Profile: David Madden, The reggae river flows on…

If you’re a music fan, you will know the work of David Madden, even if you don’t know the name. He is the trumpeter who played on many of the great reggae hits of Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Beres Hammond, Dennis Brown, The Heptones, Culture and Gregory Isaacs. The list goes on and on.  He was one of the founder members of the Revolutionary Zap Pow, the mighty Jamaican backing band that produced some of the funkiest, most groove-charged reggae music of the 1970s.

Listen to that killer brass lick on the 2008 Collie Budz hit ‘Come around’, and you’re really hearing the riddim from the 1978 tune ‘The Last War’ by Zap Pow and Beres Hammond. The Zap Pow members were musical maestros in their own right, and their tunes still sound fresh today, combining the dread of reggae with the propulsion of funk and the aching sweetness of soul.

David Madden grew up in Gordon Town, a little town about two miles outside of Kingston, with his sister and mother. He got his first musical inspiration as a young boy when a travelling circus passed through Gordon Town. There was a Ferris wheel for the children, and the typical stalls of a country fair, but young Madden was drawn to the band that was playing, and found himself standing beside one of the musicians, who was playing a trumpet. Madden didn’t know what the instrument was, but he was fascinated.

A few years later, in the early 1950s, a storm destroyed the Madden household, and Madden’s mother, unable to care for both children, boarded David at the Alpha Boys School in Kingston. The Alpha Boys School was run by Catholic nuns, and had a reputation for installing discipline alongside musical education, and it became the training ground of many of Jamaica’s great session musicians, especially the horn players.

The Skatalites players Tommy McCook, Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore, Lester Sterling and Don Drummond were pupils at Alpha, along with Cedric Brooks, Rico Rodriguez and ‘Deadly’ Headley Bennett. When Madden first appeared at Alpha Boys School, he was wandering around his new  home when he came across the school band. “I can remember walking down there and looking at these guys, and listening to this band, and somebody turned and asked me, ‘You would like to be in the band? And I said, ‘Yes’. He said, ‘Which instrument you want?’ So, I pointed at the one that I saw the man had,  and I said, ‘That!’ So I started to learn the trumpet, I was thirteen or thereabout. I did four years in Alpha, because I left when I was seventeen.”

The Jamaican Military Band regularly recruited students from the Alpha Boys School, where the pupils were able to read music and were skilled in the brass instruments that typically make up a military band. At the age of seventeen, Madden, along with Glen LaCosta and Cedric Brooks, was recruited into the Jamaican army as a musician.

By the mid-sixties, Madden had left the army and was working as a session musician, travelling as far as Las Vegas to perform. While in Las Vegas, he told the theatre mananger that he could recruit a group of Jamaican musicians to play in Las Vegas, and the manager had promised him a job. On returning to Jamaica, Madden sought out Brooks, and persuaded him to start a group, for the purpose of developing an act for Las Vegas. They named the group The Mystics.

Early days at Studio One

Madden was working occasionally a session player for Coxsone. “I suppose the first record I played on that made a hit that took me through the doors of the studio, was a Bob Andy hit called ‘Got to go back home’,” says Madden. “So when I came back to the studio looking for work, they were saying, ‘No, we don’t know you’, and someone said, ‘No, leave him, he played on ‘Got to go back home’!’ So I did those things and me and Cedric had this little band going.”

They began to produce some tracks of their own at Studio One. Coxsone was impressed by the two young musicians, and he offered them some riddim tracks, which became ‘Moneymaker’ and ‘Candid Eye’. Madden, however, still had his eye on Las Vegas. In those heady days of the mid-sixties, when ska was starting to cool into rocksteady, the influence of the Rastafarians was starting to be felt in Kinsgton’s musical circles. While Madden was thinking of Las Vegas, Brooks was being drawn to the Nyabinghi sessions at Bull Bay.

“At the time Cedric was very young and he went to Count Ossie, Mystic Revelation,” Madden recalls. “They had a different demeanour you know, Count Ossie, they were going Rasta. But Cedric had a baldhead, like an Isaac Hayes look! Cedric was interested in Buddhism, so the Rastas wanted to talk to him about religion. And then he was a good saxophone player too, and we had a little group together, so they were trying to win us into their thing.”

In the end, Brooks joined with Count Ossie, taking his part of the Mystics name with him, and hence was born the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari. Madden however, had his own plans, and in 1970, he recruited a number of musicians into the band that was first know as the Revolutionary Zap Pow. The group recorded Madden’s song ‘Mystic Mood’, which became their first hit.

The early Zap Pow works were recorded in different studios in Jamaica, whenever the group had enough money for a studio session. In the early 1970s, Madden recalls, there were limited options for independent producers in Jamaica.

“There was just Studio One, which was doing its own thing. There was Dynamic Sounds. There was Federal Records. There was GG Records but it didn’t have a studio. There was Randy’s. Well, you couldn’t go into Studio One unless you were going to give the song to Studio One. And Duke Reid, or Treasure Isle, was like that too, if you did something there, it belonged to Duke Reid! Anything else that was a studio was only a tiny thing in a house. That’s how we recorded ‘Mystic Mood’, in a tiny litte studio in the house of Joe Gibbs. He had a little four-track studio and that’s where we recorded.”

The Revolutionary Zap Pow!

The Zap Pow musicians were accomplished players in their own right, and although they were mainly an instrumental band, the players were powerful singers too. Although Cedric Brooks had departed, some of the other Mystics, including bass player Mike Williams and guitarist Dwight Pinkney, stayed with Madden.

A former schoolmate of Madden’s, Glen LaCosta, was in the army. “He knew that I had left the army and was out there struggling, going along, and he wanted to play out on the streets, so he used to come by Zap Pow, so we had a little horn section,” says Madden. “There was nights that we had to play that he couldn’t come to play because he was in the army, but he made his connection with us. That was the advent of Zap Pow.” They then recruited Max Edwards, a young drummer who was also a graduate of the Alpha Boys School.

The Zap Pow released their first album, ‘The Revolutionary Zap Pow’ in 1971, which included the hits ‘Mystic Mood’ and ‘This is Reggae Music,’ featuring Mike Williams on the vocals. “I guess what happened,” Madden reflects, “is that a guy like Chris Blackwell didn’t come around us at that time. Chris Blackwell came around Marley, and promoted him. But we couldn’t find jinks!”

The group built themselves a rehearsal studio, where they went every day to play, and inevitably, the room became a magnet for singers. “We had a little tape machine going and when we weren’t literally playing, people would say ‘Can we sing something on this!” says Madden. Many of the singers that recorded with Zap Pow were not professional singers. “Someone have a song and we just say, come on, let’s go down to the studio and do it. Even the mixes, they were not the best of mixes, I didn’t think so, but it did have something. But as time goes on, you realise, people like it! Pablo Paul was into dealing with herb. He farmed herb, sold herb, all of that. But he would come by the studio, ‘Hey, I have a song to sing!’ We say, ‘Alright’. So he sing it and then he is gone. It was like that. People sometimes come in and play a crazy song. They were just passing through.”

“We weren’t keyed up about it. We weren’t doing anything with the intention that these things were going to reach anywhere. We were just doing some things. As a matter of fact, to tell you the truth, it was demos that we were doing! Ha ha ha! We were hoping that Island Records or something like that were going to hear it, and say, we like that, come here and record it!”

Bob Marley and the natty dread sessions

But something was brewing in the reggae scene. Chris Blackwell of Island Records, who had originally signed The Wailers, had decided to promote Bob Marley and the Wailers, at the expense of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, and Marley had started work on his first project with the I-Threes on backing vocals.

“Bob called me, ‘David, we have a recording session, do you want to come?’ And of course, I said yes. I didn’t know Bob was going to become any kind of star. He would say, ‘We have a little tour, do you want to come along?’ It was a  mixture of professionalism and friendship. We don’t have that superstar air in Jamaica. I might sing the biggest tune yesterday but today I’m still walking down the street. When me and Bob talked, it was because of a session. Or Family Man will say, David, go talk to Bob because he wants to do a session.”

Madden’s first work with Marley was on Natty Dread, Marley’s first solo album and arguably his finest. “Well, you know, when he started singing, ‘Dread, knotty dread,’ I can hear 150 different horn lines! I might play one, and they say, ‘Yeah man, that sound great!’ Madden and the other horn players were paid for the sessions but were not credited with writing parts.

“Well, you see, when we reach the studio, the song is already done. It is all there. When you hear a song, the thing is to be able to say, you know, there is a part there that would sound better with horns. I am hearing that there is something that would sound better than if it was left alone. So for them guys, Marley and those, just for thinking to put some order in that tune, to bring it up some more, well that is genius in them.”

“But as for what to play there, they don’t know. That is where we come in. They weren’t able to tell us what to play. But because of being in the studio and working and all the practice that we do, we are hearing things. So when we come and they say, alright, roll the song, and we start to play, they say ‘Damn! Here! Yes!’ and the tune go up and it is a hit!”

Madden has happy memories of his work with Marley. I played on 17 of the hit songs of Bob Marley. Songs like ‘Natty Dread’, ‘So Jah Say’, ‘Rat Race’, ‘War’, ‘Guiltiness’, ‘Buffalo Soldier’, ‘Is This Love’, ‘Smile Jamaica’.” The Zap Pow horns also became the Wailer’s horns section in studio sessions and tours.

The Zap Pow continued to record their own music, notching up more hits in Jamaica with ‘Scandal Corner’. ‘Sweet Loving Love’ and ‘True Love’. Gradually, they started to realise that their music was reaching far beyond Jamaica. Madden was in Dynamic Studios one afternoon when a man called Roddy Thomas arrived with two guests from England. Thomas introduced the two men to Madden.

“So one guy, he says, ‘Roddy, you mean the David Madden, the trumpet player that plays on everybody’s records?’ and Roddy said to him, ‘Yes’.

I said, ‘Yes man, it’s me, David Madden, live and direct, right here in living colour!’

He said, ‘No. I thought David Madden had the longest dread in Jamaica!’

I said, ‘Why?’

He said, ‘Because you play on every Rastaman’s records!’

“So it’s the first time I realise, hell, it means I have some kind of image going on out there in the world that I don’t know of. Because people see my name on Bob Marley’s records and on Sons of Negus records, and they don’t know who is not Rasta and who is Rasta. So people think that I am dread. So I thought, well if that be the case, and ‘River’ is my big tune that I have going, it seems like what I should do now is to make the music sound like a river, where everybody will even think of me more as being a dread! In the music, in that way. Hence I have the riddim track, and and that is what I did then, play it to make it sound like ‘River’, but call it ‘River Flow On’. In other words, that same reggae river is continuing.”

Zap Pow and Beres Hammond

The Zap Pow were still looking to a brighter future. In Jamaica, the musicians had noticed that Blackwell’s re-branding of Marley into Bob Marley and the Wailers seemed to be some formula for success. Beres Hammond had approached Zap Pow to do some backing work for a show.

“We were just Zap Pow,” says Madden. “So we thought, we wanted to have Zap Pow, but to have a voice. So people would hear, ‘Ah, that is Zap Pow. Oh, who is singing? Beres Hammond, yeah.”

When Hammond met Zap Pow to rehearse for the show, he came with his harmony group, Tuesday’s Children, which also included Calman Scott and Feres Walters. Madden noticed that Hammond had the best singing voice, but that Walters was the upfront man, introducing the songs and talking to the audience. Madden was looking for an ‘upfront’ man for Zap Pow, and thought Walters to be perfect, but the other members went for Beres Hammond. “We had a democratic thing you see,” says Madden, laughing. “So we said, let’s roll with Beres.”

Zap Pow and Hammond started to work together, but Hammond’s heart was set on soul music. Aquarius Studio called Hammond and offered him a song called ‘One Step Ahead,’ which became a number one hit in Jamaica.

Although they didn’t know it, all the ingredients were in place for a breakthrough, but the band, with no contract, continued to take whatever work was going, and they headed to Bermuda for a short tour with Beres Hammond.  “Zap Pow went to Bermuda to do ‘This is Reggae Music’, and we ripped the place apart with Beres being there,” Madden says. “We thought he wanted to do reggae at that time, but he wanted to do soul. We thought he saw that Bob Marley was rising, and the world was into reggae music, but he wanted to do soul because ‘One Step Ahead’ was number one. And then came another one, ‘Then I’m in love with you,’ that was his second hit song. Another soul thing.”

“We tried to hold on, 1976, 1977. Then 1978, Chris Blackwell came to us because he heard that Beres was singing with us. He decided to give us a deal. He wanted an album from the group, and remember, there was Bob Marley and the Wailers, and Beres Hammond was the next voice. So we had an uphill task now, because Beres didn’t want to do it!”

Hammond and Zap Pow did one record for Island Records, but there were new winds blowing through the reggae business, and Island Records quietly shelved the project. In 1983, Zap Pow decided to split up. The Wailers were starting to pick up the pieces after Marley’s death, and Rita Marley organised a tour, and called Madden to come and play. He toured with Rita and the I-Threes, along with the Melody Makers, who were then getting their first exposure. To Madden, however, it seemed that the Wailers dynasty was falling apart. “I think then that Rita had drawn the line then telling the rest that only them three (the I-Threes) were the Wailers, and then Tyrone Downey left and … cho.”

Having played with many artists through the 1970s, Madden was not long waiting for work. In the early 1980s, Burning Spear was emerging as the heavyweight roots champion of Jamaican music.

“I had played on his very first record at Studio One, ‘Door Peep’. I had also played with him on Marcus Garvey. So then we played with Burning Spear, played on his records again. We had played for him in the seventies, but it was no big thing, we were playing for everybody.” He also toured then with Freddie McGregor. “I did two and half years touring with him, when he had ‘Just don’t want to be lonely’, and things like that. Then I did a stint with the Skatalites, I went to Japan with them.”

“Then I started again to produce more of my own work, as David Madden, not just like what I was doing in the seventies producing other people. I decided to start again where I had left off with Coxsone. I decided to pick up my solo career. Then 1987, I did my second album, 1989, I did my third album.”

“I was then wondering which way to go now, I was wondering if the horn thing was becoming obsolete, I noticed that the promoters were looking for the singers, not for the horn players! The reality of it was that I felt I had done enough work like any of these guys. The only thing that happened for me is what Kingston Connexion did, or what the guy said, ‘You played on everybody records’. But it’s not the promoter calling, saying, let’s get the guy who played on all those records to come and play.”

So it is that some of Madden’s crucial work from the mid-1970s is finally making it onto vinyl after more than 30 years in the vaults. Kingston Connexion has now released three 12” discos featuring Madden’s productions featuring Herman Marquis doing a version of Take 5, and some serious roots productions with Pablo Paul and Ras Danhi, along with some of Madden’s own seminal recordings, many of which were never released.

The Zap Pow had always thought of themselves first and foremost as live players.

“The reality is, I was not thinking as a producer. I was thinking as a performer. It’s as simple as that.”

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