Pick a great obscure name in Jamaican music and sooner or later you have to come up with Norris Reid. Norris' work with the late Augustus Pablo is best known for tracks such as the monumental 'Entrance To Jah World', 'Black Force' over the classic 'Cassava Piece' rhythm, and 'Give Jah the Praises', a Pablo take on the immortal 'Satta' rhythm. He also did a stint as member of the Viceroys in the early eighties, singing on their biggest hit 'Heart Made of Stone', before leaving Jamaica for the States. Since then he has been quiet, even rumoured to be dead for many years. He isn't, it turned out Norris had settled down in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania of all places. My thanks to Norris, Bubbles, Carlton Hines, Jean Suff, Robyn, Tim P, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.

Q: There was a nice piece in the now defunct Reggae Quarterly magazine some 22 years back or so about you, but nothing much has been written so far. You're born and raised in Falmouth, that's on the Jamaican North Coast anyhow?

A: Falmouth, yeah.

Q: You didn't spend too many years over there, did you?

A: In Falmouth?

Q: Right.

A: I leave Falmouth I think in about 1971.

Q: The singing, where did that come from?

A: Well I start to sing basically from out of church, that was the kinda thing I grew up in, y'know. Family thing, church, and then in 1975 I did my first recording, July 1975, about the 9th of July, somewhere about there. It was on a label called Roots, I drew that one also (chuckles).

Q: It was a song called 'I Know'?

A: Yeah.

Q: Who played on that one?

A: That song, you know it was 'Family Man' Barrett dem, it was like the Wailers, partly y'know. Family Man on bass, Carlton on drums. It was the Wailers before Bob Marley stopped them from playing for people. It was like from the early - the track was for some producer that I met, yunno.

Q: So it wasn't you who took care of production.

A: No, it was a guy named Linton Williamson, known as 'Bob Soul'.

Q: Bobby Soul?

A: Yeah, Bobby Soul.

Q: I think he did something with the Righteous Flames, a 45 or so.

A: No, he used to hang with them. (Chuckles) Basically all of us used to hang together, I don't think he usually sing with them, but all of us used to hang at the same place, hang out together. That's why Winston Jarrett, 'Flames', he was there too. But that's the guy who put out my first single.

Q: Bobby Soul then.

A: By the name of The Blenders at the time. But I wrote that song, I was the lead singer for that song also. That was my only single with the group, y'know.

Q: Which one, 'I Know'?

A: 'I Know'.

Q: Oh, so actually by the Blenders, it was more or less a group effort then, not you solo and backed up by that group?

A: Yeah, I wrote that and I did the lead singin'. I did the lead vocal on that also, but that was the only song that came out with us. Then I move on to other things.

Q: But when did you join up with the Blenders? That group was formed by a guy called Bertram Saunders, right?

A: Yeah, that's right.

Q: What was the link-up there?

A: Oh, when I met them it was like he was one of my first close brethren, yunno (chuckles). He was the one who actually hook me up with them, Bobby Soul y'know.

Q: Where in Kingston was it?

A: Just below Bob Marley's shop at 127 King Street, that's where Bob Marley had his record store, above that building where Bob Marley used to have his shop, where Keith Hudson, Billy Hutch - Bill Hutchinson, you heard about him?

Q: I think I have heard a tune by him, yes.

A: Yeah, he was there, all of us on the same building, all of there. Billy Hutch, Bob Marley was below us in the building, his store, Keith Hudson, and everything. But like a section where all of us meet on a regular basis. So that's how, George now, he used to work around the corner from there, at his store. That's a clothing store. So everybody just meet there, kind of a meeting place for everybody.

Q: You had like a regular, daily job working with radios and TV's and all that stuff?

A: Yes, I used to work at this place called Jamaica Cabinet, we make TV and stereo cases, just the cases y'know. Like just a piece of woodwork t'ing, make the cases for those t'ings. It wasn't anything electrical, it was just woodwork.

Q: Then there was a 45 titled 'Poverty' as well, on a label named The Ram.

A: Yes, I did that song, and I did it for a guy named Errol Cuffe.

Q: Tell me more about that song.

A: (Sighs) Oh, through the hard living, y'know, that I was going through, man (chuckles).

Q: (Chuckles)

A: The rough life, I was going through some hard times. Still going through it, but in those days it was even much rougher. And I wrote that song, he produced that song, and I haven't heard that song since it came out (laughs)! I don't hear anything about it since. And that's the guy - I did 'Got To Return', he was the guy who got me hooked up with this guy name Lynn.

Q: Mr Lynn, yeah.

A: Yeah, and I haven't heard from him, I don't get any pay for all them tunes. I don't get no money for all them songs, man.

Q: He had the Lucky Star label.

A: Lucky Star, yeah. I don't get no money for them shit, man. (Chuckles) So, no money or anything and I heard them songs did well, but I haven't heard anything about them since. Just strugglin' to get my money all along. Rockers International, 'Heart Made of Stone', all them songs, I get no money. 'We Must Unite' album, 'Brethren & Sistren' (both albums by the Viceroys on Trojan and CSA respectively), I don't get no money offa those shit, man! I don't know, I just try to figure out what the hell is going on!

Q: It's tough. What happened after the 45s for Mr Lynn and the Blenders and everything?

A: Since then, I heard Dennis Brown and all them guys came back from England, Junior Delgado and all them guys told me those songs did very well up in England and all those places. That's what I know about those songs, and I haven't received a penny. That was that, that's about what I heard about it and nothin' further.

Norris Reid
Q: What did you do for the rest of the seventies, musically speaking?

A: I just draw the labels and so forth, y'know. I designed record labels for a lot of singers over the years.

Q: Can you recall anything specifically?

A: (Chuckles) Oh, a lotta guys, man. I did so much... Abeng, there was a label named Abeng that I did. I did another one named Fisherman... Uh, wow, there's so much I did I can't recall so much.

Q: Do you remember some of the producers?

A: This guy name - he used to sing in a group name Blackstones? Yeah, a guy from the group name Blackstones that he asked me to the design a label. Abeng, that was one of the labels I remember doing also. I did so many labels I can't even remember them (chuckles). You know, producers, ca' that was just - people come about "Can you do a label for me?" "Yeah". So that's how I used to make a little money here and there. If I'm not doing a track I do the design for record labels. Flyers, I do a lotta flyers for the big dancehall sets, Killimanjaro, Ruler Tone, all them stuff.

Q: That was more or less what you made your living from, as an artist, designing, and so on?

A: Yeah, designing and so forth.

Q: You have a diploma too, any training in that field?

A: No, I'm more like self-taught. I never really get much schooling or on that level. I was more into to try and develop my skill on my own.

Q: That's where the bread came from.

A: Well, music was really what I set out to do, but it got so hard that the music wasn't that together, trying to survive. Between the both of them, what really help me to go through this harsh business, that's what I think. To have food on my table, if it was for these producers, man, I would be dead a'ready for hunger, y'know (chuckles). But through the love of the music I just keep doing it.

Q: How come you ended up at (Augustus) Pablo's place, was that through the connection with Tetrack, Carlton Hines?

A: Yeah, Carlton Hines.

Q: How did that come about?

A: I met him at this school called Excelsior High School in Kingston. One day I went over there, my brother lived in the same area, so I went over there. This guy 'Bubbler', Franklin Waul, he used to play with We the People Band, he used to live down the street from me. So he used to have his band at school, the school reggae band he played in, and we used to hang together on my street. So one day we went over to Excelsior, that's where Carlton Hines (founder of the Tetrack vocal group) attend school. So I was playin' my guitar and he came up and, y'know, that's where we started to talk and he liked what he heard. And he told me he's singin' in a group they called Tetrack, me say "Mmmm", and he said they sing for Augustus Pablo, so I say "Wow, man." He said "It would be nice to hook you up with Pablo, because you sound good". Me said all right. So one day I was walkin' down the street and he was passing and he saw me and Pablo was doing some rehearsal at his place, for he (Carlton) wanted to bring me to Pablo and let him hear you. And I did a rehearsal with Pablo the same day and he liked what he heard. Then he said OK, he had some riddims that he want me to sing over. 'Give Jah the Praise', 'Entrance To Jah World' an' all them songs was - 'Give Jah the Praise' was the first song I did for Pablo.

Augustus Pablo
Q: What was the rhythm for that one again?

A: 'Give Jah Praise'? It was 'Satta' I think, yunno.

Q: Yes, yes.

A: Yeah.

Q: What was your first impressions of Pablo?

A: Pablo was well-known at that time. From like 'Java', when he did those songs with Randy's Records he was out there big time, y'know. Pablo was really out there at the time.

Q: What year could this have been, like 1980 or thereabouts?

A: I think that was like... 1977.

Q: Oh, that early?

A: I think about '77, yunno, or '78, when I did that song. Within that time, yeah.

Q: What did you feel about Pablo's music at the time?

A: At the time when I first met him? Well, I was always wanting to meet him, yunno. Because before I went to Kingston I always heard about Pablo and I always liked his music, 'Java' and all them songs, before I met him, so I felt there could be a good connection, a good hook-up. I was happy to be in the company of Pablo at the time. Because I know him was a good producer then, he produce Hugh Mundell and all them guys, Tetrack and so forth. He was doing real good.

Q: It was a stable he had there, like a commune of artists, wasn't it?

A: It was a whole stable of singers them (chuckles), Pablo had a whole barrage of singers and people around him all the time.

Q: Where was his base for rehearsal and so on?

A: I used to go up in Lindsey Close, up by Havendale, that's where I used to hang with Pablo. First, the first rehearsal I did was up at Tangerine Place, up Constant Spring, off Half Way Tree Road area. And we move up to Havendale, that's where we do most of the rehearsals. And up in Mona Heights, Mona? Up by Mona Campus area. And we used to move around. Pablo liked to live close to the rivers and all of that.

Q: Right, he used to have a meditation spot at the river.

A: Yeah.

Q: Did you write together with the other artists?

A: If I wrote a lot of songs? I did most of my own writing, and then Carlton, he was the guy who started to write for me, long before he started to write for Dennis (Brown) and Gregory (Isaacs). Yeah, like 'Roots and Vine', on that album, I think he wrote three or four songs on that album.

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