The Music Diaries | Vincent Edwards, a man of many hats - Popular in local horseracing circles, while ruling the musical track
The name Vincent Edwards is one that is well known in local horseracing circles. Edwards has been the president of the Jamaica Racehorse Trainers Association for the past 10 years, and previously, was vice president and spokesman since 1971.
What may surprise many people, however, is that this same man was a dominant figure in the sound system and recording business in Jamaica during the early 1960s, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Clement 'Sir Coxone' Dodd, Duke Reid 'The Trojan'; and Prince Buster, 'The Voice of The People'. He was known then as 'King Edward The Giant'. A highly respected man in the record-producing and sound system business, Edwards turned out a load of hit recordings, while pulling massive crowds to the dances and parties at which he played.
He first got into the music business in 1955 when he temporarily migrated to the United States. While there, he was convinced by his brother to take a sound system back to Jamaica with him. According to Edwards in an interview I had with him over 10 years ago: "I didn't like the American lifestyle, so I came back home and brought down a 100-watt amplifier, but it was much too light, so I had to reconstruct it."
The newly named sound system he called 'Rock and Roll', and it first played at Pretoria Road alongside the powerful Cavalier Sound and was flopped. So he again had to reconstruct to increase power.
"I also realised that if you didn't have top-class records, you couldn't survive, so I had to start travelling to America to get tunes that the others didn't have," Edwards explained.
He further explained that unlike other producers like Dodd and Reid, who travelled via the farm work programme to acquire records, it was while on vacation in the US that he acquired hard-to-get R&B records. And unlike other producers who ordered from chart popularity, Edwards claimed he got on the-spot-demos of prospective records from cellar shelves in Cincinnati, Houston, New Orleans, Arizona, California, Chicago, and Philadelphia, through a record player he constantly had with him.
Working closely alongside his brother - George, Vincent managed to control the Greenwich Farm, Whitfield Town, Jones Town, and Maxfield Avenue areas with a barrage of musical sounds like Shank I Sheck by Baba Brooks band, I Bet You Don't Know by Shenley Duffus, I Had A Dream by Lord Tanamo, and Suddenly and Ungodly People by Eric Monty Morris. It was almost impossible for one not to feel the spiritual vibe coming across as Morris sang in the last piece:
"Ungodly people stand in my way all the time
Curse and abuse me wrongfully time after time
There will come a day
When they all must pay."
RENT HOMES FOR DANCES
It was a time when people used to rent their homes, especially those with lawns, to keep dances. These, along with a few dance venues in Kingston's west end, kept massive crowds rocking until about 3 a.m., a time of morning when dances nowadays are just beginning to heat up.
Edwards gave me some chilling stories about happenings in dancehalls during the late 1950s and early 1960s: "Sometimes it takes just one record to flop an opposing sound. Coxson had Sweepstakes and The Hop as his top songs. I flew to America, found a copy, re-pressed it, flooded the market, and killed it," Edwards revealed. Original labels (song title and artiste) were scratched out and replaced with bogus ones to mislead opposing sounds.
Edwards was one of three sets (Sir Coxson and Duke Reid being the others) that posed a threat to the flamboyant and exciting upcoming sound system operator - Prince Buster. Buster sang against the three in his recordings Three Against One , The Duke, and The King And The Sir, in which he denounced them with the biting lyrics:
"Even your enemies can be your best friend
For nine long years, they were like three bulls in a pen."
Buster, however, was less severe on Edwards as evidenced by an interview I had with him. In the interview, Buster said: "I must tell you this: I have a lot of respect for Edwards Why? Even though he was one of the three, he didn't join the onslaught against me. I remember one time something happened, and he came out of his shop and helped me". That shop was his business place situated at 135 Spanish Town Road, where he sold drinks and records. By 1964, Edwards was out of the music business. He explained why: "one of the reasons why I did not go much further is because there was no discipline in the studios, and I was more a political animal. I left the business to my brother."
Edwards stood out ahead of his contemporaries as the one with the most hats - record producer, sound system operator, horseracing executive and politician. He ran as member of parliament for west St Mary in the 1970s, was once a campaign manager for Dr Peter Phillips, and held several posts in the People's National Party.
Today, Edwards remains active in the local horseracing industry at age 85 (claims people say he looks like 65) but enjoys reminiscing about the days when vintage music was the centre of his life: the days when Rita and Bob Marley would come to his shop to listen to R&B songs; the day he rejected Jimmy Cliff because his voice was too 'fine'; the day he switched from a cycle racing enthusiast to horseracing after winning 64 pounds at the track; and the day his heart bled for the condition of workers at the track. In his own words. "you can't have black people living in these conditions, so I joined my cousin Ren Gonzales to change the social divide. We formed the trainers association, the owners association, and the groom association to improve the condition of workers."