I once read a liner note that the subject of this article was something of an 'enigma', wherein so little information has been available about this obscure singer throughout the years for a variety of reasons. For Jamaicans he is probably best remembered for entering the annual Song Festival as lead singer with the Astronauts, where the group won with the classic 'Festival Jam Rock' back in 1981. But even though this was pretty lightweight as most Festival entries tends to be - which is just its tradition anyway, I'm pretty sure that true reggae believers - call them 'purists' or whatever - would rather see the early Lee Perry-produced songs at the Black Ark studio such as 'Brother Man', 'I Don't Mind' and perhaps 'Life Is A Flower' being mentioned upfront when this man pops up among the 'lost' names of vintage reggae music. He's also the uncredited voice on 'Bird In Hand', a track sung in original Hindi found on Lee Perry's seminal 'Return Of The Super Ape' LP. Personally though, my introduction to Sam Carty was the great Fabulous Five-backed 'Everybody Something' for producer Dickie Wong's Tit For Tat label, issued circa 1975, and every bit as satisfactory of the 'country reggae' sound as you could ever hope to hear. This song, unfortunately long out of print but should be the subject of a reissue one of these days, has been a regular 7" on my turntable for many years and, to me, still stands out as one of the best efforts this man has come up with, and they are several by now. Sam has his base in Kingston, Jamaica and I linked up with him in March, 2004. My thanks to Sam, Spydaman, Samuel Morgan, Michael Turner, Bob Schoenfeld, Dave Katz, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.
Q: You're born in Kingston?

A: No, I was born in Clarendon, but I went to school in three parishes - in Clarendon, in St. Elizabeth, and in Portland. Also Mandeville, that's in another parish - Manchester. And then I went to university in Kingston. So, I've been educated all over the country (chuckles).

Q: What did you read at the university?

A: At university? Oh, I study in English literature. Of course, because of music I did not complete my degree, but I was well into the second year when I abandoned the course. But before all of that I did a (inaudible) certificate from a teachers college, a Diploma in Education, in Mandeville. So I'm still a qualified teacher.

Q: You continued to teach when the music took more space at the time?

A: No, I did not teach for long, yunno, I did not teach for very long at all. I graduated as a teacher in 1979, and I taught for two years, and went to university for almost two years. But I must say that before I became trained as teacher, I did teach for more than two years as a pre-trained teacher, right, but it all began with just teaching, y'know (chuckles).

Sam Carty & Empress Dyana.

Sam Carty & Empress Dyana.

Q: So when did you decide to go fully into the music?

A: Well, let me say that I have been involved in the music business since the seventies, but never on a full-time basis.

Q: A 'serious, dedicated hobby', so to speak?

A: Yes, I guess you could say so, but it's more than a hobby, really. Because of the assessment and evaluation of other people and so to the kind of contribution I could make musically, I would not say that it was a hobby. It's really a mission, but it's just that I had to be doing other things at the same time. For example, I had a family to take care of - children, I had other businesses which I also do. Because you know sometimes when you wait for the big break in music so much time can go by without any cashflow.

Q: Of course.

A: So it's for that reason now that I have to be engaging all sorts of other businesses, y'know. But most of the entertainers who really make it I really realised big time, some of them go through terrible, terrible hardship, y'know. In some cases their marriages break up to who them is married because of the... You know, as a music journalist you know that the music money is somet'ing that you have to wait on, right, is not like when you have a regular job that you collect a weekly salary or a monthly salary, it's kind of different. So, I was not really prepared - because I was in a job and had children, I was not prepared to make that total sacrifice, it could not have worked for me. I have always been encouraged to go full-time into the music, I think I am just about to do that right now, and that is why I am also doing some production. Apart from my own musical career, as a writer and as performer, I am also doing some production in tandem with Empress Dyana. 'Empress Dyana' is my new wife (chuckles).

Q: What year did you start out, would this have been sometime in '73 or the year after?

A: Yes, my first recording was actually with Lee'Scratch' Perry, yunno. That was in the seventies, it was round about the time when Junior Byles had the big hit 'Curly Locks'. Because I was brought to Lee 'Scratch' Perry by Junior Byles, he was a very good friend of mine.

Q: Would that be '73 or thereabouts?

A: No, no, it was a bit later than that. It could've been about '74/75. 'Cause, yeah, I remember teaching in the country for a while before I came back to the city and it was in the early part of being a teacher, so it could've been, yeah, '74/75 that I had done a song which Lee 'Scratch' Perry, released on the Pisces label.

Q: Yes, that's the 'Brother Man' track, right.

A: 'Brother Man', OK. Great!

Sam Carty.

Sam Carty.

Q: There is a list of most of the releases bearing your name, not sure if all of them are properly credited, but 'Brother Man' was your debut record of those then.

A: 'Brother Man' was my first release, yes. It was the first time I went on wax, it's round about in the mid seventies. Yeah.

Q: I haven't heard that track as yet, what's the lyrical content there? And how do you remember working at the Ark, being your first ever session?

A: Well, as a first time recording experience it was so exciting. The session was lovely, people like Benbow - you know who is Benbow?

Q: The drummer.

A: Yes, right. Benbow played and the Silvertones on harmony, the harmonies that is really on that song was done by the Silvertones. They just happened to have been on the compound at the time, and that's how it went. You know, we just felt a vibe an' Scratch was very excited by the sound - by my sound, and he said that he was making comparison with Johnny Nash at the time. Of course I always thought of developing my own styling.

Q: Well, you certainly have a somewhat peculiar, very natively Jamaican, high-pitched, distinct 'country-styled' type of vocal style as I hear it, at least on the early recordings.

A: Yes, oh yes it is. I guess foremost what Perry was talking about at the time was originality. Yes. Because nowadays, you see, it's been a transition. As I sing, my style of writing, my subject matter, my singin' style, it's all been a transition. Because I have now a vast musical experience, you know, starting from that period of time up 'til now, so today the comparison I would've made maybe would be Beres Hammond, y'know. People hear my music now and they think that it's a Beres Hammond recording, that sort of thing. So I am able to do whatever I want to do with my voice. Just like you play an instrument the way you want it to sound, you get what you want from the instrument. So the voice being the first instrument - I can do whatever I want to do with it. But not astray, 'Brother Man' lyrical content at the time was fightin' social oppression, which is better today than even then. You know, sometimes when me a get frustrated and wonder if the mission is worth it, y'know, to preach against social oppression, economic depravation, and eradication of people, right, but there as I say that the mission is still worth it. I have written a lot of songs in that regard. I wrote some of the most emphatic songs for example in the eighties against the proliferation of gun violence in this country. You might recall 'International Slackness'?

Q: Yes, on the Astronauts' album.

A: Right, which to some extent I think I was targeted for that song. You know, because it was not only against gun violence which was at that time becoming a too integral part of the culture of Jamaica, but it also comes with the political culture, and that also is in the process of evolution. So as the politics got more and more corrupt, so is the proliferation of the violence associated with that culture. So 'Brother Man' there was the start of all of that. I am writing nowadays, apart from still writing about social oppression and economic depravation, I am writing a lot of lovers rock songs. Because people - I have been repudiated by some to say 'Why don't you sing some love songs also? I mean, I know you're a protest singer', right, 'but why don't you also sing some love songs?' And I have discovered - and I am leading my audience, you see - I have discovered that they are very excited by how I present the lovers rock songs. So for some time I will be, on the Empress Dyana label, releasing more lovers rock songs. There's one producer who has completed an album for me now, which he is getting ready to unleash the songs. I don't know if you know Blackbeard?

Q: The brother to Tapper Zukie?

A: Tapper Zukie's brother, yes. Right.

Q: But, on the subject of projecting a social comment, there is at least to me a certain difference of social comment today in the reggae and - perhaps I'm wrong - how it was back then, where today the social comment are imbedded more so in a spiritual context compared to a direct addressing of whatever issue it was in the past, that is my perception anyway. How do you see the change, and has that also affected your repertoire?

A: I would not say that it has changed, right. But what I am actually doing is putting some integration - integrating lovers rock with the protest mission, 'cause that is used for the wider market. The big leaps of the market that is also useful, because you have a better affection of the audience that is really hooked on the lovers rock. So while they're listening to the lovers rock you also get the feel of social consciousness, y'know. So it's not that one is replacing the other, no.

Q: What is your perception about this wave of politically affiliated messages in the music, starting - basically - from the early seventies on? Who was in the main pushing it, what brought this forward so to speak and why did it grow in numbers of songs released at the time?

A: How come? Because don't forget at the time we were just, what, ten or twelve years into independence, right, and I guess people were kind of more watchful as to the direction that people's gonna go, y'know, just being independent. I would like to put that into quotation mark though, as 'independent' country, right. So people were a lot more watchful. But we had seen the society degenerate. We had seen growth to some extent but we had seen tremendous degenerating in terms of the entire social fabric, y'know, how people relate to each other. The extent of which people use the word 'respect' for example, but more and more we see the display of so much disrespect. So, it's not that I feel that they're commenting less, and commenting with less social depth, it's not that. It's just that you have to market the protest music, but you also have to market love songs. Let's take for example in the case of Burning Spear, I have never really heard Burning Spear sing any lovers rock type song. You know, I doubt it very much, I don't know how he would sound performing that. But he aired the theme on Garvey, and the Garvey-ism, and as far as I'm concerned, sometimes he could really have greater length of content in his work. But, I guess, a man's limitations are a man's idea of how him get inspired - he can't get it done again, you see. But I know my own capabilities, and because I can flex I am quite versatile. I can do whatever I want to do with the pen, and I can also do whatever I want to do with my voice. And I also play rhythm, the lead guitar and the bass guitar, so a person can dictate to the sounds that I want, I can do musical arrangements, y'know. So because of this gift I am inclined to do I haven't been in doubt of all of this, and I can do whatever I choose to do.

Q: What became of 'Brother Man' when it was released?

A: 'Brother Man', it was not promoted, because I don't even recall that someone heard it on the radio. No promotion was behind it, and I don't know for what reason. So in a sense it wasn't even properly released. You know, the truth is even I wish I could get a hold of a copy. It wasn't properly released, no promotional stuff at all. But it was played on jukeboxes and on sound systems, but you know (for) the proper promotion it has to be on the airwaves, and that did not happen.

Sam Carty.

Q: Did Perry tell you if that was released overseas? I sort of doubt it.

A: The thing is that... no, I don't know. But he would not tell us. At that time you wouldn't be so much aware of what it meant to have your song properly published, that kind of thing, y'know. It's quite different now. So I would imagine that Perry might have released many songs and then did not appraise the artist as to the publishing. So that is - all of that I would imagine go to his credit.

Q: But 'Brother Man' wasn't the only song you cut in that first session, there's a few other tunes as well.

A: Yes, well...

Q: 'I Don't Mind' and 'Life Is A Flower' were, I imagine, the other tracks, they've got that early Ark sound.

A: Um, OK (chuckles)... I doubt it was the same session but some of the recording that I've done at the Black Ark studio, believe me, I have totally forgotten about, because I did not leave even with a tape recording of some of those songs. And as you know there was a fire at Lee Perry's studio at a particular point in time. Because when I decided that I was going to give the music a break and go to college, I had begun an album at the Black Ark studio. You know, I never...

Q: Really?

A: Yes, I had begun an album with 'Scratch' Perry, he even gave me advance money of the album, y'know. And I kinda noticed that when I returned there after some time there was an aura changing, the aura was changing. I just felt on a whole that everything was falling apart. Sometimes I would go by the gate and see some hard faces around there, made me kinda scared. And I was a lickle country boy who was not so sure about so many things, particularly the... you know (chuckles)? So, I got scared sometimes so I kind of drift in the distance.

Sam Carty

Q: How did you find working with Perry in general?

A: Yes, he was so creative, such a creative person. And I think he too was kind of (chuckles)... I don't know, maybe it was protection of works at that time, I don't know how aware he was of the music protection and copyright stuff or if he manipulate either of the rest of us, so that he could make a channel of everything to his back. I really cannot make any modest judgement out of that, I do not think I am a judge or that I can judge, you understan'? But, yes, he had seemed to me to be a very kind-hearted person at the time, y'know. When he recognised the talent, immediately he said he wanted an album, and he went through that and gave me advance money of the album, and all of that. But in terms of the appropriate step to protect your work, the copyright and that sort of thing, I didn't know so much about that then. Like, at that time we just wanted publicity, any of us were in it for the publicity. We found that - and this is true of many other artists, yunno - Freddie McGregor, all of them, it was only after some time that we started looking into the business aspect of it, the intellectual property aspect of it, y'know, that still happen to many artists today, still. Any Jamaican artist who just want to go for the bust, he just want the bust, right, but they do not look into the business aspect of it. They do not look into the protection of rights sort of thing, but that is not where I am concerned anymore.

Q: From what you can remember, tell me some about the other Ark songs, 'I Don't Mind' and 'Life Is A Flower'.

A: 'I Don't Mind', I don't know if that is the title...? The other thing too is that you sing a song for example and sometimes the producer would end up giving the title for a song.

Q: At this point I haven't heard the song, but it seems as if the lyrics are something like 'on the verge of desperation', from what I've been able to learn anyway (quoting from 'People Funny Boy', the Perry biography which will be revised and republished in September of '06).

A: And that was for Lee 'Scratch' Perry? Well, I heard it was not released, that I was advised about.

Q: These two songs were included on the late Dennis Harris' DIP label, on his 'DIP Presents The Upsetter' LP in the UK, circa 1975.

A: OK, but you do not have a copy of that album?

Q: No, it's very rare nowadays. But this album is actually reissued on CD in England and it is extended and now retitled 'Black Arkives' on - I assume it is - Pauline Morrison's Justice League imprint. This is where you will find 'Life Is A Flower' and 'I Don't Mind'.

A: (Silence) 'Life Is A Flower'...? 'Honeycomb' - yes, yes, yes! Right. Tyrone Taylor had wanted to do a cover of that song.

Q: Which one again?

A: 'Life Is A Flower', but 'Honeycomb' is the title. Yes! The title of that song was actually 'Honeycomb'!! 'Honeycomb, yes, but he gave it a different title - perhaps for obscurity, or for manipulation. I've never come across those works, and I was not aware of the release. So you see that what I said earlier on, about the manipulation of what the artists does not know to the advantage of the producer for his own gain? You see that what I am actually saying to you is not totally false, right?

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