|The question is, even today, if that 'sound' isn't unequalled and unchallenged by any Jamaican recording studio with the exception of Mr. Dodd's headquarters at the former Brentford Road. The sound of Channel One. Channel One was boss in the mid seventies, and their artists blossomed with the excellent in-house band the Channel owners, Jo Jo and Ernest Hookim, had assembled - the Revolutionaries. One of the most prominent of Channel One acts was named Earth & Stone. A duo, highly regarded, celebrated, but still overlooked mainly due to their 'mysterious' disappearance from the scene in the early 1980s, Earth & Stone, consisting of lead singer Clifton Howell and second lead/harmony Albert Bailey, take it all in from their American base. They are aware of what the music caused at the time, and what should have happened for them. But it didn't. Perhaps with a degree of bitterness, but mostly joy, they reveal their story in a lengthy discussion which you can read below. My thanks to: Albert Bailey & Clifton Howell for a most enjoyable conversation, Kevin Bailey, Carlton Hines, Kalcidis, Erwin, Tim P, Laurent Pfeiffer, Teacher & Mr T, and Steve Barrow.|
Q: Go back to your early days, please, your family background and so on. You are both born in Kingston?
Clifton: No. I was born in St. Catherine. Glengoffe, St. Catherine.
Albert: And I, Albert, was born in Kingston, in the heart of Jamaica (chuckles).
Q: Both sang from an early age?
Clifton: Well, I used to do some singin' in the choir at the age of maybe seventeen, eighteen. For actually maybe about two years or so we used to go to churches all over the place, y'know, with the choir. I do some maybe... what you call it, group thing. But otherwise from that, I always be singin'.
Albert: Well, as for me, singin' to me just came naturally. I didn't have any opportunity to sing in a choir or to sing in a church group or, y'know, to affiliate myself to sing with any church, so far. You know, as a kid we go (to) Sunday school, but never really affiliated to a point where we were called upon to do things so I could say I used to sing in church. I didn't even know that was a choirman (laughs)!
Clifton: (Laughs) Yeah! Back in the days, Bert!
Albert: (Laughs) You understan', so... Me, I didn't really have a formal training in the early days.
Q: Would you both say that, looking back from the early times in Jamaica up to even now in a sense, from all the musical talents we got from Jamaica, it seems like most of you are nurtured and shaped from an early stage, musically, from a churchical aspect. That's the central place, learning the rudiments and getting a start in singing, or it generally came from somewhere else?
Albert: I can respond to that in the sense of now that the knowledge that I have, y'know, I have seen and realised that many of the early talented artists, many of them had their roots in churches. That was really where they started, started singin' and playing instruments. So I would confirm that. And just as Clifton said, he used to sing in the choir, I didn't even know that (laughs)!
Albert: So them do, that's where Clifton got a start. Yeah.
Q: So how did you meet up, what was the circumstances how you both met and got to know each other?
Clifton: Well, I was like walking one day and singin', a guy heard me and said "Oh man, you sound good! I'm interested in forming a group" an' t'ing like that, and I said "Oh, yeah? Well, all right, meet me...". We meet up one day, so one evening we get together, started a lickle singin' t'ing without music or any t'ing like that. Then he told me he know this guy that can sing, which is Albert he was talkin'. So he introduced me to him, and that's where we started.
Q: What year are we talking about, neighborhood? Where did you live at the time, both?
Albert: OK, both of us were living in Kingston. He was living, I think, in the eastern part while I was living in the west. So we were able to... I contac' him through a female friend of mine, who knew that I loved singin', and she was the one that Clifton spoke about. And she said she would introduce me to him, which she did. From there the link was made, there we started. Yeah.
Albert Bailey & Clifton Howell.
Q: Did you start to write your own material from the beginning there, or it was mainly covers, chart music, popular songs you rehearsed?
Albert: I could interject here that we started with original songs. We had written a song 'If love was like ice cream I would be the ice cream man'...
Albert: 'If your heart was like stone I would be the hammer...'. It was our original song.
Clifton: Yeah, you remember that song, Bert (lots of laughter)!
Albert: A lickle bit, yeah (chuckles).
Q: So that was the earliest effort...
Albert: It was Clifton lyrics, y'know!
Clifton: Right, right (laughs)! Yeah, that was an early attempt.
Albert: But we started out with original songs, not adoptions.
Q: What would you both point to as your early influences, because naturally you have to start from somewhere before you find your own voice, your own pattern and expression?
Clifton: Yeah. My idol was like Delroy Wilson, that was my guy. I used to love his music at that time.
Q: But your vocal style doesn't remind me much of Delroy's...
Clifton: No, I don't really pattern him really, y'know, we come with our what you say original style, really.
Albert: Well, my personal group in my early days that I used to love to sing the songs, it was the Impressions. The Impressions was my group, I used to sing a lotta those songs. That's how people used to recognise my talent by hearing me singin' these songs and realise 'this guy have talent'. So it's obvious that we sing Delroy Wilson songs, we all have our lickle artist that we love and we choose to sing their song more than any other song.
Q: But considering the first name there, The Officials, was that actually the first name you came up with?
Albert: Oh, you know that name too (laughs)?! OK.
Clifton: Must've been listening to us for a long time then, Bertie (laughs)?
Albert: Yeah, yeah.
Clifton: Yeah (laughs)! Yes! Who came up with that name again? Bertie, you was the one who created that name, right?
Albert: I was the one who created the name, y'know, The Officials. I don't know how I come up with or completed that name though! Yeah, The Officials.
Clifton: (Laughs) Right. And we did... how many songs we did under that name, really?
Albert: Well, we did 'Ten Years Ago' was the first song, and we did another song with Coxson that never released, the song that we did, 'Babylonian' for Dynamics...
Clifton: Oh, OK. Yeah, yeah.
Albert: 'Irie Irie', 'Irie irie, you got to be irie', you remember that song?
Clifton: Yes! Mmm.
Albert: Yes, those songs was released as The Officials. I can remember those songs were released.
Q: Did it take long before you felt ready to approach the companies, a producer? Was Coxson actually the first one you went to?
Albert: Let me come in here. You know, the first person we went to - we were very delous, with the song called 'Your Love Is Like Ice Cream', and we went to Duke Reid, Treasure Isle.
Clifton: Oh yeah, right!
Albert: And in those days, y'know, a hundred people would be there! You thought a hundred men would be there, groups, for an audition.
Q: That was a regular Sunday gathering for the Duke.
Albert: Right, yeah. And we went there with that song. When we started we didn't have any musical background, I mean knowledge in the sense of playing music and singing with music, so we were just doing our t'ing from a arbitrary state without any real knowledge. And we just started singin' and Duke Reid just turn we out, y'know. We were so disappointed that Sunday, because they par us (laughs).
Clifton: (Chuckles) Right!
Albert: And so from there we went back to the drawing board. We never make another move. We started rehearsing and made some friends teach us the guitar and started to learning, to play some rhythm. We were never making another move again 'til we were more developed on a higher level before we went back.
Q: Did you have any friends inside the business at the time who could assist you in any way?
Albert: Well, to be truthful, we didn't have no connections. We didn't have no connection, but we eventually met a little group that was a little bit advanced in their playing of the guitar. But apart from that, we had no connections.
Clifton: We started with a beginner book, remember?
Albert: You know... Yes! Right. When we bought that guitar we bought it with a beginner book. And that's how we start out. Nobody never taught us anything. We just started from that, with our feel and enthusiasm into the music. We make special effort to learn as much as we could.
Q: You had both left home and went out to earn a living at this point?
Clifton: I learned plumbing. So, during doing the music I was doing plumbing also. I went to a school, went two years there, graduated and then came out as an advance apprentice and was doing plumbing all the way. So the music only come on, like, evening time and weekends.
Q: As a hobby at first, then it turned, became serious business.
Albert: As for me, when I know Clifton (chuckles)... when I met Clifton I was, like, about eighteen plus, I don't think I had reached nineteen yet. So we were young and we were green.
Clifton: Yeah. I am what, I am a year older than you?
Albert: Right, yeah. So we were fresh, young men, y'know. So we had the same enthusiasm, the same feel and hunger for the music. And we did work hard, we had no trainers to say well, then we had the opportunity where we had certain people to train us and helped us develop. We didn't have that. Everything was just done naturally. We just worked hard and create our own style and developed our own t'ing.
Q: Right. So the Officials now, did you ever feel that 'we need a third voice, more harmony here', like? A third voice to add something to the sound.
Albert: (Silence) Well, me answer that, Clifton (chuckles)?
Clifton: Yeah, yeah, you can answer that.
Albert: All right. You see, originally we started out with a third man, and that third man... his talent was very poor. When we started, we continued with the both of us until we did this first song 'Ten Years Ago', we did carry a third person on it. You understan', we had a third person who sing the harmony...
Q: Who was that?
Albert: A friend of us named... lets call him 'Todd', y'know (chuckles). He did a couple of songs for himself after a while, right. So he did harmony on that song. But then after that we just decided 'lets keep it as a duo', because we had a good vibes. We had a good vibe. We make other effort, I remember once we took in two other guys in the group, and we started trying a t'ing. But we didn't feel that vibes with them, so we just keep the original vibes. He understand my voice, I understand his voice. We had that kinda bond and understanding. But we didn't really strive for a third person.
Q: Now, Clifton's voice at the forefront, lead singing on most of the songs, that was how it was from the start, it came up early?
Clifton: Just happened naturally.
Albert: (Chuckles) It happened naturally. It was the start of the Officials, that's how we just... it's that sound we create. We created a sound, we just stick to that sound. It wasn't nothing to say well, then... we never had a problem! We never had a problem, nobody start a revolution.
Coxsone Dodd (Photo: David Corio | www.davidcorio.com).
Q: What brought you over to Coxson, same thing as with Duke Reid, basically?
Clifton: Well, I think Coxson - he used to have his audition on Sundays, which I think was more easier for us to really go to. So the first time we went to him, then he accepted us. And from there on we did a few songs for him, but he only released one.
Q: 'Ten Years Ago'.
Clifton: Mmm, and from there we started - we had a break in that period, we had a break and didn't do anything for a while after that one song. But we used to harmonize for a guy by the name of Ronnie Davis. So he took us to this studio, which is Channel One, and he told the guy Jo Jo (Hookim) that we were good singers. Then he said OK, he want to hear us. And that's how we started singing for... We did the first song and he got interested, and that's how we started out.
Q: Before we move too fast now, who backed you up on 'Ten Years Ago'? Albert, you mentioned it last week, I think Gladdy (Anderson) was in the band at Studio One?
Albert: Well, I was the one who made the riddim track. Clifton was there when they laid the riddim track, so he would be able to tell you the musicians (chuckles). Those days Leroy Sibbles was playing bass, right. Leroy play bass on that song, and the same guy you reminded me of, 'Horsemouth' (Leroy Wallace), I remember clearly now that he was the drummer. I remember this guy, I think it's Gladdy Wilson, that he was the piano player. Those are the guys I can remember keenly. I'm trying to remember if one of those Heptones guys used to play, the other one named Barry (Llewellyn). Because all three guys used to be in the studio working, yunno. All three, the guys in the Heptones. In those days they were employed by Studio One. Studio One had a band that was employed. Every day they came to work and just lay riddim tracks. So I can remember those guys clearly when we laid that track, I may not remember the rest. If I'm not mistaken Barry was the one who played rhythm gits, he was the rhythm guitar player.
Q: How do you remember the atmosphere at Studio One?
Albert: Well, we were still green, we were at the early stage. Because I tell you, when we went there Coxson liked the song and right away he required us to come and record it. But then going inside there to sing among these guys, it was nice to finally lay a riddim track, yunno (chuckles). I spent six long weeks at the studio just to lay that track, to lay it and mix. I gave up everything... I was learning electrical work and I gave it up just to get to the studio every day to get that riddim laid, the riddim track. And so I was there so often till some of the guys sent me to shop, sent me to buy things out of the store till someone said 'let go da yout' ya' (laughs). Yeah man, and I was glad to be working alongside these guys and get that riddim done.
Clifton: And that was a joy (laughs)!
Albert: Yeah man, to know that the riddim was done and make that record.
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