“This name thing don’t matter to me because is not the name, is the man behind the name.”
He is affectionately called Daddy, because he was one of the originals who birthed the music that now receives limitless accolades and awards from the highest of international music authorities. This genius is not easily fazed, only a smile and nod is the extent he uses his bragging rights. Humble, you could say that. Sure, that too. Proud, certainly.
Oblivious, by his own testimony, that the music he snuck out to listen to at the then happening spots, against his grandma’s prohibitions, would make the Waterhouse-raised Rastaman a living legend. A dignified demeanor tattles on his true emotion.
We rapped as he tried to be in two places at once, the other, trying to prepare a meal for his dogs.
“Don’t mek the water boil out,” he beckoned to a family member. “Sorry about that. Where were we?” he politely apologised. We were discussing his debut on the sound system, where it all began. Smart talk and dance announcements that would punctuate the records he played. Today, Jamaica manufactures deejays a dime a dozen.
THE GOOD OL’ DAYS
“We played on sound systems in the area in Jones Town where I grew up, on Septimus Street between Pencil Street and Bryson Street. A sound name Dickies Dynamic. The greatest love sound system. You would be the man that find the record, put on the record, play the record and read invitations in between. Then introduce the songs,” U Roy recalled.
The invitation reading back then is known as the poster read out now, the announcements of upcoming billings for the sound. Every sound system does it religiously, sometimes to the annoyance of the audience. You know, the “make it a date and don’t be late” thing.
He would play on Dickies Dynamic for some time before garnering more fanfare by playing on Sir George the Atomic, another sound system on Penn Street. Sound systems then, like deejays today, were also a dime a dozen, but only the best carried the top deejays. So while Coxsone DownBeat had King Stit and The Number One Sound (another owned by the late, great Clement ‘Sir Coxsone’ Dodd) showcased the dexterity of Count Machuki, U Roy ruled on his own on any sound.
“You have [scarce] time to talk ’cause you don’t want to interrupt the music,” U Roy recollects. After all, to interrupt a Jackie Edward, a Ken Boothe, John Holt and the other stalwarts he played from ska to jazz was sacrilegious.
“This is Slim Smith, ‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’,” he gave an example of an introduction. “Before it was like the American music, the Fats Domino, James Brown and so on. Them is the music I grew up listening, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips,” he compared. “You see, you had to play for the crowd to bring them in the dancehall and keep them there.”
All this magic, as U Roy saw it was the pied piper that lured him to the dancehall against parental restrictions.
“I would ask my granny if I could go to the dance and she would say no. Whether she said yes or no, I would still go. I know that me and my brother would be locked out, but that never mattered ’cause it would soon be daylight,” U Roy remembers.
To compensate for his disobedience, yard and house chores began before anyone would awake.
At age 19 he cleaned apartments to raise pocket money. Hard work didn’t seem to deter U Roy; it was the order of the day. At the end of it, he had money to see the Sunday Matinee at the Majestic Theatre. He spoke passionately about his beginning in the music as if he were talking about a priceless treasure. To him, it was. And now for Jamaicans and millions worldwide, it continues to be.
“Them time you couldn’t even buy yourself two beer out of it, but it was my greatest love. I never knew that it would reach so far. So when I hear them youth here a do some tune, they don’t realize the power it have,” U Roy ponders.
At that time cornerstone producer Duke Reid, where U Roy got his first set of hits, had already released his first album dubbed ‘I Roy Version Galore’.
“So I say to Duke Reid my producer, this name thing don’t matter to me because is not the name is the man behind the name,” U Roy declared. So even after a number of copies had already been released, U Roy stuck to his childhood name U Roy. And all other records pressed after were stamped U Roy Version Galore.
One of U Roy’s first hits came through a version of Ken Boothe’s ‘Dynamic Fashion Way’. His next attempt was with the stepping razor, Peter Tosh, a song entitled ‘Earth Rightful Ruler’ for producer Bunny Striker Lee.
“Bunny did give some guys to distribute it, but it did mention too much bout Jah so it never go far. Them never like hear when we hail Jah,” U Roy hinted of the fight conscious music received at that time.
It still does now to an extent. The extent is that as long as it brings in ratings for the station.
Then came the big bad ‘Wake The Town and Tell The People’ and ‘This Station Rules The Nation with Version’. Hits, especially the latter, that today are promo jingles for major Jamaican radio stations.
“This was in the late sixties. When I said ‘this station rules the nation with version’, I was not talking about any of the radio stations. I was really referring to Duke Reid’s studio where the hits came from, but it was also a way to give props to the stations,” he informed.
As for his unofficial early recordings, capturing his live performance around the sound, this was how it was.
“A man just used to come to the dance come put down him tape anywhere and catch everything. Foot a walk, dog a bark, bottle a break, girls a scream, man a salute, everything,” Daddy U Roy informs.
Some of his other famous speeches around the turntable sounded something like “no wicked can enter into the Kingdom of the Most High, Jah Rastafari, Babylon must fall,” followed by his signature “woooie!!” scream.
To the Kingston 12 foundation deejay struggles seemed normal, and the usual gunman saluting or police raiding the dance seemed to be part of the culture. His expectations never seemed too lofty nor his hat higher than he could reach. So the rhetoric studio phrase “dem producer deh a tief” was never his cry.
“When you an artiste, gunman never use to trouble you. When I play, is just respect. Sometimes the dance start early and finish early either by gunman a salute or police raid,” he added.
Where the production of his music was concerned, U Roy had set goals for himself for the returns from his music.
“I make sure I tell producer Duke Reid that I was working to own a ranch [home] at that time. I never bother ’bout some other things like car. Al Capone came on the scene and made some recordings and soon after bought a car. Some people were disgruntled about that and asked Duke about it. Duke saw me after that and asked me if I wanted a car. I told him that I have a fridge, a stove, a bed, a table that have four foot and four chairs and I never see a car that can carry those things in it so I alright. I told him that I will work and buy my own car,” Daddy U Roy says.
Being a part of the foundation for reggae music and to be able to take care of his family are two pillars of strength.
“Unlike the days when I could only afford one pants and one shirt and hungry, now I don’t know what to wear and give thanks I am not hungry anymore. I have owned cars and been to places that I only heard about,” U Roy says.
“Now the younger generation comes and say this is dancehall music which was classified then as the type of music that was not played on the radio, but strictly made popular by the sound systems and in the dancehalls,” U Roy lectures.
Dancehalls then, he tells, were so called by virtue of the activities that went on there; sound system playing and dancing.
He remembers, “Liberty Hall, Forester Hall, Ostro Jubilee and Success Club. All those places were dancehalls. Them time you can’t come to the dance with symphony music and man use to rub him girl till daylight, lock tight not even breeze pass.” Even the liquor was different. “Yes man, a box of McEwans, Sputnick or Three Man Strength.”
On the topic of differences, Daddy U Roy questions the dependent approach key players have taken in marketing the music–U Roy thinks a lot more can be done. The said marketing resources, if applied, could get a Grammy just the same for a ‘Can’t Satisfy Her’ by I-Wayne. Then he questioned motives and marketing strategies like image and content, deterrent or determining factor, if you will.
“Tell you the truth, I see this music climbing to heights. However, it needs sound promotion, consciousness and adequate money to streamline it professionally to give our reggae artistes and bands the opportunity to open for any R. Kelly or Beyoncé. Stage our own Grammys or Jammy Awards. When they give our artiste Grammys the presentation is done back door style,” U Roy chided.
Another statement sure to draw a panel discussion was U Roy’s sentiments on the status of reggae music worldwide.
“Where reggae music reach today it has reached on its own without any help. It is like a room filled with smoke that just escape through the crevice. Reggae music escape through the crevice. When you go to Europe and see 40,000 people and the majority are youths, it escape. When I do a concert in France where they speak French and see the reception, it escape. In Japan they have their own sound systems that play reggae, their bands that play reggae, radio stations and producers producing reggae. Is the first set of youths I see walk with a studio in a suitcase,” U Roy tells.
The comparison in Europe, he affirms, is evident in the scheduled tours and successful reggae shows that the continent hosts yearly for the promotion of reggae albums and performers.
In 1990, U Roy relocated to the United States, in Los Angeles. There he hooked up with the Mad Professor, a producer from England. The link produced three major albums – ‘True Born African’, ‘Smile A While’ and ‘Babylon Kingdom Must Fall’.
COOL AND EASY
In the mid-nineties U Roy took ill with diabetes. The constant performing took its toll on him to the point where he thought it wouldn’t be long before the roll was called up yonder. If he had a say, that roll call would have to wait. And he did have a say. Like the immortal words of one of his biggest feature combinations, ‘Trying Man’ with Colin ‘Iley Dread’ Levy, U Roy started on the road to recovery. By cutting the number of shows he did, taking his insulin, exercising more and eating healthier, the singer headed home to Jamaica.
Today he is happy with his family, his music, his dogs and his chalice, which inspired this stimulating interview. He released his latest album to date almost two years ago in France, dubbed ‘Rebel In Style’. ‘Rebel In Style’ features young bloods Lukie D, Thriller U, Tony Curtis, Tony Tuff and Brent Dowe.
What is his opinion of ‘Rebel In Style’?
“You see, anything to say about it I leave that to the people,” U Roy said.
As for the young bloods featured on the album, “The youths them have a nice vibes, I like to work with them. I don’t interrupt them. They give me my respect and I give them theirs,” he tells.
From ‘Rebel In Style’ U Roy has released ‘Herbs Field’ featuring Bushman and ‘Hear Me Now’ with Lukie D. As for a thought for today, he simply said: “A Jah run the earth whether a guy like it or not, no question about that.