There has long been a fascination with singers at a child stage in worldwide popular music, Jamaica is no different. Delroy Wilson springs to mind first and foremost, no doubt the biggest child star the island has ever seen. Errol Dunkley was another teen sensation back in the mid sixties. Dunkley was to become one of the most prolific hit-machines on the island with recordings for the late Joe Gibbs and Bunny Lee, before teaming up with Gregory Isaacs to form the African Museum label. Later he was to score a huge pop hit with a cover of John Holt's 'OK Fred' in 1979. Dunkley's catalog is huge as well and there's enough vintage material for at least a dozen CD anthologies, or so it may seem at least. My thanks to Errol, West Indian Social Club (Hartford, CT), Carlton Hines, David Corio, Tim P, Dave Katz, and Donovan Phillips.

Q: You started quite early, musically speaking, at around eleven years of age. How did it come about, did your parents send you for a talent contest or a neigbour knew the folks at a studio, or what?

A: OK. Well, I'm born in West Kingston, Jamaica. I grew up in the city, in the western part of Kingston. I attend Kingston Secondary School, Warren Hall High School. I first started recording for Prince Buster.

Q: A tune called 'My Queen'.

A: Yes.

Q: When was it?

A: 1962.

Q: As early as '62? So that was ska.

A: Yeah, the tail end of ska, of when I start, y'know.

Q: How did it happen in that time?

A: Well, I grew up with another kid called Junior English. He migrated to England like '64. Well, he was a kid that used to like singin' so we would often meet by my gate where I was living in Kingston, West Kingston, Jones Town. He would like - he's a singer too, y'know wha' I mean, he was just like a lot of other guys, teenage guys who was singin' too. But then Junior and I get together and say that we're gonna form our group. So Junior and I start practicin', then we went to see Prince Buster.

Q: Did you call the group something?

A: Well, we didn't have a name (laughs)! We didn't have a group name, but Prince Buster called us School Boys. But when we start, we recorded a song called 'Face Gone', 'My Queen'. Then Junior's parents took him to England, Junior migrated to England, and I continued singin' on my own.

Q: Junior, he cut a few albums for the Burning Sounds label in the 1970's.

A: Yeah. Then after, I didn't have any real success with Prince Buster.

Prince Buster

Junior English
(Photo: Peter Duncan Campbell)

Q: How come?

A: I don't know. (Chuckles) We didn't have any real success. Then I started recording for Joe Gibbs.

Q: But you had a couple of years in-between of the recordings for Buster and then Gibbs, a gap there?

A: Yeah, I started singin' for Joe Gibbs when the beat change. In that time when the beat change that was like '66 or '67. I had a song called 'You're Gonna Need Me', that was my first big song. I was like thirteen at the time, still in school.

Q: So you came like another Delroy, a new Delroy Wilson at that point.

A: Yeah, Delroy was the first kid at the time.

Q: Jamaica's first real child star, like.

A: Yeah, Delroy was my influence, y'know wha' I'm saying. He was, yeah. But he was a bigger kid than I was anyhow, at the time when I started. The beat had just changed to rock steady and I had three big songs with Joe Gibbs: 'You're Gonna Need Me', 'Please Stop Your Lying, Girl', and 'I'm Going Home'.

Q: Did you see the album that was put out a couple of years back? It collected most of your work for him at that period.

A: Yeah, but those songs was some songs... I know the album, those songs was some songs that was never released.

Q: But there was an album ready at that time?

A: Yeah, I did a lot of recording, but these recordings wasn't an album idea, it was just recording sessions. And he would come for me at school and take me to the studio and I would sing a song, next time I wrote another song, and like that. He would give me songs to sing too.

Q: Gibbs, a young upcoming producer at that time.

A: Joe Gibbs? He was a big, big, big man at the time, man (chuckles). I was the kid. It was Bunny Lee who took me to Joe Gibbs. Joe Gibbs had just started in the business, too, and his first artist was Roy Shirley.

Joe Gibbs

Q: Yes, yes.

A: A song called 'Hold Them'. Then I was next, then the Pioneer(s) came along and there was quite another few artists. Junior Byles, he was with a group called... the name again...?

Q: The Versatiles.

A: Versatiles! Yeah, you know it (chuckles). Then I grew up, y'know what I mean, and I started... Joe Gibbs and I fell out and I went to Studio One. I did a lot of songs at Studio One. I never had any great success.

Q: You cut songs like 'Get Up Now' for Coxson.

A: Yes (chuckles). There's a lot of songs that I did at Studio One that was never released.

Q: True, and among them was, possibly, the first cut of 'Black Cinderella'. Coxson put it out about fifteen years ago, if not more.

A: Aha.

Q: Was that a song... I mean, you did that one for someone else later on, but...

A: No, that one was licensed to Studio One.

Q: I see.

A: Yeah, it was a big song, that was my big one - one of my big songs. When I started I did a lot of hit songs. 'Cause I start workin' for Studio One, then I never had any success at Studio One, I started workin' for Rupie Edwards, Success Record. I did a self-production.

Q: Was that the 'Three In One'?

A: No, the 'Three In One' I did was all my three hit songs that I had for Joe Gibbs. At the time there was a medley t'ing going on, a lot of artists who had hit songs were doing them in medley style; Ken Boothe did, BB Seaton did, a lot of other artists did, I think Roy Shirley did too. And I did, and that was a success for that song, the 'Three In One' medley. Then I did another song, 'Darling Ooh (Your Love Is Amazing)'. I recorded that song for myself, but because I was inexperienced of puttin' out songs, I licensed it to Rupie Edwards on the Success label.

Q: But of course he put 'produced by Rupie' on the label.

A: (Laughs) Yes, I produced that song. Rupie Edwards don't know one thing about producin' that song.

Q: Who backed you on that?

A: Well, I was using The Wailers, Family Man. At this time they wasn't - that time they wasn't 'Wailers' yet, they were just Reggae Boys. You know, Family Man Barrett and his brother, Carlton on drums.

Q: They played with the Hippy Boys band at that time?

A: (Chuckles) Same group, yeah. 'Cause they were recording for Bunny Lee, that's how I get to know them.

Q: And Bunny was the connection? Did you know Bunny Lee from where you grew up too?

A: Yeah, Bunny Lee is from Greenwich Farm, it's still West Kingston but the city. I lived like on the outskirt.

Errol Dunkley

Q: How did you bump into him, or vice versa?

A: Well, he was the one that took me to see Joe Gibbs. I bumped into him at Federal... West Indies Studio (WIRL), which is called Dynamic now. At that time it was called West Indies Studio. And the club I joined was a four-age club, so I had a letter for an audition and (chuckles)... at West Indies Studio, so when I went there to do the audition I saw Bunny Lee at the gate. So he recognised me from when I had those songs, y'know, 'cause I had hit songs, then things go bad, y'know wha' I mean? And I was still singin', strugglin' same way, and my club gave me a letter now so Bunny Lee remembered me from Prince Buster. So he told me about Joe Gibbs, this man who just come in the business and lookin' artists, so he took me there and I start singin' for Joe Gibbs. And I had all these three successful songs. But then, I tell you that I was workin' for Rupie, with Rupie Edwards, and I gave him two hit songs.

Q: In about '69?

A: Yeh, then Gregory (Isaacs) team up, 'cause it was Gregory who took me to Rupie Edwards, 'cause Gregory was singin' for Rupie Edwards.

Q: Was he singin' with that group The Concords at that time?

A: Who, Gregory? I don't know... No, he was singin' on his own, yeah, when I first met him. He was with Rupie Edwards, so Rupie told him to bring me to do some recording for him. Gregory took me there and I did the 'Three In One' medley. Then I do... Gregory and I team up and we did 'Movie Star'.

Gregory Isaacs

Q: That's when you founded the African Museum label together?

A: Yeah. Gregory and I, we formed the African Museum label and we did, as I said, 'Movie Star'... We did two songs on that session; I did one and Gregory did one. Gregory's was 'Look Before You Leap', but it wasn't a big song but it was a good song anyhow. But the 'Movie Star' was a big, big song. We pressed that song ourselves.

Q: How come you both, pretty young at the time, that you set out to produce independently? It's so much more of a struggle to carry it on your own shoulders, at that level.

A: Yeah, but you see, at the time we wasn't gettin' any justice from the producers. So we decided we're gonna do our own thing. Either we license it to a producer or we press it and put it out ourselves. So that's what we did.

Q: You got a lot of support by the local sounds?

A: Yeah, yeah. Because at the time we had a lot of jukebox, and jukebox people would buy a lot of records. They would buy all a thousand of 'Movie Star', 'cause one man will have a thousand jukebox all over the country, some man have five-hundred, some have three. So our record was selling, it's not like now (chuckles).

Q: (Chuckles) I know what you mean.

A: Yeah, 'cause we sold quietly over sixty thousand of 'Movie Star' at that time (chuckles). Then after 'Movie Star' Gregory and I went back in the studio and I did 'The Love Is Amazing' - 'Darling Ooh (Your Love Is Amazing)', and I licensed it to Rupie Edwards. Yeah, that was a success. And Gregory did a song on the same session called 'My Only Lover'. Then he and I kinda split up.

Q: Had you set up the shop too, or you only had the label together?

A: No, we had an office on Orange Street, it wasn't a shop. It was just an office where we have like a distribution center. Like, where we had our stock and distribute our records from.

Q: Why did you split up?

A: Well...

Q: You just had to focus more on yourself at that point.

A: Yeah, you understan'. So I went in the studio and I did a song called - no, I recorded a song, 'Black Cinderella' for this producer called Jimmy Radway.

Q: 'One Foot Jimmy'.

A: Yeah, 'One Foot Jimmy'. He wrote the song, he wrote 'Black Cinderella', but he wrote it like a poem. So I had was to add additional lines to it, yunno, like to get the musical measures right - 'four beats to the bar' t'ing. So I had was to fix up the song and we did it, and it was a big, big, big song. (Chuckles) At the time I had three big song after the 'Three In One' medley: 'Your Love Is Amazing', 'Movie Star', and 'Cinderella'. Then I did another recording for myself called 'You'll Never Know', which I licensed to Sonia Pottinger.

Q: Which became the album eventually, 'Darling Ooh'?

A: Yes. And I did another - there was two songs on the album that I produced and licensed to her, 'Ooh Wee Baby I Love You' and 'You'll Never Know'. That was my first album.

Q: That album is now regarded as something of a masterpiece, a standout from the early reggae era, even today.

A: Yeah, my very first album.

Q: Released in '72.

A: Yes. Then I did some recordings for Bunny Lee.

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