Probably the first time people outside of Jamaica came upon the name Hugo Blackwood was in the late seventies on a Disco Bum 12" entitled 'Reggae Music' featuring Dr Alimantado, Disco Bum of course meant produced by the unmistakeable Upsetter himself, Lee 'Scratch' Perry. But there's a lot more to learn about this somewhat enigmatic artist. He was singing as member of Time Unlimited, another group known from the Scratch stable, as well as working with such personalities as Sir Lord Comic, Sly & Robbie and Chinna Smith's High Times label. Nowadays Hugo performs out of Columbus, Ohio as 'Istan Black' along with harmony group The Sweets, where a CD, 'Fatal Struggle', hit the streets a few years back. My thanks to Hugo, Stacey, Bob Schoenfeld, Teacher & Mr T and Michael de Koningh.

Hugo Blackwood & wife Stacey

Hugo Blackwood & wife Stacey

Q: Where did you grow up?

A: Well, I was born in St. Catherine. That's just like the borderline of Kingston, so that's like Spanish Town. And Spanish Town now which was the first capital of Jamaica, y'know, when it was ruled by the Spanish, and after that the English take over the capital of Kingston. Well, as I say I was born in St. Catherine, 1951, the same year that I was born we had a storm, a hurricane called '51 Storm', I was like a few months old when that happened. Grow up in St. Catherine and Kingston now, my mom is from St. Ann's and my father were born in Kingston. I grew in St. Catherine, since my mom was from there. I've got a slight history, that my mother was a cousin to Bob Marley. Yes, from a distant cousin to Bob Marley.

Q: And his family was from Rhoden Hall, the Nine Miles district of St. Ann.

A: Yes, Nine Miles, St. Ann. My mother's born and grow up in Wah Town, St. Ann, and so my grandmother and Bob's grandmother is cousins, y'know.

Q: Did you know about this connection at the time?

A: No, I didn't know about that. It was one of my aunt, right, that just know the history. Because she have more experience and more knowledge about the whole bloodlines, y'know, she is the one that let us know.

Q: So what was the start with music, singin' in the choir wouldn't be a wild guess, or you built up your experience on your own, playing by yourself.

A: I put a lickle time with guitar but not professionally, y'know, not professionally. I mostly concentrate on writin' songs an' I wouldn't say it wasn't in my mind to learn but I didn't have the time, financially, I had to achieve somet'ing for the kids them. But no, I didn't start with the church, 'cos when I go to church weh my mother go to, they're Catholic so they didn't have a choir. Anyway, I start out, like, how I would say crying, yes. You know? And I loved music so much that when I going to school I take off my money an' - like my lunch money, and when I get a lunch time from school I go to the shop and put my money into the jukebox an' just listen to music instead of buy lunch. Delroy Wilson at that time was my favorite song them time, my favorite Delroy Wilson song was called 'Conquering Lion'. That's the first song that I was really...

Young Delroy Wilson

Sir Lord Comic

Q: He had a hit at that time with 'Lion of Judah' for Coxson I believe.

A: That's it, that's the song (sings the chorus). So, then again I used to be a number one dancer. When I go to the dance, and go dance the ska, Skatalites, ska songs, we used to go to them dance and dance like dance contests, I was one a them number one dancer in my area, y'know. Then I started to play sound, y'know.

Q: What was the sound?

A: Well, I used to play a small lickle sound first, right, it was called Brooks Hi-Fi, that was in St. Catherine, like central village on Cayman Avenue. And then sometime Brooks the owner for the sound at holiday time he take the sound down to (inaudible) and play and then come back, he could just go to country for a week or two weeks and jus' play. After that I start play a sound called Starlite Hi-Fi, used to play by Sir Lord Comic...

Q: 'The Great Ooga Wooga' (laughs)? Was that the first time you met?

A: Yeah, 'The Great Wooga Wooga'. No, I met him before, it was in the seventies, like '76/77. No, as I say I should put on my thinkin' cap as I want to make sure... no, I record my first song in 1973, that was my first recording and Sir Lord Comic was the one who take me to the studio. But in the sixties I would just go dancin', love to go to dance an' t'ing like that. And, like I do concerts, visiting concerts, yunno. Yeah, whenever anything is going on in the community and they want me to do something I just sing, y'know.

Q: Anyone from where you grew up... anyone from that area that got a break in the music business?

A: Yeah, um... what's his name again...? I forget his name but he is one of the top, at that time, the top St. Catherine singer. I think it's those riddims from the Moodies label...?

Q: You had Dennis Walks among the Mudie singers, would it be him?

A: Dennis Walks! Yeah, Dennis Walks, he was like one of the... was the top artist from St. Catherine at that time.

Q: 'The Drifter' and 'Heart Don't Leap', those two were big hits in that time.

A: Yeah, and he was from like central village, right, an' he's mostly based in Spanish Town. So, you had Dennis Walks and other St. Catherine artists. You know that girl is from St. Catherine too - Grace Jones. Yeah, she's from Spanish Town. But anyway, as I say I play Starlite that was mostly played by Sir Lord Comic before...

Dennis Walks
(Photo: William Foster)

Grace Jones

Q: We're talkin' the early part of the seventies?

A: Yeah, and he left it, right. It was the number one sound in central village, and when Sir Lord Comic was playing it and then left it, it go down. And I take it up, and bring it back (chuckles) to life. So when I start play the sound now it's like a 'rebirth' now, y'know. Ever hear that song, 'Rebirth'? The people come back to the sound and Sir Lord Comic now he come back to the sound.

Q: What did he say when returning?

A: He say that he's surprised, yunno, like, he was looking for somebody else could really come an' get back the sound to life after he leaving, and that is how he take me to the studio. That was to Dynamic studio and do my first recording.

Q: How do you recall that now?

A: It was like a glory, it was like a glory for me, 'cos going to a lotta producers before, record producers like Niney, Coxsone Downbeat, and they give me time, yunno.

Q: Audition?

A: I take audition an' them love what them hear, and them give me time to come back, and when I come back it's like 'Alright, next week'. And when them see we come it's 'Next week!' again, or any other week. Then I just get tired and seh, alright, let's forget 'bout it. But it was a glory when Sir Lord Comic was taking me to studio for the first time. I never really get fed up by trying, the only t'ing that... is the attitude of the producers, yunno.

Q: What material did you use at that time, original or material by others?

A: No, all my songs are original, all of the songs that I have in my head are original songs. It's more than a few songs we bring, like in them time if you sing a song and it kick them you don't have to sing the second one. In those times I listen a lot to Heptones, that is some artists I really love. When going to concerts I mostly like to see Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis. In those time too, Bob Marley, but in those time I mostly concentrate on songs by Ken Boothe, Alton Ellis.

Hugo Blackwood aka Istan Black.
(Photo: Bob Ramsak)

Hugo Blackwood aka Istan Black.
(Photo: Bob Ramsak)

Q: What was some of the early songs you had?

A: Yeah, well, the firs' song that I record is called 'Pick Your Choice', it was a deejay song. So you see, the first opportunity I get in the studio I don't really cared, I jus' want go in the studio, 'cos that was on my mind, doing my first recording with a deejay song, right. But that is my first opportunity and I just take it, and it was on a riddim done by Dynamic Sound, right, Jaguar label, and the riddim is a Freddie McKay riddim called 'Rendevouze'.

Q: Was it released as by 'Hugo Blackwood' or a different name?

A: No, 'Hugo Blackwood' is there but that time they used to call me 'Hugo Man'. So that's my name as a yout', as a recording artist, yunno. So it came out as that on the Jaguar label, Dynamic.

Q: Who was responsible for production, was this between Byron Lee and Sir Lord Comic, or Comic alone?

A: Well, Lord Comic was the producer for that song, for Dynamic Sound, he get the credit for that. So I just reuse the riddim track, like he jus' select that track.

Q: What was the response for that song?

A: Right, the response that I get is that I used to have a few friends that work at Dynamic, they were the ones that released it, 'cos Tommy Cowan was responsible there for the distribution part at Dynamic at that time. So, well, is like those guys told me already that the song was coming out, and then I go and check Tommy Cowan, and Tommy Cowan seh 'It do nice', although he don't know anything about it (chuckles). Like, around four days later I went back and go to get my copy. So those guys that are my friends, they're always giving me, 'cos they're the ones who are pressing the record, so they are always giving me information that they're going to press a five hundred of the record today, and everytime I have a meeting with them they tell me they're pressing another five hundred. But it didn't really sell in the Jamaica circuit, yunno, it's mostly like for Europe, places like those, export, it didn't take off in Jamaica. So the export I don't know wha' appened. At that time it sell for five cent a copy. When I go for my first quarter, I get some nine dollars five cents. That wasn't much, and then I jus' say 'You know what? I'm not going back for anyt'ing more'. That is how I head off and don't even think about recording a nex' song for Dynamic Sounds.

Q: So did you feel Lord Comic had any involvement in this?

A: It's not Lord Comic, because it's got nothing to do with - is Byron Lee. When I go to get my royalty for the first time, Dynamic is a big place, Dynamic and Byron Lee has a lot of workers. He's there inside the office, and I tell them to check for the books about my record. But, Byron Lee's wife was trying to deny what was going on for me, was Sheila Lee herself, Byron Lee wife, come and go look it up, right, and give me the firs' royalty of nine dollars five cent, and I said: 'You know what, I don't even going take it, I don't care what you wanna tell me, or wha', I'm just heading somewhere else'. That is the time now I get to meet Scratch.

Time Unlimited

Q: So you waited a few years before recording for Perry, after this mix-up 'affair' happened with Dynamic and Lord Comic?

A: Like around... that was '73, and '74 I go to Scratch. Yeah, I record a song for Scratch in '74 an' that is when I and Time Unlimited meet up.

Q: What was the title for that first solo recording you did for Scratch?

A: It was a song called 'Raindrops', but it didn't see the light of day.

Q: Never released.

A: Never release.

Q: Well, you never know, Perry released several songs overseas without any information about this to the artists themselves, so... It could be out there.

A: Yeah, I don't know, I don't know wha' appened, outskirt. But in Jamaica, I know it didn't see the light of day in Jamaica. From that I take a break again.

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