There was a time when reggae music was dominated by spiritual and socially aware messages, values that has since lost impendum. It hasn't the same appeal anymore popularly speaking even though a new generation of messengers are keeping the flag swaying in that direction. When this form of reggae music was the sound of 'now', Fred Locks was one of its foremost messengers. Cultural music that was as uplifting, enlightening and vibrating then as it is now. Even more nowadays perhaps and it has stood the test of time surprisingly well, much of it. Stafford Elliott aka Fred Locks was no newcomer to the music business when he rode the charts with the now all-time classic 'Black Star Liner' back in 1976. He started as member of vocal groups like The Flames in the sixties, later joined The Lyrics trio and wrote one of those great Studio One tracks 'Hear What The Old Man Say' back in 1968. Fred Locks was also fronting the Creation Steppers trio at the end of the seventies before migrating to silence and musical inactivity in New York for most of the eighties. Seemingly out of nowhere he returned with an album for Phillip Smart in '95 and a few years later a collaboration with Xterminator producer Phillip 'Fatis' Burrell emerged; the 'Never Give Up' album is arguably the Twelve Tribe singer's strongest work so far and one of Fatis' outstanding albums from this period. He hasn't quite reached the heights since but Fred Locks still puts out strong vinyl material on the market for labels like Everything Natural, Blooming Productions and Lion Vibes. And there is a lot more to expect from this somewhat overlooked singer. New recordings and a gathering of long lost vintage tracks will come up soon, this from Mr Locks' own quarters. My thanks to Fred for his time before rehearsals in May, '04, Sis Denise (Love Beat) for the link-up, Donovan Phillips, Courtney Minors, Robba, Bob Schoenfeld, Ryan Moore, Michael de Koningh, and Steve Barrow.

Q: So the Elliott family now, you grew up in a strict Catholic home.

A: (Chuckles) Yes. That was the religion that was introduced to most of the Caribbean people in the earlier days I guess, right.

Q: Are you a Kingstonian?

A: Well, actually I was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica.

Q: What part?

A: That area was called Franklin Town. I left there when I was ten years old and moved to Eastern Kingston, near to the Bull Bay area, right, and I attended the Seymour Junior Secondary School. In the early days I formed a group while in Junior Secondary school, we were called The Flames. That's different from Alton & The Flames.

Q: Right, this is before The Lyrics.

A: This is before, it's my first group, and we actually did an amateur festival at the time, among people like The Jamaicans with Tommy Cowan and, y'know, Hopeton Lewis had a group at the time. So we win second in the semi-final but in the final Jamaicans had won the whole thing, y'know. It did well.

Q: This talent contest, it wasn't Vere John's talent showcase, was it?

A: No, it was called 'Jamaica Amateur Music' something. But yeah, it was like an amateur... it wasn't really - it was more like a government thing, right. Then after leaving school like fifteen plus, I had passed scholarship for a higher school, it was a free scholarship, and I was from a large family, my mother and father had twelve of us - six boys, six girls. So, like, it wasn't easy.

Fred Locks (Photo: Dennis Morris)

Q: What did your father do for a living?

A: He worked in the electrical field, he was working with the Jamaican Public Service. Yeah.

Q: Something he wanted you to do as well?

A: No, I didn't think about doing anything like my father did. I was more into like, I did a short stint at painting course - they call it duco. I worked with some people... after leaving school I first worked at a harberdasher place where we sold cloth by the yard, I was learning that trade, yunno. After that I left and did some trade as a duco-man, a painter. That was for a very short while. So my group now from schooldays, we moved from there to different areas and we didn't get back together. So like the following year, which was 1966 when I was just sixteen years old, we formed the group The Lyrics.

Q: Who were the members of the Flames by the way?

A: With the Flames? It was my schoolmates, one was Harvey Campbell, another one Donald Allison, and Junior Harvey.

Q: Did anyone of those continue with the music afterwards?

A: No, I've never heard of any of them going into it. You know, funny I didn't see any of them pop up anywhere, yunno.

Q: You didn't meet again.

A: No, I saw one of them like a long time after, y'know, and he wasn't into music really. It was like Donald, his father was like our manager, he was the man who was encouraging us and took us to the various shows an' t'ing when we had entered the amateur festival, yunno. But after school, we all left school, went to different schools an' t'ing, y'know. I went on to work right away, so I didn't see them. Then as I was telling you in 1966 we formed The Lyrics.

Fred Locks

Q: And they, the Lyrics, consisted of?

A: Yeah well, the two members were Albert 'Beenie-Bird' Tomlinson and Delmar Campbell, we call him 'Snore'.

Q: (Chuckles)

A: All right (chuckles). So Snore migrated a short while after we started recording, we did our first recordings at Studio One. We did three songs first, and then we went on and did two more songs, and then Snore migrated to the US in 1969. So it was two years after we started recording. I and Albert continued as The Lyrics and did some songs for Randy's, who you know is VP - Vincent Chin, yunno.

Q: I know about one tune for Randy's, Miss Pat. I have it somewhere here.

A: Which song is it?

Q: 'Give Thanks'.

A: The one that say 'East To The Right'?

Q: Yeah.

A: OK well, I did another song which was 'Give Thanks' for Randy's, and this one called 'East To The Right', but somehow Randy's put out the tune 'East To The Right' and call it 'Give Thanks'. And I've never come up to - 'Give Thanks' was for Lee Perry, that was the first song we did, which was a different song from 'East To The Right'. But every time I ask people about them they have 'Give Thanks', but is really 'East To The Right' they have, so I dunno what the next one is. But we also did a cover of 'Bridge Over Troubled Water'.

Q: Simon & Garfunkel.

A: Yeah, we did it before Jimmy London, and then the Jimmy London one was released before ours, yunno, on the same riddim.

Q: Which label was your version on?

A: It was the Impact label.

Q: Right, that's a Randy's subsidiary.

A: Yeh, it was Randy's Impact label. Actually we did three songs for Randy's: 'Give Thanks', 'East To The Right' and 'Bridge Over Troubled Waters'. After that Albert migrated also and I was like alone and I formed a group with...

Q: Creation Steppers?

A: No, before Creation Steppers, this was really a duo that we called Tony & Howie - I used the name Tony, and we did one song for Mr Coxson again, this song was called 'Fun It Up'.

Q: News to me, never heard of.

A: Yeah right, it was just a one song we did. And HE migrated also (laughs)!

Q: Ah, everybody leave.

A: Yes, so I was there alone again and this was when now Beenie came back from Canada where he had migrated to, and we did our own production 'Sing Along', the very first one before the album. And we also did two more songs. One of them was 'A Love That Is Real', he did one by himself. I did 'A Love That Is Real' and 'Sing Along' with him, and then he did a song which was a semi-hit for him, this song was called 'Aily Haile' or 'Oily Holy'.

Q: I have that tune, it's on the Impact label again, but it's credited to 'Lyric & Bird'.

A: Yea, that is him. Yeh he is Bird, the 'Beenie-Bird'.

Q: OK (laughs)!

A: Right. So anyhow, after all of that Beenie went back to Canada, he was just passing through for a while, and I went solo. And then in 1975 was when I did 'Black Star Liner' and 'Time For Change', which was also known as 'The Last Days'. 'Black Star Liner' became a hit, 'Last Days' was a follow-up but it didn't create the impact we had thought it would, y'know. I thought it was the better song but maybe it was too judgmental (chuckles).

Q: Right. Before we move too fast into the seventies, I would like to know more about the initial session for Studio One, where you cut tunes like 'A Get It' and the great 'Hear What The Old Man Say'.

A: All right. Well, what happened is we had been going to Coxson's studio for a period of about three months or more, trying to get an audition. And Coxson would overlook us and other people was called in there, yunno, all the time. We was in there when they called Bop & The Beltones, some other long-time artists, y'know. They would come out and say 'Let me listen to you, wha' yu do', yunno, and call them. We came every day same way for a long time.

Q: Don't tell me he called you 'Jackson' (chuckles)?

A: Ahh, you see't (laughs)! So anyhow, no, he didn't call me 'Jackson', but one of my brethren - the one 'Snore', he was workin' as a custom officer, and he had lost his job because of coming to studio so many times, yunno. And eventually Coxson said to us, he look at me and say, "Hey you, red youth! Wha' yu do?" And I said I'm a singer, and him said "Sing!" Right (chuckles)? And I sung 'A Get It', and the group was backing up on harmony, and him said: "It sound good, go inside mek the band hear it". And Jackie Mittoo write down the fore (intro), y'know. Him said, "Yeah man, I know yu big bredda, the first band". Ca' Jackie Mittoo had formed a band where my brother was the guitarist. The band was called The Rivals, that was before Skatalites. Yes. So Jackie Mittoo knew me and when we come in him say, "Yes my youth, come mek we hear yu song bom bom bom, it wicked an' it tuff, yunno". That was a ska song, 'A Get It'. So we went on to do 'You Make Me Sour', which was the second song I did and it's put on an album called 'Rock Steady '67'. And I did also a song called 'Money Lover'. Yeah, all of those was released in that time. Then you know I think it's 1968 after, not feeling too good about not getting any money for the songs we did.

Q: Not a dime?

A: No, I got thirty shilling in those time for 'A Get It', and we never get any pay for the other two. Ca' most time him say him can buy the song for we... from us, or give us four pennies off every copy sold, seen. So, our thirty shilling for it and there wasn't any more to get, so we took the thirty shilling. When we did the first song we got that, but the other songs we didn't get any money. But anyhow, Jackie Mittoo and Bob Andy came up to my area an' we sit in and smoke some herb and some song me a sing, my older brother play the guitar, and Jackie say, "Wha', yu still tuff my youth!", them hear we now. That was 'Old Man Say' and '(Man Call) Girls Like Dirt', which we gave Bob Andy the riddim to sing 'Desperate Lover' on, my song originated that riddim. It was when I recorded that song now, Coxson told me that he would release the song in a couple days time, I should listen out on his 'Muzik City Presents' programme, where he would play it on the segment on the radio. So the first day I listened to it, I heard the intro of the song and I said "Yeah", to my mother, "this is my new song". And then I heard Bob Andy voice come in and sang it. My brother was so cut up about it, that he went to Mr Coxson's studio and mashed it up, and ended up in a mental institution. Beca' police beat him up, they took him to mental institution.

Q: Bellevue.

A: Yeah, and eventually died. It was uncertain if the police killed him and throw him in the field. Yeah, that was my eldest brother. It's a sad story, yunno.

Q: Yeah it is, indeed.

A: Yeah. Anyhow that was the Coxson era, and between that we went to Randy's, y'know, between the time that I did those five songs, went to Randy's with Beenie-Bird and made some songs with my brethren when him come back, and do one song for Coxson. Actually it was about four songs for Coxson, Tony & Howie, but he didn't release any other song from us, only that song, 'Fun It Up'. And a couple other songs, 'I Really Love You Baby' and 'You Should Believe Me' and a next song, it was four songs I think we did right there. But only one was released.

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