The Gorgon Speaks – Part 1

Old Oak Tree AKA Turn Down Date (D Darling label, recorded 1956, released 1959)
Question: Was this your first record?
Cornell: No that’s the third song I sing. What really happened, as you know I started off with Sir Coxsone Downbeat at Love Lane, 1956, at the age of eleven. A lot of people don’t believe I was singing in 1956, as a little boy. Downbeat didn’t have a studio by itself, and he was trying to penetrate into the recording business with singers like Derrick Harriott, with Jiving Juniors, me Cornell Campbell. I’m singing a long long time ago, before Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, Toots & The Maytals and them guys. Is a long time yeah. So after I sing a string of songs I wasn’t really going nowhere at the time. When the records came out they weren’t doing so well. Because Jamaican people at that time were so acclimatized to foreign arts.So I started working for Downbeat, doing trade, as a printer. I used to print Downbeat’s record labels: Rolando and Powie, All Stars, you name them. Afterwards Don Drummond came on the scene and formed the Skatalites, but when I start singing for Downbeat there was no Skatalites. There was City Slickers, with Hersang, Aubrey Adams, Clue J. I had the pleasure of knowing them. Them a great idol of mine y’know?
Q: How did you come to Coxsone’s Attention at such a young age?
CC: I’m going to tell you why. I originally come from Jones Town, with Bob Marley and Alton Ellis and those guys. I was a Christian, a little boy, singing in choir and I was a very good singer. I used to go to Tower Hill Missionary Church. And I had a friend named Kenneth Samuel who rate me as a great singer, more than I think about myself. He wanted me to go into recording. As a friend he went to various producers and stuff like that. And he go to Rico, the trombonist. And Rico was riding a bicycle and he introduce Rico to me, and we told him we were interested in doing recording. We thought Rico was a producer, but he say “nah man I’m not a producer, but I can take yout to Sir Coxsone Downbeat”. He was the one who really found that destiny, he told us about Coxsone. And when I went to Sir Coxsone Downbeat, me and my friend, Downbeat line us up for rehearsal. When I went to rehearsal there at Love Lane I see guys like Basil Gabiddon (of the Mellow Larks), Lascelles Perkins, Winston Samuels, Skully & Bunny, Owen Gray. So we form a line and when a guy start to sing Downbeat said; “Where you come from” and the guy say “Trelawney”. And Coxsone say “But Jackson you mean to tell me you come from so far to mash up my business?” To me the guy was good but Downbeat was in a bad mood. And the guy was embarrass, so me step out of the line, and go home and me say me nah bother with no singing. Because I think it was too much problem. But my friend still keep on urging me during the weeks that follow. And I make one more try again and go back to Sir Coxsone’s. At an audition again. And Hersang now, it was a piano audtion, said to me “But all the while I see this little boy come here and I never hear him sing yet. Come man! Mek we hear you man!”. And Basil Gabiddon and Alton Ellis and Clancy Eccles and all them: “Yeah man mek we hear you.” So I sing this tune with another guy (singing softly in perfect falsetto):
Pretty girl – you are the one I treasure.
Just let me hold you in my arms
And squeeze you oh so tenderly.
You know, I sing the song good, but what spoiled the song my friend wasn’t a singer and he keep on singing off-key in the background. So them said: “Mek we hear the little youth alone singin'” That a me, and the other guy ease off. My partner vex with me, he was a sort of jealous man.
My Treasure
Q: Now Pretty Girl (released as My Treasure) was a cover of an American tune?
CC: No. No. I wrote.
Q: At age eleven?
CC: Because I was a original songwriter y’know. Most of the songs then I really write. If I had known that singing was so easy, copying other people’s songs, I woulda sang a lot more cover versions.I didn’t know that most of the songs some of the big stars them sing was cover versions. And the frustration of just writing song all the while because I never really like singing other people’s songs. So I did my first recording for Downbeat called My Treasure. I had the pleasure of meeting the Blues Busters. It was like a family. Everybody. Later on I see Delroy WIlson come on, and Toots & The Maytals. I watch before my eyes everybody coming in. The other side of it was called Wild Oak Tree. (Released under the title Old Oak Tree). I called it Late Date. (This tune was also released under the title Turn Down Date).
The other side of My Treasure was Old King Cole.
Q: Who’s the band?
CC: The Skatalites, I mean the guys who became the Skatalites. That’s Jah Jerry playing the guitar, even then it was a ska.
Q: Your composition?
CC: Yeah man, I write it.
Q: Where was this done?
CC: Federal Recording Company.When they throw up the red light you can’t make one mistake y’know. Anybody make a mistake they tell you re-do it over again. So everybody have to be perfect and try to concentrate in what them doing.
Q: In a little room
CC: Yeah man
Q: The writing credit is to Coxsone Dodd.
CC: (chuckles) No man, guess what happened. Downbeat always take the credit. You see, the recording business is an unscrupulous game. I done lotta original songs and I saw Bunny Lee name on them as writer. I never see those men, not even Coxsone, sit down and write a song. The only thing I see Coxsone do is like if him inspired by a record, him would play an old time 78 and we could listen them and you pick lyrics out of them or whatever. Him do a lot of things like that in those days if he like a record, like a personal singer, or a beat, him say “But Cornell you is a boy that can sing this.” Him have song to give to everybody. But he don’t really sing nor write a song. Those men don’t have the time to sit down and write a song.Yeah they put them name on the record to join up with the publishing. Where the money is.

Roy & Cornell: Salvation (King Edwards, 1964)

CC: This is me and Roy Panton. He was an older guy, a big man. He used to say ” bwoy that little guy can sing, he have a good voice.” Even Ken Boothe used to be inspire by me when he start singing. He tell me with him own mouth, say, “when I was a little boy, where Downbeat playing out, he used to run to the sound system just to hear you singing.” Of course Ken never know he would become so great now. Even Bob Marley sing Rat Race after me, (sings) “Some a gorgon, some a ginegog”, he was talking about a tune I did in 1975 called the Gorgon.
Q: This record sounds like a church song.
CC: Well I was a Christian. A little Christian kid. That’s Baba Brooks (on trumpet). Yeah man.
Q: What kind of guy was Baba Brooks?
CC: He was fast. Him don’t loaf. He was a guy when him get a part him just do it good and him lively. He make the place live up. He come with a style. Each individual character, each individual musician them come different. Them come with them own style. And that’s Drumbago the drummer. A lovely song. The only problem is your machine is too slow. (I get up and adjust the pitch control.) Of course it was too slow, I notice it from the first time. (laughs) Now it sounds like when I was recording.
Q: You sound happy on this song.
CC: Yes man. So you see I been with the ska long time before the ska became famous y’know.
Q: I don’t know anything about King Edwards.
CC: Him have a good reputation. But to me, him wasn’t forceful. Some producer they’re not really dominant, they just do the business. But he was a great guy. But I don’t think he pick out the talent. Concerning me, I did a rehearsal for him and he liked the songs. The first song I did for him was I’ll Be True, (sings): I will ever be true, and I love only you. Song like that – old time ska, it was a great song.I was have a group with King Edwards called the Bell Stars.
Q: Who were the Bellstars?
CC: Me and a guy named George Shaw. We used to kind of sound like the Blues Busters because he used to idolize the Blues Busters and sound like one of them.
Q: That song was from around 1963. What did you do between then and 1956?
CC: I never went back to school. What I did was, I move from Coxsone, from there I went to King Edwards. But it was a little slow then so what I do, I form a group with Slim Smith. Slim Smith was a guy who admire my singing. And him always tell me I must carry him to a producer. So I took him to Sir Coxsone Downbeat, when his name was Keith Smith. Well, people say him sound like me. Right? In those day, but I never really see it, him have his own style, but I know him used to love Jerry Butler and those type of guys. But I used to tell him he must be himself and sound like himself and stop singing like Jerry Butler. And him wrote a couple of songs and I took him to Coxsone. I told Downbeat I have a guy who can sing. And when him sing several songs during Downbeat’s lunch hour, Downbeat turn him down: “But Jackson you’re not ready yet.” And I did feel bad over that. But Slim Smith formed a group with Winston Riley, and Dadum (Frederick Waite), and a brother name Delroy (?). And they did a song for Duke Reid called “Little Did You Know”.

Sensations: I Found My Love (Duke Reid, 1966)
Cornell Campbell: The reason I form the Sensations was this way. I’m the one who formed the Sensations: (myself), Jimmy Riley, Buster Riley, his brother was Winston Riley, and Digo (Bobby Davis). I brought Jimmy RIley into singing, I introduce him to singing.
Q: So you were in two groups with Jimmy Riley, the Sensations and also the Uniques
CC: We formed the Uniques with Slim Smith, but we didn’t make a record. But because so much singer was in the Uniques I figured to myself it was not an ideal for the group to have so many leaders. Right? I never really play an important part with the Uniques. So I get two guys from Spanish Town and form the Eternals.

The Eternals: Stars (Studio One, 1969)
Q: Who were the Eternals?
CC: A brother named Ken Fife and Errol Wisdom. We started with Coxsone, with Stars.
Q: Who wrote this?
CC: Me, I wrote it. And that’s me playing guitar. And I arranged it. When I wrote Stars, Johnny Nash have a song named Cupid and all them songs,and I wanted to write a song like that. So I grab a box guitar and start to find a good song to go to Sir Coxsone. So I write Stars and I write Queen Of The Minstrels as two soul songs. I never intend to sing it like a reggae. But Richard Ace, the keyboard guy, him say to me during the recording sessions: “Cornell I don’t feel the vibes on the soul song y’know – why not rock it nuh?” So him say why not do one cut fast and one cut in a soul music. So I do this one first and him say to me: “No bother do it again as a soul music, cause this one sound good. Keep it so.” And (Eric) Frater was supposed to play guitar, but he didn’t turn up. But them say: “Cornell, you’re a good guitarist man – you play man and let the session gwan.” That’s why you hear me strumming in the background.
Queen Of The MinstrellsQ: Did it take a long time to put this arrangement together?
CC: No because I’m a professional musician, that’s why. I teach all them guys what to play by strumming guitar. And Coxsone want to take credit for it, he put him name pon the version side. But it’s really me: writer, arranger and all those things. Horns were Vin Gordon and Headly Bennett, Leroy Sibbles on bass.
Q: A perfect song. I always thought it must have been written by Curtis Mayfield.
CC: No man (laughter). I might have a sound like him but it’s me write the song. Me find the melody, the lyrics, the changes.

The Eternals: Queen Of The Minstrel (Studio One, 1969)
CC: I record both of them the same day. Same session.I write it as a soul song and automatically they put it reggae and I never bother sing it as soul song again. I did three songs that day. The other one was Just Can’t Find Loving.
Q: Do you play records at home? Or cds?
CC: I play both.
Q: You still have your records?
CC: Yeah yeah. I have a collection of oldies. I come like a collector y’know. I collect old music.

Cornell Campbell - My DarlingMy Darling, (Soul Sound, 1971)
CC: I want this one! I was searching this song – you know how long I want this song? Ah! This was Ronnie Bop, and Reggie (Lewis), the Upsetters man! They used to play with Bob Marley. They were the guitar players for the Upsetters.
Q: The producer credit is A. Folder, who was he?
CC: He used to work at Dynamics, and did a little producing. I want it man! This is the first time I hear this in so much years!
Q: I’ll burn it for you.
CC: Cause I don’t have it in my collection. I keep them in a library y’know. I don’t really play them.
Q:WHo’s the organ player?
CC: Capo. (Glen Adams, keyboardist fro the Upsetters). This was many years ago. I write it, find the changes and everything.
Q: And then (flipping the record) the version side has this nice organ overdub:
CC: Winston Wright. I remember this. Reggie was jumping up in the studio “This gone! Hit!” I remember it.
We recorded this late in the evening at Dynamic.

Let The Music Keep On PlayingLet The Music Keep On Playing (1970)
This is Jimmy Riley, Lloyd Charmers, Busty Brown, and me. I recorded this already at Treasure Isle but this one was done at Dynamics. It was Jimmy Riley’s idea to do it over. I formed the group, we called ourselves the Links. We was trying something new. We just made the one record.

The Gorgon (Bunny Lee, 1975)
Q: Where did the Gorgon thing come from? Was it a slang?
CC: It was a slang. Because when Johnny Clarke came on the scene for Bunny Lee, it was me who really who make Johnny Clarke get the bust out. Bunny Lee gave me a tune to sing name None Shall Escape The Judgment. I was supposed to sing it. But the song came from a singer who did write that song.
Q: Yeah, Earl Zero
Cornell Campbell - The GorgonCC:Yeah, that you know. And Bunny Lee gave me to sing. But through Bunny owe me some money I never sing at same time. I had intention to sing it but I didn’t wanted Bunny Lee to pay me and so. So through it take so long coming to the studio, and Johnny Clarke was there and Bunny Lee got him to sing the song. “All right, me go try it with Johnny Clarke”. So he gives Johnny Clarke a try with it. So Johnny Clarke bust that song! And when Johnny Clarke bust now, Bunny Lee said to me say “You see what make Johnny Clarke bust? If you’d sing this song you would a gone!” And me say “no, that not wrong man.” So then I came with Gun Court Law, It was like a competition thing, after Johnny Clarke sang None Shall Escape The Judgment. And then Johnny Clarke came with Enter Into His Gates With Praise to counteract me. And when I hear Johnny Clarke going on me say “Wha man, me haffi come with sumpin better than this one”. So me go and me go sit down and write a song name (singing): “Well I went to a dance down at Greenwich Farm, King Tubby’s and the dreads was there”. (The song was titled Dance In Greenwich Farm.) And then when Johnny Clarke hear that now, Johnny Clarke come with (sings): “Move out of Babylon.” Right? Cause Johnny Clarke get boast y’know ca’ he come with a big tune? So me go and me say “you think how so it go?”, and me say (singin) “Comin’ from the North with my face to the South, I’m quite sure I can knock you out – I am the Gorgon.” Right? (This song was titled The Gorgon)And it just go on, go on. Then Bob Marley pick it up and sing “Some a Gorgon, some a Ginegog, in this rat race”. Bwoy – is a long history.

Cornell Campbell - Natty Dread In A Greenwich FarmNatty Dread In Greenwich Farm AKA Natty Dread In A Greenwich Town (Bunny Lee, 1975)
And then me cover a tune name Natty Dread In A Greenwich Farm right? And now that start blast off (sings: “Natty dreadlocks up in all the streets, them Babylon dem cannot keep them feet”) Yeah I come with that song.
Q: This is a Bob Marley riddim.
CC: No no no no.
Q Natty Dread?
CC; No man. A me write it, All the changes, them are me. But the only thing is, some of Bob Marley’s musicians played on this. That’s Family Man playing bass. That’s Santa playing drums. You see the same musicians playing with Bob Marley play with me too. Bob Marley was a cool brother. A nice guy. I always like him.

Lost In A Dream (Bunny Lee, 1975)
Oh. I remember this one too. Bunny Lee.
Q: The chord changes here…
CC: Yes that’s me. Most musicians, them think I give them problem because I come with a lot of changes and stuff in songs, because them love songs with one chord alone. Right through the song. That can be done fast. But my songs are more difficult and it takes time to learn them and change them properly. That’s because I’m a guitarist.
Q: Do you still write songs?
CC: Yes man – I have a lot of songs I write.
Q: But in today’s recording world, can you get them done?
CC: That is a problem. Because I have the voice and I have the beat – I can sit down on any riddim. The only difference, I don’t love to sing some songs, that’s why. I don’t like singing immoral songs that don’t really mean anything. I don’t really get into it. I like singing things that make sense. Foundation stuff.
Q: The last time I was in Jamaica the music was just crap everywhere I’d go.
CC: It’s crap. It’s just one man lick one drum boom-boom-boom-boom and the guy nah singin’ no melody. off key. Bwoy trust me – everything get backward. You find people up on television: “Oh this guy can sing!” And the guy can’t sing. Him just singing off-key, and one riddim over this and just singing foolishness. Man. I think the reason why it go so , I think the reason is the commercial thing. It’s advertisment. When they advertise something it play more than what not advertise, and in that situation the people get to learn them. The youths nowadays them, them coming up like how you buy fast food. Them travel pon the fast lane.. Nobody want to take the time and sit down and write. If them can make a money by just saying “hey diddle diddle, the cat and the fiddle.”, so them just do that. It’s simple for them. Them don’t have the time to go sing about nature, and real things that could elevate them.

The Gorgon Speaks – Part 2

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