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“I knew one day when I would reach the drums it was going to be hell”
LEROY ‘HORSEMOUTH’ WALLACE
Leroy ‘Horsemouth’ Wallace
If you were to create a timeline of important moments in Jamaican music you might notice a tendency for one Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace to be somehow involved. Drummer, actor, pioneering deejay, activist; the skinny Rastaman with the long countenance and expressive eyes has seen and done it all.
As a child he attended the fabled Alpha School for “wayward boys” – whose music department produced Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Yellowman and Leroy Smart. In the late 60s he scored the hot seat as house drummer at Clement Coxsone Dodd’s introduction-superfluous Studio 1 Records. By the mid-70s he was beating out pugnacious patterns at Studio 1’s successor in island dominance Channel One (where there is some historical debate concerning whether it was he or Sly Dunbar who created the “rockers” style that defined the times).
“I developed from my grandmother’s Pocomania”
Then, of course, he became famous internationally as the irrepressible charismatic star of Ted Bafaloukos’ feature film Rockers – named after said drumbeat. But let’s not forget that he was already a recording artist in his own right: on several notable deejay 45s – the most celebrated being 1975’s Herb Vendor, recorded at Lee Scratch Perry’s Black Ark.
Despite wandering into the crosshairs of history so often, none of these achievements have brought Horsemouth lasting financial reward. When United Reggae met him at Garance Festival 2014 he was touring with Cedric Myton, RZee Jackson and the Swiss band the Liberty Vendors – while offering his services as a drum teacher. Yet even at age 64, “Horsey” had lost none of his legendary excess of personality as he shared his fascinating story from his own mouth…
This interview was suggested by Horsemouth and conducted without pre-prepared questions. It took place before the tragic loss of his drummer colleague Style Scott. Condolences to his friends, family and the reggae fraternity.
IRIE. How did African folk rhythms influence you as a child?
Horsemouth: As a follower of Christ as a young youth I used to see the Michelangelo picture of Jesus so that was what grew us up. Growing up at Alpha I would always see a little black girl by the water. I saw a lot of pictures at school. Every time I looked at a book on Africa I started to see myself. So when I saw a little kid by the water carrying water in her head as an African I would always feel homely. So I always knew where I was from. Plus Marcus Garvey and his African teaching got me conscious about myself because in school my friends would call me “Shines”, “Blacka” and all these kinds of names.
I started with my grandmother as a matter of fact in her church. In those days in the 50s in Trench Town, it was like an African Apostolic Church, African Methodists, African Baptists. They’d wrap their heads, like Poco, like Arabs, but a different thing, an African thing. They’d wrap their heads and they’d jump like “A-ha! A-ha!” [Drums out rhythm] with a stick, with a rod – they’d call it their rod. They’d have their missionary, a place like their church – they’d call it a missionary. My grandmother used to do the Poco and the music like [drums out rhythm] sings “Oh Jesus Christ, when Jesus come, Hallelujah praise the Lord, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah praise the Lord”.
I developed from my grandmother’s Pocomania. Because around me lived Pocomania and Jonkanoo – this is all African. Jonkanoo is like what you call it in England when you dress up and put on a mask on a Wednesday or whatever – Jonkanoo is like that. They’d come out every Christmas time with horseheads and they had a different beat from the Pocomania drum but I’d have to have a drum to show you the difference but they are all from Africa. Then you had the Rastaman with his Nyabinghi drum and then you had the Kumina. So you had all those involvements around you growing up as a kid. That’s why I got this African in me to play the African drum.
IRIE. How did you find yourself in Alpha School?
Horsemouth: Well my mom was very poor. She couldn’t afford to look after me and plus I was a very troublesome kid at seven. I stole some money from her. She used to send me to Greenwich Farm school and she used to give me thruppence which was threepenny – just a little copper thing – that could do me for the whole day. But I kept on taking some thruppence that she put behind her window sill and little did I know as a kid that if I kept taking them it would all finish little by little. But that wasn’t bad – after that I went to the shop and took trust in her name.
On a Friday she’d sell fish, she’d push up her cart and shout “Fish!” and she’d work very hard. She’d have all her money in this bib she’d keep around her and she’d come home to pay the shopkeeper. The shopkeeper said “Miss Essie you owe me quatty!” Quatty is a penny and a ha’penny. She said “What? I didn’t know that” and he said “Yeah, your son take it man”.
So she came home and told me to light the fire. I lit the fire to make up her dinner and she grabbed me and tied up my hands and she gave me a good whipping you know? But the worst thing she did was she dipped my hand in the fire and it got burned.
I went under the bottom of the house. In those days you had a house on some boards. A small person could go under but a big person couldn’t. I slept there for the night. She wanted me to come out. In the morning she pushed her cart to go to work so I came out. Now the neighbours and her didn’t get on too good so the neighbours called the police and I ended up in Alpha.
“I was a very troublesome kid”
IRIE. Did you study under Lennie Hibbert?
Horsemouth: You know! Yes, Lennie Hibbert was my first band master. There was a man before Lennie Hibbert but he was the one I went through. He was a good xylophone player and a good drummer too. That’s where I started to play professionally. But I started with my grandma playing the drum. I was very professional playing the pocomania drum but when I went to Alpha it gave me more impetus in the professional thing, holding good drums, different drums from my grandmother’s things she used to have so I got a difference and I started to learn music – crotchet, minim, semi-breves and quaver.
IRIE. How much competition was there to get on the drums – they must have had limited resources?
Horsemouth: Yeah, well I started on the wall you know? I got two drumsticks and I started to roll on the wall. I started to make a roll because I knew one day when I would reach the drums it was going to be hell. And furthermore I used to play on tin-pans. You had some big oil drums I would play on. Some very big large oil drums – boom boom boom – before I used to go to the band I used to make noise to get on the band. I used to play some African beats with me and my friends – that was how the sister said “You’d better go in the band”. Yeah, I’ve got the rhythm inside of me so much.
IRIE. Was Leroy Smart there at the same time as you?
Horsemouth: Leroy Smart? Yeah, Leroy Smart was there too. Leroy he ran away from the school but he was in the choir school so he became a good singer.
“If you leave Alpha without a trade you’re worthless”
IRIE. Before your time at Alpha it had been attended by members of the Skatalites – including the great Don Drummond.
Horsemouth: Don Drummond was before. He is the one that started the Jamaican music business. The trombone player. He was like all of these deejays you have today. People would follow him around everywhere he goes. If the Skatalites were playing there – Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Knibbs, Lester Sterling, they were all playing there but there is nobody in the place until this man comes in with his trombone. Then everybody walks in beside him and starts to pay. Of course they were good, brilliant guys, all of them in the band, but he was the one who started the music. He was like the people’s musician and I really admire him.
And for a time they had him as a madman but he wasn’t. He was just a step higher than them. He was one more step higher than them but they didn’t realise that. Only the people realised that. Even Roland Alphonso, he was good but Don Drummond was one step ahead. He was one that made this reggae music, made Jamaica leave foreign music and come to their own.
IRIE. How did you leave Alpha?
Horsemouth: Alpha, I left there by ’64 because the Sister ran me away. There was this telephone at the school so I could call anywhere all over the world. The telephone was very cheap in those days. The telephone was there and nobody was using it so my friend he decided to call the front desk where the Sister is. I don’t know why he did that. He said “Hello Sister, how are you?” and then he told Sister a big bad word. So I called Sister and apologised “I’m sorry for this guy here” and the same guy told Sister it was me. She heard my voice and she couldn’t know which one of them so she sent me out of the school. But by ’64 I had already learned almost everything. I was like a master of things.
IRIE. You’d learned printing.
Horsemouth: I learned printing, tile-making, music. I never got a chance to do the tile-making but I worked at the government printing office. I could print you a passport in those days! (laughs) Yeah, it was very nice.
IRIE. And it was through your printing skills that you entered recording studios.
Horsemouth: I went to Mr Dodd to print labels. I went to print labels at West Indies Records Limited – at one time it was called Dynamics and it’s called Dynamic Sounds now. But in those days our past Prime Minister which is Mr Edward Seaga I saw him there and he was an engineer. He was no Prime Minister, he was an engineer. At that time they had two studios – one four track and one eight track studio. One in the bottom and one in the middle. Seaga was at the one in the middle.
IRIE. How did you go from printing to drumming at Studio 1?
Horsemouth: I went to Studio 1 to a little job as a printer because at the time I went there there was Fil Callender playing drums. I went there around 68-69. I used to play in a band called the Mighty Vikings. I used to play on the street. Mighty Vikings, Byron Lee, those big bands. So I was very famous in Kingston as a drummer even before I went to the studio.
As a matter of fact, how I got to play at Coxsone’s studio was, one day the drummer Fil didn’t turn up when I was there printing labels. And in those days when you played the drums nobody could see you. Only you could see them. You could just sneak into this little room and get inside and close the door, count and start to play. So if you play good they don’t know and they think it is the drummer come.
I played five songs and they decided the day finished. I didn’t want to come out so I sat there waiting for them to go out so that the place was empty and I could sneak out. But they didn’t move at all they just went “Eh Fil! Fil!” and when they looked there was no Fil – it was Horsemouth the printer playing! Coxsone he came home at six o’clock every evening so he could inspect and listen to everything that you played. He called everybody “Jackson” so he said “Jackson, looks like you have to stay ‘pon the drum and leave out the printing business” (laughs).
IRIE. You played with Dennis Brown in the band Falcons.
Horsemouth: I also carried Dennis Brown on those vocals like [sings] “God bless the children”. On Dennis Brown’s first album I sang in Brentford All Stars. That was Larry Marshall, me, the Heptones, Jennifer Lara – anybody that could sing could be up there. So long as you sang at Coxsone you could be in Brentford All Stars – they’d call you for harmony any time. But Coxsone, he didn’t tell you who was in Brentford All Stars (laughs). He had so many different names for the band. He had Underground Vegetables, Sound Dimensions, he had so much different names.
IRIE. You stayed at Studio 1 for a long time.
Horsemouth: 35 years I recorded at Studio 1. I was the last drummer when Coxsone died. I was the last drummer. I looked at him when he died. I saw his eyes turn over. There were so many people around him trying to help him. They didn’t help him properly. They should have just taken him right away to the hospital. They were there making tea for him and blah blah blah. Then Mr Dodd, he ate that day. He had so much money he could say “Go buy a big bowl of soup for me” and someone was cooking mackerel and dumpling and things for him. He was on medication and his wife wasn’t there. I’m sure he was on a medication not to eat those things.
I was sad when he died. We took him to the hospital and they pronounced him dead and we took him to the police station. He was in my friend’s car and I looked at the boss and tears came to my eyes. Because there is a big man there with all his pockets full of money but money couldn’t do nothing for him. He’s dead. He is one of the people that gave me an opportunity and I loved that. Now he is dead so we buried him.
IRIE. Tell me how you got involved in the 1968 Walter Rodney protests and got sent to jail.
Horsemouth: Wow, the Dr Rodney protest. I was working at the government printing office and Fullwood called me and told me. I saw Fullwood’s big brother right beside near to Gordon House and East Street and the government printing office was on the same street. I came out for lunch at 12 o’clock and there was Lucky, Fully’s brother of the guy that play’s the bass and that’s Fully’s bigger brother. He said to me “Horsemouth, you’re there doing your job and now, no black man can come to Jamaica. They sent Muhammad Ali and Dr Rodney back on the plane”. I said “What?” and right there the black culture started to hit me. I was in my big job and this guy is talking like I’m not interested as a black person or as a rebel.
So I got it in my head and I forgot my job and started to walk in the procession. It was like PJ Patterson, DK Duncan, and some on the right and some on the left, those kinds of politician. We marched up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was in George VI Memorial Park and is called Heroes Circle now. So I went there with all those politicians and some university students and us poor people who followed them were just like pawns. Because when we went in jail they didn’t go in jail. They just locked up us. They were alright. I went to this park with them and then the politicians start to blah blah blah with loads of speakers and then the bad boys behind us start to fling over them so then the police did answer back with some heavy teargas. It was lucky for us because over that park there were some pipes on the ground – so that helped me to get out of here. Then they went to the Mazuka Building and when they got there they started to mash up the place down there. I thought it was a revolution but it was no revolution – it was just robbing and stealing.
My friend got a bus and said “Horsemouth, come in and collect some money” so I went into the bus and started collecting some money and the police kept on watching me as I was collecting all the money and my friend was driving the bus. When we reached downtown we let the bus and we started to walk.
IRIE. Was that when you were arrested?
Horsemouth: You know what’s funny was that day I was supposed to play on a song “Muma No Want Bangarang!” That day I didn’t realize I had a session with Bunny Lee that evening. I was supposed to play on that song with Stranger Cole. So Carlton Barrett, Familyman’s brother, he didn’t even know how to play drums, all he knew was a bossa nova beat [drums out rhythm] – he played the bossa nova beat on it and it sounded good.
Familyman was waiting for me, because me and Familyman used to play. We played on a tune called [sings] “Every night you go to bed you have wet dream”. And Hold You Jack. That was the first flying [makes flying cymbals noise]. People don’t realize that. They say Santa played the first flying cymbals. I’ve been playing flying cymbals long time for years. Trust me, brethren. Most of the parts where they played the straight four [drums out rhythm] they learned that from me too.
IRIE. Chinna told me that Lloyd Knibb played the first flying cymbals on Moonlight Lover.
Horsemouth: Yeah, but that’s for the ska! When it comes down to rocksteady Lloyd Knibb didn’t see the idea of playing it that way. When it comes down to the rocksteady it becomes calypso with the shhhh shhhh shhhh [drums rhythm]. That’s how I played it. It was a calypso beat I was playing. In those days it was how calypso goes.
IRIE. How big an influence was Lloyd Knibb on your drumming?
Horsemouth: Yeah, that’s who I learned the Jamaican ska from. That’s where I learned my real Jamaican. That’s where I got the attitude of the music. He gave me my attitude. A couple of years ago I was playing in France in a group called Pierpoljak. They were a big group there who sold triple platinum in France. I was there for eight years playing with this French group. We were at a show and the group played and they had some horns, they played before the Skatalites came on. So when I came up I saw Brevett and I saw Lloyd, my teachers. I say “Yow, my teacher” and Lloyd Knibbs looked at me and said “Horsemouth, I learned something from you tonight”. Lloyd Knibbs told me that. I said “What? You are the one I learned from!”
“They had Don Drummond as a madman but he wasn’t. He was just a step higher than them”
IRIE. You mentioned Fully Fullwood. While you were at Studio 1 you were also involved at the start of Soul Syndicate band.
Horsemouth: Yes, I was the one who took Chinna and Santa to Soul Syndicate. Mr Brown, Mr Fullwood – they live in California now. I trained Santa. Put him on the drum, held his hand and trained him like a little boy how to play the drum. I don’t know why he doesn’t tell people that! (laughs)
IRIE. You recorded several deejay records as Mad Roy for Coxsone in the early 70s. Then in 1975 you deejayed on the smokers classic Herb Vendor. Can you tell me about the track’s creation?
Horsemouth: I used to live in Waterhouse at my mom’s place. I’d go to Scratch Lee Perry’s house all the time because it was nearby in Washington Gardens over across the gully. I’d go to Scratch Perry in Black Ark studio hustling because Waterhouse was very hard at the time and that was the nearest studio to my home. I went there and that was how I got to do several songs with Lerry Perry playing drums like War Ina Babylon. And that one [Herb Vendor] I did for myself. I played the melodica and I played the rhythm too on the drums. I’m trying to remember who played the bass. It might have been Familyman.
IRIE. Boris Gardiner?
Horsemouth: I’m not sure if it was Boris Gardiner but there was some bassman there alone. Boris Gardiner played there but I’m not sure he was there at the time.
IRIE. Where did you get the lyrics for Herb Vendor?
Horsemouth: Well it’s my lyrics you know? I’m a man who used to smoke herb and knew people that sold herb as friends. But I never used to sell weed – just smoke it. In those days a young herb smoker. If you listen to the music . It wasn’t like ganja it was collie. Collie weed. Collie bud. It wasn’t sensimilia time. All those things were very important for people to know.
As well as that song for Scratch Perry I did songs for Bunny Lee and for Coxsone – on A Love I Can Feel John Holt [Universal Love]. I did one named Far Beyond where I played the melodica. It’s a dub poetry and some melodica instrumental.
IRIE. You mentioned the Flying Cymbals sound earlier. In his book Bunny Lee says the first flying cymbals was Sly Dunbar in Skin Flesh and Bones. Let’s talk about Sly. You both played at Channel One and you both played on Phase 1 which had their own take on that mid 70s style.
Horsemouth: Sly Dunbar came a long, long time after me. He came a long, long, long way with Ansell Collins. You know what? A lot of those songs at Channel One they put Sly Dunbar’s name on it. I played 30 songs for Jo Jo Hookim but I had a bad experience with him. He didn’t want to pay me so I got mad and fling some stones in his place and didn’t give me any credit. He gave all credit to Sly Dunbar.
But if you listen good you will know which ones I played because Jo Jo Hookim he had a whole big selection. Delroy Wilson is on it and he had a whole heap of singers like Barrington Levy’s first album. You see, most of the singers, I played their first albums. They’ve all passed through me first before they went through Sly or anybody. After they passed through me they went to Sly. Sly came after Channel One built up because I was before Channel One.
IRIE. You gave a press conference at Garance where you said “Sly is a Pan American drummer. I am a Pan African drummer”.
Horsemouth: Yes, I am Pan African and he is Pan American. If you are Pan American they give you a Grammy.
IRIE. You mean because he loved American soul music?
Horsemouth: Yeah he is the one who brought the thing to the funk and soul more. If you listen to Burning Spear or even Bob Marley songs with Tyrone Downie and all those guys. Those guys were really highly thinking musicians you know? I am highly thinking too because I went to Alpha – more than them but I have a cause and a conviction. I see it start to work through me and it really sounds good how it happened to me and I created it out of my own head. I learned at Alpha, yes, so I learned at a music school but then all those overtures, all those marches and things I learned at school I put them all together and made my own thing.
IRIE. You also talked about the movie Rockers. You said you never got paid to be in the movie.
Horsemouth: I was young and stupid. I just wanted the excitement, wasn’t thinking about money. All I was thinking about is this Rasta culture to spread all over the world. Spread the gospel and the works. In those days we didn’t get much media attention so an opportunity like that to star in a movie would be big. After I had been seeing Humphrey Bogart, Tony Curtis and all those guys in movies I wished to be one of them all the time as a little kid. So that was my chance to be Humphrey Bogart. You see me do that walk there? Yeah! John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Tony Curtis, those guys, Western guys they had that swing in their walking so I picked up that from then.
But this guy Ted Bafaloukos when he saw me there he gave me and Dirty Harry an opportunity and I was very thankful. I went three years ago with Lee Scratch Perry and Maxie Romeo and the Congos to Greece and we met him. He was on stage and that was good for me to see him, he and his wife Eugenie they are still alive. That guy Bafaloukos gave me an opportunity, he just believed in us and we didn’t let him down.
“Coxsone said “Jackson, looks like you have to stay ‘pon the drum and leave out the printing business”
IRIE. The famous scene where you and Dirty Harry take over the Turntable club – how did that scene come about?
Horsemouth: You see, I don’t want to sound like everything is me but we didn’t have a script for that movie. I am the one who brought that scene because I used go to Merritone’s club. Merritone was a very good sound system that used to play when I was a little youth. I used to go to Merritone way uptown Constant Spring in the mountains from Kingston. You’d go those places to dances and come back 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning. No fight no war, just nice, Merritone.
But then he owned this club, Turntable in Red Hills Road and sometimes I had to go there with my girls because it was a nice club to go to with your girls. I’d say “Merritone, give me some reggae”, “Oh, later on, later on”, “Play a song that I play drum on. See my latest song, play” and he’d put it down and play all foreign stuff – boom boom boom. So I decided to go in that club and do a scene because the guy didn’t have a script you know? Rockers is all about incidents that happened to us in the ghetto. It might fall into a storyline but it’s about how it can be continued – it’s open. It can be continued because I end up sleeping in the end.
IRIE. Were those real police that entered the club to stop your takeover?
Horsemouth: The Turntable Club, went we went there, all the cops they gave us clothes – police clothes – but it didn’t look good on bearded people, all my friends. So I went downstairs – the club is upstairs – and saw two policemen walking and said “Officer” – in those days you’d tell a policeman you were going to give him $2000 to do a movie like it’s big money – so I said “Officer, both of you can get $4000 to do a job you know? We need two policeman – we doing a movie up here”. They said “Yeah?” We said “We got the OK from your station, they gave us police uniforms and we could do it ourselves but we want real police like you”. So they said “Yeah, man” but we said “Now man, it’s private, we smoke ganja up here, we don’t want you to come up here and bother nobody” and they said “Nah Rasta, we nah do that man”.
So we let them in, we come upstairs and there was a crowd there to do the movie. And you know the first thing from when they say “Action!” in that scene with me and Dirty Harry before he said “Remove ya!” when the police came he started to drape me up in my waist. I said “Nah, no policeman, I employ, I don’t want no policeman to be seen drape up Rasta, no no no. I don’t like policeman draping me up in my pants”. So he says “Ok” and I told him what to do, “Just talk to me” and those things. Because right away that’s all police can do – just grab up you!
And the scene with Dirty Harry it was good when I was just sitting there. That guy who says “You guys can’t sit here” that was Merritone’s brother. He took 3-5 hours to say that. Just to say “You guys can’t sit here. Stand up or leave. These seats are for reserved”. That’s all. Every time he’d take a drink, we’d say “Action!” and they couldn’t get it right for 3 hours. Up to now I don’t believe it! He went to Excelsior big school in Jamaica and little me I went to Alpha.
IRIE. How about Dirty Harry saying “Remove ya!” – one take?
Horsemouth: Me and Dirty Harry were like [clicks fingers]. Me and Dirty Harry were like the actors. When we saw Bafaloukos we told him we had like three movies but he didn’t do nothing. In Alpha we had drama school where you’d see people acting – acting like women saying [old woman voice] “Go weh mi child!” In that school all kinds of things go on so I used to play the bongo drum at the dances at the little theatre. It’s a school where you learn all things – it’s a 21 trade shop you know? If you leave that school without a trade you’re worthless.
IRIE. You got to appear at the 1978 One Love Peace concert as a result of being in that movie.
Horsemouth: I was there. I had just finished doing the Rockers movie. You know a lot to ask me. You are the right man. At the Bob Marley Peace concert it was very interesting because I went there and Errol T – who was the disc jockey who said every morning [puts on Errol T voice] “Horsemouth Wallace played this drum” he could tell you “Santa Davis played this”, “Sly Dunbar played that”. He’d tell you all the musicians in the songs because he had more information than all these disc jockeys playing now. He was like one of us.
What happened at that the One Love Concert was I was the one who started this whole argument when Peter Tosh came after me. I started it. Because I was disgusted with my own capitalist friends, Jamaican people that have money to spend on a poor black boy like me that has talent yet they didn’t see that. They see me with a different colour or a different hair to promote me. As a youth growing down Spanish Town Road, in the ghetto, Trench Town.
So when Errol T called my name and I went there and the Prime Minister and the Opposition, everybody was there. I held the mic and I said “One love to everyone. Respect. It’s a shame one like me has being playing music for so long for so much years in Jamaica and there is so much talent that we could do some movies but someone comes from America or Greece to give me this movie.” Because Errol T said “This Horsemouth is a movie star in a big movie” and blah blah blah. After that Peter Tosh set up his instrument and he listened to me and he started the ball of fire! He started the ball of fire!
“Rockers was my chance to be Humphrey Bogart”
IRIE. Tell me about the time you spent in England in the early 80s.
Horsemouth: In ’81 Prince Far I he was the first man that took me to England. I spent almost five years in England back and forth from Jamaica. Because Prince Far I said [puts on very accurate Far I voice] “Horsemouth, me a carry you to England yunno. I don’t want you to give me no blah blah trouble yunno. I want you to just behave yourself, sir. Alright? I’m going to give you £100 a show”. £100 in those times was big money to me so I said “Yeah man”. Prince Far I the deejay was the first one who gave me the opportunity to go there. I went there and it was nice and that was where Prince Far I and the Arabs and they dressed up like some Arabs in those times. That was how I started going to England.
Then I went there again and came back in ’83 and played there with Sugar Minott, Junior Reid and Don Carlos. In that time Junior Reid sang Foreign Mind for Sugar Minott on the Youthman Promotion label so we went to England in ’83 and decided to do a tour and I met this girl there.
“Rockers was my chance to be Humphrey Bogart”
IRIE. Why did you go back to Jamaica in 1985?
Horsemouth: Mrs Thatcher time was very hard. I had been in all the studios like Easy Street and Neil Professor from Guyana when he had just come in. When he made his first board I was the first drummer that played for Professor in his studio. He has this little pitchy patchy thing. So it’s good to him now still having his studio because making improvements is very good. I love that. I was better coming from England. I played a lot and I created lovers rock and the roots rock and people singing lovers rock and those basslines. I played on albums by Linton Kwesi Johnson, Dennis Bovell and Castro Brown – we did an album where he had a lot of different artists that sing on it.
IRIE. When you came back to Jamaica – how did you find the music scene? I guess it had changed? Was there less call for drummers? The Sleng Teng thing came in.
Horsemouth: Yeah but the Sleng Teng thing came in later on after because there was space for me still. There was space for me when I came back in ’85 because the computer was taking over but not very much. It was coming down to the end of the 80s into the 90s that it really started. It was there but we were still competing against it. You still had the singers. The deejays have taken over now so there are more than singers. That’s why they got to take over the music. The music was more principled – you could not say certain things but now it’s not limited – you know what I mean?
IRIE. What problems are facing the music today?
Horsemouth: The problem is people want to be rich now. When we were young, people say we were stupid. They say we were stupid because we didn’t want money. Honestly, I wasn’t thinking about money. I was just thinking about making the system proper for my children and for myself by going through the struggle and sacrifice to make it better. If you listen to the music we played it is still living now longer. The music that these kids play – six weeks it is out and you don’t remember. So we put a lot of sacrifice in that and you can see the sacrifice we made in that to make it last for all these years. In a couple of years roots reggae is going to be the longest lasting music. Because after so much struggle to stop it – it spread all over the world.
IRIE. Last year you went back to Alpha school – how was it?
Horsemouth: It was good. I did some interviews. There is a guy named Joshua there who is a good guy. He gave me encouragement like I have some music – a dub album – and if he wanted to sell it to promote the school to make money I gave him permission to do that. I’m supposed to bring some masters and some labels but Jamaica sometimes gets rough you know? Because I live alone with two kids – their mom is gone about nine years – one is nine and one is 13 so the 13 one goes to high school and I have to be there with those two kids. Most of my living is people coming from foreign so I import and export reggae music now. Local people don’t have much money to give you. Everything is recorded very cheap. But live music is coming back now. There are several bands there now. I remember when there was no live drums for years and I broke the spell. After I left playing for Pierpoljak this French group I went to Jamaica with the guy who plays bass in Dubtonic – Stone – a good bass man. I trained that youth. I taught the French band that are playing now.
IRIE. Homegrown band?
Horsemouth: I taught Homegrown when I was playing with Pierpoljak. I taught them to make dumpling and cook Jamaican food Jamaican style. Now I am in Switzerland I am playing with a Swiss band tomorrow that I taught.
IRIE. Is there anything else you want to say?
Horsemouth: Yes, about the music. I think the future of the music should be young people, instead of talking about women’s parts like chicken parts, I think they should respect ladies and talk good things. It’s just the lyrics. There’s nothing wrong with the music. They can get crazy and do what they do but you have to be careful. Beating boom boom boom boom every day will make you tired and make you not concentrate. Sometimes you have to make it slow and play different tempos. Not just one tempo just to dance. Play a tempo like to sing a song on.
Jamaican musicians are too much like Americans. There is nothing wrong with American music. Americans have their culture and we can make a fusion with the music. But we have to remember roots rock reggae and when roots rock reggae came it had everything – hip hop, funk – everything in it. They must learn to play it because sooner or later, you see that band there? The French band they will sound better than a Jamaican band. They can’t blame us for that because they are ignoring a man like me. A man like me should be at the Jamaican school of music teaching them. Those guys there listened to me and they are there now playing with every Jamaican act doing their work. Jamaican artists used to come with their own band but now they don’t come with their band.
“Rockers is all about incidents that happened to us in the ghetto”
IRIE. So you are available to give drum lessons to people? Is there a website or email people can contact you at?
Horsemouth: Yeah I do that. I do it in Switzerland and I do it in France for young kids. My friend Jimmy is a very good youth. He is a good piano player and he does management work for me too and he does all different kinds of work for me. My email is [email protected] And when I am not here sometimes Jimmy looks after it for me because sometimes in Jamaica internet is very expensive.