Sun | Aug 20, 2017

An accidental reggae artiste

Published:Sunday | January 31, 2016 | 1:00 AMMel Cooke

At the point where he started making records, LKJ had determined his writing approach and had the support of a number of outstanding writers. However, he had no idea about recording. Still, he had connections that resulted in a series of coincidences, which led to an unexpected, yet sustained, involvement.

Before, he had the book Dread Beat and Blood published, and Johnson said, "It became an instant sensation and I made my name and reputation on that book. I began to make my reputation as a poet in the black community".

In Brixton at the time, there was a Natty Dread ABC project, one of the persons involved also doing a job for Virgin Records. He contacted LKJ to write copy and ads, getting involved in the Kingston Frontline series. Johnson said they were in a recording studio and Johnson suggested a poetry recording.

The man approached Virgin owner Richard Branson, who put up £300 to do a demo.

So, LKJ got a few amateur musicians together and recorded Five Nights of Bleeding, Dread Beat and Blood and All We Doin' is Defendin'. That led to a £2,000 to do an album.

LKJ said he was offered a six-album deal, but decided to do one and take it from there. The album was made with the involvement of Dennis Bovell,who Johnson had interviewed for a BBC programme.

The album got rave reviews and things developed from there, even though Johnson did not delve head first into being a recording artiste. So he was working at a centre in England when he met Bob Marley, who came to shoot a music video, then met him again when signed to Island Records.

With the album out, Johnson said: "Next thing I know, I am getting calls from France, Germany, Holland - all over - to do concerts. I did not know what to do".

 

'MONEY SWEET ME'

 

What he did was get some backing tracks and head out and do a show in Europe.

"The money sweet me," Johnson said, so he kept going, eventually moving from tracks to live music.

He did Forces of Victory and Bass Culture with Island Records, then came Making History. He decided to go independent with his own label, recording Mikey Smith's Mi Cyaa Believe It as the first single.

There was an attempted retirement from the road in the mid-1980s, which did not last long and he has performed with several people - from Jimmy Cliff, U-Roy, Buju Banton and Third World to Chronixx and Etana.

Asked by an audience member how he wants to be remembered, LKJ reworked a line from Professor Edward Baugh, who was in the lecture theatre. The enduring line, LKJ said, is "He was never stoned for his bad verse."