Giants Behind the Music: Prince Buster

Prince Buster (Cecil Bustamante Campbell) was born in Kingston, Jamaica on May 24, 1938. His work as song-writer and produce during the Ska and Rock-Steady era has made him one of the giant figures of Jamaican music. This work has earned him an Order of Distinction (OD) honor from the Jamaican government. This honor is conferred upon citizens of Jamaica who have rendered outstanding and important service to Jamaica. His body of work as producer is said to have “influenced and shaped the course of Jamaican contemporary music and created a legacy of work that later reggae and ska artists would draw upon”.
Prince Buster, like many Jamaican artist of the time, gained his earliest musical experience from the church. He began performing around Kingston at the “social clubs” as a teenager, and became part of a dance group that performed at the Glass Bucket Club, one of the premier music venues in Kingston at the time. He later joined the crew of “Tom the Great Sabastian”, one of the early sound systems that imported music from the United States – mostly New Orleans. Buster later went on to work with the music legend – Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, the founder of the great Studio One.
His many jobs with Studio One enabled him to learn all the important aspects of both the music and the sound system business. He started his own sound system – named The Voice of the People, and became one of the main rivals of Clement Dodd’s “Sir Coxsone’s Downbeat”. In 1961 Prince Buster started his first record label in the heart of downtown Kingston. That same year he joined forces with drummer Arkland “Drumbago” Parks, guitarist Jah Jerry and Alpha Boys School graduate, Rico Rodriquez (whom he knew from his days at the Baby Grand Club) to release his first record – titled Little Honey backed by an instrumental called Luke Lane Shuffle. That was followed up with recording of the now famous – Oh Carolina by the Folks Brothers. This song is credited with the introduction of Nyabingi Rastafarian drumming and influences in main stream Jamaican music. The song was released on the Blue Beat label in England and went on to become one of the first influential Ska songs released outside Jamaica.
In the 1960s, Prince Buster went on to release several local hits with artists like Alton Ellis on this Wild Bells Label. Among the Ska hits were Wash Wash –which charted in England and Madness which started a kind of Ska revolution around the world. At the end of the late 1960s, after meeting the world heavyweight champion – Muhammad Ali, Prince Buster decided to join the Nation of Islam. He did not walk away from the music business however, and continued to release several rock-steady hits. His song – Al Capone charted at number 18 in the United Kingdom in 1967.Over the years he has had a few cameo roles in movies including The Harder They Come – in which he played a club DJ.
Prince Buster continued to influence Ska revivals in the 1970s and 80s. It is said that the Ska revival of the late 1970s began with the British 2-Tone label’s introduction of his music to a new generation of listeners – some of who were not even born when he was popular in the UK. In 1979 the band Madness released their first single on 2-Tone, a tribute to Buster called “The Prince”. The B-side was a cover of the Prince Buster’s hit song “Madness” from which they took their name. Their second single, released on the Stiff label (“The Prince” was the only single released by Madness on the 2-Tone label), was a cover of Buster’s  “One Step Beyond”, which reached the UK Top 10.
On their self-titled debut album, The Specials covered “Too Hot” and borrowed elements from Campbell’s “Judge Dread” (in the song “Stupid Marriage”) and “Al Capone” (in the song “Gangsters”). The Specials also included a cover of “Enjoy Yourself” on their second album More Specials. The Beat covered “Rough Rider” and “Whine & Grine” on their album I Just Can’t Stop It. Campbell’s song “Hard Man Fe Dead” was covered by the U.S. ska band The Toasters on their 1996 album 2 Tone Army
Prince Buster presently reside in South Florida.

Giants Behind the Music: Chris Blackwell

Chris Blackwell (born Christopher Percy Gordon Blackwell) was born in Westminster, London. His father –Joseph Blackwell was an Englishman who came to Jamaica as a major in the Jamaican Regiment of the British army. His mother – Blanche Lindo was a Jamaican Jew of Costa Rican descent. Chris came from a family of wealth – his father was related to the founders of Crosse & Blackwell, a British food processing and canning company. His mother belonged to one of Jamaica’s famous sugar plantation lines who were the original owners of Appleton Rum and one of the “21 families that is said to have controlled” the island in the 20th century.
Chris spent his childhood in Jamaica and was sent to Britain to continue his education at Harrow School. At the end of high school he opted to return to Jamaica instead of attending college. He became an aid to the Governor and later decided to step out on his own.  At first he entered the real estate business, and later distribution and management of jukeboxes. This later project brought him in direct contact with both ordinary Jamaicans and the music business. It is rumored that Chris’s introduction to “deep roots music” was quite accidental.  Author Brent Hageman (2005) noted that Chris was “sailing off the Hellshire Beach in 1958 when his boat ran aground on a coral reef.
The twenty one-year-old swam to the coast and attempted to find help along the shore in searing temperatures.  Collapsing on the beach, Blackwell was said to have been rescued by Rasta fishermen who tended his wounds and restored him back to health with traditional Ital food. Hageman noted that this experience gave Blackwell a spiritual introduction to Rastafarianism and was a key to his connection to the culture and its music.”
In 1958, at the young are of 22, Blackwell formed Island Records with an initial inheritance of $10,000.  His initial business partner was Jamaican radio personality – Graeme Goodall.  Their first release was an instrumental/vocal album by a Bermudian artist name Lance Hayward. A year later Chris started recording Jamaican popular music with artist like Laurel Aitkens – producing the island’s first locally produced hit – “Boogie in my Bones”, baked with “Little Sheila”
In 1962 Chris produced 26 singles and two albums. At the end of that year he returned to England in search of better production facilities and a larger market. Among the master tapes that Chris recorded that year and took to England was one by a fifteen-year-old Jamaican female singer name Millie Small. In 1964 he brought her over to England to record a Ska version of Barbie Gaye 1956 hit – “My Boy Lollypop”. The rest is history as that song went straight to number one as the very first Jamaican-linked song to make it to the top of the British charts. This marked the beginning of Island Records as the first great independent label.
Chris later joined forces with Stanley Borden of RKO Entertainment – producing some of the greatest artists of our time – artists that has impacted our lives and the music world in ways that can hardly be measured. Among them – Bob Marley, Grace Jones, U2, Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group, Lake and Palmer, Jethro Tull, Cat Stevens, Sly & Robbie, Robert Palmer, Jimmy Cliff, Ike & Tina Turner, Third World, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, Melissa Etheridge and African superstars Salif Keita, Baaba Maal, King Sunny Ade and Angelique Kidjo.
Blackwell sold his stake in Island in 1989 and eventually resigning from the company in 1997.  He went on to form Palm Pictures, a media entertainment company with music, film and DVD releases. In the late 1990s, Blackwell merged Palm Pictures with Rykodisc to form RykoPalm, a new operation. That same year he purchased Netherlands-based conglomerate PolyGram. He stayed on for a few years to supervise the companies that operated under the Island label.
Simultaneously, in the early ’90s, Blackwell created Island Outpost a South Beach based hotels and resorts company that purchased and managed hotels such as the Marlin Hotel in South Beach, Miami and Jamaica’s Strawberry Hill (1992), followed closely by Bahamian Pink Sands and Compass Point and The Caves, Jake’s and Golden Eye, in Oracabessa, Jamaica. Chris currently lives in Jamaica and has made the island his base of operation for several companies. These include multiple hotel properties – Golden Eye, Strawberry Hill in St Andrew, and the Caves in Negril, Jamaica. In recent years he has had some difficulty staying away from his family’s legacy and in 2009 he introduced his own brand of fine rum “Blackwell Black Gold” to the international market.
In April 2009, the UK magazine Music Week named Blackwell the most influential figure in the last 50 years of the British music industry. When he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, they described him as the “single person most responsible for turning the world on to reggae music”.  Although others like Johnny Nash and Paul Simon have certainly played a part in introducing reggae music to the US, Chris certainly stands out as the individual who took reggae around the world.  Today at the ripe “young” age of late seventies – when most people who have made such significant contributions to our lives are ready to retire, he spends most of his time with his favorite philanthropic organizations.  Among them – the Island ACTS, the Oracabessa Foundation, the Mary Vinson Blackwell Foundation (established in honor of his late wife to whom he was married from 1998 till 2009), and the Jamaican Conservation Trust.

Giants Behind the Music: Vere Johns

Vere Johns (Joseph Vere Everette Johns) was born in Mandeville, a city located in the parish of Manchester in central Jamaica on November 28, 1893 and died on September 10, 1966. He was a journalist/actor and one of the island’s earliest radio personalities. He was producer and host of the Vere Johns talent hour on radio, a program that contributed to the launching of the careers of many of the country’s musical giants. Vare Johns served in the South Lancaster (England) Regiment in World War 1. After the war he moved to the United States where he found work as a newspaper columnist and as host of talent contests.
He returned to Jamaica in 1939 and later joined the Jamaica Star newspaper – where he wrote the weekly column “Vere Johns Says”. Shortly thereafter, he began hosting a weekly talent show on RJR, one of the island’s two radio stations, called “Vere Johns Opportunity Knock”. This show is said to have launched the careers of several artists – among them : Lloyd Charmers, Hortense Ellis, John Holt, Bob Andy, Desmond Dekker, The Wailers, Alton Ellis, Jackie Edwards, Dobby Dobson, Boris Gardiner, Laurel Aitken, and Millie Small. These talent contests were held and recorded live in venues such as The Majestic, Ward, Palace and Ambassador Theaters.
In addition to showcasing talent, these shows also served as scouting venues for producers such as as Clement “Coxsone” Dodd, Prince Buster and Arthur “Duke” Reid – the primary record producers and Sound System operators of the period. Singers were recruited and taken to the Stanly Motta studio (the only recording studio in Jamaica at the time) to record cover versions of US hits for their sound systems.
In addition to his contribution to the music industry, Vare Johns was one Jamaica’s earliest Shakespearean actors and acting teacher.