Winston Jarrett is a survivor in every true sense of the word, having been the victim of the typically hard Kingston life; the rip-off's, the mistreatment, lost his home and possessions in a fire, and on it goes; accidents occurred that would break the strongest of hearts. But while others had fallen off the rails in despair, apathy or inconvenience throughout the years, our man has time and time again dusted himself off and started all over again. Reggae music was his life then just as much as the music is his life now, and the music will always be in the centre of things. That's how strong the musical torch is burning for some people in this world; music we can't be without, it's a means to survive in more than one way. You know how some walk through life like a piece of iron, well, he's one of those. The setbacks simply made him stronger, it strengthened the music, he didn't lose the edge and the spark. In other words, and it should be clear for those who tried: you don't put down a man like this... Anyhow, Winston Jarrett started off as a member of Alton & The Flames in the mid sixties, formed the Righteous Flames and recorded for Studio One, Treasure Isle and Lee Perry among others. He has a rich musical history to look back on, and we decided to do that here. I linked up with 'Flames' in Seattle, February 2004, shortly after he had returned from a stint in Jamaica. My thanks to Winston and Sha-Flames/Big More Prod's, Bob Schoenfeld, Teacher & Mr T, Tim P. and Michael de Koningh.
Q: Moving from Trench Town to Jones Town, how did you find it there?
A: Adjoining... It's adjoining, Jones Town is adjoining to Trench Town but it's just one area, but they divide it up, that's why we said 'Too Many Boundaries'. Because the politician them they divide the place and the bottom is JLP and the top is PNP so, y'know, we lived in-between this community of Trench Town. But is the same area - Denham Town, Trench Town, Rose Town, that's whe some people call Concrete Jungle, they give it a new name - Arnette Garden. Arnette Garden, but is the same area. So that's where I grow up in the slum there, from Back O Wall to Trench Town - everybody go from back to forward all the time. So, that's where I grow up from that. And then I met Alton Ellis. I was living at 34 Fourth Street and he's living at Fifth Street, just two doors from each other, y'know. Yes, Jones Town and Trench Town we walk - the bus run right through and through, you can go to Jones Town from Trench Town, is the same community. I was living in Jones Town, that's where I go to church. My mother took me to Tenth Street - Jones Town Gospeloir Church, so that's where I go to Sunday-school and service on Sundays. So, just walk through, is just like you come through Arnette Garden - which you call Concrete Jungle, and just come through to Jones Town. So is very close, it just cover a chain across from one border to the other.
Q: You found life pretty hard in Kingston at first, coming from the countryside?
A: At first it was very hard in the old colonial days, in the colonial days Kingston is very rough, y'know. If you don't have a - coming up as a youth, is very rough, but we keep ourselves together. We were not a bad guys that go down on the street and roam the place and things like that. What really happen was I really take up this music, I really loved the music business at that time so I play my guitar every day.
Q: Who taught you to play?
A: Well, the first man that really teach me play the guitar was Jimmy Cliff. You know, I was amazed to see Jimmy Cliff play the guitar, and he was a good friend of mine so he used to trim over at one of my good friends who had a barber shop there, that's where I use to trim too. So, I get to know Jimmy Cliff and I saw him play the guitar so he was the first man that I saw and, y'know, I was amazed and excited about how he could play the guitar. But Alton Ellis is the first man that show me a couple of chords, showed me the G to the D minor, the F to the B-flat and I take it from there on my own.
Q: Can you recall the first encounter with Alton? Was that before or after you met Jimmy?
A: Yes, how I get to meet him, he used to come over (to) my home, y'know, my yard, and I go back to his home, we go back and forward and his mother was a lady that I respec' and love, y'know. Sometime I go by Alton Ellis and we sit down and talk and all those things, smoke some herb and all that.
Q: How did you find Alton?
A: Well, he was very good and promising, y'know, he was a very inspiring person to me. He was singing with Eddie Parks at the time - Perkins his name, Eddie Perkins. He migrated to America. We had the addition of Eggar Gordon, and that's after he left.
Q: Why did Eddie leave for America?
A: Well, what he really wanted to do was to - he was a fireman. So, he was a very nice guy, y'know, and he wanted to come to the States to get some work, or something like that. And study, go to school and t'ing like that, so... You know, he want to further his career in that, so I think that was one of his main t'ings why he do that.
Q: Do you know what became of him, afterwards?
A: Well, he's living in the States from that time 'til now, he don't come back to Jamaica.
Q: Have you met him since then?
A: Yes man, we used to sit together, and he was a nice person that I really respec' and we used to sing a lot of the artists we loved together, and do some singin' too, y'know.
Q: Where is he based now in America?
A: I don't know where he is living in the States, which one of the states he's at, but I haven't seen him back from that time.
Q: What did you listen to in particular back in those days?
A: Well, I used to be very impressed by a lot of foreign groups, like Brook Benton, Dina Washington, Nat 'King' Cole, The Drifters, the great Impressions - Curtis Mayfield. All of those old songs from the States I really was impressed (by), so those music I really grow up on as a little youth coming up. Everybody in Jamaica played those songs so I was very impressed and overwhelmed when I heard certain type of music coming on the radio, is what the radio play we listen to, y'know. So, we couldn't have any other choice but listen to the radio. And then in the early sixties and seventies Coxson and Duke Reid, those people that produce those music, they used to come to the States for farmwork, and they used to bring down all those classic ballad and R&B records from America and come back and play them on the sound system. They used to have a lot of sound system in Jamaica and we didn't have a lot of radio, is only one radio station. CEG2I - which was the first. CEG2I. And after that then you have another radio station coming up - RJR.
Q: Rediffusion, yes.
A: Yeah. So they used to have that little Rediffusion box on the - you can put it on your window and sometimes you see them on the electric post out in the street and they have one speaker and one knob, so they played that radio, y'know, the Rediffusion. So, we didn't really have a lot of radio station to play the record, is the sound system that play the record and promote it. You used to have Coxsone Downbeat, Duke Reid, Count John, and you have King Edward the Giant. All those sound system, y'know, used to play a lot of R&B.
Q: Plus you had Tom the Great Sebastian in those times, perhaps the best of them all.
A: Tom the Great Sebastian, all those people. Count C the Wizzard.
Q: Was there any sound in particular that you...
A: I was a dance fan, man, I was a real dance fan. Anywhere the music is playing in Jamaica we used to listen to the steel horn, they push the steel horn way up in the air. In the surroundings where the dance is gonna keep, they put a big speaker up in the air so when the sound is playing you can trace the sound from the horns! You know, just long back horns they used to have, and they put it way up in the air so they can hear anywhere the sound system is playing. So I always follow the sound, and sometime I end up at Maxfield Avenue, or if they're playing it - anywhere it playing, y'know, you can follow and trace the sound so. And then you end up seeing the big sound system like Coxsone Downbeat and Duke Reid together, playing at the same night. They have a big competition. So I was really a dance fan, from the beginning.
Q: In those days there was a lot of dances, special dances created for...
A: Yes, at Jubilee Garden and you have another place called King's Lawn, and you have another place called the Forresters Hall. So, those places every week - every week like a Saturday night, people have to work during the week but when it come to Saturday and Sunday you can go also to the Chuckumoo Lawn, on Wellington Street, that is in the ghetto. So when you go to those dances you see Count John playing and King Edward the Giant together.
Q: What was that like?
A: It was ska days, man, that was ska time and we listen to a music emerge. You know, they used to improvising on the ska in those days, that's how they come up with that word to call it. Because the ska was a fast tempo and they dropped the tempo down, like two shape down and you get a slower beat, so they call that rock steady.
Q: What caused this change from local interpretations of R&B and boogie to what became ska, in your opinion? Some say the supply of good R&B 'dried up' and producers had the musicians to experiment a bit, see if they could come up with something original for the dancehall.
A: Is not really that. What really - people in Jamaica, we like to create our own style. Is a heartbeat, coming from Africa.
Q: It was just a natural step at the time.
A: Yeah. Yes, so everybody used to have the drum sound to send the signal in Africa, and that's where the beat is coming from - the drum, y'know, the funde and the repeater. So they have this one-two-three-four and then you get that one fast, but two you don't go back to the one. You go two-two, two-three-four, you know, you step down. But the people used to love the ska because it was fast and you could move along with the tempo and the beat. So that's where the music really started from, the R&B.
Q: You still like that fast tempo you get in ska?
A: Well, as time changes with it you have to change with the pattern and the style. So, the older folks or people that is in their forties and the fifties, that's where they grow up on those type of music. So they stick to it and what they tried to do they improvise on it. Yeah.
Q: So when you started out you practiced with people like Jimmy.
A: I was into 'The Harder They Come'. With Lee 'Scratch' Perry, I do a lot of songs for Lee 'Scratch' Perry. And we were at Orange Street and Charles Street, they have a little shop there. So, there I get to meet with Lee Perry and we do a lot of songs with Lee 'Scratch' Perry so he was the man who call me one day and told me that they gonna do some filming down by the Dynamic Sound, it was West Indies Sound that in those days. Alan Grey and Byron Lee and Eddie Seaga, they owned West Indies company. But they do that recording down there with Jimmy Cliff, y'know. So I was down there and Lee 'Scratch' Perry told me that they want me and him to go down there and get some of the work, y'know. So that's how I get to get into that film, 'The Harder They Come' with Jimmy Cliff. But I didn't do any song with Jimmy Cliff, he was just a good friend of mine and I respec' him and all.
Q: But you and he sat and practiced, learned the basics of the guitar.
A: Yeah, I didn't practice with him because I couldn't play the guitar, I just sit there and watch him play it. I was crying because, y'know, I felt the music. He was singin' this song 'Many Rivers To Cross' and that. Another song...
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