier musician them, because it was live music then. We record it at Randy's, it was my first recording.

Q: How did you meet Dennis for the first time, it's when your family moved into this yard, where they lived - the Brown family, or you knew him long before that?

A: No. He was living in that yard but we hang out together in Kingston, we grew up when he was like the boy wonder.

Q: In the late sixties, when Dennis recorded for Coxson and travelled with Derrick Harriott around the island, singing with the Falcons and all that.

A: Right, the late sixties, we grew up together like a family, y'know. I was living in that neighbourhood, I was living on Church Street then so I would just walk on North Street. It was Church Street, Love Lane, King Street, Chancery Lane, then Orange Street - 'Beat Street'. I would just walk on North Street, like five blocks, and I would be over there. That's where I hang out, spend all my time over there.

Dennis Brown

Q: Would you recall how you linked with Dennis?

A: In those days he was the boy wonder singin' with Byron Lee, them time I used to go to country with him. But when we grew in the yard, then I was introduced - I knew D. Brown from then, we start hangin' out, we do a lotta rehearsal together. Even a lot of his songs that he did, a lot of the songs that he did, like, I was the only one he could be rehearsin' with. I would be singin' one of his old songs and he would go: 'Oh Dave, you remember that one! Man, I don't remember nutten 'bout that one', y'know. It's the same t'ing with me right now, I sing so many singles I don't remember them all! You know, I could recall a few of them well, like 'Black Man Dance', 'Chant To Jah', and one named 'Pay The Price' I did with the Diamonds. Also 'Black Man Dance' with the back-up vocal was the Mighty Diamonds too, and I did one named 'Rainbow', I did one for Junjo called 'Ruby & Diamond'.

Q: We're getting to this later. For composing, did you get to master the guitar, or you was never taught an instrument at this time to compose with?

A: No. Dennis was trying to show me but the songs I write is like this: I would get the inspiration, which comes from God, right? OK, the inspiration, He puts this in me and when I write and start to sing, it automatically comes with the melody. So it's easy for me to write, just like now I just finished writing two songs. I've been at them but I just rewrite them just now, it was very easy for me. And the music, when I go into the studio, even in those days when I go to the studio, I could just sing to the musicians, that's how they used to do it. You sing it to the musician then they get the key you sing it, and that was it. It was very easy then, they would pick it up and seh, like, 'I bet you don't know that'. For instance, I was number one in New York here, it was an A minor song, like a A minor to a D minor, y'know, and Dennis was telling me, "Dave, that's a A minor D minor". Anytime I wrote a song in A minor D minor, it always hit! But when I recorded it, it's like three months after when Dickie get back to me and said, "Dave, it's going good in New York", and that was it.

Q: Before entering the recording field, you never took part in a group, no experience with a harmony group as such?

A: Yeah, well, at the Big Yard, Peter, at the Big Yard now, is a yard weh all the singers used to hang out. You name it: Delroy Wilson, Horace Andy, all a them used to come there and hang out, and they would have the guitar under the steps, and they would sing. And any time Dennis Brown would start singin' I would join the man. I'm gonna sing this one, he wanna hear a song, on Orange Street, the Beat Street. North Street and Orange Street corner, that's where Dennis grew up. I would say: "Dennis, I want to sing, you wanna hear a song?" And then I had start to write my own lickle songs, y'know, like 'Chant To Jah'. Even with 'Chant To Jah', Dennis Brown did a different version deh called 'Lately Girl' on the same track. Yeah, he did somet'ing on that track too.

Q: So Dennis decided to produce you when he heard that song, 'Chant To Jah', or you asked him to give it a try?

A: Yes, he said that he's going to record me. I did a couple songs for him.

Q: So he produced it and Dickie put it out on his Tit For Tat label, I believe it was on Wong's label?

A: No. That was on the Randy's label, 'Chant To Jah'. Yeah, but 'I Bet You Don't Know' was on the Tit For Tat label, and at that time it was like a bandwagon cut I did for Tit For Tat, in the seventies. They had like 'Shaving Cream', that was a monster hit on the road. I don't remember the singer but it was a big monster hit for the Tit For Tat label. And they had Al Brown, 'Here I Am Baby', that was another big number one. But that stable was doing very well at that time, Tit For Tat on Red Hills Road.

Al Brown

Q: Tell me more about Dickie Wong, the owner for Tit For Tat. He's not that well known outside of Jamaica, but he had quite a few releases on that label, and the club was a popular place as well.

A: Right, I think he lives in Toronto now. He's up in Toronto there.

Q: I believe he was behind the Dickie's Dynamic sound system as well, where U Roy was resident DJ for a time.

A: No, I don't know about his sound, no. I don't know.

Q: But he was behind the famous club on Red Hills Road anyway.

A: Yeah, yeah. The club was Tit For Tat on Red Hills Road, I performed in that club. It was uptown Kingston.

Q: What was the band he used?

A: Skin Flesh & Bones was the name of the band, Sly and Robbie. It was Sly & Robbie, Skin Flesh & Bones...

Q: And Lloyd Parks too.

A: Right.

Q: What was Dickie like?

A: Dickie was a real nice person. He was just straight with his music, he said, "Well, I want this...". They came to my school and got me to do 'I Bet You Don't Know' to put the vocals on, and when I went I was still in high school - I was seventeen I think I was, they came and got me at school and say, "Dave, we need you to come around the corner and such a time we go to King Tubbys, can you go?" I said OK, and I took two cut to be sure. Two cuts of that song, and after the second cut Dickie said, "That's it, I think this one is good enough". And after a couple months it was booming over in New York, I was in the number one slot. Eight weeks.

Q: But you never sang permanently with a harmony group at any point in time anyhow.

A: No, I met the Diamonds after I did 'I Bet You Don't Know' and we toured to New York together, and they said, "Dave, you good yunno, we gonna do some songs with you when we go home", y'know. That's how I start record with the Diamonds.

Q: In '76 the co-operation started?

A: Yes, '76 or '77. 'Chaga Chaga Warrior', that was a hit song in Jamaica which the Diamonds produced, I did that in 1982.

Mighty Diamonds

Q: Must've been earlier, like late seventies. To my ears at least, I would guess circa '77.

A: Eh? No. 'Chaga Warrior' was right there in the 1982 elections, just after election. That song was a song that cool the pace down because it mad what was happening, the political war and all that. And it was long after I did that song when I found out that 'Chaga Warrior' meant tribally, is tribal - fighting against their own brothers, that's what it meant. I found out after I researched, I found out who was the Chaga Warrior. It went to number four on the Top Ten in Jamaica. Yeah, it was in the Top Ten, number four. 'Chaga' means African tribesmen, that fight their own brothers, tribal war, and at the time when I did it that was going on in Jamaica, so it was right there what was happening then. And the people take on to it when it was playing on the radio, that's just after I did the Festival song, that was just after 'Celebrate'.

Q: And 'Celebrate' was done for Dynamic's Jaguar imprint. Who produced it?

A: Yeah, 'Celebrate' was - that was produced by Dean Fraser, that was Dean Fraser and a girl by the name Marcia Widall, she wrote it. And Dean seh, "Well, we're gonna make Dave sing this one, I think Dave would sing it".

Q: When was this, in '82?

A: That was 1982, the festival was 1982. And even though I lost in the competition, the people's protest was in the newspaper that the song that won shouldn't win. His name was - the Astronauts won that year, with 'Mek We Jam' (the temporarily Sam Carty-led group also won in '81 with 'Festival Jam Rock', a record they cut for Roderick 'Blackbeard' Sinclair of Nura label fame), and the people was protestin' and say that that wasn't a song for the children, 'Mek We Jam'. And I had the festival song which was 'Celebrate', its singin' about the festive season and all that. So, they didn't like the song that won.

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