The following is probably the most comprehensive interview ever done with Earl Sixteen. At the same time, it is probably one of the best "hard-core in-depth" style of interviews ever done with a reggae artist. The interview with Earl Sixteen took place in the Autumn of 1992 in London UK. The original can be found in the (out of print) "More Axe 8: Mud Cannot Settle Without Water".

RH = Ray Hurford
DK = Dave Katz
ED = Earl "Sixteen" Daley

RH: How did Earl Sixteen get into the music business?

ED: Basically, I started out on the street corner, under the light post, with all the boys, hanging out at night. I started out at Waltham Park Road, where I grew up, in Kingston, Jamaica. At the age of about 13, I started getting into like, Chi-Lites music, 'cause in Jamaica we've got a big influence of American music. I kind of started to listen to a lot of soul American stuff, James Brown music, and all this and all that. Usually, after like doing my... 'cause you know, I lived with my Auntie at the time. On Saturdays, I used to turn up the radio and do my housework, and listen to the radio, and in the nights, when we get out on the streets, sometimes I'd be singing, "Trash man didn't get no trash today," like "People Makes the World Go Round". The guys kind of liked how my voice kind of sounded, 'cause I used to try to sing exactly like the actual records. In those days, the good old days, everybody was into singing like Dennis Brown. Dennis Brown at that time was like one of the most influential artists, he was really progressive at that time, he was young still. All the school boys and kids who liked music, we used to like always try to pack on Dennis Brown, because he's like a role model for us. So I kind of started out with that, but I was more like singing falsetto, like Pavarotti kind of stuff. Afterwards, after that, they had Vere Johns, talent contests going on in night clubs around Kingston. There was one at the Turntable Club, there was one at the Vere Johns, and there was one at the Bohemia Club, which was closer to me in Half Way Tree.

Earl Sixteen

One of the guys who used to hang out with us, Donald Hossack, he used to teach music like keyboards, piano. He encouraged me to enter one of the talent contests. During that time I was still going to Church and singing now and again on the choir, and I started doing solo stuff, out from the choir, just singing songs all on my own, because I had this really unique kind of voice and all the people liked my voice. I was in the Church, but I wanted to get involved in some of the Chi-Lites stuff, some of the soul stuff, because the parties were happening, you get the girls and all that. I went to try and get an audition for the talent contest; I was about 14, 15 then, still going to high school. When I went and did the auditions, it turned out that I got picked in the audition, then went to the heats and I reached up to the finals. In this final, there was like Michael Rose, Junior Moore from the Tamlins, there was myself, there was a girl called Joy White, she's brilliant, I still love her, and there was another girl, I think it was Sabrina Williams. There was about six of us in the final, that's a big night. Anyway, I kind of scraped through, I was biting my nails, but I made sure that I did my homework. I practised this tune 24 hours a day, "Peek a Boo," one by the Chi-Lites, it was a big song in Jamaica so a lot of people knew it. When I did it, I ended up winning the 25 dollars (on) boxing day, I was too small to drink the beers so I had to give them all away (laughs), but after that I started getting the buzz, I started getting addicted to it. I like how the crowd cheers me, so when I left high school, I passed my exams, and I was meant to go to Commercial High School, which is like a college, St. Andrew Technical. I started going there, but I was really involved in the music, I wanted to form a group. I actually had formed a group called the Flaming Phonics. We were doing school barbecues, school fetes, playing in auditoriums around the country, like Calabar, mainly the high schools, Holy Child Girl's School.

The Flaming Phonics consisted of Paul Powell, second from me, he did baritone. Then there was Kenneth Hamilton, who did a semi-baritone, and then there was a brethren called Alan Polack who is the spitting image of Roy Cousins, he's got thick lensed glasses and all that, he was a brilliant falsetto. His falsetto was much higher than mine, a bit like Derrick Lara, really high pitched and good. We had that group really sowed up, we were doing a lot of shows. We ended up working with Big Youth, because these were the top groups at the time, Mighty Diamonds, Burning Spear before he had locks, and Dennis Brown. We used to do a lot of shows around the country. What happened now, we didn't really actually get into recording, we couldn't get it right, the recording stuff. I was going to school, Kenneth was going to school as well, and Polak was working, and Paul is like the odd one out. After doing a couple of shows and that, I dropped out of high school, because this was it, I wanted to be a star. My mum kicked me out, so I was on my own. I goes, let's go and try to get a recording done. I remember us going to work with Duke Reid in the early stages, before I left school. We tried, Sundays was audition days at Treasure Isle, we went down there, Duke kind of liked one of the songs. We tried to start recording, and Duke started letting off gun shots, and me and the rest of the guys got kind of worried. We laid the rhythm track, but we didn't get 'round to voicing it, because we didn't want to go back to voice it. We ended up working with Herman Chin-Loy from Aquarius Records. We did that "Hey Baby" track I think that was the first recording that I actually did as a solo, as an individual; that was like one of the first recordings I did with a group and then. Jamaica wasn't really ready for that, they wasn't really ready for four guys like a Four Tops kind of thing, they were into U Roy stuff and King Stitt. We kind of split up, Paul went away, Polak went to America, so I went solo. But just before I went solo, we did a show once, Flaming Phonics, Tyrone Taylor was on the package, Burning Spear, and Boris Gardiner, we did a show in Spanish Town. Boris Gardiner kind of wanted, he was looking for a lead singer for the band, because Tinga Stewart won the festival that year, which was '74, and he was planning to leave to do some shows in Canada for the Jamaican Culture Department, they had festivals they had to go away to. Boris was really impressed with my lead singing with the group, so after that show, he said to me, "Would you be interested in..." The group was kind of faltering at that time anyway, we were getting a bit on each other's nerves, so I jumped at the idea of getting involved in working with a road band, getting on the road, I really wanted to do that. With Boris now, I started going up to Boris, to do my little auditions, Tinga Stewart gave me a few tips, and it was really strenuous. You had to do all the current songs in the charts. You had to do the Calypsos, the Soul, the Reggae, because a road band is like cabaret stuff. I really like it though because Boris was a proper musician who could write the lyrics, write the music for the piano the drums, the bass, the guitar... I was really impressed with him, and I kind of fell in love with the whole scene, the instruments, equipment, and I suppose he kind of liked the way I ...

Boris Gardiner

Errol "Bagga" Walker

Earl Sixteen

I was living in the ghetto at the time. Boris was kind of middle class. So I used to go up there every day, go up to rehearsals. I was staying with my Aunt at the time, and then she started locking me out, I had to sleep around the back sometimes in the fowl coop, but at the end of the day, I was happy doing it. When I started, like '75, Boris goes, "All right, good. You sound as if you're ready now. We're going to Canada for 3 months." I just went with Boris. There was me, Boris Gardiner, Errol Walker, who was like the 3 main singers, apart from Keith Sterling who was playing keyboards, we had Willie Lindo on guitar, and we had Paul Douglas on drums and Arkus Bella (?) playing lead, and that was a band. I tell you, that was some of the best time, I was so thrilled being involved and these guys were like stalwart musicians. Scratch used to come up to book them to do studio sessions, they were like regular session musicians as well. I was like a star, I'd made it. But, with Boris now, I started getting influenced into going into the Rastafarianism. Boris was playing some of the major balls, we used to do when the government had campaigns and we used to open, play the music, like big politic stuff, it was really getting political, and we used to do Nurse's ball, like police, officer's ball, so Boris wanted a clear image, because everybody used to dress one suit, big flare bottom pants, no back pocket, these Cariba suits, really too snobbish kind of thing for me. I started getting involved in Hugh Mundell, because he lived right next to Boris Gardiner, Hugh, and there was some Twelve Tribes brethren who lived further down the road who started Jah Love sound system, he was called Jah Wolf... but he got killed. He was the original one who started Jah Love... Boris was a couple of doors away, so I used to go over there and hang out with them, 'cause they had the best fruits, the best herb, and exercise a lot, it was nice, I liked the atmosphere in there. I started getting involved in this "chapter a day" stuff, "Gadman" business; Boris didn't want to know about that, he goes, "We have to keep certain image, 'cause we're working." I started growing my locks. One stage, I think it was about '78, '79, I met a couple people through Boris like Lee Perry, and Mikey Dread, I'd met these guys along the way. I thought, well, I might as well give Boris a break. I didn't really want to leave, but at the end of the day, he fired me. He paid me off. What happened was, they had a big ball at the, Oceana Hotel, it was a nurse's ball, and Boris goes to me, "You have trim your hair, you have to be clean for this gig." Anyway, I just went up there with my stretch-foot trousers, my Clarkes, looking good, with my tam on my head, and I left a couple of locks hanging out. When I went in, I was late as well, so when I went in, the band had already started, reaching the stage I could see the people going "Huhnnnngh?!" Because everybody was dressed up, like the gowns, the long floral gowns. It was a proper formal kind of dance, a formal ball, and I was in my rough-neck pants, and my cuffs, this plain kind of things. After that gig, Boris went, "I'm sorry, you have to go, we probably won't get this job again." Like the promoter think that we're trying to get involved in some Rasta, some Ras Michael or something. At the end of the day, when I left the band, I was kind of involved, so I went straight away to Lee Perry, did a couple tracks with him...

Derrick Harriot

Lee Perry

RH: What about Derrick Harriott? Does he fit into the picture before Lee Perry or after?

ED: Definitely, Derrick Harriott was before... After I did the music with Flaming Phonics, before I got really involved with Boris, in the space of about two years or so... we were still going to school, I was still going to school, and I had this school mate called Winston MacAnuff. He wrote "Malcolm X", and he wrote a couple of songs like "Dreadlocks Unite", and "Charmaine", he wrote about five songs. Winston was actually the one who got involved with Derrick... Before that as well, the first solo recording that I did was for a guy called Phonso, his label is called Globe International.

RH: Little Lenny done a tune for him.

ED: That was actually the first recording, solo, called "Leggo Off Of That". I did it over for Roy Cousins, called... I can't remember. That was my first song. But after that, I got involved with Derrick Harriott, right after that. Because Winston had laid some rhythm tracks with Derrick. Winston MacAnuff, we was going to the same school, it was like a Junior High School. We were in the same class, and he was like a brilliant guy, he had all his A-levels. He got involved with Derrick, and he laid about four rhythm tracks with Derrick. He couldn't voice the songs, he wasn't really a singer. At the time, his voice wasn't really up to standard, so he asked me to follow him into the studio one day, me, him and Franklyn Waul, "Bubbler". Winston had already laid some tracks at Joe Gibbs, so we did "Malcolm X" first there. When we went, Winston was trying to voice a tune, he was trying to prove to us that he could do it. At the end of the day, Errol Thompson, the engineer, goes "Winston, I don't think you're going to make it." (Laughs). So Winston goes, "All right then, fuck it, Earl, go on and try it." I went and, Errol liked how I did it. We told him that we'd like Franklyn to get in on the action, so that was the first song that Franklyn actually recorded, the overdubs (hums keyboard line). We kind of made it like a little group together. After we did that recording for Joe Gibbs, a couple months, years afterwards, we didn't hear it come out. So, we went to Derrick Harriott, we said, well Derrick, we've got this tune and it's a good tune, we want to get it out, and he liked it, the "Malcolm X", so we did it for him as well. When we did it for Derrick, we did a couple of other songs. I did "Charmaine" and "Dreadlocks Unite", you now, they all came out. When Derrick went to press "Malcolm X" now, we find out that Joe Gibbs actually was pressing "Malcolm X" on a white label, only for export, so it kind of cramped out thing, and Derrick got upset with us, so we never got any money from either of them. Derrick went ahead and pressed his anyway, 'cause he was doing the harmonies, there was Sly and Robbie playing on it, it was more updated compared to Joe Gibbs' one. Derrick's song came out, got a couple of air plays, sold a couple thousand copies of it. That was my first royalty I got for a record, which was 30 dollars. I was grateful for it, my first record I could take home to my mother and go "Yeah!" It was a fairly good stuff, but from Derrick now, I kind of got involved with the Boris Gardiner Happening. Then, I started working for Scratch.

DK: Because of the Boris Gardiner connection, you ended up...

ED: Getting involved, meeting Scratch and all that, and knowing him.

DK: You said you did a few tunes for him?

ED: Yeah, I did a couple. I did one called "What's Happening In The World"..."Do Good," it's called. I did "Cheating", I did "Bird In The Hand", and I did "Freedom", four songs I did.

DK: "Bird In Hand", is that the same...?

ED: He's got the rhythm on the Ape, "Return of the Super Ape", that's my rhythm track on those, the vocal never came out. "Do Good", I don't know what he did with that track, it never came out either. I voiced one called "White Belly Rats" as well. I voiced that, and then Perry went a voiced it (himself), but he's got a cut of my voice on it as well.

DK: Did he write the lyrics, or did you have a hand in the lyrics?

ED: I think it was actually done by Max Romeo originally, but he and Max kind of... after the "War In A Babylon" album, they had a big conflict between each other, so he wanted to get rid of all the stuff that he had left. So, he just called in people to do the songs that he had done with Max.

Earl Sixteen

RH: What about the other tracks, did you write them?

ED: Well, "Bird In The Hand", I wrote that, but "Black People's Freedom" was written by a friend called Criter Free (?), he's working in Japan now, and "Bird In The Hand" was written by Fitzroy Martin, he plays saxophone, and he wrote another song that I did on the Boris Gardiner album called "Sledgehammer", called "I Need Some One To Love". He wrote a couple songs for me because he used to be in the band as well with Boris. But "Bird In The Hand", unfortunately I can't really remember the lyrics. We actually laid the track with Dalton Browne, that was actually the first time that Steely came to the studio as well, we first brought him, Steely, Albert Malawi who, he used to play in sound system, but he's a drummer, and Dalton Browne, that's the musicians that we used for that session, and we did four songs all at once. We did "Cheating" was played by Boris Gardiner, and "Bird In The Hand", those two were played by Boris Gardiner, but "Give Black People Freedom" and "Do Good (And Good Will Follow You)" was played by Albert and them lot.

DK: "Cheating" was issued with two different mixes.

ED: Well, I don't know about the mixes, but I know it was released on two different labels. It was released by Federal first, when it first came out it was on the Wild Flower label which was being controlled by Federal, and then when I went to Belgium last year, I got a copy of it from Tropical Sounds who has closed down now, Robert (Kuijpers) gave me a copy with a different label on it, but I think the mixes might have been different, I think the original blue label, the Wild Flower label, was a different mix.

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1997 Carter Van Pelt / Ray Hurford. Reprinted by kind permission of the publisher.
(Please do not reproduce without permission)