Mon | May 27, 2019

Story of the Song | 'Don’t Test' Junior Tucker’s grown-up statement

Published:Sunday | October 1, 2017 | 12:00 AMMel Cooke
Junior Tucker
Junior Tucker

In 1989 Junior Tucker was at a pivotal moment in his life. He had just returned to Jamaica from the US, where he had been working on an album with Ray Parker (which included Mr Telephone Man), but felt that the Warner label was not putting sufficient muscle behind the project. To say he was disappointed would be a gross understatement.

"I felt like I had been used and I came home to Jamaica to regroup," Tucker told The Sunday Gleaner. But, even in his own land, Tucker experienced a sense of exclusion. Although it was not said outright, Tucker said, "I felt I was being looked at as an uptown foreign yute."

Added to that was the scorching pace a number of singers were setting, among them Pinchers, Beres Hammond, Barrington Levy, Sanchez and Freddie McGregor. Although he knew them all as his music colleagues, Tucker felt that he had to make a statement, to stake his claim for a place in Jamaican popular music, not as little Junior Tucker who could sing a mean Michael Jackson tune. He needed to show that, "I am different now, I am grown."

That statement was made with Don't Test, written with Handel Tucker, a song with a heavy reggae bassline, but strong classical elements, in which Tucker warns, "if you haven't been to my school/And you're not familiar with my rules don't test."

Those were the first lines that came to Junior Tucker, listening to Handel play the rhythm downstairs repeatedly, while he was upstairs figuring out where to go with the song. The living room was set up like a studio, with instruments and recording equipment, Tucker said they would eat breakfast and then just write every day.

On the day, Don't Test started to come together, Tucker was dissatisfied with the direction a song intended for him was taking. It was a social commentary track and Tucker was not enthused.

"I was like, okay," Tucker said and he went upstairs by himself, "with the rhythm coming through the floor. It just came into my head (the first two lines). I ran downstairs and said 'I find it!'"

Handel asked if he wanted another rhythm, as there was already a song for the one being played and Junior insisted that it should not be changed.

"Handel was taught to play piano, he understands the whole instrument thing," Junior said. So, Don't Test was already a blend of dancehall and classical music, Tucker then laying lyrics with strong dancehall braggadocio - but in his own style heavily influenced by pop - on the beat.

One line, "for I took off the S off Superman's chest" was a nod to Barrington Levy's Broader Then Broadway Tucker taking a swing at another "took off the B off Batman's belly." If that was not enough to establish his 'bad man' credentials, Tucker also sang "Eastwood and Rambo are now my slaves" and tells The Sunday Gleaner, that at the time, movies had made them "the two baddest man on the planet."

A line done in classical voice stating "no dibby dibby, no dibby," was added by Dionne Watt, who did harmony vocals. After going to visit his mother in the US, and returning to Jamaica, Tucker added yet another line, although Handel had thought it was done.

As fate would have it, Erskine Thompson was in Jamaica working on a Maxi Priest project and came to see Handel. He heard Don't Test in progress, was impressed and "that is how I got signed to Virgin", said Tucker.

Don't Test was recorded at Grove Studios in Ocho Rios,

St Ann, with Steven Stanley and Barry O'Hare as engineers, Stanley doubling as background vocalist on the line, "cause we no wrap up wid dutty bungle." Watt and Andi Green, also did harmony, which Tucker joined in, Handel playing all the instruments.

"I did not know if it was going to be a hit, but you ever did something that you said win or lose, this is who you are? It was an identity song for me," Tucker said. "I was saying this is my sound, a reggae artiste with a pop sound... for the first time, I felt like I was me."

Listen to Don't Test at