Reggae singer, songwriter and producer Roy Anthony Cousins will forever be associated with the very dignified cultural Studio One single "Pick Up The Pieces", done as singer and leader of the vocal group The Royals. And although there will hardly be a reggae fan who doesn't know the song and/or its riddim, it's doubtful if most reggae aficionados know that the man has left an indelible mark on the reggae scene. With The Royals - an ever-changing line up of harmony singers - he released three full length albums ("Ten Years After", "Israel Be Wise" and "Moving On"), but not that many long-time reggae fans will know that he has released about 100 albums as a producer. Among them are sets with artists such as Devon Russell, Winston Jarrett, Earl Sixteen, Don Carlos & Gold, Charlie Chaplin, Knowledge, Pablove Black, Winston Francis, Jah Stitch and Prince Far I.
Back in 1983 Roy Cousins took the Finnish Cool Runnings Posse, Tero Kaski and Pekka Vuorinen, under his wings. They travelled around in Kingston in his pick-up van and he took them to Channel One and Harry J when he had hired the studios for his artists like for example Charlie Chaplin. They also managed to do an interview with Roy Cousins, one of the very few he has done. Many thanks to Pekka Vuorinen for giving permission to publish that interview and for providing photos. Also thanks to Ray Hurford and to Roy Cousins, who generously provided samples of his extensive catalogue.
This interview, along with other noteworthy interviews from the early eighties, was published in the book "Volcano Revisited - Kingston Dancehal Scene 1984" (Eronen 2011). For more info : www.dubjazzsalsa.com
Q: When did you start making music?
A: Well a long time ago you know, about 15 to 19 years ago, from when I was going to school. In dem time I was singing mostly for other producers, like Studio One, Duke Reid, Lloydie Matador and other people. Till I start doing it for myself.
Q: Who was the first producer you made a record for?
A: Duke Reid, then Coxsone.
Q: You was a solo artist then?
A: No it was with a group from those times.
Q: Who were the other people in the group?
A: Well the group the Royals have had a lot of changes over the years. In the early days the group start with Bertram Johnson, Keith Smith, Errol Wilson and myself. The last two persons who were in the group were Al Nicholson and Melvin Reid. Well since then I decide to go solo. So the latest LP coming on now is solo, by myself.
Q: How many recordings did you do at Duke Reid?
A: Well I didn't do many, I did about four recordings for him.
Q: In the mid-sixties, late sixties?
A: In the mid-sixties, then I left and went to Studio One.
Q: How many tunes did you do there?
A: I did about eight tune for Studio One, but out of them eight only one release, 'Pick Up The Pieces'.
Q: And he still holds seven?
A: Yeah, because he wanted me to finish an LP. But because I was producing for myself now, I really don't see the sense in finishing it.
Q: What band did you use at Studio One?
A: Well those time, it was a band named Swinging Kings, at the time. Till it changed to Sound Dimension. But the recording 'Pick Up The Pieces' was actually made with artists that were with Coxsone at the time. It was Leroy Sibbles on bass, lead singer for Carlton & The Shoes, he was the lead guitar - Carlton Manning - and on drum you had this guy Phil Callender. And you had Frater on rhythm guitar, and Jackie Mittoo. Those were the set of musicians that actually made the 'Pick Up The Pieces' riddim.
Q: And the other riddims, the other songs?
A: Well the other riddims were made mostly by Boris Gardiner bass and other musician.
Q: Boris Gardiner at Studio One?
A: Yeah. Boris Gardiner at Studio One. Right now Boris is one of the best bass man in the business. Most of Lee Perry's work, it's Boris Gardiner on bass.
Q: Was Lee Perry working at Studio One in those days?
A: Yeah, well when I went to Studio One, it was Lee Perry who actually gave me an audition. He was then singing for Studio One. He wasn't on his own then. You had Lee Perry and B.B. Seaton from the Gaylads, they were doing the auditions for Coxsone. And you had Gladstone Anderson doing the auditions for Duke Reid.
Q: When did you make the records for Coxsone?
A: When... 'Pick Up The Pieces' was made a long time from when I... I left school when I was fifteen. So that record is actually 21 years old. But that record wasn't released until about six years after it was done. It was released when I recorded over 'Pick Up The Pieces' for myself. And right now 'Pick Up The Pieces' - which has never had airplay in Jamaica - is one of the top selling 45's on the Studio One label. And it's still.
Q: Who were the musicians at Duke Reid's studio?
A: Well the musicians at Duke Reid's studio at the time was Tommy McCook, his band was then people like Tommy, Jackie Jackson on bass, you had Ernest Ranglin on lead guitar, on piano you had Gladdy.
Q: How about Hux Brown?
A: He wasn't there then. It was Lyn Taitt then when Ernest Ranglin left. Hux Brown came in then. That was years ago, long long time.
Q: Did you do all the Coxsone tunes at one time?
A: No, I did two tunes per session.
Q: And the latest one was?
A: The last one was... you see the Coxsone work is so old that it's hard for me to remember, 'cause it's really a long time ago. And funny enough, he - Coxsone - remembers them, cause the other day I was talking to him and I said to him: "Why I don't come and finish the LP". He said: "We could revoice some of the tracks and get fresh harmonies to put on it". But I don't really see the necessity for it.
Q: When did he ask you the last time to do that?
A: Since he was here, about two weeks ago. But I'm doing a lot of work for myself. You know, I'm here, I have the vibes to create a lot here. I work with a lot of other artist.
Q: Before you started producing on your own, you worked with Matador. How many tunes did you do?
A: I did two tunes for Matadors. A tune named 'You Never See Come See' and sing over '100 Pounds Of Clay'. After that I never really done any more for any more producers, I started a business for myself.
Q: How about work for Joe Gibbs?
A: Yeah, I did two tunes for Joe Gibbs. But I couldn't really tell you if they were released or not. I don't have no idea.
Q: A list of records on the Amalgamated label shows a tune by the Royals.
A: Yeah? That's still a long time ago.
Q: Late sixties?
Q: So it was the early seventies when you started producing your own work. You did over 'Pick Up The Pieces' and put out the album.
A: Well 'Pick Up The Pieces' wasn't really like I went to the studio to make an album. I used to do one-one tune. So after a while I had a collection of tunes to put an LP together.
Q: Released in 1977 on the Magnum label?
A: The LP was first released by Gussie here. Gussie sent it up to England on pre, to Hawkeye. And after that Ital Records had the tape, and was interested in putting it out. But then it was stopped. And Mojo put it out on his Magnum label. And that was the first time I came to England.
Q: Over what period were the singles made for the album?
A: Well 'Pick Up The Pieces' LP was made over a period of say 3 - 4 years, when I actually came into recording. I never had a lot of cash. I Started this business with about 40 dollars. Dem times I was working at the Post Office. So it came out of my weekly earnings. So it take me a period of time to really build up. At the time I was working I couldn't really book more than an hour studio time. And in a period of an hour it's only one tune you can really do, or maybe two, you know, if you're properly rehearsed.
Q: You released them as singles?
A: Yeah. I released all of them as singles. Most of them… I don't think all of them... I think there was about three tracks on the LP that wasn't released as singles. But all the rest were out as singles.
Q: On your own label?
A: Yeah the Wambesi label. I'm using a new label now, Dove. But I still use the Wambesi label as an official label. Like I do LP's and put it out on the Wambesi label, and singles on Dove. But for the last two years I have neglected myself a lot and concentrated on mainly other artists.
Q: On 'Pick Up The Pieces' there are some harmony singers.
A: Well 'Pick Up The Pieces' was started by those who I mentioned earlier. And on later tracks you have the Jays. The Jays are still part of the Royals, that's where the Jays originated from. I've had a lot of singers and producers who have passed through me. Even Vivian Jackson, it was I who really bring him into the business or inspire him into the business. In those times I really used to meet with a lot of other singers. It's why I can't really keep a group for myself, if the record wasn't selling as it should, so I personally as the producer couldn't keep the group together. So you find the members they stray where they can find things more better. But I stick to it, and I really love the music, even though I've had some rough period in the music. Right now things are not really bad, but still
Q: After 'Pick Up The Pieces' album, you release three albums after that.
A: The next album was 'Ten Years After'. After that was 'Israel Be Wise'. Naggo Morris and Barry Llewellyn who did the harmonies on those LP's. I've only released one LP after that, 'Moving On', and one coming up now. But that's not a Royals LP, that will be a Roy Cousins LP. My first solo album.
Q: Did you do well out of Ballistic?
A: The best business I did was with Ballistic, with Mojo. Mo' to me was one of the best man I have met in the business, cause Mo' have a policy where he believes in the sales of the record. Which is where the money or the strength of the whole business is. And the best money I've earned in the business is from Mojo. Since Mojo went out of the business, I've not met another person like him, Mojo. But I would like him back in the business because of his ideas. I learned a lot from him, and he learned a lot from me. When I met Mo', my LP 'Pick Up The Pieces' was one of the first works that Mo' was involved in.
Q: Did it sell good in England?
A: Well, to be frank I really couldn't tell you how well it sold. But it was a very good LP, because I got very good reception from the media in England. And then it was re-released again by United Artists.
Cool Runnings Posse & Roy Cousins
Q: And now again by Trojan.
A: Trojan release it as 'The Best Of The Royals'. Mojo has given me back all the tapes I gave to him. Trojan are going to release tracks from 'Pick Up The Pieces', 'Ten Years After' and 'Israel Be Wise', and make a 'Best Of The Royals' LP.
Q: There's an interview with Prince Lincoln that says you took him to Mojo.
A: Yeah, the first time Mojo came to Jamaica he was staying here with me. I knew Prince Lincoln a long time. So I took him, Mojo, to meet Prince Lincoln. He talked to Mo', and he said he could do a thing with him. The first LP that he put out, it was I who really supervised the mixing at Harry J. I knew Prince Lincoln from schooldays. Both of us used to live inna Cockburn Pen, played football together. I've known him a long time. At one stage we used to sing together, but we didn't for long. It was Prince Lincoln, myself, Cedric Myton from the Congoes.
Q: The Tartans?
A: After the Tartans we used to sing together.
Q: How about your production work. When you did over 'Pick Up The Pieces', why didn't you use the original riddim? Why make a riddim of your own?
A: I believe in creativity in music, because I've been inspired by the work of the great Bob Marley. And I've always looked into the things that make a man great. And the two artists who inspire me was Bob Marley and Toots from the Maytals. They have never really done over work. It's always creativity. So I've always believed in doing something new. For instance on the 'Moving On' LP you have a track on it 'For Me The Music'. When I released that track in England, it was given a bad write up by the writers in London, who say it was kinda funky type reggae. But right now it's the type of reggae that most people are using. So I've always believed in experiment, cause I feel reggae can still go broader than it is. The foreign artists, they are taking the reggae from we, and they are making the money from it. While we the reggae artists, we have always believed in keeping our roots. But the rest of the world, they are talking about crossover reggae. But I still believe reggae music can go broader and benefit we the Jamaicans, the originators of reggae.
Q: Who was the first artist you produced, apart from yourself?
A: Well the first artist I produced was Devon Russell. And I never released the song. And then I produced the Gaylads. Cornell Campbell, Scully, Charlie Chaplin. A lot of new singers. Right now I'm working on an LP with Prince Far I, The Viceroys, Earl Sixteen. I've worked with a lot of artists. But I intend for the future to go back to producing more works for myself. And will only produce a chosen few artists. Well I've not done much deejay work, mostly vocal, but I feel Chaplin have the potential as a gold deejay, so I'm trying with him. Right now I feel Earl Sixteen is one of the best Jamaican singer even though he's not popular. But I think he has the potential, and the ability to be a good world class singer. I've done some really good work with him, which very few reggae artists could do.
At Harry J's
At Channel One with
Bunny Tom Tom, Flabba Holt & Scientist
Q: So you're going to make an LP with him?
A: Well I've already made an LP with him, so now I'm doing a new LP. We have done five tracks already and this week we will be completing the other five tracks. Which will be new riddims and new songs.
Q: Who writes the songs?
A: For Sixteen? Well, Sixteen write most of his own songs. And he has a few songs that other people write. But with my own productions, I write ninety percent of the Royals work. I don't believe in doing over songs. And I don't think I will do over another person's song. I don't believe in it.
Q: How about the role of the producer, is it only putting in the money and doing nothing else?
A: Well actually a lot of producers don't really know anything about music. They only come into music for what they can get out of music. It's few producers like... Lee Perry, he is a good producer. Vivian Jackson, that I can't really pinpoint anyone else, cause even Coxsone... most of Coxsone's work was really done by Sylvan Morris. I don't really like to call people's name. Jo Jo at Channel One, all those guys they are not really there to see the actual work done, they just finance it.
Q: Who took care of the sessions at Studio One?
A: Well, Morris. Morris is the backbone at Studio One. Apart from Coxsone having guys who really do the auditions. The real work was done by Morris. Jackie Mittoo helped a lot when he was there.
Q: And the bass man, like Sibbles?
A: Well I don't really know what he done. When I was singing for Coxsone I know about Coxsone. Till Coxsone take over himself. But in the early days, when you have all the greats who sing for Coxsone, it was Morris and Jackle Mittoo.
Q: Who did the bass line on 'Pick Up The Pieces'?
A: That was done by Leroy Sibbles from the Heptones, he was playing bass then for Coxsone. He was Coxsone's bassman at the time.
Q: Did he compose it then?
A: Well when I work, I work with the musicians to get what I want, I don't just leave it up to them to play what they feel like.
Q: So it was team work?
A: Yeah team work, to bring that riddim together. And I believe it's one of Coxsone's most successful riddims. A lot of other producers have done over it. And even though I've done over 'Pick Up The Pieces' I still don't do over the riddim. And the 'Pick Up The Pieces' riddim that I have is also a good one. And that bass line was played by a member of the Royals, Bertram Johnson. I've not just come into the business... ca most of the artists that have come in, have gone. So I really have a broad idea of the business. And a broad idea of the studio, the sound and the musicians. Normally if I have a singer, I just don't go to the studio with the music. I'm familiar with the musicians, so I know which musician could play this bass line for this song. And which organist would play for this music. But one man WHO I really work with a lot is Pablove Black. He is one of the best pianists in Jamaica. Most of my really creative work, he is the backbone of it.
Q: When did you leave your job with the post?
A: I left the job about 7 year now. I left it and say 'I'm going into record full time'. But then I had a setback, cause I had a car at the time. About a week after I left the job, I had a serious accident with the car. So I lose a lot, a bad setback. I had to pick up and go forward. I've had a lot of setbacks in the business. But I learn fe live them down. Right now reggae is really going through a bad period, ca - since Bob Marley died - is like the business stagnate. To me is like you don't have anything upfront happening. It's like the whole business is now going around in circles, where you searching for something, ca reggae is not really moving as it should. Even in the late seventies you go to foreign you get better advance. Right now you're getting spit for the product. And in Jamaica production costs has tripled. Not even doubled but tripled. So right now producers and artists are not really making any money, apart from people like Peter Tosh. But right now the business is really in a bad way. It needs some shake up.
Q: How about record sales? If you compare the sales in Jamaica and England, how is the percentage?
A: Well I want to tell you now, the last time I was in England the record sales in England is very poor. Record sales are even better in Jamaica than in England. Most of the companies that you give a record to put out, they are showing you it's only sell a 1,000, or a 1,500. And a 1,500 record couldn't really even cover your expenses or costs. The business is in a really bad way and because of the lack of money in the business, that's why we have so many bad product coming out. And a lot of people now are resorting back to using old riddims instead of going forward with new ideas and new riddims. But you can't blame them, ca you not getting the money upfront anymore to do it. If you're not lucky now, to say have a contract with Island or one of them top companies - though most of them top companies now are not really interested in reggae anymore - so if you're not lucky enough to get a deal with one of those top companies, it's like either you leave the business or... You find so many labels now in Europe, ca of the state of the business, everybody say boy I prefer to try it myself. When a company now give you a small money for advance it's a poor chance... for you're forever thinking of getting royalties.
Q: What would help the situation, a new Super star?
A: Well right now the business in general need the people like you, people with the outlet and exposure. A lot of companies have dropped their reggae acts. Secondly the whole of the music now has gone to the dancehall style. So you find now there is no space for the new artists. Right now if you go to England with new artists nobody don't want to take it. Everybody say boy them want name artist. Now the business need good companies with proper distribution and proper organization to steer it in the right direction. Even me as a reggae producer, I admit there are too much hustlers in the business. And that is the downfall of the business, the business don't really have the prestige it should have. Too many artists sing for too many producers. That is another reason why the big companies are not interested. And you have too many small labels out. With reggae music now you have reggae killing reggae. Cause there is too much release, far too much release. Something drastic needs to be done in the business, or else you won't hear a lot about many of the people in the business. It will be people who can really finance it, going to be in the business.
Roy Cousins with Charlie Chaplin and a friend
eating rice and fish at his summer cottage
The cost to make records in Jamaica now is outta sight. A 16 track tape in Jamaica now costs over 600 dollars and 100 dollar each per side for the musician. So right now you're talking about, to make an LP in Jamaica, you're talking about £ 4,000 pounds, to make a very good LP you're talking about £ 6,000 - £ 7,000 pounds. And if you go a foreign with it, at the moment nobody is giving you even your spending costs back as an advance. Since the last time I was there, the most a company want to give you for an LP is £ 1,000. Most companies are only giving £ 500 for an LP. So right now that is one of the main reason why a man is using one riddim 10 or 15 times. The financial outlet is not there anymore. Like in the seventies you could easily go to England and you could get anything from £ 5,000 up as an advance for an LP. Not anymore. Right now the plane fare to England has doubled. Right now a lot of people are only in the business ca they are already in the business. But they are not making anything. That is why a lot of them artists now resort to hardcore drugs. They are not making money off their work. That's why they have taken to coke and all them other things there, to make money, due to the financial state of the business.
Q: How many artists could make a living out of reggae?
A: Apart from Bunny Wailer & Peter Tosh, The Wailers group - I don't think there is any other artist in Jamaica or producers who can make it off a reggae. None. That's the state of business. Take for instance the sales of records have just raised in Jamaica. Now the radio stations in Jamaica are giving reggae a big blow, they are not playing reggae as they should. We have to be begging, they are playing foreign music here far more than the local reggae. So you find it's only the man with a studio that is making the money: studio time money, stamper money, whatever. We the artists are not safe. If the record don't sell we don't have nothing to get. I was saying about the raise in record. A record now is selling for $ 2.20 retail in Jamaica. Sell it to the shop $ 1.20. When you work out the profit margin it means we the producer is only making 50 cents or 60 cents off a record, while the shop is making a clear profit of $ 1.10. And out of our 50 or 60 cents, we still have to pay the artist royalties out of that.
Q: How much is that?
A: Well since the record raise, I don't know the actual rate for royalties to artists, but I know it was royalty around 20 cents. So if it's 5 cent gone on it, that means you the producer with a burden of the spending, you wouldn't be making anything cause making 25 cents off a record, the record would have to be a big seller for you to make you money. So right now there are no producers in Jamaica that I can tell you now living off reggae. Everyone have a sideline. Jo Jo at Channel One has other business. Junjo Lawes, he just bring in a sound. G.G. manufacture jukeboxes, pinball machines. Me myself have to resort to jukebox and other things to make money. You can't really say you're gonna sit down and depend on record, and live comfortable off it. It's impossible. If something drastic don't happen in the next few years the business is going to be so bad, that there will be very few people left in it.
Q: What could be the cure for this?
A: The cure is to organize - producers and artists. But it's been tried over the years in Jamaica and it's never succeeded. Jamaican producers and artists are very selfish. They won't unite in the same direction, wherein you're not taking less than x amount for a product. We the artists and producers have to stop prostituting the music. And stop the hustling in the music. Run the business like a business, like the international people run it. We need to set up a proper organization. Now the foreign artist can take up a song and record it, and then you don't get nothing and you have fe fight blah blah blah. I believe that we have very good singers and musicians in reggae. But we need better support from the big companies. But the big companies are bawling that the sales of reggae has gore down to zero and their products are not selling much.
Q: The Jamaican market is not enough?
A: No, we need the international market.
Q: Do you have to change the music for the international market or just market it properly?
A: Well I believe reggae is good enough to sell worldwide if it get the international recognition that is needed, without that we are still not going to make anything out of it. If reggae wasn't good you people wouldn't be interested in it.
Q: So you wouldn't change the music itself to sell it abroad?
A: No, you see if you change reggae it's like asking a man to change his culture or asking him to change his language.
|Interview Kingston JA, September 1983 © Tero Kaski & Pekka Vuorinen|
(Please do not reproduce without permission)
All Rights Reserved. © 2014 Reggae Vibes Productions