Some singers are too good to be hidden in the obscurity they, quite often, find themselves in. And in reggae, it turns out that many of them has had a finger in more things than what is documented or what anyone could guess. Like Leroy Brown, the man known as 'Artist', not only for the songwriting abilities, but for his talent in drawing. Leroy drew many posters for Jamaican events since the 1960's (how about that for a book?). Leroy Brown was, along with the Barrett brothers, the founder of the Hippy Boys, later to become the Upsetters. He was also a member of the vocal group the Emotions. But for reggae aficionados he is mainly known for that special Album of Albums, 'Color Barrier', originally released as 'Prayer of Peace' in 1976, and probably one of the five best records produced during the roots era, which recently got a French reissue after many years of being unavailable. A Canadian resident for more than the past thirty years, he devoted a lot of his own labour in the 1970's to create what is now a pretty strong reggae scene in Canada. As you could expect the man had a long story and much of it is detailed here. My thanks to Leroy and family, Makasound crew, Carlton Hines, Donovan Phillips, Tim P. and Steve Barrow.

Q: To begin here, how did you grow up, Leroy?

A: How did I grow up? OK, that's a very good one.

Q: (Laughs) OK!

A: I like that, 'grow up' (laughs)! OK, I grew up in Jones Town basically, from Jones Town to Trench Town.

Q: More or less the same part of Kingston, right?

A: Yes, I grew up in the western part of Kingston. Then, I grew up in a Christian home, a musical home. My mom was at church, she was just about everything at that church. She was in charge of music, everything, teachin' the young kids how to sing, etc, etc. So basically I start - my mom was really a good singer too, and her sisters and brothers, they sang a lot during those times. Yes, schoolling, Denham Town School, same West Kingston again, and by now it's the story of Alton Ellis and me during my school years. I met Alton at an early age, Alton Ellis.

Q: How did that come about?

A: I was singin', like you know kids on the corner singin', Alton passed by an' I noted that he liked my sound, he said he could give me some help. Trust me, it was like the biggest thing wha' happen in life to hear the great Alton Ellis thought... that HE was pickin' me! From there he was givin' me - I was singin' before that, but it didn't encourage me more, before hearing that from Alton, y'know, that I sound good. And from there I started taking lessons from Alton an' go by his place an' listen to him rehearse. That's where I met Skully (Simms).

Alton Ellis.

'Skully' Simms.
Q: Where was Alton rehearsing, he was based in Trench Town, wasn't he?

A: Yeah, he was in Trench Town in those days.

Q: In his backyard, close to Higgs.

A: Right. I used to go up there. But the other person who played an active role in my life too, is Roy Wilson.

Q: Higgs & Wilson?

A: And Joe Higgs, right, from Higgs & Wilson. Yeah, he was another one who... As a kid, people used to like my sound as a little boy, and everybody always want to tell me that they can help me and that they can do everything, whatever, for me. So, somebody did tell me to listen to Roy, he too used to be a part of the school singin' and church singin'. But one other thing is, which stand out the most, is that - that encourage me the most, is when you're in Trench Town singin' and people really like you - ca' they boo you for everyt'ing there, man...

Q: (Chuckles)

A: If people like you there, man, it give you confidence that you can really do it. By then, moving on to the East Kingston where it REALLY happened, it really 'appen when I moved to the eastern side of Kingston, was in Rollington Town, them town area. I met Family Man (Barrett) and his brother (Carlton), Maxie Romeo.

Q: So that's where the Hippy Boys started.

A: Oh, yes. But this story of the Hippy Boys, you are just about to hear the real story now...

Aston 'Family Man' Barrett.

Carlton 'Carly' Barrett.

Q: Ah, shoot!

A: I hear every bit of pieces, pieces all over the place, but people are running away from the real thing. Hippy Boys started out as a group named the Soul Mates, it was written wrong on the Makasound album ('Color Barrier' liners), the Soul Mates, that was the name of the group. We used to rehearse at the Baby Grand in Cross Roads, Kingston. We didn't have a lot of stuff, didn't have a lot of equipment. The bass that Family Man used to play was borrowed from the Gaylads, the drum was borrowed from the Gaylads that Carlie used to play. Carlie wasn't even the original drummer, it was a guy named Shan that was playing with the Gaylads. Then, we had times when Shan don't show up, we got Carlie to play, 'cause Carlie was really a better drummer an' Shan didn't want to play an instrument. So we were basically rehearsing on a lot of borrowed instruments. We moved on from the Baby Grand Club to another part of Kingston, a little further east out where (Lloyd) Shakespeare and Maxie had a base, called the Green Basket.

Q: Baby Grand, that was the name you said, the club you mentioned?

A: We used to rehearse at the Baby Grand Club before, used to play there every weekend, y'know, we rehearsed an' in turn we never have to pay for rehearsal, we just play at the club for the gate, that kind of thing. So when we move over now to the Green Basket an' out in the yard at Langston Road corner, you used to have people from another hotel named the Flamingo Hotel, they was going by and heard us practicing one night, and they came in. They wanted to find out if we guys want to do a show. That was about the biggest thing that could happen to us, we were still the Soul Mates then. And we agreed, and they say they wanna change the name of the group, that's when they changed the name to the Hippy Boys. I wasn't too pleased about it ca' I didn't like the name.

Q: Where did the name come from? OK, we know about the 'hippie' era in Europe and the States, etc, it was in full swing at that time, but it was that or a different connection?

A: These people had European connections, the Flamingo Hotel. So I think, because of the way how we guys did look, or something, why they figure they'd call us the Hippy Boys.

Q: You had that style, dressing a certain way, and so on?

A: Maybe, y'know. (Chuckles) So, anyway, the name Hippy Boys stuck to us from that point. I was in the Hippy Boys and the Emotions at the same time. Maxie was the one who invite me into the Emotions. Then Kenneth, that was the original member, Lloydie (Shakespeare, brother to Robbie) and Maxie, for some reason Lloydie and Kenneth had some kind of dispute, whatever it was, he was no longer in the group. That was how I was featured in the group now. And so I was in the Hippy Boys band and recording with the Emotions. It wasn't long after Maxie went solo, and I took over the group. So he left me and Lloyd Shakespeare now.

Q: Why did he leave the group, what was the reason?

A: He went solo, we never had no argument or nutten. No, we never argued.

Q: It was just time for him to break away and do his own thing.

A: What he wanted was to go... He went and did some songs on his own, and something start to happen to him, like 'Wet Dream' and all those songs. It was natural he'd go solo.

Max Romeo.

Leroy Brown.
Q: Right.

A: So at that stage - he used to have a little joke about it, that he was 'coming back for his group' and all of that (laughs)! For we are friends... And I featured a brother named Matthews, we called him 'Soul Man'. He was in the group for a little while. We recorded some songs for Phil Pratt and Patrick Harty, and then we moved on.

Q: Patrick Harty, that was the guy who owned the Kismet label?

A: Yes! Same guy. He was early, y'know, he was one of the early producers.

Q: What was the link to him?

A: All right, now. There's a link between Patrick Harty, Milton Henry, myself. We did have a group named The Progressions, and we were all friends. Milton Henry at that time was a guy who used to assist the Techniques, so everybody was in the Alman Town area as all young boys, we know one another. So, he produced those two songs, a couple songs for us. And then, the guy Soul Man went his way, I think his name was Brenton Matthews. He went his way, and they ask Milton to come and do some work with us - Milton Henry. That's how we did the first recording, and the first we did with Milton was 'The Storm' and then 'You Can't Stop Me', and for Sonia Pottinger. So playin' around in the studio the night we came up with the idea for 'Dr No Go', the song, the version of 'You Can't Stop Me'. So what happened from there now is that I did pick a few musicians to be on that session, which was part of the Hippy Boys, Family Man, Glen Adams, a few others. And the real truth about it, it wasn't the complete Hippy Boys, but it was the majority of the Hippy Boys who backed us. And from there on the Hippy Boys story - we're still in the Hippy Boys - Maxie was on his own by then, eventually I was no longer in the Hippy Boys, I concentrated more on the Emotions. Then when Robbie's brother took off for a while, I featured Audley Rollens. Audley Rollens used to be always with us, rehearsing with us and so on, he was just a next friend in line, he was an excellent singer so we featured him. We went from there now to Matador (Lloyd Daley), did a couple recordings for Mrs Pottinger, and then on to Lloydie Matador, where we recorded 'War War' and a series of songs that Matador got. 'War War', 'Hallelujah', 'Poor Man Story (Long)', and so on.

Q: What about this guy, Web Stewart, where and when does he fit into the picture?

A: Web Stewart? Yes, Web Stewart is the man...

Q: 'Webbie'.

A: 'Webbie', who formed the band. He was the lead singer, the lead guitarist, and the leader for the band, Hippy Boys. He started the Soul Mates. He even go a little further than that, he was in the group with Bibby & The Astronauts. Bibby is the same person from the Gaylads (BB Seaton). Webbie was one of the guys, he was a cabinet maker, and he could make guitars, he had quite a bit of knowledge, plus he was older than us. He's the one who start calling me 'Artist', 'cause I drew a picture of him one day in his cabinet shop. He was so proud of that picture. He said, "Oh, you're a singer and you draw pictures, ah, you're an artist!" From there the name 'Artist' stuck. Then, moving on, a lot of my time was spent at Robbie Shakespeare's house, his mom and dad was like my parents. In my teenage days, we leave our house and we'd go there and we felt like we wanna stay, we sing, play games, we'd do everything together. We was like a family there, so close. By then Family Man and the Hippy Boys used to come there, Family Man and I were really good friends, so we'd do all the rehearsal there. And then came Mr Robbie, Robbie was always observing what we were doing and he would ask questions, etc. Then one day, Lee Perry and Bunny Lee came to our rehearsal spot and borrowed a couple of our musicians for recording purposes. And that was the end of Family Man in the Hippy Boys, what we had was to feature Robbie. Robbie basically learned from being around us, that was where his carrer as a bass player started. So we always worked together as a family same way, from that day until today. We still record together and we keep in touch.

Q: And Lloyd, what became of him?

A: Lloyd Shakespeare?

Q: Yes.

A: He died.

Q: Right, I think Max mentioned something about him being poisoned from the factory where he worked, chemicals. Tragic.

A: He died in the eighties, when I was already abroad.

Q: Oh, as late as that, I thought it was at least in the late sixties.

A: No, no. I think he died in the early eighties.

Q: OK.

A: He and I did some recordings in the late seventies, late '79, somewhere around there. We did - I went back to Jamaica and we did some stuff, he and Milton and myself , we did a couple recordings, yes. Yeah, Lloydie was a driving force behind the group, the Emotions.

Q: It was more or less his 'brainchild', the group?

A: Oh yes, he was the guy. I would go out and get recordings and like I would go to different producers, when they're having auditions and all of that. Lloyd was the man who hold the group together there, when he left then I was the man who was to do all of that (chuckles).

Leroy Brown.

Q: By the way, did you participate on that album for Sonia Pottinger, 'Reggae With The Hippy Boys'?

A: No, I did not play on that, on that album. A track was taken from our song, for the album. Like for instance 'You Can't Stop Me', and so on, other tracks that we do, some of them ended up on the Hippy Boys album.

Q: What about payment, it was pretty much the same story as we know all too well by now?

A: Payment?

Q: Yeah.

A: (Hawking) It's a strong word...

Q: (Chuckles) I see.

A: Payment was advance. When I say that you get an advance you're happy you get some money. But the real truth about it, in the early days - you must've heard it before...

Q: Just pocket money.

A: Yes, we weren't focusing on making money, no. We had the love for singin' and we sing and spend a lot of time doing what we love. The money part of it was secondary.

Q: OK. But how did it look like, your domestic life and the career in music and making a living out of it, did you focus on playing in clubs with the Hippy Boys, or that was something you only could combine with a regular work, and what was that for you?

A: Yes. I was really the working person in the group most of the time. I'm an artist, I do love to do designing and all of that.

Q: So you had some sort of basic training in graphics?

A: Yes, I went to art school in Jamaica. I went to Jamaica Institute and I went to The School of Art. And I managed to - I was fortunate enough to get involved in the advertising business. One of my main clients were Appliance Traders. When he started up, Butch Stewart, I was design artist junior next door to where he was working as a salesman. So what happened, when he bought his first vehicle he got me, the apprentice, to come and paint it for him. And from then the company start growing and I keep making my money from that company. And I wanna even extend to that, that guitar that most of us learned to play on, I borrowed it from Butch Stewart, I don't know if you're familiar with that name? He's now like somebody who almost everyone in Jamaica knows about. He created the Saunders Hotel, etc, etc, so he's really somebody that everyone would know, now. But then, Mr Butch Stewart was Mr Nobody then, but nice person. I borrowed his guitar and I never gave it back to him. (Chuckles) All of us, we joke about it, because he's a big multi-billionaire now, he came by and reminded me last year, he wanted me to know "Oh, Leroy, remember that guitar, yunno?" It was like back in the late sixties.

Q: Yes.

A: (Chuckles) So, we all learn from it. The story is so long, man, that I... I don't know.

Q: Right.

A: But we plan to buy a guitar, it was an Egman guitar. We plan to buy one and get all of us to sign it and send it to him.

Page:  | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
[ Previous ]      [ Next ]
Article: Peter I
(Please do not reproduce without permission)