Eric 'Monty' Morris was one of those celebrated names on people's lips back in the early sixties with hits like 'Humpty Dumpty', 'Sammy Dead', 'What A Man Doeth', 'Penny Reel' and 'Money Can't Buy Life'. 'Humpty Dumpty' in particular proved to be the record most remember him by, containing familiar lines of nursery rhymes which caught on the with the Jamaican audience, hungry as ever for something new and fresh on record. Prince Buster probably captured him at his best at the time, and as with most of what he recorded, too much of it remains buried in the past on records which seems as rare to find today as hens teeth, a situation which will hopefully be redressed in some way as more and more music from the good old days becomes available again. To call 'Monty' an overlooked name in the music is truly an understatement, the man is still to receive the true recognition he is due. As with several others from the same era, Morris did not survive the transition to the rock steady and reggae format very well, and migrated in the early seventies to the States where he still resides today, performing occasionally on oldies shows and the popular Heineken Startime showcase in Jamaica. What follows is a pretty rare discussion with one of the stalwarts of the ska era, the interview was conducted in March, 2004. My thanks to Eric, HOP Records, Bob Schoenfeld, Donovan Phillips, Michael de Koningh, Tim P, and Steve Barrow.



Q: How did you start?

A: Really, what happen now, I was born and grew up, where the music... in the music scene, y'know. I started off from talent shows and all them t'ing before I really become a recording artist, what you'd say a composer of songs. I started off at talent shows.

Q: Vere John's talent showcase?

A: Yes, that was the first, that was the first kind of talent shows that they had in Jamaica where you could go and get your talent exposed, y'know. And I started from 'Opportunity Hour' where a man called Vere John used to have talent show in Jamaica at the Majestic Theater and, y'know, Queen Theater and all them things. I get to know all the theaters in Jamaica.

Q: This is the mid fifties?

A: Oh, well... ah yeah, that was from the early fifties, yunno. Beca' before Jamaican music start being recognised, like, those were the times when you had these legendary artists performing in them times. So I would say early fifties.

Q: What was Vere John like? This is an overlooked figure as well.

A: Well, Vere John's... I don't think Vere John was a Jamaican, yunno, because I think he was in some form of other country. But maybe he come and see relatives in Jamaica, when he wasn't there and keep the show going on he had his sons there doing it.

Q: What was the presentation at those contests like, can you recall anyone you had in the same contest?

A: You used to have comedy and you used to have a t'ing you call pantomime, dancers, and you'd have singers. You know, you had other people do acts. People that do acts in different kind of ways, like magicians and whatever you'd call them, yunno, so it was a wide variety of t'ings. But like I'm saying, all of that is just a first stage of getting yourself in the music business. Because as you know in life everybody have a chance, y'know what I mean? Everybody get a chance to really expose themselves to what they really are. Thinking about 'Opportunity Hour' and telling you about that, that never really make a man fe be an artist, yunno, that is just like somebody sending somebody to school, y'know what I mean? But you learn from that, you gain from that, y'know, it's a different t'ing. But I'm just telling you where it all started out with Vere John.

Q: Where did you live in Kingston?

A: I would call them residential area, as some people would call them, y'know, suburbs, outskirt places. Near to a place they call Ambassador Theater and all those places.

Q: What was the neighborhood?

A: Ah, I grew up in Kingston, Trench Town them call it. Yeah. That would be an area which part you have these people like all Bob Marley was living 'round there, and other singers like Delroy Wilson and Alton (Ellis) and all those people. That was 'round in the area, the suburbs where the kind of artists was like Higgs & Wilson and all those guys who was, y'know, recording artists. So you have a lotta artists came from them place deh. Stranger Cole and some other guys, you had Lloyd Charmers and Teddy Charmers. You know, talking about The Charmers, one of them was there first time when we went to New York to promote ska music - for Jamaican music, I think it's his partner Lloyd Charmers - the tall one? Yeah, he was there too.

Q: Right, we're getting to this later on. So what prompted you to go into the music seriously?

A: First of all, yunno, I have to say with the talent I get I haffe give thanks to the Father fe the kinda talent I get from a youth. 'Cause really and truly, who are anybody who really discover me that I had a talent to sing or play the ska, or do somet'ing that somebody could seh, well, this man has somet'ing inside of him that would make people happy and, y'know, the world would get some inspiration about life, is that I grow up around mostly my people dem. Is spiritual people and I always tour with them, I went with them to the country and t'ing like that. You see, any lickle spiritual background coming from my flavour, like songs I make like 'Higher Than The Highest Mountain', y'know what I mean, or 'Sammy Planted A Corn' and all dem tune deh, is because I was living 'round a type of environment. Them took me as a young man and we go up to the country and, y'know, we grow up 'round spiritual t'ing. And I take those inspiration now and building songs, yunno, and t'ings like that. But first of all I have to give thanks to the Father for the t'ings that really happen.

Q: Who did you mingle with in those days, anyone of your friends you were kind of 'sparring' with who later got into the music scene?

A: I feel really where I started from you see is that I think I started at the very beginning where the best of Jamaican artists that you can ever t'ink about or speak about, is that, number one - the first two artist them, or the first three artist them that used to be around me - is a man named Wilfred 'Jackie' Edwards, I don't know if you know about him?

Q: Yes I do.

A: He sing 'Tell Me Darling', and another man named Owen Gray.

Q: Oh yes.

A: Yeah, and then you have this guy in Higgs & Wilson.

Q: Roy Wilson?

A: Yeah. And then Alton Ellis and the real... wha' him name...? This guy a Ken Boothe, him was a artist but in my time he wasn't really known that time, yunno, and another guy named Stranger Cole. That, dem man deh was the man I had been around. And, let me see now...

Q: Simms & Robinson.

A: Simms & Robinson, and Alton's sister could sing too, what's her name...?

Q: Hortense.

A: Hortense Ellis, because we all was on stage shows together. And then first and foremost too I'm not forgetting that me and Derrick, Derrick Morgan, was one of the first time artists.

Q: When did you bump into Derrick?

A: You know, me and Derrick almost grow in the same neighborhood, yunno, on the same street.

Q: Trench Town?

A: No, no, we were living in the upper suburbs like from the town area, downtown Kingston. You see, it's a area in the center of Kingston, is a area like what you call the mid center of Kingston. In Kingston you have like the centers and that is the town area. So we lived just like a couple blocks away from the town areas. So you'd call that place now - it's like Orange Street, called Orange Street, and then we lived on Orange Lane. That was the lane coming up from Orange Street what you call 'Beat Street', and over on the other side now you have the park, 'Race Course' they call it. The park where they had the cyclists and all that, cyclists court, it was a big park area, y'know. So you had King Street, but we lived a couple block from the center of the whole town area itself. Like you have Washington and DC is the capital (where Morris now resides), and that is the town area. It's a different suburb.

Derrick Morgan

Q: So what was the encounter with Derrick?

A: Oh yeah, well you see Derrick and me grew up, yunno, him become like my second heir (?) in music, beca' him and me grow up in Orange Lane now in which... I felt that me and Derrick could a make some music together, y'know. Beca' me and Derrick was like down by the fireplace and go play, behind Orange Street, yunno, me and Derrick was behind there knockin' on cars, like open cars, and all dem t'ing deh, trying to get a t'ing together. Yes, there so we started it, we started it like... I think I was the one who mention to Derrick one day seh, like, "Look man, with all this talent that we've got, mek we try and see if we can attend one of these talent shows" - speaking is that Vere John show I'm talkin'. So, I can totally remember that, me and Derrick started out same time and do talent shows. I would say this is the late fifties, yunno, beca' is shortly after I stopped those talent shows, then I start recording. And recording business start in Jamaica in the late fifties, and in the sixties whe you used to have first set of ska tunes used to come out. So it's shortly after that time we left Vere John's and start doing Jamaican ska music.

Q: So Derrick wasn't already recording when you met. How was he in those days?

A: Derrick, I want to tell you now, Derrick in business and Derrick branch out, yunno, after he leave Vere John's Derrick branch out on his own. And it's not totally on his own beca' the first song me recorded is me and him record it, a tune called 'My Nights Are Lonely'.

Q: For whom?

A: That was for Highlight, Little Wonder (the shop and label respectively, Highlight also released acts like Keith & Enid and Lascelles Perkins). Yeh, that man had a shop on Spanish Town Road in Jamaica, so that was where we made our first recording. Now, then Derrick branch out, Derrick do his own songs, like he do it for himself and I do mine, yunno. He was recording for Duke Reid, I was doing songs for Duke Reid too. Then, like I'm saying, when these t'ings started, I make a very important t'ing happen in Jamaica, in Jamaica music, y'know what I mean. Beca' Jamaican music is like it become international now, right, and them calling it all kinda t'ings. Them call it - well, for dances you do t'ings, right, you have reggae, them call it reggae, and then you have ska, and y'know you have dancehall type a t'ing. But what I really say is that Jamaica music - I say I do a t'ing in Jamaica, I play a very important part in Jamaican music. Beca' then Jamaican music never really have no like a man say, well, then y'know in calypso music everybody like calypso ca' they can hear calypso a come from Trinidad whe yu can really say calypso a come from. Jamaica never really have say no direct music whe, y'know wha' I mean, you have a kinda sound whe 'this sound comes from this island'. Well, you have mento, and you have this dance them call soca and then you have a next kinda dance you call jump-up, jump-up, right, but them kinda dance there is different kinda dance. You see, ska music now, ska music is not a music whe come from China or it come from Hong Kong or it come from Britain or nutten, ska music was identically made in Jamaica. And the time when I was doing the music in Jamaica right when them discover, seh: "Young man, da music yah sound different and it sound like we na hear nutten like this, yunno". Till them develop it up, yunno, and you have different, different style of music a come offa the same kind of music - what is ska, yunno. Is that is the time like when I make the first tune whe them call 'Humpty Dumpty (Sat On A Wall)', I dunno if you hear that song yet, but that song change Jamaica. When them start talk about 'this song sound like it an American tune', or 'it sound like a mento', or 'it sound like a calypso'.

Q: Right, that tune had that particular emphasis on the half beat in comparison to earlier Jamaican recordings, which was more like the US type of R&B, while this one had something distinctively its own.

A: Well, yea. Well, talking this and talking that now, when you going face up with American and talk about different style of music, you see, is that Jamaican music - ska music, right, is the riddim of it, yunno. It have the same kinda chords them like whe you would have in the American tunes from change one to a change, is what I mean from one chord to the other. But the direct sound and the beat whe it did have, is that it did have a deep down identical sound of tone. Well, I tell you from those era, from them times deh when music a start when a man say and say, well, this tune a sound like it's a ska tune or a reggae tune or it's a kinda blue-beat or a rockers or whatever, is right deh so it started from - is from the ska music, is right deh so everyt'ing started from.

Q: Talking about your 1961 hit, 'Humpty Dumpty', where the basis of that song is nursery rhyme, how did you come up with that tune?

A: Ah, you see I'm a man there now, I will hear a sound, y'know what I mean, I will hear a sound whe people seh - a sound, yunno. But basically, you see, that tune 'Humpty Dumpty' is a tune with nursery rhyme. That tune is a directly nursery rhyme and any kid from back in my time whe go to school, an' him never hear that tune or nobody never hear that tune, y'know what I mean, is like him teacher wasn't teaching him right! Because that tune is a tune whe everybody grow up with, is we grow up with it from church time an' we grow up with it an' hearing it, still I never hear nobody put that to music yunno. Them never tek it an' seh, well, then 'let's play this kind of tune in music'. This is a kind of nursery rhyme but I tek the nursery rhyme and put them in music, I build chords to them and I build all lyrics, yunno, I build melodies around them t'ing. Like 'Oil In My Lamp', I build melodies and I build chords 'round them. It's just like you have to be first with the idea and seh, well, 'look yunno, this is what the song is' and I build the melody and the chords around it.

Q: Anything in particular that inspired you to do it?

A: That tune, I remember backstage in them days you had sound, they used to have sound system days in Jamaica. Now, they mostly whe yu have now you might find discoteque, but they used to have sound system in Jamaica whe them used to have, like, people used to do mostly American music, y'know, boogie-woogie and soft blues. You know, soft music. So, like I'm saying to myself 'let me try and see if a nursery rhyme would work good', yunno, work very good in a Jamaican style. Not on the boogie-woogie tempo, y'know what I mean. Because it's just pure boogie-woogie man that go a dance and a shuffle up, y'know, and t'ing like that. So I say to myself 'let me try and see if I could do a nursery rhyme in a tempo whe is not boogie-woogie'. It might be a lickle bit slower than boogie-woogie tempo but do it and do it an' kinda shuffle the words them, y'know. Wording the words them more, more fluently instead of just dragging them back. So that's why I make it like that. That's why I get intuition to make it like that, like 'humpty dumpty sat on a wall humpty dumpty had a great ball...', by rhyming things together. So them inspiration me get, the idea of supp'm fe build around it. Like I'm saying, man, those days in Jamaica, you had sound system days and it was a very interesting thing to see how the sounds used to operate. Beca' when you had one sound like on one big street, and those times men had like all 10/11/18"-inch speakers in dances in those days. And people dancin' offa the boogie-woogie stuff an' t'ing like that, whole heap a beer a drink an', y'know, man get high an' t'ing like that, and jus' a dance foreign tune. And I say, 'no, them try somet'ing different now in this ya time'.

Q: Right, you gotta believe in originality.

A: Oh yeah! That is the most important part about it, yunno. Because I would think to myself, y'know, the t'ings what go 'round from early, you had people feuding about or they shoutin' about music (giggles), y'know what I mean, and some remarks I sometimes hear people saying. Not that I am telling you that I would've go out and tell yu seh, well, I hear a man seh, well, then 'bwoy, this tune ya sound like a lickle simple tune', beca' of the lyrics of it an' what the man is saying is not so much of a inspirational song. But like I'm saying, it don't take too much of a inspirational stuff fe make a very good hit song, yunno. You can take somet'ing simple and mek it be a very great song to the way how you put it together, by wording and chords and the changes, y'know what I mean. 'Cause sometimes it's not all of a song a person like, sometimes a person can like just one verse or one line or a few lickle slurs you make, y'know what I mean. Just how you make it, you can just be the tool... the concept yunno, to how it seem to be played. Yeah.

Prince Buster.

Q: 'Humpty Dumpty' was recorded with Buster and 'Drumbago' Parks, what was the link-up there, with his band?

A: Yeh well, you see (giggles)... you know, if you should look on the label, maybe you would see a label called Wildbell, or Wildbells or Prince Buster, right. But Buster hear about me and Buster hear me when I was singin' on 'Opportunity Hour', and probably Derrick must've tell him seh, well, I was really on that. And him come and look for me, come and look for me one day, check me out in my home one time and say him have a session an' t'ing going on at Federal studio, so we come out there. But otherwise from that we had to be rehearsing too, yunno. Is not a t'ing seh, well, then because a man know you and know seh you know him, so like you really just go on an' come 'pon a session - I had to really go there, rehearse with the band, an' t'ing like that. I don't know if you ever hear about a man called Pluggy Satchmo? He's a dancer, he used to dance with a next guy named Sparky, Sparky & Pluggy. Yeah, he used to be on 'Opportunity Hour', those were the man that used to be around me too. Beca' when I was rehearsing at Queen Theater I think he was being around, went down there with Arkland Parks, the Jamaican 'Drumbago' man an' t'ing like that. And we rehearse the tune 'Humpty Dumpty' with the piano an' t'ing, and Drumbago listen to the song an' say, "Yes, is the tune yunno", an' t'ing. So we really lay down that one really, really completely. And like I'm saying, we had to really get this stuff together. Ca' those times is not times like now when you can just go in a studio and just do it alone, yunno, them times now every musician in one fusion with the singer. You don't have earphones that you hear with those days, all musicians are in one room, one studio - not too much of a big studio anyway. And then you have to... is not a lot of cut you make on those music neither. Them times you hear a man run the tune one time and seh, well, 'let's go!' Because you listen the music and listen the chords an' t'ing and just tek a rehearsal and then one time you go through the music and put it on the tape. So is not a lotta like, say, three-four-five times like nowadays you can do just a lickle part, no, it had to sound right, yunno. And you cyaan jus' go back and put your headphones 'pon yu head and dub in yourself back again. So it's harder work those days.

Q: A longer process to get it together.

A: Yeah! I'm telling you, man, although some a the time you really have a lotta musicians in the studio. Because you would have four-five riddim instruments in the studio, and you would be like the only artist, yunno. Then again, musicians them play a great part inside of the music, because you would have a great saxophone man there or a great guitarist, yunno. And him would a really seh, well, find a riff, find a kind of melody or background to the music and seh, well, then play it and everybody fall in and harmonize with it. Is not like say a riddim play and a next man go 'pon it everybody in a one section, the artist tek in everyt'ing.

Q: Tell me more about the work with Drumbago, not much is known about this drummer.

A: Drumbago was a very musical man, yunno, although he was a drummer but he was a man who is a very musical talent 'bout him. Even playing music, him play music but him don't play music because he is a drummer for drummings sake, y'know what I mean. That man play like him a vocalist too, like how is a man would play a kinda... like he is a vocalist, that was the t'ing 'bout that man. Beca' if you is a artist and you're playing with him, and him playing your music, he woulda listen the heart of your music and listen the chords of the music and listen where the music changing an' t'ing fe play behind it. Is not just because him a drummer him a go find one beat. You know, him play a kinda melodious drumming to the music. He was exceptional, you could never find another one like him. But like I'm saying, everybody have their different style of playing.

Q: What did you record with him for Buster, apart from 'Humpty Dumpty'?

A: Drumbago? Drumbago play on most of my tunes, yunno, I think Drumbago playing on a tune named 'Money Can't Buy Life'. And he played in I think a tune named 'Pack Up Your Troubles', a known hit back then. And he play I think a tune called 'Penny Reel', play in that tune too. Drumbago play in a lotta tune for me, man. You have tune like 'Seven Long Years', and 'What A Man Doeth' - that was Skatalites. Him played on almost most of my songs. Yeah, Drumbago All Stars, Drumbago now is a legendary creator of Jamaican ska music. You have all them legendary man deh, you haffe call them, man. You have a next man named Jah Jerry, that is a guitarist.

Q: Right, the Skatalites again.

A: Yeah, those man is legendary, identical creator of Jamaican music.

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