There are a chosen few Reggae legends that have laid down the foundation of TRUE Reggae Musik and still deliver real authentic works to the core. One of these luminaries is the versatile Keith Poppin. With a career spanning almost fifty years, he has worked with every notable producer, recorded in virtually legendary studio and has maintained a consistent career that is peppered with classics that are universally appealing. Keith has just been recognized by the Jamaica Observer as one of the top 50 most influential Jamaican artistes. Unsung hero, indeed!! Robert "Higherman" Heilman recently caught up with the veteran at his home in North Carolina, U.S.A.

Q: So Keith. After almost fifty years in the business, you show no signs of slowing down! Your most recent set, "Speak Out", is a masterpiece and offers everything from Roots to Lovers -- nuff raspect.

A: Yes. "Speak Out" tracks were done in the U.S, some tracks were done in Jamaica... "Speak Out", "Oh What A World" and "Wonderer". Dwight Pickney, Grub Cooper and Keith Francis played on the tracks. The album was mixed in U.S and Jamaica. I wrote and produced.

Q: Your career started with an audition at Studio One. Jackie Mittoo was there. Who else was there that afternoon?

A: Jackie was there and Leroy Sibbles (Heptones) was also there; Studio One label. We do the audition and there was no turning back. I go to Prince Tony, Lee Perry, Lyodd Campbell and Phil Pratt.

Keith Poppin

Keith Poppin

Q: Throughout your career, you've sounded like Brook Benton. Who else were your influences growing up?

A: You hit the nail on the head! Joe Simon was a big influence. Have you heard of him? (Starts singing a crucial ballad).

Q: Early in your career, you performed at the Ward and Regal Theatre; backed by The Soul Syndicate and Byron Lee and The Dragonaires. People still talk about those incredible shows.

A: Yes, people do talk about those shows. We as Jamaican artists used to do Christmas shows. Not a lot of money; thirty to fifty dollars a show. Good time, no shooting, no killing. Just good time. Carry on stage to do my show. No fussing. People change the world. Pleasure to listen to good music, truths and rights in the lyrics. We as original Jamaican musicians know the real music. Just like Bob (Marley) would seh. Bob, Peter and Bunny were recording with Lee Perry. He used to own Top Cat Records. They recorded "Sun Is Shining", "Soul Rebel" and "Duppy Conqueror". Jimmy London and I did a song there the same night,"Tighten Up". Lee Perry liked to record at nite, midnite to six in the morning. Bob record first then time run out. We go record; rehearse in the back of Top Cat on Charles Street. We know the right music. Great! People like Dennis Alcapone, Dave Barker, Roy Shirley, Ronnie Davis, Gaylads -- clean, Freddie McKay. (Sings "In my heart with love"). I sing harmony with Al campbell on "Talk About Love".

Q: In 1973, your Roots classic, "Same Thing For Breakfast" came out and sold heaps of copies. Did that open up some doors for you?

A: That was the first hit. I came back with "Envious"(1974) and hit dem with "Why Make Believe". Went to number one! "Get Together" went to number three in the charts in England. Then, I don't know what happened; pirate ting.

Q: Were you touring internationally during the 1970's?

A: I toured England and Canada. I don't know what lies ahead. I'll continue to (sings) "Keep on singing, keep on singing".

Q: You were the first artist to be signed to Peter Tosh's Intel-Diplo label. How was that?

A: Peter listened to my voice and liked the sound. He was willing to put me on the label. It was an honor to be a part of that. No album came out of it, but I did a few singles.

Q: In the eighties, you began producing and promoting. How did this come about?

A: Well, one of my friends and some lawyers got together and started a record company. So, I got involved. It didn't really go anywhere. We did a couple of shows and an album that has not been released yet. (This company worked with Tiger, Tony Rebel and Barrington Levy).

Q: When did you move to North Carolina?

A: I moved here in 1997 from Hartford, Connecticut (near New York City).

Q: How is the Reggae scene in North Carolina?

A: Well, I use the band "Crucial Fyah" and "Jamrock". You can see "Live In North Carolina" on You Tube. I also have a video, "In My Hometown", that was recorded in Jamaica in 1987.

Q: Which artists do you see carrying on the true message of Reggae Musik now?

A: Ken Boothe, John Holt, Leroy Sibbles, Mighty Diamonds, The Silvertones, Winston Jarrett and Carl Dawkins... great performers. Me call all of dem names. Me stick to the artists from back in the day, the way that we paved for Jamaican artists. There was no money back then; we were proud and made great music! We all start in a long line to rehearse and get an audition. Used to go to Duke Reid, then Coxsone Dodd and then Sonia Pottinger. It's not like it is today. We paved the way.

Keith Poppin

Q: Any new projects coming out soon come?

A: I have another album coming out next year. Kinda like a compilation album of songs from the 1970's and 80's.

Q: I've got one last question for you. You're known as Mr. Energetic. How did you get that name?

A: Well, I put everything I've got on stage and the public gave I that name (laughs).

Q: Keith, give thanx for your time and a great insight into your great career.

A: Blessed. Give thanx!
Interview by Robert "Higherman" Heilman (December 2012)
(Please do not reproduce without permission)