The original Rockers: Calman Scott

Kingston, 1976. Jamaica is caught in an international power struggle. Michael Manley’s socialist government, in power since 1972, has made enemies in the USA by nationalised the bauxite industry, and by supporting the Cuban government. It is an election year, and the Americans are supporting the opposition leader, Edward Seaga. Jobs are hard to find, and prices are high. But mysterious shipments of guns pour into the Kingston ghettos that summer, and the election escalates into political warfare. Gunmen kill more than 500 people. The songs tell the stories. War inna Babylon. Police and thieves. One evening, singer Calman Scott made his way across town through the gunfire to record a session that changed reggae music forever. This is the story of the original rockers.

Irie Up: Can you tell me the story about your song, ‘Devil in the City’, how did the inspiration come, what was it like at the time?

Calman Scott: Well, Devil in the City is a reality. Everything in that song is a reality, of what was taking place in Jamaica in that time, yunno. We have over 500 people die in Jamaica in that time, and to do that song, I booked the studio, but I couldn’t reach the studio. I booked the studio to start around 9 o’clock.

Which studio was it?

Job Gibbs. I booked the studio to start around 9 o’clock but I couldn’t reach the studio until around 12.

So it was Joe Gibbs studio because you were a professional singer for Joe Gibbs?

Yeah, me and Beres Hammond, and Pam Hall, and Prilly Hamilton, Desi Roots, we were doing background singing for Joe Gibbs. Many of these songs that come out during the eighties were harmonised by us.

Are you the one singing on Last War, Beres Hammond, on background vocals

Yes, we do a lot of work, this is just one of the works we did do. We did have a group, me and Beres, named Tuesday’s Children, but we never record, we only used to go and do harmonies for people and do shows around town. But that was after Bob died, cos I used to be with Bob for many years, and it was a promise that he was going to set us up, but we went to the airport and bid him goodbye, and we never did see him again. So the Japanese tour came a little after, and it was an opportunity to come to Japan to spread the word.

With Devil in the City, the reality that was taking place in Jamaica, I could never reach the studio in time, and when I reach the studio, it was two drummers I employ, Sly Dunbar and Mikey Richards. When I reach the studio, they say ‘Oh, Scotty, why you reach the studio so late?’

I say, ‘I couldn’t even reach the studio! I have to fight through gunshot and hide through gunshot and all them things, so the devil is really in the city. He say to me, let’s do that song. But that song wasn’t written, it was just the action caused me to come up with ‘Devil in the City’, which was happening the same day. Take a piece of paper and start writing, and sing ‘The Devil is here in the city’. The trumpet and trombone was Dean Fraser and they have a group with Nambo Robinson, Harold Butler is the man on the keyboard, Willi Lindo on guitar, so these musicians was the top class musicians in Jamaica at the time, it was no joke musicians. These are high class musicians. Devil in the City, now we have a problem with the drum, cos the drum was sounding just like ordinary things, so I realised that it have to be more exciting. So I couldn’t explain it better than to ask the drummer, which was Mikey ‘Boo’, because in that time we rated Mikey ‘Boo’ over Sly, which Mikey ‘Boo’ really, and Sly was really on the same level, but Mikey was more regular with us, and he really want to play this tune.

So I say to him, ‘Mikey, to do this song, have you ever been to a racetrack?’

He say, ‘Yes’.

I said, ‘Have you ever hear, the horse running?’

He said, ‘Yes’.

I said, ‘Mikey, can you play the drum like a bunch of horses running?’

He say, ‘Yeah! That is the RIGHT lick!’

And he starts. The drum roll was to sound excited, and that is the only way, because it is analogue air, and pure analogue, so we don’t have no effects, we have to imagine things to put to make it sound the way it sound.

Who engineered it?

Errol Thompson and  Roddy Thomas, he died now. He was learning engineering in that time, but Errol Thompson was the head engineer. And when he hear the first roll in Devil in the City, he scratch his head like this, and said ‘What kind of drumming is this in reggae?’ He couldn’t believe it. Everybody was sweating, you know?’

But I didn’t release that song in Jamaica first. And how that song reach internationally, is by pirate. My friend, I gave the tape to, to release in England, he never came back to Jamaica. I never know that song was so good until I start travelling. When  I travel, come to Japan, somebody introduce me to some disc jockey, and say “This is Calman Scott?, and they say, “Oh, you is the man sing ‘Devil in the City’??

“And Jah Shaka, when he found out I was Calman Scott, he say “Your name is Calman Scott,? and I say, “Yes?.

He say, “You sing Devil in the City??

I said “Yes,? and he said, “What the hell are you doing in Japan? Ha ha ha!?

“But I say, it’s just another country!?

The recording year, what year is this?

1976.

So do you think Devil in the City was one of the first tunes to have a drum like it has?

No, it was the FIRST! And it wasn’t like you go in the studio and record, arrange that drum. It was a situation. And to make that situation, like, we are not a movie star, like we can act it! So we have to put it in the song. So how do you put it in the song? That is how we have to imagine things to make it sound that way.

Because it seems that after ‘76, a lot of Jamaican songs have this kind of drumming.

Well, Sly was in the studio that time, and Mikey ‘Boo’ was saying to me, “Oh, Scotty, please release this song, because Sly is going to copy it.? Which he did, he copied that song. ‘Guess who’s coming to dinner?’ is the same riddim, you know? So we invented that style because of the happening, and everything was going on, we have to put the whole imagination in that song.?

So who are the musicians? You told me about the horn players.

The musicians? Harold Butler, Willi Lindo, and you know who play the bass? Ernest Wilson, you have Val Douglas who was there, another wicked bassman. But he could not understand or play the bass that I wanted. Ernest is a singer and a musician, so when I was singing ‘Devil in the City’, Val was playing like it was a rub-a-dub, and Ernie say “No, no, no, no!?

I said, “Ernest, can you play the bass?? and he said yes. I said, “Val, no disrespect, could you give Ernest the bass?? Ernest was looking in my mouth, and playing the bass just like how I’m going, just looking in my mouth and playing the bass, he was relating to what I was saying. So, this happens in recording, if a singer is a musician, he can react more, even more, to your vibes, more than even an accompanying musician. So that’s how Ernest get involved in it.

So the drums was Mikey ‘Boo’. Bass, Ernest Wilson, Willie Lindo guitar, Harold Butler on keyboards, he used to play this Fender Rhodes, that’s what you hear this ‘Wah wah wah wah’! We used to make the best of sound out of that. In that time, it was high class equipment we had. So, the recording that day, we do another song named ‘Hard Times’ which release in Jamaica, and cause another problem, because the government was changing and they thought I was a political guy, so I have a lot of harassment from the many activists, you know, that I am this, I am a Labourite, I am this and that and… you know what I mean?

But I am just talking about what is happening in our city, which the devil take over at that period.

So the devil of course is bad vibes, but is it the way that politicians manipulate people to make them kill each another?

Well, in the west third country, we call an act that is not humanitarian, and is not in the aspect of helping people, we call it a devil vibes. We will say, oh, you have a devil vibes. It’s a negative vibes, we call a devil vibes. So those acts in that time was not helping us, it was setting us back. And because of that, from 1976, that bad vibe still hold Jamaica in this position. Because in that time, we didn’t have kids walking on the street and begging people. And now you have it. So it started from 1976, when these politicians is not looking about the welfare of human beings, it is just a position. We have a little island. We shouldn’t have that. So the influence of guns that come from 1976 until it is into a blur now. And many people go to Jamaica and think, oh, they are poor. But we are not of that kind of thinking. It’s just that we have bad management. That’s why our kids could be on the streets, that we are in 2000 and what now, and people can go to Jamaica and see our kids begging. We never have that. That is just a late thing.

All of us were coming up and trying, from Bob Marley and everybody, trying to uplift Rasta faith and the livity of life, you know? We were not waiting for handouts. And nobody never tell you this, but reggae music was not a music created to sell! It was not a music that was created by us to be sold. It was the music that, we hoped, because we were left with nothing, we hoped, we could meet the King and play this music around the throne of the King! (Laughs). We were hoping! It sound like an illusion, but we have that hope. I don’t know, people might hear this and laugh. But please forgive us, but we have that hope. We think we could play this music for the King. It’s the King music.

Then it break out to marketing business, but the real heights about it, it was to reach home, about what we get from the trip that we have, the suffering we have been through. If we go back home, we have to show something to the King, we don’t want to drop our hands like this. So this music were invented to play for the King, and dance for the King. I hope we can do that.

Rastafari.

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