Mikey Dread Interview

Dread at the controls

Mikey Dread at the controls

Punk Rock & Reggae were the best of mates in the 70s. A Punky Reggae Party – is how it was best described by none other than Bob Marley - & what a party it was. From the confines of the Roxy & the Roundhouse – the sounds of Don Letts & Barry Myres record boxes escaped from the confines of the capital to work their way into the consciousness of a disaffected youth nationwide. The Clash worked with Lee Scratch Perry, covered “Police & Thieves” & aped the militancy of the hard line rasta - & reggae began to infuse the anger of Punk Rock to produce hybrids like The Ruts.

John Peel was also a massive contributory factor – his patronage of UK reggae groups like Steel Pulse & Misty In Roots cemented the connection further. All over the country the sound of harsh guitars played loudly at speed were counter balanced by the sound of heavy manners bass & drum dub. Two sides to every story. Heads & tails. Flip the anger over – there’s hope on the other side.

King Tubby, U-Roy, Big Youth, I-Roy, Dennis Brown – the list was endless. When the Pistols split in a hail of acrimony the first place John Lydon headed for new direction & inspiration was JA. The path he set out on subsequently reflected that total love of all things dub – PiL eventually delivered the staggering “Metal Box” - & the circle was complete.

The Clash’s association with reggae intensified incrementally as their career progressed – & their involvement with another famous son of Jamaica – Mikey Dread – produced some of the most authentic & affecting sides of their career. Jean Encoule was lucky enough to shoot the shit with Mikey recently to bring you the juice on one of the most influential & eclectic DJ/Toasters of all time. Mikey Dread This is what he had to say:

trakMARX - Tell us about your formative years growing up in Jamaica.

MD: My years in Jamaica involved me being born in Port Antonio on the Eastern Coast and then growing up in Negril on the Western Coast - between the ages 5-12 years old. I remember going to Negril on a train and arriving there with my family then later I started going to Negril Primary school, Sheffield Primary school, then moving back to Port Antonio at 12 and going to Port Antonio Primary school.

trakMARX - What attracted you to the medium of music, originally?

MD: My love for music was because I used to listen to sound systems, juke boxes and the radio from a child - and it amazed me that I could hear these artists and bands playing on my radio in Negril when they were in Kingston. I could not figure out how this was possible. trakMARX - Who were your adolescent musical heroes?

MD: Dennis King Tubby, Dennis Brown, Errol Dunkley,

trakMARX - Who do you consider to be the true pioneers of reggae music?

MD: There are many pioneers and it’s based on what they do in their own rights to help progress the music. Some are artist, some are musicians, some are behind the scenes people and some are vibes people who make a different contribution but were not even mentioned.

Off course everyone will say Bob Marley - and I say he is one of them - but one has to think back and be honest and don’t override the initial people who slaved themselves to keep it going until Bob came along?

What I see is a lot of disrespect in reggae. I don’t agree with naming one man or one family as the owner/s of reggae. This approach can be disrespectful. It distorts our history. We need to give Bob Marley and the Wailers high credits which they deserve - nuff credit - but not ALL the credit. I respect them for using the opportunity they got from Blackwell to further the music - but there were other appealing artists of the day who controlled the number one chart position on different reggae charts when neither Bob nor the Wailers had a look in.

If I give you my opinion then I would be hated - but I will put my views in my book.

trakMARX - When did you begin to collect records - & how did you finance the operation?

MD: I started collecting records from when I was around 14. Then I started a sound system called Safari Sound System in Port Antonio, which my friend Howard Golding had, until 1976, when I joined JBC radio. At JBC I had to buy a lot of music to play as I knew which songs were good or popular as I was not new to the business. I was a country man, and that time neither the record shops or the producers knew me or believed that I even worked at JBC as I did not go around speaking the Queen’s English, wearing a suit or acting like I was above them. Some of them were brainwashed into thinking that to have a certain job you have to look down others, while I was just normal but my works were in a different strata.

trakMARX - Do you remember much about the first time you played out?

MD: The first time I played out was a dance in Long Road in Portland. I was still in school and the people did not want me to go back home, so they kept me and the sound for a week, feeding me and giving me ganja tea - hailing me as a king as they loved my selections - but I was studying maths, physics, chemistry and biology and had no further interest in the music other than playing out. I had no plans on taking a career in radio as I was a top student and this was not what my teachers wanted me to do.

trakMARX - You landed your own show on JBC in 1976 - how did you get your foot in the door?

MD: I had applied to RJR, which I still see as a Jamaican prejudice station, and because I had 8 O-Level subjects (a UK examination) and they only needed 2 or 3 they turned me down saying I was over qualified for the job of Technical operator. Now I look back I ask myself why they did not offer me something in which my qualification was best suited? You should call them and get an answer.

I tried Ossie Harvey at JBC and Rupert Linton and they were different keep telling me to come back. I was determined and kept going back just to say ‘hi’ then to come back. One day they offered me a job to start in 1976 as a trainee Transmitter Engineer but they gave me 6 months in Radio to study the signal flow. They forgot to call me up to go with the engineers to see the transmitters and such so I kept quiet and continued working the board as a Technical Operator.

Later I had a good grasp of the board and I asked Ossie and Mr Linton why the Radio signed off at midnight. They said nobody listened to the radio after midnight - but after some brief pleading on my part - they said ‘ye’. Now I only had one day off instead of 2. I had to guarantee them I would work Monday to Saturday and only have Sundays off. I was relieved and said yes. My original days off were Saturday and Sunday.

Later I started spending my days in the record library looking for music I knew but did not have. I found a lot of boxes of great tunes that were not catalogued. I knew then I had found a gold mine - and the librarians were too uptown to even know what they had!

I also listened to a lot of sci-fi sound effects LPs, comedy LPs and some comedic one-liners and decided that I would record some of them and play them on my show between songs and over dubs as in those days you would not hear dub on the radio. I asked them why they don’t play dubs and they told me that you can’t hear it on the radio as the frequency was too low - but I knew some brethren who had some big speakers connected to their tuner who could feel it.

Then I started playing dub and so dub came on the radio. I later wrote some of my own one-liners and got some kids in to record them:

“Mommy I don’t want to go to bed,
I want to listen to Mikey Dread instead”

And females too:

“Oh, my gosh, the music just turns me on”

Then other artists come into the studio and recorded others as well. Some artists made up their own lines, too.

trakMARX - Your Dread At The Controls show soon became the template used by many an aspiring DJ - & you collected Radio Personality Of The Year Awards in 1977-78 - how did you feel about yr success at the time?

MD: It was great. This was an award normally given to a daytime on-air personality and I was on at night (12am - 4.30am) when I hear them say nobody was listening the radio. The program director tried to take my show off, saying I had less than 500 people listening my show so this was a big upset for them as none of their favourites were considered. They did not congratulate me nor mentioned it on the radio. The press wrote about it but they tried to submerge me – why, I don’t know. When I left JBC in 1979, the Program Director there (Newton James) refused to give me a recommendation saying his secretary had no time. He is a black man acting like he is a roasted breadfruit. I don’t worry about him as he runs a radio station now in Jamaica and none of them can challenge Mikey Dread.

trakMARX - How did you contemporaries feel about yr success at the time?

MD: I created a lot of jealously among some my fellow DJs and some people at JBC but on the streets Michael Campbell was the man. After a while most artists and producers started leaving music for me and no one else so they felt that. Girls were always coming, everybody was jealous. They tried many times to suspend me then put me to work in TV and I did not like that. All the bosses tried to put me down to discourage me from playing so much reggae and such - but I was educated and knew that I could not be stopped - even if they fire me I was always intelligent enough to move on. I still see my enemies still trying in Miami on WAVS radio and some of them in Jamaica acting as if my role in Reggae broadcasting is meaningless up to this day.

For example I see one guy, an old co-worker at JBC, got a job to run the reggae department at XM Satellite Radio - and in my days he was not into internationalising Reggae as I was. He used to run a Jazz program. Most of these companies don’t know Mikey Dread. They think if you are from Jamaica you are into reggae. Bullshit. At my age I see all these pseudo people and fake reggae lovers and ‘Reggae Invaders’ coming in and cashing in on reggae. Some of them cant wait for me to die, trust me.

When I was at JBC, I did a demo program for David Rodigan from London who used to write me as a penpal saying he would one day like to do a reggae show like mine in England. He asked me to do a show and mail it to him. I did it and he took it to the BBC and they thought he did it and gave him a job. I went to London in 1979 to do some PR work on my first album, “Dread At The Controls”, for Trojan, and brought my jingles and my knowledge to show and teach Rodigan: why I played this, why I played that song, etc. I schooled him (I am not a racist - but I see why some Black people were against me in London for showing Rodigan anything. They hated him and advised me not to do it. Rodigan knew what he was doing. I was told I was being used - but I said let’s keep reggae on the airwaves in London - and I ignored what their caution. Today, I take the blame, I was warned more than once, etc - and if you should interview Rodigan, ask him how he got his first Radio job on BBC ask him who showed him about using jingles (my jingles were his first jingles) - as no one in the UK knew of this style of Radio. Dread Broadcasting used to use my tapes and re-broadcast them, I loved them for this. Sound systems used to cut Dub plates from my show which was and still is Hot Property in the UK. Today, I see Rodigan and all those pseudo people taking credit and acting like they have amnesia and such - but time will tell. David Rodigan can’t pay me for giving him a career in Reggae and making him a somebody. Did anybody know of him before I put him on UK radio? Who is this reggae invader, anyway?

trakMARX - You resigned from JBC in 1979 - what led you to make that decision?

MD: Too much pressure from all the haters, including Barry G, who was always saying at the staff meetings that people were saying when they heard my jingle “Dread At The Controls” they switched their Radio to RJR. They forgot that “Dread At the Controls” brought the coveted Award of Best Radio Personality to JBC for the first and ONLY time - so I got pissed off as he went on to say that I play more than 2 reggae back to back and made the station sound like a sound system. No one defended me - I was trying to make a specialist program geared to reggae lovers just like you can do a Gospel show - or any show like that - but I guess they were unable to sleep at night as they were tossing in their bed listening to my show!!!

They decided to take my show off as some old Christians at the staff meeting were saying that when they woke up they hear this ‘buggo buggo’ music (their description of Reggae - or what they call “wayward music”) on a Sunday morning - and I guess they too were listening to me or how would they know? They wanted Christian music - so to punish me they wanted me to go to Church on Sunday and record Church Services and bring it back to the station to re-play later. I don’t know what happened to the other people who did that as they are gone . . . lost.

trakMARX - Yr production work with Sugar Minot, Jnr Murvin, Earl Sixteen & many others eventually led to yr association with The Clash. What do you remember about the first time you met the group?

MD: They were real cool. I thought they were poor guys trying to make it. Wrong - they were Punks - and that was the first time I saw a Punk or heard the word Punk. Being deep into reggae, I was not interested in any other type of music to that level.

trakMARX - As you got to know them, what did you make of The Clash as individuals?

MD: I never had a problem, they never treated me like we were of different colours. Kosmo Vinyl was always extremely nice and supportive and I owe a lot to him and Paul Simonon.

trakMARX - What was it like touring with The Clash - was it - as Penny Smith famously commented: "Like going on a commando raid with the Bash Street Kids"?

MD: This blew my mind. I hated the people spitting on Joe - and I decided to fight if any of them tried that. They gave me a long black coat and I always stayed way at the back of the stage as I felt it was nasty (and I still feel that way now!) for any human to show disrespect by gobbling on anyone. If they wanted to see the REAL Jamaican come out in me - then let them try to spit on me. I am glad they never did it - or else I would be in Jail now doing a life sentence in London for killing one of them for that.

trakMARX - What was it like working on "Sandinista"?

MD: This was a great project which we started by going to Jamaica to do - then things got out of hand as we selected Channel One Studios on the borders of the ghetto - and of course, ghetto people were leaving their homes to see a white band playing reggae and no one could stop them. No one was in danger - but I could not see the white faces of the Clash amongst all these black people.

trakMARX - Which was your favourite Clash collaboration/jam?

MD: I like all of them, “Bank Robber” and “One More Time”/”One More Dub” I listen to still. I will remake all the songs I did with the Clash on a CD that will showcase my early 80’s work and I will do them my way - but their fans will have the dubs and the tracks - and maybe I’ll ask some other music greats to do Joe’s part - but I know it will bring to life the originals as well. I will have to get a major deal to get this out in every music store - but I will finish the tracks first, then deal with the business later.

If there are artists out there who want to be involved they can email me at:
mikey@mikeydread.com for more info.

trakMARX - How do you association with The Clash come to an end?

MD: The projects were completed. The Jamaican part did not work - so it was moved to the Village at Jimmy Hendrix’s studio - then the Rock and Rollers came in to thwart my reggae idea - and they won as there were more white people involved. One black man cannot fight off all these punks - so I did a few tracks and that was so.

trakMARX - Do you still speak to Mick, Paul or Topper?

MD: We never had a falling out at any time. I still communicate with Paul - he is my brethren and he is always cool.

What I see is that I never received my song-writing royalties - nor artist royalties - for the works I did - yet someone else is living large off all the work I put in. They paid me as a Producer - and yet from 1981 to 2005 millions have been made - so I feel robbed of my share. CBS/Sony/Epic never respected me enough to even give me a plaque to say ‘in recognition of 1 million sales of “Bank Robber”/“Sandinista” or anything’ - so it’s like another exploitation process - like slavery. They suck out your good energy - then act like you are nobody - while they live large on money based on my intellectual property.

I see that there is a live version of “Armageddon Time” on a Clash CD. Who gave them the right to put it out? I never did - so this also is infringement of my intellectual property rights - and I will pursue this in court and they will have to pay me damages for pirating my voice and making money from my lyrics and my name without my permission.

trakMARX - Tell us a little about your time at the National Broadcasting School in London in 1980.

MD: This was just to get in at their level. I knew all they taught me - but I needed to do this at that time to see if there were anything I’d overlooked as a Jamaican Radio personality. It’s like doing a driving test in USA when you already have a license in London - nothing new - but maybe other things to consider. I respect Michael Buhkt from the National Broadcasting School and Dave Cash from Capital Radio London for their support, respect and their encouragement to go to TV in the UK. These are 2 great UK Broadcasting legends who helped me a lot in London.

trakMARX - In the 80s - following yr time with The Clash - you made several reggae documentaries in the UK - what do you remember about these programs & how did you come to get involved?

MD: I came up with a reggae idea for Channel 4: “Deep Roots Music”. One man called another man - shop the idea. Deal was done. I could not do it alone - I needed a whiteman to take it through the doors. He did.

trakMARX - You hooked up with Rykodisc for a "Best Of" in 1991. Rykodisc are not usually known for their patronage of reggae music - how did you end up with them?

MD: Ras Records and Heartbeat records were ripping me off, so I sued them in New York and got the rights back for the Albums/CDs they were violating. I decided to make a CD called “Mikey Dread Best Sellers” and give it to Ryko - as I knew Steve at Ryko - and he set up the deal with Paul.

I always respect Ryko as the most honest record label I have dealt with so far.

trakMARX - In 1992 you collaborated with Guns N Roses' Izzy Stradlin on a duet, "Can't Hear 'Em" - another unusual partnership?

MD: They came to my concert in Chicago and invited me and my band to their recording session - and so that was born.

trakMARX - Tell us a little about yr work with CSN.

MD: This was the forerunner of every Caribbean Reggae TV network. They brought me in as Program Director and never regretted it.

trakMARX - You graduated from Lynn University, Boca Raton, with a BA in International Communication in 1996 - that must have brought you much pride & happiness - how did you feel about it at the time - & how has it benefited you in the long run?

MD: I have my degree in my suitcase as I never had to use it. When I graduated I was also a scholarship winner in the Sate of Florida - being one of the Top Ten students in the State - that made me happy as I had a magna cum laude honours degree and I thank Jah I did well.

I still think I should have continued to get my PHD and leave this rotten reggae business alone as there are too many crooks involved pushing on the people, some hyped up artists and the people are lost like the slaves in Africa. Too much ‘Reggae Invaders’ today.

trakMARX - You returned to the stage in the late 90s & began performing live once again. How do you feel on stage these days - does it still conjure that old magic?

MD: I can hold my own - put it that way. I am not in any competition. I perform as if I am in the studio doing a recording session that is it. You get the real vibes - no hype - no one trying to sell me. I even book my own gigs until I find someone who knows what to do to match up with what I am doing or have done.

trakMARX - What do you make of the contemporary reggae scene these days?

MD: Can’t comment as they will kill me for what I would say.

trakMARX - What do you make of modern electronic recording techniques - have they removed the 'soul' from the process?

MD: In someway it has - but at times you have to modernize your brain to see the difference in analog and digital - and make your own decision. The production gets cheaper, as you don’t have to pay all these musicians anymore, just buy a good keyboard and all the musicians you need are buried there - so wake them ghosts up - and put them to work. They are ghosts, so you don’t have to pay them. Just work them and work them more.

trakMARX - In retrospect - was the late 70s the classic period for reggae music?

MD: Yes, we all were trying - everyone of us - to make a difference in our sound or our message or something - and yes - those days will never return. I am happy I did my part, as now when I hear my old Radio shows, tears come to my eyes. Jah was guiding me – it’s not me alone - it was Jah - and if you should hear them they will blow your mind. I respect Studio One, Treasure Isle, Lee Perry, Joe Gibbs and Tubby and Channel One for their part. Channel One improved the sound of Jamaican Reggae - I got most of my better recording done there.

trakMARX - Who do you consider to be the most important reggae artist of the last 40 years?

MD: Bob has made his name courtesy of Blackwell and his lyrics. Dennis Brown never seem to get his true recognition. King Tubby needs to be recognized. Can’t say more, as here again, I reserve my opinion.

To last, you need the financial backer like Blackwell, or how are you going to get your name around the world even if your music is loved? Blackwell got the hook up - so he invested in Bob and most people get brainwashed – they forget its an INVESTMENT.

After the next 20 years - when they want to sell more music - they will wipe out every other name and destroy the heritage of Jamaican music as we are not writing books like them. If a Jamaican write a book I know in my time they were alien to Reggae, I never seen them burning a spliff and relating to the artists and musicians or documenting anything relating to reggae roots, so their book will be bullshit - as I never seen them anywhere I have been to see what was happening. I wonder what story they will tell?

I love Bob too - and respect him. My point is to show that a whiteman can make a star of whoever he wants - even Millie Vanilie!!!

Bob was talented and destined to the top - so no one could stop that - no one. Don’t forget the Ska legends and musicians as they played a vital role in all this - not just artists.

trakMARX - What have you been up to recently?

MD: Just been touring with my band - Dread At The Controls. I just came back from Cancun, Mexico - invited by the Mexican Tourist Board.

We have a Jamaican Tourist Board. Have they ever heard the name Mikey Dread or are they into Soca/Dancehall or some Foreign Music? They never gave Mikey Dread any credit as to them all this thing about reggae is hogwash. Nothing important.

Fuck them and all those who try to deny me of what I have done for the artists, the Musicians, the Jamaican Music Industry, Reggae Radio and my country.

trakMARX - What is on the horizon for Mikey Dread?

MD: Only Jah knows - but I have 2 DVDs coming. One is Mikey Dread “Live in Paris” - and the other is a concert I promoted in Miami last year with various artists. Currently I have re-released my back catalogue:

www.mikeydread.com/recx1.html

I have now released my first album “Dread At The Controls” on CD for the first time since its Trojan release in 1979 - so my fans should know they don’t need the Trojan LP anymore. Further, Trojan had the rights to release it for 5 years from 1979-1984 and it’s now 2005 - and trust me - they are still exploiting it - which shows me where ethics stand in their eyes.

A message to my fans:

“Don’t buy the Trojan vinyl LP and support piracy. Get the “Dread At The Controls” CD - so we can weed out these pirates. The people have the power and should use it.” – Mikey Dread (Sept 05)

www.mikeydread.com/recx1.html

I thank my wife, Monika, for helping me to re-release my back catalogue, helping me search for my old tracks, releasing new material and buying my website and for encouraging me to forgive those evil doers.

The year 2006 marks 30th year in Reggae/Reggae Radio - so I plan on releasing a box set of my JBC Radio show so those who never heard it can hear it - plus a series of 3 more Box Sets that will cover my music and my productions from 70’s-80’s/80’s-90’s and 90’s to 2006.

I will tour the UK with my original band in May 2006 - then Europe - and maybe some other fine places. We are still planning further events to mark my 30th year - focusing on the universal impact of my pioneering Reggae Radio show/Reggae Broadcasting Format.

trakMARX - What's the best way for fans to keep abreast of all Mikey Dread developments?

MD: Just check the link at the bottom of the page.

Or by phone in the USA: (727) 455 59 58.

There are no middlemen - so I want people to come direct - avoid the gate-keepers. There are no gate -keepers at Dread At The Controls Inc. No hype - no faking - just pure Jamaican roots reggae from the source: Jamaica. Mikey Dread plus speakers

Jean Encoule – tMx 21 – 09/05
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