Junior Byles, Fred Locks, Prince Alla, I Kong, Little Roy, Pablo Moses, Judah Eskender Tafari, Sang Hugh, Yabby You, Kiddus I, to name a few, exemplified and embodied a new era in the 1970s which produced some of the most distinctive and original sounds previously heard in Jamaican music. Roots music became the order of the day for a while during this decade and many in the younger generation identified with and supported this new 'movement' within the industry. Milton Samuels, AKA Keithus I, delivered a small but consistent body of work in this vein, producing mainly for his own Jah Dynasty imprint. A handful of 45s later and he was gone from the scene in the early eighties, when the music had changed radically. So, yet another interesting name in reggae music vanished for good. We thought... The odd 45 for the Canadian King Culture label was the last sign of musical life anyone heard. But, not too long ago his music got a second life and on glorious vinyl too, as well as new productions in the can, so it was about time his story got told. Thanks to Milton, Rob (Deeper Knowledge), Carlton Hines, and Steve Barrow.

Q: What was your early days like, are you originally from Kingston town?

A: Yeah, I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in a community called Allman Town. Grew up in Allman Town.

Q: Always based there?

A: Pretty much, y'know. My mother she lived in the west part of Kingston along Maxfield Avenue. And you know, I used to go back and forth, because my school was, like, closer to Allman Town Primary School, Central Branch. Most of the time it was Kingston (chuckles).

Q: What was city life back in those days like? Most of us know about a harder life in the time when you started recording, but prior to this?

A: Yeah. Well, yu dun' know (chuckles). Ghetto life is always a poor life.

Q: Sure.

A: But we do what we had to do, to survive within the 'mix', y'know, with some guidance from grandparents who tell you to walk the straight line. And me being the disciplined type of person and listen to parents, to walk the straight line not doing the things that some other kids would do to get kinda wind up...

Q: ... caught up in gang runnings.

A: Yeah, yeah, taken away by gang violence, etc, etc. I involved myself with a lot of sports, like playing soccer. I was like athletic, I did track & field in primary school, so I occupy myself like that, y'know.

Q: Perhaps you had some kind of aspiration to become an athlete too, professionally?

A: Oh yeah. I played high school soccer in Jamaica for Vere Technical High School, prior to graduating.

Q: But the competition, at the time, to become an athlete, was it just as difficult as to enter the music industry?

A: Well, athletics is kinda like a different type of t'ing. With the music you have a control system where you don't - it's who you know. And depending on your talent as well, it'll break you through, otherwise it's gonna be difficult. But with athletic', y'know, you have a lot of people to compete against, but it's more like a 'team'. So you have more opportunity to get picked up by a team if you playing good an' they need that. I kinda just naturally athletic. Yeah, because I was quick as an athlete, I could run fast (laughs).

Keithus I.
Q: (Chuckles) What position and part on the pitch or field did you play?

A: Well, in school I played like midfield, defence. On the track & field I was like a middle distance runner.

Q: Oh. So could you 'transform' all this into music (chuckles)?

A: (Chuckles) Well, I think I did, yunno. Because during the school days, whenever we travel, we used to travel from - 'cause I went to a rural school, that's in the country, and we had to travel to different parishes, to compete with other schools throughout Jamaica. That was common. So, like for example, lets say we gonna play Cornwall - that's located Montego Bay, and we travel from Clarendon, it's a decent, yunno, close to maybe an hour drive, and I would be the singer in the van (laughs). Just singin' songs that we hear on the radio, it's nutten like what I had written, but I would do a lotta do-overs, different artists that sing along that time, like Bob Marley, Dennis Brown, John Holt, Ken Boothe, you know, these guys. And I would entertain players going from our location to there. So that's where the singin' t'ing started. Professionally it take hold in Montreal, Canada, because I migrated to Montreal after graduating from high school.

Q: OK, like around 17 years of age?

A: Yes, 17 - 18 more, yah.

Q: So you ended up in Canada, that's where you got serious with the music.

A: Yeah. I migrated to Montreal, and while in Montreal I meet up with a group of guys who, y'know, we all love the music and we had instruments, and we come together an' playing and jamming in a house until we perfec' the sound, and then we start doing lickle gigs in clubs here and there in Montreal.

Q: What was the name of the band?

A: We just call ourselves the Black Lions at the time. It was jus' a lickle t'ing.

Q: A 'garage' band, so to speak.

A: Yeah (laughs).

Q: The band recorded?

A: No, we never recorded with that band. But then I went back to Jamaica. I was like back and forth.

Q: What years are we talking now, first and foremost, like '72, '73?

A: Yeah, 'bout '72/73 there.

Keithus I.
Q: You like worked and scraped some money together for a while.

A: Yeah, I worked and went to school. I still continued to do like evening classes with Dawson College, where I was pursuing a Communication Arts degree, 'cause I love communication arts, I love the medium, the camera. And I do have knowledge in that area, 'cause that's what I'm doing as a job here in America now.

Q: I see, filming, documenting.

A: Yeah, with a 'sister' of CBS, sister station affiliate.

Q: Were you able to do that in Jamaica too at that time?

A: Yes, I did that in Jamaica as well, when I went back.

Q: In what field, as a photographer, or?

A: Well, I did photography, I shoot, camera work, and edit. But now I jus' do editing.

Q: For a local tv station.

A: It's a Channel 3, affiliate of CBS. But in the seventies I went back to Jamaica.

Q: Mid seventies, like?

A: Yeah, mid seventies, and I record there with Family Man (Barrett). And I met Family Man through Alan 'Skill' Cole.

Q: The football/soccer profile.

A: Yeah, that's a good friend of Bob Marley. And Alan 'Skill' Cole went to Vere Technical High School with me, but he was an older student. When I went there it was his last year. But we also had a relationship from Vineyard Town, 'cause were were playing like minor league soccer. Alan Cole was like a real star soccer player at the time.

Bob Marley & Alan 'Skill' Cole.

Alan 'Skill' Cole (center) & Bob Marley (right).
Q: He even got a contract to play for Santos in Brazil.

A: Oh yes, he did.

Q: Must've been exceptional at the time for a Jamaican player to achieve that?

A: (Chuckles) Yeah, yeah, very much so. No exposure. And it wasn't big, but Alan took it to that level, 'cause he was extra talented in that area.

Q: Never heard where he played or specialised in, midfield?

A: He was a inside forward, he could play midfield and he could play forward. He was like a playmaker, he created the playing.

Q: Built it up.

A: Yea, and he set it. He was like that, that's why they call him 'Skill'.

Q: The brain behind it, a centerpiece.

A: Yeah (chuckles).

Q: So that was the connection to the first project with Family Man on board.

A: Yeah, the connection to Family Man Barrett, because at the time Alan and Bob was close. I think he did some production for - he did the production for 'Trench Town Rock'.

Q: Correct, and also responsible for the Tuff Gong label, when it was new.

A: Yeah. So when I went back to Jamaica and we link up, he jus' introduce me to Family Man, and I got together with Family Man and did a live recording. The firs' song I did was 'Red Hot', it was live. It was live at 56 Hope Road. We didn't have an official studio built up then, it was jus' acoustic.

Q: I was listening to this recording, very 'peculiar' sound, sounds very special to say the least.

A: Yeah (chuckles). It was just live, straight like that, yunno.

Q: The mix, especially. 'Minimalistic'.

A: (Laughs) Yeah! And it just give it a different sound, y'know. A different sound and a different feel. I tried to recapture that sound, I never did! Just live, Family Man on the bass, Carlton (Barrett) on drums, Tyrone Downie on keyboards, and there was a rhythm guitar player - I don't remember his name. But he keep it...

Q: Any of the Americans in the Wailers, Al Anderson?

A: No, no, it wasn't any of those guys. It's a local, yunno, t'was a local who hang out with Family Man. He probably was around 'Scratch' Perry.

Q: Billy Johnson perhaps.

A: I don't remember his name, yunno (chuckles). I just know his face! What he looked like, but I don't remember his name.

Q: (Laughs) Typically. So the rhythm track was recorded at the rehearsal space out there?

A: It was done on a two-track. Yeah, a rehearsal space, we jus' had everyt'ing there. So everything was done - the music, all the instruments were on one track an' my voice was on the other track, so it was kinda mixed 'live on the go' type a t'ing.

Familyman Barrett.

Carlton Barrett.
Q: You decided it was good enough to release anyway.

A: Yeah, and then I was kinda young an' not knowledgable to the levels, so I jus' put it out.

Q: Good to have a record out there anyhow, as a start of something. And this was released under your real name.

A: Yeah, it was, Milton Samuels.

Q: And the label itself to this 45...

A: Well, the label we had was 'Keithus I', but that was another flip-flop (laughs). Because I had this nickname, Keithus, from high school days.

Q: Where did it originate from?

A: It just come from friends, yunno (chuckles).

Q: Because of...?

A: Well, there was - I used to spar with another player, his name is Lascelles Show, so when we were in high school I used to call him 'Buzz B', and he called me 'Nyah Keith'. And those were two gangsters names from (chuckles) early days Trench Town, y'know, hot steppers. Ca' when we were in school we were kinda militant. I think it was Alan Cole who kinda stuck the name on us too, yunno. Yeah, 'Buzz B & Keithus', they just call me Keithus. And from there on, once you get a nickname it sticks.

Keithus I.
Q: Which in itself seems to be an important part of the cultural and social identity in Jamaican life?

A: Right, right (chuckles).

Q: How could you release this at the time, it was just some savings from work in Canada?

A: Yeah, I just work and whatever I put together, yunno, usually I have some close friends who punch in and give me something to put to it. And it wasn't a lot then to really... with the production of that 'Red Hot', it wasn't like I had a large amount of money. You know, it was jus' a t'ing between me and Family Man (chuckles).

Q: Totally fresh in the business, and you get someone like Family Man to lay a track for you.

A: (Chuckles) Yeah, it's just a vibration, and like I say it's because of 'Skill' Cole.

Q: Yep, true.

A: It kinda just 'link' like that.

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