|Jamaica has produced so many great harmony groups it is stunning to see how many of them never got the break they deserved and broke up beforehand. Some of them were on a par with contemporary R&B groups as far as perfecting the blending of voices went. If it wasn't sounding sweet it was the opposite, and often just as appealing in its execution; exposing the raw ghetto nerve of the sufferah. There you have the sound of Well Pleased & Satisfied; a more energetic and intense style and, if you ask me, one of the most original in reggae music. Reading a reggae record chart in the spring of 1977, you could learn that a tune like 'Pickney A Have Pickney' was one of the best-selling pre-release singles in England by said Well Pleased & Satisfied. The creation of lead-singer and songwriter Ephraim 'Jerry' Baxter, Well Pleased & Satisfied was formed sometime in the early seventies, hooked up with Sonia Pottinger's stable of artists and got a big hit with the sublime 'Sweetie Come From America', a song included several years later on the Hollywood soundtrack to 'Club Paradise'; though it did little to break the group out of a long struggle in obscurity. Ever since hearing the emotional energy in Jerry Baxter's lead-vocals, I have been looking for more information on their past history in the music but nothing has surfaced. So, it was about time that their story was told as it has rarely been told anywhere, and here it is. Jerry is more focused nowadays on being a businessman, travelling between Kingston, Miami and New York, but there is promise of dusting off the back catalog within a not too distant future. My thanks to Jerry for taking the time to speak at length in May, 2004. Thanks also to David Jahson, Sarah, Cassey, Tim P, Robert Schoenfeld, Donovan Phillips, and Steve Barrow.|
Q: Where were you born?
A: I was born in St. Mary, a district called Cumberwell, St. Mary, Jamaica, December 1947. Then I left from Cumberwell and come to town when I was four years old. OK. Then from there I go to school there and raised in Kingston. Kingston 11, that's where my school lies. Stayed there, went to school, I went to Boys Town School. But first I went to Cockburn Pen School, Cockburn Garden now it's called, and I was going to Boys Town Arlington School, and finished there. And then I started life on my own, start learn a trade. It didn't work out so I took up singin'.
Q: What did you work with?
A: That trade was... at first I start to make brooms, like what the dreadlocks makes just to stay alive. And then that wasn't what I wanted to do, so I start to make bags, handbags, and then we started to distribute to all the stores: Time store, Sangsters bookstore, Marzouca's, a lot of stores all over the place.
Q: Kingston 11, where exactly is that again? Waterhouse?
A: It's Waterhouse. Kingston 11 is the area where King Tubbys used to have his studio. Yeah.
Q: A pretty 'hot' neighbourhood back then, wasn't it, or that came later on?
A: Yeah, it was violent in the seventies, but it break down a little bit. People has gettin' to their senses and start to show a lickle civil manners. And from then it's not that worse, it is a little bit better, y'know, we start to get more united now and all that. But every now and then they break away, people always have their differences and they do something. But I mean, it wasn't like in the seventies when it break away very, very bad, yunno, and it come back also.
Q: If you would explain further for those not familiar with that era, why did it get so 'hot' in the seventies?
A: Well, it was the change of politics and some of the people feel like they shouldn't work and some feel like they should have something for free. Because the only system there was democratic socialism, so they didn't know what the leader Mr Michael Manley was saying. So most of them didn't understand, they didn't understand that they should work together as a people, they should try to really, as a people, to work together in peace and harmony and share a social conduct and share the social approach in life, but they didn't understand. So sometime they wanna beg, they wanna steal sometime, they do all kinda t'ing. But after a while when they realised it turned around.
Q: You've lived in Waterhouse most of your life?
A: Well I was living in a more depressed community, it was called Majestic Gardens. That is out by Three Miles Round-A-Bout, the same Kingston 11, by Three Miles. But my mother take me away in 1962 from there, and I went to Waterhouse, the same Kingston 11 community by the little fall, up on the hill. I stayed there, stayed there forever! I'm still living there now. But from 1962 when we got independence, I've been living in Waterhouse.
Q: What was the start in music, writing, all of that?
A: Well, it happened that I was going to school where my teacher always taught me about African history, so I always believed in African history, y'know, I would always strongly believe in our history. So he always taught me about history, black history. So I wrote the song 'Open The Gate Bobby Bowa', and I sing that for Coxson first. But before I wrote the song 'Open The Gate Bobby Bowa', I was singin' for Coxson, I do about seven songs for Coxson, Studio One, and he released about three or four of them. One is called 'Music Like Dirt' and one is called 'Wepp', it was the flipside of the hit song called 'Nanny Goat'.
Q: What year was this?
A: I think... man, I don't remember if it was '68 or '69, but it was in the sixties.
Q: So late sixties.
A: Yeah, it was in the sixties, man. It was going down... it was coming close to the reggae, it was coming close to when the reggae was formed. It is the same era that reggae was formed, but it don't have that stage yet. I remember when they were in the studio doing the final beat, Jackie Mittoo was playing the organ and was playing the piano together along with I think this guy was called Denzil Laing, played congo drums and percussion, and he got a guy called Eric Frater.
Q: On guitar.
A: Guitar. And he got I think Boris Gardiner was playing the bass at the time, and I think Carl 'Cannonball' Bryan was playing tenor saxophone, and... I'm just trying to remember some of the musicians was there. But Sylvan Morris was the studio engineer. And they clap the beat, 'cause Jackie Mittoo was playing the organ and the piano combined together, they clap the bass and the piano that with the organ they was playing a shuffle, was playing that shuffle on the organ. So when they clap the beat and they come outside, they were trying to find a name for this beat, and they call it all kinda name until they come up with 'reggae'. So reggae was born at Studio One, at 13 Brentford Road in Cross Roads, reggae was birth there, the sound called reggae was birth there. I even remember this guy called Joe Gibbs, he used some kind of a reggae t'ing, because he had a band I think was called the Hippy Boys, and they used to do some songs. But it wasn't like what Coxson had done, it was something more simple, more simpler. And I think Coxson was puttin' up a fight to Joe Gibbs, I think Coxson was fightin' him, something like that. I think they had a fight for that, because Coxson was swearing that he was trying to swallow his beat, he owned this beat, something like that. But they still go along, and people keep on creating their own little sound alongside with Coxson. But they never sound like Coxson, Coxson was the father. It's like Coxson was... it's not really 'was', he was and IS the Motown recording studio of Jamaica. There was Duke Reid, Treasure Isle studio, and there was Dynamic and there was Federal and there was a little... I don't remember that studio. You got Randy's studio.
Q: You got West Indies, WIRL, too, became Dynamic later on.
A: West Indies Records was there, yes. Formerly West Indies Records then turn over to Dynamics Records. 'Cause I think it was Edward Seaga along with Byron Lee who was running West Indies Records, and then I think it was Seaga sold off his share, something like that, to Byron Lee, and he continue. Federal Records was run by a man I think named Ed Khouri or Al or Derrick Khouri (actually Kenneth Khouri, later run by son Paul), something like that, with the Khouri family. They are of Indian descent (actually Lebanese), so they were called Khouri and so they run the Federal record company. Duke Reid him run Treasure Isle, and by Randy's, he had his t'ing out by North Parade in Kingston. But you had Coxson who had the Motown of reggae music, Studio One. Mr Clement Dodd, he is the Godfather of Reggae, because in his studio they had changed over the rock steady to reggae, and that's how it is. But there's a lot of guys who is saying that they create reggae and say they know that they're the reggae master, but they're just fooling around, they are kidding themselves. Reggae music was created at Studio One.
Q: So you formed the group right in the beginning of that era.
A: It was the same year that the reggae - I think it was '68, the same year when reggae formed out, we formed the group. We, me and my friend, Bertram McLean, we start out. First we start out with Lloyd Parks and Sly Dunbar, and 'Ranchie' (McLean's nickname) and myself, we used to play together. We rehearsed but we wasn't in a group together, we just rehearsed an' t'ing. Because Lloyd Parks had just broke up his group called the Termites, they used to record for Mr Coxson, and they do some songs for a guy called Ernest Barnett. But they wasn't recording anymore for Coxson, so we always rehearsing over a place called Compound, in Tower Hill. It's the same Kingston 11 area. Sly Dunbar always say that he is the drummer, but there's a guy who - his name was Neville, and Neville's uncle I think bought a tape, a reel-to-reel tape for him, a portable reel-to-reel, and tape he didn't play and listen back to - it's just like a cassette tape, but it's only that reel-to-reel thing. But Sly Dunbar always take off the top of the tape, the box, the top of the piece of material that cover the tape making sure there's no dirt get inside of it, pick it out all the time. And he's always biting on his lip, beating the coup of sticks and say he's the drummer. And he always act like a drummer and playing the drums, soundin' very good but it was no drums. But he was trying to play it, y'know, keep a drum beat there. And Lloyd Parks have an ordinary box guitar, and he always play the bass, OK? And Ranchie who was my friend who I sing with, always play the riddim - you understand what I'm saying? We have two guitar. And I always sing harmony and I always sing lead. So that is there we start as The Actions. Me and Ranchie was the Actions, but Lloyd Parks and Sly Dunbar were just the musicians. But Lloyd Parks was a singer and a musician, because his group called The Termites was broken up, him and a guy called Wentie.
Q: Right, Wentworth Vernal.
A: Vernal, yeah. You know what I'm talking about. OK. And there we went to Coxson, and we did about six or seven songs I told you before, for Coxson. So while we were there, Coxson told us... we do audition for Treasure Isle and his liquors, but we didn't want to sing for Treasure Isle. We go to Coxson, you understand, because Coxson was the studio that was going hot. Treasure Isle records was selling, but we feel it more at Coxson's studio. So Coxson told us that whatever song we've got, all the songs we've got, we should record them, because it sound very good. And that's what he is saying. He'd want us in the day to try and put down the songs, and when he's got the time, we should come in and record. So we did about seven songs for him, we was trying to finish an album. Before that he told us that we should do any of our songs we wanted to. But first he put out a song called 'Wepp', and then he put out a song called 'Music Like Dirt', and that sell very well, but it wasn't on the charts. And he put out one called 'No Bada Gwan So', and a couple more. But I don't know if he put out those, about three or four of those songs. But anyhow, 'Wepp' was on the flipside of the hit song called 'Nanny Goat' (Larry Marshall), and 'Nanny Goat' was the best selling reggae song of the same era. So the same era when the reggae was exploding, it was coming out on the streets, it was all over the place. Everybody know the song through the hit. So he told us now, if you left me with seven songs on a royalty basis, we could be a millionarie. I said to myself and Ranchie "Wow, man!" So we walked out of Coxson's office. He didn't even remember that we sell him the song, because he used to buy songs from artists for seven pound ten. Everyone of the artists that sing for Coxson, most of them sold their songs for seven pound ten. Most of the artists that record for Studio One get only seven pound ten for a song. Seven pound ten. So we said we wanna be a millionarie, so we decide not to sell our songs. So we walk out of the office and say OK, we collect on a royalty basis. He bought the 'Nanny Goat' from Larry & Alvin, they lived up in a place called Barbican, it was up in St. Andrew, that wasn't the downtown area, it was uptown - St Andrew. So we wait until three months time, when the song sell and sell, and we see like we should go for our royalties, ca' we're not working so we need some cash. We go inside of his office, we say we come for our royalty, he said, "Which royalty did you want?" We said, "The royalty for the flipside of 'Nanny Goat', 'Wepp'". And we say to him, "It's our song, we didn't selling you the song, we said we gonna collect on a royalty basis, we could be a millionarie". So we come now, we're supposed to be millionaries, we're supposed to be rich now. Ca' the song is a hit all over the world - Miami, England, Jamaica, it's number one for a lot of weeks, it was on the chart. It was the biggest selling reggae song in Jamaica, ca' it was the first song that come with the beat that sound that way, with an organ, so it got to go. So Coxson look at us and say, "No Jackson" - he called everyone 'Jackson' (chuckles).
A: He said, "Jackson, you no understand! No man, I bought the song from you, from you guys". And we said, "No Mr Dodd, no sir, you told us". So he said OK, he's gonna look for the papers. So he looked for the papers, and he keep on looking and looking, can't find no statement or no contract that we signed on a outright project. We didn't sign a outright project with our song, we didn't sign a outright contract. So after that he told us to come back another day. We come back another day, I think it was a Saturday, and we come back about ten o 'clock, and we were out there, and we were dying for hunger. We'd sit there under the mango tree, and we sit there and wait until night. Then we see he open the door and come, he say, "Jackson, you still out there?" And we said, "Yeah! Yes Mr Dodd, we're supposed to, because you told us to wait". And he said, "OK, come back Monday morning". We come back on Monday morning, he take us in his office, this time God have a little mercy now, it's like he have a little sympathy for us now, he take us in his office. And we go inside and we sit down, and he say, "OK, I'm gonna give you guys twenty pounds for the song". We said, "Twenty pound, Mr Dodd?! This is a hit song! You can't give us twenty pound!" Man, as I'm talking right now I feel like crying, but I'm not gonna cry, man. And he said, "Twenty-five pound then!" We said, "Mr Dodd, you're not supposed to be dealing with us, you're supposed to take the statement of the sale, and pay us according to the amount of songs that sell". And he said, "OK, thirty pound!" We said, "Mr Dodd, why you doing that?! You're supposed to checking the papers, you're not supposed to be dealing". We keep on saying the same thing to him, and he had a gun at his side - he always have his gun. So he said to us, "OK, I'm gonna give you guys twenty-five pound and that's the bottomline!" It was like he was getting nervous! He was getting nervous, I could see he was chilling, like. Because this is why he never pay nobody. I think I met a guy called Skully, he was one of the first guys who record in Jamaica, and Skully had told us that the biggest money he had paid any artist was twenty pound. But anyway, as I was saying, he was trying to reach for his gun, like he was gonna shoot us, and I touch Ranchie and I whisper to him, "Ranchie, it look like he gonna shoot us!" Beca' we're little kids, just leave school, and not so strong and we're not so brave to let someone with a gun in those days fe really, y'know, happen to us. He was acting like he was gonna go for the gun. And I whispered this to Ranchie, and Ranchie said, "OK Mr Dodd, we take thirty-five pound". And he gave us a check, it's not a bounce check, but he cross the check - that mean seh we can't take it to the bank and change it, we gotta take it back to him for him to sign his name and clear it. And we take it to the bank and never realise that he cross the check, and the bank seh: "Just go back with it". The bank was Nova Scotia, down by the bottom of King Street in Jamaica, that would be the number one street in downtown Kingston, King Street. But when we go back for him to sign the check, he still was giving us the runaround! He was still hiding, yu understan'. And we had to come back still another day, we wait until night... and God help us that... man! I don't know, he signed a check for thirty-five pound. So we were the Actions, the group called the Actions, me and Ranchie - Euphraim Baxter and Bertram McLean as the Actions, we were the biggest artists, biggest paid artists in Jamaica and Studio One, the Motown of Jamaican recording companies. So we were the biggest paid artists who received thirty-five pound on a check. None of the artists who sang many number one songs ever received thirty-five pound. Never. So you are the first man to get this t'ing in an interview, you are blessed. That would never have happened before this time, because you got the history. The inside history of Sly Dunbar and Lloyd Parks, y'know, you've got the history.
Q: And Ranchie.
A: And Ranchie. So it happened like that. Then now, there was this guy called Alton Ellis now, after Coxson said, "OK Jackson, you've got to keep on recording for us, so I need you to finish that album". Next time we going to the studio, Alton Ellis was putting on a voice, or he was laying a rhythm or something, but he always in the studio, always in that studio, so we couldn't get no time to really do the rest of our songs. We laid some riddims, and it was Marcia Griffiths who do some overdubbing on them and, y'know, make some songs for herself. So we couldn't get no time to do our stuff. We got fed up, we get frustrated, and I said to Ranchie: "Ranchie, I'm gonna quit, I'm gonna stop singin'. Because every time I come, there is Alton Ellis in the studio and he's voicing, voicing, he's laying riddims, he's everything". I say, "I can't get in the studio, we can't do it". So I remember my mother, Mrs Ivy, saving some money to open a store, because I said I need to open a store for myself. So my mother take out some of the money, bought a ticket for my sister to go to London, and that she would make a better life and send for us, the rest of the family. But she got out in the country, got hang out with a man down there, she married him and got children and get stuck. She never go to England, and that money was waste. But the rest of the money that I've got in the bank, I said OK, I'm gonna take it out and start some recording for myself. But Ranchie could play guitar very well, he wasn't trying, he was playing guitar that time with a little band called R&B Invincibles, and also Sly Dunbar was playing. So I said to Sly I'm gonna take them to the studio, and I'm gonna rent the studio. So I rent Channel One studio with the money, and I hired Bobby Ellis and Tommy McCook as the horn section, and I hired Sly Dunbar and Ranchie - I've forgot the keyboard guy, I've forgot who played the organ, and so forth. But we come up with the song 'Open The Gate Bobby Bowa', and then we go release that song, and that song was very big in England. That song was very big in the dancehall, it was a dancehall anthem in Jamaica. Everybody thought it was King Tubby's production, but it was my production, 'cause I gave him the riddim to really play for... to distribute, like to tell the sound guys them to make it popular. And I did 'Black On Black', I did 'Westman Rock', I did 'Chat Chat', I did 'News Carrier', I did 'Barberman Bawling', I did 'Sweetie Come From America' - I did that for Mrs Pottinger. It was very big in England, 'Sweetie Come From America' was very big in England.
Q: Before we go too fast into your history with Well Pleased & Satisfied, what about some other Actions tunes, with titles such as 'Catch The Quinella'. You remember that song?
A: Yeah, 'Catch The Quinella'! Yeah, I was trying to remember the song! My man, you are baaad, man! You was in the studio, man. You wasn't even in your country, man, you wasn't even there. You was in Jamaica, man, your mind - everything was there! 'Obey obey, catch the Quinella' (chuckles)! Yessir. And we got one called 'Giddup Grumble' - 'Giddiup'.
Q: Yes, 'Giddup'. But this is nothing I take credit for, it's in a discography, 'Roots Knotty Roots'.
A: OK. And we got one called 'Wepp' and one called 'Music Like Dirt'. But like how I told you before, Coxson had released four of the songs, so I couldn't really remember me song, it was so long now. But you, man, you was there (laughs)! You was there, man. You was there, man! Once you got the record, you mind something, you've got something.
Q: Well, we have a comprehensive discography of vintage recordings to use nowadays, it helps for anyone willing to do some research.
A: But I'm saying that you were there in some way, because you're lucky to have information, you save me a lot. Because once you ask me, I could almost tell you the four songs, not almost but I could tell you the four songs.
Q: I think you mentioned 'No Bother Gwan So' already, huh?
A: 'No Bother Gwan So'? Aahhh! This was another one again! Man, that was the fifth song, man. We never really get to voice the rest of the songs. We have one called 'Fat Girl', but we never get to voice that one. I think at the same time you had the Heptones doing 'Fatty Fatty' (sings the chorus). So we say since he was singin' about 'Fatty Fatty', we say well, we gonna sing a song about (sings): 'Fat, fat, fat girl, you gotta think how fat you are...'. And we walking down the lane and whistling the song, it just create a vibe like when you see the woman walking with her butt and shaking. You know, our song would be a hit too, I'm sure of that. But we never get to voice it, 'cause Alton was always in the studio. So that's it, y'know, at Studio One. It start back at Channel One with us, the same group: Sly Dunbar, Ranchie, everybody. And I even did an album for a guy in New York, he was called... we call him 'Fireball'. And that album, we got a number one song offa that album in New York, after the album called 'Someone Is Watching You'. But I've got this song now on an album, I'm thinking it would be a good music to release.
Q: 'Wepp', that's a pretty peculiar song.
A: It's like a guy with a suit, he's got a lot of smells coming funny, a guy with a funny smell crep. It's like, his name is Wepp, he's a guy who doesn't wash his crep, so he always have a office smell. We say 'Wepp, Wepp, I smell your crep'. He stand up in the crowd and everybody goes: 'Wepp, Wepp, I smell your crep'. And that's the crep, watch his crep, man, 'cause his crep was very... you know? Yucky (laughs)! It's like Coxson say, we got the song that's selling. Because when 'Nanny Goat' come, it would be like the time for gimmick songs, it was like a lot of jokes, it's like it was stand-up. It was like music and comedy. So we have all the jokes in the song, we can keep a joke in a song and it sound very good. So Coxson said, "Man, you got what the people want to buy, so gwaan". But Alton always in the studio, so we never get to finish the album.
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