Roy Black: Prince Buster brought new dimension to local music
Last week's Music Diaries showcased legendary Jamaican singer, record producer and sound system operator Prince Buster, as the protector of the underdog, a bodyguard for Coxson, and a man who became involved in a number of musical clashes with Coxson (Clement Dodd) and Derrick Morgan. He has always maintained that he is 'The Voice of the People', a name he conceptualised and named his sound system and record label after.
Having his own sound system was always his dream and heartfelt passion. Asked by me in an interview to explain the concept of his Voice of the People sound, Buster was most emphatic: "I am coming from the people, but they (the other sound operators) weren't, they were business people from other areas, and I am coming from the people. I have always been the people's man. From a boy, I learn boxing early and it help me to voice and hold my opinion for the people, and the whole system of how my sound was made up, it was made up by the people - yu know, mi friends at Matthews Lane - we get board and things, and we hold hands, so it was a lot of help from the people," Buster said. But according to him, "The hurt I hurt Coxson wasn't the sound system. It was the music. When it started, it stopped their sales, and that's where the viciousness came in". Indeed, it was the music that made him popular.
GROWING UP IN KINGSTON
It all began in the heart of downtown Kingston - 127 Orange Street (Beat Street) to be exact - where Buster was born Cecil Eustace Campbell, on May 24, 1938. The first of Olive and Fitz Campbell's four children, his mother called him 'Busta', after one of Jamaica's national heroes, and the name stuck. Growing up under tough conditions in the city's west, Busta learnt to defend himself and soon found himself in the sport of boxing, there being three gyms in the area. In later years, Buster hosted boxing great Muhammad Ali on his visit to Jamaica.
It was at the instigation of Count Matchuki, a disc jock, that the young pugilist was brought to the attention of record producer Clement Dodd, and Buster became, as it were, Dodd's strong arm gateman at his dances. Buster, however, wasn't going to be into that for long, as he soon returned to the building of his sound system - The Voice of the People. When that failed, he turned to singing and music production.
The undistinguished piece, Little Honey, was his first outing, but his follow-up They Got to Go, on the Prince Buster Voice of the People label, firmly placed him on the road to success as a vocalist. The recording was a verbal attack on the economic situation then in Jamaica, which, as it still does, favours the rich. "The rich man got money, the poor man got nothin", ran the first line, which is also a clear reference to himself as a poor ghetto sound man, compared to his relatively rich rivals. Buster continues:
'You've had your fun
the time has come
you've played a game
that you're not worthy of
so make way, and take away
since its my sound that goes around.
They got to go, they all got to go'.
The flip side of that record was appropriately titled My Sound that Goes Around, which encapsulate Buster's concept of his music - "my song, my arrangement, my riff, my bassline, my tempo", as he aptly put it in an interview I had with him.
In reality, Buster had his own style, something different from what was being offered elsewhere. With the introduction of handclaps into his ska recordings, accompanied by a slowed-down riff by the Prince Buster All Stars, Buster brought a spiritual vibration and a whole new dimension to ska music in the early 1960s. The negro spiritual Wash Wash, as well as Time longer than Rope, Enjoy Yourself, Blackhead Chiney Man and Over and Over bear testimony to this fact. When asked in the interview, what the inspiration was behind all of this, his answer was simply, "the church". He continued, "The brew weh mix up inna mi head was Jamaican. I was overthrowing a music and put in its place something that was truly Jamaican, because I didn't sound like the American R&B. Them so lock up inna jazz and them American thing that them didn't even think that a man who was inspired by Ranny Williams and Louise Bennett, and Bim and Bam, could have that mix. The mix help me to relate to the natural wishes of the people", Buster said.
As a producer, Buster enlisted the services of some of the best musicians in the land, which included drummer Arkland Parks; trumpeters Baba Brooks and Raymond Harper; saxophonists Val Bennett, Stanley Notice, Dennis 'Ska' Campbell and Lester Sterling; along with guitarist Jerry Haynes, to produce hundreds of top-class recordings, many of which were never released in Jamaica. His immortal 1967 UK chart hit, Alcapone, made him a star in Britain.
Buster's musicians, whom he labelled 'The Prince Buster All Stars', rivalled the best that Studio 1 and Treasure Isle had to offer.
The Maytals joined Buster after leaving Coxson and recorded the classics Broadway Jungle and Pain in My Belly in 1964. But perhaps, he created the greatest impact as a producer in Jamaica four years earlier, with the Folks Brothers' Oh Carolina, which became the first Jamaican recording to move away from the general trend of imitating American boogie and into the realms of Rastafarian culture.
In a career dogged by legal wrangling over authorship of his songs, Buster stands firm, and perhaps echoes his unyielding character in the recording Hard Man fe Dead:
"You pick him up, you lick him down,
him bounce right back, what a hard man fe dead.
Dem say the cat got nine life
but this man got ninety-nine life.
The last time I heard them say that this man was dead.
Them buy ten block of ice and lay it all upon his head..
As the procession lead to the cemetery
the man holler out, don't you bury me.
Them drop the box and run.
What a whole lot of fun.
What a hard man fe dead."