|Without doubt Lynn Taitt was one of the key figures in the history of Jamaican popular music. It was this Trinidadian musician who developed that dynamic guitar/bass interplay that was a key feature in rock steady. In the early 1990s appeared the fourth volume of the Dub Catcher magazine, which actually was a Rock Steady special and, amongst the articles, included an interview with Lynn Taitt by Bob Schoenfeld.|
Bob: I would like to start off by asking you if Lynn Taitt is your full name from birth?
Lynn: No. that is not my full name from birth. My full name is Nearlin Taitt.
Bob: You were born where?
Lynn: I was born in San Fernando, Trinidad.
Bob: What year?
Bob: Growing up in Trinidad, do you remember anything about music from your early childhood?
Lynn: Yes. I was never a guitarist or anything like that. I had my own steel band. I grew up with twenty four boys around me. My mother was a seventh day adventist, still is. I used to tune the pans, arrange the music for the steel pans and on the carnival, our band used to go out and make our own costumes. I was doing that since I was about 8 or 9 years old. I wasnít even thinking of guitar. But in those there, the ships from Sweden used to come for oil, because Trinidad have a lot of oil. The sailors would come and go into a club and look for the women, yunno? To drink and have a good time. And we used to go down there. There was an orchestra that used to play there and we would go and hang around. And one of my friends stole an acoustic guitar from a sailor because he was drunk and he give it to me to keep because I wasn't no guitarist. And in about a month when he came back for it, I was playing the guitar. So he sold it to me for 20 Trinidad dollars.
Young Lynn Taitt.
Bob: How old were you at the time?
Lynn: Oh, 14 or 15. And I bought a mic, one of those that you hook onto the guitar. I would plug it into my mother's radio and get a little distorted sound and play. Some guys heard me and offered me a job in their group called the Dutch Brothers, and they gave me a good guitar to play. So that's how I started to play guitar. I continued guitar playing in that group and after 2 years I decided to form my own group in Trinidad. There was seven of us, and after playing around I got a contract to go to Jamaica for the Jamaica independence celebration. We went there with Byron Lee and he took us around. I didnít want to go home because I liked Jamaica, right? So I stayed there with Byron Lee and got into a group called the Sheiks.
Bob: So what year would that be?
Bob: Did your group in Trinidad ever make a record?
A Yeah, I have one 45 in Trinidad. but it's quite a long time now, I really can't remember it. I think some people out there may have it.
Bob: Did the Sheiks record?
Lynn: No, the Sheiks didn't do any recording. They used to play out at school dances, functions and so.
Bob: Byron Lee was the manager for the group?
Lynn: The manager? Well, there were two brothers. One of them used to play drum and the other used to drive the van, so called the manager in those days because they got the job. And a gentle man named Lloyd Spence who played bass, got to know that I am an arranger. I could arrange and so. We left the group and started our own group, the Cavaliers.
Bob: And that's the group that recorded as Cavaliers combo?
Lynn: No. They didn't do any recording either. Well after 2 or 3 years again, I find a new manager to finance me. Then I form the Comets. Lynn Taitt & the Comets. We didn't do any recording, just playing all over Jamaica and things. Well that came up to 1966-67. I had a sort of small band that broke up after a while. Then I formed a new group called Lynn Taitt & the Jets. I had recorded before with the Skatalites, just as a guitarist, yunno. But the Jets and I got a contract to work with Federal recording. Well most of the artists used to work with Federal and Duke Reid and all dem. I was the main one with the guitar. Playing around with all of the artists that Jamaica ever produced at that time.
Bob: You had a really fruitful period, creative wise.
Lynn: Well, yes. Before I had my group, in 1965, the music was ska music. It was very fast music.
Bob: And it's also dominated by more horns?
Lynn: Yes, you had 4 or 5 horns, yunno and just the introduction with the guitar and bass, which I brought.
Bob: I was going to say that come 1967 the music shifts to rock steady?
Lynn: Yes. well this is what I am coming to. because Hopeton Lewis came to Federal recording studio with a song called "Take It Easy" and I find the ska too fast. Very, very fast. So I told them, I said "Well look... let's do this one slow, very slow." And as the music got slower, it had spaces. The slower the music, it have more spaces to do something with. So I put a bass line and I play in unison with the bass and get a bass line. And the piano, sometimes I strum, sometimes I play a bass line with the bass. That was the first slow song, rock steady song. It was "Take It Easy" by Hopeton Lewis. The first slow song. Nothing else was slow at that time. Everything had been ska.
Bob: Did the song catch?
Lynn: Yes. it went to number one in Jamaica.
Bob: So that created a kind of a demand for that sound then?
Lynn: For that tempo. The tempo is very slow with the bass and guitar line playing the same thing. You used to use 2 guitars. Hux Brown and myself, or another guitarist and myself. And it was very slow, yunno, but with a definite bass line going right through the song.
Bob: It gives the song kind of a pressure feel. I donít know how to describe it. More tension.
Lynn: Yes, because the ska does not really have a rhythm section. It was an accompaniment to the horns. Just holding the chords. But with this slowing down of the music and the spaces which it opened, the bass line came into focus.
Bob: Sometimes you aren't sure if you're hearing the bass guitar or the regular guitar?
Lynn: Yeah. It was very tight. The two of them played exactly the same note.
Bob: But there's a little more to it, still now on the guitarist. Because the sound is not just played on the same notes, it's also the style of... is it picking?
Lynn: It's a bubbling of notes.
Bob: Yeah, talk to me about the bubbling, man.
Lynn: You buck the string with your right hand, yunno? Youíre picking, but you buck the string. You don't let the string sustain, yunno. And the two first persons who did this was I and Ernest Ranglin but I was more in demand with the various recording studios. I used that to stray away from the bass line. And that catch on as well.
Bob: Well, that to me is one of the loveliest things I've ever heard. When you hear that sound, was that mainly just you and Hux Brown or was there someone else bucking the strings?
Lynn: It involve after I left Jamaica, I think in 1968. It was in England I heard some couple of records from England with it. Many of the guitarists, take the bubbling and did it as well. But I had a distinctive sound and still have a distinctive sound of the guitar. Another thing I have to say, the guitarists at that time used to strum up first for the beat, but I turned it to strum down for the first beat. But before, everybody they used to pull the strings up. And the music is written in common time, yunno. Not in cut time, because calypso is written in cut time, but reggae/rock steady is written in common time music. It is a simpler form because the phrases are not very fast. Slow phrases.
Bob: That's fascinating, Lynn, that's just fascinating.
Lynn: When I started to do recording sessions for Mr. Duke Reid and many different artists out there, Ernest Ranglin was in England, not Jamaica. He came after. Maybe he found out about me (laughs). Because on certain sessions I played guitar with him and we had a lot of fun.
Bob: I think it is one of the most fertile, if not the most fertile creative period in Jamaican music, and it was a short-lived period for sure.
Lynn: Yes, it was short.
Bob: But in that short time, the records that did come out are pretty consistently wonderful, one right after the other.
Lynn: Yes. because they may call me for a session at 9:00 in the morning till 12:00 noon. and another session would start at 1:00 and finish at 4:00 with another one at 5:00 till 8:00 at night. So maybe 4 sessions a day, 5 sessions a day for different promoters. that's how it used to be at that time.
Bob: Well, who were the members of your recording band when you signed with Federal?
Lynn: Well it was my personal group, so to speak, it was I, Hux Brown, Headly Bennett and Hopeton Lewis.
Bob: I am wondering that when you came to record for some of the other producers, was your name credited if the players shifted somewhat, or was it pretty much the same group of players?
Lynn: In my group?
Lynn: No, well it expanded because Hux Brown came in and then I got a saxophonist from a place called Portland. then Bobby Ellis used to play (trumpet) for me, yunno. I had a small horn section that fill in gaps in songs with the same slow rock steady rhythm.
Bob: Did you find that different producers wanted different musicians on different sessions?
Lynn: Well, at some times. At Federal it was one set of musicians, but for most other producers they may have their own bassist thay would like to include. But I was always there.
Bob: One of the interesting things I got into talking to Winston (Grennan), that I would like to speak about, are what he called the All Stars, particularly how that involves Beverly's All Stars.
Lynn: Well, I used to record once a week or twice a week with Beverly's All Stars. It was myself, Hux Brown, Joe Isaacs on drums and sometimes Brian (Atkinson) or Jackie Jackson, another guy. It was a group of musicians, all of the guys were in my band but they were the musicians at that time. and some people preferred to use a different pianist or a different bassist, but mainly I was always there to give a bass line, introduction, work out the music for the singers with Gladdy Anderson on the piano.
Bob: I understand that Gladdy played a real key role in many early sessions.
Lynn: Yep. he played because at that time I couldn't talk to the Jamaicans because I had a really strong Trinidadian accent, yunno the Jamaicans didn't really understand it fully. So Gladdy used to look after all of that, talk to the singers and get everything clear.
Bob: He understood you better?
Lynn: Yes, much better.
Bob: Do you ever think of yourself as somewhat of a legend in this music, Lynn?
Lynn: (laughing) No. Mo. Just an ordinary guitar player and trying to continue the heritage of black music from the West Indies. any music. It could be calypso, Spanish music, trying to continue that.
Bob: Well, I think of you as a legendary figure in this music. As a researcher and a music lover, when I go back and listen to the old records it becomes obvious to me that there are certain highlights. And chief among them, to my ears, is 1967-68. Those years were when you were creatively fruitful in Jamaica. That sound and that style is a standout.
Lynn: Yes, it is. But you see, in those times, there were more creative musicians. Tommy McCook was a great leader, Ernest Ranglin. You know a lot of the musicians were more creative, because there was no one else before us to do the things we did. It was a pleasure to get up and get an idea and put your idea onto a record. And to have the public like what you do is a great gift.
Bob: Were there artists that you favored?
Lynn: Oh gosh. it's a long time... Alton Ellis, Desmond Dekker, Roy Shirley, yunno. Most of the artists then were more creative. They had a better melody. They created lovely songs. They were more into music. At that time we were not thinking of it from a business aspect. We were just interested in creating beautiful music.
Bob: Well you certainly did, Lynn, you certainly did.
Interview by Bob Schoenfeld|
Originally published in Dub Catcher Vol. 4