The Maytones is still one of those highly regarded names in the history of reggae music and upon listening to what they recorded in the golden era it's easy to see why. Pearl after pearl, the group delivered the goods time and time again. A word like 'timeless' is truly a cliché in describing the sweet two-male harmony sounds of this group, but it fits perfectly when talking of The Maytones work from that period and many other constellations of their ilk. Vernon Buckley and harmony singer Gladstone Grant started what was to become a very successful career as a harmony group back home in May Pen, a town in the parish of Clarendon, and The Maytones was just one of many excellent duos from Jamaica that sprung from the early reggae era, with the difference that they stayed on top for a longer time than most competitors at the time. These days Vernon is based in Montreal, Canada. He has his own production studio, and at the time of this interview - conducted on the 27th of January last year ('03), he had two releases to promote. One is the highly praised 'Their Greatest Hits' on the US Heartbeat label, featuring songs from their seventies heyday like 'Money Worries' (included on the 'Rockers'movie soundtrack), 'Africa We Want To Go' and 'Madness', as well as a CD with new recordings (as 'Vern Maytone') titled 'Raw' on Buckleys Music. Thanks also to Vern, Tim P., Robert Schoenfeld, Mike Turner, Teacher & Mr T.

Q: Give me some descriptions of your upbringing, plus the music surrounding you at the time?

A: OK. I grew up in May Pen, Clarendon. I was born there anyway. I grew up there until my teens. When I was a kid my most of the country & western... my dad was a country & western type of guy. He played like Marty Robbins and stuff like that. Skeeter Davis, and those kind of songs.

Q: I wonder why country & western has this popularity in Jamaica - or was popular, perhaps?

A: I don't know... I think it still is. Anyway, those are good songs. I did enjoy them. Yep. And back in those days a lot of foreign songs used to play on Jamaican radio. You know, soft songs and raw r&b, so it work in (laughs).

Q: Having these country sounds around in your childhood, do you think this affected your ear for music and songwriting, how you approach writing a song? Or that wasn't essential for creating a song?

A: Yeah, I think it play a part, it play a part. 'Cos those are good songs, you know what I mean? And weh you have to have it in you anyway. But I think it p, I t it help too. It help in certain ways. Like a guide, you know.

The Maytones.

Q: As far as structure of a song, do you think you have that country influence in it still?

A: Hmm... no. I wouldn't say it really influence me beca' my stuff is really different. But those songs let you kinda listen, y'know? So you have ideas "oh, that song have a bridge...", you know what I mean? But, it's really different from reggae, yeah.

Q: What is May Pen like? For someone who doesn't know that place - is it a small village or something like that?

A: Nooo! May Pen is a town now! Yeah (laughs)! A village? No, that's years ago. It's like a main (place) for entertainment - the mainstream for entertainment. Everything you could think of from dances to shows, May Pen and Clarendon carry the biggest crowd fe entertainment. Yes, so a lot of stuff going on there. Even now it's better.

Q: Many living there then?

A: Ooh... it's very large, y'know. I don't have the numbers but it's very, very large.

Q: And for music, what does it look like?

A: Lots of clubs. You have clubs, you have halls, you have theaters. 'Cos sometimes they do stage shows in theaters - everything is there whe you can think of in Kingston is in May Pen now.

Q: What kind of opportunity did you get in May Pen in the sixties? Those who wanted to play... what was possible - and available - to get for (musical) development then?

A: When I thought about taking music into I & I hand, that's the time I moved to Kingston. You know, because that's where all the studios and stuff - everything is right there. So, I really moved. I moved to Kingston just around I ready to start to sing. Then I go back to May Pen and met (Alvin) Ranglin. Someone introduce me to Ranglin. And I was around in Kingston when I was thinking of singing. When I went to Kingston I was around Heptones there. Yeah, and they were living in Trench Town then.

Q: Were your family involved with music? Any relatives close to the family who played on a regular level?

A: No, not really. I can't even think of a relative that really... I can see it with Christianity and in church and stuff like that. 'Ca my grandma... I was in a... just six miles from May Pen they have a place named Hayes - the name of that place named Hayes. I spent some time with my grandma down there. I used to go to church on Saturdays and there was a lot of singing in the church. That was a good vibes.

Q: What kind of church was it?

A: Was an Adventist... Seventh Day Adventist Church. Yeah, and just up the road from where I lived in May Pen there was a... what's the name of the church...? It was 'Church of God'. They beat the drums and sing and fundes (drum) man had the whole place laid up (laughs). And so that's a nex' influence towards the music.

Q: But none of those close to you played on a professional level or were closely linked to a group as such, if you can recall?

A: No. Not that I know of, no.

The Maytones And Friends.

Q: Speaking about local and international influences, what did you listen to in those days?

A: I used to listen to a lot of groups, because from I was small I used to fool around sound man music business, y'know? I used to have a little disco and play all kind of stuff. I used to listen to mostly all those artists from dem deh days, y'know? I used to have a few favourites, Heptones was a favourite. I used to listen to Ken Boothe, and this guy that passed on there... what's his name again - Slim Smith? Slim Smith... Those guys, I used to listen to those guys a lot.

Q: The Techniques?

A: Aah! The Techniques! The Uniques, Paragons, all of those guys, yeah.

Q: And international acts, like the American groups - The Impressions I guess, with Mayfield, and so on?

A: Impressions and Curtis Mayfield. And there was a... The Temptations. Yeah, and those guys... O'Jays or something like that (laughs)? I used to listen to those guys too, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and those.

Q: Considering that simple, laidback, raw country sound you had, I felt that you could somehow more easily relate to the rough sound of the Southern Soul scene of the 60s - Stax/Volt, with Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, etc?

A: Yes, those guys are alright. I listened to them a lot. I try to remember there was a singer there... weh I used to listen to a lot...?

Q: Lou Rawls? Brook Benton?

A: Yes, Lou Rawls, Brook Benton... Sam Cooke! Yeah, that guy there - Sam Cooke. And Ray Charles, yes, all those guys deh. I used to listen to a lot of Sam Cooke.

Q: Suppose you spent a lot of your childhood in church?

A: Yes, I a... it used to be compulsory to have to go to church! But I never really take part in like choir and stuff like that. I sung with the church like with an audience an' t'ing but never really as the choir or anyt'ing like that.

Q: How did you link with Gladstone Grant?

A: Well, he... we grew up together. He's my neighbour, y'know? Beside eachother. I stay at my fence and talk to him at his fence. We realm (?) directly side by side, on the same hand. Not across the roads. I can just go through the fence and go into his yard. Yeah (laughs).

Q: You went to the same class - the same school?

A: Yeah, we went to the same school for a while. For most of the time. Went to Secondary together.

Q: And you are about the same age?

A: He's about two years... or ' bout a year or some older than me. Yeah, fe sure.

Q: I think you mentioned (yesterday) that Glen Washington was around in May Pen at that time too, with you guys?

A: At that time, yeah. He live on my street. Glen is just about... maybe four chains from me - up the road from me. Every time he have to pass my yard to go into the town. Now we used to fool around a lot. We used to, like, build a likkle boxes and stuff like that. And sing like "clash" and stuff like that, y'know (laughs)? You know, pretend that it is a clash that we actually used to sing on the streetside there (laughs). Yeah, yeah...

Q: Was there any other youths then in May Pen who got fame afterwards?

Glen Washington.

A: Culture... Lloydie Culture. Lloydie Culture - the first shirt I wore on stage, is Lloydie do the pattern for me. 'Ca he was an artist, yunno? He can write, draw stuff an' t'ing like that. Yeah, he was living just a few blocks from me. We used to call him 'Black Isis' (laughs). That's wha' we used to call him... we called him 'Black Isis', Lloydie.

Q: Didn't Freddie McKay and the Soul Defenders come from the May Pen area too?

A: Yes, but a little further - they come from Hayes where I spend some time with my grandma - weh I told you about, Hayes... the church there? Yeah, they come from that side - Freddie McGregor, Freddie McKay. Down little more is Cocoa Tea, likkle more is Everton Blender. You know, Clarendonians. Clarendonians is right there in Hayes. Them were from Hayes, yes. With Ernie Smith, Ernest (Wilson) and Peter (Austin) there.

Q: Who taught you guitar at the time?

A: Yes, it was a group by the name of Itals. But there was two Itals. The group was from May Pen. The guy that lead the group, his name was George. He actually taught me to learn to play guitar. He bought a book for me and... but I never take it to no distant. He used to just help me to write some songs and stuff like that. 'Ca in those days the way we 'ave: we used to approach the musicians, y'know... have an idea. Now, we sit down with a likkle box guitar an' play an' then they catch (what they) 'ear and take it from there.

Q: And this is like mid-sixties we're talking now - in, like,'65 - '66?

A: Yeah, but later than that though - '67... '68! My first song was done in '68.

Q: Where did you get the feel for writing a proper song, starting out pretty young with this - who taught you at the time?

A: No one. I think that just come natural. That comes natural. There's no one who taught me to write a song or... 'Ca in the early days my eldest sister - she's a teacher. I even waan... 'Madness' - when 'Madness' hit, people was saying that, well, then it's my sister write the song, or something like that (laughs)! 'Ca true, she was a teacher, an' t'ing like that. But nutten like that. I don't know, I guess that just come natural. I always like to put words together and use my paper and pen...

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