The Gorgon Speaks – Part 2

Cornell Campbell - Undying LoveUndying Love (Bunny Lee, 1975)
This song was written by Ernest Wilson
Q: Who is singing with you?
CC: Jackie Edwards singing low harmony & Barry Biggs singing high.
Q: Do you have to protect your voice?
CC: Nothing special, becaue you just live good, take care of your body, eat good food. Because I may believe my voice is a gift from God and I believe that God protect me. God give it to me.
Q: When did you know that you had this gift?
CC: It’s not a matter of knowing that y’know, it’s just that I was a person who love to do things out of the ordinary. I have this vibe to sing and play music, blow the mouth organ, bang the guitar. But I didn’t know which of them I really make it with. But in the church they see me as a good singer and they encourage me. I was a good choir singer. I know that I could sing after a while then. And I was inspired by my friend Kenneth Samuels who give me more encouragement who push hard for me to get into the recording business.
Cornell Campbell - InvestigatorQ: But a lot of falsetto singers lose their high voices as they get older.
CC: I know. I never lost it. As I said before, in this world you have to give. You have to give and you receive back. What I do, I respect that very much. I don’t live an ungodly life where I don’t respect God and nature. So I think maybe that’s why God allow me this. But if you live without God, you will drink too much and you might smoke too much and He might take away all those things from you. Even though most of the men smoke them pipe and them drink a lot of rum and them don’t care and them bleach every night, then they lose their voice and they lose something. Y’know what I mean? You have to respect yourself. You have to live up to certain principles. You have regulation and rule in life where you have to live up to certain standards. And if you live up to them, you continue living good for years. You know? That’s me. You just live good.

Investigator (Bunny Lee, 1977)
Cornell Campbell - Keep On PushingThis one I wrote it for me and the Eternals, ten years before this release, but I never get a chance because we split up. So I just record it with Robbie Shakespeare singing harmony and Skully also (on harmony).

Keep On Pushing (Martin Williams, 1977)
Oh. I remember this song. This song I did it for a brother who gone a England now. He was a student. He’s a journalist now, he was young then, a student. He came and said he’d like to do a thing together. He was inexperienced and he appreciated my help. Well the record business move from one direction to another direction. But yet you have to get yourself in line, I’m a versatile singer – I can go in any new thing.

You Walking (Earthquake, Ossie Hibbert, 1981)
You Walking - Cornell CampbellBoxing Around (Joe Gibbs, 1981)
Oh this one – You Walking – I remember it. Ossie Hibbert production. I recorded at Joe Gibbs studio. I recorded this at the same time as Boxing. With Beres Hammond and Tyrone Taylor singing harmony. Beres Hammond was much younger them time.
Q: You live in a small town near Negril?
CC: Well, you could call it a small and a major town as well, cause everybody have to drive past it to go to Negril. The Gladiators come from near by, Treasure Beach. And Tyrone Taylor, he lives nearby. It’s Santa Cruz. I’m living at Lovely Point at Santa Cruz.
Q: Is that where you’re from?
CC: No no no no. I’m a Kingstonian. I born in Jonestown, near Trenchtown, a part of Trenchtown. I moved out a long time ago.

I Heart Is Clean (Niney, 1976)
Boxing Around - Cornell CampbellI want this one too. This was the only song I did for Niney. The original was “My Heart Is Gone” but I did it as “My Heart Is Clean”.

A Yuh (Cornell Campbell, 1980)
CC: A Uniques song.
Q: Slim Smith had some problems at the end of his life?
CC: Yes yes some very serious problem. But I don’t really like to talk about it. But there was some problem with Bunny Lee. Bunny Lee used to tell him that me coulda sing better than he. And him frustrated by him telling him that……And him get frustrated about some other things. It was terrible. Was me who recorded this song myself and I give to somebody to put out. But it was me who produce it.
Q: Did Slim Smith write this?
CC: Yes. He write a lot of songs.

Lion Of JudahLion Of Judah (Bunny lee)
CC: This is a next version of “Conquering Gorgon”, the lyrics come from a church song.
Q: The producer is Glen Lee, related to Bunny Lee?
CC: He was Bunny Lee’s Brother, but he don’t really know producing. Bunny Lee just give him those songs, and him put his name on them to make some money. You understand me?
Q. Yeah
CC: This song was recorded at King Tubby’s studio you know.
Q: In his little studio?
CC; Yeah. That was the first one we record at Tubby’s studio. He used to cut dub plate there alone. But Bunny Lee urge him to do a recording, and one day I was there, and him say “but Tubs you have the studio, you can voice songs here.” And he say no, he not taking any chance, cause him don’t really equip for that. But Bunny Lee force him and say “make Cornell Campbell voice two tunes now.” And him say “As long as you’re not putting them out everything all right. But don’t put them out cause I don’t want everybody laugh after it.” And Bunny Lee string the mike in the studio and I sing two song. (sings) Ain’t no love, ain’t no love like my baby’s love” (Eddie Floyd’s “I Never Found A Girl”) and Slim Smith was singing harmony. And a brother name of Macka. I can’t remember the other song. So, then Bunny Lee put it out behind King Tubby’s back. And it did do good. So King Tubby get inspiration to set up a studio. That’s where Tubby’s now started.

Cornell Campbell - Wherever I Lay My HeadWherever I Lay My Head (Robbie Shakespeare, 1975)
CC: This is a cover version.
Q: Marvin Gaye.
CC: Yeah. I didn’t know it was Marvin Gaye at the time. There was a guy named Winston (Delano Stewart) who sing with the Gaylads. He did it first. This is a good recording. Because they (the backing band, the Aggrovators) change perfectly to what I’m singing. It not like with them guys doing now, they just sing over one chord alone and they change with them voice and the band don’t change with them.
Q: And a lot of guys now if they sing over something with a chord change they just run past it.
CC: Yeah, too hard for them.

Pride and Joy (Ossie Hibbert, 1980)
CC:Oh I remember this one, it was for Ossie Hibbert.
Q: Wicked.
CC: Yeah man. Bad tune. I think I record this song at Joe Gibbs studio. Do have “Chain Gang”?
Q: No I didn’t bring it. You like that song?
: You like Sam Cooke?
CC: Yeah he was a good singer. I always like good singers.
Q: Did you hear a lot fo his songs when you were growing up?
CC No. What happened when I start singing I never used to hear ’bout Sam Cooke until many years after. To me it come like I was singing before Sam Cooke. I remember when him came with Chain Gang many years after.

Cornell Campbell - RaggamuffinfowlRaggamuffin Fowl (King Tubby, 1987)
CC: King Tubby’s. When it come out it play a lot on the radio stations.
Q: Do you still do dancehall rhythms like this?
CC: Yeah. I intend to do some new songs, but I wait upon a good deal, with a good producer. What I do now I try to set up my own studio. But in the meantime since my studio don’t finish yet, I’ll try to get a good deal.
Q: When did you start doing shows in the United States?
CC: A long time, I think it was in the 80s. I used to do shows in Brooklyn. Several times. But most of my shows are in England, or other countries like Japan.
Q: Do you like travelling abroad.
CC: I don’t like planes. I like everywhere, but I don’t like the airplanes. I just don’t like to be high up there, because you can’t jump out of there.
Q: Do you have family in Jamaica.
CC: Yeah. My children, dem trying fe set up themselves. Most of them set up themselves. I have one going to university, Christina Campbell. She doing law. And another one doing medical. So them really set up themselves. And Nicholas Campbell, my son, him doing auto business. Sales and so. So y’know. I spend money on them during my singing career. When I used to sing dub plate I save my money to send them to good school. Sacrifice myself and see that them get a good education. I never wanted them to come up from the bottom. So I just sacrifice myself and when them pass them exam I send them to high school and pay the money for that. But them ambitious and work, and come up.
Q: So you’re very different from a lot artists. A lot of them just take the money and…..
CC: Gone. Yeah, I don’t believe in gone. I don’t want my children to worry or suffer ’cause I set them up. I buy several pieces of land, I have six acres of land in Linstead, and I have land in St. Elizabeth, and I have land again at Lovely Point. And my children work and buy land for themselves. So if anything must happen to me they won’t worry. And my woman now have work on, because I set up this big store (Campbell’s Variety Store, located in St. Elizabeth) and I put her in it and make she run it, so she don’t work for nobody. Ca’ I don’t to see them work for nobody. She’s the boss for her own business and she doing good. And it make a lot of security for them. So them independent now – I set them up. So everybody is comfortable.
Q: Fantastic, because one of the hard things about loving Jamaican music is that so many artists have been unsuccessful financially.
CC: I have always been independent of singing, I always believe in doing something on the other side. That is why when I start my singing career with Downbeat when I was a little kid, I also learn printing. I print Studio One label dem, because I wanted to have a profession after I’m done singing. After many years I drop the printing. And I used to own part of a bar, a go-go club and them t’ing. But I give up those things because them things are too strenuous. Me no like things where you have to work so hard.
Q: Didn’t Coxsone used to have his printing right there at Brentford Road?
CC: That was when he move from Love Lane. I used to run them at Love Lane. When he buy Brentford Road he used to have the one of the Heptones run the printing press. Before that I used to print the labels on a linotype machine. Now times change, but I used to run the old time things. Composite and stuff like that. And then I leave that job and work at a bigger printer. I was a very good printer. When the Queen come to Jamaica, I used to print all the invitations for the House Of Parliament, for the Governor General. The printing was excellent, good. But I still couldn’t keep those jobs because every night me gone with a different band and every day I’d come in late and the company couldn’t depend on me. So I have to leave that job and just take up singing professionally, through Bunny Lee, he was the man who enabled me to leave those jobs. Because he said to me: “Cornell, I like how you can sing, mek we do a business, the two of us.” And I believe in him and I do it. But he never record on my behalf, he record on his behalf. Ca’ when the money was coming in he used to hide the money behind my back. Yeah. But I still never give up. And I realized singing wasn’t paying much money. So I bought a chicken farm. I raise goats, plenty goats on an acre of land. I do a lot of different things.
Q: So a big hit song like The Gorgon, how much would he pay you.
CC: I never get no money for those hit songs. All I get was pure name. Just name. Is not me alone. Like Desmond Dekker and all those singers many years ago, them never was making no real money. One year he had a number one song. But them men carry themselves and look good and them wear clothes and so, but them wasn’t making no real money. And there was a time in my career where I say “I can’t take this no longer, I have to set up something for myself.” I had to live off of something, so I start buying land and all those things. Then I set me up a store down in Kingston. But a lot of singers, them don’t invest money in business. Them sing a big tune and get a money for tune and maybe them just drink too much or them take drugs. Y’know? But I bank my money, when I get good money I bank it. Me no spend money. Keep money in my pocket. But most young guys, young singers, when they get money they show it off and spend it and the next week them broke. I don’t do that, I save money.
Q: Are your kids involved in music?
CC: Well, the reason why them never get into music is I prefer to get an education first. But them can really sing, trust me. And they always say: “Daddy how you don’t want me to sing?” And I say: “You can really sing fi true, you sound better than me.But I don’t want you to go ‘pon the road that me go ‘pon.”
Q: When you were growing up did you have musicians in your family?
CC: Not really. My father would sing, but not professionally. He would just sing for singing’s sake. But he used to love Mario Lanza and them type of singers. My father used to like old time singers, like opera singers. He used to work for the Carib Amusement Company – the theater, Carib Theater. (note: The Carib Theater, built in 1938 was, at 1,000,000 cubic feet, the largest building in Jamaica, with a ceiling designed to create the illusion of being under the Caribbean Sea, looking up to the surface.) So when I was a kid now I used to go show free, I never used to pay to go to any theater. Like Odeon. Tropical. I just carry a pass book and go there free.
Q: The Ward Theater used to have talent contests, did you ever compete?
CC: I could go there, but I never did. Like Opportunity Hour. I was never interested at that time. I just deal with the recording business straight, I just went and cut records alone, without any contests.
Q: So I think I’ll let you rest.
CC: Yeah man, no problem. It was nice interview.
Q: Are you ok for food and everything here?
CC: Well, I don’t want to put you to any stress. But just some fish patties and rice.
Q: Well, the closest thing to that would be some fish and chips.
CC: OK, some fish and some Red Stripe.
Q: They don’t have Red Stripe here.
CC: Oh?
Together: Heinekin.

I delivered his meal and as I left Cornell gave me a flier for his shop(“Campbell’s Variety Store – For The Very Latest In Fashion’) which now hangs in my studio. The store motto, “Quality Stuff At Good Prices”, still makes me smile and also reminds me that Cornell had come through tough times but had earned a good portion of success still. As he once sang:

I say it’s funny if you don’t have no money at all
No no, you’ll never never get nothing at all
It’s not my idol
But I wish I wish to my God
that he’ll let me have some
To make me a man.

The next day Cornell Campbell, the Conquering Gorgon, the King of the Minstrels, took the stage wearing a kris khaki suit and delivered perfect renditions of a dozen or so of his best songs. It was the hottest part of the day and the band was thin so Cornell sang his own background choruses. But the crowd was jumping and and was full of people who seemd to know and love his tunes. Watching from the crowd you couldn’t guess by his appearance that this was an artist who had been making records for fifty years. Nor could you tell by listening. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this extraordinary man is that his flawless voice was untarnished, seemingly impervious to the passage of time. There definitely is something very spiritual in all this and also probably in his choice of Gorgon as a nickname. A Gorgon, I’ve since learned, was a mythical figure, usually depicted with snakes for hair, placed on buildings and shields and amulents as protection against Evil.

But also it’s just a nickname for a guy who rules the dancehall:

Coming from the North
With my face to the South
I’m quite sure
I can knock you out
I am the Gorgon, in this yah dance
I am the Gorgon, in this yah dance

I don’t mess with the East
Or the West
I leave the public
To suggest
I am the Gorgon, in this yah dance
I am the Gorgon, in this yah dance

Hush up your mouth man
Sip your stout
This yah natty dread
Know what him talking bout
I am the Gorgon, in this yah dance
I am the Gorgon, in this yah dance
– The Gorgon

Thanks to Daniel Frankston and Elliott Lieb for their help with the interview.
DanceCrasher would like to thank Mike Turner for kindly allowing this interview to be published and for helping with song recordings etc. plus Phil Enthucol and Jmax from the Pama Forum for help with label scans.

The Gorgon Speaks – Jamaican Singles Discography

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